Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Our Blog Has Moved!


Don't miss out on any of the discussion and great blogging about Practical Farmers of Iowa, its members, activities, programs and staff. Visit our new blog http://practicalfarmers.org/blog/

Friday, December 3, 2010

Young Farmers Conference - School of Farmer Wizardry

All the pieces were there:

Gothic architecture, tall ceilings Cold

Rooms of long narrow tables, veteran

Farmers sharing knowledge,

Bats flittering, between long shadows,

wise speakers

The only thing missing at the Young Farmers Conference was a sporting match of Quidditch.

I was sent to the 2-day conference at the Stone Barns Center to scope out what is going on from the “Foodie Hub” and report back to Iowa. Here are a few highlights:

Think Big, Think Business

Jason Moriber took business planning to the drawing board delivering an interactive, energizing, and engaging presentation to beginners many of whom were food producers first and businesspeople second. This Digital Consultant from the Pacific Northwest came out to speak because he believes in his research: local, healthful food farms is going BIG. In 30 years, this farming will be the norm and large corporations are getting interested in how they can tap into this market. Jason encouraged beginners to write everything down, have a process, make it transferrable to another entity so when ready, the farmer will be able to sell the business and reap the benefits from all the hard work.

Delicious, Good Food

The Chefs at the farm restaurant - Blue Hill @ Stone Barns - buys products from over 60 farmers in the Hudson Valley.

This is one of the most exciting social change movements happening in America today.

-- Dan Barber (Chef at Blue Hill)

I’m not sure that I hear Practical Farmers of Iowa farmers speaking about what they are doing in the same terms. Could it be that here in Iowa we seem to need to counter attempts by others to marginalize innovative marketing or production practices than what dominates the landscape. Or it could be that we are just a practical bunch, not as affected by the swings of what is popular in the moment. I think PFI members love farming, they love carrying on vibrant rural cultures and lifestyles above all else. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Revolutionary War

Fred Kirchenmann, a well-known face at PFI meetings, newsletter contributor, is also working in a ½ time position with Stone Barns Board of Directors and delivered the final address of the conference. I was struck by what he said, that only about 1/3rd of American Colonists agreed with the decision to go to war with Britain. (1/3rd were unsure and 1/3rd were opposed). So when we are struggling with a new way of thinking about growing food, explaining it to family, friends, or new customers, we must accept that not 100% of folks will embrace our way of thinking. We just need 33% to make huge changes to see the future we aim to create.

Huge Turnout
100 young farmers were turned away as conference space was limited. The number of young people interested in growing food for local and regional markets is undeniable.

We welcome all enterprises, ages, and points of view to Practical Farmers of Iowa. See you at the next online learning, conference workshop, or field day.

What a conference, what a celebration of great farmers, and food!

If you missed it, check out the audio recordings online soon.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Consolidation in the Food Industry

Mary Hendrickson from the Univ. of Missouri recently presented about this topic at Iowa State in a Sustainable Agriculture class. Towards the end, the last few slides of the presentation seem like the main focus that PFI farmers are figuring out: how to keep earnings behind the farmgate and stay independent while selling enough supply to cash flow and reach more customers. Mary's questions seem good for us to reflect on who has access to food both financially and physically but doesn't talk about the subsidies and safety nets available for the current industrialized food system.

I was not at the talk so can't comment but looking at these slides it seems like consolidation didn't happen overnight but was encouraged through various methods to occur and continue occurring.

Secretary Vilsack at a recent conference in Des Moines said we need both biotechnology and alternative production systems to feed the world.

Considering the current landscape of consolidation, can we have both?

PFI members are actively working on this alternative vision of agriculture/food production in light of this consolidated landscape but the recent introduction of Wal-Mart into the picture, whether they are genuine or not seems that it could distract or undermine the important work you are all doing.


To see slides or information about Mary's program click on this link http://www.foodcircles.missouri.edu/consol.htm

Monday, November 8, 2010

Root Cellar Workshop

James Nisly hosted a root cellar workshop on his farm October 16th. The workshop featured his in progress 3000 square foot root cellar. James is a true advocate for local food, and is building this large structure with the goal of storing product for other farmers in the community to ramp up off season offerings of local farm products significantly.
The workshop covered: collaborative storage, marketing, distribution, post-harvest handling of storage crops, financing, construction, climate monitoring instruments, and what other farms around the country are doing for commercial winter storage.
Field day attendees hear about construction of the root cellar while looking in on the site.

