Some ideas developed by the group on farm profitability as it
relates to beginning farmers were:
A. Put start-up money into something that is appreciating in
value and can regenerate itself (livestock) instead of something
that is depreciating in value or requires maintenance
B. Evaluate your return to labor, on a per hour basis, and find
the best use for your labor in the farm operation. For example,
one could take a grain farm, hire all the work done on a custom
basis, and make a small return of, say, $10 per acre. But the
return per hour of labor expended is relatively large ($100 to
$150 per hour) because the only labor expended is for
decision-making. Thus, labor for tractor-driving is freed for
use in high-profit enterprises. The key is to work smarter, not
C. Lay out a spending plan (cash flow or budget) and refer to it
often. We've been taught to keep records, but usually records
are only looked at once a year - TAX TIME! Keep your records,
but periodically compare actual expenses and income to the
planned expenses and income to see if you are staying on course.
Evaluate and re-plan as necessary. A plan should make cost
control easier to do, but you must take time every month to do
the record-keeping and planning.
D. Farmers of the future are going to need to spend as much time
marketing their products as they do producing them. Marketing
may have to be more active, like direct marketing to consumers.
E. New farmers should have sufficient money in hand to start
their farming enterprises. Borrowing too much will more than
likely always keep you in the hole. Some enterprises, such as
grass dairying and market gardening, provide a
"pay-as-you-produce" type of cash flow. Off-farm income during
the start-up phase is a welcome addition as long as it doesn't
compete for time with high income parts of the operation.
F. The best way for new farmers to get access to land is to buy a
small parcel and build from there. Most current landowners
prefer the security of cash rent, and competition for rental land
so extreme that it makes it difficult for beginners to compete
for this land. Look for land that other people don't want, and
figure out a way to use it to your advantage.
The group also contributed personal experiences about farming
enterprises that could meet the goals of new farmers:
Seasonal grass dairying in Iowa has shown that it can provide
net profits of $300 to $500 per acre.
Market gardening is very labor-intensive, but well worth the
returns once markets are established.
A lamb-to-finish pasture-based sheep operation provides for the
second-highest return after dairying.
Grass-pastured chickens provide a quick turnaround for the money
- six weeks from chick to meat.
Replacement dairy calves can be purchased as bottle calves and
raised to a grow-out stage (700 lbs.) for a net of $150 per head.
Pasture farrowing is a time-honored way of producing pigs.
Pasture finishing isn't as time honored, but it sure is cheaper
than confinement, and healthier for all, too.
We will be developing this guidebook through the winter and hope
to have it ready by March 1st. If anybody reading this article
has some comments we could add to the guidebook, please feel free
to call me at 319-824-6347.
17^ SUMMER 1995 ARKANSAS IFS NETWORKING CONFERENCE REPORT
by Gary Huber
Every six months people from each of the 18 Kellogg-funded
Integrated Farming Systems (IFS) projects attend a networking
conference. These conferences are designed to further the goals
of the IFS network, which include developing leadership capacity,
influencing public policy, empowering local communities, and
fostering institutional change. Another goal is to create a
network of people and organizations that shares information,
experiences, and expertise to encourage farming systems that are
Each conference is hosted by one of the projects. The first was
in Montana, the second in Washington, D.C., the third in Iowa,
and the fourth in California. The fifth was hosted in August by
the Arkansas Land and Farm Development Corporation (ALFDC), the
grantee for the Arkansas IFS project. Five people representing
the Shared Visions program attended the Arkansas conference.
At this gathering, we worked on setting a goal for the network
using the Holistic Resource Management decision-making model. We
broke into smaller groups to explore the topics of public policy,
marketing strategies, sustainable farming systems, and social
justice. These sub-groups discussed ways the network could
advance these concerns, both at the level of the eighteen
projects and at the national level. We also participated in
exercises providing insights into personal leadership styles.
A highlight of the conference for me was the time spent visiting
farmers and others that AFLDC has worked with over the years.
Crops in the Mississippi delta where the conference was held are
mainly rice, cotton, and wheat. We visited farms where these
were the main crops, as well as farms growing vegetables for
fresh markets. We were also invited into peoples' homes, shared
food with their families and friends, and came to know firsthand
what southern hospitality is all about. ]
19^ NOTES AND NOTICES
Maria Rosmann Appointed
Maria Rosmann received a two-year appointment to the National
Sustainable Agriculture Advisory Council of the USDA. The group
is comprised of members from the public sector and private
citizens. Maria attended her initial meeting Sept. 25-26, in
Washington, D.C. Maria Rosmann serves as PFI Public Relations
New Grazing Newsletter from Wisconsin
Pasture Talk is a newsletter "serving the Upper Midwest and the
Great Lakes grazing communities." Publisher Jeff Bump contacted
PFI looking for an Iowa producer to contribute to the magazine.
In return, he sent us volume 1, number 2.
The 16-page publication we received promotes planned grazing with
farmer profiles and news of innovations and farm tours. At the
same, there were technical articles by a livestock nutritional
consultant, a veterinarian, and a Wisconsin county agricultural
educator. Also appearing was a column called "Grazing the Net"
that followed current discussion topics on the Internet. The
pros and cons of grazing corn were featured.
