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Organic Broadcaster Online Issue 21.2 March/April 2013
Table of Contents
- 2013 MOSES Organic Farmer of the Year - Charlie Johnson
- Increase Tomato Plant Vigor and Yield through Grafting
- News From MOSES
- Inside Organics - Food Safety Regulations - Not Ready for Prime Time
- New Farmers Find Loan Support From 'Old' Source
- Book Review - MOSES Conference Sheds Light on New Books!
- Is it Time to Reevaluate your Business Structure?
- Proof Positive - Are Feed Costs Lower for Wis. Grazing vs. Confined and Organic Dairy Farms?
- Buyers and Producers: From Both Sides of the Fence
- Ask a MOSES Specialist
- New Farmer Corner L.T.D. Farm: Frac Sand and Farming
- News Briefs
- Organic Grain Report
2013 MOSES Organic Farmer of the of the Year: Charlie Johnson
By Jody Padgham
Madison, South Dakota organic crop and beef farmer Charlie Johnson of Johnson Farms was named the 2013 MOSES Organic Farmer of the Year at the MOSES Organic Farming Conference in La Crosse on Feb. 22.
The MOSES Organic Farmer of the Year Award is presented annually to an exceptional organic farmer or farm family in recognition of outstanding land stewardship, innovation and outreach. Congratulations to Charlie for being the tenth recipient of this award!
Johnson Farms consist of 2,800 owned and rented acres which Charlie manages in partnership with his brother, Allan and cousin, Aaron. Charlie and Allan’s younger brother, Kevin is also involved on the farm, along with Charlie’s children, and the various spouses who contribute important support. The brothers grew up on the farm, under the tutelage of their late father, Bernard, who taught them to respect the land through chemical-free management.
Certified organic by International Certification Services (FVO/ICS) since 1982, the farm has been under organic management since the mid 1970s, long before the development of organic markets and infrastructures.
“Charlie and Johnson Farms pioneered organic practices in South Dakota and the northern Great Plains,” writes Frank James, of Dakota Rural Action. “Before any structure for organic farming education was built in South Dakota, interested producers called Charlie and got vast amounts of his time discussing organic agriculture. Charlie has been a quiet, long-term leader.”
“Johnson Farms strives to provide an adequate financial return to its family members while at the same time seeking to take proper care of the land and the life that grows upon it” states the farm’s mission statement. The farmers focus on the basics, with attention to detail and timing as high priorities.
Proper care of the land begins with a strict six-year crop rotation: two years of hay, one each of soybeans and corn, soybeans again and then a planting of oats with alfalfa. Rotations help support soil fertility and provide weed control. Weeds are also managed through timely planting and mechanical management, including early tillage to flush and destroy weeds. Favored equipment includes an Einbock tine weeder and a rotary hoe.
Charlie claims to probably spend more time on a row cultivator than any other operator in his county. Cover crops, such as winter rye into soybeans, are used to increase organic matter, (currently at 3.5%), improve soil tilth and also help with weed control. Alfalfa in the rotation has done away with any thistle in the fields, Charlie claims. The farm also relies on “Walking Herbicide”–local high school students, family members and a custom crew that scout and hand-pull weeds–keeping the weed seed bank low.
The diverse crops are sold though National Farmer’s Organization (NFO) Organics, a member of the Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing (OFARM). The Johnsons appreciate the benefits of collective marketing, including access to a steady and reliable market outlet with good service and dependable payments back to the farm. Soybeans are feed grade, and generally used for soynuts or soymilk. Corn, soybeans and oats have recently been sold for livestock feed, to help service high demand.
Two hundred head of Black Angus-Gelbvich cross beef are maintained in the farm’s cow-calf operation. Cattle are rotationally grazed in paddocks through10-day rotations on 400 to 500 acres of pasture. “The animals take care of the land and the land takes care of the animals,” the farm brochure states. Cows are divided up into small groups in the summer, with one bull per group. Small groups mean fewer flies and health issues, Charlie says.
Watering from rural water using hoses and tanks keeps the cows out of the creeks and dugout ponds, reducing chances of erosion and water contamination issues. Steers are sold in the late fall, right off of the cows, and get top price at the sale barn. Heifer calves are kept back for replacements, or sold as fed beef to friends and family. Winter manure/bedding is wind-rowed, composted and spread on alfalfa stubble in the late fall.
The Johnsons use crop tissue samples to confirm that the compost, crop rotations and green manures are providing the fertility their crops need. Tissue analysis has shown that their practices are providing sufficient nitrogen for healthy crops. A little pelletized chicken manure (600 pounds per acre) is put on corn and oats every spring, one of the few off-farm inputs used on the farm.
The Johnsons excel in land stewardship and conservation practices. The farm was honored in 1996 by the South Dakota Soil and Water Conservation Society for its conservation efforts. Numerous tree belts, sloughs, meadows and grass waterways are located throughout the farm. A 10-acre greenway is maintained on one farm where five different watersheds are drained. During spring melt, a lot of water comes through, creating flood and erosion potential, which is alleviated by the greenway.
Charlie closely follows NRCS regulations to be sure not to damage the wetlands on the farm. Hundreds of trees have been planted, and several dams and dugouts have been created, supporting birds and other wildlife. Crop fields are small for the area–the largest is 60 acres–meaning more field edges and ecosystem diversity.
With a commitment to community, the Johnsons are involved in many organizations and institutions. The farm has participated in numerous research studies led by South Dakota State University on cropping systems, wildlife habitat, farm economics and wetlands. Several groups have toured the farm, and it has been featured in many articles, videos, and radio and TV spots. Charlie has been on several boards, including Dakota Rural Action and Northern Plains Sustainable Ag Society.
“Farming, service and land stewardship extend beyond the farm fields of Johnson Farms,” Charlie says. “As farmers and stewards of the land, the best crops we can plant are the seeds of opportunity for the next generation of farmers. Cultivating the future is the most important function of stewardship.”
In advice to novice farmers, Charlie recommends that transitioning land be put into alfalfa or some other permanent cover so the land is allowed to heal, and the soil can start to become more biologically active. He says that aligning with like-minded individuals, near or far (he is a fan of Facebook: Johnson Farms Natural Farming) helps with moral support and the sharing of information. “You need to have a thick skin in organics, as you are going against the grain,” Charlie concludes.
Showcasing stellar environmental conservation, simple yet powerful organic production practices, and leadership within his community, Charlie Johnson of Johnson Farms represents the values of the MOSES Farmer of the Year award well. Congratulations, Charlie, on being named the 2013 MOSES Organic Farmer of the Year.
Jody Padgham is the editor of the Organic Broadcaster. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Increase Tomato Plant Vigor and Yield through Grafting
By Jody Padgham
Table 1: Grafting Tomato Yield Data, Johnny's Selected Seeds, 2010*
Envision a 30 to 50 percent increase in the yield of ripe fruit harvested from tomato plants healthy in the hoophouse from March through October. No, we’re not talking about the mythical Shangri-La, but instead the amazing potential of grafted tomato plants.
The concept of grafting a desired top stock (“scion” or “head”) onto a sturdy, disease-resistant rootstock has long been accepted in the tree fruit industry. As cultivars are developed for certain fruit characteristics, it can be challenging to also keep disease and yield qualities strong. By attaching the desired fruit-producing top to a sturdy, resistant root of another variety, a strong, disease-resistant, high-yielding plant can be created. In the past several years this concept of grafting has made it into the world of tomatoes and other herbaceous plants.
In grafting, a “custom” plant is created, with the optimal root for nutrient uptake, structural strength and disease resistance, and the ideal head to dictate the types and quantity of fruit. Various root stocks and head types are available and recommended for grafting. The final grafted plant must be “balanced,” with equal energy going into both development of a strong structure and productive fruiting. Grafted tomatoes will do well either in the controlled environment of a greenhouse or outside in fields or gardens.
Tomato plants grafted to Maxifort on the left, ungrafted plants of the same variety on the right. Photo courtesy of Johnny’s Selected Seeds at the Johnny’s trial greenhouse.
“Those of us growing in hoophouses or greenhouses need to maximize the use of space,” says Mike Leck, Production Manager at Gardens of Eagan Farm (GOE), in Northfield, Minn. “Grafting increases the vigor of plants, which means more production and fewer disease problems.” Leck points out that at GOE they have struggled with speck and spot bacterial problems. “Now we see healthy grafted tomato plants right next to diseased un-grafted plants. The stronger rootstock allows the plant to develop to its full potential.”
“Grafting is a great technology for organic growers specifically,” adds Andrew Mefferd, Trial Technician specializing in tomatoes at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, of Winslow, Maine. “Grafted plants are resistant to many soil-borne diseases, which organic systems struggle with due to limited alternative controls.” For instance, root stock seed available this year from Johnny’s is listed as resistant to Fusarium Wilt, Fusarium Crown and Root Rot, Nematodes, Corky Root Rot, Tobacco Mosaic Virus and Verticillium Wilt. “Even growers that have never seen these diseases will benefit from the resistance in these root stocks,” Mefferd claims. “They provide insurance, and help the plant to overcome adversity.”
