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Organic Broadcaster Online Issue 20.5 September/October 2012
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Table of Contents
- Consider Winter Small Grains - A strategy to reduce feed costs
- The Challenges of GMO Testing - Six things you need to know about testing for GMO in seed and feed
- News From MOSES
- MOSES Updates - Last chance for MOSES Organic Farmer of the Year nominations
- Inside Organics - One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
- 2012 Farm Bill - Now you see it, now you don't
- Book Review - Farmstead Chef
- The Intern That Isn't - How internship programs and minimum wage laws work together
- Proof Positive - Organic Production of Cherries and Raspberries in High Tunnels
- Fishing for MOSES - A tale of adventure
- Winning Wisdom - What is a farm?
- MOSES Organic Field Day - Organic Animals for Beginners
- News Briefs
- 2013 Organic Farming Conference
- Organic Grain Report
Consider Winter Small Grains -
A strategy to reduce feed costs
By Joe Pedretti
The organic livestock industry is now facing a perfect storm. Decreased demand during the 2008-08 recession resulted in the loss of an estimated 65,000 acres of organic feed crops as some farmers turned to conventional production, which offered high prices at that time. Organic food marketing companies that previously were growing at 20% growth rates suddenly saw growth drop to zero. To compensate, some stopped taking on new farmers, and in some cases imposed quotas to reduce overall production. This drastically reduced demand for organic feed, which in turn caused a dramatic reduction in organic grain prices.
By 2011, the consumer demand for organic dairy and other livestock products rebounded to near pre-recession levels. Organic food companies responded by recruiting and adding new organic livestock producers, a move that drove up the demand for organic feed. This new demand pushed organic prices back to, and beyond pre-recession prices. The increased prices have spurred some new interest in organic crop production, but due to a number of factors (three-year transition time, continued high conventional prices, high land-rental prices) these new acres lag behind demand.
The last thing the organic livestock industry needed in a time of high demand, low supply and high prices was a widespread crop failure. The drought of 2012 has, and will continue to drive up the cost of organic feed. The full effect of the drought is yet to be seen, but it is universally agreed that it will be both difficult and expensive to source organic feed in the coming year.
Many farmers are culling their older and less-productive animals to reduce their feed needs. Without rain (or expensive irrigation) there is no way to coax pastures and fields into more production. Certifiers are working with producers to allow emergency forage cuttings on CRP land in some areas. Check with your certifier to see if this is an option for you. Certifiers also are working with the National Organic Program at the USDA to grant pasture variances in the worst drought areas of the country.
Consider Small Grains
Any strategy that allows organic livestock producers to bolster their own forage and grain production should be considered. An option to consider is winter small grains. At the “Best Practices for Organic Crops” MOSES/CROPP field day held at the Keith Wilson Organic Farm on July 25th, a panel of expert organic growers all recommended that farmers consider planting small grains this summer/fall to offset some of their forage and grain needs in the coming year.
With a lot of corn being chopped early this year, these acres easily could be planted to small grains for a fall grazing crop and a grain crop next spring.
To get insight on best winter small grain practices, I interviewed two experienced organic small grain producers: Joe Placke from southern Wisconsin and Carmen Fernholz from western Minnesota.
Joe Placke, an organic dairy farmer from Cuba City (southern Wis.) has been raising winter small grains for 16 years. Over this time he has planted winter rye, wheat, barley and triticale. In his experience, rye and triticale are the most winter-hardy, followed by wheat and then barley.
Joe uses winter rye as a forage crop. Reliably hardy, he has planted it as late as December 1st and gotten a good crop the next spring. When planted early (mid-August to Sept. 1), rye is a good grazing crop in the fall, and will still produce a strong forage crop for the next year. If you are forced by the drought to chop corn early, consider getting rye planted for a late-season and spring forage crop. Joe chops his rye in the spring and gets tonnage equal to first-crop alfalfa. “I have never had winter -kill of any consequence with rye,” Joe said. Wheat and triticale also can be used for a fall grazing crop, but must be planted early—usually in Mid-July to early August.
Winter small grains as a forage/grazing supplement works best after another small grain crop or after corn silage harvest, which is early enough to get good establishment in time for fall grazing. “If you plan to graze, use a good level seed bed,” said Joe. You need to disc or rotovate in the corn stubble and then prep the seed bed before you drill. Joe likes to plant as deep as possible—2-3 inches to ensure good moisture contact.
Joe notes that you should plant winter grains “as soon as you can get it in after corn” if you plan to harvest a grain crop next spring. Joe has planted triticale as late as November 1st and winter wheat as late as October 10th after corn harvest. Winter barley, being the least hardy, usually is planted by mid-September. Although Joe does not grow them, winter grains do well after soybeans.
Joe seeds at 1.5 bu for winter wheat and 1.75 bu for triticale. Joe averages around 80-100 bu harvest for triticale and 50-70 bu for wheat. A thick stand of wheat or barley protects against winter-kill.
Joe also has drilled alfalfa into wheat in April, using the wheat as a nurse crop. “The wheat may look bad after drilling, but it will rebound,” said Joe. Joe uses a lighter seeding rate for the wheat when he plans to drill in alfalfa. Joe also has frost-seeded clover with success.
Since corn is a fairly heavy feeder, it may be necessary to fertilize before planting a winter small grain crop. Joe applies about 4,000 gallons of liquid manure per acre for best results on his soils—usually after planting. You also can maximize production by spreading manure or compost/chicken litter in the spring before the frost leaves the ground. Although some sources will discourage planting wheat after corn due to fertility concerns, Joe has never had an issue as long as he applies manure. In his 16 years of planting wheat, he has had only two years where his crop has not made food grade.
Weeds are less of an issue in winter small grains; most will not germinate in the shorter days of fall, which allows the stand to establish and crowd out any germinating spring weeds.
Joe roasts his wheat and feeds 2-4 lbs per animal per day. Triticale is the closest to shell corn in feed value. Small grains should be roasted and rolled, cracked or ground fine for best results as an animal feed. Consult a livestock nutritionist on how to best utilize small grains in your rations.
Carmen Fernholz grows a lot of small grains on his farm in western Minn., which is quite a bit further north than Joe Placke’s farm, so planting dates become more critical. Carmen aims for a mid-August planting for winter wheat and usually plants it following barley. The latest planting date is September 1st in his area. Carmen does not have livestock, so fertility is more of a concern. Corn is usually harvested too late to plant wheat in his northern climate, but it may work for some after silage corn, especially if corn is chopped early due to drought this year. “If the corn is off by the 15th of September, you should be good to go with small grains,” Carmen notes. October 1st is the latest he has ever planted wheat in his area. He will plant wheat after soybeans if they are off by the end of September. Rye is more forgiving, he said.Even if planted later, it will take off well in the spring. Winter barley can be a good producer, but is tender and should be planted as early as possible compared to the hardier wheat and rye.
Carmen harvests the barley and straw, chisel plows, and then no-tills wheat into the seed bed. “Your best chance for moisture is in mid-to-late August. No-till drilling also conserves moisture,” Carmen said.
Carmen also recommends that livestock growers consider a “cocktail mix” of forages including turnips, radishes and small grains. If planted in late summer (mid-August to mid-September), this crop can be grazed in fall and the next spring.
Both Joe and Carmen warn that organic small grain seed will likely be in short supply this year, due to increased demand. If you cannot find organic seed, certifiers will allow the use of untreated, non-gmo conventional seed, as long as you document three attempts to locate organic seed. Check in with your certifier for final approval if you need to use conventional seed.
There is a lot of good information on growing organic small grains available. Check out these resources to get started. A little extra grazing forage and an early grain harvest next year may go a long way towards reducing your feed costs in this year of poor harvests and tight supply.