Pasture Talk is published monthly. A year's subscription costs
$24. Contact Jeff Bump, The GreenBull Press, P.O. Box 620732,
Middleton, WI, 53562-0732 (608-831-3787).
Value Added Conference Set for Dec. 9
ISU Extension and North Iowa Area Community College (NIACC) are
co-sponsoring a Dec. 9 conference titled Value Added Strategies
for Farmers - With Opportunities for Rural Communities. The
conference will be from 9 am to 4 pm at the Muse-Norris
Conference Center on the NIACC campus in Mason City.
Introductory remarks will be made by Senator Charles Grassley.
Former Congressman Cooper Evans will follow with a talk titled,
Prospects for a Profitable Agriculture.
The remainder of the day will involve breakout sessions covering
nearly 30 topics, such as Livestock Production and Marketing
Groups, Requirements and Opportunities for Organic Production,
and Accessing Available Resources for Value Added Industries.
Admission will be $30, which includes handout materials and
lunch. Questions should be directed to your County Extension
office or the NIACC conference coordinator (1-800-392-5685 - Ext.
First Annual Iowa CSA Workshop Set for Dec. 9
Taking Root and Growing is the theme of this Community Supported
Agriculture (CSA) workshop, which will be held at the Iowa 4-H
Education and Natural Resources Center near Madrid. (CSAs
connect producers of fresh, healthy food with consumers who
purchase shares at the beginning of the season. Thus, consumers
share the risks with producers, but they know where their food
comes from and how it is grown.)
Speakers will include Verna Kragnes, co-founder of a CSA from
near Osceola, Wisconsin, that just completed its 6th season, and
Dan Nagengast, farmer-member of the Rolling Prairie Farmer's
Alliance from Lawrence, Kansas, a cooperative of eight farmers.
Workshop sessions will include people from three Iowa CSAs and
will cover challenges and solutions for emerging CSAs.
Registration is $15. For more information, call Jeff Hall at
Iowa Farm Business Association Market Outlook Meetings Dec. 12
The IFBA will sponsor two three-hour seminars by Leroy Louwagie
on the theme "Market Outlook-Where to from Here?" The agenda
lists four items: A) Will price ration corn usage? B) An early
peak in prices? C) Hedge all '96 production? and D) There are
profit potentials! The Dec. 12 sessions are set for 1:00 pm at
the Red Fox Inn in Waverly and 7:00 pm at the Amana Holiday Inn
in Amana. The Dec. 13 sessions will take place at 1 pm in the
Villager Restaurant, in Walnut, and 7 pm at The Hotel, in
Spencer. Non-IFBA members will pay $35 per person. Members pay
$30, or $35 for husband and wife.
CARD Policy Conference Dec. 13
The Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (CARD) will hold
its 1995 Fall Agricultural Policy Conference Wednesday, Dec. 13,
at Kirkwood College in Cedar Rapids. Speakers and topics
include: Neil Hamilton, Drake University Law Center, Agricultural
Production and Environmental Policy; Ray Bjornson, Hormel Foods,
Developing New Uses for Agricultural Products; David Johnson,
Meredith Corp., Consumer Trends: Implications for the
Agricultural Processing Industry; Varel Bailey, farmer and
legislative aide, The Role of Government in Agriculture; Loren
Kruse, Successful Farming Magazine, Positioning Agriculture for
the Future; Mike Duffy, ISU agricultural economist, Beginning
Farmers: Who will Farm the Land?; Cornelia Flora, ISU rural
sociologist, The Quality of Life in Rural Communities; and
Stanley Johnson, CARD, Large-Scale Landscape Management: New
Approaches to Rural Development. For more information call
Judith at 515-294-6257.
Feb. 7 and 8 Grazing Meeting
ISU Extension will hold its second conference on
management-intensive grazing Feb. 7 and 8 at the Westmart Ramada
Inn in West Des Moines, which is at the intersection of I-80 and
74th Street, or Exit 121 on I-80 just west of the I-80 and I-35
interchange at the west edge of Des Moines.
Featured speakers will be Jim Gerrish, grazing consultant from
the Forage Systems Research Center in Linneus, Missouri, and Ben
Bartlett, district dairy/livestock specialist for Michigan State
University. There will be general and breakout sessions, plus
self-help sessions on paddock numbers and layout. Registration
is $45 in advance (by January 30) and $60 at the door. This
includes the Wednesday evening dinner and the Thursday morning
breakfast buffet. Rooms for overnight stays cost $52 plus tax.
For more information call 515-294-2240.
