Quarterly newsletter of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture 126
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The Leopold Letter Mission
The mission of the Leopold Letter is to inform a diverse audience, including
farmers, educators, researchers, conservationists, and policymakers, about
Leopold Center programs and activities; to encourage increased interest in
and use of sustainable farming practices; and to stimulate public discussion
about sustainable agriculture in Iowa.
Adopted September, 1992
AGRICULTURE WITHOUT FARMERS: HOW
INDUSTRIALIZATION IS RESTRUCTURING FOOD PRODUCTION
NEW MEMBERS JOIN LEOPOLD ADVISORY BOARD
NEW CROPS AND NEW USES: DISCOVERING COMMON
ALFALFA RESEARCH HAS LONG-LASTING EFFECT
CENTER PUBLISHES 3RD RESEARCH PROGRESS REPORT
GRAZING STUDIES OFFER POTENTIAL FOR IOWA CATTLE
BOARD MEMBER BINDNER SHARES HER PERSPECTIVE
DREAMS AND PROMISES OF SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE
NEWS AND NOTES
IPM FOR IOWA APPLES
AGRICULTURE WITHOUT FARMERS: HOW
INDUSTRIALIZATION IS RESTRUCTURING FOOD PRODUCTION
by Neil D. Hamilton
(Editor's note: Neil Hamilton is Ellis and Nelle Levitt Professor of Law,
and Director of the Agricultural Law Center, Drake University. He has
served on the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture Advisory Board
since the Center's inception in 1987. c. Copyright reserved. February, 1994
by Neil D. Hamilton.)
Is there an agricultural canon?
Is there an agricultural canon--a body of beliefs or assumptions that defines
farming in our cultural and social context? I believe there is and it contains
such features as:
* farmers are independent--they can't be fired and don't work for
* farmers own their own property or intend to some day, and thus have
a long-term stewardship relation with the land, different than
* farmers sell their goods on the free market and profit from their
marketing skills and pricing opportunities,
* farmers may join many organizations but retain control over
production and marketing decisions, unlike union members,
* farmers are largely free from government regulation as to production
and marketing decisions, and
* farmer-owned cooperatives provide a means for farmers to obtain
inputs or markets.
If we have such a canon, our changing agricultural structure indicates we are
now moving away from this view of farming. Historically, in the
progression in agriculture, a person not born to farming or wealthy enough
to buy land would begin as "hired man" or laborer. Then, with savings, the
worker would become a tenant, building equity to one day own a farm.
Once the farm was purchased and the mortgage paid--often through labor
intensive production such as hogs (known affectionately as "mortgage
lifters")--the farm family might expand their "owner-occupied" farm. The
opportunity to own land and be their own boss was the ideal that attracted
and motivated millions of farm families throughout our nation's history.
Industrialization brings changes
In recent years, we have begun to replace this traditional progression of
farm structure. First came the "lesson" of the farm crisis that taught that it
is not wise to own all of the land you farm; instead, wise farmers will use
leases to leverage their equity in equipment and let other investors carry the
risk of land ownership. Many factors have now resulted in increasing
levels of tenancy in American agriculture approaching those of the
Depression years, when tenancy rates were considered a grave national
concern. Now comes the onset of "industrialization" and the movement of
food processors and input suppliers into food production, often through use
of contract production. While the merits of industrialization are praised by
some in agriculture, it promises to take much of agriculture one step further
back down the progression. Contract production of livestock can turn
farmers into low-paid, piece-work employees on their own land. Depending
on the method used, contract production of grain may offer landowners and
farmers the opportunity to become "sharecroppers" on their own land, with
limited control over either production or marketing, and with little
opportunity to profit from rising markets.
Bill Haws, CEO of National Farms, Inc., one of the nation's largest and
most successful corporate farms, views the development of contract
production of livestock and increased vertical integration with anticipation
and promise. He characterizes the history of broiler production, where
roughly 100 producers now raise most of the chickens in the United States,
as the model for the future of the pork and beef sectors. He believes such
an integrated production system will offer consumers lower-priced,
efficiently-produced foods of uniform quality. The shifts in production are
even billed by some in our state as a form of economic development
because of the jobs they may create.
But what of the impact industrialization has on existing independent
producers? Do we as a nation really want to trade a diverse system of
independent family-owned farms for the opportunity to turn farmers into
employees of food marketing conglomerates, just so we can buy a more
uniform porkchop for perhaps a few pennies less a pound? That is what the
explanations for industrialization pretty much boil down to--lower cost,
more uniform and predictable food. There is little claim that farmers will be
better off, or that the land will be better treated, or that rural communities
will be healthier, or even that the food will be better quality or more
nutritious--it will just be cheaper.