A glimpse inside of the root cellar-to-be
The deck above the root cellar will eventually have multiple uses, including greenhouse production

ISU Extension Specialist Patrick O'Malley showed how to take a soil core sample. He explained how soil health relates to post harvest quality and storage life.
Lunch included delectable organic greens grown by James

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Farminar Line-up (Fall 2010)

Beginning Tuesday, Nov-2, PFI will broadcast every other week, four new online seminars or farminars with farmers as presenters. This "Fishbowl" with a beginner asking questions to a farmer with more experience in an area will allow participants to watch and ask their own questions, from the comfort of their home computer with internet.

We hope you will join us to learn from our incredible farmer network!

Tuesday, November 2, 7:00-8:30 p.m., Cover Crops and Natural Manures with Mark Quee and Sally Gran
  • Learn how to use cover crops and natural manures to improve soil fertility and structure. Mark farms at Scattergood Friends School farm in West Branch and has great experience in this topic from hand seeding to no-till drill seeding as well as management of livestock. Sally has worked for several Iowa vegetable farms in the past and began her own fresh produce farm in 2010 near Nevada. Learn how to manage cover crops, rotation recordkeeping, compost, and manure applications.

Tuesday, November 16, 7:00-8:30 p.m., Growing Greens Better with Larry Cleverley and Glen Elsbernd
  • Larry Cleverley of Cleverley Farms near Mingo, shares his knowledge of producing high quality fresh greens for Iowa markets. Glen Elsbernd worked a full season at Harmony Valley Farm near Viroqua, WI before beginning his own organic horticulture farm “G Its Fresh,” in 2007.

Tuesday, November 30, 7:00-8:30 p.m., Marketing with Ryan and Kristine Jepsen and Caite Grieshop
  • The Jepsens graze livestock and manage Grass Run Farm, a pasture-based meat distribution company based in northeast Iowa. Says Kristine, “In the meat business, the goal is to have a ‘home’ (one or more customers) for all parts of the carcass you're selling; this determines where we focus our marketing energy.” Joining the Jepsens is Caite Grieshop, who is beginning a direct market meat business, Marshall County Market, in Marshalltown.

Tuesday, December 14, 7:00-8:30 p.m., Financing Niche Pork with Jason Penner and Devan Green
  • Jason Penner of Butterfield, MN has raised niche pork for Niman Ranch for over six years. Jason will share his experiences, what worked for him, and what he would have done differently. Joining Jason will be Devan Green of Conrad who markets his own organic pork as Green’s Organics.

Practical Farmers of Iowa will offer more winter farminars in January and February 2011.

Missed One? All farminars are available archived online at

Practical Farmers of Iowa’s fall 2010 farminars are made possible by funding by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, Grant # 2010-49400-21843.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Berry Patch Field Day

Dean, Judy, and Jack the dog greet young visitors to the farm.
The Berry Patch was an idyllic place to start PFI's fifth annual Garlic Fest. On this beautiful pre-fall day, approximately 50 people showed up to learn about Dean and Judy's operation while touring the farm on a hay rack and sampling delectable Honeycrisp apples.
Mike Henry rings up a customer at the farm stand.

The Berry Patch's fruit offerings are amazing. They raise eight acres of blueberries, all bushes hand planted and pruned. They also raise ten acres of strawberries, 20 acres of apples, ten acres of raspberries, currants, and a few exotic blackberries.

 The Berry Patch sells their products at farmer's market in Des Moines, through Farm to Folk, via an on-farm stand, as well as through an extensive U-Pick operation. The U-Pick season begins with fresh strawberries in May and continues through the season until the last apples are harvested in October.

 Dean and Judy discussed their integrated pest management, the wood furnace that heats their home and greenhouse, and their new ventures into greenhouse vegetable production. They have recently started to offer vegetables for sale in the winter to complement their winter apples.
This mustard cover crop, in addition to creating a beautiful fall photo, will help reduce weeds and increase organic matter for next year's strawberry planting.

Dean is a scientist at heart, and continually experiments to improve farm practices and products. It is always a learning experience to hear about Dean's new techniques and philosophies.

Dean leads a wagon tour

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

You don’t always get what you want…but often get what you pay for!

You don’t always get what you want…but often get what you pay for!