Feb. 10 Organic Farming Conference in Decorah
The Natural Food Associates of Iowa Annual Conference will be
held on Feb. 10 in Room 117 of Valders Hall on the campus of
Luther College in Decorah. Registration is at 8:30 am and the
program will end at 4 pm. Speakers will focus on growing and
marketing organic foods, on creating effective partnerships
between organic farmers and consumers, and on relationships
between health concerns and food quality. Cost is $10. An
organic noon meal is extra. Call David Burns for more
Nebraska Dairy Grazing Conferences Set for Feb. 15 and 16
It's About Grass, Milk, and Money are the titles for two Nebraska
dairy grazing conferences. The first will be Feb. 15 in
Hartington, which is in northeast Nebraska. Call Mike Lechner at
402-254-6821 for more information about this event. The second
will be in Fairbury, which is in southeast Nebraska. Call Bob
Stritzke at 402-729-3078 about this conference. ]
20^ SWINE PRODUCTION SYSTEMS WORKSHOP FEBRUARY 21
Jerry DeWitt, Sustainable Ag Extension Coordinator,
Contrary to some commonly-held perceptions in today's
agriculture, there are viable production and management options
for swine producers regardless of size. In order to discuss
opportunities and learn about alternative strategies including
economics, outdoor production, hooped structures, deep-bedded
systems, remodeling, and open-front systems, a special one-day
workshop is planned for February 21, 1996 at the Scheman Building
in Ames. This workshop will include Iowa producers discussing
their operations and experiences with these systems. Sponsors
include ISU Extension, The Leopold Center, The Iowa Pork Industry
Center, The Beginning Farmer Center, and the Iowa Pork Producers
This will be a good opportunity to learn some new ideas and talk
to other producers across Iowa who are working in these areas.
For more information on registration, contact your Extension
Office (after January 10) or call the PFI Coordinators or me at
515-294-1923. We will also have more information for you at the
PFI annual meeting in Ames on January 6. ]
21^ FARMING SYSTEMS SYMPOSIUM ATTRACTS DIVERSE GROUP
While conference goers got a "taste of Iowa," there was also the
flavor of California peaches, Mexican hot sauce, and pure
Canadian water. And that was just the farmer contingent!
Producers attended from around the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The
Farming Systems Symposium, Nov. 5-8, in Ames, also hosted staff
from Midwestern Extension and NRCS offices, representatives of
nonprofit organizations, and agricultural scientists from all
over North America.
The meeting isn't easy to categorize because of the diversity of
people attending and because of the range of topics. There was
no "steel" on display, yet the subject matter wasn't entirely "up
in the clouds" abstractions. In workshops and posters, producers
and others described how they use a "systems perspective" to make
decisions about technologies, practices, and farm design.
The symposium title, Linkages Between Farming Systems and Rural
Communities, helped raise awareness of systems that are even
larger than the individual farm. The tone was set with a
pre-conference bus trip to two farms (Dick and Sharon Thompson,
Clark and Linda BreDahl) and the western Iowa town of Fontanelle,
where 50 participants enjoyed Sunday dinner and discussed issues
with community representatives.
Evening storytelling sessions, discussions over meals, and an
old-fashioned community dance also provided opportunities to make
new acquaintances and share ideas. By the end of the meeting, we
felt like a community! Thanks to everyone who presented a
poster, helped out with a session, or just came and took part.
21^ STRAYER SEEDS IN RECEIVERSHIP
In October, financial troubles at Strayer Seeds culminated in a
state takeover of the company. Several PFI members who were owed
money by the firm for pesticide-free soybeans had reported
difficulty getting payment for the 1994 crop. An October 12
press release from the Iowa Department of Justice read in part:
The Iowa Attorney General's Office filed a consumer protection
lawsuit Wednesday alleging that Strayer Seed Farms, Inc., of
Hudson, Iowa, has failed to pay for over $1 million of edible
soybeans that farmers have delivered to Strayer.
Black Hawk County District Court Judge George Stigler issued a
temporary restraining order Wednesday ordering Strayer Seed Farms
to halt solicitations or promotions of their merchandizing
program in Iowa.
Stigler also named the State as temporary receiver in order to
protect and fairly distribute assets that could go to farmers. A
receivership would allow the State to propose an equitable
distribution of assets, to be approved by the court. The suit
noted that the defendants have received approximately $368,000 in
payment for edible beans. Those funds have been held in an
escrow account established by the Iowa Department of Agriculture
and Land Stewardship.
The lawsuit alleges that the defendants promoted an "edible bean"
merchandizing program using print advertising and sales
presentations that promised farmers a lucrative marketing
opportunity and high returns for alternative crop of edible
soybeans. . .
The suit indicated that about 100 farmers in three states have
delivered their edible beans but still are owed over $1 million
by the defendants. The suit, which was filed by the Attorney
General's Farm Division, asks the court to order a permanent
injunction on the alleged illegal activities, order restitution
to farmers who delivered beans but have not been paid, and assess
penalties for violation of the Iowa Consumer Fraud Act.
Articles in the Des Moines Register noted that Strayer Seeds has
been in business since 1904 and has exported soybeans since the
1970s. Bob Brammer, of the attorney general's office, is quoted
as conceding the problem is "not the typical flat-out scam." The
Register reported that the market for "specialty" soybeans,
largely dependent on Japan, has recently softened. At the same
time the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship
chose to apply the bonding requirement for grain dealers to
specialty grain dealers like Strayer.
