Monday, May 27, 2013

Week 26 (March 11, 2013 - SPRING BREAK)

This week we are off of school for Spring Break.  Unfortunately my wife said I could not go to Florida for spring break with the rest of the college students.  What she actually said was you cannot go to Florida for spring break if I cann't go.

Fortunately I did not have to worry about sitting around and doing nothing for the week as our Sociology of Agriculture instructor was thoughtful enough to assign us two chapters from the text book with worksheet questions to answer, a video on the Hutterites and our sociological observation paper on our visit to the Fergus Falls Livestock Auction is also due the week we return from spring break.

On I also had an opportunity to attend a workshop on Raw Milk Production by Tim Wightman.  Mr. Wightman is the President and founding board member of the Farm-to-Consumer Foundation.  This is a very controversial topic and I would suggest you go to the Weston A. Price Foundation website and their real milk website for additional information.  However, the workshop itself was about what it take to produce a safe unprocessed milk product.  In addition to a milk handling it also covered animal selection, feeding, pasture management, soil health.  Another important aspect was selection and education of consumers.  You want your consumer to understand the product and risks and what they need to do to both select the right farmer to partner with to provide them with unprocessed milk, as well as their responsibilities in handling their milk and providing sanitized containers for their milk.  In case you didn't know it is legal to sell raw milk (real milk) in Minnesota.  You just cannot advertise it for sale and the consumer has to come to the farm, provide their own container.  One thing to think about if you are considering drinking real milk is that when milk is pasteurized it kills all the good and bad organisms but you still drink them, they are just dead.  It might be better to buy the milk from a farmer who doesn't let the bad organisms get into the milk in the first place.  So in the case of real milk it is very important to know your farmer.  A good reference for the consumer thinking about buying real milk is "Safe Handling - Consumers' Guide - Preserving the Quality of Fresh, Unprocessed Whole Milk" by Peggy Beals, RN.
On Friday I went to the Lakes Cafe in Perham, MN for a workshop on "Cover Crops for Soul Health and Farm Profitability" featuring Paul Brown, Son of Gabe Brown.  Paul and his father own and operate Brown;s Ranch in Burleigh County North Dakota.  Brown's Ranch is a 5,300-acre integrated crop and cattle operation that focuses on soil health using diverse crop rotations, complex cover crop cocktail mixes, no-till & holistic grazing.  This workshop was sponsored by the Minnesota Dairy Iniative, NRCS, Sustainable Farming Assoication of Minnesota and the Sustainable Food Production Program at M-State Fergus Falls.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Week 25 (March 4, 2013)

The subject matter for the start of Grass Based Livestock class this week was livestock handling.  For this you need to understand the animals flight zone and how to use it to your advantage to get the animal to move when and where you want it to go.  The flight zone is basically an imaginary line, or boundary around an animal, and if you are inside that line the animal will move away from you, and if you are outside it the animal will ignore you or at least not move.  The discussion also included cattle handling facilities for doctoring, moving and loading animals, cattle in particular.  We also discussed what to look for in a cow that works best on grass (want a little short legged round cow with good feet whose parents did good on grass).  Paddock layout and strip grazing was also covered.  Then we watched a Joel Salatin video on getting started farming.  These where some of the key bits of wisdom:

  • Start with producing what you like to eat.
  • Then produce extra to sell
  • Start a cash flow
  • Get involved with the community and make connections
  • Be functional not perfect
  • Don't move from something until you get shoved out of what is already functioning well
  • Only worry about stuff you have control over