Squash-apple cheddar gratin

The Des Moines Register ran a story on squash yesterday. The story featured the very recipe I had just made with squash. I remember going to a potluck 10 years ago and tasting the squash-apple cheddar gratin Jan Libbey of One Step At a Time Garden recommended in the article. Jan had grown the squash, and she had prepared the dish specially for the potluck. I remember thinking: “Knowing farmers and eating food like this is why I moved back to my native state from the East Coast.”

Harvest time is a good time to recognize Jan and her husband, Tim Landgraf, and the many other Iowa farmers are helping us realize the vision of Practical Farmers of Iowa:
Food that is celebrated for its freshness and flavor...
Farms that are prized for their diversity, their wildlife and healthy soils...
Communities alive with diverse connections between farmers and nonfarmers...
Places where the working landscape, the fresh air and the clean water remind us of all that is good about Iowa.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Cover Crops, Manure, No-till and more: youtube and local tour, in Michigan

Cover Crops, Manure, No-till and more: youtube and local tour, in Michigan

Fall cover crops and manure make an excellent combination. One method to achieve this is called Slurry Seeding: adding cover crop seed directly into the manure tank with a low disturbance tillage tool. Dr. Tim Harrigan, MSU Extension Biosystems & Ag Engineering narrates a 6 minute video that shows you how the seeding method works and what the results can look like. Click here to learn more: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3st0qZ_3vH0

To see these plots live, mark your calendar for October 27th, 10 a.m. to noon at 11201 24 Mile Road, Albion, MI. This tour will highlight aspects of cover crops including seeding into no-till, slurry seeding compared to drilled, and plots of radish, turnips and oats in various combinations. Dr. Harrigan will be on hand to discuss the nitrogen retention from slurry seeding in combination with cover crops over the winter.

Practical experience from tour host Ken Blight, hog and beef producer, and Doug Bloom, dairy producer from Coldwater, will provide attendees with their success of using rye cover crop in combination with manure to decrease runoff of manure and capture both the manure liquids and nutrients for reduction in purchased nitrogen the following season. Bloom has also used the rye cover crop as a green chop feed for dairy heifers. Roberta Osborne, MSUE regional dairy educator, will outline the feed value qualities of rye for dairy cows. Natalie Rector, MSUE nutrient management educator will provide how-to basics of manure and cover crops. Dean Baas will also show farmers how they can use a new data base of cover crops to select the one that meets their goals. For more info contact Rector at rector@msu.edu or 269-967-6608 or visit www.animalagteam.msu.edu

There is also another youtube video on rye cover crops, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzvr5miXxZ8


Natalie Rector MSU Extension Nutrient Mgt. Educator

Cell: 269-967-6608

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

2011 PFI Annual Conference Sneak Peak

We are proud to give you advanced notice of a dynamite lineup for the next PFI annual conference, Jan. 7-8, 2011, at Marshalltown Community College. More details coming soon to your mailbox and on the PFI website.

Keynote Address

Farming Without Subsidies: New Zealand’s Journey

Mike and Sharon Barton, Lake Taupo Basin, New Zealand

Last year’s annual conference keynoters were homegrown PFI farmers. The 2011 annual conference will feature farmers from half way around the world: Mike and Sharon Barton, who finish beef cattle on their 350-acre farm in New Zealand’s Lake Taupo Basin.

Farmers in New Zealand used to have a variety of federal agricultural subsidies, including agricultural price supports, low-interest loans, and disaster relief. Then, in the 1980s, New Zealand changed all that, in a move endorsed by the country’s farming organizations. Now government assistance to agriculture is primarily in the form of funding for agricultural research.

For our Friday evening keynote address (note the new time for the keynote this year), Mike and Sharon will talk about this sometimes painful shift to farming without subsidies and how the New Zealand experiment now works well for this nation where 90 percent of total farm output is exported and most of the food consumed is domestically produced.

Friday Workshops

Cheese and Crackers: Done Locally

Lois Reichert, Donna Prizgintas, Earl Hafner, Tomoko Ogawa

Iowans are making some superb cheeses! Learn from cheese maker Lois Reichert about the basic chemistry of cheese making and how different milks affect cheeses. To accompany the tasting of goat cheese, PFI staffer Tomoko Ogawa will serve crackers she made using Iowa-grown small grains. Chef Donna Prizgintas and farmer Earl Hafner will talk about how to access and eat Iowa-grown small grains.