The Attorney General's suit offers some compensation to
producers, but it also effectively removes Strayer as a specialty
grain dealer. There has long been speculation over the long-term
prospects of the specialty soybean market, but few people would
call it a scam. The problem small businesses face is maintaining
growth in the face of a fluctuating market. On October 24,
Strayer Seeds filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The move leaves
open for the company the possibility of a future reorganization.
22^ PFI SUSTAINABLE PROJECTS 1996 WANTS YOUR IDEAS!
While you're dreaming by the fire this winter, remember PFI.
Sustainable Projects is a program established by Practical
Farmers of Iowa to help Iowans turn dreams into action. The
program makes small grants to Iowans with ideas - ideas for
projects, educational efforts, on-farm trials, and so on. About
the only thing off limits in the program is major input and
equipment purchases (see guidelines on the application form,
Sustainable Projects will accept proposals until Feb. 1, 1996.
(You won't get a reminder before then, so put this application
form somewhere handy!) A committee of PFI members and ISU
collaborators will review these proposals and determine by March
1 which ones will be accepted. Since 1990, Sustainable Projects
has approved 39 project proposals from Iowans. In 1995, these
five projects were accepted, for a total of $2,460:
Tom Frantzen, New Hampton - On-Farm Research on Perennial
John and Beverly Gilbert, Iowa Falls - Pork Mix Pasture System:
"Just Add Salt and H2O"
New Melleray Abbey, Peosta - Rye for Chemical-Free Weed Control
Bob Welander and Gayle Olson, Mt. Pleasant - Youth Preserving
John Wurpts, Ogden - Biological vs. Conventional Fertilizer,
5th and Final Year ]
SUSTAINABLE PROJECTS 1996 PROPOSAL FORM
PRACTICAL FARMERS OF IOWA
Sustainable Projects is designed to help citizens of Iowa carry
out activities that focus on agriculture and the environment.
Sustainable agriculture has been described as preserving the soil
and water resources as well as the people involved in
agriculture. What could a Sustainable Project be? Maybe you
want to undertake an on-farm trial like those used by the farmer
cooperators in Practical Farmers of Iowa. Maybe you would like
to create a specific program for the local school or FFA that
teaches about the relationship of farming to the environment.
Perhaps you are part of a group that needs some support to have
an educational booth at the county fair. Maybe you could use
some funding to bring your community leaders together on a
related issue. Be creative!
Proposals for up to several hundred dollars will be accepted.
(PFI cooperators, for example, receive up to $400 for an on-farm
trial.) It is legitimate to include in the proposal payment for
your own time. Itemize labor and other costs in the budget you
submit. Large equipment purchases will not be funded; however,
equipment leasing may be used in proposals to defray equipment
In return for funding your Sustainable Project, we ask that you
agree to share both the results and the process that you went
through carrying out the project. That will help us to build on
past experience and share the successes of the program. A
credible "feedback," or reporting plan is one of the criteria on
which proposals will be evaluated! Plan on sharing your project
with a poster or display at the PFI annual meeting.
Projects will be chosen by a committee consisting of PFI members
and board representatives, the PFI coordinators, and
representatives of ISU and the Leopold Center for Sustainable
Agriculture. Proposals for 1996 are due by Feb. 1. Committee
decisions will be announced by March 1. Project reimbursement
will be made upon receipt of a final report.
Please return this proposal form to: Practical Farmers of Iowa,
2104 Agronomy Hall, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa 50011.
Name of Project
Zip Code _________________________
Please print or type. Use additional paper if needed.
Please include an itemized budget.
Please describe the problem that this project will address and
why there is a need for the project.
Please describe what you will do in the planned project. Be
How will you communicate to the public about the project? What
kind of reporting to Sustainable Projects will you carry out?
What is the amount of money you need to carry out the proposed
project? Please itemize.
25^ AN IOWA FARMER AND HER DAUGHTER IN CHINA
For the past two years I have been preparing to participate in
the 4th World Conference on Women without ever really knowing if
I would actually go. In March, 1995, I was participating in a
Preparatory Committee Conference at the United Nations in New
York when I was asked by the Ms. Foundation for Women if I would
go to the conference as a grantee. This, they explained, meant
that my travel and expenses would be covered by the Foundation.
In return I must agree to participate in the post-Beijing
activities that the Foundation sponsored. I would also work
within my own community to educate people about the issues that
were discussed and debated at the NGO Forum (Non-Governmental
Organizations). The Foundation agreed to take along my 17
year-old daughter, Briana. It was a mother's dream to be able to
experience such an event with her teenage daughter!
I must explain that there were two events going on in China. One
was the 4th World Conference on Women. This event was where the
official government delegation met to vote on the official
document, The Platform for Action. The other event was the NGO
Forum on Women. This was where many grassroots organizations
sponsored and participated in workshops to share information and
to network. There were approximately 500 workshops per day
starting at 9:00 a.m. and ending around 9:00 p.m.
