THE PRACTICAL FARMER
QUARTERLY NEWSLETTER OF PRACTICAL FARMERS OF IOWA
VOL 8, #3, FALL 1993
I N T H I S I S S U E
2 Annual Meeting Overview
2 When, Where, and What
3 Achievement Award
3 A Reading: Mary Swander
3 PFI Business Meeting
3 Workshop Descriptions
3 Sidebar: Meeting Schedule
6 Collaborative Effort on Farming and
Communities has New Name
7 1993 Field Day Photographs
8 PFI Profiles: Doug Alert
-- Gary Huber
10 Notes and Notices
10 Joel Salatin to Speak in IA City
10 Ikerd at NSAS Meeting
10 IFGC Grazing Mgt. Seminars
10 Award to Blackmer
11 Producers Receive SARE Grants
12 PFI Sustainable Projects 1994
15 Farming Systems Meeting
-- Rick Exner
16 A Developmental Approach to Adoption of Sustainable
-- Rick Exner
-- Mary Swander
20 Footprints of a Grass Farmer
-- Tom Frantzen
21 From the Kitchen
-- Marj Stonecypher
22 PFI MEMBERSHIP APPLICATION AND RENEWAL FORM
22 OFFICERS AND STAFF
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NEEDED CHANGES IN AGRICULTURE
Tom Frantzen, Alta Vista
As 1993 draws to a close, most Iowa farmers are swallowing a
bitter pill. Disappointing prices and disaster level yields are
common around the state. Lamenting their problems may ease
farmers frustrations, but it will not lessen the financial pinch
that most are experiencing.
What lessons can we learn? Can we change how we farm to help
survive difficult years? This is truly a challenge for
Environmental conditions affected different cropping systems in
a dramatically different fashions. Corn following corn
yielded far less than corn grown following other crops. We
need crop rotations.
Corn fields suffering total disaster were less of an economic
(and environmental) loss if low input techniques reduced
chemical and fertilizer use. Low cost methods of soybean
production helped sustainable farming manage risk. With
unpredictable weather and markets, this is essential.
What about alternative crops? Grain amaranth produced acceptable
yields on our farm alongside corn, beans, and oats that were near
total losses. What would happen if this crop could share some of
the billions of research and development dollars spent on corn
and soybeans? The lesson here is that we need diversity.
Cropping systems that utilized forages performed well this year.
PFI cooperators around the state are reporting excellent
yields of berseem clover. Some cooperators have
green-chopped this annual and produced about 600 pounds of
beef per acre when fed to stocker cattle. This is an
example of adding value to a low input alternative crop.
In Minnesota, a farm couple report a profit of $1,057 per acre
after variable expenses with sheep. Management-intensive
grazing sharply reduced costs while direct marketing of
grass-finished lambs boosted income. The Nov./Dec. issue of
Countryside and Small Stock Journal details their operation.
All of these examples of profitable production amidst difficult
situations should give us hope. Agriculture needs to change.
Diverse, low input strategies that reduce risk should be
expanded. Our actions need to produce profitable, diverse
operations that will sustain our local communities.
MARTY STRANGE AT JAN. 6 MEETING
The featured speaker at the PFI annual meeting Jan. 6 will be
Marty Strange, program director for the Center for Rural Affairs,
in Walthill, Nebraska. His talk is titled Plateglass or Plywood:
Alternative Futures for Small Town Main Streets. Marty will also
participate in a workshop focusing on rural communities.
Strange founded the Center for Rural Affairs with Don Ralston in
1973. Since then the Center has been involved in a wide variety
of issues, including sustainable agriculture, rural economic
development, federal farm programs, tax policy, and the
environmental impacts of contemporary farming practices. Marty
has written widely on these and other issues affecting rural
communities. He is the author of Family Farming: A New Economic
Vision, a book that examines the history of and the prospects for
community-based agriculture. He is the recipient of a 1992
Public Achievement Award from Common Cause.
Strange will bring with him some success stories. The Center is
organizing revolving-loan credit groups for small businesses and
farmers, and the demand for the program is outstripping their
capacity. The Centers Land Link Realty, which is an effort to
link landowners and those desiring to farm, has been the model
for other programs in the Midwest. The Center for Rural Affairs
also helped to organize the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture
When, Where and What
It all takes place Thursday, January 6, at the Starlite Village
Best Western Motel in Ames, on 13th Street, just off I-35. There
is no preregistration. Registration begins at 8:00 am and is
free to current PFI members (cost of renewal to others). The
lunch at the Startlite is extra ($7).
The annual meeting format will be similar to last years. After
the keynote will come the presentation of the sustainable
agriculture achievement award. Then starting at ten the
concurrent workshops will begin, with these covering a range of
topics from hard information to the enjoyable with time for
everyone to ask questions and share their views. The workshops
are described starting on page 4, and the schedule for the entire
meeting is on page 5.
Sustainable Agriculture Achievement Award
Richard (Rick) Cruse is a professor of soil management at Iowa
State University. His face is familiar to many PFI members
through appearances at field days and meetings over the years.
Cruse first began working with PFI cooperators on the practice
known as narrow strip intercropping. After researching this
technique with mixed results on experiment stations, Cruse made
contact with PFI members who were managing the system
successfully. Collaboration with these producers has continued,
and now Cruse is working with PFI and other farmers on a
new annual forage legume berseem clover.
Cruse was raised on a farm near Plainfield, Iowa. After
acquiring degrees from Iowa State University and the University
of Minnesota and working a year at North Carolina State
University, he joined the ISU faculty in 1979. Cruse and his
wife Linda have two daughters, Karena and Tamara, who attend Ames
Senior High School and ISU, respectively. Anyone who has heard
Rick speak knows he is passionate about fishing and ISU
basketball. These topics often creep into talks about
agriculture, adding an element of humor.