In Sociology of Agriculture our Ag. periodical assignment was due this week.  For this assignment, several of the Agriculture and Rural Community-orientated periodicals at the M-State Library were reviewed for applicability to potential future agricultural pursuits and further screened for subjects that have previously been covered in other classes and workshops.  One article selected is from Acres USA (Klober, "Seasonal Pork Production", pgs 58-60) and the other article is from “Small Farmers Journal” (Birdsall, "A Greenhorn Tries Draft Horses", 41-43).  After this paper was handed in we discussed one of our reading assignments "Birth Defects, Season of Conception, and Sex of Children Born to Pesticide Applicators Living in the Red River Valley of Minnesota, USA" by Gary, Harkings etc. Environmental Medicine and Pathology Laboratory, U of M, Minnesota, USA.  Published in Environmental Health Perspectives, Volume 110, Supplement 3, June 2002.  Here is a portion of the summary from that article:
"Previously, we showed that applicators and the general population of the Red River Valley (RRV) had the highest birth defect rate in the state of Minnesota.  In the present more detailed study, we showed that in families of fungicide applicators from the RRV, the number of live-born male children with or without birth defects was significantly reduced.  As in our earlier study, conceptions in the spring led to significantly more children with birth defects compared to children conceived in any other season.  These data suggest that environmental agents present in the spring, perhaps herbicides, have an adverse effect on the birth defect rate...".  In this study they found that 10.1% of pesticide applicators participating in this study had at least one child born with birth defects which compares with only 3.7% of children born on an average day in the USA.  I don't know about you but if I lived in the RRV I would be worried.  It also makes me worry about eating foods with pesticide and other chemical residue on it.

The class finished up with a discussion on seed saving and then a presentation on Minnesota Seed Law by Jeff from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Seed Regulatory Division.  Jeff is responsible for enforcement and education on Minnesota Seed Law for a 28 county area of Minnesota.  The presentation was his compliance training presentation that he gives to producers.  Following the presentation there was a good question and answer session.  If you should decide that you want to save seed and distribute them to others make sure you read up on the requirements and license needs.

In Farm Marketing and Management we discussed our reading assignment on Supply Chains and went over the various marketing channels, conventional, intermediate and direct.  With direct to the consumer being the most profitable to the producer.  Discussed developing an Operations Strategy Summary which is basically a transition plan for getting your business from year-0 to up and running (year 3 or 4).  Setting goals for what do you need to do and when do you need to do it.  Breaking it down into how many units do you need to sell to pay for what you need to operate.  Next the discussion went to Taxes and Schedule "F" on your Federal return and what goes into that.  We also covered record keeping and what is the very best record keeping system there is.  It is the one you will actually do!  

Farm Marketing and Management finished up with a review of the marketing materials that were due prior to this class and further work on worksheets that will be used to develop our individual business plans.  The marketing materials I prepared were a flyer and business cards for my "Conservation Cows" grass fed ground beef operation.  Does this make you want to order grass-fed ground beef?  Send me your comments:

Week 24 (February 25, 2013)

Compatible Technologies International Grain Winnower
I did a quick review of my notes from this week and things did not slow down at all.
Grain Thresher
Grain Stripper
Monday I started with a breakfast meeting with Carl Schroeder of Schroeder Milk Company fame.  Now that the family milk business has been sold Carl has been spending some of his time working on global food and water issues.  One enterprise that he has been working with in this effort is Compatible Technologies International (CTI) for which he serves on the Board of Directors as Treasure.  CTI's mission is to create practical tools that help poor communities in developing countries overcome their most crucial food and water challenges.  Because they lack proper tools, it is not on common for farmers in developing countries to lose up to 50% of their harvested crops.  CTI works to help these farmers prevent crop losses with their inventive storage and preservation technologies, and they help families raise their incomes using CTI's efficient processing tools like grain threshers and grinders.  I think many of these human powered tools would also be of use to the small homestead farmer.  Additional information on CTI can be found on their website.

On Tuesday it was off to the Fergus Falls Livestock Auction to complete the fieldwork data collection and observation portion of the Sociology of Food and Agriculture "Fergus Falls Livestock Auction Project" assignment.  The objectives of this assignment are:

  • To gain experience doing sociological fieldwork.
  • To gain experience objectively observing and recording data.
  • To increase knowledge of the livestock industry in our community.
  • To write a sociological descriptive paper for an audience one can assume knows little of nothing about livestock auctions.
This 4 to 6 page descriptive paper is due on March 22, 2013 and is worth 100-pts (which is a significant portion of the class grade).

On Wednesday the morning was spent on homework, then went to the Sociology of Food and Agriculture study group to discuss reading assignments and study questions.  After that I did some more homework and then headed to Verndale to Seven Pines Farm and Fence to help out getting things ready for Thursday's class at the farm.

On Thursday the Grass Based Livestock class was back at Seven Pines Farm checking out the winter quarters for the animals and getting some first hand experience with handling animals.
Bringing the cows home for the evening milking Wednesday night.
Sows at their winter quarters.  Next summer this area will
be where the garden vine crops are grown.
Sows rooting through the remains of a bale of baleage.
The top wire of the fence is electric.