The work I had been doing in preparation for the Forum was done
under the name of Women, Food and Agriculture (WFA). Kathy
Lawrence (a woman from Brooklyn who's heart is with farmers) and
I put together this task force in order to encourage the United
Nations community to give sustainable agriculture and women
farmers a voice. Kathy and I did most of our work over the
Internet and met many people interested in WFA.
Kathy, under the WFA name, set up a workshop that overlapped and
intertwined with the NGO Forum. The workshop, "The Global
Agriculture and Food Changes: Women's Contribution and Concerns
in Achieving Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security" ran from
August 30th through September 10th. The workshop was done in
cooperation with the China-European Union Centre for Agriculture
Technology and the Center for Integrated Agriculture
Development-Women in Rural Development Program of Beijing
Throughout the twelve days of the workshop, approximately ten
women from Kenya, Canada, Australia, China, Sri Lanka and the
United States met daily to exchange information on various
workshops attended. The women also discussed The Platform for
Action document and what changes needed to be made in order to
incorporate what was being discussed the workshops.
One aspect of the ten-day workshop was a visit to the village of
Dou Dian. Literature describes Dou Dian as the "new modernized
socialist village" with a population around 4,000 people. We
spent the day visiting the village's diverse economic
With the mandate that agriculture is the foundation, this village
set up other enterprises for the employment of the non-farmers.
We toured a sewing factory where the workers were sewing winter
coats for the European markets. Other enterprises include
manufacturing pharmaceuticals, a cement factory, a carpet
factory, and a meat packing plant.
What impressed us the most was that the farmers were paid the
highest wage, and agriculture was recognized as the foundation of
the economy. We went on to visit a beef feedlot, a feedlot for
the production of horse meat (my daughter was not too
enthusiastic about horses being raised for meat), and a dairy
The highlight of this site visit was looking at a bio-digester of
hog manure. This digester provided 40 households with gas for
heating and cooking. There were 1200 hogs that produced the
manure to feed the bio digester. I was surprised that there was
no smell associated with the digester and that the slurry from
the digester was used as fertilizer for the fields. We observed
many households that, besides using gases from the digester, had
solar hot water equipment on top of their houses.
It was obvious that China has a huge population. For example,
when we were at the horse/beef feedlots there were many people
mixing feed, cleaning feed floors and hauling manure manually.
Agriculture in the United States has replaced this type of labor
The village is a showpiece for China and our group realized that
we were seeing the best. But all of us agreed that this is what
all countries do when visited by a delegation of foreigners. The
literature and our guide made the village seem like a utopia
where all the people in the village gather to make decisions. We
knew in reality that China is a communist country just emerging
into the market economy of the rest of the world. Our visit with
the people of the village revealed that they have similar values
and expectations of their life's work as we do.
Following the visit to the village, our focus returned to the NGO
Forum and The Platform for Action. We attended and participated
in more workshops and discussions concerning sustainable
agriculture and rural life. As WFA, we sponsored a workshop
under the title of "Open Forum: Rural Women Speak Out." As
workshop planners we were not sure how this would turn out and
were pleasantly surprised to find a roomful of women from around
the world eager to participate.
The format of the workshop was that everyone would get the
microphone for four minutes and talk about anything they wanted.
Women shared success stories of rural enterprise development and
livestock production. They also shared concerns about the lack
of access to credit, the lack of opportunities to pursue
education, and the lack of technical assistance. Women
identified serious problems with water contamination and the
overuse and dependence on pesticides and herbicides.
This workshop lasted for two hours, and the conclusion by all is
that it was a success. Communication was helped by simultaneous
translation in several languages, although English was the
The post conference work now is to evaluate and determine whether
or not we had an impact on The Platform for Action. The
experience of working with other farmers from around the globe
was one of the highlights of the NGO Forum. In working through
problems that are impacting all our rural communities, we gained
an understanding and an appreciation of women's participation in
agriculture all over the world. We made friendships that will
continue to be nourished by our common denominator, the
commitment to providing food and the commitment to assuring that
our rural communities survive.
My Experience in China
My experience in China is one that will stay with me forever. I
was there as a youth representative and thus attended a lot of
workshops concerning the issues of youth. I met so many neat
people, and they have all inspired me to continue the work that
they are doing now.
One thing about the trip that really stands out in my mind is a
visit we took to a local farming community. It was so nice
because after being gone for about a week it was great to see a
place that reminded me of home and fresh air that I could breath.
We went to a dairy farm and horse and cattle farm where the
animals were being raised for meat. I guess horse meat is pretty
popular over there. We also had a chance to talk to a few of the
farmers and hear their history of farming. One thing about this
community was that the farmers were the highest paid people,
which we don't find here in the U.S. ]
27^ PFI PROFILES: JEFF AND GAYLE OLSON
It's one of those mid-October days with just not enough hours
when we arrive at the farm of Jeff and Gayle Olson north of Mt.
Pleasant. Gayle is preparing for a meeting in Winfield in
connection with her work as the Extension Community Development
Field Specialist for Southeast Iowa. After giving up on the
radio, she gets Jeff on the telephone for us. Yes, he can be at
the house in three hours for a picture. As if there weren't
enough to do, they have agreed to be the subjects of a PFI Member
Profile . . .