As head of the interdisciplinary Cropping Systems Issue Team of
the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Cruse's efforts
have set an example of what can be accomplished when farmers and
researchers work together. His enthusiasm and his appreciation
for the complexity of farming systems have made him a popular
resource sought by producers statewide who want to farm
profitably and sustainably.
A Reading: Mary Swander
Mary Swander is an Iowan, a literature professor at Iowa State,
and a published author of books and poetry. She captures a
feeling for the land in personal accounts and in the pictures she
creates of farmers and farm families she has known. Mary will
share some of her works with us just before the PFI business
meeting. (See pages 18 and 19 for a poem from Swander's book,
Driving the Body Back.)
PFI Business Meeting
An important part of the PFI annual meeting is the business
meeting. The business meeting provides members the opportunity
to hear about and discuss the PFI organization - where PFI has
been and where PFI is going. Included as part of the business
meeting are the district caucuses. In these smaller groups,
members can find out what is going on within their districts and
locally, as well as offer their thoughts and ideas on district
projects and activities.
Bring Something to Share!
Something new this year will be displays of grazing cell layouts
and photographs from the farms of members. Please consider
helping to add to the annual meeting by bringing your grazing
cell layout or some photographs from your farm or community.
(See the Call for Posters! box on the next page.)
Getting Started in Farming: John Gilbert (PFI), John Baker
John Gilbert and some neighbors are forming a club to make
equipment and consultation available to young people who desire
to get started in farming. John Baker is a counsellor and
attorney for FarmOn, the ISU Extension project to match
landowners and young farmers. They will share their perspectives
on the strategies to get new people started in farming, and they
will invite your comments.
Structuring Your Farm for Stability: Roger Schlitter (Farm Credit
Services), Vic Madsen (PFI).
Many Iowa producers are needing to reassess their financial
position after 1993. Roger Schlitter, a loan officer at Farm
Credit Services in Osage, will discuss the importance of short,
intermediate, long term debt-to-asset ratios in the context of a
year like 1993. Schlitter and PFI President Vic Madsen will also
lead a discussion about ways producers can increase their
Spirituality in Agriculture Sharing Experiences from 1993: Fr.
Richard Ament, Carmen Lampe.
This session was well received last year, with participants
sharing their views on the social and spiritual values that
energize rural communities and guide daily life on the farm.
People who make their living from the land have had their
endurance and good will severely tested in 1993. Maybe its time
to take stock, share your story, and try to find some high ground
Woody Agriculture the Hazelnut Story: Phil Rutters (Badgersett
Research Farm), Rick Faltonson (ISU Forestry Dept.), Tom Frantzen
Trees are finding their way onto the farm in a variety of roles
these days. You might someday grow a hedgerow that produces more
oil and as much protein per acre as soybean. Phil and Mary
Rutters have been developing the hazelnut as a cash crop from
their homestead near Canton, Minnesota. Is there a place for
this nut on your farm?
Sick Communities, Healthy Communities: Paul Lasley (ISU
Extension), Marty Strange (Center for Rural Affairs).
Paul Lasley takes the pulse of the state with the Iowa Farm and
Rural Life Poll and with travels to community development efforts
of all kinds. Marty Strange works with Nebraska communities
through the Center for Rural Affairs. This promises to be a
lively discussion of the keys to community success and failure
and your participation is encouraged.
Narrow Strip Intercropping: PFI Cooperators, Dr. Richard Cruse
(ISU Agronomy Dept.).
Narrow strip intercropping has the potential to increase both
yields and conservation without additional capital investment.
PFI cooperators have spent two years evaluating narrow strips
using the Crop Enterprise Recordkeeping System. Where are the
strong and the weak points of this practice. What are people
doing to fix the
weak sister crop, and how did it work in 1993?
Nitrogen and Manure: PFI Cooperators, Dr. Fred Blackmer (ISU
Looking back on 1993, what was the lesson for nitrogen
management? Did the late spring soil nitrate test work? What
did the late season stalk test tell us?
Starters, Potassium and Phosphorus: PFI Cooperators, Dr. Antonio
Mallarino (ISU Agronomy Dept.).
In a year when planting-time fertilizer may have been the only
fertilizer, was there a demonstrable effect to starters? Two
cooperators used an experimental deep bander on the planter shoe.
Was there an advantage? What worked for you?
Management-Intensive Grazing: PFI Cooperators, Mike Brasche (ISU
Animal Science Dept.).
How did graziers deal with the wet year? What kind of
performance did rotational grazing give? In 1993, PFI members
tried new forage species and different grazing combinations.
Find out what they learned and offer your own experiences.
Weed Management and Cover Crops: PFI Cooperators, Rick Exner.
Did 1993 leave you with a lifetime supply of weed seeds? In a
year when weed management was an exercise in damage control, what
solutions were practical and most effective? What were the
surprises? Cooperators will report, and you are invited to share
Marketing Crops Grown Organically and Without Applications of
Pesticides: Greg Welsh (ISU Extension Organic Crops Specialist),
Ken Rosmann (Heartland Organic Coop), Tim Jensen (Pioneer Better
Specialty marketing of organic grains and grains grown without
pesticides can bring a premium that may mean the difference
between profit and loss. Is one of these approaches right for
Proposal Writing for FARMERS: Ron Rosmann (PFI), Linda Rogers
Farmers are getting grants on their own these days to do special
projects. Ron and Maria Rosmann and three other PFI members have
had proposals funded by the Low Input Sustainable Agriculture
(LISA) program. Other PFI members are submitting proposals to
PFI Sustainable Projects. There are some basic requirements for
successful proposals, and Ron and Linda Rogers will provide
training on these requirements. Ron has reviewed proposals for
LISA, and Linda coaches proposal writers as part of her job for
the Contracts and Grants office of ISU.