One of the more ironic justifications offered for industrialization is the
idea that it is merely a response to consumer demands. The explanation is
usually that "discriminating consumers" are demanding more uniformity
and predictability in their processed food products and thus the processing
and supply industry must vertically integrate into production to supply this
demand. This explanation is widely used to justify current changes in the
pork industry but it is also applied to other sectors. While this seems
reasonable, as shown by the unquestioned acceptance by many agricultural
economists, the explanation is more of an after-the-fact rationalization than
an accurate causal description.
Does it matter who farms?
If industrialization occurs, will consumers know such a change has
happened, or will they care? There will still be people doing the hard work
which is agriculture--driving the tractors, farrowing the sows, harvesting the
grain. The change may in fact go unnoticed by most people, except those
who will ultimately feel the consequences--farmers and rural communities.
If this structural change does happen, there is one important question we
will need to ask: do we still call the people who do the work farmers? I
asked Mr. Haws (at the American Bankers Association Agricultural
Bankers conference in Dallas in November 1993) if the people who tend
their corporate sows are "farmers." He answered without hesitation, "Of
course they are." But one wonders if the workers would answer
this question the same way. Do tellers in the bank fool themselves into
believing they are the "bankers?" Do they make the decisions and profit
from the bank's success? Do the farm workers driving tractors on
Mississippi cotton plantations believe they are the "farmers?" Of course
not. An employee knows all too well the difference between the boss and
Ask yourself these three questions if you are confused on the issue.
Does someone else sign your paycheck? Does someone else tell you what
work to do? Can you be fired? In some ways these three questions have
been a historic test of farming. Traditionally, American farmers could
answer no to all three. They didn't get paychecks--they sold their crops
when and to whom they wanted; they were their own bosses, determining
what and when to plant; and they couldn't be fired, except by bad weather
and low prices. American farmers should be asking themselves these
questions today as they consider how industrialization may affect them.
But does it really matter to society whether the people who do the work
in agriculture are farmers in the traditional sense, or instead are employees
of industrialized agriculture? I believe there are many reasons why it
matters, both to farmers and to society. The status of food producers as
either farmers or workers influences many aspects of food and agricultural
policy. The changing structure of agriculture raises a variety of questions
and has many implications for society.
Important questions need answers
One important question is who will be the decision-makers for agriculture
on matters such as environmental protection or adoption of new
technologies? If the real decision-makers are the corporate integrators, then
why bother trying to educate "farmers" about the need for environmental
protection or spend public money to induce their compliance? It will be
easier to deal with just the handful of companies really controlling the
decisions on the land.
At this point, a second question may become easier to answer--what
methods should be used for achieving our desired environmental goals?
Consider the issue of water quality protection. Rather than fund cooperative
education and economic incentives designed for diverse farmers, industrial
agriculture can be more easily and effectively regulated using uniform
mandates. The regulations can be implemented as a cost of doing business
and the costs passed on to consumers in higher prices. While corporate
integrators will no doubt continue to use the image of the "family farmer is
the best steward" to limit such approaches, society should be willing to test
the reality of the production system integrators develop.
A third important question will be how to justify various economic
programs related to agriculture. Whether the issue is continuing federal
farm programs, eligibility for property tax exemptions such as homestead
credits, disaster assistance, or claims to special estate tax valuations, the
need for or purpose of such programs may disappear if independent family
farmers no longer exist. Why worry about assisting farmers in passing the
operation on to the next generation, if this generation has voluntarily waived
its franchise on independence?
One reason why the distinction between "farmer" and "employee" is
important concerns the self-image of producers. Will farmers consider
themselves stewards of the land working for the good of society, striving to
build an economically and environmentally sustainable operation to pass to
their children? Or will they come to recognize that they have become
employees in a system where the promise of profits and risk sharing has
become a reality of risk shifting and servitude? Iowans must ask if we are
building a concentrated system of land ownership and economic control
over agriculture not unlike that faced and fled by our ancestors.
(The conclusion of this article will appear in the Summer, 1994 issue of the
NEW MEMBERS JOIN LEOPOLD ADVISORY BOARD
On Jan. 20, the Leopold Center Advisory Board welcomed two new
members who bring new perspectives and expertise to the group's work.
