Tag Archives: soil

Timing the Cover crop seeding

Another piece of the puzzle of enhancing soil is planting those covers!  Farming and ranching are not independent components, but an intricate web of practices that are critical to the whole picture.  Back to the old way of farming now realizes that keeping roots and living organisms in the soil year round enhances soil quality and reduces or eliminates erosion.  Keep the soil covered!!!

Here’s an excellent idea-generating article by Amanda Kautz as published in the August 2019 issue of Missouri Ruralist.

high-clearance sprayerTom J. Bechman
GET A JUMP: There are farmers who are turning custom-seeding cover crops into a side business. They use a high-clearance sprayer equipped with a cover crop seeder.

3 ways to seed cover crops sooner

Here are three options for getting cover crops seeded earlier this fall.

Aug 07, 2019

By Amanda Kautz

Corn and soybeans were planted later than normal this spring. That means harvest will likely run on the late side as well. All this means your cover crop seeding method and choice of species become even more important.

If you intend to plant anything other than cereal rye, triticale or winter barley, you must consider and use seeding methods other than drilling after harvest.

Also, if the main purpose of your cover crop is to control soil erosion, you need to increase seeding rates of cover crops drilled after harvest. If fall 2018 taught us anything, it’s that late-planted cover crops provide little to no protection from soil erosion due to negligible growth in cold, fall conditions.

If you need a cover crop seeding method other than drilling, here are three options. Each has pluses and minuses. Also, remember that before choosing to seed cover crops before harvest, check plant-back restrictions on herbicide labels for products applied in crops this summer.

1. Aerial seeding. Aerial seeding is great if you’re dealing with a late harvest, especially if it remains wet. You may sacrifice some seed loss for earlier establishment, but in return, there’s no soil disturbance at all. This seeding method is also done while the corn and soybean crops are still in the field, allowing for more choice of cover crop species for your mix.

Aerial seeding does come with a higher price tag for application costs and for using a higher seeding rate. Another downfall can be more variable stand establishment if moisture isn’t available. Less consistent seed-to-soil contact can lead to less-than-desirable cover crop success.

2. High-clearance seeder. The main benefit of applying with a high-clearance seeder is being able to seed earlier in the season. The application occurs while the grain crop is still standing.

The seed loss is minimal, but the seed-to-soil contact isn’t as great as using a drill, planter or vertical-tillage tool. This method also may result in some crop damage due to preharvest application.

3. Combine seeder. What better way to seed cover crops than to do it during harvest? Seeding and harvest is all done in one pass. Seed loss is minimal, and timing is normally good.

However, with later combining dates this year, it may still be too late if you’re trying to establish species that need to be seeded earlier in the season to get good growth.

The other downside of this method is that refilling the seeder frequently may slow down harvest. This isn’t always something a producer wants to do. Finding the right seeder for your combine may be a challenge as well.

If you have questions about what would work best for your operation, contact your local conservation partnership office. They’re available to help with seeding rates, dates and other useful information.

Kautz is a district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. She writes on behalf of the Indiana Conservation Partnership.

Master Gardener

Perhaps Jessica was 8 or 9 when she enrolled in the University of Missouri’s Master Gardener program.  That was nearly 20 years ago!  She really got a lot out of it (though i think her favorite lesson was flower arranging) by learning a lot about companion cropping, planting and caring for flowers, trees, and community involvement.  One of the requirements for finishing the program was to do a community service/beautification project.  Contact your local county extension agent for information about Master Gardener and other education programs available in your area.

Anyway,  October Gardening Tips from Garden Talk! for the Heartland garden enthusiast, a 4 page newsletter available online including past editions.

The ones which i will use are:

  1. Transplant deciduous trees after they have dropped their leaves.  We found a few redbud trees saplings we’d like to enjoy closer to our house.
  2. Persimmons start to ripen, especially after frost.  Well this year, no frost yet, but the persimmons are already ripe, picked up, processed, and in the freezer!
  3. Place wire guards around trunks of young fruit trees for protection against mice and rabbits.  Last year, i lost nearly all my new fruit trees during the winter.  i did have protection around them that was about 18 inches tall, but the snow drifted taller than that and the critters girdled them above the protective sleeves by walking on top the snow!!! Grrrrr…..
  4. Continue harvesting produce.
  5. Sow oats as a cover crop (i’m also chopping down the Sunn Hemp and laying it flat on the soil)
  6. Winterize lawn mower.  We send ours to John Deere for complete maintenance then remove the battery and store it inside so it doesn’t freeze.

