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Archive | Economics

7 Keys to Dairying, Cheesemaking Success

No one becomes a dairy farmer or dives into cheesemaking because they are looking for a simple, easy life with a large pot of gold at the end the rainbow. But if a cheesy (I like to think of that as a complimentary word) life appeals to you, and you choose to turn it into a business, it must be one that is sustainable — worth continuing from the aspects of workload and income.

Being a successful farmstead cheesemaker is no longer just a matter of gathering together a beautiful herd of dairy sheep, cows, goats, or water buffalo and making great cheeses.

Not only are feed and infrastructure costs higher than ever, but the artisan cheesemaker faces stiff competition from imported cheeses and those that appear to be made domestically but are made in part using imported milk (in the case of some water buffalo mozzarella), imported frozen curd (for some fresh and ripened goat cheeses), or simply made overseas (utilizing milk from mega-dairies) to make a custom-label cheese. Continue Reading →

GE Food Labeling

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is taking public comments on the proposed rule to establish the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard mandated by Congress in 2016 — a  standard for GE food labeling.

The goal of the standard is to provide a uniform way to offer meaningful disclosure for consumers who want more information about foods produced using genetic engineering (GE or GMO) and to avoid a patchwork system of state or private labels that could be confusing for consumers.

According to The Center for Food Safety (CFS), public comments will be particularly important because the proposal presents a range of alternatives for public comments and makes few decisions, leaving considerable unknowns about its outcome.

For example, instead of requiring clear, on-package labeling in the form of text or a symbol, USDA proposes to allow manufacturers to instead choose to use QR codes, which are encoded images on a package that must be scanned and are intended to substitute for clear, on-package labeling.

Real-time access to the information behind a QR code image requires a smartphone and a reliable broadband connection, technologies often lacking in rural areas. As a result, this labeling option would discriminate against more than 100 million Americans who do not have access to this technology.

Continue Reading →

Ag Economics, Politics: On a Long Quest for Parity

Family Farm Advocate George Naylor Discusses Past, Present & Future of Ag Economics, Politics 

Naylor is the great contrarian at the heart of the industrial farm system — that immense edifice of massive corn and soybean production, mega-farms of vast and increasing size, powerful corporate actors and federal money. As a leader of the National Family Farm Coalition, a board member of the Center for Food Safety, and a persuasive writer of essays and op-ed pieces, he reminds the elephant of mainstream agriculture that it’s heading for a cliff, his voice always articulate, his candor unsparing. Most Americans had never heard of him until he appeared as one of the great explainers in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, the conventional farmer who outlined the self-destructive nature of Big Ag in a pivotal chapter. He played a key role in forcing Monsanto to abandon its plans for GMO wheat, and he is one of the few voices in the entire spectrum who insist that a guarantee of fair prices for all farmers offers the only hope for rural America. He’s one of the few critics in the land who seems to know that “parity” is still part of the English language. “Without Clarity On Parity, All You Get Is Charity,” he titled his chapter in a book called Food Movements Unite!, stating an important truth in doggerel worthy of Muhammad Ali. Naylor believes everybody should pay organic prices for their groceries and vary their diets accordingly. “Here in Iowa,” he wrote, “where the landscape is plastered with millions of acres of genetically modified corn and soybeans along with their poisonous herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and fertilizers polluting our lakes and rivers, our institutions deny that Silent Spring has arrived, let alone that anything needs to change. In fact, politicians and educators of every stripe bow to the god of Norman Borlaug, mesmerized by the World Food Prize mantra that we must feed the world using whatever new technology the chemical giants offer to deal with new problems turning up every day.” Continue Reading →

In Support of Small Cows

By now most people know that more revenue and more pounds do not automatically equal more profit, which is why I am going to show you that small cows can be profitable.

I believe that you can single-trait select females for one thing: the percentage of her weight that her calf weighs at weaning. I regard this as the ultimate measure of a cow’s worth. It is a defense against the trap of selecting females based on simply having the largest calves and ending up with a bunch of massive females that will eat you into the poorhouse.

Small Cows: By the Numbers

Divide the calf’s weaning weight by the cow’s weight and multiply the answer by 100 to get the percentage. In the case of ranches that allow cows to wean calves naturally, weigh calves at the same age every year, between 6 and 8 months.

A 1,000-pound cow that weans a 450-pound calf has weaned 45 percent of her weight. A 1,500-pound cow weaning a 550-pound calf has only produced 36 percent of her weight.

Continue Reading →

Growing Microgreens for Profit

Itsy Bitsy Greens in Washington state grows a variety of colorful and flavorful options.

Growing microgreens for profit is feasible, as one Washington state-based couple proves. On less than half an acre, Michael Douglas and his wife, Astrid Raffinpeyloz, operate Itsy Bitsy Greens, an organic/biodynamic microgreens farm in Sequim, Washington, that generates about half of their modest, but ample, annual income.

Michael grows the microgreens full-time. Astrid works full-time in a managerial capacity at Volunteer Hospice of Clallam County, which she says fulfills her heart mission, and she helps Michael part-time with the microgreens business. She works mostly from home, which allows her the flexibility to help as needed.

Microgreens are vegetables, greens mostly, harvested when they are 10 to 20 days old. They are cut above the root around the time the first true leaf appears (the cotyledon stage), when the plant has all the nutrients it needs for future growth. At this stage, plants are still benefiting from the seeds’ energy and are nutrient-dense.

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Weathering Drought

Corn field in drought

For farmers, the decision to put in an irrigation system is often dictated by economics. One must consider the cost of the system versus the possible crop losses due to drought.

With the arrival of spring, farmers and gardeners look forward to the start of the growing season. As temperatures warm, spring planting can begin. Fruit trees will break winter dormancy. Pastures will start to green up. Livestock become more active. But as spring turns into summer, the weather can also provide challenges — the greatest of which are heat waves and droughts.

In the summer, temperatures may soar past levels where plants and animals begin to be affected and can reach a point where production is negatively impacted. At worst, damage or even death can occur. Drought is an even greater threat to crops. A lack of water causes even more immediate production losses and a total loss is certainly possible.

For many locations, heat and drought go hand in hand during the summer, and just about every year somewhere in the country heat waves and drought occur. Every farmer is bound to find themselves dealing with drought at some point. What constitutes hot temperatures depends on where you live. For Fairbanks, Alaska, 90°F is rare but has occurred.

In Columbia, South Carolina, where it can top 90°F many times in the course of a summer, even 100 degrees is not that unusual. This is important since to a large degree agricultural operations are geared for normal conditions; the type of temperatures normally experienced and expected. With the relatively cool waters of the Pacific just offshore, the West Coast has only brief hot spells when an offshore flow develops in summer. From the Rockies eastward, abnormally hot conditions become more of a periodic threat. Continue Reading →