The Practical Blog

Practical Farmers' blog is a place where staff share news, updates, photos, reflections and other musings on our work and members in a more informal setting.

After taking a several month hiatus from our shared learning calls, in September we jumped back into the swing of things with a call on crop insurance options for small grains. Mark Gutierrez and Criag Christianson from the regional Risk Management Agency (RMA) office in Minneapolis joined us to review the available policies for these crops. We compared and contrasted single crop policies and whole farm revenue policies so farmers could make informed decisions about what crop insurance option would work best for their small grains.

Individual Crop Plans:

Individual crop plans insure a farmer’s yield or revenue on one product, such as oats. If that farmer produces corn, soybeans and oats and chose to insure through single crop policies, they would have three policies – one for corn, one for soybeans and one for oats. Within individual policies there are three different types of insurance that you can purchase, which I’ll list so it’s easier to read:

  1. Yield Protection Plan – Policy is based on 3-10 most recent years of actual production history on your farm of the crop in question. Then loss claims are based off of production levels or yields. Loss payments are your production shortfall multiplied by your projected price for the crop.
  2. Revenue protection plan – Policy is also based on 3-10 years of production history, but compensates for price drops rather than yield drops. The price secured by the policy for the product is determined using spring projections and actual harvest prices.
  3. Area risk protection plan – For this plan, the RMA assesses yields over a whole area and when they drop below a certain threshold everyone in the area with this policy receives a payment – whether or not the farmer personally has suffered substantial yield losses.

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“Give ’em some grass, water, and salt,” says Russ Wischover, “And cash the check at the end of the year. That’s my kind of livestock!” Russ, who farms in in Bedford, just north of the Missouri border, has converted his farm into pastureland over the last six years. He’s a proponent of using very little infrastructure and raises livestock best suited to his extensive farming management.

Russ purchased his farm in 2007 and at that time it was partly cropped by a tenant farmer and partly in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). When Russ permanently moved to the farm, the fields weren’t planted back to corn or soybeans and he started seeing grasses come up in the bare areas. Feeding purchased hay and bale-grazing “really woke the ground up” to the extent that desirable perennial species became prevalent. Grazing the former CRP ground helped also helped revive his land, and now fifty species of native prairie plants can be identified on his farm.

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Murray Grey cattle graze in pastures that used to be crop ground.

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We have the second video presentation up from last month’s conference – “Rotationally Raised: Making Small Grains Work”. This presentation is by South Dakota farmer Lee Brockmueller, who presented about how small grains benefit his crops, bottom line and livestock. His presentations cover all the basics of raising both winter wheat and oats, from variety selection all the way through harvest and marketing.

In case you missed our the video of the conference we released, of Dr. Pete Lammers of University of Wisconsin-Platteville talking about feeding small grains to livestock, here it is:

You can find PDFs of all of the presentations on our small grains page.

Did you know that PFI has a podcast?

Our first season just wrapped up – our first podcast is called On-Farm: Conversations with Practical Farmers – and we have 17 episodes available. Basically, these episodes are a 45 min – 1 hour conversation between me and a PFI member. This year, we focused on people who hosted field days, so if you missed a field day that you wish you hadn’t missed, you might be able to find a pretty in-depth conversation with the host on the podcast.

But let’s take a step back. Do you listen to podcasts? Have you heard a lot about them but never really thought they were for you? Ok well if you’re in that boat, and like listening to the radio, you should probably get into podcasts. You can listen to pretty much any radio show for free in podcast form at any time.
Also, you can listen to many, many more podcasts that aren’t available on the radio. Like ours. (Ok, you could actually listen to our podcast on the radio on KHOI 89.1 FM in Ames and Story City on Saturday mornings at 9 AM, but we’re done with new episodes for the year).

How to Listen to Podcasts

Don’t have a smartphone? You can still listen – go to our podcast page, practicalfarmers.org/podcasts, and you can listen to individual episodes there.
Do you have a smart phone? If so, then the process is easy.

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For those who missed the field day on soil regeneration hosted by Chris & Janenne Teachout near Shenandoah on Aug. 29, or for those who want to re-acquaint themselves with some of it, check out the “highlight reel” we’ve compiled below. The video features Chris, as well as Dr. Jill Clapperton, discussing cover crop practices and benefits to soil health.

Find more images from this excellent field day below.

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In mid-August, 60 people visited Lost Lake Farm to learn about one of Iowa’s newest dairies. Kevin and Ranae Dietzel built a milking parlor and cheesery in 2016 – where 21 cows are milked and where that milk is turned into artisan cheese.  “We make cheese to add value to milk on the farm,” said Kevin, who explained that adding value is necessary to make this small-scale, grass-fed operation profitable.

Kevin got his start making cheese when he and Ranae raised one dairy cow that produced far too much milk than they could drink. Kevin experimented at home, which lead him to take cheese-making courses in Vermont and Wisconsin, fueling his dream of becoming a dairy farmer. Eventually, Kevin and Ranae found a farm outside of Jewell, IA to establish their dairy.