Grafting Increases Yield
Grafting onto any rootstock will enhance the yield of a tomato, but certain top stocks respond better than others, and some combinations will do subtly better in different growing situations. Research done by Johnny’s in 2010 clearly shows that grafted tomatoes “greatly increased yield possibilities” with average yield per plant of the same species increasing as much as 40 to 60% over non-grafted plants. (Table 1)
Mefferd did research in the 2012 growing season comparing two types of grafted (double leader) plants to un-grafted plants, both single and double leader, and found grafting again almost doubled yield. “Even though these yields aren’t that spectacular for the variety, they clearly show the advantage of grafting,” he says. (Table 2)
The Grafting Process
Those interested in using grafted tomatoes have the choice of creating their own grafted plants or purchasing grafted plants. “Grafting can be tricky, and takes some practice,” Leck says. “Anyone trying it will want to allow time for trial and error.” Keys to success include choosing appropriate root stock and matching top stock; planning planting dates of both root stock and top seeds so that the stems will be similarly sized; making good cuts; connecting the two plants so that the tops don’t come off; and proper care of the grafts in a healing chamber. To help producers succeed, Johnny’s offers a seven-page grafting guide (see details on page 15.)
Johnny’s also sells seed specifically bred to provide disease-resistant root stock.
Leck points out that the timing of planting both rootstock and top stock must be managed carefully. You must pay attention to the specific growth habits of each seed in order to have closely sized stems of both species two weeks after seeding. Johnny’s recommends overplanting by at least 25% to be sure that you have enough stock of both kinds to choose from in making your grafts. At GOE, Leck plants seeds over a 3- or 4-day period, so that he has a variety of seedling sizes to choose from. He explains that the root seed is expensive, and at times hard to get, so he’s learned to plan well in ordering.
To make the actual graft, two-week old seedlings of both root and top are carefully cut, pruned, and joined using a grafting clip or other mechanism to set each scion on top of a root so they can grow together to make a single plant. The stems of both plants must be similarly sized and shaped for success. Cleanliness to ensure no bacterial contamination is also essential. Joined plants must be carefully maintained for up to a week in a “healing chamber.” This chamber must be specifically controlled at 80-82°F, 80-95% humidity, with no drafts, and moderate, indirect light. In this chamber the plants must heal, while not actually growing or transpiring. If moisture is too low or light too stimulating, the plants will continue to transpire and the tops “pop off.” Mike Leck says that getting the healing chamber “just right” at GOE was one of the biggest learning curves.
“If something happens along the way, it can be very discouraging, like just a crazy science experiment—lots of work and nothing to show for it,” Leck laughs. He says that if something goes bust with either seedling group, or in the healing chamber, you will be set back in your planting by as much as three weeks. He also points out that the process involves some expense–for double seeds and the cost of setting up the healing chamber. But, he also wants to make clear that once the plants are past the healing stage, they are very vigorous and hardy. Although it takes about two weeks longer to create a grafted tomato from seed to ground, because of their increased hardiness, they can generally go into the hoophouse or field two weeks earlier than non-grafted plants.
The benefits of using grafted tomatoes are clear, but the challenges of producing the plants may lead you to decide to buy grafted plants rather than make your own. Luckily they are now becoming available from many nurseries growing starts and transplants.
Buying Grafted Starts
Gardens of Eagan is in its second year of selling organic grafted tomato transplants. This year they will have two varieties available, “BHN 589” and “New Girl.” With at least eight weeks notice, GOE is also willing to custom graft plants for you, either using your seed or purchasing seed for you. Orders, either from the catalog or custom, must be placed “as soon as possible,” Mike Leck says. Growth from seed to ready-to-transplant seeding takes about five weeks.
Other nurseries also offer grafted tomatoes, but be sure that they are certified organic if you are an organic producer. Increased costs of production will make the costs of grafted tomato starts 50-100% higher than non-grafted, but with increased vigor and yield, Mike and others are positive that the additional investment is well worth it.
“Grafting is part art and part science, and won’t be for everyone,” Mefferd of Johnny’s Seeds concludes. “Ideally, we will start to see regional growers that can raise grafted tomatoes for those in the area. Then everyone that wants them can gain the benefits of grafted tomatoes.”
* Table 1 Detail: In 2010, Johnny’s research farm in Albion, Maine used the hoophouse tomato trial to quantify the yield boost resulting from using a vigorous tomato rootstock grafted to a desirable fruiting variety. Sets of three plants of each variety were grown, with three grafted to Maxifort (#2700) and three grown on their own roots. As you can see, yields averaged over 40% higher for the grafted plants, depending on the fruiting variety. Geronimo, for example, responds very well to grafting, showing a 66% yield boost when grafted to Maxifort. Individual results may vary, but this is a good illustration of the greatly increased yield possibilities of using grafted tomatoes. This trial was planted in an unheated hoophouse on May 21, 2010, and harvested until the beginning of October. Compost and organically approved soil amendments were used and plants were spaced two feet apart and trained to a double leader. No supplemental fertilizer or fertigation was used other than the original soil prep, which was amended to meet soil test recommendations for greenhouse crops.
To Learn More
Gardens of Eagan - featuring the GOE 2013 catalog.
News from MOSES
Happy almost spring, everyone.
I am glad that the birds know that spring is coming, it helps to hear their cheerful voices on these long-lasting snowy days.
Although I am writing this the week before the MOSES Organic Farming Conference, you are most likely reading it after. I hope that you were able to join myself and the other 3,000+ frolickers in La Crosse, but if not, hope that you can plan to join us next year. We always hear that the camaraderie, learning and fun gives a very needed boost to inspire folks onto the final push to the growing season.
Once again we have a lot of great content in this issue to help you make decisions and succeed at your farming business. We have instituted two new regular features: “Ask a Specialist” with answers to common questions from our three organic specialists, and “New Farmer Corner.” If you have a question you’d like the specialists to answer, let us know. See “Ask the Specialist” on page 10.
We highlight articles specific for new organic farmers in the “New Farmer Corner” on page 11. Although most of our content is generally appropriate for both new and experienced farmers, in this corner you can find articles specifically targeted to those new to the land. Again, please send any suggestions to us at email@example.com.
Enjoy the spring, Jody Padgham, Editor
Have you Hever wondered who brings you the Organic Broadcaster?
Well, I have. Then I joined the vibrant MOSES crew as the new Development Director. Here are some things I have enjoyed learning that I think you might want to know too.
Who we are: a dozen completely committed and energetic staff members who really care about organic and sustainable farming and farmers.
What we are: a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that focuses on education and information for farmers who are transitioning to or are already practicing organic and sustainable agriculture.
What we do:
• We publish this unique newspaper 6 times a year, which is sent to over 10,000 people without charge and is available free on the web.
• We put on the MOSES Organic Farming Conference every February in La Crosse, Wis., which has become the largest of its kind in the USA and perhaps the world!
• The MOSES team sponsors, creates and hosts a wide variety of field days and trainings designed to showcase the latest organic techniques, tools and agricultural research.
• MOSES is proud to have 3 Organic Specialists on staff to answer your questions about organic farming and certification.
• Our staff maintains a useful and active website at: www.mosesorganic.org. This is a HUGE resource for our organic growing community; almost everything we have there is free.
• We create and share the monthly Organic Link, an e-newsletter about timely and important issues. It is also available online.
• MOSES shares over 30 free Organic Fact Sheets, provides farmers with the Guidebook to Organic Certification, and maintains an up-to-date Organic Resource Directory. These are yours for the asking.
• We work hard to connect new farmers with more experienced farmers in our popular Farmer-to-Farmer Mentoring Program. We don’t want farming to be a lonely or stressful occupation.
• MOSES helps support women in agriculture through the Rural Women’s Project and supports a new generation of sustainably minded farmers through our New Organic Stewards Program.
What YOU can do to help us:
• Attend our events.
• Help us promote MOSES (have you “liked” us on Facebook?), and share what we do with others.
• Support us with a tax-deductible contribution in an amount that feels right for your budget.
• Become a monthly sustainer via our website – even $10 a month makes a big difference to us and the farmers we serve.
• Consider our organization for your planned giving (or estate) needs.
At MOSES, we want to be here to promote a sustainable, organic system of farming in the decades to come. Your support makes that possible. Help us help farmers today!
Thanks! Luisa Gerasimo
Inside Organics - Food Safety Regulations - Not Ready for Prime Time
By Harriet Behar
It seems almost every month over the past few years there has been a large recall of fresh produce, meat or processed foods due to the presence of microbiological health hazards. Some have had limited effect, and others have caused numerous deaths, sicknesses and long-term health problems for people located across the U.S. who consumed tainted foods distributed by one large food handler or another.