Organic Field Crop Handbook, Canadian Organic Growers, book available from MOSES
Joe Pedretti is a MOSES Organic Specialist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Challenges of GMO Testing -
Six things you need to know about testing for GMOs in seed and feed
By Logan Peterman
For those interested in safeguarding farms and food from the flood of unwanted Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), the first step is to be able to confidently identify GMO DNA. To accomplish that step, we need a common language and a consensus regarding standards and tests.
As the Farm Resources coordinator for Organic Valley, I am working to develop a testing program that will effectively monitor the cooperative members’ seed and feed for any GMOs. The challenge is that DNA from GMOs can travel in many ways: it could be present in a breeder’s foundation seeds, it might be pollen blown on the wind, or kernels and dust left in the hopper of a grain truck. One solution to this challenge is to strategically sample and test in order to identify sources of GMO “contamination.”
The details of genetic testing can get complicated in a hurry. With multiple tests, different methods for testing corn, soy and canola, and genetic “markers” for each individual GMO trait, the choices involved in testing can seem overwhelming. The good news is that there are several testing options out there, and, with a little patience we can understand enough of the science to make sound decisions about testing our seed and feed.
Here are six of the most important GMO testing lessons I’ve learned during my time on this project.
1. One-size doesn’t fit all.
Feed and seed require different approaches to testing. Seed requires the most stringent standard because any transgenic DNA in a seed will be passed on to the next generation. A higher standard requires a more detailed test. On the other hand, trying to test in the high volume feed market using only highly detailed (a.k.a expensive) tests would break the budget. For feed, a cheaper more portable option is called for.
2. There is no such thing as zero.
We can’t realistically expect to test every bit of seed and feed, so the next best thing is representative sampling. Unfortunately there’s a catch. Using sampling techniques, the best assurance we can currently get is what I have taken to calling functional zero. Functional zero means that “no evidence of GMOs was detected in the tested sample.” This is very different from saying, “There is absolutely no GMO contamination in the seed lot.” Unfortunately most of our customers want to hear the latter. Be careful not to say it though, so your statements remain true to the limits of statistics. Functional zero in samples still allows serious, legitimate claims about the purity of the whole, but the claims must be limited to a confidence level of less than 100%.
3. It’s all about seed.
Of the many components in our food system, the most centralized part is in the connection between seed producer and grower. If you can limit your GMO contamination at this point in the chain, you will actually stand a fighting chance of limiting contamination throughout the rest of the system. Our seed represents our livelihood and the work of generations of growers and agronomists. We have a lot to protect.
4. Testing methods matter.
There is more to testing for GMO contamination than a simple percentage, often referred to as a “threshold.” Receiving a test result for the first time brought up a heap of new questions for me. What does this number represent? How was it calculated? Why is it phrased in such a backwards way? Here is a set of short descriptions that can answer questions regarding the different testing options:
Feed Analysis (Option #1)
Test Type: Quantitative real-time PCR analysis (Q-PCR)
Application: Highly detailed feed testing
Process: Q-PCR grinds the whole sample into a fine powder (imagine you sent in a bag of corn kernels). Sub-samples are pulled from that powder and run through a machine for analysis of the DNA. The machine reports an amount of the target(s) genetic material in the sub-sample. Using statistics, the percentages for all of the sub-samples are used to create a statement about the larger lot from which the samples were drawn.
Reporting: The level of GMO traits found is generally reported as a percent of the expected amount that would be present in some highly saturated sample (such as a sample composed entirely of a common GM corn). This means the final number you receive from the lab is a relative percentage, not an absolute measure of genetic material.
Issues: Sometimes the genetics of GM crops are complicated “stacks” of different traits. Because of the way Q-PCR works, these stacks might cause results that indicate much more contaminated material in your sample than was actually present.
Test Type: Semi-Quantitative real-time PCR analysis (SQ-PCR)
Application: Highly detailed seed testing.
Process: SQ-PCR uses the same machine as Q-PCR but treats the samples going in and out of it very differently. In SQ-PCR, the sample is divided into groups first. For example, a 3,000 seed sample would generally be divided into 10 groups of 300 seeds. These 10 groups are each ground up separately and tested using the PCR machine individually. The results are then boiled down to a “yes” or a “no” for each group. If GMO contamination is detected the group is labeled “yes.” If not, it’s labeled “no.” During testing, lab technicians also can reduce the influence of partial seeds and contaminated dust on the final results by carefully setting the amount of DNA it takes to change a sub-sample’s designation to “yes.” This process allows a reduction of the problems caused by “stacked” traits, and makes this test preferable for seed testing.
Reporting: Results are listed for each group of seeds tested. Using statistics, that list of “yes” or “no” values also is turned into an estimated percentage of GMO contamination in the entire population.
Issues: SQ-PCR is expensive. Sampling a 3,000 seed sample generally costs about $250, so this test is not good for large numbers of samples. The test also is limited to samples where discrete seeds can be counted and tested. Materials like cornmeal and ground feed can’t be analyzed with this type of test.
Feed Analysis (Option #2)
Test Type: Strip tests
Application: High-volume testing where fast results are required. These tests are much cheaper than the PCR-type tests, and they can be performed dependably outside of a certified lab
Process: The sample is ground and mixed into a liquid. Then you dip a special strip into the liquid sample. That strip contains a set of chemicals that react to proteins produced by one specific GMO trait. After about 5 minutes, a color change or some other visual indicator on the strip gives the result.
Reporting: Strips can vary in the way their information is communicated. Some strips are set up to produce a simple yes or no for a given level of contamination (such as “greater than 1% presence of trait X”). On the other hand, some strips can be read using a special machine that will quantify the color change and report an actual percentage of contamination.
Issues: Strips have a limited shelf-life and old strips can produce inaccurate results. In addition, you need a separate strip for each GMO trait you want to measure. That means if you want to test for every trait currently possible for corn contamination you are going to need around 20+ different strips.
5. How clean is “clean”?
Many worry that organic consumers expect no GMOs at all. The organic sector needs to develop standards that represent the highest technically achievable goal for purity. For this reason, Organic Valley is promoting a seed standard of “None found in a 3,000 seed sample using SQ-PCR.” The standard is specific, statistically strong and doesn’t include a “threshold” or “tolerance”—which might give the mistaken impression that we’re willing to accept GMO contamination. We also appreciate that this standard was originally developed by active players in the seed industry. The original draft was created by Charlie Brown of Brown Seed Genetics and is now being certified by the Association of Seed Certifying Agencies (AOSCA) as the Purity PlusTM standard. That said, as a sector we still need to wrestle with downstream contamination and the fact that organic agriculture exists in a conventional world.
6. Many in the seed industry are willing to work with us.
Any standard has to be workable for farmers and seed producers alike. In the process of my work on Organic Valley’s seed standard I’ve discussed the implications of the standard with a number of people in the seed business. I’ve been impressed by their cooperative attitude, I feel confident this standard presents a reachable goal. Essentially the politics are being pushed aside, and the question to vendors becomes “Can you produce a product with these specifications?” If we are willing to handle the added cost, they are willing and able to produce product that meets a very high GMO-purity standard.
The natural spread of GMO DNA makes it critical that we commit to monitor the genetic content of our seed and feed. We’re past the point of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” While the full responsibility for the release of GMOs into the world may lie with others, we all have a responsibility to take what steps we can to protect ourselves and our crops.
- Work with your seed vendors. Ask them if they test for GMO contamination in untreated and organic seed lots. If they do, ask for specific results. They can respond only if we communicate our desire to purchase clean seed.
- If you save seeds for corn, soy or canola, get your lines tested so you know they are free of GMOs.
- Keep educating yourself on this important subject. MOSES offers workshops on GMO contamination and testing nearly every year at the Organic Farming Conference. Attend, and ask the experts in person!
Logan Peterman is the Farm Resource Coordinator at Organic Valley /CROPP Cooperative.