The Olson farm is near Swedesburg, about 10 miles north of Mount
Pleasant, in Henry County. In addition to corn and soybeans,
alfalfa, rye and oats find a place in support of a cow-calf herd
and a feeder pig finishing operation. (They are temporarily out
of the hog business.) The row crops are ridge-tilled, which
helps in wet conditions like those of last spring. With all the
rainy days, Jeff says he had time to tune up the planter so that
it "almost planted on water." Ridge tillage has also played a
part in several of their on-farm trials over the years - from
weed management, to fertilizer placement, to strip intercropping.
Jeff was elected to the PFI board of directors from southeast
Iowa in 1992 and serves as board vice president. He helped to
bring well-known grazier Joel Salatin to speak in Iowa City in
1994, and Jeff has represented PFI at events from Fairfield to
Florida. He says he enjoys working with the other board members,
"a group of people who like to fix their own equipment." PFI
Board meetings require a long drive to Ames for Jeff, but he has
been known to combine pleasure and work. When he can, he brings
along his bass guitar and sits in at a community dance or
Jeff and Gayle came to PFI in 1989, when their county Extension
agriculturalist suggested they would be interested in on-farm
research. They had participated in the Resourceful Farming
demonstrations of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and were
exploring alternatives in farming.
Jeff and Gayle met at the Iowa State Fair while they were in
college. He was on the staff at the 4-H Youth Inn and she was on
the State 4-H Council. In 1977, Jeff graduated from Iowa State
University with a degree in agricultural engineering. In 1978
Gayle graduated from ISU with a sociology degree. That was the
year they were married and made a home in the area where Jeff was
Although Jeff rented some land from his father, Harold, he found
lots of work in addition to farming. Putting his experience and
engineering degree to use, he built hog houses and grain
elevators, sold feed, was a partner in a construction business
and a consultant for Hawkeye Steel.
Off-farm work came naturally to Gayle as well. She worked as
Extension Youth and 4-H leader in Henry and Louisa Counties.
When their second child came along, Gayle looked for work that
would give her more flexible hours. This led to teaching health
education classes and forming "Tie One On," a business in which
she made and sold scarves. In 1988 she completed a Master's
Degree in Home Economics Education with an emphasis in health
In 1991, Gayle began work at the Institute of Agricultural
Medicine and Occupational Health, in Iowa City. Through the job
she helped to bring PFI into a study of pesticide exposure, and
the Institute's van made stops at a number of PFI events to
promote farm safety.
Then in December, 1993, Gayle began work with the ISU Extension
Service as Community Development Field Specialist. Her office is
now in Mount Pleasant, which is much closer than Iowa City. On
the other hand, she serves all of southeast Iowa, so travel and
meetings now take up a lot of her time.
But Gayle likes the work. "What I'm doing at those meetings is
facilitating, helping people, communities, or organizations plan.
I'm helping them ask the questions in ways that will let them
make better plans. The keys to problem solving are framing the
problem in the right way and then being creative about potential
Jeff says over the years off-farm work has been both an economic
necessity and an opportunity to use and develop skills. It comes
naturally to Gayle, he says. "She is just always doing
something, going somewhere."
Jeff's off-farm commitments include volunteering with the RC&D
and serving as a district soil commissioner and as PFI cooperator
and district director. He also earned a Master of Professional
Agriculture degree from ISU in 1993. "What sometimes suffers,"
says Jeff, "is an organized home." They find themselves trying
to cut back on outside activities in order to give the children
more focused attention.
The household now includes Kinsey (14), Torey (11), and Ian (5).
The girls are involved in volleyball, basketball, and softball,
and they are associate members of Explorer Post 1846, a Scout
unit that interprets the crafts and tools of the mid-1850s.
Kinsey especially shares her parents' interest in music, playing
piano and in the school band.
Torey is the naturalist. (She also plays piano and flute). Jeff
says she can spot and identify every hawk, and she keeps track of
all the owls in the neighborhood. For the last two summers,
Torey has taken part in PFI camps at the 4-H Education Center
There was a time when the Olsons' farming practices were
controversial in the community. Their use of reduced tillage,
reduced rates of some production inputs, and integration of
livestock and crops have all raised a few eyebrows. But Jeff
cites the late spring nitrate test as an example of technology
that benefits both the producer and the environment. And he
asserts PFI on-farm trials like those of deep-banded fertilizer
are investigating questions that really don't yet have answers.
Jeff says the landlords see that he is reducing expenses. And
Jeff, who has experienced some ambitious flops in past on-farm
trials, affirms that he is working at being a "better farmer,"
making sure ridge-till cultivation is completed and weeds are
controlled. He says they "don't win the high-input yield
contests anymore" but the landlords are happy.
The Olsons have "family goals," and an important one is what they
call "making a difference." At one time a family goal was to
farm a certain number of acres, Jeff says, but now "there's
enough for everybody." He "used to think of everyone as a
competitor." Today Jeff believes "we need more cooperation,
fewer loners." A few days after we met he went to work
harvesting the crop of a neighbor who had health problems in the
"For awhile independence was held up as a goal," reflects Gayle.