Laying hens heading out the door from their
winter quarters to get some fresh air and sunshine.
Cattle up in their winter pasture.  This pasture is surrounded on 3-sides
by pine trees (for a wind block) and is located on a south facing hill.
The farmer has unrolled hay and straw as well as moving the
round bale feeder to different areas of the pasture.  The purpose of
this is to add organic matter to the pasture and spread out manure.
All of which is to build soil health and fertility.

Round bale feeder
A sled is a handy piece of equipment in the winter for hauling things around the farm.
This hoop house is the winter home to the feeder pigs.
This spring they will be moved to the calf pen to pigerate the
bedding pack fro the calves

This gilt has a bum leg so she was separated from the rest of
the feeder pigs by putting her in the hospital pen in the hen hoop house.

Insulated waterer provides water year around.  The cows in
the winter pasture have access to this waterer anytime they want a drink

Manure Fork.  Keep it separate from the feed forks.

Silage Fork

Hay Fork

Cow aspirin and a tool for feeding pills to cattle

This is not an anchor for putting a big screw in drywall.
It is a Bloat Trocar.  If one of your cattle has bloat and
you can not get them up you screw this into their
ruman, remove the plug and it lets the gas out.

Here we are adding a little ear bling to make this heifer stand out
from the rest of the herd.
For the Friday seed quiz in Sociology of Ag we had two new seeds added to the pop quiz, Millet and Flax.  The rumor in class is that in order to pass the class you have to pass the final seed. quiz!  After the seed quiz we discussed our reading assignment Carolan - Chapter 5 "Community, Labor and Peasantries".  This chapter dealt with the effects that industrial farming has on the socio-economic and social fabric of a community. We then discussed our second reading assignment, Chapters 1 and 2 of "The Contrary Farmer" by Gene Logsdon.  For the remaining portion of class we had a guest speaker Rick Dreblo (sp?) who is a retired banker who now runs a grass based beef operation and raises replacement heifers.  Rick talked about Ag financing and farming.

The finance theme continued in our Farm Management and Marketing Class with a lecture on Whole Farm Planning: Financial Statements and the three main financial forms; Income Statement, Cash Flow Statement, and Balance Statement and how they are used to measure profitability, liquidity and solvency.  The discussion included direct and overhead farm expenses, assets vs. liabilities and net worth as well as cash flow projections.  We also worked through some worksheets applying these concepts to our individual farm business plans.  The class wrapped up with work on how to develop promotional materials for a farm enterprise.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Week 23 (February 18, 2013)

This week the entire class and instructors attended the 2013 MOSES Organic Farming Conference.  MOSES stands for "Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service".  In addition to the M-State Fergus Falls Sustainable Food Production Program students there where an additional 3,300 + other persons in attendance.
Part of one of the exhibit floors which got crowded during the breaks between workshops

One of the cool pieces of equipment on display were these walk behind tractors.

This one had a mower attachment that could be used for cutting hay.

After cutting the hay they had attachments for raking hay and bailing it
into these small round bales.  There is even an attachment for wrapping
the bales to make baleage.

Another cool piece of equipment was this weed flamer.
Used for getting rid of weeds without spraying chemicals.
In addition to the exhibits there were social events in the evenings and an impressive number of workshops one could attend to learn about various aspects of organic and sustainable farming.  Below is a list of all the workshops.  Additional information about the conference and MOSES can be found at their website.