Costa Rica, A Visit on Slides: Shelly Gradwell, Dan Brouse.
The summer PFI newsletter laid out plans for a ten day
farmer-to-farmer visit to the Central American country of Costa
Rica. Producers there are facing some of the same issues family
farms confront here: reducing costs, niche marketing, alternative
crops, and sustaining the land. Its not too late to join the
February trip, but even if you are just curious, stop by and
visit. Shelly and Dan will show slides of the places they have
worked and the farmers they've come to know in that tropical
Shared Visions: Farming for Better Communities: Gary Huber, Mary
Foley (ISU Extension Leadership Development Specialist).
This new project was described in the last PFI newsletter, and
there is a short article on the project below. Gary Huber and
Mary Foley will be joined by the person who is being hired for
the project, and they will provide an overview of the effort and
encourage your comments and suggestions.
SIDEBAR: JANUARY 6 MEETING SCHEDULE
8:00 to 8:30 am Registration. (Come early and see the displays.)
8:30 Welcome and Introductions: Vic Madsen, PFI president.
8:45 Marty Strange: Plateglass or Plywood: Alternative Futures
for Small Town Main Streets.
9:30 Sustainable Agriculture Achievement Award presentation by
9:45 Refreshment Break.
10:00 Workshop Session 1.
11:00 Workshop Session 2.
12:00 Noon Buffet.
1:30 Workshop Session 3.
2:30 Workshop Session 4.
3:30 Refreshment Break.
3:40 Mary Swander: A Reading
4:00 PFI Business Meeting (everyone welcome).
SHARED VISIONS: FARMING FOR BETTER COMMUNITIES IS NAME FOR NEW
The new project PFI received Kellogg Foundation funding to
undertake with ISU Extension and the Leopold Center for
Sustainable Agriculture has a new name. After considering over
25 names, Shared Visions: Farming for Better Communities was
The name seemed to be the best of those suggested at
conveying the projects purpose. That purpose is to form
community-based groups that will provide the support needed to
encourage farming systems that are productive, profitable,
environmentally-sound, and supportive of rural communities.
Shared Visions is in the process of getting up and running.
A brochure will be available soon. An advisory council, whose
members are named in the adjacent column, has been formed. This
group will be a sounding-board for ideas and provide input on
selecting groups to be involved in the project and group projects
to receive funding for implementation. The process of hiring a
new person for the project will soon be completed, and shortly
after the first of the new year work will begin with the first
set of community groups.
Members wanting to learn more about Shared Visions can
attend a workshop on the project at the annual meeting or call
Rick Exner or Gary Huber. Below are the names of the people who
have agreed to be on the advisory council.
Mike Hermanson, farmer
David Ostendorf, former Director of Prairiefire
Loren Kruse, editor
Successful Farming magazine
Jim Penney, Agronomist
Heart of Iowa Coop
Maria Rosmann, farmer
Margareet Ryan, Presbyterian Minister
Duane Sand, Director of Planning and Research
Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation
Gene Smith, banker
Dave Williams, farmer
Sally Falb, Executive Director
Fayette County Economic Development Commission
Pat Boddy, Co-Owner
Denise O'Brien, farmer
PFI PROFILES: DOUG ALERT
Doug Alert is a PFI member from near Hampton. His start in
farming was not a typical one. His parents quit farming in 1966
when he was four, and so he did not have access to the machinery,
buildings, and grain handling facilities that are available to
most people who begin farming.
But he remembers his early years on the farm, and they are
good memories. They are also memories that prompted Doug to want
to farm himself.
Doug got a chance to farm when he was in junior high and his
parents moved to a place near Mason City that had 30 acres of
cropland. Shortly after the move Doug started going to farm
sales with his dad, looking for machinery he could use to farm.
Doug was 14 when he purchased his first piece of equipment
a John Deere B he bought for $400. He then equipped this tractor
with a two-bottom plow, a single-wing disk, a ten-foot field
cultivator, and a two-row planter and corn cultivator. The only
item he bought new was a sprayer, and he traded his labor for the
use of a combine.
After farming the 30 acres for several years, Doug and a
high school classmate rented a nearby 80 acres, which brought the
total to 110 acres. He used the income to buy a John Deere 720
diesel, a four-row planter and cultivator, a three-bottom plow,
and a tandem disk. He continued to farm this land while
attending ISU in the early 1980s.
After finishing in 1984 he worked for two years for an
excavating business before he began farming 200 acres of rented
land near Sheffield. The 200 acres were well-fenced and included
a set of buildings, and so Doug began diversifying into livestock
by buying six beef cows and some bred gilts.
He eventually built his sow numbers to 45 and his beef cow
herd to 25 head. Most of the 200 acres was planted to corn and
soybeans, but he included as much oats as was needed to establish
hay for his beef cows.
Doug noted that diversifying into livestock was one of the
main reasons he was able to survive through the drought years of
1988 and 1989. Thus, one of his strategies for success is
Doug went from renting 200 acres to 320 in 1987, and then
added another 80 in 1988, bringing the total to 400. When the
original 200 and the 80 he added in 1988 were sold in 1991, Doug
relocated to a 320-acre farm southwest of Hampton. He now
operates this farm and a 120 just down the road where his dad was
raised, bringing the total to 440 acres.
With the relocation, Doug sold his livestock because the new
place had no fences for the cattle or facilities for raising
hogs. However, in keeping with the strategy of diversification,
he started a farm equipment business, called Conservation Tillage
Systems, as a substitute for his hogs. His plan is to get back
into cattle over time as he builds fences, eventually expanding
to about 40 cows.
