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Archive | Farm Management

Improve Soil Health with Mob Grazing

Saskatchewan grazier Neil Dennis places posts without having to leave his 4x4 vehicle.

Saskatchewan grazier Neil Dennis places posts without having to leave his 4×4 vehicle.

by Tamara Scully

Saskatchewan grazier Neil Dennis comes from a long line of pioneering innovators. His grandfather raised purebred cattle, sheep and racehorses. His father was one of the first to use an air seeder. Dennis himself is now a leader in promoting Holistic Management grazing techniques, and he has pushed the boundaries of high-density stocking on the 1,200-plus acres of the family’s Sunnybrae Farms.

Today, the pastures of Sunnybrae Farms are thriving, with over 40 types of native plant species and a variety of legumes, none of which were ever seeded. The pastures boast a very high plant density, and water is retained in the soil with little runoff. The carbon content of the soil has dramatically increased over the past two decades, along with the microbial activity. Soil warms up earlier in the spring, stays cool in the summer and produces well into the fall. Salt and mineral supplementation of the 800 to 1,000 head of cattle that call these pastures home has been greatly reduced, as the nutrient content of the forages has increased. Continue Reading →

A Mighty Big Backyard—Texas Organic Farm Continues Growth

JGG Planting

Now encompassing more than 200 acres, Johnson’s Backyard Garden began in Brenton Johnson’s backyard

by Claire Bontempo

The Johnsons of Johnson’s Backyard Garden, or JBG, can’t seem to grow vegetables fast enough, but they’ve managed to keep up with the demand and remain a successful local organic farm located just outside of Austin, Texas. From the very beginning it has been all about organic. “I never even considered farming a different way. I didn’t have a history of farming so I’ve never farmed anything but organically,” said Brenton Johnson.

In 2008 JBG became certified organic by the Texas Department of Agriculture. Now encompassing more than 200 acres, the farm began in Brenton’s backyard on a cozy 30 x 50-foot plot in 2004. That spring he ventured to the local farmers’ market for the first time with his yield of vegetables. Continue Reading →

Grasping the True Value of Cover Cropping

cover crop

Photo by USDA NRCS

Planting cover crops in rotation between cash crops is even more valuable than previously thought, according to a team of agronomists, entomologists, agroecologists, horticulturists and biogeochemists from Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences. Research, published in Agricultural Systems, quantified the benefits offered by cover crops across more than 10 ecosystem services. Benefits included increased carbon and nitrogen in soils, erosion prevention, more mycorrhizal colonization and weed suppression. Researchers simulated a three-year, soybean-wheat-corn rotation with and without cover crops in central Pennsylvania, which presented agroecological conditions broadly representative of the Northeast and mid- Atlantic regions. The cover crop rotation included red clover, frost-seeded into winter wheat in March, and winter rye, planted after corn was harvested in the fall. The research, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, used simulated management practices, including tillage, synthetic fertilizer use and mechanical weed control.

This report appears in the May 2014 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Companion Planting: The Magic of Corn, Beans and Squash

Companion planting

Companion planting is an important part of any gardener or farmer’s planning.

Recent discoveries in quantum physics, microbiology and ecology verify something gardeners have long known. Everything in nature is related. There are no solid lines between the plants’ roots, the soil and the bacteria and fungi tying it all together. To help understand why garden crops do or do not thrive, we are led into the enigmatic field of companion planting.

Just as we work and feel best around our friends, plants will grow better in their preferred company. Although the reasons may be obscure, a lot of observation and a little intuition can reveal mutual attractions and aversions. The garden teaches us the value of old-time practices, fresh experiments and keeping our eyes open. Continue Reading →

Commercial Organic Grafted Tomato Production

TomatoCommercial organic tomato production is lucrative but challenging. Marketable fruit can bring a good price but yield is reduced by crop disease and insect pressure, drought and flooding, non-optimal nutrient supplies and other factors. Grafted tomato plants can be less susceptible to some of these stresses, particularly certain nematodes and soilborne diseases. There is also evidence that grafted tomato plants tolerate unwanted extremes in soil moisture, low soil fertility and high soil salinity levels more effectively than ungrafted plants.

Grafting creates a direct, physical and one-time ‘hybrid’ plant with traits of the rootstock and scion varieties it contains. Rootstock and scion variety selection is the first step in using grafted tomato plants and the selection should be done very carefully based on traits that are important to you on your farm. Learn more about how thousands of combinations affect production outcomes and what Ohio State University is researching in the January 2014 issue of Acres U.S.A.

High-Tunnel Strawberry Production

strawberry d3401-1At a time when Arkansas-grown summer strawberries are a happy memory, Elena Garcia and her team are just gearing up for their growing season. Garcia, a professor and extension fruit and nut specialist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, is studying the use of high tunnels for winter and early spring strawberry harvest in Arkansas. Her research, which aims to extend the short, but sweet, strawberry growing season in Arkansas, is one of 18 nationwide to earn a grant as part of the National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative. Arkansas once ranked among the nation’s top strawberry growers, but California and Florida have taken over the majority of production. Total U.S. strawberry production was valued at $2.4 billion in 2011.

This article appears in the December 2013 issue of Acres U.S.A.