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Archive | Farm Management

Transitioning to Organic: Strategies for Success

The year two spring rye crop — note how few weeds are present. This rye grew well during the spring and early summer, and was ready for harvest in mid-July. Below shows the rye straw after the grain was combined. Yields were about 35 bushels/acre of rye seed the first year and 4 bales of straw/acre. This year, the yield was 52 bushels/acre of rye seed and 8 bales of straw/acre.

With conventional prices for corn, beans, wheat and dairy really low right now and both prices and demand for organic products high, a lot of growers are thinking about transitioning to organic.

For most growers, one of the biggest deterrents to going organic is the 36-month-long process of transition, during which time you can use only organic-approved inputs and practices, but the crops, milk or other farm goods produced can’t be sold as “organic” and receive the price premium.

In my opinion, chasing profits is not the right reason to go organic, and there is more to it than not adding prohibited inputs and getting paid more for your crops. Being a successful organic farmer requires a different mind-set, and the best time to figure out your approach to organic farming and set yourself up for success is during the transition period.

Before Transitioning to Organic 

If you’re considering transitioning to organic, the first thing you should do is sit down and think about why and then think about how. If your answer to why is that you are doing it for the money, maybe it’s not for you. Continue Reading →

Pasture Vs. Shed Lambing

There are many factors to consider when deciding which system of lambing will work best for you.

Profit margins are slim in livestock operations; it only makes sense to match the sheep and lambing system we use with our goals, objectives, resources and market. Shed lambing and pasture lambing both have advantages and disadvantages; it is up to each individual to choose the best system for their operation.

Every year on livestock operations we anticipate the arrival of new life. Months of work go into planning so that we can be as prepared as possible for our busiest season. I have been raising lambs for more than 20 years. I have shed lambed in January and February in South Dakota and Indiana and also pasture lambed in Indiana in April

Dr. Bob Leader, D.V.M. says, “From a profitability standpoint the single most important decision you can make is when to lamb. That is because the costliest animal to feed is the lactating ewe.” Continue Reading →

The Huge Impact of Mycorrhizal Colonization on Plant and Soil Health

Mycorrhizal inoculation effecta

This University of Florida photo shows the effect of mycorrhizal inoculation on maize drought response. Mycorrhizal colonization (front left and back right) helps plants avoid severe drought losses compared to the control (front right and back left).

Leonardo da Vinci remarked, “in order to be a successful farmer one must know the nature of the soil.” Even today in the age of hydroponics, most of our food, over 98 percent by some estimates, is grown from field on a soil medium. Beyond growing our food, the way we treat our soil determines the nature of our environment and the climate.

There is a great and still relatively undeveloped agronomic and environmental opportunity that could make an important global difference. This opportunity is hidden underneath our feet, in the living soil. The soil is home to the most populous community on the planet. Around the seven continents, the living soil is the Earth’s most valuable bio-system, providing ecosystem services worth trillions of dollars. The most limiting resource for global food system is drought, with over 75 percent of the crop insurance outlay related to these events.

The vast majority of our cultivated soils are in an eroded and degraded state. As we increase demands on our soil to feed billions, we are losing it and depleting it at an unprecedented rate. Our ability to transform it will address both of these key issues. In addition to addressing drought and climate, the web of soil life is critical to maintaining and building soil resources we need now and into the foreseeable future.

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 →

Book of the Week: Beyond the Chicken by Kelly Klober

 

Beyond the Chicken by Kelly Klober. Copyright 2014. 216 pages. Softcover. $24.00, regularly priced.

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from pages 12-15 of the book, Beyond the Chicken, which was published by Acres U.S.A. Copyright 2014. #7309. Softcover. 216 pages. $24.00 regularly priced.

By Kelly Klober

The first question raised about bantam chickens is, “Of what good is a little chicken?” Certainly they are ornamental and have been taken up by many exhibition breeders for the challenge some of the colors and feathering patterns in bantams represent. And, for some, there is the challenge to produce a perfect large fowl in miniature. For the backyard poultry folks the little birds take up less space, there is a reduced noise level, some of the breeds are exceptionally docile, they are easier to contain, they are bred in great variety, and they eat much less. Three bantam eggs will replace two large fowl eggs in most recipes and as a serving size.

Our barn banties would begin taking to the nest in early spring, and we once had one small hen emerge from the hayloft with five little peeps on Christmas Eve. A few times each year we would make a late-night safari to the barn with burlap bag and flashlight in hand. There we would pluck surplus birds—mostly roosters—from rafters, gate tops, stall walls, and other roosting places. My grandparents would then dress the contents of two or three cackling, wriggling, and occasionally even crowing tow sacks. Mostly they went into big pots of winter day vegetable soup or chicken and dumplings. The latter was a favorite of Dad’s and one time, unbeknownst to us, she added a tray of store-bought chicken necks to a couple of the little roosters going into a big pot of dumplings. The second day into that particular pot Dad began his table grace by asking to be spared, in the future, from little banty roosters that were all neck.

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Farm Smarter: Time Management Tips

Even if we don’t expect to get paid for all the hours we work on the farm, tracking how we spend our time, in order to employ smart time management strategies,  provides incredibly valuable information on the viability and efficiency of our production models and helps us and other sustainable farmers innovate the methods and infrastructure that will be needed to bring about a new and sustainable food system.

Sustainable farming is by definition a model that can continue for the long-term and that stewards finite resources that are often neglected or taken for granted.

There’s a myth that permeates the community of sustainable farmers, especially among those that are new, young and passionate. It started innocuously, but it has the potential to jeopardize the long-term viability of the new sustainable food system.

The myth is that sustainable farming is above all a way of life characterized by a devotion to the land, and that those who are focused on making money are missing the point and bound to be disappointed.

This sort of thinking is dangerous because the stories we tell ourselves matter. When we half-jokingly remark after having a tough year or working an 18-hour day that we “aren’t in it for the money” or when we let another season go by without seriously tracking the time we spend working on the farm because it would “be depressing” or because “everything is going to turn around anyway next year,” it undermines the future of sustainable farming by perpetuating the deleterious myth that as farmers, where we put our time doesn’t matter so long as we’re busy.

Continue Reading →