Tag Archives: crops

Thoughts on Lease Cropping vs Grazing Your Own Stock

There is something wrong with me that leasing and renting properties never seems to work out.  Even when there is a contract with goals and procedures laid out life, weather, resources change and stuff just doesn’t happen as plan.  But, by and large, my disappointments seem rooted in being too accommodating.  Or maybe it’s a lack of communication though for sure i don’t hold back giving my opinions and expectations – to a fault, i’m afraid.  Nevertheless, things never turn out quite the way i want.

Currently, i’ve leased 120 acres for organic farming for 4 years.  My goals are to eliminate or drastically reduce endophyte infected toxic fescue and build organic matter through the use of cover crops.  I knew going in that my renter has no intention of ever letting cattle graze the cover crops, so i can’t be unhappy about that, yet, the more i see happening and the more i read, it is clear that my soil is lacking due to the removal of animal impact.

Our contract was spelled out and ends after next year’s crop (it was a 4 year deal).  I had hoped that it would be successful and that then we could move forward with working another piece and removing more fescue, but it doesn’t work.

Here are some bullet points i have:

  1. animal impact is essential to making cover crop and soil improvements financially viable as well as building organic matter and tilth.
  2. in a lease situation, the owner doesn’t have the power to make certain that soil is covered.  This past year, the soil did not have anything in it from November until June (except volunteer ragweed growing in the spring) and now that it’s been worked and readied for more soybeans, it still lays open to the sun, wind, and rain with prevented planting.  (it’s now October 2019 and covered with weeds again). Cover crops simply don’t get planted even though that was the written goal.
  3. I knew going in that i was incurring some opportunity costs by leasing vs grazing my own cattle on the property.  I weighed that against the possibility of getting better control of the toxic fescue and giving my friend an opportunity to expand his organic cropping endeavor.  Bottom line, from a purely income/expense perspective, I make more money with grazing vs leasing the property for row cropping.
  4. Lessees do not care for your property as you would.  Trees and brush are growing rapidly in fence rows and untilled portions of the land.  I still do the labor of keeping them under control and since the crop is organic, i must follow the rules of how to manage.  In other words, i can’t chemically treat the plants or stumps if they are within 20 feet of the crop – So they grow and grow.  It will be 7 years from the time i cut brush and treated and the time i regain control of my property.  A lot gets big and away.  More work at the end of the organic regime.
  5. This experiment was worth the pain since i now know that it simply is not the way i would ever do this project again.  I’m especially glad I went with the organic approach despite the stumbling blocks since a conventional farmer would have slathered the soil with toxic chemicals year after year and farmed fence row to fence row and through the waterways.  My friend is careful to leave ample grass strips in waterways and leaves 20 foot buffer from the fences (organic rules).  At the same time this leaves at least 20 acres that is not be utilized for any purpose since he won’t allow grazing at any time.
  6. The weather immediately turned into drought mode for these 3 years and I’m having to downsize my cow herd drastically to accommodate since my acres for grazing is reduced.  Incredibly, this has turned to be a blessing since i’ve culled deeply (after this fall, it will have been about 40%!), no cow gets a second chance and i’ve sold a lot of older cows that i would typically try to ‘get one more calf out of.’  This year’s calf crop is the best I’ve ever had.  Now if only market prices weren’t in the tank.
  7. If i had my own farming equipment and the desire to run it, i think there is opportunity to improve the soil, increase tilth and organic matter, create better wildlife habitat, create another employment opportunity, and increase profit with combined cropping/grazing especially if a value added food crop market is developed.  We actually do have all the equipment, but not the time or energy to develop the plan, work the plan, and market.  The equipment mostly sits in the barn and serves as depreciating assets against income.
  8. At the end of the day,  we do the best we can and then we die.  The hope is to leave a legacy of some sort – be it a physical asset, money, or wisdom.  A friend recently sold his rather large farm he had promoted, taught, enjoyed, and improved with holistic, organic practices for all his life yet it sold to conventional farmers who are likely to plough it all under and row crop until it is degraded. That is sad, but life goes on.

At the end of the day, I’m looking forward to bringing the 120 acres back under my management even though i will only graze it once i get it seeded back down.  With managed grazing and some brush/tree removal, the pasture will be back hopefully making money for me soon.

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You can see the worked field which has now been bare soil since harvest of soybeans last November.  That means 10 months and counting of open, unprotected soil.