Scaling Up Your Vegetable Operation

Jean-Paul Courtens and Jody Bolluyt

Roxbury Farm in Kinderhook, New York, has scaled up from 30 CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) members to more than 1,100 shares located throughout the Hudson Valley, including New York City. Jean-Paul Courtens and Jody Bolluyt will talk about how they did it, including appropriately scaled equipment, crew management, harvest systems, crop rotation, and farm organization. With their production systems, they manage the farm with 11 employees during peak season.

Ridge-till, Strip-till, No-till, Oh My!

Ron Rosmann, Jeff Longnecker, George Schaefer, and Rob Stout

Reducing tillage can not only help decrease soil loss but also can decrease farmers’ energy use. But what tillage alternatives exist and which one fits your farm best? Learn from four farmers using conservation tillage in very different ways in their farming system: Ron Rosmann (ridge-tiller and organic crop and livestock production), Jeff Longnecker (strip-tillage, cover crops in corn and soybeans and beef cattle), Rob Stout (no-tillage and hog manure in corn and soybeans), and George Schaefer (conventional and organic no-till and organic crops and beef cattle).

Farmville – for Real!

Andy Larson, Rick Hartmann, Susan Jutz, Sean Skeehan, Jill Beebout, Tim Daley, Jerry Peckumn, Ryan Herman, and Dan Specht

This is a working session for those who want to farm or are in their first years of a new enterprise. Come work with Andy Larson to define your values, draw your vision, identify milestones, add your resource inventory (things you have, things you need, where you'll get them), and define your goals. Have your plan analyzed by an expert farmer in your enterprise, and, if you choose, put your plans on display for other conference attendees. Expert farmers will come in for the last half (3-4:30 pm) to individually consult with beginners in their enterprise and provide advice and support.

Pasture Fencing and Watering Basics

David Petty, Jess Jackson, and Jason Schmidt

Everything you need to set up the necessary infrastructure for a rotational grazing system! What fence design options are there? Which fence materials work best for which systems or conditions? How do you design and set up a watering system for rotational grazing? We will hear from Jason Schmidt of Schmidt Fencing about fence design and materials options. David Petty will share his experiences from his farm - what fencing and watering systems he has used and how well (or poorly) they have worked. Jess Jackson of NRCS will fill us in on different grazing systems and how to fit fence designs and materials to your system, plus options for stock watering systems on pasture.

Saturday Workshops

Ruminating on Minerals

Vegetable Equipment for Farms 10-50+ acres

Biological Farming: For the Soil’s Sake, For Your Sake and for the Consumer’s Sake!

Scenarios of Your Future

Pastured Poultry System Potluck

Know Your Cuts of Meat

Soil Fertility Practices on Roxbury Farm

Busy All the Time, Never Overwhelmed

Farming with Nitrogen Limits: A New Zealand Perspective

Health Insurance and Rural Folks

Toward Energy Self-Sufficiency On-Farm

Making Milk Without Grain

Turtle Farm Succession: A Work in Progress

Don’t Give Weeds a Chance

Portion Patrol: Efficient CSA Distribution

Plus Cluster Meetings

Talk with farmers who grow what you grow: Field Crops, Poultry, Livestock, and Fruits and vegetables, plus a gathering of beginning farmers and a session for Friends of the Farmer (nonfarmers).

And U-Pick Sessions

Back by popular demand! From glyphosate resistance to selling your products to schools: YOU choose the topic for this session.

And so much more!

Iowa Fruit & Veggie Market Planner

Check out this great resource from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at ISU.

Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Market Planner

Welcome to the Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Market Planner

This tool calculates rate of demand for 80 produce crops. You choose a central market location (within Iowa), consumers, time period, products and units of measure for results.

Your selections are shown here. Results are shown in tabs below.

To begin your calculation, make selections at left, starting at the top. You must select a central location and click outside the box before data will appear. If you change selections after viewing result tabs, you must refresh data.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Delicious Evening

60+ guests, a dozen volunteers and chefs Donna Prizgintas and Scott Coldiron all gathered in Vesuvius Wood-Fired Pizza in Ames on Sunday, September 12 for PFI's 4th Annual Garlic Fest.

Ready to "overwhelm" our guests

Following the field day at Berry Patch Farm, the evening started with the tasting of four varieties of heritage garlic that Rick and Stacy Hartmann and Brian Hayward from Small Potatoes Farm provided us.