Bonnie Lindemann, Assistant Professor in the Business College and
Director of the Agricultural Decisionmaking Institute at St. Ambrose
College, Davenport, fills a private Iowa college post formerly held by Pat
Johnson; Robert F. Sayre, Professor of English at the University of Iowa,
Iowa City, took the position formerly held by Rebecca Roberts.
As an organizational psychologist, Lindemann has a strong interest in
agricultural decision processes. She holds doctorate and master's degrees in
business from the University of Iowa (Her dissertation was on "The
Cognitive Effects of Social Context on Grain Producers' Decisions to Hold
or to Sell Grain.") In addition to her work as in the business college and
with the Agricultural Decisionmaking Institute, she is director of the
Agricultural Recovery Consulting Project, a year-long effort funded by
National Catholic Charities to aid farm families with flood-related
decisionmaking and planning. She also serves on the advisory board for a
project called "Rural Alive."
An Ohio native raised in Illinois and Iowa, Lindemann and her
husband, Joe, operate a grain and cattle farm in Clinton County. They have
a son, Miguel, 6. Lindemann says she is looking forward to learning more
about sustainable agriculture.
Sayre, a native of Columbus, Ohio, has taught at the University of Iowa
since 1965 and has a longtime interest in autobiographical writing, Henry
David Thoreau, American Indian literature, and landscape and culture. He
earned his master's and doctorate degrees in English at Yale University,
and has edited Take This Exit: Re-discovering the Iowa Landscape in 1989
for Iowa State University. "The book grew out of my interest in the
landscape," Sayre explains. "'See Iowa first' is its motto and I hope to edit
a second edition."
Sayre and his wife, Hutha, have five children. He mentions that his
daughter, Laura, works at The Land Institute in Salina, Kan.
NEW CROPS AND NEW USES: DISCOVERING COMMON
By Dennis R. Keeney
Leopold Center Director
In theory, the development of new crops and new uses of current crops is
one of the pieces of the puzzle that could bring a sustainable agriculture to
Iowa. To date, however, misunderstanding and a lack of common goals
among agricultural groups and between agricultural and environmental
interests has greatly hindered progress.
Envision a vibrant Midwest agriculture, diversified enough to produce
specialty grains and fibers that could serve as raw material for a multitude
of industrial uses. Such an agriculture could include specialty crops and
products such as herbs, inks, fabrics, special wood and fabricated wood
products, and biomass fuels. This scenario would be a win-win situation --
the agricultural economy would be more stable, energy and precious metals
imports would be reduced, the balance of trade would improve, income
transfer payments for price supports would decline, and rural development
would proceed apace with the rest of the nation.
The new uses vision for established row crops has some potential
drawbacks. Chief among them is the possibility of ongoing or even
intensified environmental abuse by an agriculture that has a spotty
environmental track record to date. In spite of conservation compliance, the
Conservation Reserve Program, and a faster switch to no-till than anyone
would have predicted, the culture of annual row crops still leads to
environmental problems in terms of soil erosion, pesticide movement to
nontarget compartments, and nitrate contamination of surface- and
Several perennial or multi-year crops have new use potential. Forestry--
particularly that involving short-rotation woody crops for biomass and
energy-- has special appeal. Alfalfa has a high protein yield, while
switchgrass offers excellent biomass potential. The advantage of these
crops is their ability to hold soil in place and in most cases, improve soil
quality. Small grains and annual legumes fit somewhere in between.
Erosion potential is much less because ground cover is established early in
the year. Inputs are reduced. New uses of these crops, some of which will
themselves be new, offer great potential. They have the advantage of being
flexible in response to markets, and importantly, will fit into crop rotations
that are important to sustainable farming systems.
The 36.5 million acres of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land
offer an immediate opportunity to apply new uses concepts. Most of this
land is in warm-season grasses, with some 2.4 million acres in trees and
another 2 million acres of special wildlife practices. Some of these acres--
perhaps the majority-- will return to croplands. More than half that land is
highly erodible. New uses for the grasses, particularly for biomass energy,
would offer a potentially profitable alternative to row-crops, and the
environmental benefits would be great. However, the majority of CRP
contracts expire in the next few years. Is there a will to accelerate
development of a biomass industry on CRP lands?
Crop residues and waste products from animal agriculture and from
agricultural processing activities offer another potential source of raw
materials for value-added products. An example is the recent finding at
Iowa State University that corn gluten meal has herbicidal properties. Many
products made from waste materials have added value because they also
provide an economical alternative to product disposal.