In the mid-1980s Doug deviated from a second strategy for
success, which is containing costs. Until then nearly all of
Doug's equipment "was older than I was," but the farm economy in
the mid-1980s brought down new equipment prices to the point that
he decided to purchase a new 160 horsepower tractor.
He has since sold this tractor because it was no longer
needed with another move Doug made to contain costs, which is a
change in his tillage system. He had decided in the early 1980s
that ridge tillage provided the best opportunity to reduce costs.
However, he could not change completely to ridge tillage until
recently because of landlords who wanted him to use a moldboard
plow or a chisel plow.
As he changed farms or convinced landlords that ridge
tillage was a good system, he was able to make the switch. This
enabled Doug to downsize his equipment 100 horsepower tractor is
now his biggest. He also eliminated some equipment altogether,
and now his machinery investment is about 40 percent of what it
was several years ago.
Doug has also contained costs by reducing his use of
nitrogen and herbicides. He typically puts on 50 pounds of
nitrogen with the planter and then sidedresses more if needed
based on results from late spring soil nitrate tests. Also,
though he sometimes uses a burndown on soybeans, he applies his
herbicides in a band with the planter. And this last year about
10 percent of his rowcrop acres had no herbicides applied.
Doug has been doing on-farm research as a PFI cooperator
since 1991. He noted, being a cooperator is a good opportunity
because it gives me a framework to attempt to document whether my
practices are working or not. Most recently he has been a part
of the PFI research effort on narrow-strip intercropping that is
being funded by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.
This production system has corn, soybeans, and oats grown in
Doug's involvement in the narrow-strip intercropping
research has had an added benefit a trip to Poland last
September with Dr. Rick Cruse of Iowa State University. The trip
was organized to help provide input on introducing certain
legumes as a source of nitrogen to farming operations. The
project will involve research using narrow-strip intercropping on
a series of private farms.
The trip was an eye-opener for Doug, who made the comment,
I didn't talk to a single farmer who thought their farm was
diverse enough. It seems that Doug found himself among farmers
who thought like him and many other PFI members.
Doug is not just a farmer. He is a member of the Hampton
Jaycees, and recently he has taken responsibility for organizing
the annual 4th of July fireworks show in Hampton. He has also
proven to be a capable educator. He has been a workshop
presenter at PFI's annual meeting for the last two years, and in
the summer of 1992, a group of twenty-five high school
agricultural education teachers toured his farm and research
plots as part of PFI's education program.
NOTES AND NOTICES
Joel Salatin to Speak in Iowa City
Joel Salatin is a grazier and operator of a diversified farm in
the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Readers of The Stockman Grass
Farmer may be familiar with his articles on rotational grazing
and inventions like the rolling cattle shed and the
eggmobile rolling poultry pen.
The Northeast and Southeast Districts of Practical Farmers
of Iowa will host Salatin in Iowa City on Thursday, January 27.
The program will begin at 1:00 pm at Montgomery Hall, on the
Johnson County Fairgrounds, in Iowa City. In addition to Joel
Salatin, there will be exhibits and displays and plenty of time
for talking and information exchange.
It will be a good opportunity for both inexperienced and
experienced graziers to talk to other people who are doing the
same thing, says Laura Krouse, Northeast District director. PFI
members in eastern Iowa will receive a flyer with more details as
the date approaches.
Ikerd at NSAS Annual Meeting Feb. 26
The Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society (NSAS) will hold its
annual meeting Saturday, February 26, at the New World Inn in
Columbus. The keynote speaker will be John Ikerd, an
agricultural economist and researcher of sustainable systems who
is stationed at the University of Missouri. Ikerd's theme will
be the quality of life in sustainable agriculture. Workshops
will cover a variety of topics, including community supported
The cost includes a noon meal featuring foods grown and
raised by NSAS members. Preregistration is $25, and the walk-in
price will be $30. Call the NSAS phone in Hartington to make
arrangements: (402) 254-6893.
IFGC Grazing Management Seminars
The Iowa Forage and Grasslands Council will hold a series of
grazing management seminars this winter according to Alan Teel, a
forage consultant and past executive secretary of the
organization. These will be 4-6 hour sessions that will cover
everything from how grass grows to animal nutritional
requirements to management-intensive grazing. Teel sees the
sessions providing the start for a number of regional graziers
The cost will be in the $25-$30 range, said Teel, and will
include a notebook with informational material. Times and places
will be announced, and PFI members will receive notice of
seminars in their area. Information may also be obtained by
calling Joan O'Brian, IFGC executive secretary, at
Efficient Agriculture Award to Blackmer
ISU soil scientist Alfred "Fred" Blackmer has received a national
award, the Robert E. Wagner Award for Efficient Agriculture. The
honor recognizes leadership and accomplishments toward efficient,
competitive agriculture based on sound science and in harmony
with environmental and human values. The award, sponsored by
the Potash and Phosphate Institute and administered by the
American Society of Agronomy (ASA), was presented at the annual
ASA national meeting in November.
Blackmer has researched the movement and transformations of
nitrogen in the soil. This work has provided Iowa farmers new
tools for optimizing nitrogen use, including the late spring soil
nitrate test for corn, a kit for on-farm nitrate nitrogen
testing, the late season cornstalk test, and a system for
visually rating corn nitrogen status. Practical Farmers of Iowa
has been privileged to assist Blackmer in the development of
these tools through on-farm research and other kinds of
collaboration. Congratulations, Fred!
PRODUCERS RECEIVE SARE GRANTS
The USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program
(SARE) for the North Central Region has announced its 1993
Producer Grants awards, and three Iowa farmers are recipients.
In all, 31 of 92 applications were funded for a total of $98,847.