"Transylvania" won the garlic tasting (pictured here is "Shandong," very tasty as well)

This year, many of the dishes were passed around family style. I heard many times during the evening that people needed to walk around before moving onto the next course.

Liver mousse pate with pickled cucumbers

The list of producers for the dinner included more than 15 PFI members. I was reminded the bounty of great food available here in Iowa. Donna made all the dishes without calling for special ingredients. You wouldn't need to look up a food dictionary to know what she used. But with her amazing touch, the meal was filled with magical flavors. Donna says everything she prepared is something anyone can replicate in his/her own kitchen. Without her special hands and palate, whatever we try to recreate won't be quite the same of course, but she is right, the beauty of her cooking lies in its simplicity. Rick Hartmann's comment on the meal summarizes it so well; "The PFI Annual Garlic Fest was the most outstanding meal I've eaten in Iowa. Ever."

Chefs Scott Coldiron and Donna Prizgintas

Occasionally I get teased about having moved to Iowa all the way from Tokyo. Sure I won't call this place hip, but that's what I like about Iowa. I love being able to eat delicious and high quality meal like the one at this year's Garlic Fest and avoid going to snotty, pretentious places where they are only good at selling images and lack quality food. It was truly a joyous evening filled with delicious dishes, smiles and all the pleasant noise and smell. Felt very nourishing to all my senses.

Happy eaters

Thank you to our producers, guests, chefs, volunteers, staffs, and everyone else who realized this amazing evening!

Hannah Lewis, one of the wonderful volunteers, glazing tropea onions

Friday, September 24, 2010

Talkin' Pasture Health (with Gompert)

Terry Gompert, a Holistic Management educator, extension beef specialist, and grazier from Center, Nebraska, came to Central Iowa and toured two grazing farms on August 28, 2010. The two farms were Bill and Betty Kimble, and Ryan and Janice Marquardt.

Warning: there are pictures of manure in this blog post.

Terry Gompert relaxes on the porch with some of Betty Kimble's coffee before the pasture walk.

Looking at manure is one of the best ways to determine if cows are getting the right balance of protein, energy, and fiber from the pasture. This is an example of an almost perfect consistency cowpie. It should have some vertical shape (not too runny), but have a slight dimple in the middle (not too dry or thick).

By smearing the manure a little with one's foot, one can better assess the manure color. Very green, and there may be too little fiber (forage too immature and too high in protein, or too much selectivity), very yellow, and there may too much fiber (forage too mature or possible it's time to move to a new paddock).

Here, Terry is digging underneath a cowpie to look for dung beetle burrows.

Terry talked about the importance of building a "litter two" layer, which is a darker layer of litter on the surface that is partially decomposed and is hard to distinguish from soil. This layer is litter that is being turned into new soil, adding organic matter, structure, and resilience to the system. It also helps insulate the soil from drying out or from temperature extremes, helping to keep the soil environment ideal for beneficial microorganisms.

Above is an apparatus that Bill Kimble bought that is supposed to trap biting flies. He would probably sell it pretty cheap to anyone who wants it, because he said it does not do much.

This is one of Bill's waterers with a float valve to control water flow.

Each waterer is connected to the water line with quick couplers, for ease of movement.

The water lines are all gravity fed from this 5,000-gallon water tank he keeps at the highest point on his farm. He pumps water into the tank from his pond whenever the water gets below a certain level. Notice that he painted the water tank grey, which helps keep algae from growing on the inside of it. He also adds a small amount of chlorine each time he fills the tank. Terry says this may not be necessary, and may be killing off some of his beneficial organisms that would help with his overall ecosystem functioning. Terry suggested that apple cider vinegar may be just as effective, and also help with the health of his cows. He mentioned organic iodine as another potentially good substance to add to cattle's drinking water periodically to help boost health.

Here are Terry Gompert and Bill Kimble (at the Marquardts' farm).

This picture is kind of small, but here we can see the South Skunk River Valley and we can kind of see how far the flood waters were. We also see Ryan's beautiful grassland with many native species.

This is one way to move minerals and keep them off the ground (plastic crate).