"Now we're seeing that interdependence is more valuable to
everybody. That applies to business and to communities as well
as the environment - interdependence is what makes it
sustainable. In Extension to Communities we call that 'social
capital.' Social capital is the wealth of resources represented
in those relationships."
. . . Three hours later the appointed meeting time rolls around.
Unfortunately, rain is also rolling in. But Jeff's pickup is in
the drive, and Gayle is home between meetings. We walk out to
the front yard for a photo, Jeff joking that being together is
not their "natural state." During harvest, he's even been
sleeping in a trailer out by the grain dryer.
After the pictures, Jeff follows us back toward the field where
we have hand-picked some research plot corn. Before he returns
to work, Jeff finds a tarp to throw over the back of our pickup
to keep the corn dry. He scoops up a handful of soybeans from
the ground. They are "tofu" beans, and Jeff is pleased that they
are of good size. And despite the late planting, soybeans are
yielding reasonably well. With that brief exchange we part, each
hurrying to beat the oncoming precipitation. I will complete the
interview by telephone, fax, and electronic mail, accommodating
this active couple in the middle of a busy harvest season. ]
30^ USDA WORKING GROUP MEETS IN WASHINGTON, D.C.
Ron Rosmann, Harlan
On September 8, 1995, I had the opportunity to address 50
national program leaders and administrators in Washington, D.C.,
at the opening session of the newly formed USDA Working Group on
Sustainable Agriculture. The goal of this working group, as
commissioned by Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Richard Rominger,
is to increase USDA's awareness and knowledge of sustainable
agriculture and to address the barriers to wider adoption and
success of sustainable agriculture.
The group recognizes that sustainable agriculture involves more
than the science and education function of the Sustainable
Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE). It involves
commodity programs, farm credit programs, marketing, regulations,
conservation programs, and has positive implications for rural
and community development.
Specifically, the overall task of the group is to develop a plan
of action resulting from the workshops to address identified
barriers through existing USDA programs, resources and
administrative authority. From this, an action team will be
selected to provide leadership in implementation of the action
plan and measure and report progress to the sub-cabinet group and
the Deputy Secretary.
My presentation to the group consisted of two parts. First I
outlined what I thought were some of the basic questions the
group ought to discuss and deal with throughout the duration of
their six training sessions. Secondly, I tried to provide the
group with a reality check by specifically describing our farm.
On our own 480-acre farm in Iowa, we are trying to take a
managed-natural systems approach. This is in stark contrast to
the rapidly increasing industrial model with its dependence on
purchased inputs. By managed I am referring to timeliness,
on-farm research trials, information sharing, and
management-intensive grazing. Linkages among researchers,
producers and Extension educators are vital in this managed
system. By natural systems, I mean working with nature and all
her attributes. This conjures words like crop rotations,
integration, recycling and composting of nutrients, tillage
systems such as ridge tillage, wildlife and predator-prey
relationships, microbiological life in the soil, soil tilth, and
a sense of natural rhythm and balance. This list is endless in
My expectations are not as high as they used to be. Thirteen
years ago, I thought there really was a chance of changing
mainstream agriculture. Now I am beginning to realize how
complex and powerful the drive is toward corporate
industrialization of agriculture. My two worst fears for the
future are these: 1. Most of us involved in agriculture will work
for the cooperatives and the corporations; 2. The skills and the
creativity that go into the kind of farming we espouse will
disappear as our numbers diminish.
Other speakers for the opening session included Dr. Katherine
Reichelderfer-Smith of the Wallace Institute for Alternative
Agriculture, and Dr. Richard Harwood, Professor in Crop and Soil
Sciences, Michigan State University. Dr. Jerry DeWitt, ISU, was
also scheduled to be one of program speakers but due to the death
of his father-in-law, was unable to attend.
I had the opportunity to bring along one of my sons, Daniel, 12.
This is the perfect age to see our nation's capital, the many
museums of the Smithsonian Institution, and the many other
government buildings and attractions on the Mall of the Capital.
Because we were there the weekend after Labor Day, the crowds
Our hotel was only about five blocks from the capital itself.
Dan and I walked up to the capital in the evenings when literally
no one was around. It's an impressive sight in the full
moonlight. Perhaps the highlight of our sightseeing time was the
new Jewish Holocaust Museum located just to the southwest of the
Agriculture Bldg. It is both an enlightening and disturbing
testimony to the atrocities committed against not only Jews but
also against Catholics, the mentally and physically handicapped,
women and children, and others deemed inferior in the eyes of
Adolph Hitler and the Nazis. ]
31^ FOOTPRINTS OF A GRASS FARMER
PROGRESS REPORT ON THE TRAIL TO GRASS
Tom Frantzen, Alta Vista
A farm could be compared to a ship at sea. The passengers would
like to be getting somewhere, but how can they tell? They can
compare their position to other ships that they know of in the
same ocean, but what if they are all going around in circles?
While it is good to communicate with other ships (neighbors),
each vessel needs its own navigation system as well as a journal
of the voyage.