News from MOSES
It is sobering to be living in a year that we will look back upon, saying “well, it’s not as bad as the summer of 2012.” I guess I should say, hopefully, as we hope this isn’t the way weather just is from now on. We argue that well-managed organic soils are more tolerant to drought and other extremes, but there is a point where even the best system is challenged. Even long-term organic farmers have lost crops this year. I hope that you are coping.
I like to look at the cup half full rather than empty, and so will join with those who point out that times of challenge have their upsides—this summer will force us to become better managers find ways to economize, to be more resourceful. We will lose farmers, though—a sad fact of hard times. I hope that you find yourself prepared to make it through the times of small yields and high prices, that you have enough feed for your animals for the winter, enough of a crop to cover your expenses. Hopefully Joe’s ideas on small grains will help.
I expect that you are already aware that there are many resources to help smooth the way. Hot off the press is the news from the USDA that pasture requirements for ruminants will be temporarily relaxed. Many states have opened up public lands for crop harvesting and grazing. The NRCS opened a very short window for EQIP funds to help replant pastures, hopefully you heard about that before the deadline (8/24/12 in WI). The ATTRA website listed in the News Briefs on page 16 is a good place to connect with these and other programs.
The successful MOSES field days season is coming to a close. We really appreciate all of our gracious farm hosts and the many participants that came out on hot days to see successful organic agriculture. Read about one you may have missed on page 13, and check out the calendar on the back page to see if you can catch one or two more before the season closes.
Planning for the 2013 Organic Farming Conference is well under way. We list the OU topics on page 17, hopefully you will be drawn to one of these great day-long sessions this next year. Conference programs will be in the mail in early December. If you can’t wait, check out the website at www.mosesorganic.org for updates as plans are completed.
Good luck with late summer harvests and prep for the fall,
Organic Broadcaster Editor
Inside Organics -
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
By Harriet Behar
On August 1, 2012, the Minnesota Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling that organic farmers Oluf and Debra Johnson could receive damages from pesticide drift under the Minnesota trespass law. This Supreme Court ruling was based on the premise that movement of “particulate matter” could not constitute trespass, but instead should be considered a nuisance. This ruling is truly a step backwards for the rights of organic farmers and specialty crop growers, who are very susceptible to the damage caused by pesticide drift.
A dissenting judge felt the full court judgment was incorrect, stating that there are many different types of particulate matter, with many different results when they cross from one property line to another. Size, quantity and the result of the drift should be taken into account, according to the dissenter. Unfortunately, this dissent was from just one judge out of nine on the court, and his points were not viewed as significant by the full court. While the door is open for the Johnsons to sue the offending pesticide applicator for “negligence,” this is much harder to prove and to receive damages for than under the trespass law.
This ruling is disturbing in its far-reaching effects. There was hope that the tresspass law could be used to protect organic farmers, but this ruling now creates precedent for those causing pesticide drift to not be charged with trespass in Minnesota. Most states, including Minnesota, have some protections for landowners who experience damage from pesticide drift onto their property. It was acknowledged in the court record that the pesticide application was done when the wind speed was higher than allowed, therefore breaking the Minnesota statute covering pesticide application. Unfortunately, that Minnesota law has a two-year statute of limitations, and the Johnson’s claims under this statue were dismissed. The Supreme Court also felt that the particulate matter from the spray was not “tangible” enough to be considered trespass.
Problematic Interpretation of the NOP
Even more problematic than the trespass issue was the Court’s interpretation of the federal organic regulation. Their ruling stated that the organic certification agency was incorrect in stating the crop which received pesticide drift was no longer certifiable as organic, and that the land would need to go through a three-year transition in order to again be certified as organic.
The court interpreted the portion of the NOP regulation which states that no prohibited substances can be “applied” to land for three years prior to the harvest of an organic crop as meaning the application was done by the certified organic farmer, not by any other party. Since the organic farmer did not “apply” the pesticide in this case, the court said this aspect of the regulation should not be considered when determining whether the crop was organic. Instead, the court used the section of the NOP regulation (205.671) that states organic crops that contain more than 5% of the EPA tolerance of a pesticide cannot be sold as organic to help them arrive at their decision. The NOP regulation states that less than 5% of a pesticide could be present due to “unavoidable residual environmental contamination.”
Since the Johnson’s crop was not tested to prove it had a pesticide “residue” of more than 5% of the EPA tolerance, the court stated the organic certification agency had no grounds to declare the crop or the field as non-organic. There was no denial that the pesticide had drifted onto the Johnson’s organic field and crops; this has occurred numerous times over the past 10 years. The Supreme Court tried to address the question, “What is considered organic?” by using this 5% EPA tolerance level.
The lawyer for the cooperative that sprayed the offending pesticide was quoted by the Associated Press as saying ...the ruling was “a very logical result when you think about what it means for agriculture as a whole.” He also stated that the 5% level “establishes a bright-line test for what is organic and what is not.”
As organic producers, we do not believe the designation of organic is based on testing the crop. We put a significant amount of thought and effort into meeting the many aspects of the regulation, not just the one aspect that mandates a low residue level of pesticides. I believe the court made a significant error when interpreting the NOP regulation, viewing the organic label as a pesticide residue level assurance rather than a holistic system which includes the avoidance of toxic materials.
In addition, it is my understanding that the 5% EPA tolerance level was set up for pesticides that have a long persistence in the soil, or other “unavoidable” occurrences that might result in pesticide detection. It seems to me that pesticide drift is something that is avoidable, and therefore I feel that the Minnesota Supreme Court interpreted the organic regulation incorrectly.
It is not just organic farmers who suffer from pesticide drift. Many nontraditional crops are grown around the United States, from wine grapes in Minnesota to chestnuts in Iowa, which are vulnerable to traditional pesticides. We’ve also seen a significant impact of insecticide drift on native pollinators and commercial honey bee operations. This court ruling could affect all of these operations.
Just because organic and specialty crop growers are a smaller percentage of the crops grown in the United States doesn’t mean that we don’t have clear private property rights to use our land to grow what we want without the unwanted intrusion of toxic substances that damage our ecosystem, soils, crops and well being. Those applying synthetic pesticides in our environment should be required to control where the materials end up, with drift not accepted as something “normal” by those who do not want them on their land or crops. It is not logical to think that because these unwanted pesticides are used by our neighbors, and that the wind blows regularly, that organic growers and consumers should see pesticide drift as “unavoidable.”
The Minnesota Supreme Court acknowledges in its opinion that other states may allow a trespass lawsuit when applied to intangible particulate matter, and these states might have ruled differently in this case. We in the organic community need to be looking at the statutes in our own states, as well as the current federal organic regulation, to see if there is any way to strengthen those statutes to avoid more unfortunate rulings such as this one in the future.
I receive numerous calls every year from organic farmers around the Upper Midwest and beyond with tales of woe resulting from the invasion of unwanted spray, usually applied by custom applicators on neighboring land. These occurrences are not only about the dollars lost when the organic premium is gone, but also the lack of respect for the landowners who specifically chooses to not have these substances on their land, in their air and water, or around their crops and livestock. The USDA definition of organic includes protection of the ecosystem and enhancement of biodiversity, with organic farmers working to promote and enhance the health of the farm environment.
The Johnsons have spent much time and money to hold the pesticide applicator accountable for the damage done, and to try and have the applicant respect the sanctity of the certified organic land, but to no avail. At the time of this writing, the Johnsons are consulting with their attorney to see if there are any next steps. I know many of our readers join with me in wishing them well, and thanking them for fighting the good fight.
For more information:
Johnson v Paynesville Farmers Union Cooperative Oil Company
Harriet Behar (email@example.com) is a MOSES Organic Specialist.