The North Central region of SARE was the first in the nation to
include producer grants along with the traditional research
grants to educational and research institutions.
The three Iowa winners all happen to be PFI members. They
may have gained encouragement from Ron and Maria Rosmann, Harlan,
who received a SARE grant in 1992 to carry out a replicated weed
management experiment. This years recipients, as announced, are:
Tom and Irene Frantzen, New Hampton Improving On-farm Evaluation
with a Portable Scale.
Evaluating the performance of a variety of sustainable
agriculture products will be made easier and more efficient with
a portable drive-on farm scale. It can be used to weigh forages,
field crops, hazelnuts, and livestock on this diversified farm,
providing valuable information essential to good management
Mike Natvig, Cresco Establishing Hazelnut Windbreaks.
Hazelnut hedgerows and windbreaks will be planted to perform
multiple functions on this 240-acre diversified farm. The hybrid
hazel trees will shelter nearby crops and livestock, reduce wind
erosion and water evaporation, provide a wildlife habitat, and
serve as a cash crop in four to five years to make the farm more
Dick and Sharon Thompson, Boone Replicated Manure Use Trial.
A series of replicated trials will address manure use and its
effectiveness on this diversified grain and livestock farm. The
Thompsons use a sealed, cement bunker to store manure from a 75
cow-calf finish operation, an 80-sow farrow-to-finish swine
operation, and sludge from a city of 12,000 people. The trials
will address the need for starter fertilizer at different times
in the rotation, potassium uptake, the need for additional
potassium when plowing under hay and manure, and the best time
for manure applications. In addition, fall-applied manure plowed
under will be compared to spring-applied manure broadcast on
The 1994 SARE producer grant program will likely have a late
winter or early spring application deadline. You can ask to be
sent the guidelines when they become available by contacting:
Dr. Steven Waller
SARE Regional Program Coordinator
107 Agricultural Hall, UNL
Lincoln, NE, 68583-0704
phone (402) 472-7081
In the mean time, you can pick up some winners tips at the
winter meeting workshop Proposal Writing for FARMERS. It will be
led by PFI cooperator Ron Rosmann and Linda Rogers, who is with
the ISU Office of Contracts and Grants.
SUSTAINABLE PROJECTS 1994 NOW ACCEPTING PROPOSALS
Iowans have another opportunity to make something happen. In
1994, PFI Sustainable Projects enters its fifth year of
supporting good ideas related to agriculture and the environment.
The PFI board of directors has added a new twist, too. To
increase recognition of projects, 1994 participants will do a
show and tell display at the PFI annual meeting. These displays
wont be anything fancy, but they will show off the good ideas and
hard work that go into these efforts.
The application deadline for Sustainable Projects 1994 is
February 1, 1994. That may seem like a long way off, but don't
let the date sneak up on you. You can get some extra help in how
to frame your idea by attending the workshop Proposal Writing
for FARMERS at the Jan. 6 PFI meeting.
Nine projects were accepted for support in 1993, for an
average amount of $378. Sustainable Projects funding does not go
to major equipment purchases (see guidelines on application).
Here are the recipients and projects supported in 1993.
Riceville FFA (Jim Green, instructor)
replicated trial of three field populations for corn.
John and Rosie Wurpts, Ogden
third year of a comparison of conventional and biological
fertilizer program (with assistance from John Creswell, Central
Iowa Area Extension).
Steven Hopkins and Sarah Andreasen, Decorah
intensive rotational grazing dairy demonstration that includes
weekly forage sampling and analysis.
Michael Rosmann, Harlan
effectiveness of a walk-through fly trap in reducing numbers of
flies on cows.
Mark Bruns, George
interseeding annual medic and berseem clover into corn and
grazing these legumes with lambs.
West Hancock FFA (Paul Hauge, instructor)
replicated on-farm trial of nitrogen rates for corn using the
late spring soil nitrate test and the late season stalk nitrate
Tom and Irene Frantzen, New Hampton
measure productivity of oats/berseem clover as greenchop in
narrow strip intercropping.
Larry and Joyce Conrad, Delta
replicated trial of flexing cultivator vs. fixed-shovel
cultivator for weed control in corn.
Richard and Sharon Thompson, Boone
replicated on-farm trials o a cover crop for weed control in corn
and soybeans using two rows of rye drilled on the ridgetop after
SUSTAINABLE PROJECTS 1994
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
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 1994 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 _________________________ Telephone _____________________
Please print or type. Use additional paper if needed.
Please include an itemized budget.
1) Please describe the problem that this project will address and
why there is a need for the project.
2) Please describe what you will do in the planned project. Be
3) How will you communicate to the public about the project?
What kind of reporting to Sustainable Projects will you carry
4) What is the amount of money you need to carry out the proposed
project? Please itemize.
FARMING SYSTEMS MEETING DRAWS U.S. AND CANADIAN FARMERS
Id like you all to get up and stand on one foot with me, said
sociologist Cornelia Flora. She was the opening speaker at the
annual conference of the Association for Farming Systems Research
and Extension, an event I have attended a few times before. PFI
board member Jeff Olson and I travelled to the meeting, which
took place in Gainesville, Florida, to talk about PFI on-farm
research. In the process, I think we both expanded our horizons.
No, we didn't sit around out in the sun, but we did take time to
smell the flowers. And stand on one foot.
Now, this is a little like sustainable agriculture, isn't
it? said Cornelia. We're all up here balancing on one leg, and
we are paying close attention to what were doing so that we don't
fall over. Sustainable agriculture requires alertness to achieve
a dynamic balance, too. This little exercise woke us up and
started us participating. People in these farming systems
conferences were talking about on-farm research and putting the
farmer first a decade ago, before there was a PFI or something
called sustainable agriculture. But many of them were unaware of
the movement they helped shape. The entire week was a balancing
act, as we all tried to reach an understanding.