Indeed, the search for alternative crops is not a new venture. Amaranth
has been championed by the Rodale program, and who will forget the
artichokes that littered Midwest fields over a decade ago? Belgian endive
became an issue in a presidential campaign a few years ago. Several oil
crops offer possibilities as energy sources, cooking oils, and as industrial
feedstocks. Canola (rapeseed) is an excellent oil crop in the northern United
States and in the south, but it suffers from several growing problems in the
It is obviously easier to make established products from established
crops than to embark on the long, difficult and risky research-
demonstration-marketing efforts needed to develop a new crop/product.
Even with the most dedicated efforts, paybacks likely will not occur this
New crops--or old crops revisited--must fit in the farming system if
their use in value-added processing is to be practical. Crops that require
maintenance at times when other farm operations are underway, that take
considerable external resources to grow, or that require special knowledge,
labor or equipment might be difficult to adopt.
The farming system extends beyond the farm gate and into the
community. Is the value-added industry one that is compatible with the
surrounding area? If the industry produces wastes, can these materials be
used locally? Will they create water pollution, odor, or visual nuisances that
will not be tolerated by the local community? The community must be
willing to invest in these ventures; local banking support is essential because
invariably new uses or new crops require some financial risk.
It would not be prudent to leave this subject without expressing concern
for the economic and social issues in value-added production. Jobs for
jobs' sake is not enough. The industries added to a community must not
only be environmentally compatible with the community; they must
provide quality employment. If new uses involve considerable capital, will
that capital come from outside the community? If so, will the income from
the venture also move outside, providing little local benefit?
In the end, the success of the move to new uses and new crops will
depend on building a coalition of agricultural and financial leaders,
environmentalists, and users dedicated to developing new products in
agriculture. Perhaps we can paraphrase the "two blades where one would
grow" with "two products help the community grow." The Leopold
Center supports the diversification in agriculture that new uses and new
crops will bring to rural Iowa.
ALFALFA RESEARCH HAS LONG-LASTING EFFECT
By E. Anne Larson
A northwest Iowa research project aimed at remedying water quality
concerns is having a ripple effect that will be felt for years to come.
The three-year research project on monitoring and modeling cropping
system nitrogen was in the very first round of research grants made by the
Leopold Center in 1988. Now, six years later, the work of Dordt College
investigators Delmar Vander Zee, Ron Vos and Christian Goedhart is still
providing information to northwest Iowa agriculture and gaining national
Northwest Iowa--and the Sioux Center area in particular--are known for
their heavy reliance on animal agriculture and for their shallow aquifers.
The researchers observed the heavy application of animal manures to area
cropland and became concerned at the effect this nitrogen (N) source might
have on nitrate levels in the shallow water tables. "We saw that people were
treating manure as a waste material, and that led us to an original study in
which elevated nitrate levels were found in wells throughout the county,"
explains Vos. "When we looked on a large scale at the animal numbers and
acres of corn and realized how much commercial N was being purchased,
we soon concluded that we were not managing our N resources very well,"
The project quickly determined that the sampled test wells contained
nitrate, and two wells continuously exceeded the 10 parts per million (ppm)
considered the safe limit for drinking water. Researchers found a
correlation between cropping and fertilization history and soil nitrate
concentrations in the fields studied. They also found that significant
amounts of leachable nitrate existed below the root zone. The investigators
realized that knowing how much nitrate was in the soil was a first step;
finding ways to keep existing N in its place was another.
One of the surprises of this study was the discovery that alfalfa in the
cropping system--despite its N-fixing role as a legume--could also decrease
the amount of leachable soil nitrate. This finding, coupled with data
indicating excess N was being applied to area fields in the form of manure
and purchased N, provided some compelling information to help northwest
Iowa farmers save money and reduce N application. Early in the project,
the researchers worked with the late-spring soil nitrate test and trained with
selected farmers in use of the test.
The work, done from 1988 through 1992, is now paying off for the
investigators. Last fall, Vos, Vander Zee and Goedhart received the
"Caring Research" award from the American Scientific Affiliation. This
national organization of evangelical Christians in scientific work fosters
research that might otherwise be neglected.
What the researchers learned has also become an integral part of several
courses taught at the Agriculture Stewardship Center at Dordt. "We
incorporate our findings into instruction at our Dordt program," says Vos,
who notes that Dordt ag program students come from all over the United
States and Canada. "About a third of our ag students come from Canada,"
he adds. The project has also been featured numerous times in northwest
Iowa media and in the Dordt College publication.