The government’s response to this serious problem resulted in the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) by Congress more than two years ago. In January 2013, the FDA released its proposed regulations to implement that law. These regulations consist of numerous interrelated parts outlined in over 1,500 pages of text.
Typically, consumers have been on the same side of small-scale, organic, and local foods, but this law has challenged these diverse interest groups to find common ground. Consumer groups want the strictest rules possible, but those producing the food say it is just not that simple.
The FMSA Offered Fair Guidance
There were some “wins” for sustainable and organic farmers in the FSMA. The law included some exemptions to strict food handling documentation and traceability requirements for small-scale farms, especially those that sell their products within a narrow geographic area. In addition, the law includes requirements to provide training for safe food handling, giving smaller-scale producers the knowledge to do things right, protecting their customers from illness and farmers from liability if their food does cause illness.
The law also stated that these food safety regulations should not directly oppose organic regulations. Organic producers should have the same market access as all other food producers, and not be put in the difficult position of trying to meet two contradictory laws.
MOSES is working with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the National Organic Coalition to review the proposed regulations. We will post action alerts on our website before the May 16, 2013 deadline for public comment on these proposed food safety regulations. http://www.mosesorganic.org/actionalerts.html.
Although at the writing of this article, I have not read all 1,500+ pages, there are some areas of concern that have already arisen. Parts of the regulation need more scrutiny to ensure they are consistent with each other.
Many areas of the rule contain vague language, giving the FDA and its inspectors great leeway in how the regulation might be enforced out in the countryside. There is concern that different regions of the country will have differing interpretations, as well as uneven enforcement within states.
There could be a variety of unfunded mandates, including a possible requirement that at least one person on every farm have a specific type of food safety training. There are numerous sections that deal with both wildlife and domestic animals on the farm, and these need to be carefully reviewed to make sure that folks who use draft horses will still be allowed this type of production.
We also must make sure that our agricultural working lands allow for wildlife habitat, both for the health of our environment as well as the quality of life and recreational opportunities these provide to the public. In the past few years farms in California took on a “scorched earth” type management style, tearing out wildlife habitat feared to be a potential source of contamination, a judgment based on fear rather than fact. Promoting biodiversity generally provides protections rather than risks.
The proposed regulations have a requirement that human-consumed food not be harvested sooner than nine months after the application of manure. This is a much longer time than required by organic regulations, although the wording is somewhat different. The organic community should be able to present a strong challenge to this requirement, using both our decade of experience as well as science-based statistics.
There are some documentation requirements that appear to place a significant burden on operations, no matter their size. Depending on how they are finally implemented, these could significantly stifle the rapidly growing local food movement, where food is produced by small and mid-sized producers.
The regulations not only affect on-farm production, but also all food processing facilities. This could lessen the availability of scale-appropriate and regionally located processing facilities that allow individual farmers to sell processed meats and other foods directly to consumers.
Concerns for Family-Scale Farms
Everyone can agree that we want the food we sell and/or consume to be free of sickness- causing pathogens. All sizes and types of operations can accomplish this task. Will a “one-size-fits-all” nationwide regulation damage the economic viability of small and mid-sized operations that sell their production within a limited geographic region?
We need to protect the viability of our vision for the future of agriculture in the United States. One that does not promote larger and larger operations, squeezing out familyscale farms and processors. We have made progress in the past few years, revitalizing rural America and bringing young people back to the profession of farming. The attraction of selling directly to consumers and local stores, as well as using organic production practices have contributed to this revitalization.
Stay tuned to MOSES and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition as we present the issues and grassroots actions you can take to make your voice heard on this important regulation. It is essential that farmers of all types present their opinion in public comment to the FDA, since we all will be affected.
You can find the proposed regulation at these two web links:
Harriet Behar (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a MOSES Organic Specialist.
New Farmers Find Loan Support From 'Old' Source
By Lisa Kivirist
While beginning farmers make up the heart of the growth in organic and sustainable agriculture, a big hurdle to launching these operations remains lack of capital. Young farmers have immeasurable amounts of enthusiasm and commitment, but lack the financial resources to start their own operation. Increasingly, today’s small-scale, diversified and locally-focused farm businesses are finding strong partnerships and funding opportunities through one of rural America’s more traditional farming resources: the Farm Service Agency (FSA).
The FSA, with offices throughout the Midwest and the country, is the department under the USDA that supports farmers and ranchers and other partners in a variety of agricultural programs, including various farm loans. While this agency supports all types of agriculture, including large-scale commodity operations, more beginning farmers within the sustainable community are connecting with and finding strong support and assistance within FSA.
“We’ve worked hard within the FSA toward outreach to and support for all types of agriculture, particularly young and beginning farmers championing the growing organic and sustainable food movement,” explains Sheri Houtakker, the FSA Farm Loan Manager covering six counties in northwest Wisconsin. Houtakker has worked for the FSA for over 20 years, and also runs a sheep operation with her husband, working towards organic certification. “Beginning farmers are a key priority to the FSA, and thereby receive most of our loan funding.”
The FSA offers a portfolio of various loan programs, both for farm purchase and capital acquisition. There are three key distinctions of FSA loans:
1). Farmers Denied Traditional Credit
The FSA calls itself the “lender of first opportunity.” In essence this means these loan programs are intended for farmers who are unable to obtain a loan through a traditional bank because of things like poor credit history or lack of the required down payment. If a bank will give you the full loan to purchase and start your farm operation, you probably won’t qualify for an FSA loan.
2). Socially Disadvantaged Farmer Groups
Applicants from minority farmer groups that are classified as “Socially Disadvantaged (SDA)” groups by the USDA receive priority status. SDA farmers include groups like African Americans, Hispanic, Native Americans, women and others who, for various reasons, have been discriminated against in the past.
3). Extremely Favorable Interest Rate and Terms
One big appeal of FSA loans is a low interest rate and more appealing terms than regular banks–as low as 1 to 2 percent. The FSA has flexibility to work with young farmers who do not have the savings toward a down payment.
Additionally, the FSA understands and supports farm businesses from a loan payment perspective. There is flexibility on payment schedule. The FSA does not require equal monthly payments, rather can base payments on the type of enterprise and when produce or livestock is sold.
For those interested in exploring the possibility of an FSA loan, here are a few things to keep in mind:
• Acquire Related Experience
“FSA beginning farmer loans require a minimum of three years experience in the field you are going into,” Houtakker clarifies. “The FSA has limited funds that come directly from taxpayers’ dollars, so it is very important that we steward these funds wisely and ensure beginning farmers have a portfolio of various related education, particularly hands-on experience.”
To better work with small-scale, diversified young farmers, the FSA has broadened the agency’s definition of what qualifies as “experience.” They now look beyond a two-year degree at an agriculture college to include this “portfolio” idea of amassing various experiences. These can include programs like the Land Stewardship Project’s Farm Beginnings™ Program, Extension’s Annie’s Project, on-line curriculum, internship and apprentice programs (particularly with management responsibilities), the MOSES Farmer-to-Farmer Mentoring program and attending events like the MOSES Conference. The key is to create and customize an “experience portfolio” based on what it is you desire to do, developing your business plan as part of the process.
“As we compiled our experience for the FSA loan application, we realized the diversity of experiences we had racked up over 10 years, and how important it all collectively is to our future business success,” offers Vanessa Herald. She and her partner, Nikki Lennart, are aspiring young farmers in their 30s currently going through the FSA loan process as they look for property to start their diversified farm operation in south central Wisconsin. They’d like to raise goats, heritage pigs and have fruit orchards. “Any earlier and we honestly would not have been ready,” Herald adds.
Vanessa Herald and Nikki Lennart’s experience included things like participating in the University of Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy and Livestock Farmers (www.cias.wisc.edu/dairysch.html) and the New Entry Sustainable Farming Program in Massachusetts, various on-farm internships, and attending the MOSES Conference and the Rural Women’s Project Boots workshops.
“I’d recommend any young farmer collect and keep reference letters or certificates of completion as you complete any farm training experience.”
“If you choose to someday apply for a FSA loan, you will need such documentation. It would have been much easier for us if we had just asked for that at the time,” Herald says.
•Give the Process Time
The reality is the FSA farm loan process can be slow and tedious.
The FSA can start processing a loan application only once you have an accepted offer. The process can take longer than at banks, which can be less appealing to a seller who wants to close the deal. For this reason, it’s important to start the process early, develop a relationship with your FSA loan officer, and have all your paperwork ready to go when the offer is accepted. FSA is trying to accelerate this process; the processing time for approval in Wisconsin is now down to 16 days. However, after approval, a loan still goes through the property appraisal process, requiring additional time.
“I often talk to beginning farmers years before they actually apply for an FSA loan,” shares Houtakker. “This works out great and I encourage young folks starting out in farming to do this because it both starts to build a relationship and enables us to work together to address any educational and experience gaps or other issues that might slow down your eventual application submission.”