Shortly before this meeting was to take place, organizers
received foundation support to bring farmers to the conference.
Previous meetings have been attended mostly by people who work
with farmers. This time producers arrived from California,
Oregon, Montana, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Iowa
(Jeff), Canada, and Florida.
As you might expect, these farmers found a lot to share with
each other over the week. But as too often happens, the farmers
were not adequately briefed as to why they were invited to the
meeting. It took about half the week to get these questions out
on the table, after which things went much better.
Conference organizers were looking to the farmers for an
assessment of what farmers need from non-farming ag professionals
and how they can work together. Farming systems has been a term
usually applied to agriculture overseas. So farmers at the
meeting were being asked to help bring the focus onto farming
systems here at home.
Several people at the conference expressed interest in
having PFI members visit them to explain farmer-managed, on-farm
research to other producers. The meeting might eventually result
in other interstate activities as well. One thing was agreed
any future meeting should include some sessions organized by
farmers for farmers.
A DEVELOPMENTAL APPROACH TO ADOPTION OF SUSTAINABLE PRACTICES
The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture recently released
results of a study that sought to explain why and how different
farms take on their distinctive characteristics. In A
Developmental Approach to the Adoption of Low-input Farming
Practices, published in Volume Two of the 1993 Leopold Center
Progress Report, Rebecca S. Roberts of the University of Iowa,
and David Lighthall of Colgate University, create a model that
helps understand the factors affecting the adoption of low-input
Their work is based on what they describe as an
intensive, qualitative study of 40 Iowa farmers in Franklin,
Grundy, and Hardin counties. Twenty-five farms were chosen at
random from county ASCS lists, and 15 farms, termed
low-input, were selected with the cooperation of Practical
Farmers of Iowa and local agency personnel.
Farm history interviews were conducted around four key
aspects of the farm operation:
1) the historical evolution of production practices including
rotations, livestock, tillage, fertilization, and pest control;
2) profitability and marketing strategies; 3) attitudes toward
and participation in USDA programs; and 4) agro-environmental
issues including views on low-input agriculture and its relevance
to the operation. Farmers were also asked why they adopted
Using this information, Roberts and Lighthall formulate what
they call a structural model of decision-making (Figure 1)(See
note at start of this newsletter for instructions to retrieve
"roberts.tif"). This model starts with three sets of structural
conditions that influence practices:
1) Market and policy imperatives farmers' operations must make
enough profit to meet household needs and be competitive in local
land markets, and they must do so while considering USDA policy
requirements. For instance, thirty-seven of the operations
complied with USDA feed grain program regulations as part of
their profit strategy.
2) Production and accumulation system (PAS) farmers operations
are shaped by their histories of capital investments, skills and
knowledge accumulation, and
social relations governing farm management and land tenure. For
example, two smaller, diversified farms (80 and 250 acres) made
the transition to organic crop production principles, and their
transitions were helped because these operations had livestock
and a high ratio of labor to land. On the other hand, farmers
with similar levels of commitment to sustainable agriculture, but
with 500-800 acres, often utilized ridge tillage and the
corn-soybeans rotation as part of a less labor intensive approach
to farming. Thus, the ability of each of these two kinds of
farms to use particular production alternatives was influenced by
factors such as the scale of the operations and prior capital
3) Agro-ecological environment farmers' operations must overcome
risks posed by environmental factors, such as topography or
timing of rainfall events, and low-input practices that may be
more profitable also may not be sustained if they result in
unacceptable levels of risk. For example, the researchers note
that while per-acre production costs of ridge-till were low (due
to less tillage and lower chemical use), ridge tillage
does necessitate greater timeliness and precision in field
operations as the tradeoff for greater input efficiency. Those
liabilities are offset by advantages like improved infiltration
and reduced planting risk in wet conditions. The authors see in
these relationships a fundamental characteristic of low-input
systems: a growing integration of technology with these cycles
of crop and pest growth and weather.
The model then shows these three structural conditions being
moderated by operator characteristics (such as stewardship values
and innovativeness) and leading to two alternative strategies of
production. One strategy has a goal of an increased rate of
profit through economies of scale. The other has a goal of
increased profits by improving efficiency at current production
scale. In total, the model created from information the
researchers collected from the 40 farmers helps provide an
understanding of the factors affecting the adoption and use of
low-input production systems.
Ridge tillage appeared to be a good solution for reducing
inputs for moderate-sized farms whether they were identified as
low input or not. Seven of 18 conventional family farms
indicated an interest in this form of tillage. On the other
hand, the five larger farms (1,240 to 2,100 acres) had no
interest in ridge tillage. These operations use practices that
reduce risk while permitting large scale farming. No-till or
minimum tillage, preplant anhydrous ammonia, and broadcast
herbicides are used to reduce the need for operations in the
rainy month of June, when it is sometimes impossible to enter the
Higher input costs are compensated for by economies of scale
on these large operations. However, the researchers note that in
the process the larger farms tend to elevate local cash-rent
rates. This inhibits, in particular, young, would-be farmers,
who are likely to adopt low-investment, low-input production
strategies if given the opportunity to farm.
The two researchers note intergenerational differences as
well. Forty-six percent of the operations involved shared
machinery, management or labor, and in 28 percent of these,
low-input innovations suggested by the junior member of the
partnership had been opposed by the older member.
Individual goals also had a strong relationship to the
character of farms. Family farm participants, both low-input and
conventional, described goals relating to
stewardship, quality of family life and health, and
intergenerational continuity in the operation. Forty-six
percent of conventional farmers viewed low-input farming as
threatening and at odds with their own farming system. However,
54 percent regarded low-input farming as just one end of a
continuum. Roberts and Lighthall think these are the people most
receptive to methods used by low-input farmers.
