Category Archives: farm methods

Bring Back Diverse Farms for Economic Resilience

Today’s post is republished by permission from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. Its main point is that more diverse farms are also more resilient economically. Coming from a farm that had livestock, I know the demands involved, however, if policy helped promote this resilience through diversity on the farms (instead of monoculture farming), then we’d see healthier meat production, smaller farms, and more vibrant rural areas. It would help fix much of what is broken in today’s policy.—Kay M.

The recent news from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that farm incomes are down — and expected to recede even more after several years of high incomes linked to historically high crop price — shines a light on something that NSAC has been talking about for many years.

NSAC has long advocated for federal policies that encourage diverse farms that grow crops and raise livestock because diversity leads to more stable farm incomes. This is the case because when the price a farmer can obtain for one crop or one type of livestock is down, another may be up thus evening out the extreme ups and downs that can happen from month to month or year to year across all sectors of farming.

That statement is no less true today than at anytime in the past.

USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) recently estimated that crop receipts are expected to decrease by 12 percent, mostly attributed to a continuing decline in the price of corn and soybeans, the two most widely grown row crops. This while income from livestock is expected to rise 14 percent on strong prices for cattle and hogs. The projected increase in livestock receipts more than fully offsets the drop in crop receipts.

As a result of crop price declines, ERS has forecast that farm incomes will drop 21 percent in 2015. This is at least partially attributable to the fact that by the year 2000 less than 10 percent of farms had chickens, milk cows, or hogs.

A diversified farm that raises both crops and livestock can weather the current decline in commodity prices based on increased income from the livestock side of the operation.

While conventional monoculture advocates have tried their best to build a federal subsidy and crop insurance system that reduces the risk of relying only a corn and soybean to near zero, farm incomes are still going down as crop prices go down.

This is why diversity is still a good risk management policy. Today, and for as long as livestock prices stay up a diversified farm that resisted the urge to tear up pasture to chase $8 dollar corn is likely doing better than their neighbor who did not.

NSAC advocates for, and will continue to advocate for federal policies that support diverse family farms, which support a healthy environment, a fair and just food system, and strong rural communities.

Original article here.

A Visit to a Small Turkey Farm

Recently, PBS Newshour did a great little segment on the small turkey farm. What are its challenges and economic struggles? As is usually the case, the farm couple works VERY hard, they rely upon off-farm income, and they have a value-added venture store which sells directly to the consumer.

In this video, the Newshour’s Paul Solman interviews Rick Hermonot, who owns Ekonk Hill Turkey Farm in Eastern Connecticut about his operation which turns out 3,000 free range antibiotic free turkeys a year. How do they butcher them and how do they get it done so quickly are two of the looming questions that are answered here.

What to Get a Gardener for Christmas

This list is based purely on the items which I’ve found most useful for gardening over the years. There are a few items on the list which I can’t imagine gardening without, like the rubber tubs with handles. Weeding is a big part of gardening and there are at least four items below which aid in weeding, although some of them are actually multi-purpose tools.

Readers are welcome to add to this list with suggestions in the comments.

1. The Japanese hand hoe. This is THE BEST short-handled hoe I can imagine. We literally fight over it at our house. I bought it for myself and found it missing all of the time, so my husband bought me a new one as he’d stolen the one that I bought… you get the picture. They sell them at our local McGuckin Hardware store.

2. The “Made in Holland” long handled hoe. This is my husband’s favorite hoe and he swears by it. He’s tried others and nothing else will do. Unfortunately, we can’t locate them anymore. If readers know where to buy one, please leave a comment.

3. The Hori-hori knife. This one that I have is made by A.M. Leonard. It is good for planting seedlings and for digging, and from what I hear, many serious gardeners love it and use it even more than I do.

4. The serrated-scoop style trowel. I use this all the time for planting seedlings and potted plants, for scraping small weeds away, and even for moving dirt. This is one of my most-used garden tools and it has held up well over more than a decade of use.

5. The rubber tub. We have three rubber tubs for gardening at our house – two large ones and this medium-sized one. We use them for everything and at any given time two, if not all three of them are in use. This black one stays on the patio and is used for kitchen scraps which will be moved to the back compost pile later.

6. The knee pad. This comes in handy frequently, and I often use it to sit on, too.

7. The water sprinkler hose attachment. This is made by Nelson and is a good-quality sprinkler for hand watering. Another option (not pictured) that I also love and wouldn’t be without is the old-fashioned brass nozzle sprayer, the same as my grandparents used, because you can adjust the distance of the spray.

8. The pickaxe. This may not be necessary for everyone, but since we moved to Boulder it is about No. 1 on my gardening tool list, because there are rocks in the ground “everywhere” you happen to dig, rendering shovels useless.

9. The small sharp pruner. I use this a lot and appreciate how sharp it is. This one is Soboten 1210, another garden tool which I love that is made in Japan.

The Amazing Radish as Cover Crop

This is a delightful short video featuring Dr. Joel Gruver from Western Illinois University and his study of precision cover crops, especially the radish. It describes the amazing ability of this radish to attract nitrogen, potassium, and other nutrients to the row crop area where it is planted. Since it breaks down quickly after the temperature freezes, it makes quick compost in the fields, too.

To learn much, much more about advantages from using the radish as a cover crop, I recommend this, featuring more information by Dr. Gruver:

Radishes – A New Cover Crop for Organic Farming Systems

Reinert Interview: Farming and Monarchs

Today is the sixth post in this Monday series of subjects covered during my summer 2014 interview of Bill Reinert, recently retired energy engineer for Toyota who played a key role in the development of the Prius and then assumed the role of future transportation planning of alternative-fueled vehicles at Toyota. See his full bio here.
–Kay M.

K.M.: What is your impression of our farming system and what does it have to do with monarchs?

Reinert: The monarchs are in great decline. There is pressure from habitat loss due to illegal logging in Mexico where they go for the winter, but the bigger issue is the genetically modified crops and the loss of milkweed in the United States as marginal lands are put into production. Milkweed has become almost nonexistent, which is the plant needed by the monarchs to reproduce.

Although our food capacity is growing greatly, when we start looking at the effects, the Dead Zone, the pollution of the Mississippi River, the monarch, and the songbirds, then, it seems to me that we’ve made a deal with the Devil. Maybe it doesn’t mean anything in the overall scheme of things if the monarch goes away, but I happened to have a bunch of them in my yard yesterday and I thought to myself, “Oh, God, how beautiful.” So, it’s sad because they’re just another pointer.

There are really no more than 15 or 20 senators that are key to this farm policy, maybe less, and it’s a lot of money to advantage a small number of people at such a large cost. And it is ridiculous to think that the money is going to Mom and Pop farmer. It goes to big agribusiness. If you just moved the Iowa caucus elsewhere, things might change.

To see last week’s very popular interview subject of “Overfishing” click here.

Coming next week will be Reinert’s comments on the subject of climate change.

Photo credit: FlickrCC by Martin LaBar. Monarch butterfly caterpillar.