Given this lengthy loan processing time (it can take several months), FSA loans work well in situations where time is not of essence, such as farm transitions between family members, or if the seller is committed to the young farmer and willing to wait. That was the case with Rebecca Claypool, a young farmer in her early 30s who ended up purchasing the farm she was working on, after racking up a decade’s worth of experience working on farms from Maine to Minnesota.
“I heard the owners were interested in potentially selling this place, and working there gave me the opportunity to get familiar with the place and property,” explains Claypool. “The situation ended up being good for both of us as they didn’t have to go through putting their property on the market and were committed to selling to me, so that gave me the time to go through the FSA process.”
Claypool purchased her Avoca, Wis., property in 2009, tapping into the SDA FSA loan funding pool, and opened Yellow Barn Farm where she grows diversified vegetables. “There were lots of steps throughout the whole loan application process, but my FSA loan officer was very helpful and supportive and was a real partner throughout,” adds Claypool.
Likewise, while Herald and Lennart are still going through the process and looking for farm property, they, too, have found support from their FSA office. “Our farm vision doesn’t fit the typical box of most conventional farms in our area, but our FSA loan officer wonderfully gets that, and is helping us use our experiences and business plan to our advantage to fit within the FSA system,” shares Herald.
For those interested in researching FSA loans further, first understand the general FSA loan programs. “Your Guide to FSA Farm Loans” is an easy-to-read, online resource that synthesizes various loan and loan serving options (www.fsa.usda.gov/dafl). If you generally qualify and think this may be in the future for you, contact the FSA loan officer covering the area where you plan to purchase property.
“At the FSA, we’re not just committed to the farm loan process, but see ourselves as long-term partners in your business success,” sums up Houtakker. “Remember we’re investing taxpayer dollars in you, and want to know where you see yourself in five years, and how can we work together to get you successfully there.”
Lisa Kivirist is the coordinator of the MOSES Rural Women’s Project.
Book Review: MOSES Conference Sheds Light on New Books!
Although media might make us think that books are becoming passé, we sure aren’t seeing that trend in the organic farming world. Several authors of new books presented at the 2013 MOSES Organic Farming Conference.
Conference attendees could purchase the new books at the MOSES Conference Bookstore.We hope to also offer these soon on the online MOSES Bookstore. Check out this great new collection of titles:
Feeding Pasture-Raised Poultry, by Jeff Mattocks, 100 pages, February 2013, $11.95. Jeff Mattocks, animal nutritionist at the Fertrell Company, has collected the wisdom of his many years of work with pastured poultry producers into this great little book. Whether you grind your own feed or want to be sure the local mill is preparing a ration that is exactly what your birds need, you’ll find this book offers a wide base of information and several useful tools to help.
Musings of an Old Country Vet, by Dr. Paul Dettloff, DVM. 223 pages. 2013. $38.50 A collection of thoughts, musings, poems and cartoons from over 45 years of being a country vet.
Natural Beekeeping, 2nd Edition: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture, by Ross Conrad, 275 pages. March 2013, $34.95. Revised and updated with new resources and full-color photos throughout, Natural Beekeeping offers all the latest information in a book that has already proven invaluable for organic beekeepers. The new edition offers the same holistic, sensible alternative to conventional chemical practices with a program of natural hive management, but offers new sections on a wide range of subjects.
The Organic Seed Grower, A Farmer’s Guide to Vegetable Seed Production, by John Navazio, 390 pages, December 2012, $49.95. The Organic Seed Grower is a comprehensive manual for the serious vegetable grower interested in growing high-quality seeds using organic farming practices. For both serious home seed savers and diversified small-scale farmers who want to learn the necessary steps involved in successfully producing a commercial seed crop organically.
Restoration Agriculture, by Mark Shepard, 344 pages, January 2013, $30. Restoration Agriculture explains how we can have all of the benefits of natural, perennial ecosystems and create agricultural systems that imitate nature in form and function while still providing for your food, building, fuel and many other needs–in your own backyard, farm or ranch. This book, based on real-world practices, presents an alternative to the agriculture system of eradication and offers exciting hope for our future.
We also have several good books published within the last few years by folks who presented at this year’s MOSES Organic Farming Conference:
Advancing Biological Farming, by Gary Zimmer and Leilani Zimmer-Durand, 242 pages, 2011, $25. This book offers invaluable scientific support for committed organic farmers as well as conventional farmers who’d like to reduce chemical inputs and use natural processes to their advantage. Advancing Biological Farming updates and expands upon Gary Zimmer’s classic, The Biological Farmer.
Farmstead Chef, by John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist, 256 pages, October 2010, $24. Rediscover homegrown and homemade cooking, preserving the harvest, stocking the pantry and building local community around your kitchen table. Lisa and John launch a return to our roots of independence, self-sufficiency and frugality, blended with the spice of modern living for the kitchen gardener, urban homesteader and farmstead chef in us all. This book includes recipes and stories to nourish and inspire.
Fearless Farm Finances: Financial Management Demystified. 266 pages, February 2012, $19.95. Published by MOSES and written by a team of authors including Chris Blanchard, Paul Dietmann, Craig Chase and editor Jody Padgham, this book simplifies the concepts and techniques of successful farm financial management, from setting up data collection systems and designing a QuickBooks bookkeeping program to understanding standard financial statements such as the balance sheet and income statement. Numerous examples from a diversity of working farms are used.
Attracting Native Pollinators: The Xerces Society Guide, Protecting North America’s Bees and Butterflies by Xerxes Society staff, 384 pages, February 2011, $29.95. A comprehensive guidebook on how to protect and encourage the activity of the native pollinators of North America. This book presents positive solutions to provide bountiful harvests on farms and gardens, maintain healthy plant communinities in wildlands, provide food for wildlife, and beautify the landscape with flowers.
Organic No-Till Farming, by Jeff Moyer, 204 pages, March 2011, $28. Organic No-Till offers a map to an organic farming system that limits tillage, reduces labor, and improves soil structure. Based on the latest research by pioneering agriculturists, this book offers new technologies and tools based on sound biological principles, making it possible to reduce and even eliminate tillage. Field-tested over many seasons, these methods make cover crops into a source of fertility as well as a tool for weed management.
The Seasons on Henry’s Farm: A Year of Food and Life on a Sustainable Farm, by Terra Brockman, 310 pages, December 2010, $17. Terra Brockman tells the story of her family–five generations of farmers–in a year-long memoir (with recipes) that takes readers through each season of life on the farm.
Turn Here Sweet Corn, by Atina Diffley, 335 pages, March 2012, $24.95. “Atina Diffley’s compelling account of her life as a Minnesota organic farmer is deeply moving, not only from a personal standpoint, but also from the political. Diffley reveals the evident difficulties of small-scale organic farming, but is inspirational about its value to people and the planet.” —Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat.
We are blessed by many knowledgeable and talented authors in our organic world, including several novelists and others not mentioned in this review. Let’s support these important authors by buying their books!
Reviews compiled by Jody Padgham, Organic Broadcaster editor.
Is it Time to Reevaluate your Business Structure?
By Rachel Armstrong
Chances are, your farm is organized as a sole proprietorship, just like 94% of all farms surveyed in 2007.
Although there is comfort in joining the ranks of other farmers, farmers themselves are being left behind by the vast majority of nonfarm businesses that are choosing the better liability protection offered by other incorporation structures. This article takes a look at the differences between the various business entities, discusses the conversion process, and provides a few additional resources for farmers to move forward in shielding their personal property from farm liabilities.
Choosing the right business structure for your farm operation is an important decision because it determines the scope of the farm’s liability and the farm’s ownership composition. Most business entities are quite simple to establish and operate, although some are easier than others. Further, whether the farm is organized as a Limited Liability Company (an LLC) or a corporation, a farmer can achieve the same effective tax responsibility as if the farm were a sole proprietorship. This makes the choice to convert a little easier by eliminating taxes as one potential factor.
For a busy new farmer, the sole proprietorship offers one important benefit: it’s simple to establish. Unlike a limited liability company or corporation, one piece of paperwork generally does the job. Because it’s generally easier to understand legal issues with a concrete example, I’ll use my fictional farmer, Nell, to explain. If Nell wants to start a sole proprietorship, all she needs to do is register her trade name, generally speaking. In most states, the Secretary of State’s office handles this duty with a convenient online form.
In exchange for its simplicity, the sole proprietorship has a serious drawback. In a sole proprietorship, there is no difference between the business owner and the business. If, for example, a buyer writes a check payable to Nell or to her farm, it’s all the same thing. This lack of distinction comes with a problematic side. If someone has a claim against Nell or the business, then there’s no distinction between the farm’s assets and Nell’s personal assets in that case either. From debt collection to liabilities, such as a school tour on the farm that results in a kid with a broken leg, Nell could end up with a liability judgment satisfied with both the farm’s assets and her personal property.