In addition to integrating their findings about N and alfalfa in Dordt
programs, the investigators have continued to provide information to area
organizations in field days, including the local Extension service and
Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI). Vos says the PFI field days have
regularly attracted more than 100 farmers. "This research means more to
them because it took place under local conditions," he adds.
While Vos and his colleagues have not conducted a comprehensive
survey of area farmers, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that attitudes
about N management are changing. In the initial research, five farmers
trained in use of the late-spring soil nitrate test saved almost $142,000 in
commercial fertilizer costs the first year. Vos says that follow-up has
shown those savings to be ongoing. He tells of one of his neighbors who
uses the test without fail and has cut his commercial N purchases by half.
Vos's future plans include securing funding to support test well
monitoring that will establish a multi-year baseline for soil and water nitrate
levels. Since Dordt's emphasis is on teaching, he says that future work will
continue to be student-oriented. In the meantime, the knowledge generated
by this research is continuing to convince northwest Iowa farmers and
Dordt College agriculture students that alfalfa can be an important tool in N
CENTER PUBLISHES 3RD RESEARCH PROGRESS REPORT
The third annual Leopold Center Progress Report has just been released. It
offers specifics on a broad array of projects completed during 1993.
This publication summarizes goals, methods, findings, and implications
of 21 recently completed competitive grant research projects. This year's
volume highlights results of education and demonstration projects, water
quality work, and pest management research. It also describes research on
tillage, crops and soils, agroforestry, and livestock.
These summaries are designed primarily for use by agriculture in
Extension and other organizations, as well as for policymakers, for
educators, and for scientists interested in work outside their own disciplines.
The semi-technical style of these summaries is suitable for a broad
audience. Each project is outlined in four pages.
If you would like a copy of the third annual Progress Report, or to
receive copies of the first and second volumes of the Center Progress
Report, issued in 1992 and 1993, please contact the Leopold Center at 126
Soil Tilth Bldg., Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011-3120; phone
(515) 294-3711; fax (515) 294-9696; or e-mail: email@example.com
GRAZING STUDIES OFFER POTENTIAL FOR IOWA CATTLE
Bridging the gap between research and real-life farming is a challenge faced
by many segments of agriculture. ISU agronomist Ron George has
undertaken two studies that are laying some important spans to enhance
sustainable livestock production in Iowa.
With the support of two Leopold Center grants, George and co-
investigators have demonstrated that legumes offer promise as a source of
nitrogen for switchgrass pastures. They are also gathering data on how beef
cattle respond to grazing systems using warm-season grasses. These
projects are providing Iowa farmers with data they need to make informed
decisions about land coming out of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)
contracts. George believes that if producers have recent and reliable
information on grazing management systems for warm-season grasses,
they'll be more likely to choose this option rather than returning highly
erodible land to row crop production.
Renovating switchgrass with forage legumes
In a three-year project concluded in 1993, George, Dwayne Buxton of
USDA-ARS and ISU agronomy, and graduate students Kevin Blanchet,
Randy Gettle, and Roger Hintz demonstrated the viability of renovating
existing stands of switchgrass with forage legumes. Switchgrass offers a
possible solution to the mid-summer slump in forage supply typical of
cool-season forage grasses, but it has a relatively high need for nitrogen
Using 'Cave-in-rock' switchgrass at the Agronomy and Agricultural
and Biosystems Engineering Research Center near Ames, the researchers
added several legumes through interseeding, frost seeding, and interseeding
with defoliation. They then compared the resulting amounts of dry matter
with switchgrass stands treated with 54, 107, and 214 lb N per acre.
The results show promise for Iowa cattle producers; most of the
legumes provided a significant contribution to the second-year dry matter
yield in the pastures. The researchers believe the renovated stands will also
show a higher herbage quality and improved animal performance, as well
as provide symbiotic N to the associated switchgrass. In addition, they
found that partially defoliating the vigorous growing switchgrass is
unnecessary, at least with the 'Cave-in-rock' cultivar, in order to get the
legumes established, though partial defoliation (clipping in early June at a 4
to 6-inch height) improves the switchgrass for mid-summer grazing.
Birdsfoot trefoil and mammoth red clover showed good survival into
spring 1993, the third year of the study. The sweetclover, which is a
biennial (2-year) species, had disappeared, and alfalfa and medium red
clover showed the extensive damage experienced by much of Iowa's
legume crop in the winter of 1992-93. Under severe conditions, however,
Apollo alfalfa performed better than Alfagraze.