2012 Farm Bill -
Now you see it, now you don't
By Harriet Behar
While there doesn’t seem to be any “normal” process in our government, this year’s farm bill has been even more unusual than expected. The Senate agriculture committee put together its bill, it went to the floor, received a few amendments and was voted and passed with bipartisan support (64 yay, 35 nay).
While this Senate bill did not contain all provisions the organic and sustainable farming community would like, it did have significant reform in some areas and acceptable funding for many programs we care about, while including 23.6 billion dollars of spending cuts over its five-year life cycle. However, this Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act has met a giant snag in the House of Representatives, even though the House Agriculture Committee has completed its work and sent it to the speaker of the House.
With only a few legislative days left between legislator’s return to Washington in September and the election, it is unknown if a 2012 farm bill will be passed. The speaker can choose to allow the bill to come to the floor and allow amendments, or he can send the current House agriculture bill directly to conference with the Senate, or some other “unusual” method could be used for moving this forward, including passage of a farm bill during a lame-duck session after the election.
As we all know, a significant portion of the country is suffering from a devastating drought, with forecasts for lower yields for crop producers and higher costs for livestock feed and consumer products. There has been talk of putting together an abbreviated farm bill, or an extension of the current bill coupled with some type of drought relief. The organic and sustainable farming community, along with many in the conventional farming world, is calling for Congress to pass an actual farm bill, and not just an extension or type of approach that would ignore the many reforms and issues addressed by both the full Senate and the House ag committee. Many programs that work with beginning, organic, small and mid-sized producers would not be continued through an extension process. It is important that Congress does its work and provides clarity to farmers so they can move forward with their production plans and implementation.
There were many differences between the two bills. Funding for ATTRA was included at $5 million per year on the Senate side, but not funded at all in the House bill. Funding for the Organic Certification Cost-Share Program was retained in the Senate bill, but not in the House bill. Funding for organic research was cut more drastically in the House than the Senate, with provisions in each, but not both, for different improvements to organic crop insurance. In addition, the House committee bill has four “rider” provisions that include prohibiting government agencies from implementing the endangered species act and the clean water act when protecting habitats and surface waters from toxic pesticide applications. Riders put in place a law that narrows the already limited control over GMO plants.
It would help to call your House representative to say that the funding of these programs is very important to the economic viability of your operation, and that these dangerous riders should not be included in the final law.
The Senate proposal caps direct payments for specific commodity payment programs at $50,000 per individuals, the House ag committee sets that limit at $125,000. The Senate put in a clearer definition of who is “actively engaged” in farming and would be eligible for these payments; the House did not, leaving many current loopholes in place. Conservation compliance currently required to receive government subsidy dollars in many programs was retained in both bills, but only the Senate extended this compliance to those who receive crop insurance as well. Since much of the bill puts the farmer “safety net” in subsidized crop insurance rather than other programs, this tie-in with conservation compliance is very important to the health of our working lands and waterways.
Check the MOSES website policy action alert page, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the Organic Farming Research Foundation websites for further information and timely actions you can take to promote healthy farms and farming communities into the future.
Harriet Behar (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a MOSES Organic Specialist.
Book Review - Farmstead Chef
By John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist
Review by Jody Padgham
Any book with a section called “Nature’s Ponzi Scheme” certainly will be interesting, don’t you think? John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist are referring here in their new cookbook, Farmstead Chef, to garlic. Garlic and other seeds and plants, and the way nature gives us a bounty that perhaps we take for granted. You plant one and you harvest many- “it’s practically impossible to go bust—nature is hardwired to cover itself, reproductively speaking” they explain. Oh yeah, these guys speak my lingo.
I love stories, especially stories that teach me something, and this book offers a cornucopia. The wisdom, humor, and basic practical information shared by John and Lisa is captivating. Tales of their life at Inn Serendipity Bed and Breakfast are interspersed with backgrounds on agriculture and food politics. Recipes are complemented by vegetable growing tips. Very funny and engaging personal stories highlight philosophies while sharing useful skills, such as the building of John and Lisa’s strawbale greenhouse in a section titled “Small Bites, Big Change.” That story ends “So when things overwhelm, think carrot stick, not carrot cake. What can I nibble at today?” Hmm…now that’s a nugget to take away.
I must ‘fess up that Lisa and I work together at MOSES, and MOSES is the first in a long list of credits given in the book. I’m not unbiased as I page through the book, knowing how much I admire this couple for their passion, skill and pure joy in what they do. I expect a fantastic book from them, and am not disappointed.
In a conversation with me a year or more ago, John had the phone to his ear while at the stove. “We’re trying a new soup recipe,” he said. “I think we’ve almost got it.” The recipes have been crafted and tested—and are good because they’ve been served and tweaked and refined. The ingredients are fresh, picked out the back door in the garden, or from the neighbor’s farm down the road. John and Lisa cook like I do—not based on packages and jars, but simple recipes based on real FOOD that comes out of the ground. This is such a comfort. The instructions are straight forward, with short introductions to set the stage, offering a few serving tips or alternate ingredients.
Being Wisconsinites, it is no surprise that a majority of the recipes feature butter, milk and cheese. A simple coding system using symbols lets you know which recipes are vegan or gluten-free, a thoughtful feature.
With prolific conversations about food and food politics in the air these days, it is refreshing to read food philosophy presented in such a friendly, common-sense way. A section titled “Our Food, Our Farm, Our Rules” personalizes John and Lisa’s approach to eating and politics, summarized into a “food compass” with a few simple steps anyone can take to create a “food route to healthier eating.” You’ll find no dogma here, just doable suggestions, such as using quality ingredients, eating things that taste good to you (and avoiding those that don’t!), utilizing leftovers, and avoiding preservatives.
Also included are a few profiles of farmers who grow and produce the food John and Lisa recommend we eat. A story about Illinois beef producers, Beth and Jody Osmond, doesn’t just tell the farm story, but explores the connection between the two farms, and the Osmonds’ philosophies on raising meat.
Generous quotes and “food tips” round out the pages, including my favorite: “As for butter versus margarine, I trust cows more than chemists.” (Joan Gussow, ecologically minded nutritionist).
This book deserves a lot of attention, more than I can give it here. It is a great read, for anyone new or experienced with food production and cooking. I’d recommend it for great CSA newsletter stories, to add to your own recipe collection, or as a gift to friends or family.
The Intern That Isn't
How internship programs and minimum wage laws work together
By Rachel Armstrong and A. Brayn Enders
Imagine the scene. It’s late November. The hot, and dry summer has yielded to fall, and the peace of winter is still a promise. With the machinery finally prepped for winter, the barn organized, and the garlic mulched, the farmer says good bye to the summer’s faithful interns and wishes them luck in their next ventures. Although their help on the farm is essential, the farmer sees them off with mixed feelings. Without having to stop and train her interns constantly, she can finally get things done. Now imagine the scene when the farmer opens her mail the next week and pulls out notice of a lawsuit from a summer intern.
This scene might actually have played out in Oregon in 2006 when a former intern sued his employer, a 13-acre organic vegetable farm that had hosted interns throughout its 23-year past, for back pay totaling $5,600. The intern claimed that he was actually an employee and was owed the minimum wage for all hours worked. He also claimed he hadn’t authorized the deduction of room and board from his wages, as was required by law.
I’ll get right to the point; the intern won his case. Although these lawsuits are very scarce, they are a dark cloud hanging over many farms with an unpaid or low-pay internship program. The federal government has ruled on when interns need to be paid minimum wage and how deductions may be taken for room and board. If these guidelines aren’t followed, farms are vulnerable to a similar lawsuit.