By contrast, an LLC and a corporation protects personal assets from business liabilities under normal circumstances. Both LLCs and corporations offer the same level of protection. The biggest difference between a corporation and an LLC is that corporations have more formal requirements. The business must elect officers, hold meetings, and comply with specific shareholder requirements. These responsibilities are not particularly burdensome, but they can be difficult to remember.
The LLC is now the small business structure of choice since its creation in the 1990s. State legislators created this option to combine the convenience of sole proprietorship with the protection of a corporation. As a result, the LLC has very few paperwork obligations and offers personal liability protection. However, because it is relatively new, and because farmers tend to learn about starting a business from other farmers, many aren’t familiar with this entity.
Whether or not an LLC is the right choice for a specific farm is a careful decision that can’t be made based on this article alone (the conversion from a corporation to an LLC is a particular caution), but after that decision is made, the process to convert is quite simple. An LLC is created by filing articles of organization with the state. Most states offer forms on their websites. Returning to our fictional farmer, Nell could check her state’s Secretary of State office or ask a librarian at a public or law library for help finding a form. If librarians don’t have a form on file, they certainly know where to download one. Nell’s form should be specific to her state because the articles should follow the requirements of state laws.
Because an LLC is an exceptionally flexible business entity, and a farmer can structure ownership in a variety of ways, it is especially important that someone like Nell write an operating agreement to govern the business. An operating agreement is a document that describes the LLC’s owners, their respective contributions, when and how profits will be distributed, and when and how the business will wrap up operations if that becomes necessary. In fact, a farmer’s state law may require the LLC to have an operating agreement. Regardless, taking the time to figure out how the farm should run and then sticking to that plan creates clarity. Clarity alone can go a long way towards preventing the misunderstandings that trip up a farm business, especially those with more than one owner. In every state an individual may create an LLC, although in that case an operating agreement becomes much less important in terms of clarity.
Creating an LLC (or a corporation) isn’t the only thing required to protect personal assets. The farm needs to follow through by acting as if there is a distinction between business and personal. To take Nell’s example, she shows a distinction between herself and her business by never mixing personal and business accounts. When Nell takes in CSA sales, that money gets posted to her farm business account, not her personal checking account. When Nell wants to buy some personal groceries or new clothes, she pays from her personal account. Nell pays herself a wage or gives herself a distribution of the farm’s profits in a distinct transaction so she knows what is hers and what is the farm’s at all times.
For a farmer used to paying with whatever credit card is handy, the obligation to distinguish between farm and personal assets can be a hassle. It might dissuade some farmers from choosing an LLC or a corporation. But, there is a plus side for the farmer that chooses the extra time and attention that an LLC or corporation might require. An accounting system that distinguishes between person and farm is very helpful in analyzing revenues and expenses or in considering a new crop or food venture. It also might make it easier for the farmer’s accountant to help optimize the farm’s tax situation.
Farmers might want to take a moment this tax season to reevaluate their structure and ponder whether a different entity may better suit the farm’s objectives. The Farm Commons website has more information on several of the most common business entities and details on the LLC conversion process (www.farmcommons.org). A sample LLC operating agreement is also available from Farm Commons by request.
Disclaimer: This article does not provide legal advice or establish an attorney-client relationship between the reader and author. 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. 608-616-5319
Proof Positive - Are Feed Costs Lower for Wis. Grazing vs. Confined and Organic Dairy Farms?
By Thomas S. Kriegl, University of Wisconsin Center for Dairy Profitability
Most of us have the perception that input costs rose slowly and steadily through 2006 before taking a big jump in 2007 due to major increases in the prices of inputs directly related to energy costs. Grain-price increases had the most impact on livestock and dairy producers. This jolt caused dairy farmers—especially grazing and organic farms—to question if it pays to feed grain to dairy cows.
Another perception among dairy graziers is that their feed costs are substantially lower than those for confinement herds. There is also the belief that the “grazing advantage” increased with the 2006-2007 grain-price jolt.
Are these perceptions supported by evidence?
In an attempt to find out, data was analyzed from Wisconsin confinement and grazing herds from 1995 through 2010, and organic farms from 1999 to 2010, on a hundredweight (cwt.)-sold basis.
This study used the Wisconsin Agricultural Financial Advisor (AgFA) data set. AgFA is a sample of Wisconsin dairy farms from which financial and production data are collected annually. Data were originally collected by a number of providers: Lakeshore and Fox Valley Management Association, Wisconsin Farm and Business Management Inc., other independent consultants, UW-Extension agricultural agents, Wisconsin Technical College System instructors and Center for Dairy Profitability staff. Personnel affiliated with these associations helped individual farm managers reconcile their financial data.
The grazing data included 12 to 41 observations per year. Until 2006, a few organic graziers were included in the grazing group, but they represented 25% of the grazing herds in 2004 and 2005, and less than 14% in any previous year. The annual average grazing herd size ranged from 50 to 67 cows. The confinement herd summaries ranged from 441 to 928 farms per year, with annual average herd size ranging from 76 to 172 cows. The organic herd summaries ranged from 6 to 17 herds with an annual average herd size of 48 to 76 cows. Not all organic herds were intensive graziers.
AgFA categorizes expenses much like they are categorized on Federal Tax Schedule F. Since many Wisconsin dairy farms attempt to raise most of their feed, and since few farms do enterprise accounting, the routine AgFA summaries don’t attempt to provide a total feed cost number. However, one can do a reasonable job of estimating feed costs for Wisconsin dairy farms from the AgFA data using the following steps.
Purchased feed cost was figured first. Next came direct feed raising costs, which include chemicals, custom machine work, fertilizer and lime, gas, fuel and oil, seeds, plants and an “other crop expense” category. Finally, indirect feed raising costs were estimated by taking half of the expenses for interest, non-livestock depreciation, paid labor compensation, rent and repairs. Combined, these costs are called “estimated feed costs.” No opportunity costs were included in this calculation.
Net Farm Income from Operations (NFIFO) was also calculated by subtracting from gross income all costs, with the exceptions of family labor and management (both paid and unpaid), along with equity capital. NFIFO thus represents the return to equity and family labor and management.
The accompanying graphs tell much of the story. Here are some of the highlights:
1. Estimated feed costs/cwt. sold were always highest for organic herds and usually lowest (not by much) for grazing herds with confinement in between. Estimated feed costs/cwt. sold trended upward throughout the period for all groups.
2. The data suggest that the changes in input costs from 2006 to 2010 may not favor either system (based on NFIFO per cwt. sold). The 12-year estimated feed cost per hundredweight sold was $8.38 for graziers, $8.65 for confinement, and $11.01 for organic. The same values for 2006 to 2010 were $10.10, $10.24, and $13.09 for grazing, confinement and organic respectively. The organic feed cost increased a bit more in absolute terms, but the percent increase was similar. The feed cost number is probably higher than what many graziers might have thought was the case. Pounds of milk sold per cow appears to play a large role in this outcome: Since 1999, average milk sold per cow increased by about 2400 lbs. for the confinement group, about 1700 lbs. for graziers, and actually decreased 1,832 lbs. for organic herds. High production doesn’t guarantee profitability, but low production is even less of a guarantee.
3. For the 12 years, estimated feed costs used 47.32% of the income on confinement farms, compared to 44.18% for graziers and 41.0% for organic. For the group of confinement farms similar in size to the grazing and organic farm average (51-75 cows), estimated feed costs used 45% of income. The organic price premium was high enough to make organic the lowest cost by this measure, despite being the high feed cost system per cwt. sold.
4. As expected, estimated feed costs/cwt. sold increased noticeably from 2006 to 2007, and all of the yearly average numbers beginning in 2007 were as high or higher than in any previous year for each system. This suggests a new and higher plateau for feed costs. A similar jump occurred from 2003 to 2004 for each system, but for some reason that increase doesn’t seem as memorable. If ethanol use declined, we would likely revert to a lower grain price plateau.
5. Graziers’ estimated feed cost jumped $1.24/cwt. sold in 2004 and $2.04 in 2007. For confinement herds, the jumps were $1.30 and $1.93, respectively. For organic herds, the jumps were delayed a year with an increase of $2.24 from 2004 to 2005 and $1.68 from 2007 to 2008. New feed price peaks were established for organic herds in 2005 and 2008.
6. There was less variability in the indirect feed raising cost category from year to year, and no obvious up or down trend for grazing and confinement. This shouldn’t be a surprise, as this cost category is dominated by fixed costs of land, buildings, and equipment. This cost trended up after 2002 for organic herds.
7. Graziers’ largest economic advantage in estimated feed costs came from the indirect feed-raising expenses. As is shown in Table 2, graziers’ costs for depreciation, paid labor, interest and repairs are well below those for the confinement group, which was always lower than the organic herds.
8. In terms of NFIFO/cwt. sold, organic had a 12 year average advantage of $1.03 over graziers and $3.21 over confinement herds from 1999-2010.
9. As shown in Table 1, the NFIFO performances of the three systems moved largely in tandem, indicating that many external factors (weather, milk prices) influencing profitability have similar effects on each dairy system in most years.