We made important changes on our farm during the past year. A
healthy exercise for any operation is to view the changes that
were made, revisit the notes on the decision to make those
changes, and observe what effect the changes are having today.
We initiated keeping written notes on important decisions in
1992. Today these notes are in a three-ring farm management
binder. Along with an improved process of decision making, this
written history is of great value today. It is very easy to
forget the reasons used to make management decisions. A journal
retains those reasons and offers great assistance in current
We owned a 4x4 diesel pickup truck and an 18-foot gooseneck
livestock trailer. While most livestock farms consider a truck
and trailer as necessary equipment, we analyzed this ownership
during a farm management meeting in 1993. Notes were taken. The
notes became part of our farm management history. So what
Our family agreed that owning and operating this equipment was
not compatible with our long term goals. Not only did the
operating expenses outweigh the savings, but my time spent
hauling livestock was time not spent caring for livestock at
home. The truck and trailer were sold. Maintenance and
depreciation stopped, quality of life went up, and livestock was
still raised - and more profitably!
As the truck and trailer were sold, a decision was made to
purchase a hydraulic trailer to move livestock around on the
farm. This equipment reduced labor but more importantly opened
up new pasture farrowing and gilt development opportunities.
Small and large groups of sows, gilts, or pigs can be moved
easily to harvest both pasture and row crops. We view both of
these decisions as positive to our long term goals.
The disastrous weather of '93 resulted in a special problem in
one of our cornfields. Even late in the season, the corn was too
wet to put in a crib. The kernels were so well attached to the
soft cobs that the job of separating them defied all attempts,
even one with a neighbor's rotary combine. We discussed the
problem and decided to feed the corn on the ear to our sow herd.
The results were splendid. Processing costs were eliminated, as
was feeding waste. The sow herd became more uniform because
eating ear corn is slower and "greedy" sows cannot hog down more
than their share. We continue to feed ear corn wherever
Our farm management notebook contains notes on two more decisions
both involving sow feed and ear corn. One was to plant a special
high lysine corn variety just for winter sow feed. Feeding this
corn we have been able to reduce purchased soybean meal in the
ration from 360 pounds per ton to just 100 pounds.
The other decision was to spend $600 moving a six-foot wooden
crib from a neighbor's farm to alongside the sow pens. Today
this facility allows us to supplement the gestating sows' diet
with ear corn year long with no drying, processing, or handling
Hauling water to our pasture-farrowing sows was a routine
activity on this farm. As a youth, I remember using a tank with
steel wheels and dipping out the water with a five-gallon pail.
In 1992, we decided to install an underground pasture water
system. We hired a contractor to install the plastic pipe "on
grade" to allow for fall "pre-freeze-up" draining. My only
regret was using 1-inch and not 1,-inch diameter pipe. Aside
from that error, the water system eliminated countless hauling
trips, broadened the flexibility of our pasture farrowing and
paddock grazing operations, and ended the inherent problems of a
gravity pressure water system.
Every decision did not turn out as well as the ones I just
described. We have our share of blunders, and they are
documented as well. The notes from our errors are usually more
valuable than notes from good moves. While a sound
decision-making process is vital, notes taken during the actual
decision making have become a valuable resource for our farm's
The majority of the '95 farm management discussions are centered
on moving more of the farm to grass. What type of stock, how to
facilitate their care, and what fields to seed down are all
important considerations. As the New Zealand graziers say, "The
more we look at grass, the better grass looks." ]
FROM THE KITCHEN
Fall is definitely here, or is it winter? Got crops all out
October 26. Worked 'till midnight, but it's done. We usually
quit about 9:00 or 9:30, but with rain moving in we wanted to get
done. Then it takes a couple of mornings of late sleeping to get
caught up. Right!!!! You farmers know all about it? Now to get
the yards cleaned, stalks chopped and some chisel plowing before
it freezes. Not to say anything about my yard and garden work
that I need to finish. I try to do it while the grain is
Here are a couple of recipes I use for this time of the year.
1 + - 2 + lb. cooked squash
8 oz. sour cream
1 can cream chicken soup
1 large onion
4 small carrots
1 stick butter melted
1 small pkg. Pepperidge Farm Herbal bread crumbs or Stove Top
In blender grind carrots and onion. Mix all together and bake
for 35 minutes at 350 degrees. Top with some grated cheese and
bake for 15 more minutes.
Hint: Add 2 Tbsp. mashed potatoes to squash - will make it like
QUICK BROWN BREAD
1 cup white unbleached flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup brown sugar
3 Tbsp. melted butter
1/4 cup molasses
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1 egg, beaten
2 cups whole wheat flour (I used Hodgson Mill)
Mix white flour, baking soda and salt. Blend in brown sugar and
wheat flour. Add melted butter, molasses, buttermilk and egg.
Beat until batter is smooth. Pour into 9 x 5 x 3-inch loafpan.
Allow to stand 20 minutes. Bake 45 minutes at 350 degree
preheated oven. Turn out on wire rack to cool. (For muffins,
fill 2/3 full. Bake 20 to 25 minutes.)
also an organic farmers web page at