The investigators concluded that a dynamic relationship exists between
legume and grass stem densities starting in the second year of renovation,
and the legume does not cause serious competition or reduction of the
switchgrass. While producers can expect immediate yield increases on
established switchgrasses when fertilized with commercial N, those
increases won't occur until the second year with legume renovation of
switchgrass. This is why George recommends that renovation be
accomplished on a gradual basis.
As for the fertilization potential of legumes in switchgrass, the study
found that impressive yields were accomplished with birdsfoot trefoil,
mammoth red clover, and Apollo alfalfa. They found that legume
renovation on switchgrass can:
* help avoid mid-summer forage slump,
* be retained more profitably on CRP land after contracts expire,
* produce higher yield and better quality forage than non-fertilized
* provide a longer grazing season, improve animal performance, and
reduce purchased feedstuffs, and
* benefit the environment by reducing soil erosion, reducing N
application, and improving cover for wildlife.
Studying warm-season grass responses
Testing the response of cattle to warm season grasses under field conditions
was a natural progression from George's work with switchgrass. He
believes that to encourage producers to keep CRP land in pasture, they
needed more information on warm-season grasses under Iowa's soil and
climatic conditions. Thus, in 1993, George and co-investigators began a
second study on animal and plant responses for steers grazing switchgrass
and big bluestem.
These warm-season grasses offer promise for the future of Iowa's beef
industry because they are more water-efficient and temperature-tolerant than
cool-season grasses. Additionally, warm-season grasses seem a natural
complement to cool-season grasses, which typically produce 60% of their
growth before July 1; warm-season grasses produce 60% of their growth
after June 1. George and his team believe that combining cool- and warm-
season grasses in rotational grazing may benefit beef cow-calf programs in
Previous research done with warm-season grasses shows that they can
develop seedheads and stemmy growth before cool-season pastures are
depleted, and that moderate defoliation can reduce or delay such growth in
field plots. This project seeks to evaluate defoliation for switchgrass and
big bluestem under actual Iowa grazing systems.
This project is taking place on eight separate pastures totaling 16 acres at
the Western Iowa Research Farm near Castana. These pastures, located on
Monona-Ida soils with a 14% to 22% slope, were seeded in spring 1991;
grazing research was initiated in 1993.
The study used continuous and rotational grazing. Investigators
recorded the average daily gain, steer grazing days per acre, and total gain
per acre for the animals; and pasture growth, yield, forage quality, plant
vigor and stand persistence for the plants. Four of the pastures were seeded
with 'Cave-in-rock' switchgrass and four with 'Roundtree' big bluestem.
On each grass, two pastures used continuous grazing, and two used
rotational grazing systems.
The 1993 data show promise for the viability of warm-season grasses
under a rotational grazing system:
* In the first of the rotational periods, steer average daily gain (ADG) for
rotational-grazed switchgrass was 0.59 lb higher than for rotationally grazed
big bluestem; in the second grazing period, steer ADG was 0.76 lb lower
on rotationally grazed switchgrass than on big bluestem.
* The ADG of 2.22 and 2.98 lb/day for switchgrass and big bluestem,
respectively, were impressive gains for the five- and three-week rotational
* Preceding placement for the second grazing period on the rotationally
grazed switchgrass pastures, steers had only a 1.04 lb/day ADG on the
cool-season grass pastures; prior to placement on big bluestem pasture, that
ADG dropped to 0.42 lb/day, probably due to more advanced maturity and
lower forage quality of cool-season pastures and the later grazing period
start for big bluestem.
* The warm-season pastures' carrying capacity (steer days per acre or
SDA) was 2.23 times greater when rotationally grazed switchgrass was
compared with continuously grazed switchgrass. The SDA was 2.70 times
greater when rotationally grazed big bluestem was compared with
continuously grazed big bluestem.
* The SDA was 17% greater on continuously grazed switchgrass over
continuously grazed big bluestem (96 vs. 82 SDA); the SDA was similar
for the two warm-season grasses when grazed rotationally (214 vs. 222
SDA). Researchers attribute the large differences between grazing systems
to less trampling and higher forage quality in the rotational systems.
* Live weight gain (LWG) per acre was 3.15 times that for rotationally
grazed over continuously grazed switchgrass and 1.77 times that for
rotationally grazed over continuously grazed big bluestem.