 

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Thorvin Kelp – Iceland

Though Dallas and i recently returned from 2 weeks stay in Iceland, we did not have opportunity to visit the location where Thorvin Kelp is harvested, dried, and packaged.  If i get the opportunity to go back, i will make a better effort to get there.  However, it is a 3 hour drive one way from Reykjavik, so we’ll see.  Driving is straightforward and fairly easy in Iceland, so it wouldn’t be difficult.

Here’s a brief history from Thorverk website:

The ascophyllum covered shores

The ascophyllum covered shores

Thorverk hf.

Thorverk hf. is a seaweed drying plant founded founded in 1986 on the remnants of the pioneering Þörungavinnslan at Reykhólar North of Breiðafjörður, Iceland. The abundnat seaweed grounds of Breiðafjörður have been harvested in the area since 1974 to produce geothermally dried algal meal. The geothermal heat comes from local boreholes. Thorverk is able to produce annually several thousand tons of pure, dry seaweed meal. The product has been certified as organic and sustainably harvested for decades..

Seaweed Meal Processing

Thorverk focuses on harvesting two species of seaweed: Ascophyllum nodosum and Laminaria digitata. The A. nodosum is collected between April and October using specially designed harvesting machines. They cut the plants obove the growth point. The harvested grounds are then left for regrowth for at least four years. L. digitata is harvested using a specially equipped coaster in late autumn and winter.

Harvesting schemes are deployed for the seaweed based on decades of experience and in accordance with surveys and consultancy from Icelandic and international marine biology experts.

Once landed, the crop is chopped and dried using a band drier. Clean, dry air is pre-heated to a max. of 85°C using hot geothermal water that is fed through heat exchangers. This gentle drying procedure ensures that all minerals and organic substances are preserved in the raw material. The drying heat also prevents surface oxidation and browning or burning. Its colour is therefore delightfully bright. The use of the geothermal water also means the production process is environmentally benign. The geothermal hot water flows freely from the wells and emits next to nil of CO2.

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Tuesday i took another pallet shipment of Thorvin kelp which i offer free choice to my cow/calf herd as well as offer for sale to those who don’t need a pallet at a time.  Thorvin Kelp is offered in 50 lb bags at $60 per bag picked up at Powell Seed Farm, Linneus, MO.

Iceland is a beautiful but sparsely populated country with natural resources including geothermal heat just spouting up all over!  and the sweetest tasting just-off-the-glacier water in the world.  More about our journey in Iceland in future blogs.

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Thorvin seems to be the USA package name for Icelandic kelp.  I’m trying to get that connection made.
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pure, dry seaweed meal from Iceland – Click here for the analysis
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this is a muddy day, but the cows still need minerals in north Missouri.  This feeder has 3 compartments in which i offer Thorvin Kelp, Pure Salt from Kansas (no YPS), and a hi-phosphorus product from Agri-Dynamics.
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Thorvin Kelp can also be added as a soil amendment – after all, it’s simply geothermally dried seaweed.

 

Managing Stock and Pasture

With an exciting title like that, one can hardly wait to read what’s within!  HA!

Nevertheless, managing our resources (in my case it’s primarily land and cattle) is a must and, yes, even biblically (Genesis 2:15) mandated, to not only preserve unadulterated landscape (not to be confused with managing by removing human and wildlife impact or just letting nature take its course – ‘mother nature’ is not wise), but also we can use intense management to restore and improve ravaged soils and water.  There is a cost, time, and planning involved – and, to most, that is just not exciting.  It’s more fun to blame someone else for whatever climate change, global warming, environmental downfall you believe in on someone else and, those in power play on emotion to create ways to transfer wealth out of yours and mine pocket and put it in theirs.  But the fact is that each of us can make incremental changes in our own lawns, houses, driving habits, purchasing choices which will make us feel better and it will, rather that cost us, put money in our own pockets.

We have waste on our farm and farming practices, to be sure, just as any company or household has – oftentimes there is a cost to manage the waste, so it’s more profitable to waste.  No harm in that – usually.   For example, after having my timber and draws profitably logged which also improved the land, air, water, wildlife, soil, the resulting branches and small logs are more effectively burned where they lay vs  chipping or chopping for firewood.  It is a huge cost to do either of latter.  However, before burning, i’ll allow them to rot down, putting nutrients and carbon back on the soil and provide some shelter for wildlife before i burn the piles.  So not a total waste.