Spraying Done for this Year

One of the main projects i had planned for this year was to spray brush.  Truly had hoped to cover the entire farm, but there is just so much that between regular work and windy or rainy days – well, i did get quite a lot done actually and i’m pleased.  My focus did switch to completely covering (spot spraying) the west 160 and that was accomplished by July 1.  It is important to keep track of that date because three years from then, the farm can be used to grow certified organic crops.  Weed and brush management from now on will have to be by brush hogging and intensive grazing.  One of the ironies of ‘certified’ organic is that i can’t chemically treat individual plants even once for three years, but i could burn all the fossil fuel i want mowing them down.  But rules are rules.

So to finish the project also means to clean up and put away the tools used.  My 30 gallon spray tank and pump were purchased new at Orscheln’s this year and i hope to get several more years’ use out of it.  Their brand name is Country Tuff and it has worked flawlessly all season.  I did switch out the coiled hose for a straight one we already had – i just didn’t like the coiled one.

For the chemical, the easiest and most effective in my opinion is Crossbow.  i buy it by the case (4 gallons) at a cost of $200.46 at Butterfield & Associates Grain in Meadville, MO.  Mix half gallon to 30 gallons of water and you are ready to go.  This spring and summer, I sprayed about 1200 gallons of mixed spray.  That’s about 45 hours worth of spot spraying.

Cleaning up:

  1. drain and rinse out the tank with clean water
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This photo shows that i place a 2×4 between the tank and the edge of my Gator bed which keeps the tank from rubbing on the side and also keeps the clips that hold the sprayer wand from breaking off.
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i used a couple tarp straps around the tank to secure the tank in place.  The 3×3 inch board in front keeps other items from bumping against the tank and the motor.  (My Gator is usually full of other stuff)
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Under the motor, the draw pipe is located.  Shown here, i’ve undone the pipe from the tank and showing the screen is partially plugged.  The sprayer will operate with this little bit of stuff clogging it, but you will definitely notice a lack of spray distance.  It’s important to use clean water and keep stuff out of the tank which can clog the orifice and screen.
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I’ve cleaned the screen and replaced it.  (Yeah, i know, i need a manicure badly!)
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This tube actually had a small part of a leaf in it when i set out to clean the tank for storage.  I knew i had a lack of power and had cleaned the screen before.  I just thought maybe i had run the motor so much it was worn out.  However, i have no doubt now it was because of the leaf blocking this tube.  I’ll remember to check that next year.
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Inside the tank is the draw tube.  This is where that leaf had gotten trapped.  i’ve cleaned it out now.
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The electrical plug and wire goes from the motor and up through my Gator back window and down under the passenger seat to the battery.
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Horrible photo, but black to negative and red to positive for battery connections.
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Cleaned, drained, ready for winter storage
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Properly labeled as to what was used in this tank and when.

 

Shabbat Shalom!

tauna

Getting Ready

One would think you could just pull in and start with tillage for planting crops as part of my fescue elimination project.  Alas, that isn’t true in my case.  Since i had subdivided the 120 acres into 6 paddocks with 2 wire hi-tensile electric wire, all this had to be wound up and stowed for replacement after 4 years as per my plan.  Old fence posts and wired had to be pulled up and stacked for burning when time allows and entrance gateway had to be widened.

 

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There’s been a 16 foot gate here for longer than i’ve been alive, although this is a new gate i had installed about 5 years ago.  But, 16 foot opening is far too narrow to pull in comfortably with big equipment, although you’d be amazed at what a skilled driver can get through!
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So, this is the new look – set two new corner posts and hung two 16 foot gates.  Very professionally done by Jim Fitzgerald.
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HUGE thank you and shout out to North Central Missouri Electric Coop for quickly removing, not only the lines from the transformer to the meter pole, but also my farm lines from the meter pole to windmill pump. About an 1/4 of a mile’s worth. While i did the ground work of chaining the pole to the front end loading, Dallas pulled the posts. Afterward, i dragged them to a burn pile with my Gator.
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The electric company removed the wires from two tall poles which were on my property.  Our little tractor had to shove a bit on the pole, then really hunker down to get these poles pulled up.  As you can see, they are buried quite deep.  Instead of burning these poles, they were cut to length and used as the corner posts for my new gateways!
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Old fence left over from who knows when still across the pasture with wire buried and tangled.  What a mess but at last we prevailed.
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Here are half the posts from that fence.  These will all burnt in a pile.  Would make good firewood if they weren’t full of staples and wires.  The corner posts were too heavy for me to lift into the bucket, so we just used the tractor to pull them ’round to the burn pile – it wasn’t far.
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An old home built load out chute we drug up out of the middle of the pasture.  
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With most posts pulled up, Dallas is building me a low water crossing while I pull the remaining posts to burn pile and roll up another half a quarter mile of hi-tensile wire.  Weather is perfect for working but I’m about out of steam!