At this stage, George sees several benefits to a rotationally grazed warm-
season grass system: a rest and regrowth period for cool-season pastures,
an extended spring and early summer grazing period for cool-season
pasture, less trampling and waste in the warm-season pasture, improved
herbage quality of warm-season pastures, increased ADG and SDA for
steers in warm-season pastures, and two to three times total steer gain per
acre when compared with the continuously grazed system.
The researchers' early recommendations include having both
switchgrass and big bluestem in the rotational system to provide greater
flexibility. The researchers plan to continue the study for two more years to
further validate their data.
George hopes that with data in hand, he may be able to convince
skeptical forage and livestock producers that warm-season grasses are a
profitable option. Results from actual grazing systems should go a long
way toward changing producers' minds about their management options.
BOARD MEMBER BINDNER SHARES HER PERSPECTIVES
(Editor's note: The Leopold Letter recently asked Leopold Center Advisory
Board members who have been with the Center since its inception in 1987
to look back and share their perspectives of what the Center has
accomplished in its first six years. Here's what Advisory Board Member
Linda Bindner of rural Marcus had to say.)
Q. Looking back to the first advisory board meetings of the Center, what
were the issues facing sustainable agriculture at that time? Do you think the
issues have changed significantly in the last five years?
A. When the board started meeting, the Center was basically a concept
created by the legislature. Our issues were what the Center should be and
what it should grow into. At that time, sustainable agriculture was an issue
equated 100% with organic farming and an antifertilizer, antichemical
sentiment. I believe public perception of sustainable agriculture has
changed dramatically in the past five years. Not everyone is willing or
ready to embrace concepts, but there is more of an understanding of what
sustainable agriculture is and what it can do. The center has evolved with a
very clear direction that was a product of that early board with the expertise
of the director.
Q. What would you judge to be the Center's most important or strategic
achievement to date?
A. I think the most important accomplishment has been increased
awareness of Iowans of what sustainable agriculture is and a gradual
movement toward a system that can last. It's been important to help people
understand that you can't be sustainable overnight; it takes a gradual shift in
practices. It's also very important that the Center has been able to put good
research behind many of the recommendations. Putting the science behind
practice is very important to tomorrow's leaders in agriculture who are well-
educated and want to see good science behind the practices they adopt.
Q. What is the most critical challenge facing the Leopold Center and
sustainable agriculture in general? What do you think the Center might do
to meet that challenge?
A. We're just getting started in sustainable agriculture; we have a long way
to go to get to where sustainable agriculture is truly sustainable in theory
and in practice. The Center will have to increase and diversify its
educational efforts and become more directly involved with farmers.
Q. Are you optimistic about the future of sustainable agriculture in Iowa?
A. As a farmer, of course, I'm optimistic. You have to be an optimist or
you don't survive. If we look at the reception sustainable agriculture
concepts have gotten in the past five years, there is a lot of room for growth.
Sustainable agriculture is a change in the way we think and act. Changes of
that magnitude take a long time. My years on the Advisory Board have
been very, very interesting and I have learned a great deal and met a lot of
neat people. I'm glad I've had this opportunity.
DREAMS AND PROMISES OF SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE
By Ralph Watkins
(Ralph Watkins is a Jordan, Minn. writer whose column "Farming and
Your Freedom," appears in 48 Iowa weeklies and 47 Minnesota
newspapers. This article, which first appeared in newspapers the week of
Dec. 13, 1993, is reprinted courtesy of Mr. Watkins.)
Perhaps it's the positive influence of Christmas. I'm wondering if
sustainable ag has the potential to solve farming's biggest problem, low
farm income, AND meet the environmental challenge that farming faces.
Further, I suspect that a significant shift to sustainable farming would
help return control of agriculture to farmers, away from government and
from the influence of multi-national grain trading companies and food
processors. The economic quality of life in rural towns and small cities
I realize that all that may sound like an impossible dream.
[Recently] I discussed the problems of sustainable ag: Many farms
are too large to switch and have quit livestock production, the average age of
farm operators is 50-plus, farm family members are already extra busy
with off-farm jobs, and many ag lenders are skeptical.
Here are the dreams and promises of sustainable agriculture:
* Adequate income is provided for farm families. My definition of a
sustainable farm is one producing a combination of crops and livestock that
work well together to offset to a significant degree the need to purchase
chemical pesticides and fertilizer. And capital investment need is reduced.
* The productive capacity of the farm is preserved long-term. As
operator labor and management replace capital investment, debt is reduced.
The need for big machinery and other high-cost production items declines.
* Farms are less vulnerable to weather extremes.
* Pollution of the natural environment, close and far away, is avoided.
* The number of beginning farmers increases; average age declines.