When may an intern be paid less than the minimum wage? The federal government lists six criteria that must be met to justify sub-minimum wages. Three of these are especially problematic for many farmers. First, an intern must not provide the employer with an immediate advantage. The phrase “immediate advantage” is a bit cryptic so the government has offered this explanation: when the intern performs the routine, productive work of the business on a regular basis, the employer has gained an immediate advantage. It’s easy to see how this criterion is a problem—if our hypothetical intern isn’t doing the routine, productive work of farming, the farmer probably won’t keep the intern around for long. The intern would likely be displeased as well. Beginning farmers pursue internships because they want hands-on experience. Doing the work under the watchful eye of an experienced farmer is an ideal way to learn the subtleties and nuances of the profession.
At this point, we’ve addressed only one of the six required criteria for an internship program and it already looks impossible. This is true, and there’s a reason for that. The legislation establishing a minimum wage, the Fair Labor Standards Act, was designed to protect as many workers as possible. To carry out that purpose, the internship guidelines are intentionally very restrictive. If an intern isn’t paid minimum wage, the federal government wants to make sure the intern isn’t really an employee. Hindering their ability to do productive work is an excellent way to keep interns from being confused with employees. That explanation hopefully will put these next two criteria in perspective as well.
An internship must be structured around a classroom or academic experience. When a farmer says “intern” we all know that means the worker receives education as well as experience, so this isn’t a surprise. However, in practice, many farms may not be meeting this criterion. It’s easy to lose sight of educational experiences when the tomatoes are coming on or irrigation needs to be moved. An intern’s claim for minimum wage will be decided as much on how educational instruction actually plays out as on the farmer’s intentions.
Lastly, the intern may not displace regular employees. This criterion is a real killer because very few farmers are hiring interns just because they are fun to have around; farmers do it because they care about training beginning farmers and they have work that needs doing. However, going back to the intent of the Fair Labor Standards Act, those who do the work of a for-profit business should qualify for minimum wage.
This doesn’t make things look good for most internship programs whether we’re talking about farming or any other industry. Unfortunately, reclassifying interns as apprentices won’t help either. Apprentices are subject to just as many requirements that ensure workers are paid minimum wage. So what’s a farmer to do? Certainly, paying minimum wage to all workers is the best possible way to avoid any problems. But, cash flow can be a problem, so there may be other opportunities.
It’s possible for farmers to substitute food and housing at its fair market value for some cash wages. But, this substitution must be formalized. Thinking back to the Oregon lawsuit above, the intern claimed that his room and board was improperly deducted from his wages. He won on that claim because the farmer didn’t get a signed statement from the intern indicating that he was aware that room and board was in lieu of, rather than in addition to, wages. If the farmer had gotten a signed release and paid any additional money wages to equal the minimum wage, things might have turned out differently. Some states set limits on the total deduction that can be taken for food and lodging. For example, in Wisconsin, no more than $8.30 per day can be deducted from wages for lodging.
Small Farm Exemption
Additionally, “small farms” are exempted from minimum wage requirements in some states. However, the definition of “small farm” is specific to minimum wage rules and varies between states. Illinois, for example, follows the least stringent definition allowed by federal law. An Illinois farmer can figure out if she qualifies for this exception by looking at records for her busiest three months in the previous year. Then, she would count each worker on the farm for each day, regardless of how many hours they were there. For example, if the farmer has three workers show up for 5 days each week over three months, (12 weeks), she would multiply three workers by five days and by 12 weeks, which equals 180 (3 x 5 x 12). If the Illinois farmer’s number is below 500, she is a “small farm.” Again, note that many states do not exempt small farms and those that do may follow a different calculation. Farms that do meet an exception are not obligated to pay their workers minimum wage and can avoid the internship criteria altogether. Keep in mind though that workers compensation, unemployment insurance, and other obligations may still apply to paid and unpaid interns.
Farmers and interns want to work together. The entire farming community benefits from more new farmers learning the craft on real, productive farms. At the same time, the farming community benefits when interns have the security that a minimum wage provides, where it is required. These goals mutually reinforce each other. The first step farmers can take towards these shared objectives is assembling an explicit, signed internship agreement that includes a detailed accounting of any deduction for any food or lodging. Farmers should also discuss employment rules with an attorney to be sure they are satisfying their state’s requirements.
For more information, visit www.farmcommons.org/employees and http://www.directfarmbusiness.org/labor-and-employment/.
Disclaimer: This article does not provide legal advice or establish an attorney-client relationship between the reader and authors. Important information may be excluded in the interest of space or clarity. Always consult an attorney regarding your specific situation.
Rachel Armstrong is the Executive Director of Farm Commons, a nonprofit legal organization dedicated to farmers. Bryan Endres is an Associate Professor of Agricultural Law at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.
Proff Positive -
Organic Production of Cherries and Raspberries in High Tunnels
By Greg Lang, Eric Hanson and Ben Gluck, Department of Horticulture, Michigan State University
Greg and Eric presented this research as part of the 2012 Organic Research Forum. In December we’ll have listings of planned presentations for the 2013 Research Forum.
We began studying organic production of fruits in multi-bay high tunnels at our Horticulture Farm on the MSU campus in 2010, following five years of high tunnel fruit research using minimal conventional production inputs at our MSU Southwest research station. A key reason to establish these new trials on campus was that, while the altered production environment of the high tunnel revealed some distinct advantages for controlling some pests and diseases that are very challenging in unprotected organic culture in the Great Lakes region, to go truly organic required a more holistic approach to both soil and pest management, and this required the involvement of a greater team of MSU scientists. Consequently, we developed this project in partnership with the MSU Student Organic Farm and a broad range of faculty expertise, including John Biernbaum (organic vegetable production systems), Rufus Isaacs (fruit entomology), Annemiek Schilder (fruit pathology), Dan Brainard (cover cropping in sustainable systems), Matt Grieshop (sustainable ecosystem services), Adam Montri (high tunnels), Vicki Morrone (organic extension programming), in addition to the authors (Eric Hanson, small fruit production, Greg Lang, tree fruit production, and Ben Gluck, graduate student).
The project utilizes Haygrove high tunnels that have nine interconnected bays, each 26 ft wide by 200 ft long and covering about one acre in total. Primocane (fall-bearing) raspberries were planted in 2010, and sweet cherries on dwarfing rootstocks were planted in 2011. The cherry tunnel bays are usually covered with plastic from late March or early April to September, with the main covering objectives including the advancement of bloom, protection of flowers from frosts, protection of fruit from rain-induced cracking, and protection from rain-disseminated diseases. The raspberry bays are covered from May to late October, with the main covering objectives including protection from rain-disseminated diseases and promotion of greater growth and longer flowering and fruit harvest. Naturally, for pick-your-own markets, covered orchards and berry patches provide greater opportunities for clientele to harvest their desired produce rain or shine. Here are some early observations from our research.
Varieties. All varieties tend to perform better in tunnels, and relative differences between types in the field tend to be seen in tunnels as well. We are growing ‘Himbo Top’, ‘Joan J’, and ‘Polka.’ Each type has strengths and drawbacks. ‘Polka’ is early with excellent flavor and a medium red glossy surface, but plants have been very attractive to Japanese beetles and potato leafhoppers. ‘Himbo Top’ produces large fruit with an attractive lighter red color, but canes are somewhat spindly, and they seem to be more attractive to spider mites. ‘Joan J’ appears least prone to pests and has excellent flavor, but fruit are quite dark red.
Fertility. Since our tunnels are covered with plastic during the growing season, one question is how to provide season-long fertility when rain is excluded. It appears that much of the nitrogen in surface-applied compost or dry organic fertilizer does not become available to the plants after the soil surface dries out, so plants become nutrient-starved late in the season. A solution to this may be to supplement surface additions by injecting soluble nitrogen sources, such as fish hydrolysate, into the trickle irrigation system during the growing season.