10. 2008 was the year of the highest estimated feed costs for all three groups and NFIFO/cwt. sold for graziers and confinement. The NFIFO for organic herds in 2008 was only $0.07 lower than their peak in 2007. The data is not precise enough to determine what proportion of the feed cost was used for forage versus grain. As important as feed costs are, they don’t totally determine profit levels.
The organic herds were easily the highest cost producers on a per cwt. sold basis with a 12 year average allocated cost (all but opportunity costs) per cwt. sold that was $5.23 and $5.12 higher than the grazing and confinement herds respectively. However, the organic herds also had the highest and most consistent milk price which provided them a 12-year average milk income per cwt. sold that was $5.93 and $8.33 higher than the grazing and confinement herds respectively. Therefore, all of the 12-year average milk income per cwt. sold advantage over the grazing and confinement herds respectively came from the income side of the equation.
In comparing the financial performance between any groups, it is much more common to find the advantage of one group spread across many items as opposed to one or two items. That clearly was the case in comparing Wisconsin grazing to confinement herds. A nickel per cwt. sold per item doesn’t sound like much, but if found in enough places, they can add up to a significant difference. Every dollar of a cost saved per cwt. milk sold could add $10,000 to NFIFO on a farm selling 10,000 cwts (1,000,000 lbs) per year. A herd of 67 cows selling 15,000 lbs milk per cow per year would sell about 10,000 cwts.
Much of the graziers’ 12-year average advantage over confinement NFIFO/cwt. sold also came from the income side of the equation.
The estimated feed costs were spread between basic and non-basic costs and accounted for $0.27 of the grazier 12 year average advantage in NFIFO/cwt. sold. (Table 2) Consequently grazing herds had more of an advantage in feed costs than from other costs. Most of this advantage came from the indirect feed costs which include the non-livestock depreciation and interest expenses associated mainly with capital investments such as buildings, equipment, and land.
Graziers and organic herds also typically achieved higher NFIFO per cow and NFIFO as a percent of income. However the average confinement farm may achieve higher total NFIFO per farm because the average confinement farm has been about twice as large.
However, graziers regularly talk about productivity problems with their pastures. The Wisconsin data shows that compared to confinement farms, graziers often use about one more acre per cow to produce forage, even though the confinement herds sell more milk per cow. Pasture can be a low-cost feed if grown productively and harvested at optimum quality, but that won’t be the case if the land was purchased for $10,000/acre and/or yields or quality are low.
Possible declining productivity per acre and per cow could also diminish organic profitability in the future.
Overall, the data indicate that there are many similarities and differences between the Wisconsin dairy systems. They also suggest that neither Wisconsin system is gaining any major advantage because of higher feed costs.
Tom Kriegl is Farm Financial Analyst, Center for Dairy Profitability, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and Cooperative Extension, University of Madison. http://cdp.wisc.edu. The author thanks coworker Ken Bolton for reviewing the document and making helpful suggestions. A shorter version of this article was prepared for Graze magazine.
This research was presented as part of the Organic Research Forum at the 2013 MOSES Organic Farming Conference, Feb. 21-23.
Buyers and Producers: From Both Sides of the Fence
By Dani Lind
'There’s no relationship more intimate than the one between eaters and the food they eat. Beautiful, nutritious, and tasty food is fulfilling. Knowing that food came from a clean source, grown by good people who are making a living growing it satisfies something even more: our sense of place and belonging, of being a part of something larger than ourselves and contributing to our community. We are what we eat, indeed.
Three years ago I started a small catering company called Rooted Spoon Culinary in Viroqua, Wis., with a business partner who shares my philosophy of conscientious food sourcing and preparation. We buy most of the food we serve locally, either directly from dozens of produce, cheese, meat, and bread producers that we know, or from local producer co-ops and processors. Not only does it make us feel good to build relationships with the people who produce our ingredients, but these people produce amazing ingredients. Amazing ingredients make tasty and beautiful finished dishes, which in turn creates a successful catering business.
I was fortunate enough to meet most of the folks who provide our food during my 10-year stint as the produce buyer at the Viroqua Food Co-op. During part of that time, I also served on the Valley Stewardship Network’s Food and Farm Initiative, which works to help farmers sell to local institutions like schools and hospitals. Halfway through my career at the Co-op, I married one of my farmers who co-owns a vegetable farm and a small grass-fed beef operation. Being privy to the intricacies of both these types of businesses–the producer and the buyer/retailer–I’ve gained a lot of insight into the relationship they can have.
Some producers prefer to sell only direct to consumers at farmers markets or through a CSA program. Others would rather avoid direct marketing, prefer to spend more time in the field, or want to grow on a bigger scale. They may choose to be a part of a grower cooperative like CROPP or Westby Co-op Creamery. Or they will sell directly to wholesale markets like restaurants, grocery stores, institutions, or distributors. Many successful operations do some of both–direct marketing and wholesale.
One farm that chooses to sell to both markets is Driftless Organics, the farm in Soldiers Grove, Wis. that Noah and Josh Engel run with my husband, Mike. They direct-sell certified organic vegetables at the Dane County Farmers Market in Madison almost year round, and to 650 CSA members in Viroqua, Madison, and the Twin Cities. In addition to these direct markets, they pursue a wide variety of wholesale markets: restaurants and caterers in Viroqua and Madison; food co-ops in Wisconsin and the Twin Cities; wholesalers like Co-op Partners and Whole Foods, and non-profit food distributors like REAP and Emergency Food Shelf Network that supply food to farm-to-school programs and food pantries. A few years ago Driftless expanded its product set to include Mike’s beef and Josh’s sunflower oil, which they sell direct at the farmers market and through the CSA as well as wholesale to stores, restaurants, and caterers like me.
Maintaining all these different direct and wholesale outlets offers Driftless Organics and many farms like them a degree of security in an unpredictable market; but coordinating it all is no small task. A very wide variety of vegetables are needed at the market stand and for CSA customers. For these 100+ different varieties of vegetables, they need to source seeds, plant and transplant, cultivate, harvest, wash, and package for delivery, much of which requires specialized equipment. The coordination of the CSA program requires a lot of marketing, advertising, and custom-built member management software to administer.
For their wholesale markets, Driftless Organics grows much fewer varieties, but in larger quantities and as efficiently as possible to be able to sell at a lower cost. They have to meet with all of their wholesale markets’ buyers in the winter or spring to discuss what they’re (hopefully) going to buy, quantities and prices, order and delivery schedules, etc.
From those meetings, past experiences, and just plain guess work they have to decide what and how much to plant, where and when and how to plant it. Weekly or biweekly availabilities need to be sent out throughout the season to each buyer, sales calls and emails have to be made, the right produce harvested and washed, orders packed, invoices and deliveries made. All this amidst unpredictable and sometimes disastrous weather, equipment breakdowns, employee management, weeds, pests, certification requirements and paperwork. The list goes on and on.
Growing food for many different markets is extremely complicated, but so is buying from lots of different producers for a business. I may have made the idea of buying locally sound romantic in the beginning of this article, but it really can be a pain. It means keeping track of lots of different contacts and how best to reach them, who has what, order and delivery schedules, what and how much to buy, customers’ priorities, competitive pricing, what promises you’ve made to who.
If retailing certified organic product, keeping up to date organic certificates on file for each grower; if buying for an institution, making sure that GAP food safety licenses are up to date; if buying meat or processed food, making sure it was processed in a state or USDA licensed facility.
Businesses have to be very committed to the local food movement and providing top quality food to make the extra effort to buy directly from a bunch of local sources, because it’s just so quick and easy (and most times cheap) to buy from a single distributor. The easier you as growers can make it for buyers, and the more you can build a relationship with them over time, the more likely they’ll keep buying from you.
If you’re a new grower or are expanding into wholesale markets and want to build rapport with a buyer, you first need to be persistent and make personal contact. By all means, share your farm or business story with them, either in person or through your website, social media, or other literature. Next, be reliable in your communication–have regular availability lists (with product descriptions, case sizes, and prices), order days and delivery times. Be consistent with your quality, packaging, labeling, and invoicing. Be flexible and willing to try new things, but figure out what you enjoy growing and find buyers that fit your business.
Don’t take too much on too soon–it takes years to build a reputation and just a few out of stocks or missed deliveries to break it. Best to start with one or two buyers, build a strong connection and good systems, and expand from there with a good name for yourself and your product.
Local food has become quite the trendy movement the last few years, and there are as many businesses joining it as there are new growers. To keep these businesses as inspired and committed to this movement as you are will take a team effort. It takes time to build a good working relationship and standing with wholesale buyers, but when you do, then the food you so painstakingly produce can fulfill its highest destiny–to sustain your business and feed and nourish more and more of your community.
Dani Lind co-owns a catering business, Rooted Spoon Culinary, in Viroqua, Wis., specializing in local/seasonal menus. She lives on an 80-acre certified organic farm in Soldiers Grove, Wis. with her husband, Mike.