2013 MOSES Organic Farming Conference

Keynote Presentations
2013-01 What We Learned Making GMO OMG
2013-03 Why an Organic Food Production System?
Soils & Systems
F1C Expand Your Cover Crop Options
F1M Bringing Biodiversity Back to the Farm
F1S Steiner, Albrecht: Conflict and Commonality
F2P The Basics of Soil Testing
F2T Fallow to Fertile: Converting CRP to Organic
F2A Organic Treatments in Cropping Systems
F2N Introduction to Farm-Scale Permaculture
F3C Biodynamic Agriculture
F3N Composting
S1D Providing Habitat for Predators of Crop Pests
S1T Rolling Rye for Organic No-Till Crops
S2N Farming’s New Future: Climate Change
S2M Unraveling the Mystery of Compost Teas
Field Crops & Small Grains
F1B High Quality Pastures and Forages
F3T Precision Organics: Improved Field Operations
S1C Organic Small Grains—Too Important to Overlook
S2P Weed Control in Organic Field Crops
S3P Flame Weeding Research
S3N Transitioning to Organic Crop Production
Market Farming
F1D Certifying the Organic Orchard
F1T Vegetable Crop Rotations
F1P Weed-Control Equipment for Vegetable Farms
F2Y Alternative Small Fruits
F2B Growing Great Potatoes
F2M Scaling Up: Wholesale Markets
F2Z Innovative Irrigation Ideas
F3R Cash Grain Crops at the Farmers' Market
F3D Identification & Control of Insects
S1N Managing Water & Fertility--Hoophouse
S1P Time & Labor Saving Equipment
S2T Capitalizing the Market Farm: First 5 Yrs
S2S Profitable Diversification for Market Gardeners
S2R Local Foods on the Menu: Chef Panel
S2D Organic Hops Production
S2C Transplant Production Systems
S3S Draft Animal & Human Powered Vegetable Prod.
S3M Growing Seed Crops
S3A Vegetable Crops-Nutrient Density
S3C Organic Sweet Potato Production
F1N How to Select & Develop Bovine Genetics
F1R Pastured Meat Chickens
F1A Organic Grain Supplementation for Dairy Cows
F2D Expand with Meat Processing
F2C Maintaining Low Herd Somatic Cell Counts
F3M Making Friends with Honeybee Swarms
F3P Moving Towards a No-Grain Organic Dairy
F3S Nurturing the Next Generation panel
S1Y Integrating Livestock into Veggie Operation
S1M Real Life Experiences: Organic Hog Production
S1R Transitioning to Organic Dairy
S2A Keys to Finishing Beef Cattle on Grass
S3D Living with Parasites
F3Y Local Food Processing & Distribution Hubs
S1A Credit for Start-up or Expanding Farms
S1B Power of Social
S2Y Building Your Team—Building Your Business
S3R Managing Farm Finances
Miscellaneous Workshops
F1Z Messages Matter: How to Talk Organic
F1Z Encore Farming for Women F2S Machinery for Beginning Farmer F2R Organic Research and Promotion Program
F3A Organizing Data for Organic Certification, GAPs
F3B Changing Farm Policy from the Ground Up
S1S ABCs of Organic Certification
S1Z Marketing Contracts & Long-Term Leases
S2Z Funds for Farmers
S2B Tools for Transition panel
S3Y Dialogues with FFA S3Z Beginning Farmer Resources & Coalition Building
S3B The Power of Storytelling S3T Understanding GMO Testing

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Week 22 (February 11, 2013)

These are some no-till drills (on display at Pheasant Fest) that work well for planting native grasses when restoring
conservation lands as well as conservation tillage for planting ag. crops and cover crops.
I am trying to find one to rent, that I can pull behind a 4-wheeler.

This week started with a midterm exam in the Grass Based Livestock Class on Thursday.  The test included everything up through last weeks ruminant anatomy lecture.  The week actually started with a study session on Wednesday night at one of our classmates apartment.

After the midterm and our usual potluck lunch the topic was "Grazing Warm Season Natives".  The advantage to having some pasture with warm season natives is that they thrive in the warm hot, dog days of summer.  This gives you an option to deal with the summer slump.  During the summer slump cool season grasses stop growing because of the heat.  One way of encouraging warm season grasses in a pasture is to manage your grazing to suppress cool season grasses and promote warm season grasses.  This is done by grazing the pasture in the spring when the cool season grasses are getting started.  Then pulling stock from the pasture when the warm season grasses begin to emerge.  Then once the warm season grasses reach about 12 to 14 inches tall (for big bluesteam, indian grass and switch grass) you can graze them to a residual height of 6 to 8 inches.  Terminate warm season grass grazing by about August 4 (in the Fergus Falls area) to allow root reserves for replenish.  This time period coincides with summer slump.  Warm season grass grazing can start again after the first killing frost.

We also discussed the concept of using a "Sacrificial Paddock".  This is a designated paddock to have high animal impact for a specific period in order to protect the remaining pasture acreage.  One might use a sacrificial paddock when it is very wet on most other pastures, or during a drought when nothing is growing.  you need the ability to feed stored forages on the sacrificial pasture.  A good area to select is one that needs improvement anyways, and would benefit from increased fertilizer (manure).