Pests. Insect pests have been our biggest challenge. Spotted wing drosophila appeared in 2011. This fruit fly lays eggs in maturing berries. We trapped the first adults in early September 2011 and began a program of alternating sprays of Entrust and Pyganic, along with timely, thorough harvest. Fruit infestations were controlled for the rest of the season. The adults emerged in mid-July in 2012. We began spraying at that time, but have two serious problems. First, Entrust has a limit to how much can be applied in one season, and we will reach that amount long before the picking season ends in October. Second, sprays in late July appear to reduce the number of predatory mites on the plants. As a result of this and the hot, dry 2012 season, spider mites have exploded and are causing severe damage now. Other pests encountered include Japanese beetle, potato leafhopper, and raspberry sawfly.
Varieties. Several dozen varieties have been grown successfully in our SWMREC high tunnels, and additional varieties, such as the new Cornell varieties ‘RadiancePearl’ and ‘BurgundyPearl.’ and the Star series (e.g., ‘BlackStar,’ ‘BigStar,’ ‘EarlyStar,’ etc.) are under test in our organic tunnels. High-value blush-type varieties, like ‘Rainier,’ have performed extremely well, though light management strategies (venting to admit some direct sunlight, using reflective plastic fabrics on the orchard floor to reflect light back up into the canopy) are critical to achieving a good red blush on the yellow-fleshed fruits since most plastics reduce the ultraviolet light that is key for their red pigment formation. Dark red-fruited varieties like ‘Black Pearl,’ ‘Benton,’ ‘Sandra Rose,’ ‘Lapins,’ ‘Skeena,’ and ‘Sweetheart’ have done very well, with very large fruit size and excellent yields. We have had difficulty setting an adequate crop on ‘Regina.’
Powdery mildew, which is usually a minor problem in the Great Lakes region, can become a significant problem under tunnels. Varieties with resistance to mildew, such as ‘Hedelfinger,’ therefore are desirable for tunnel production. We have a number of experimental breeding selections with genetic resistance to mildew currently under test. Previous experience in our SWMREC high tunnels found that ‘Early Robin,’ a variety that is quite susceptible to bacterial canker in our climate, had less incidence of canker in the tunnel than outside, but because the trees are exposed to the climate in fall and winter, and the prime infection periods for canker are fall through spring, we still lost a significant number of ‘Early Robin’ trees in the tunnels over time. We would expect similar unsatisfactory results with other varieties that are highly susceptible to canker, like ‘Bing.’
Rootstocks. Precocious rootstocks are essential to achieve early production, and rootstocks that reduce vigor somewhat also help with the challenge of maintaining tree canopies within the confines of the tunnel. Gisela 3 is very dwarfing; Gisela 5 is dwarfing to semi-dwarfing; and, Gisela 6 and Gisela 12 are semi-vigorous to vigorous. Soil quality, tree-training system, and management of irrigation and soil fertility further affect tree growth. Meeting tree-nutrient needs under organic fertilization regimes is a key focus for on-going research.
Training Systems. Since the plastic covers on the tunnel reduce photosynthetically-active light levels by 15 to 25%, training the trees for good light distribution throughout the canopy is key to achieving good productivity and high quality fruit. New high-density training systems that focus on creating many new shoots during establishment help to keep tree vigor in balance and increase the uniformity of light distribution within the canopy. The more narrow and upright or conical the tree canopy, the better the light distribution to flower buds and the nearby leaves that support fruit growth. We are comparing the super slender axe (SSA), the upright fruiting offshoots (UFO), and the tall spindle axe (TSA) space-efficient training systems. The TSA is free-standing, the SSA requires a top-wire trellis, and the UFO requires a multi-wire trellis. We are testing several types of plastic or plastic-coated wires, since steel wire can increase the potential for bacterial canker where it rubs against the tree bark.
Pests (Diseases, weeds, insects). Eliminating rain from the cherry orchard has eliminated cherry leaf spot and reduced bacterial canker. Powdery mildew has increased. Brown rot fruit fungus remains a challenge, and is a key focus for testing or developing organic control measures. Weed competition has been minimized with the use of weed barrier fabrics on the orchard floor, though this raises the question of how to add organic matter to the soil in the tree row. Cover cropping and compost research is exploring the timing of the use of these soil-building strategies coupled with seasonal use of barrier fabrics to add organic matter during fall-winter months and prevent root competition during spring-summer months.
The first insect pests to show up during the growing season are black cherry aphids, which thrive under the protection of covers. We resisted the urge to spray Pyganic when aphid damage began curling leaves and stunting shoot growth. Within a week or two of their appearance, an impressive array of predators showed up, led by ladybird beetles and lacewings, and the aphid populations were quickly brought under control. Most plants grew out of the shoot damage, though we would recommend possible spot treatments for high infestations on very young trees before predators appear, so as to not significantly retard their important establishment growth. We anticipate plum curculio to be a problem as the trees begin fruiting, and control strategies are a key component of current entomology research. The earlier ripening promoted by the tunnels (anticipate June harvesting) may help avoid potential problems with cherry fruit flies and spotted wing drosophila, the populations of which tend to begin appearing in July. Whether or not these populations eventually infect overripe fruit left in the orchard and then establish earlier emerging populations within the tunnel remains to be seen.
Fishing for MOSES -
A tale of adventure
By Loni Kemp
We rose early to be on the road by six o’clock. The air was still pleasant, yet we knew we were in for a scorching 100 degree day. My husband drove the beautiful back roads of Fillmore County to the crossroads of Hart north of Rushford, then ventured east into new territory as we made our way to the hidden Wiscoy Valley of Winona County. The woods were shady and lush, while bluff upon bluff rose in breathtaking gradations of blue haze.
At the end of the gravel roads, we came to our hosts’ home, tucked into a hillside and surrounded by woods and gardens. The boat was already loaded and hitched to the truck, as Jim Riddle and Joyce Ford emerged from the house armed with coolers and bait.
This was no ordinary outing for us. This was an expedition. I had won the silent auction bid last winter at the MOSES Organic Farming Conference in La Crosse. “Learn to fish the backwaters of the Mississippi River” was the pitch, and I was hooked.
We patiently encouraged our daughters to fish while they were growing up, baiting hooks and teaching them to cast from the shores of our family cabin. Yet my husband and I never quite caught the fever ourselves. It seems we always preferred to canoe or garden or read a book in a lawn chair. We do love to eat fresh fish, and so here was our chance to learn how to do it in this area.
Off we went to an unusual fishing hole. This quiet pond was part of a complex of backwaters, but was not connected to the river. It had been deepened by excavation, then abandoned to become spring fed habitat for bass, bluegill, crappie, perch and northern pike. We were the only ones out that morning, and we wasted no time in launching the boat.
At first it seemed to me like a humble little open boat, as we baited our hooks and practiced casting toward shore. Then I noticed the little video screen showing water depths and sounding soft beeps when a big fish swam by. Jim let down a small trolling motor that silently moved the boat, according to the foot pedals he worked. Even the anchor was high-tech, raising and lowering with the help of a small motor.
Fishing was indeed the focus. Joyce kept us baited, while Jim helped with the inevitable tangles and swallowed hooks. Dick was the first to catch a fish and ended up catching a nice crappie as well as a few bass and many bluegills. Jim caught a 16” bass amongst others. Joyce kept steadily catching panfish. I was the last to get a real nibble, after I switched from a Rapala lure to a simple worm on a hook. We returned the small fish to the water as our stringer of keepers dangling beneath the boat grew steadily heavier.
It was lovely, floating along quietly, observing birds out over the marshes. A swimming muskrat lazily moved along. A nice breeze kept us feeling fine, as the sun beat down and the temperatures slowly rose. At midmorning, hot homemade breakfast burritos appeared, along with cool watermelon. By late morning the fish were still biting, but the wind had died and we were sweating, so we motored back to the landing and took the obligatory proud photo of neophyte fishers and a nice catch of fish.