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Here I’m installing a single strand poly braid electric fence with step in posts to keep the cows on the tall (older forage) grasses to the right.  I did this because the south half of this paddock was grazed Jun 23-25.  Although there is little regrowth even after 45 days (we are still dry despite the green forage), it will be more tasty to the cows and they will grub it down to the soil thereby setting it back for regrowth and allowing the drought to get a deeper grip.  Bare soil and short roots make for a disaster.  Soil erosion, high soil temperatures, slow regrowth, microbes, essential to soil health, will start dying off.
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Photo showing the shorter regrowth up front, the poly braid, and the taller, older forage in the background. The taller forage has not been grazed since last December and, though we are short on moisture, the rains have been much more timely than the past two years, so there is a nice variety of forages available and many of them have already gone to seed – adding to the reserve or seed bank in the soil for the future.
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Variety in the sward and decent ground cover for my worn out soil.  It has taken years to build a better pasture and this is actually some of the best.  It is located near the ditch so it has the topsoil from the ground above it plus more moisture.  However, even the worst soil is starting to support a thicker stand.  I’ll get a photo – i’m very excited about the improvement at long last!
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Not much regrowth despite being rested for 45 days.  Thankfully, through managed grazing, i can let this rest at least another 45 days.  You can see my boot in this photo – estimated height of sward is 6-8 inches.
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Perfect time to allow a long rest to allow this birdsfoot trefoil to go to seed!

Experiment with Soils

What is wrong with me that i have to have some sort of experiment going nearly all the time?!!!

Here’s the one i started today:  Start and plant date:  6 APR 19

Four containers which previously held Portabella mushrooms

Two containers are filled with soil from my garden.  One is unamended, the other is mixed with 2 teaspoons of Thorvin Kelp from Iceland which i keep on hand for my cows.  Each amount is approximately 2 quarts of soil.

Two containers are filled with ‘Magic Dirt’ organic potting soil.  One is unamended, the other is mixed with 2 teaspoons of Thorvin Kelp from Iceland.  Each amount is approximately 2 quarts of soil.

The purpose is to discover if the Magic Dirt is better than my soil (probably!) and if how it compares to each amended with Thorvin Kelp.

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On the left are the two garden soil with the one at the bottom being amended with 2 teaspoons of Thorvin kelp.  On the right are Magic Dirt  with the one on the bottom amended with 2 teaspoons of Thorvin Kelp.  I placed 4 seeds in each container of Squash Zucchino Rampicante- one of our very favourite winter squashes.

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Too Many Farmers & Ranchers?

In these slow times made so by inclement weather (snow, cold, ice, wind, mud, rain), my energy level increases because i’m not working as physically hard.  These past couple years, too, i’ve begun going to our local YMCA at 5am to walk and lift weights for a couple hours.  All this contributes to a restless feeling that i’m not accomplishing all that i can.  My children, now grown, are good at reeling in my ambition and crazy ideas a bit, which is good because i have a natural tendency to get too many irons in the fire.

However, the perspective of age has tempered and honed those expansive ideas as either increasing work or increasing investment.  The latter is much more attractive to me now as my physical strength wanes.

All that shared to relate an irony of agriculture in the United States.  Although, some would cry ‘save the family farm’ few actually have a real look at what the family farm is.  Are we dooming the modern family farm by idolizing the farms of the past?  or those small holdings in distant lands?  The reality is that farming/ranching has never been financial lucrative in the sense of ‘getting rich.’  Margins are slim, startup is pretty much insurmountable now, and i never thought i’d say it out loud, but i fear there are too many farmers/ranchers in the United States.  That is to say, that despite the average age of farmers is 58 or 59, farming of the agrarian sort (actually farming/ranching – not some related field) is more competitive than ever!  Outside investors and to an even greater degree, neighbouring prudent and successful farmers with disposable income bid up land to amounts beyond production value which keeps new farmers from entering.  Oh, yes, i know that mantra is that you don’t have to own land to start in farming, that is absolutely true, but at least here in north Missouri, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything to rent – pasture or crop land.  And, to be honest, most of the land in our county is not crop land, yet it’s been under the plough for decades and much has washed down the creek.

How did this happen?  Technology, bigger and better equipment, government support programs, and the never ending pressure to produce food cheaply.  All these contribute to fewer farmers necessary to farm the massive number of acres to produce crops with slimmer and slimmer profit margins.  Often, the only profit is the check collected from the federal government (you, the taxpayer).  But don’t blame the producer!  It’s just our system.

