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Archive | Crops

Leasing Farmland 101 by Joel Salatin

Leasing is a way in and a way to scale. Goodness knows we need as much of this transitional farmland as possible to go to our tribe and not to the corporate industrial tribe. An owned hub is great, but it can be much smaller than the managed acreage. Don’t frustrate yourself with partners that only want as much money as possible. That’s not a good fit. Work with landowners who want wildlife, soil building, better water cycles. Those are the things our eco-farming tribe can bring to the table.

Chickens outside at a farm In the late 1960s farmland prices began spiraling far beyond historic price-to-production ratios. When my mom and dad purchased the core property for our farm, the land was $90 per acre (in 1961) and feeder calves brought $150. You could raise half a feeder calf on an acre of pasture, a gross annual production value of $75.

At a price-to-production ratio of $90:$75, that was nearly 1:1. Today, it’s worth $7,000 per acre and that calf is $700. We receive no more rain, sunshine, or fertilizer than we did in 1961. At half a calf per acre, the new ratio is $7,000:$350, or 20:1.

I’ve talked to many older farmers (all of whom are now gone) in the community who acquired their land from a couple years’ production. I mean, their wheat, cattle, milk, etc. paid for the land in a couple of years.

That’s now an outrageous idea. Yes, some of the most successful micro-farms are buying land with production, but it’s rare. So where to from here? Virtually all agricultural experts agree that in the next 15 years, half of all America’s farm equity (land, buildings, equipment) will change hands due to the average age of farmers being 60 years old. Only 6 percent of farmers are younger than 35. Business gurus say that anytime the average practitioner in an economic sector drops below 35, it’s a sector in decline. Continue Reading →

Magnesium, the Unheralded Star

Although nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and even calcium are often discussed, magnesium is mostly unheralded and misunderstood. In this article I will examine the nature of magnesium deficiency and show how ignoring soil magnesium can lead to dire consequences in human, plant and animal health.

Unlike nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, magnesium is often overlooked in conventional fertility.

Like the other aforementioned macrominerals, magnesium is essential for plant and animal health and productivity. In man, beasts and plants it is found in substantial amounts and can wreak havoc when it is deficient.

Our health is rooted in our soils both as vegetables we consume and as animal products, which are nourished from the soil. Since the vast majority of what we eat comes from the soil, our health partly depends on earthworm activity, but the overuse of modern chemical fertilizers and pesticides has left many soils deficient in earthworms. This in turn impoverishes the soil.

As soils lose their vibrant microbial activity they become depleted in critical nutrients even as fertilizers are applied in larger amounts. Synthetic fertilizers are not a solution and often aggravate soil issues they supposedly cure. Remedying this downward spiral is more critical than ever because a growing population needs not only more food but better food quality for present and future generations to thrive. Continue Reading →

Bone Char Benefits

Farmers have been experimenting with animal waste for centuries, using it as a fertilizer or as a way to recycle healthy nutrients back into the soil: While some focused on traditional forms of waste, others directed their attention to the benefits of “bone black,” bone char or animal char.

Bone char at Callicrate Cattle Co. in St. Francis, Kansas.

Many see its benefits as a soil amendment. If the soil was dry, it could help retain water. If the soil was wet like a sponge, it could be crushed and sprinkled in to retain nutrients.

Bone char is derived from carbonizing crushed animal bones using a high-heat process known as pyrolysis. When processed through an energy-efficient airtight burner, charcoaled materials can be cleanly burned, finely ground and added to compost.

Primarily rich in calcium phosphate, calcium carbonate and micronutrients, bone char is granular and useful as an adsorbent. Since prehistoric times, it has been used to create bone black pigment used notable painters and artists. Modern uses centered on sugar whitening and defluoridating water. Continue Reading →

Monsanto’s Scarlet Letter

By Mike Snow

Mike Snow has worked as a journalist in Asia, Africa, South America and Washington, D.C., reporting about international and domestic politics, health, travel and agriculture.