Lost Lake Farm is named after Lake Cairo, which was a 1,500 acre lake that was drained at the turn of the century to turn into agriculture land. The farm is situated around the ancient lake bed, which is comprised of Blue Earth soil and contains high amounts of carbon. This land once was a reed-collecting route and campground for the Meskwaki Indians.

Kevin, Ranae, Sterling and Scarlett Dietzel stand in front of their cheesery door at Lost Lake Farm in Jewell, Iowa.

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On August 17, nearly 80 people gathered in Ames to attend our first conference focused exclusively on small grains. We opened with lunch and a keynote from Don Halcomb, the chairman of the Kentucky Small Grain Promotion Council, sharing the history of how growers in Kentucky came together to create a small grains association and a wheat checkoff. Then, twelve speakers gave hour-long presentations on all things small grains – from selecting varieties to management to the use of small grains for animal feed or milling for human consumption. The day concluded with a buyers and sellers reception where small grains buyers from six companies mingled with farmers and answered questions about their market specifications.

We were fortunate to take video of several of the sessions at the conference and have just published our first one, Pete Lammers’s session on feeding small grains in livestock rations.  “You can feed small grains to your livestock,” Pete said, “they won’t die.” In the video, he covers current research on outcomes of feeding small grains to pigs, poultry, horses and ruminant animals and optimal inclusion rates in rations.

We’ll be releasing more videos of sessions at the small grains conference in the weeks to come, so check in on our youtube page to stay up to date with the latest releases.

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For the final episode of the first season of On-Farm, we visited the farm of Maria and Ron Rosmann of Rosmann Family Farms near Harlan. The Rosmanns have been instrumental in many of the most important agricultural movements of the last 30 years: They were pioneers in organic livestock and row crops, and were among the core of farm families that helped Practical Farmers of Iowa get off the ground in the mid 1980s.

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On today’s show, we’ll talk about the history of their farm, their upcoming field day on September 9th, organic row crop and hog production, and the next generation – all three of their sons are working in agriculture, two of them on the family farm. You can check out a short video about their upcoming field day: https://youtu.be/zFtYCY2Ut7k  – or learn more in this press release.

Practical Farmers of Iowa is proud of this statistic: 72% of our members farm or aspire to farm in the near future. This is an important number, because as an organization we believe that farmers are the experts, and should set and lead organizational priorities.

However, the remaining 28% of members who don’t farm nor aspire to are also important to our organization: they buy member farmers’ products, they advocate for farm systems they believe in, they rent to farmers, and they support farmers and farming systems in their professional roles. One non-farmer working to improve agriculture in Iowa is Sarah Kielly. Read on to hear her perspective and contributions to farming in Iowa. Thanks, Sarah and other non-farmers for your important role in shaping our food and farm systems!

Sarah Kielly

Sarah Kielly

I am a non-farmer.  Growing up, I was exposed to life on the farm through my grandparents, who raised hogs and grew row crops.  My grandmother taught me about gardening and I always looked forward to the fresh produce every summer, which amazingly tasted different than buying it from the grocery store.  It wasn’t until I was older that I really began to appreciate the importance, simplicity, and reward of growing my own food.

My name is Sarah Kielly and I am the Local Foods Coordinator for Buchanan County ISU Extension and Outreach. Working in this role, I draw on this personal connection to strengthen our local food system, which is critical for our local economies.  Without supporting our close friends and neighbors and keeping our dollars in the community, our thriving towns and cities would not survive.  We need to be conscious of what we are buying, where our money is going and who it is supporting.

Through the farmers market, schools, and businesses in Buchanan County I work with producers and consumers, as it is vital to continue to grow agriculture in Iowa toward a more sustainable future. Many kids are not exposed to gardening or even the concept that their food comes from soil and just not the grocery store. It is imperative that they are taught at a young age about our food system and their impact on it.

I challenge you to make one small step toward supporting your local food system, such as buying local milk, beef, or eggs.  Even visiting a farmers market once a month is a great first step!  Non-farmers like me are just as important as the people who grow our food.  We all need to continue to work together to advocate and keep agriculture in our state moving toward a sustainable and great future, all while supporting our local economies and neighbors.

–Sarah Kielly

Is it possible to “accidentally” start a business? If you ask Jan Libbey, co-founder of North Iowa Fresh, the answer is “yes”. Jan is the first person to admit that she wears several hats. In fact, it was while she was wearing her Healthy Harvest of North Iowa hat that the conversation began about looking at new markets for locally grown produce.

Those conversations turned to commitment and led to the realization from someone in the founding group, “Sounds like we are starting a business”, and so they did. North Iowa Fresh (NIF) became incorporated in 2014 as an aggregator and online marketplace for locally grown and produced food. Jan admits, “It hasn’t all been rosy. There are a lot of questions and a lot of work to do.” But, North Iowa Fresh seems to be on the right track. They have grown from 6 to 13 producers and are growing their customer base as well.

As with many successful business ventures, it takes partnerships to make it all work. Here is how the process looks on paper…

Producers  ⇒  Broker  ⇒  Aggregator  ⇒ Distributor  ⇒ Eat!

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