For some time now, interest rates on saved income has been lower than the inflation rate, resulting in outside investors hoping to get some return on their money, whereas farmers buy land to spread out the equipment costs.  Consider that for a row cropper here, land to purchase (it’s a rarity to find) will cost upwards of $4000/acre. (a small parcel just sold in the county next to us for $8000/acre!)

Thank A Farmer Kitchen Farms wheat harvest in Missouri by Finney Aerial Photo

There are a few farms asking less than that, but most are worn out (soil loss, erosion, and fertility may take decades of proper farming/ranching to reverse or restore) and should never have been cropped in the first place (steep slope, poor production indicators, etc).  Yet, the asking price is out of reach for anyone wanting to raise livestock.  One such farm near me would take at least $400/acre up front cost to restore it to even marginal pasture.  Add that to the asking price, and already it’s over $3500/acre! (Racks & Tracks listing)

So, is land more expensive now than in the past?  Consider my property just across the road from the above listing and of similar topography.

1857 – $1.83/acre – Today’s dollars = $53.19/acre

1870 – $13.41/acre – Today’s dollars = $258.87 (this buyer lost the farm)

1872 – $3.90/acre – Today’s dollars = $80.84/acre  (appraised value was $64.67/acre)

1875 – $4.79/acre – Today’s dollars = $110.12/acre

then several surveys and set aside for Morris Chapel Church and cemetery – finally back together in 1945

1945 – $11.97/acre – today’s dollars = $168.17/acre

1949 – $26.95/acre – Today’s dollars = $286.36

1966 – $92.81/acre – today’s dollars = $724.39*

2018 – $3100/acre – today’s dollars = $3100/acre (asking price of farm across the road)

Working backwards – what would a $3000/acre farm bring in 1949?  $282.34

*1966 is when my grandparents purchased the farm, it shows, too, another reason land owners won’t sell property – basis.  Since this farm was gifted to me, the basis from 1966 remains in place.  In other words, if i sold the land for $2100/acre, capital gains tax would be paid on the difference between $92.81 and $2100.  This tax could be as much as 23.8%!  However, if i die and the land passes to my heirs, it can be appraised and establish a new basis.

Tenants compete for acres by bidding up rental fees because of their massive investment in machinery.  Absentee farmers and investors generally accept the highest rent bid (which is usually the one that will least take care of the soil) and hope the fertility and productivity outlives them, then the property will sell.

Change comes one funeral at a time.

Rather than me stumbling about putting together numbers, here’s a great article written in 2017 with sample startup costs for someone wanting to start and make a living farming.

Cheers!

tauna

HOW MUCH $ DOES IT TAKE TO BECOME A FARMER?

THIS IS WHAT IT TAKES TO GO FROM ZERO MONEY TO A FARMER.
I was talking with a couple of farmers recently, discussing the barriers to entry for new farmers. Some numbers were thrown out as to how much capital it would take for a young man or woman to get started into farming.“$1 million, $2 million, more” were amounts bandied about. This made me curious, so I decided to drill down on the actual capital requirement.

First of all, we need to decide what kind of farmer we are talking about here. For this article, I’m assuming someone with no family farm who wants to become a full-time grain farmer in Iowa, Illinois, or Indiana.

The first thing a budding farmer might do is get a degree in agriculture, since he/she would not have learned farming on the family farm. This will cost somewhere between $20,000 and $120,000, depending on where he/she goes and what scholarships are available. The average of those two numbers is $70,000, which will require student loan debt for most young people. Of course, a degree is not required, but it might come in handy for convincing banks to loan money or landlords to lease cropland.

The equipment requirement could be an extensive discussion; however, I’ll try to keep it as short as possible. One could buy all new machines, but to get started, let’s assume the acquisition of decent used equipment – about 5 to 10 years old.

The basic list would include: a combine with corn head and grain platform for $175,000; a big tractor for plowing and planting at 125K; a grain truck for 60K; a planter that runs about 75K; a grain drill for 40K; a disk at around 30K; a chisel-plow for 30K; a field cultivator at 25K; a pull-type sprayer costs 35K; a grain dryer is 30K; a utility tractor for brush-hogging/ditching/grading at 35K; a grain cart for 15K; a trailer at around 15K; an ATV for 10K; and a full complement of tools costs 15K.

The building requirement probably includes a couple of metal buildings ($200,000) and at least a few grain storage bins to hold 75,000 bushels, about $75,000. There is no hard-and-fast land requirement. However, the farmers I spoke with said that someone would need at least 500 owned acres and 1,000 leased acres to make a living.

The quality of the land certainly affects those numbers. For this article, let’s assume 150-plus corn bushel-per-acre land for about $7,500 an acre. If you bought 500 acres as a base of operations, the total land cost would be $3,750,000.