 

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I bet you were wondering how I can roll up 12 gauge hi-tensile electric wire.  The key is this spinning jenny from Powerflex Fence.  Don’t do this without a spinning jenny  Notice the rolls of wire I stored nearby; ready to roll back out after the 4 year renovation.  All told, I rolled up a bit more than 2 miles of hi-tensile wire and pulled some 140 fiberglass posts.  Many were 1 inch and were easily pulled by hand.  I hauled them all home and have them stored on a pallet in the barn.
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Here you can see the old hand strung electric line from way up at the barn down to the electrified pump.  It used to be run only with the windmill, but there is not enough reliable wind to make that very viable.  Anyway, those were the posts Dallas and I pulled up.

Dallas and I did this in a couple days of remarkable weather in November!

Cheers

tauna

So You Want To Farm….

There are certainly obstacles  – huge obstacles- in place to keep a person from farming, but if you don’t even have a garden and feeding your family from it – i will suggest you take a really hard look at the reasons keeping you from farming.

Do you lack motivation?  knowledge? funding? land?  Of those four, lack of motivation is the most deadly to keeping you off the land (or whatever your dream).  The others are easily overcome.

The only way to get started is to do it!  In four square feet you can grow 15-20 lbs of pole beans! That is 60 servings of fresh green beans at a start up cost of seed (4 seeds at $0.08 each for $0.32) and a tiny spot of earth.  Plan ahead and start putting all your kitchen scraps into  your planting area all winter long.  Use the lasagne method of building compost in your garden (aka sheet composting).  Retail Value of your crop – $34.35!  On four square feet!  Now, that is not counting your labor or water.  But i can tell you that with green beans, the most labor is in harvesting!

What if you scale that up to 1/4 of an acre?  Don’t forget that gardening doesn’t scale without an increase in labor on every single plant or vegetable that you harvest.  And you can’t go on holiday during the growing season.  Oh, right, the RETAIL value of crop on 1/4 of an acre = $49876!

Before getting too excited about long pole beans, bear in mind, that even though the seeds cost 8 cents a piece and retail value of your production could approach $210,680 per acre,  (difference in math is number of plants on a larger property) it’s a LONG way between purchasing an acre, equipment costs, preparing the soil, purchasing and building trellises, watering when necessary during the next 5-6 months, and, without fail, hand harvesting every 2-3 days after the plants begin producing in about 80 days, finding a market for those fresh beans immediately, or be prepared with refrigeration and storage AND putting money in the bank.  Add in crop failures every once in a while and that seemingly massive income per acre whittles away very quickly.  BUT, with careful management, use of cover crops, crop rotations, offering a variety of staple produce, and developing an excellent market, a good living could be gleaned from a small property – even in town!

Additionally, i can tell you right now, that even if i was so motivated to produce this many best-tasting-beans in the world, there is no way i could find buyers for 92,000 lbs of long pole beans.   We simply have too much food produced in this country (not in Linn, CO) for people to buy that many.  That would be 19 lbs per household in Linn County, MO and $2.29/lb far too expensive.  Cheaper products are available at big box stores.

Just my opinion, but the easiest crops to grow and sell (available market) are tomatoes, bell peppers, green beans, snow peas, garlic, onions, potatoes, cucumbers, squashes (squash bugs are challenging though).  Now, put a sharp pencil to inputs, especially labor and marketability.  Only plant what you want to eat in case you can’t sell it all!  Too much diversity just increases stress!  But some variety all season can bring in more customers.

However, Missouri is considered a minor state in vegetable production, due to inappropriate soils and wide swings in weather variation.  Heavy soils in our north central part are particularly challenging and other than small gardens, vegetable growing is not part of the agricultural base found in this part of Missouri.

 

Ready to explore alternative profitable plants?  Read about these.  But you must do your homework!  Can you even find a market for ginseng or bamboo?

There is a movement across the country to embrace homesteading as a way of life.  Remember, though, farming is hard work with little financial reward, but it can be profitable with careful management, hard work, and no debt.  Keep your day job until the farm is paying.

What are your success stories of living on the land?!

Cheers

tauna

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Last fall, i put together a very short raised bed.  Only using a raised bed to make it easier to mow around.  This 2 ft x 16 ft spot will be all the gardening i plan this year.  
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Adding ALL of our kitchen food refuse to the buckets of dried cattle manure that had been placed in the 2 ft by 16 ft box.  My Asian long pole green beans will grow up the wire cattle panel along the back.