The two researchers see a potential for many low-input
practices to move into the mainstream. But they see a need for
research on low-input systems targeted to different categories of
farmers in their model, and they see a need for
extension efforts that transfer knowledge from low-input
operations to their conventional counterparts. They conclude
that small and medium-sized operations are successfully
implementing environmentally sustainable systems, and they
suggest that public policy should support and not discourage
this kind of farming.
(Editors note: This poem is reprinted from Mary Swander's book
of poems, Driving the Body Back, published by Alfred A. Knopf,
We pull off Highway 30,
step in the Pine Grove Cafe,
pie case empty, chrome polished,
shiny as the capped teeth
of the woman behind the counter.
Her hands flutter to her face,
light falling through the window,
through the neon sign EAT,
light surrounding the loose
curls of her thin brown hair.
Overhead, the fan stirs
and our stools creak
as we study the menu
above the malt machine.
The prices are cheap.
Eat up, you say, you'll treat,
and the woman stands ready
with pencil and pad.
I order the special and
her hands twitter from
nose to mouth to nose.
"None today," she says.
You order a hamburger then.
She looks at you and smiles.
"Tenderloin?" I ask.
She shakes her head.
"Sorry, sorry, we don't
sell food here anymore."
She explains that ever since
her husband died ten years back
she's opened every morning
for coffee but never again
fixed a single bite. Yet,
boots scrape under tables
and seed caps nod over heavy
steaming mugs and in the corner
two men talk about the corn,
how it stood up through all
this summers horrible heat
105 for five days straight
and now we have a bumper crop
with grain piled in mounds
on the ground because the
trains don't run anymore
and a dime wont buy anything
much but a cup of coffee here.
You drink yours black and
talk about trains, how they
whizzed through town when
corn was a dime a bushel
and the weather so hot
and dry the hogs sat
in the sun all day like
old wooden tubs and
their skin cracked.
You talk about trains,
how Uncle Phil hoisted
one foot up, then hung
from the rod beneath
a boxcar and whistled down
the line through Amarillo,
Clovis, Roswell, Tucson,
Yuma, Los Angeles,
to drag a spoon across
a tin plate in the Sunshine
Mission and offer his flesh
to a pack of fleas in a flophouse.
Once, in Fresno he was thrown
in jail for stealing wine
from a nun, the swelling
on his head from the cops stick
throbbing for ten days
as he lay on the floor
listening to his own ramblings
until Aunt Nell stood over him
with bail and Uncle George
with a bottle of rye.
Then the two men drank
their way to Reno and Colorado,
where they drifted into jobs
as hired hands and, Crimers,
you can still hear Phil say,
Colorado was the state where
I learned to housebreak hogs.
We were there in the hog house
sos we could keep the sows from
rolling on their litters and, crimers,
after a while the smell got to you.
So, George told me I could train them hogs
same way I trained my dogs. Said I needed
to get up every morning at three
and walk them one by one down to
the old willow and back. So, I yanked
myself out, stumbling through the pasture,
shooing them hogs along in the dark,
calling soo-ee, soo-ee, until they did their duty.
But after a few weeks of this my eyelids
were slits by noon. So I put them critters
on their own. I tied a piece of steak
to the willow, then set a big banging
old alarm right down next to a sows ear.
That night at three wham-bam the clock rang,
the sow woke and threw back her snout
charging toward the willow with the others
hightailing after. My plan worked 'cept
for one thing. I forgot to open the door,
and them critters busted right through,
pulling the whole house down, board by
board, until it was nothing but kindling.
Them hogs broke the house instead of
me housebreaking them.
After that Phil drove a
milk truck in Des Moines and
ran rum for Al Capone.
Had shotguns fit beneath his
running boards and sometimes
on trips across the state,
he'd stop for Sunday dinner.
Napkin tucked under chin,
he pushed his hand into his
pocket, tinkling with change.
He pressed a coin into your palm,
Buy yourself an ice cream cone.
Or sometimes, he spent the night
on the cot in the font room,
the mourning doves song melting
into the hum of the fan,
windows open, trying to catch
any stir of leaves until the
old Milwaukee rumbled through
and Phil roared,
pick up your feet. The whole
house shook and then his litany
began, each huffing breath,
a piece of track:
"Hail Mary, full of grace,
the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst
women and blessed is ...
Holy Mary, mother of God,
pray for us sinners now
and at the hour of our death."
You were never certain
what happened at the hour
of Phil's death and Grandma
said never ask. One hot July day
the agent sent a message home:
Come to depot soon as possible.
You and Grandma hurried down,
a huge wooden crate
waiting on the platform.
With a crowbar,
Grandma pried open the lid
and pushed you into
the folds of her skirt.
But you saw enough.
You saw her reach in with
two shiny pennies for the eyelids.
You saw her place her
handkerchief over the face.
You saw the flies,
the bullet holes,
the bold lettering on the box:
The fan stirs and the woman
behind the counter swipes
a cloth across the burners
as if they were splattered
with grease. Her eyes flitter
open, shut, like the neon sign
hanging outside over our station wagon,
the body in back wrapped in
a grey blanket, strapped to a cot.
You stand to leave, pay the check,
a toothpick in your mouth.
I slip a few coins under
the saucer of my cup.
FOOTPRINTS OF A GRASS FARMER
Surviving The Storm
Tom Frantzen, Alta Vista
The weather in the spring and summer of 1993 provided some real
challenges for farmers in Iowa. In the northeast part of the
state, May 1st came with no fieldwork started and very little
grass growth. Then it rained for 2 more weeks. Planting began
around here after that, and continued off and on until a severe
hailstorm with three inches of rain occurred on June 17th.