And finally, Bruce Carney resting with the lambs after a long day of pasture walking and talking.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Talkin’ cover crops - MessengerNews.net | News, Sports, Jobs, Community Info. - The Messenger

Talkin’ cover crops - MessengerNews.net | News, Sports, Jobs, Community Info. - The Messenger

Talkin’ cover crops

Turning whole fields into buffer strips

September 19, 2010 - By LARRY KERSHNER, For the Messenger

WEBSTER CITY - Watching an airplane that traditionally is used to spray row crops during the summer, more than 50 people, consisting of grain growers, agribusinesses and farming organizations, gathered north of Webster City Tuesday to watch a demonstration of aerial seeding of winter rye in a cornfield that was yet to be harvested.

The field day, sponsored jointly by Practical Farmers of Iowa, Iowa State University Extension, Iowa Learning Farms and the Natural Resources and Conservation Service was focused primarily on planting small grain cover crops during the fall.

On hand were producers who were using cover crops as a land management tool, plus NRCS personnel to talk about government cost share funds to encourage growers in this region to try using cover crops to reduce erosion, capture nitrogen from leaching away during late-fall and early-spring rains, and to add organic matter to the soil profile.

"Cover crops basically turn the whole field into a buffer strip," said Bruce Voigts, president of the Mississippi River Basin Initiative. Holding a milk carton with sprouting winter rye he described the government funds available as well as the benefits of planting a cover crop just ahead of harvest time, whether from the air or with a seed drill following the combine.

Reducing nitrates

A study completed in 2005 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture - Ag Research Service, noted that "Nitrogen remaining in the soil after harvest is a significant source of nitrate contamination for groundwater, wells, streams and lakes.

"During the late fall and early spring small grain cover crops accumulate nitrates that would otherwise leach out."

Researchers, who tested this study for three years in Iowa, determined that rye, over-seeded into no-till soybeans reduced interrill erosion by 54 percent and rill erosion by 90 percent. Oats reduced interrill and rill erosion by 26 and 54 percent, respectively.

Interrill erosion is when raindrops strike exposed soil detaching the soil particles, splashing them into the air and into shallow overland flows. Rill erosion is the removal of soil by runoff from the land surface.

When the cover crops are killed in the spring ahead of planting, the captured nitrate is returned to the soil by plant residue.

"Small grain cover crops," the study added, "can reduce the number of early-season weeds and provide mulch for continued weed suppression."

Voigts and others recommended seeding cover crops in corn, just ahead of harvest, and in soybeans as leaves turn yellow. With the seed on the ground, the falling soybean leaves will protect them until germination.

Increasing yields

Now in his second year of experimenting with cover crops, Arliss Nielsen, of Woolstock, said he is still learning how to use small grains to benefit his soil but said the earlier the grains can be seeded "the more sunlight they'll get to get established."

Where aerial applications will require about 90 pounds of seeds per acre, or about 1.3 million seeds, drilling small grains following the combine will be successful at a rate of 50 pounds per acre.

But Nielsen believes that as busy as producers are with hundreds and even thousands of acres to harvest, most will likely opt for aerial seeding "just to get it done."

He told Farm News that he is seeing a gradual increase in his yields as he adopts more land management practices and moves away from conventional tillage.

"We're assuming these tests are beneficial," he said. "We're using several practices like no-till, cover crops, variable rate fertilization, increased plant populations. We can't distinguish any one practice. They are all helping."

He said he started seeding small grains using Environmental Quality Incentive Funds from NRCS. He said he wasn't sure how it would work out. "But you never know what will happen until you try it.

"We're learning and we think we are heading in the right direction."

Proper management

Spring management of cover crops is essential, PFI's Carlson said, because after benefitting from capturing nitrates in the plants and reducing erosion, if the small grains are not destroyed in time, they will become as weeds pressuring corn and soybeans and reducing yields.

Cover crops can be grazed, or chopped as silage or killed by spraying.

The USDA-ARS study determined that by planting oats, which won't overwinter, yield reduction is minimized. Another method is to kill small grains shortly after they start coming up in the spring.

Chemical and mechanical means can be used, Carlson said, but added that machinery can vary in the effectiveness of eliminating the cover.

Contact Larry Kershner at (515) 573-2141, Ext. 453 or at kersh@farm-news.com.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Mob and Its Roots

Erin and Torray Wilson pasture walk, Friday, August 6th, 2010.

Above is Erin and Torray Wilson's mob of sheep, beef cows, and dairy cows. These animals get new pasture twice a day. The dairy cows get to go ahead of the mob for 12 hours of every day, to get the best quality feed and to be separated from their calves before the once-a-day milking. Until they build up their dairy herd size, the Wilsons are spreading the milk on the fields as fertilizer. They milk in their mobile milking parlor, so the cows do not have to walk back to the barn every day.

