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Archive | Farm Management

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.

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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.

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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.

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Taking on Food Justice with Soul Fire Farm’s Leah Penniman

Leah Penniman of Soul Fire Farm

Leah Penniman of Soul Fire Farm

As a creative educator, regenerative farmer, writer and activist, Leah Penniman is an exceptional leader for food justice. She is best known for her work at Soul Fire Farm, which she and husband Jonah Vitale-Wolff started as an organic family farm committed to “the dismantling of oppressive structures that misguide our food system.”

Soul Fire Farm is entering its ninth year of growing healthy food for the couple’s former urban neighbors in Albany and Troy, New York. Since coming to the land over a decade ago, they have transformed a patch of marginal mountain ground into rich topsoil, faithfully provisioned a sliding-scale CSA whose members often lack access to fresh produce and created a vibrant, welcoming community of learning and admirable influence.

Nurtured by her childhood connection with the natural world, Penniman got hooked on agriculture as a teenager at a summer job with the Boston-based Food Project and has never looked back. Before graduating from college, she worked at the Farm School, co-managed Many Hands Organic Farm and co-founded the YouthGROW urban farming program. Until this year, she has been a full-time environmental science and biology teacher for which she received a Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching.

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Farmer Health: Preventing Pain

The animals that should be treated with the greatest care on most farms aren’t getting the attention they need, and farmer health should be a priority. Farmers start out young and strong, but as they age they are more likely than other groups to suffer from joint problems, painful backs and bad knees and hips.

farmer health may be improved through yoga

Young farmers practice yoga at Dripping Springs Farm, located near Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Everyone already knows that farming is one of the most dangerous ways to make a living. Safety around large animals and heavy equipment is a life and death matter, but few farmers consider the long-term health effects of day-to-day lifting, kneeling, stooping, twisting, shoveling and weeding — the activities that define the workload of most organic market farmers.

The result? Approximately one-third of farmers and ranchers are limited by arthritis, according to the USDA AgrAbility Project.

Surveys of farmers in the United States and other countries show that as farmers age they not only suffer musculoskeletal problems, but their aching, damaged joints make them more prone to serious accidents.

The flip side is that the physical demands of farming can be a good thing. Young farmers can grow into old, healthy farmers. Back pain can be avoided, arthritis can be prevented or delayed, and daily aches and pains can be tolerated without developing into major joint or muscle disorders. But it won’t happen by chance.

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