The next item covered was a comparison of MIG (Management Intensive Grazing) to High Density (HD) or MOB Grazing.  Although these methods appear similar they have different desired outcomes.  In MIG grazing the goal is to keep forage int he vegetative growth state.  Providing high quality high protein forage for high performance stock like young stock.  The focus of HD grazing is building soil health and thereby improving sward health and diversity.  In general with HD grazing you end up trampling more forage than is eaten.  This trampled forage then adds organic matter to the soil, feeding soil microbes, increasing organics, tilth and moisture holding capacity of the soil which ultimately results in better forage.

The final portion of class was spent watching a video about a guys failed organic dairy farm and the lessons he learned from the experienced.  Those lessons are summarized below.
Lesson #1:  Match business goals to available resources.  (His goal of an organic dairy farm was not really supported by the resources available).
Lesson #2:  Match enterprises to who you are.  (In the end he found out he really was not a cow guy).
Lesson #3:  Do not under estimate workload nor over estimate income (production).
Lesson #4:  Farming is a business.  You need to make a profit most of the time.  (stress that you need to make a profit first then move toward your goals, say of having an organic dairy).

In Sociology of Food and Agriculture Class we started with a quiz on seed identification, as we do every week.  With a new seed added each week. These are the seeds on this weeks list along with my tells that helped me keep them straight.

  1. Corn (No. 2 Dent).
  2. Wheat (no husk)
  3. Rye (no husk)
  4. Oats (has husk, bigger, longer and thinner than barley)
  5. Barley (smaller, plumper than oats)
  6. Wild Rice (you should know this if you are from Minnesota)
  7. Alfalfa (small roundish seed, colorful)
  8. Flax (flat, small seed, slippery, gold or brown color).
Once the seed quiz was completed the lecture/discussion was on this weeks reading assignment "Chapter 4 - Malnutrition; from Carolan "The Sociology of Food and Agriculture".  The key topics identified for the chapter are:
  • Famines are really a reflection of a distribution problem, rather than the result of there being insufficient food int he world.
  • Global food insecurity cannot be eradicated simply with more technology, higher yielding varieties and greater use of inputs.  Food insecurity and malnutrition is fundamentally a product of bad policy.  (Here is something to think about, sort of a law of unintended consequences.  When the US and other developed nations send actual food as aid, the sudden flood of cheap / free food can have the result of depressing the price that local farmers can get for their products.  (In developing nations 80% of the population makes their living from agriculture related enterprises)  This ends up putting them out of business.  They then cannot pay taxes, which in-turn pays for government services, and transportation infrastructure for food and business.  This lack of infrastructure reduces the attractiveness of the country for foreign investment, which results in fewer jobs etc...).
  • The final key topic talked about the so-called global obesity epidemic being the product of an array of social, environmental and political variables.  (This was also very eye-opening, but you will need to read the book to find out more).
Finally in Farm Marketing and Management Class we got into whole farm planning: "Enterprise Budgets, identifying Industry Trends and Changing Marketing Conditions.  An enterprise budget is an estimate of the costs and returns to produce a product and only those costs and returns specific to that product.  You use the enterprise budget to help evaluate if the enterprise (new business product) makes sense to pursue.  You can also use the budget to track the success of that enterprise, seeing if it is as profitable as estimated, to help you determine if you should continue producing and selling it.  We also covered Image Promotion (branding) and product promotion, how to tailor your message to your customer.  We finished up with work on "Marketing Materials" and what makes for good marketing materials:
  • The marketing materials should match your image and customer expectations;
  • Marketing materials need to have your contact information on them.  (You need to make sure you respond promptly to any and all inquiries);
  • Marketing materials should have a call to action.  (i.e. buy this product now by calling....);
  • Marketing materials should be more visual than wordy;
  • Marketing materials should be consistent from one promotion to the next.
Finally I finished the week out on Saturday by going to the Pheasants Forever "Pheasant Fest" at the Minneapolis Convention Center with my Son.  There we attended seminars on planting food plots (which cover crops work really well for) and also had an opportunity to look at a lot of different dog breeds.  We are currently in the market for a good hunting dog since our dog Roxy passed away last spring.  Feel free to send me your recommendations.  We like to pheasant hunt, grouse hunt and duck hunt.