We returned to the house and Jim taught us to scale, clean and fillet the fish. It takes a good bit of time to make a lunch out of a stringer of panfish. No one likes it I’m sure, but oh my, the feast to come makes it worth it.
Back in the house, we gradually tuned into the fact that it was comfortable inside, yet this was an off-the-grid house without air conditioning. Built into a hillside for natural earth insulation and cooling, this house uses a 1 kw wind generator and photovoltaic panels for power, and wood to heat in the winter. A fan kept us cool as the fish were grilled outside, and delicious salads from the garden magically appeared, courtesy of Joyce.
The conversation flowed as we found much in common between our families, work, love of gardening and good food. The temperature outside finally hit 100 degrees, so we decided to complete our farm tour via air-conditioned car.
A new five-acre organic berry operation, fully fenced and painstakingly cared for, is demonstrating new techniques including a solar powered rainwater collection and irrigation system. Hawk and bird territorial calls had me scanning the sky, until I saw speakers set up to scare birds away from the blueberries. The public was invited to tour organic Blue Fruits Production on August 16 at a MOSES Field Day event.
Our last stop of the day was a cooling swim in the neighborhood country pool—a man-made spring-fed pond complete with silo-tiled walls and a sandy beach. The clear water was refreshing, and seemed like the best place on earth at that moment.
Our day ended with a take-home gift of the remainder of our fish, thoughtfully frozen while we were swimming, and packed with the rest of the homemade potato salad we had so loved at lunchtime. We said our farewells, and agreed that donating to a good cause had benefited all of us.
Loni and her husband live on their 100 acres of woods, gardens, pasture and rental cropland near Canton, MN. She is a consulting policy analyst who has worked on sustainable agriculture issues for well over 30 years.
Winning Wisdom -
What Is A Farm?
By Atina Diffley
I look it up in the dictionary and find: farm (färm). n. 1. A tract of land devoted to agricultural purposes.
No. The land is not the farm. That is so clear. How could a major dictionary have got it so wrong? The land was here long before the farm and long before the people or the business. The land is completely its own. The people and the business need the land. The land does not need either.
A farm is a synthesis of the land, the people, and the business. A blending. A new entity with a personality — that is the farm. No two combinations are the same; each farm is unique, with its own character. The land contributes its climate, topography, soils, precipitation, biological diversity and eco-systems. It is fixed in a location. The people bring their passions, skills and labor, their relationships, creativity, and emotional patterns. The business brings its financial capacities, its reputation and earned good will, the culture and market it operates within. There is no one-size-fits-all. Each farm must develop its own strength and place.
-- Excerpt from Turn Here Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works, by Atina Diffley
Working from a holistic perspective built on strengths creates stability and maximizes potential. Learning what your farm uniquely does best is a first step in developing a strong and secure farm personality—the unique combination of land, climate, people, market, and scale that synergistically shape its character. This will dictate the best crops and markets for success.
Your farm’s personality is as memorable as its product. It isn’t just food that customers want and need. Many people today are looking for a relationship with the land and farmer who feeds them. This has a value with a shelf life much longer than fresh food. Your farm’s success and personality serves the transition to a healthy food and agricultural system by providing an example not based on corporate ownership, commodities, and fossil fuel inputs. It supports vision and hope. It stimulates change by demonstrating the reality that organic farming works.
We need local, organic farms in every community. May yours be a successful combination of strengths, with the resiliency and personality to thrive through the challenges it will face.
Atina Diffley is an organic consultant (Organic Farming Works LLC), public speaker, educator, and author of the 2012 memoir, Turn Here Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works, published by the University of Minnesota Press. Atina is also on the MOSES Board of Directors. Until 2008, she and her husband/farming partner Martin ran the Gardens of Eagan, one of the first certified organic produce farms in the Midwest. The Diffleys received the 2004 MOSES Farmer of the Year Award. For reflections, tips and decision-making tools, subscribe to her on-line blog, What Is A Farm.
Organic Animals for Beginners: MOSES Organic Field Day
By Angie Sullivan
“Rain before 7, quits by 11.” This is what Wayne Kostka quoted to us on Saturday, July 21st, as we were setting up in the rain, for the Organic Livestock Production for Beginners all-day training, sponsored by MOSES and hosted at Castle Rock Farm and Creamery. Lucky for us, Wayne was pretty close to being correct. By 11:00, when attendees started settling in after a great breakfast, the clouds had parted and the sun was shining.
Wayne, Carla and their sons, Barry and Jake, own and operate Castle Rock Farm and Creamery in Osseo, Wisconsin. Milk processing began at Castle Rock Farms in 2005 and has since grown to include cheese, ice cream and other products. Barry and his family manage the dairy herd of about 250 head of cattle and approximately 800 acres of organic cropland. Jake is the dairy plant manager and licensed cheesemaker. He processes milk from the farm into fluid creamline milk, cheeses, ice cream and other products. Carla is the office manager, she works in sales and marketing, as well as managing human resources. The farm has been certified organic for cropland since 2000 and the dairy herd since 2003.
We had a full house for the day with over 65 people attending the event. Attendees were welcomed with a breakfast of wood-fired breakfast pizzas prepared by Chef Nathan Berg, along with homemade cinnamon rolls, juice, milk and coffee with fresh cream from the creamery.
Joe Pedretti and me, two of the MOSES Organic Specialists, were on hand to welcome guests, hand out the agenda for the day, and answer any questions about MOSES and the resources it has to offer farmers.
Our presenter for the training session was Dr. Will Winter. Will grew up in a farm family in Western Kansas, received his veterinary degree from Kansas State University in 1975 and has an additional degree in animal nutrition with specialties in veterinary toxicology. In Minnesota in 1980, Will created what became one of the largest holistic veterinary practices in the United States. He has now retired from his practice so that he can focus full-time on lecturing and writing about holistic veterinary livestock issues, sustainable agriculture and traditional nutrition.
Will and the Kostkas are good friends and Will keeps some animals at the Kostka farm, as well as on his own farm in Winona, Minnesota. Starting with a slideshow with many pictures of his sheep, goats, pigs and chickens, Will shared detailed recommendations about various holistic practices he uses with his animals. From holistic fly control to the basic vitamins and minerals that will benefit livestock, Will explained how to care for a variety of livestock without using many of the common chemical medicines and practices.
Before lunch, everyone took a short walking tour to see chickens, sheep and goats. We discussed feeding, nutrition, fencing and best practices for pasture rotation as well as holistic veterinary care. Will shared extensive information about keeping pastures healthy, and how to determine and correct for any mineral deficiencies. His goal is the best possible pasture, and a quality finished product.
Chef Nathan served lunch which included delicious shredded roast pork sandwiches, several salads and a wonderful selection of Castle Rock Creamery cheeses. The Kostkas have a state-of-the-art cheese cave with three separate aging rooms. At the time of our tour, they had 30,000 pounds of cheese aging in the cave.
After lunch, Will dove back into talking about fencing, watering systems and processing options. Beginning farmers Stephanie and Andy Schneider of Together Farms gave a power point presentation about their Mulefoot heritage-breed hog operation. Stephanie gave a great presentation about how they manage nutrition of their hogs, pasture requirements, maintenance and rotation, fencing, processing and how they market their hogs. The crowd had a few laughs at Stephanie’s ability to poke fun at some of their beginning farmer mishaps, such as often finding their pigs where they didn’t belong due to inadequate fencing.
For the final part of the day everyone loaded onto a few hay wagons and took a tour of Will’s hogs on pasture. Attendees were able to see the hog’s pastures, fencing, watering and housing systems. They also were able to go into the barn and see his current herd. Will has a deep-bedding system inside the barn, using hay and straw. His hogs have access to cool shade inside the barn, large areas of pasture and deep water holes where two of his hogs were happily lounging.