Ask a MOSES Specialist
MOSES organic specialists receive a wide diversity of questions from farmers. In this column we will provide answers to common questions so that a greater audience can benefit. Feel free to give MOSES a call; reach Harriet at 888-551-4769, or the MOSES office at 715-778-5775, with any questions about organic agriculture you’d like answered…We will do our best to help! These answers are provided by MOSES specialist Harriet Behar.
Must I use organic seed?
If you are still in transition to organic, you are not required under the organic regulations to plant organic seed. However, you cannot plant seeds that have prohibited synthetic treatments applied, such as a fungicide or insecticide (ie: Captan, Maxim,Thiram). Nitrogen-fixing rhizobial bacteria, used as a treatment on leguminous seeds, is allowed. You must make sure this bacteria is not genetically modified, and the bacteria is not sold with a prohibited synthetic carrier or fertilizer.
You must keep documentation that the seed planted during your transition meets these requirements as part of your application for organic certification. If you plant a corn seed treated with captan after two years of transitioning to organic, for instance, you must restart the 36-month clock on your transition, to the day you planted that seed on that field. If you are unsure if a seed treatment is allowed, ask MOSES, or the organic certification agency you are planning to use when you become certified for organic production.
If your operation is certified organic, you are required under the organic regulations to plant organic seed, unless you cannot find an “equivalent organically produced variety” in the form, quality or quantity that you want.For example, you may want organically approved clay-coated carrot seed for ease of planting, and it is not available on organic seed; or, you want 1000 pounds of bodacious sweet corn seed and you cannot find organic seed in that quantity; or, the germination rate for the organic barley you found is only 65%; or, you cannot find the specific variety of seed in an organic form that the buyer of your crop wants you to grow. In all of these cases, you can use non-organic seed. It cannot have prohibited seed treatments, as described above.
Note that the rule requires you to seek out an “equivalent” variety. If you are new to organic and are unsure whether the organic seed varieties are equivalent to the familiar non-organic varieties you are used to growing, you should trial out organic varieties with similar characteristics at the same time as planting your untreated non-organic seed, to see if you can find one to your liking. Higher price is NOT an acceptable reason to avoid planting organic seed.
Organic seed is an investment in our future as organic producers. Since organic seed is produced under organic management, and the seed breeders are specifically working to provide characteristics that organic crop producers need, it makes sense to purchase from these companies and support their efforts. For example, organic corn producers cannot plant in cold ground in the early spring, since their seed is not treated with fungicides. Therefore, they want a seed that will germinate quickly as well as canopy thick and early to help with weed control in their organic fields. Organic seed breeders work to have crops that respond well to natural, slower release forms of fertility inputs, whereas nonorganic corn seed breeders don’t do this.
Can I use my non-organic neighbor’s manure on my organic field?
It is not required to use manure from organic livestock on organic fields. If you are growing livestock feed, ornamentals, or fiber, then you can apply manure at any time on your organic cropland.
Feed and bedding: Arsenic is the only prohibited feed input that could have been fed to non-organic animals, which would prohibit use of manure on organic land. Arsenic has at times been added to conventional broiler chicken feed. It is an element, and will remain in your soil since it does not break down. You must document that this is not in the feed if you are using broiler manure. Other than this, animals could have been fed genetically engineered (GE) feed, or given antibiotics or hormones, and the manure is still allowed on organic land.
However, if the manure includes bedding, it cannot contain prohibited synthetics, like treated wood shavings or glues/paints/heavy metal-based inks. On the other hand, GE corn stalks, or any conventionally raised crop is allowed as bedding in manure that can then be spread on organic land.
Piles and Lagoons: You must obtain a document from the manure supplier that a manure pile or manure lagoon did not have prohibited synthetic items used in or on the manure. For example, no non-approved fly sprays or herbicides may be used on manure piles, or non-approved synthetics put in manure lagoons to control odor. A natural lactobacillus bacterium is allowed as a manure lagoon additive, as long as it does not contain non-approved synthetics. Manure that has been piled outside or in a barn for 10 years with no turning and/or no documentation that it reached the high temperatures required for compost (see below) is still considered raw manure, and can only be used according to the manure restrictions on human consumed crops.
Human-consumed crops: If you are growing crops for human consumption, and the manure is not composted or processed, the manure must be incorporated either 120 days before harvest of the crops where the crop has contact with soil (either growing in or on the ground, or where rain might splash soil on the crop, such as beets, tomatoes, peppers), or wait 90 days before harvest where the crop does not have contact with soil (i.e. corn or soybean seed).
Compost and processed manure: Manure that has been composted (documented temperature of over 131 degrees for 15 days and turned 5 times) or processed (150-165 degrees for one hour and tested to have less than 1000 most probable number (MPN) of fecal coliform and 3 MPN salmonella per 4 gram sample) can be used up until day of harvest with no restriction. If you are composting only vegetative matter, without any animal by-products, then there is no requirement to track the compost reaching a specific temperature. Non-animal product compost can be spread this on your organic crops at any time.
Using manure: Be aware that raw manure that has not reached the high temperatures of composting or processing will contain viable weed seeds. You will be adding more, and possibly different, weed seeds to your fields. It is a good idea to obtain an analysis of the manure you are using so you can better manage for the nutrients it provides.
Harriet Behar will be sharing this column with Joe Predretti and Angie Sullivan, all MOSES Organic Specialists.
New Farmer Corner - L.T.D. Farm: Frac Sand and Farming
By Lindsay Rebhan
The New Farmer Corner highlights issues of particular interest to those new to farming, no matter what age. For more resources see the New Organic Stewards webpage at www.neworganicstewards.org.
Our nation finds itself in the midst of a Wild West land grab–a fracking boom and therefore a frac-sand mining boom. The process of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) uses sand, water and chemicals to open fissures in the earth to extract oil or natural gas. Wisconsin’s geological history as an ocean provides the perfect crystalline silica sand used for the hydraulic fracturing process. In the last three years, Wisconsin sand mining has grown exponentially, quickly changing the landscape.
“We didn’t completely understand how this issue could affect us so quickly. We were building our farm business; moving, harvesting/planting, learning the community, we thought we didn’t have time to keep up with the frac mining issue around us,” young Wisconsin farmer Andrew French explains. In the list of things new farmers need to keep tabs on–add frac sand mining. Andrew and Khaiti French own Living the Dream Farm, (L.T.D. Farm, Inc.) in Clayton, Wis., located in Barron County.
Andrew and Khaiti are two impassioned young farmers and compassionate carnivores, stewarding 39 acres of land in western Wisconsin. Barron County, like much of Wisconsin, is known for rolling hills, bucolic trout streams and good farmland. “Our land is one of the most important elements of our farm, of course, if the mine operation starts up here–all the smog, noise, and silica dust will cause health issues for us and our animals.” The L.T.D. farmers raise pastured ducks, chickens, turkeys, rabbits and goats, and produce vegetables for a CSA operation.
“The frac sand issue came to our attention this summer. Our neighbors five miles away started to fight a mine next to their property. Then, a week before Christmas, boring started on the property next to ours. We got up to do chores early morning in December and heard a loud noise. It was a big drill like the ones used to drill wells. A mineral company was drilling test holes for mineral extraction. We are now well aware that we have frac sand in this area. This obvious threat to our land and neighborhood concerned all of our neighbors and we almost immediately began to meet and talk about what we could do. We are now just understanding what actually happens in the frac sand mining process.”
Andrew and Khaiti have stepped up to organize and inform their neighbors about the issue, even asking for a moratorium for time to learn more, but have been very frustrated by conflicts of interest and lack of support from their town board. As of now the board is very pro frac-sand mining, with no change to that stance on the horizon.
L.T.D. Farm has equity in their property. They have a great community of small-scale sustainable food producers. “We don’t want to pack up and move. We are one of the three unzoned townships in the county–so we are a big bulls eye,” says Andrew. “We are organizing our neighbors and fighting for a voice in this pressing issue. This winter we are working on our pastured poultry plan, seed orders, etc. It’s hard to plan for the long-term future of our farm–if a sand mine goes in, our health and our animal’s health will suffer almost immediately.”
As in all community matters, this issue is complicated and involves neighbors, families and farm futures. Andrew explains, “We have a neighbor who is actually employed by the frac sand mines as a trucker. Even he doesn’t want a sand mine in his own backyard.”
“Regardless of what happens–we are going to do the best we can. We will continue here or somewhere else, this will not deter us from farming.” Here you have it–the perseverance of new agrarians in the small-scale farming revolution. Clean air, soil and water must be protected in order to grow good food and farming communities. The time is now to come together, to support each other and to keep our food system healthy!
It is vital for farmers (and new farmers looking for land) to take some time to find out what is happening around them:
Meet neighbors. Talk to the community about this issue. Know zoning rules. Organize. Find out if any organizations are actively opposing frac sand mining in the area. Find out where the DNR has permitted new mines. Come up with a plan on what to do to keep frac mining out of the community. Go to the town board, ask for a moratorium. Build coalitions of larger statewide groups.