Torray shows us the roots and litter that long rest periods and high stock density can help to build.

Erin (left) and Torray (right) Wilson at their pasture walk. In the background can barely be seen the hog pasture pens. Will the hogs be assimilated into the mob someday? We'll see...

These layer chickens follow a few days behind the mob in their mobile chicken coop. (No, the mobile chicken coop does not look like a pickup). Sooner, and they may get the eggs dirty with fresh manure and there will be no fly larvae for the chickens to harvest from the cow pies. Much later, and the flies may already have hatched out.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

It's official: PFI has an endowment

I just mailed off some very important paperwork for PFI: The financial papers that mean Practical Farmers of Iowa, co-founded by Dick and Sharon Thompson, will be around for years to come.

Last Tuesday, the PFI Board officially voted to put $100,000 of our reserves into endowments created through the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines. What a fitting step for the Board to take in 2010, the 25th anniversary of Practical Farmers of Iowa!

The PFI endowments will be funds held permanently and invested to generate income for PFI. One endowment is called the "Practical Farmers of Iowa Endow Iowa Fund." Donors to this fund receive a significant tax advantage--a 25 percent Endow Iowa tax credit in addition to their normal federal income tax deductions. The other fund is called the "Practical Farmers of Iowa Endowment." This fund is more flexible on return of the principal, but it does not offer the same tax advantage to donors as the Endow Iowa fund.

I'm so pleased the Board took this decision, because the PFI endowments will offer many benefits: Endowments encourage gift making. They create an ongoing source of income to help with operating expenses, when needed. They also may provide us, in the future, a measure of independence from economic, governmental, and political forces.

Most importantly: The PFI endowments let everyone know that PFI is fiscally responsible--and here for a future of:
Food that is celebrated for its freshness and flavor...
Farms that are prized for their diversity, their wildlife and healthy soils...
Communities alive with diverse connections between farmers and nonfarmers...
Places where the working landscape, the fresh air and the clean water remind us of all that is good about Iowa.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Temple Grandin at PFI

Temple Grandin, a Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University, gave a workshop on livestock facilities and behavior at Craig and LaVon Griffieon's farm in Ankeny on Tuesday, August 3rd.

Temple visited PFI farmers B & B Farms and Wild Rose Pastures the day before the workshop.

Many farmers had questions for Temple during the breaks.

Temple talked about the things to consider when designing animal handling facilities in order for the animals to be less stressed and to flow through better. With proper design, one can work with the animals' nature instead of having to force them to do our will.

Bruce Carney brought over his mobile corral for demonstration. Bruce and Temple both said that this design will work well for corralling and loading animals in a temporary location, but is not ideal for working animals for any kind of treatment.

Craig drove everybody down the road to look at his cattle handling facilities and to get Temple's comments. She recommended removing the weeds and extraneous equipment surrounding the chute, since his chute is not solid and cows are easily scared by weeds blowing in the wind or big strange things around. She also recommended adding a gate to change the flow, since cattle have the instinct to 'go back to where they came from', so adding an extra curve can work with this natural behavior.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Brucemore Art and Garden Show

PFI made a trip out to Cedar Rapids to mingle with local food, garden, and art enthusiasts of central Iowa. I had the great opportunity to visit with non-farmer stewards - 25% of our membership.

The Brucemore is a mansion and garden property that is now a National Trust Historic Site 26-acre landmark in the center of Cedar Rapids. Just South of Washington High School, this venue hosted hundreds of Saturday strollers for a garden farmers' market. Years ago, this property was home to pet lions! For more information see http://www.brucemore.org/

Showing off the PFI tagline! There was great interest in our big idea for Iowa. The vision of our organization seemed to really resonate with the passersby in attendance.

I was impressed and reinvigorated by the excitement that exists by consumers for local products. I had the opportunity to visit with beginning goat cheese farmer Kim Brenneman, who farms near Kalona, IA and sells direct to consumer farmstead goat cheese. This is her first year selling and she is very optimistic for the growth and sustainability of her business. "The market is there" said Brenneman, "I can sell this product very easily, almost never does anyone ask the price, they taste it and they buy it."

Another great reminder why PFI is the place to be. For Farmers and Farmer Supporters!