* Rural population increases. Town businesses strengthen and school
enrollments increase. Making more money, farmers are able to pay local
* Improved farm management becomes vital, increasing the need for ag
educational locally, at tech schools, and at the land grant universities. Ag
research and its extension to farmers takes on new direction and
importance. Corporate-sponsored university research declines.
* Farming becomes a growth industry, and the excitement, coupled with
reduced use of chemicals, stimulates a new wave of national interest in
farming. Farm residents raised in the city reflect on their urban roots.
* Federal farm price supports become unnecessary and are dropped. City
dwellers no longer complain about paying taxes to support farmers.
* Along with food, farms grow legumes and other crops that supply
energy (ethanol and other biofuels) and industrial-use goods (paper pulp,
plastics, pharmaceuticals), increasing ag's importance to the nation.
What's obvious, of course, is that many of these dreams and promises are
absolutely necessary if the American system of independent owner-
operated family farming is to survive.
Telephone calls to sustainable farmers provided many of the above
ideas, plus these specific comments:
"Overall, sustainable is financially good for me," said Paul Mugge, who
is switching over. He feels it could improve the quality of life for farm
people and rural residents generally. Paul and wife Karen farm near
At Waukon, Lynn Stock began his switch four years ago. "There's
more profit left," he said. "I've cut back about half on herbicide."
Ron Rosmann, Harlan, who's been into sustainable ag 11 years, said
that his 1993 soybeans required no herbicide. Fertilizer for corn took $17
At Winfield, near Wapello, Jeff and Gayle Olson use some sustainable
ideas. Said Jeff, "It's helping us make good progress out of debt." Gayle
added, "As money shifts back from reduced farm purchases, we'll feel it in
our small towns."
Doug Alert at Hampton isn't sure sustainable ideas will improve his
farm's economics, but he's switching to ridge-till and reducing chemical
use. "About a third of my corn and beans get no pesticides," he said.
Have a similar or different view on sustainable ag? Please call me toll-
free at 1-800-766-1669; ask for extension 4686. If you get my tape
recorder, please leave your name, telephone number, and a two-minute
I'll include the best ideas in a future column. Thanks!
NEWS AND NOTES
The Leopold Letter has received the Distinguished Technical
Communication award in a Society for Technical Communication regional
publications competition. The quarterly newsletter of the Leopold Center
for Sustainable Agriculture now advances to the international STC
competition, where it will compete with winners from all local and regional
competitions. Awards will be announced during the 41st Annual STC
Conference May 15-18 in Minneapolis.
* * *
The Leopold Center's new conference and workshop support program will
fund two of the conference proposals out of those submitted in the first
quarter of the 1994 program calendar. Support will go to a March 24
grazing workshop to be held in Spencer featuring findings from several
Leopold Center intensive grazing management projects. Support will also
go to a follow-up event to the 1993 Farm Expo 2000, sponsored by the
Iowa Soil and Water District Commissioners scheduled for late fall of
Call the Leopold Center for a copy of the conference and workshop
support request form. Questions about the program can be answered by
Rich Pirog, Education Coordinator (515) 294-1854.
* * *
The Leopold Center's Human Systems interdisciplinary research issue team
recently changed leadership. The team, ably led since 1989 by ISU
sociologist Gordon Bultena, will now be headed by his colleague, ISU
sociologist Steve Padgitt. Bultena will be devoting more time to other
professional challenges. Thank you Gordon, and welcome, Steve.
* * *
IPM FOR IOWA APPLES
The Leopold Center recently developed a fact sheet on integrated pest
management for Iowa apples. Produced in cooperation with ISU
Extension, this six-page publication explains the IPM concept, reveals
promising findings from several projects funded by the Center, directs the
reader to some new IPM educational tools, and describes future directions
in apple IPM research.
Iowa apple growers are learning that their options are expanding for
protecting their yields and their profits even as they reduce the number of
pesticide sprays--and thus their costs.
The Center has mailed this fact sheet to members of the Iowa Fruit and
Vegetable Growers Association as well as distributing it through usual
Extension outlets. Gleason can provide additional information about apple
IPM. To get your copy of this fact sheet, just call the Leopold Center at
The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture seeks to identify and reduce
adverse socioeconomic and environmental impacts of farming practices,
develop profitable farming systems that conserve natural resources, and
create educational programs with the Cooperative Extension Service. It was
founded by the 1987 Iowa Groundwater Protection Act.
Editor: Anne Larson, PRSA Accredited.