Since its founding in 1965, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has doggedly hunted for the causes of one of humanity’s most pernicious and persistent diseases. After IARC’s independent researchers concluded in 2015 that glyphosate, the premier ingredient in Monsanto’s broad-spectrum systemic herbicide and crop desiccant Roundup is “probably carcinogenic,” the hunter became the hunted.

Glyphosate, which has become integral to genetically engineered, industrialized agriculture, is found in products produced by 100 companies in more than 130 countries. Since its 1974 rollout, sales have skyrocketed from 3,200 to 825,000 tons per year, contributing mightily to the to the agro-chem giant’s roughly $16 billion annual revenue stream.

Neither glyphosate nor Monsanto (now Bayer) have been without controversy. The chemical is just the latest in a long line of products that have kept the 117-year-old-company lurching from one crisis to another, deflecting discomforting inquiries to marketers and lobbyists and, when real muscle was required, attorneys and politicians. But because of its star status in Monsanto’s product hierarchy, IARC’s designation of glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic” hit a raw nerve, triggering a cry for all hands on deck. Within hours of its announcement, the agency’s independent scientists found themselves caught in the crosshairs of a sustained, choreographed campaign aimed not only at discrediting them, but at taking them down. Continue Reading →

Keys to Composting for Increased Soil Health, Vitality

For many years we have been composting various agricultural and forest materials at Tobacco Road Farm to provide for the soil fertility in order to raise vegetable crops without the use of pesticides. This practice has been highly successful though it has required more refinement as the environment continues to deteriorate and the soil’s need for rebalancing becomes increasingly important.

Compost with temperature gauge carbon materials

Compost with undigested carbon materials still present has now cooled to about 80°F and is ready for application.

The composting system is the mouth and stomach of the farm system and prepares the nutritive materials for absorption into the soil. How we choose the appropriate materials to feed into this system, along with an examination of mixing, piling and application of this material, is the focus of this article.

Let us set the stage of how and why this compost is utilized on our farm. At Tobacco Road Farm in Lebanon, Connecticut, we focus on intensive vegetable production with 3 acres in crops. The vegetable fields produce tremendous volumes of crops year-round. The soils are typical of the Northeast with a sandy acidic nature. The impact of pollution and climate manipulations on our soils is tremendous. The forest surrounding the farm is in a rapid state of decline. There are die-offs of trees and vastly reduced numbers of insects, bats, frogs, snakes and birds.

The variety of pest insects and diseases of vegetable crops moving into the region continues to increase and is a reflection of the environmental conditions. It has been very useful to re-examine compost and its utilization through a holistic eye that can see these changes and adjust the compost system accordingly. This is similar to the way humans have had to adjust their diets in this modern age of illness. Continue Reading →

Book of the Week: Organic No-Till Farming

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from an Acres U.S.A. book, Organic No-Till Farming, written by Jeff Moyer. Copyright 2011, softcover, 204 pages. Normal Price: $28.00.

From Chapter 1: No-Till Basics

Organic No-Till Farming book

Organic No-Till Farming by Jeff Moyer

It is the hope and dream of many organic farmers to limit tillage, increase soil organic matter, save money, and improve soil structure on their farms. Organic no-till can fulfill all these goals.

Many organic farmers are accused of overtilling the soil. Tillage is used for pre-plant soil preparation, as a means of managing weeds, and as a method of incorporating fertilizers, crop residue, and soil amendments. Now, armed with new technologies and tools based on sound biological principles, organic producers can begin to reduce or even eliminate tillage from their system.

Organic no-till is both a technique and a tool to achieve farmer’s objectives of reducing tillage and improving soil organic matter. It is also a whole farm system. While there are many ways the system can be implemented, in its simplest form organic no-till includes the following elements:

  • annual or winter annual cover crops that are planted in the fall,
  • overwintered until mature in the spring, and then
  • killed with a special tool called a roller/crimper.

After the death of the cover crop, cash crops can be planted into the residue with a no-till planter, drill or transplanter. Whether you grow agronomic or horticultural crops, this system can work on your farm, and we’ll show you how to get started with this exciting new technology. Continue Reading →