Upon returning from the tour of the hog facilities, Carla Kostka offered a tour of Castle Rock Creamery. A short walk down the driveway and everyone was enjoying the air-conditioning in the lobby of the creamery while listening to Carla tell the story of how they got started in the creamery business. Everyone had a chance to walk through the inside of the creamery operation and get a sense of what goes into owning and operating an organic creamery. With a little coaxing from Will, Carla gave everyone a taste test of their delicious chocolate milk.
The creamery tour officially concluded the field day, but there were a few optional events planned for the evening, including cheese, beer and sausage tasting and dinner with the presenters and local chefs at Foster Cheese House. Several attendees took advantage of these events and had a great time.
The Organic Livestock Production for Beginners training was part of the MOSES Young Organic Stewards Program. This project is supported by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, (Grant #2011-49400-30756). For more information about Young Organic Stewards or other MOSES programs, please visit our website.
Angie Sullivan is a MOSES Organic Specialsit. She can be reached at email@example.com.
USDA Drought Relief on Pasture for Ruminants
Due to the severe drought, USDA is granting a temporary variance from the organic pasture requirements (Sections 205.237(c) and 205.240 of the USDA organic regulations). This temporary variance applies only to organic ruminant livestock producers located in counties declared as primary natural disaster areas by Secretary Vilsack. For more details click here or contact your certifier.
Drought Assistance Info
ATTRA has a collection of drought-related resources available online. The Drought Resource Guide is a comprehensive list of text and Web-based resources on managing irrigation, pasture, and livestock during a drought, with additional resources on drought-disaster relief programs.
Organic in MN- 2011
The 2011 Minnesota Organic Farm Performance Report summarizes financial data reported by 61 certified organic farmers, for both whole farm and for individual cropping and dairy enterprises, including historical data for the four previous years. Average and median net farm income were higher for crop farms in 2011 compared to 2010, but dairy profits declined, likely due in large part to feed and forage prices that climbed throughout the year. The 45-page report can be viewed on the MDA website.
Vitamin D Tested as Mastitis Treatment for Dairy Cattle
Scientists at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) National Animal Disease Center (NADC) in Ames, Iowa, have discovered that vitamin D may offer an alternative treatment for mastitis instead of antibiotics. In the study, cows were given vitamin D by infusion directly into the infected quarter of the mammary gland, resulting in a significant reduction in bacterial counts and fewer clinical signs of severe infection compared to cows that received no treatment. Click here for more information.
Natural Resources Standard to NOP Accreditation Checklists
The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) has updated their Accreditation Checklists to ensure that NOP-accredited certification agencies are verifying that organic operations implement conservation practices and protect natural resources.
Grants for MN Livestock Producers
$1 million in grant funding is being made available to livestock producers in Minnesota for on-farm improvements, including the purchase, construction, or improvement of buildings or facilities for the production of livestock, and the purchase of fencing as well as feeding and waste management equipment. The deadline to apply is January 14, 2013. Click here for more information.
Organic Report & Website Released
OFRF is launching Organic Farming for Health & Prosperity, a science-based, peer-reviewed report that extols the multiple societal benefits of organic farming. Download the report at http://ofrf.org/sites/ofrf.org/files/docs/pdf/HP-report-web.pdf. An accompanying website offers links to research, policy programs, and educational and community-building tools.
New Organic Transition Websitez
A new website houses information related to the Tools for Transition (TFT) Project. TFT is four-year research project offering unique data resources for farmers other agricultural professionals and lenders about the economics of organic transition.
NCAT’s ATTRA National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service currently has over 25 easily viewed webinars on various topics as well as some excellent short virtual tours of farms. MOSES’s own Harriet Behar was recently featured on a webinar on the conservation benefits of organic crop rotations. Check them out here.
Dairy Research Needs
Approximately 200 organic and 100 size-matched conventional dairy farms across the U.S. are participating in a University of Wisconsin-Madison study examining the impact of organic management on animal health and well-being. Farmers have the option of storing their herd’s information into an online system. As more and more farmers do so, the database will dynamically grow from the original 300 dairy farms—continuously providing the most up-to-date results. Click here for more information.
Online Marketing Course
Southern SAWG now has available online free Choosing Your Markets course materials. Learn benefits, challenges, and resources needed for marketing through farmers markets, CSAs, on-farm markets, Internet marketing, and direct sales to restaurants and grocers.
New Fruit Pest Found in Minn.
A new pest, the spotted wing drosophila (Drosophila suzukii), has been detected in Hennepin and Ramsey counties in Minnesota. This is an invasive pest that attacks thin-skinned fruits (e.g., strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, grapes, cherries, etc.). Little is known about what impact this pest will have or about management and control options, but the MDA and UMN are working on it. If you find an abundance of small, white maggots in what were apparently healthy fruits at the time of harvest, please contact the Minnesota Department of Agriculture at 1-888-545-6684 (voicemail) or Arrest.the.Pest@state.mn.us.
Land-Leasing Publications Available Online
Land for Good is making available several publications developed through the Land Access Project: Landowner’s Guide to Leasing Land for Farming, Farmland Leasing for Private Landowners: A Short Guide, and Leasing Land to Farmers: A Handbook for Land Trusts, Municipalities, and Institutions. The guides assist landowners with the practical and legal considerations of making land available for farming by others.
Bud Markhart Passing
The sustainable agriculture community lost a true friend June 26 when Univ of Minn. Distinguished Teaching Professor in organic horticulture Bud Markhart passed away after a courageous battle with cancer. The Markhart Organics Endowment Fund is being established at the University of Minn. to support students working on the Student Organic Farm or with horticultural crops engaged with traditionally under-served neighborhoods in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to share stories or for more info. Click here to read a memorial.
IFOAM Organic Leadership Course
The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) will hold an Organic Leadership Course, with online and in-person components, early in 2013. The course offers a comprehensive understanding of organic principles and the organic sector in North America and globally, plus leadership skills and networking. Contact: Katherine DiMatteo email@example.com for dates, location and more info.
New Textbook: Organic Crop Breeding
The first textbook on organic crop breeding has been published by Edith T. Lammerts Van Bueren and James Myers. The book reviews the latest efforts by crop breeders to develop improved varieties for organic production, and a series of case studies from around the globe that look at breeding efforts underway in crops ranging from carrots to corn. Click here for more information.
Sheep and Fiber Farm Tour
Southeast Minnesota. October 6 & 7 10-4pm. The farms are dedicated to the promotion of fiber animals, sustainable natural fiber, education of the uses of natural fiber, the fiber arts, the artist and their art. Brochure available by clicking here.
ATTRA Highlighting Sustainable Producers
ATTRA is celebrating 25 years of helping those who are passionate about sustainable agriculture. Their new “Sustainable Producer Spotlight” web profiles will give producers from around the country the opportunity to show off their operations and talk about their philosophies of sustainable agriculture. If you’d like to take part, fill out the form here.
SARE Research & Education Grants Due
The 2013 North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (NCR-SARE) Research and Education Grant Program Call for Preproposals is now available online. NCR-SARE’s Research and Education (R&E) program supports sustainable agriculture innovators with competitive research and education grants. Individual grants range from $10,000 to $200,000. NCR-SARE expects to fund about 8-12 projects in the twelve-state North Central Region. The deadline for preproposals is 4:30pm CST November 9.
Value-Added Producer Grants
$14 million in funding is available for Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) competitive grants program. Applications are due October 15, 2012.
Visit our new Online Organic Classified page!
Do you have something to buy or sell? Your classified ad will reach over 9,500 households in the print edition, and be available in both the pdf and online version. available online. Go to the Organic Broadcaster website to submit an ad electronically.
2013 Organic Farming Conference
Upper Midwest Organic Grains and Feedstuffs Report