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Tractor Time Episode 17: Brendon Rockey, Potato Farmer and Speaker on Biodiversity


This episode’s guest is Brendon Rockey, a third-generation Colorado potato farmer. He spoke last October at a soil health conference near Greeley, close to our office, and when I wandered down to hear his talk, I was a bit surprised. We are surrounded by conventional ag folks in the Greeley, Colorado, area, but instead of talks about spraying schedules and storage tanks, I heard a guy talking about a wildly diverse field, about growing at 7,000 feet above sea level, about the importance of microbial life in the soil, and even how his neighbors even called him “weird.” As soon as I heard all that, I was pretty sure we had an Acres U.S.A. guy in Brendon.

Brendon Rockey

Turns out, we did. He will be speaking at our conference this year in Louisville, Kentucky, about what he does on his farm, and how he went from “weird” to the envy of his community.

Today, we’re going to talk to Brendon about this journey, and explore his farming techniques that go against a lot of conventional thought, and talk to him a bit about his quinoa crops as well.

Learn more about Brendon Rockey here, and his farm here.

Learn more about the 2018 Eco-Ag Conference & Trade Show, where Brendon Rockey will be speaking in December, here.

Diatomaceous Earth for Pest Control

There is an ongoing circulation of bad, misinformed, incomplete, and overall biased information regarding diatomaceous earth. This article is intended to bring to light much of the research (peer-reviewed articles and government regulation) surrounding DE and the potential dangers of its contents in a way that people can understand.

Many of the websites that list the benefits and uses of diatomaceous earth have a stake in the game. They are usually trying to sell you diatomaceous earth or make a commission by referring you to another store through an affiliate link. They are incentivized to paint the product in the best light. A lot of the bad “not so fun” information is left out or not highlighted as nearly enough as it should be.

As a result, you have a recipe for disaster with people reading, sharing and spreading anecdotal information stemming from these articles about a topic potentially affecting thousands of people causing respiratory issues and/or further pest problems. Continue Reading →

No-Till Growing: Vegetable Production

Robust spring cabbages at Tobacco Road Farm.

Over the last 20-plus years of vegetable growing at Tobacco Road Farm in Lebanon, Connecticut, we have constantly sought ways to improve the health and vitality of our crops and soils, and going no-till has been part of that journey.

About 3 acres of land is in vegetables, with half in year-round vegetable production and the other half cover cropped through the winter months.

The crop rotations are very close, with yields very high, so the intensity of production demands very careful soil care. To this end, soil amendments, fertilizers, inoculants and compost have been carefully selected and applied over the years.

Under this intensity of production, tillage was previously utilized to an excessive degree. This left the soil with a soil structure that was lacking in aggregation, tended toward surface crusting and with a plow pan always in need of mechanical breaking. The loosened soil of the tillage layer dried excessively in summer, leading to irrigation needs, and the soils’ air/water balance was constantly in jeopardy. Continue Reading →

Book of the Week: Preventing Deer Damage, by Robert G. Juhre

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Acres U.S.A. original book, Preventing Deer Damage, written by Robert G. Juhre. Copyright 2011. #6329. Softcover. 108 pages. BOTW price: $10.00. ($14.95 regularly priced.)

By Robert G. Juhre

Fences are good for defense, but do it early. If fencing is to be part of your strategy to protect a new project, do it before you plant that orchard or till that vegetable garden. Not only is it easier to build while the land is vacant, it is better that the deer do not estab­lish a habit of visiting the area to be planted. We will cover a variety of fence choices in this section. Weigh these

Preventing Deer Damage, $14.95

alternative ideas care­fully. Some are relatively expensive; some require maintenance; some are unsightly; some are time intensive for the do-it-yourselfer and some are oriented for specific needs. Because these various fencing solutions vary greatly in cost, appearance and effectiveness, they may be only part of your overall plan. At this point, we are assuming you are trying to keep deer out, not coexist.

Wood Fence with Sheep Wire, 12-Foot High

A 12′ high fence, constructed of treated 4” x 4”s, set on a con­crete base that is below the frost line, should have a 30-year life. Remember, your entrance gate needs to be the same height. Use 2” x 4” cross bars to firm up the corners or cables with turn buckles which can be used for the same purpose. Now attach 6’ sheep wire with 4” mesh to the lower section of the posts that have been set on ten foot centers. Tighten each section with a fence stretcher (usu­ally available at rental stores) and fasten the wire to the posts with galvanized staples. After the lower section is completed, follow the same procedure for the upper run of fencing wire. Attach the lower and upper runs of sheep fencing together with pig rings. These can be found at farm stores along with a special pliers-like tool for clos­ing them easily. If 6’ high sheep wire is not available, then use 4’ high wire. Now your installation is only 8’ high. To reach the desired 10 feet, you will have to string two runs of wire, a foot apart, across the upper two feet of space. Continue Reading →

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 →

Citrus Greening Solutions

One segment of APHIS’ comprehensive agricultural quarantine and inspection program is based out of APHIS’ National Detector Dog Training Center, an 18-acre facility in Georgia. Sniffer dog Zsemir alerts to a young tree in Florida. 

$3.3 billion. That’s what the National Agricultural Statistics Service rates the value of the citrus industry in the United States. Yet danger and some of the industry’s greatest challenges lurk in citrus groves across the country — devastating pests and diseases.

The Department of Homeland Security estimates invasive species annually cause $136 billion in overall lost agricultural revenue in the United States.

The Asian citrus psyllid, which creates a disease-causing bacteria known as Huanglongbing (HLB) or citrus greening, is one of the citrus industry’s most destructive insects. It has infected commercial and residential citrus trees across the country from Florida to Texas to California. The disease clogs an infected tree’s vascular system, preventing fruit from maturing and eventually killing the tree.

First identified in China in 1919, by 1937 it had spread to the Philippines and South Africa. Continue Reading →