Add it all up, and we arrive at $5,157,500. Wow! That’s a big number, and it’s out of reach for most young entrepreneurs.

Because of the cost of land and equipment today, some farmers are concerned about who will be able to follow them into the industry. How will they fund the enterprise, even with family land and equipment?

Because of greater access to capital, more corporate farms are likely.

The problem is not just start-up capital but also surviving drought years and low commodity prices until they turn around. Unfortunately, even though you are already a biologist, engineer, equipment operator, accountant, carpenter, and mechanic, you have to become an expert financier, as well, to get into farming and stay there.

Written by Shawn Williamson, Certified Public Accountant (CPA) MBA in Missouri and Illinois. This article is designed to be a commentary on the amount of capital required for a row-crop farm in the Midwest. It is not meant to be a guide on how to get started in farming. 

 

Regenerative Farming

One of the best educational conferences, Missouri Livestock Symposium, in the state of Missouri, with an outstanding lineup of speakers every year is free to attend and a free lunch sweetens the pot.  But all that aside, it is an excellent opportunity for farmers/ranchers/beekeepers/horse owners/stock dog enthusiasts to learn, not only from ‘experts’ but mostly from each other.  Like most industry, farmers learning and networking with other farmers often results in more improvement.

Of the many takeaways from the symposium was a brochure that hubby, Allen, picked up from the ATTRA-NCAT booth on “Building Healthy Pasture Soils.”  While the bullet points they make have been known for millennia, it doesn’t hurt to revisit them to see if a return to the old ways will be profitable and regenerative for today’s farming.   The answer is already a resounding ‘yes’ for the hand’s on land owner, but is debatable (short term anyway) for the renter or absentee land owner.  As my son’s fiance pointed out, it takes at least 4 years of regenerative farming practices to turn that soil health around.  Renters will not want to invest in a long term fertility strategy; absentee landowners are typically only interested in immediate returns in the form of annual cash rent.

Excerpt from article:

Strategies for Building Healthy Soils
Let’s consider the agricultural practices that help build healthy soil. In essence, we want to increase aggregation, contribute soil organic matter, increase biodiversity, buffer soil temperature, and minimize soil compaction and disturbance. Sounds like a lot, right?

Well, not really, if we break them down into six basic principles. Let’s take a quick look at the principles that will define our soil management practices:

  1. Minimizing tillage preserves soil structure, encourages aggregation, and keeps soil carbon in the soil profile where it belongs. Tillage brings a flush of oxygen into the soil that spurs microbes into a feeding frenzy on carbon molecules, resulting in CO2 release. We reduce tillage through the use of perennial pasture and minimum or no-till of cover crops.
  2. Maintaining living roots in the soil for as much of the year as possible feeds soil microorganisms all year.
  3. Also, by maintaining living roots and leaving grazing residual, we are covering the soil all year, forming an “armor” to protect it from loss of moisture and nutrients.
  4. Maintaining species diversity is achieved with cover crop mixes and the use of diverse perennial-pasture mixes. Try to incorporate warm- season and cool-season plants, both grasses and broadleaf plants, in the same fields.
  5. Managing grazing is accomplished by planning for an appropriate grazing-recovery period on your paddocks, keeping in mind that plants need various recovery periods depending on the species, the time of year, and the soil moisture content. Overgrazing (not allowing adequate recovery) reduces root mass, photosynthesis, and the amount of carbon sequestered into the soil, decreasing soil life. Proper grazing builds soil.
  6. Finally, utilizing animal impact and grazing impact provides nutrient cycling in pastures, and contributes to soil organic matter. Additionally, the grazing action on forage plants encourages root growth and root exudation of plant sugars that feed soil microorganisms.

For livestock producers, this boils down to a combination of perennial pasture, cover crops in rotation on annual fields, and good grazing management. These simple concepts are described by ranchers Allen Williams, Gabe Brown, and Neil Dennis in a short video on how grazing management and cover crops can regenerate soils. View the video Soil Carbon Cowboys to get their take on soil health practices.

Managing means planning AND implementing.  All the planning in the world will not enact change or improvement; action and motivation drives profitability and regeneration.  If you are not motivated, not able to get things done in a timely manner, then get someone to come alongside you and map out a plan – yet YOU are the one to ‘git ‘er done.  Too many times, i see people with excellent plans stymied by their inability to get out of the chair and off the paper – i call that analysis paralysis.  Don’t be a victim!

Cheers and happy farming!

tauna