If you are in Wisconsin and Minnesota check out: Hills Angels and Hay River Frac Watch on Facebook; The Frac Sand Frisbee; Save the Hills Alliance; SandPoint Times; Save the Bluffs; The Frac Sand Weekly
Lindsay Rebahn coordinates the New Organic Stewards, a joint project of MOSES and Renewing the Countryside.
MOSES New Organic Stewards 2013 Field Days
Hosted at the Organic Field School in Northfield, MN
• June 2 – Farm Hack
Calling all new farmers, makers, tinkerers, inventors & builders to convene for a day of tool building and design for small scale agriculture. Do you have a new tool, implement or design you’ve been working on? Join us to share, design and build farm innovations. Bring your hacks!
• September 15 – Transition to Organic
Making the commitment to farming with organic methods is a great first step - but what is it like to start out on land that was previously farmed conventionally? Learn from the first-hand experience of organic vegetable farmers from Gardens of Eagan and the Organic Field School’s incubator farmers (Bossy Acres, Fazenda Boa Terra and Humble Pie Farm) after their first growing season on new land. A unique opportunity to hear lessons learned by both experienced and new farmers, with practical tips and a farm tour showing a variety of crops and layouts.
Visit www.neworganicstewards.org for event details!
Organic Farming Increases Soil Carbon
Analyzing data from 74 field comparison studies measuring carbon levels in soils under organic and conventional farming systems throughout the world, international experts headed by scientists from the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) in Switzerland conclude that organic agriculture provides environmental benefits through carbon sequestration in soils. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, confirms higher organic carbon concentrations and stocks in top soils under organic farming. Scientists credited mixed farming practices using livestock and crop production and recycling organic matter and forage legumes in crop rotation as major factors in these higher levels. www.pnas.org
Grazing Soils Research
A long-term southern Wisconsin cropping systems study shows that soils under managed grazing have a number of positive characteristics compared to soils under other cropping systems. The Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trial (WICST) provided data on three cash grain cropping systems and three forage systems. The study found some interesting differences between the systems in terms of erosion potential, earthworm counts, water stable aggregates, soil carbon, and the Soil Quality Index. http://www.cias.wisc.edu
Watch Out for GMO Sweet Corn Seeds
Organic sweet corn producers will want to be especially wary this year when looking for seeds–several new roundup ready and Bt sweet corn varieties are now available, and not well marked as such in advertising. Organic growers should source organic seed if possible, and are not allowed to use GMO seed. If you do use non-organic seed, be very careful to not purchase sweet corn that has a genetically engineered. The two GE traits currently available include Roundup Ready and Bt. Be sure to ask your seed supplier if any sweet corn seed you plan to buy is non-GMO.
Farmer-Veteran Coalition Revamps Website
FVC has launched its new website, www.farmvetco.org, with new features and a new layout. The site will continue to develop into a hub for farmers and veterans to communicate.
Certified Organic Farmland Still Lagging Worldwide
Despite the growing worldwide demand for organic food, clothing, and other products, the area of land certified as organic still makes up just 0.9 percent of global agricultural land. In 2010, the latest year for which data are available, 37 million hectares of land were organically farmed-an area that has grown more than threefold since 1999. Reliable data are lacking for land that is farmed using organic principles but that is not certified organic. Many farmers, particularly subsistence farmers or those selling to local markets, farm organically but do not acquire organic certification. Read more at http://blogs.worldwatch.org.
New Forage Production Fact Sheet
Alternative Continuous-Cover Dairy Forage System for Profitability, Flexibility and Soil Health, based on a SARE-funded study in New York, describes a resilient system where farmers can grow their own high-quality dairy forage in corn- and alfalfa-based cropping systems. Search for the free downloadable publication at http://www.sare.org.
Upper Midwest Local Food Prospectus
Local Food Prospectus for the Tri-State Region was recently produced by the Southwestern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission. This analysis of the wholesale fruit and vegetable industry in Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin will be of interest to those involved in agriculture, local foods, and economic development. Read the full report at http://swwrpc.org.
New Poultry Publication
SARE just released Profitable Poultry: Raising Birds on Pasture, a free, 16-page resource.www.sare.org
Handbook Guides Livestock Mentors
The Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has released Passing Along Farm Knowledge: A Mentor-Intern Handbook for Dairy and Livestock Farmers to help mentors learn how to best guide interns. The 36-page publication is available free http://www.cias.wisc.edu. (608) 262-5200
2013 Non-GMO Sourcebook Now Available
The 2013 Non-GMO Sourcebook, a “farm to fork” directory of suppliers of non-genetically modified (non-GMO) products is now available. In its 12th year of publication, this year’s edition of The Non-GMO Sourcebook features more than 700 suppliers of non-GMO and organic products and related services. $27.95. Order at www.nongmosourcebook.com or 800-854-0586
NOP Fact Sheet on Organic Livestock
The NOP has created a new fact sheet, Organic Livestock Requirements that covers standards for all livestock, allowed and prohibited substances, ruminant pasture requirements, benefits of organic and pasture-based management. http://1.usa.gov/11EygV7
Food Safety Guidelines for Fresh Culinary Herbs
A new publication, Commodity Specific Food Safety Guidelines for the Production, Harvest, Post-Harvest, and Processing Unit Operations of Fresh Culinary Herbs, offers best practices to address identified potential food safety issues. You will find a list of reference documents providing background information on how to develop food safety programs. The 186-page PDF file is available at www.wga.com.
USDA Microloan Program
A new program was unveiled in January to expand access to low-interest loans for small-scale farmers and beginning or disadvantaged farmers. Eligible applicants can apply for a maximum of $35,000 to pay for initial start-up expenses such as hoop houses, essential tools, irrigation, delivery vehicles, and annual expenses such as seed, fertilizer, utilities, land rents, marketing, and distribution expenses. As financing needs increase, applicants can apply for an operating loan up to the maximum amount of $300,000 or obtain financing from a commercial lender under FSA’s Guaranteed Loan Program. The current interest rate for Microloans is 1.25 percent. Producers interested in applying for a microloan or other FSA farm loan program should contact their local Farm Service Agency office. http://www.fsa.usda.gov/FSA/stateOffices
Energy Grants Available
Farmers with small to mid-sized operations may apply for grants to incorporate energy efficiency, energy conservation, and renewable energy measures to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. The grants of up to $2,000 are offered through the Farm Energy Working Group facilitated by the Center for Energy & Environmental Education (CEEE) at the University of Northern Iowa and funded by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. http://www.leopold.iastate.edu
University of Minnesota Seeks Two Organic Faculty
The University’s Horticultural Science Department is looking to hire two Assistant Professors, each 60% research, 40% teaching. One focuses on Biological Principles of Sustainable & Organic Food Systems, (http://z.umn.edu/bpe) the second on Sustainable & Organic Horticultural Food Production Systems, (http://z.umn.edu/bpd).
Open Seats on Wisconsin Organic Advisory Council
The Wisconsin Organic Advisory Council has four open seats for: an organic farmer, an organic business, a consumer representative and an ‘at-large’ seat. Members serve a three-year term and are eligible to serve more than one term. Interested individuals should complete the short two-page application form and provide two letters of support by March 8. Applications to Laura Paine, 608-224-5120 or email@example.com. http://datcp.wi.gov/Farms/Organic_Farming/Advisory_Council.
Business Development Facilitator Position
The Organic Processing Institute is announcing recruitment for a (Half-time) Business Development Facilitator. This position is key to providing client services to, and program delivery for, food processing entrepreneurs, processors, and farmers/producers to build competitive and sustainable food processing in the Upper Midwest. Email Carla@organicprocessinginstitute.org with a resume and cover letter to apply. Call 608-833-5370 with questions.
Ford & Riddle 2013 Sustie Award Winners
Joyce Ford and Jim Riddle were honored recently with the 2013 Sustie Award at the EcoFarm conference. The award is given annually to individuals or couples who are long time stewards of sustainable agriculture. As organic inspectors for 20 years, Jim and Joyce founded the International Organic Inspector’s Association in 1991, and have been involved in many initiatives and organizations improving organic agriculture around the world. Read more at www.ecofarm.org.
New Way for Antibiotic Resistance to Spread
Washington State researchers have found that a mixture of cow manure, soil and urine infused with metabolized antibiotic will kill the normal e.coli in soil, but that anti-biotic-resistant e.coli will survive and recolonize in the cow’s gut through pasture, forage and bedding. Given that about 70% of the drug is excreted in the urine, this can have a large effect on bacterial populations that reside both in the gut and the environment. Read the study, “Urine from Treated Cattle Drives Selection for Cepalosporin Resistant Escherichia coli in Soil,” at http://bit.ly/S9jTBM.
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.
Upper Midwest Organic Grains and Feedstuffs Report