Everyone knows about the record flooding that hit the state
during the rest of the summer. Our June, July, and August total
rainfall on our farm was 37 inches.
How did this weather affect different aspects of
agriculture? Annual crops took a beating! Yields were cut by
100% for oats, 80 to 90% for soybeans, 50 to 75% for corn (with a
big quality factor not included). Perennial crops performed
better with the exception of pure stands of alfalfa. Monocropped
alfalfa suffered severe stand loss during the winter in much of
In April, I purchased 480-pound stocker cattle. They began
co-mingled grazing with my gestating sow herd on May 1st. The
cattle were weighed and separated into two groups on July 7th.
(My next article will explain this). On the 15th of September,
the cattle were scaled again. Average daily gains varied from
2.3 to 2.5 pounds.
A good measure of grazing productivity is pounds of beef per
acre. While the annual row crops suffered, my perennial pasture
plants turned an acre of forage into 753 pounds of beef. I
estimate the cattle consumed two thirds of the total pasture and
the sows one third. Free choice minerals and 2 pounds of corn
maintained good body condition on my pastured sows. Savings on
corn and protein in the sow feed totaled over $300 per acre.
This is consistently one of the best profit-per-acre strategies
on our farm.
Daily paddock shifts (at times, 12 hour shifts) prevented
pugging damage even in the extreme wet conditions. Immediately
following heavy rains, I would lock the gestating sows in their
concrete yard. A regular diet would be fed on that day. This
flexing policy reduces stock density by 50% until soil conditions
improve. I planned for 24 day recovery periods during May and
June. As the season progressed, I lengthened rest to 35-45 days.
This is my second year of co-mingled cattle and sow grazing.
Several advantages exist with this strategy. Stock density can
be flexed without upsetting ruminant performance. Sows and
cattle compliment each other nicely in forage composition
consumption. Ringing the sows reduces the risk of pseudorabies
transmission to the cattle. Cattle enjoy grazing under the
electric fences, which sows refuse to go near.
The performance of the pasture and the stock was excellent
in this difficult year. USDA deficiency and disaster payments
will lessen the economic hardship that row crop farmers
experienced this year. Nothing will lessen the incredible loss
of priceless topsoil that occurred throughout the Midwest. Grass
farming stood proud in 1993! It produced good profits, prevented
erosion, and will not require government assistance to stay alive
for another year.
FROM THE KITCHEN
Marj Stonecypher, Floyd
Hi! I just came in from the cold (burr) outside. I've been
doing a little horseback riding here and along the river near
Osage. It is so pretty out and relaxing to ride in the fall
weather. Even Ray has been doing a little riding.
Here are a couple of my fast, delicious recipes that seem to
make a hit around here.
CHEESE HASHBROWN CASSEROLE
2 pounds frozen hashbrowns, slightly thawed
1 pound sour cream (16 oz.)
1 small onion chopped
1 can cream of chicken soup
salt & pepper
1/2 pound cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup corn flakes
Mix soup, sour cream and fold into potatoes and onions, cheese,
salt and pepper. Put in 9 x 13 pan. Bake 30 minutes uncovered.
Remove and top with 1 cup crushed corn flakes with two pats
melted butter. Return to oven and bake 15 minutes longer or
until knife comes clean. For added flavor, add chopped ham,
cooked chicken or browned bacon. (When I fix this dish, the
recipe is always asked for.)
FRESH APPLE CAKE
2 or 3 cups raw chopped apples
1/2 cup brown sugar
Mix and let stand while mixing
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 cup sour milk
2 cups flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. salt
Mix in order given, then add chopped apples. Put in greased and
floured 9 x 10 inch cake pan. Mix and sprinkle on top
1/4 cup brown sugar 1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon 1/2 cup chopped nuts
Bake in 350 degree oven 35 to 40 minutes.
Hope you have a happy holidays.
PFI MEMBERSHIP APPLICATION AND RENEWAL FORM
Zip Code ____________________________________
Phone # _________________________________________
This is a _____ new membership
Do you derive a significant part of your income directly from
farming in Iowa?
_____ yes _____ no
Please enclose check or money order ($10 for one year, $25 for
three years) payable to "Practical Farmers of Iowa" and mail to:
Practical Farmers of Iowa
2035 190th St.
Boone, IA 50036
Correspondence to the PFI directors' addresses is always welcome.
Member contributions to the Practical Farmer are also welcome and
will be reviewed by the PFI board of directors.
OFFICERS AND STAFF
District 1 (Northwest): Paul Mugge, 6190 470th St., Sutherland,
51058. (712) 446-2414.
District 2 (North Central): Raymond Stonecypher, 1321 March Ave.,
Floyd, IA, 50435-8058. (515) 398-2417.
District 3 (Northeast): Laura Krouse, 1346 Springville Rd., Mt.
Vernon, IA 52314. (319) 895-6924.
District 4 (Southwest): Vic Madsen, PFI President, 2186 Goldfinch
Ave., Audubon, 50025. (712) 563-3044.
District 5 (Southeast): Jeff Olson, PFI Vice President, 2273
140th St., Winfield, 52659. (319) 257-6967.
Associate board member for District 5: David Lubben, RR 3, Box
128, Monticello, IA 52310. (319) 465-4717.
PFI Treasurer: Dick Thompson, 2035 190th St., Boone, 50036.
Coordinators: Rick Exner, Gary Huber, Room 2104, Agronomy Hall,
ISU, Ames, Iowa, 50011. (515) 294-1923
Public Relations Coordinator: Maria Vakulskas Rosmann, 1222
Ironwood Rd., Harlan, 51537. (712) 627-4653.