Research and Media Coordinator
Nick joined PFI in December of 2014. He writes about PFI members and issues important to them in the ag media, primarily focusing on diversified crop rotations, cover crops and integrated crop/livestock systems; and assists with all aspects of the Cooperators’ Program. He also produces PFI’s videos and manages the YouTube channel, and hosts and produces On-Farm: Conversations with Practical Farmers, PFI’s podcast.
He grew up in rural southeast Iowa, outside of Wapello. He has a BA degree from the University of Iowa in 2008, where he majored in Journalism and English, and an MS degree from Iowa State University in 2011, where he majored in Sustainable Agriculture. His research interests focused on soil erosion, water quality, and the use of conservation practices.
From 2012-2013, Nick worked for a non-profit organization in rural Ecuador, where he worked with farmers, interns, and volunteers on rural community development projects. Before joining PFI, Nick worked as the kitchen manager at Cafe Beaudelaire in Ames.
This week, On-Farm is back on the road and we visited the farm of Russ Wischover – Windswept Acres – right on the Missouri border in south west Iowa. Several years ago, Russ retired from his job as a herdsman at the University of Illinois’s swine research farm and bought a farm near Bedford. Since then, he’s converted the ground to multi-species perennial pasture and prairie for his St. Croix sheep, Murray Gray cattle and draft horses to graze. Although he’s spent a lifetime planning his farm and learning about animals, he’s always thinking about how what he’s learned starting this farm could be helpful to beginning farmers.
On the show we talk about that, and also about his August 21st field day focused on multi-species grazing, prairie and pasture establishment, fencing and watering systems, livestock breeds for grass-finishing cattle and sheep, and much, much more. Russ says that one of the most important influences of his life has been hearing Fred Provenza talk – you can find all kinds of material from a three-day workshop Dr. Provenza led last year that PFI hosted on our livestock page.
This week on the show, On-Farm was back on the road, this time stopping at Joia Food Farm near Charles City to talk to PFI Board Vice President Wendy Johnson. Wendy and her husband Johnny own and operate the farm, where they raise a little of everything, from chickens and turkeys to pigs and sheep to organic row crops, and diversity is a tenet of their farm operation. They not only have a diversity of crops and livestock, but they feed their animals diverse feeds.
On August 3rd, Wendy and Johnny will be hosting a field day on their farm focused on conservation – addressing both in-field issues like cover crops and “farmed potholes” (low lying wet areas) – and edge-of-field conservation practices, like grassed waterways and riparian buffers. With all of these topics, they we will discuss how farmers can find a balance between environmental and economic goals.
Have you ever wondered how they grow those giant veggies at the state fair? This week on the show, we have Marty Schnicker of Schnicker Specialities, who has your answers. Marty, who farms with his wife Mary near Mt. Pleasant in southeast Iowa, knows how to grow really big vegetables. He holds the Iowa State Record for heaviest watermelon grown, tipping the scales at 209 lbs. But watermelons aren’t the only thing – they grow big everythings from cabbage to cantaloupe.
On July 15, they’ll be hosting a field day on their farm, where they will lead a tour of their giant high tunnel, offer production and management tips and answer questions. On the show, we’ll find out how these giant vegetables are grown and how big (but maybe not state record big) vegetables sell well at the farmers’s market.
This week on the show, Scott Ausborn stopped by the KHOI studios. Scott farms with his parents, Jack and Linda, where they raise corn, soybeans, hay and pasture as well as sheep and cattle. He also works for Blue River Hybrids, an organic seed company based in Ames, and he serves as board president for the Iowa Organic Association. Scott and his family are currently transitioning some of their farm to organic, and on the show we talk about that, from why they decided to transition to how the process works.
On July 11th, Scott and his parents will host a field day on their farm near Ida Grove in north central Iowa. The field day, a partnership between Practical Farmers of Iowa and Iowa Organic Association, will focus on transitioning a row crop farm to organic production. To RSVP or learn more information about the field day, check out the press release.
In case you aren’t able to make it to the Frantzen Farm tomorrow to learn about the ways they are addressing giant ragweed on their farm, check out this video of the – “Ragweed Roundtable” – a conference session Tom led at the PFI conference in January. He gives a description of his farm, the ways he has battled ragweed in the past and some of his new plans for the future. For more on Tom Frantzen, check out my podcast interview with him.
This week on the show, On-Farm was on the road – I traveled to Frantzen Farm in northern Chickasaw County to talk to Tom Frantzen. He and his wife Irene run a diversified organic farm where they raise organic hogs, cattle, corn, soybeans, hay and small grains. They have been members of Practical Farmers of Iowa since the beginning, and some of our most enthusiastic supporters. In the interview, Tom says he and Irene can’t imagine a world without PFI. I think most PFI members would agree, and would also agree that the reverse is true: we can’t imagine a PFI without the Frantzens.
The Frantzens will be hosting a field day on their farm on June 29 from 2-5 p.m. and they will be talking about hybrid rye and hogs, and also about the perennial grain crop Kernza – developed by the Land Institute in Kansas – which Tom has a one acre test plot of on his farm. For more information, check out this news release on their field day or see this sneak peek video of Tom talking about the field day and showing his hybrid rye.
On this show, we talk a little about the history of PFI, the future of Frantzen Farm and farm transitions in general, but mainly about what is happening on the farm now. Tom says that giant ragweed has been a bigger problem on his organic farm than all the other weeds put together and has been searching for a solution for years. He thinks he has found one in hybrid rye, a recently developed variety of cereal rye, which yields better and is less susceptible to disease – particularly to ergot, which is a toxin when feeding the grain. One of the big issues with raising rye or other small grains is markets. Tom hopes to get around that by feeding the rye grain to his organic hogs – because the hybrid rye shouldn’t have issues with ergot toxins, and is currently conducting on-farm research on that subject. We also talk about the many additional benefits of the hybrid rye from soil to water to wildlife habitat.
Jon Yagla of The Millet Seed Farm in Iowa City was our guest this week on the show. Jon runs this urban farm with his partner Wren Almitra in the Longfellow Historic Neighborhood of Iowa City. The farm consists primarily of a series of vegetable beds in yards in the neighborhood making up about a fifth of an acre. On that ground, the farm produces food for a 20-person CSA. On the show, we talk about how Jon got started farming; how he manages to cram so many veggies in so little space; using yard waste, city compost and cover crops for fertility; no-till production; Practical Farmers’ Savings Incentive Program and his favorite type of family of veggies to grow, alliums (including the Egyptian walking onion).
On June 24, Jon and Wren will host a field day at their farm focused on urban vegetable production, reducing both living and production costs, no-till production, their CSA and much more. You can RSVP and learn more about their field day here.
Phil Specht of Pearlmaker Holsteins was our guest this week on the show. Phil farms with his wife Sharon near MacGregor in northeast Iowa. He’s been running a grass-based, rotationally grazed dairy in the hills of Clayton County since the 1970s, and conservation has always been important to him. In 2013, his brother Dan passed away in a farm accident, and Dan’s friend Mary Damm purchased Dan’s farm. Since then, Phil and Mary have been conducting on-farm research on the links between pasture management, plant and soil diversity and grassland birds. On the show, we range from the practical to the esoteric – talking with Phil about the politics of conservation, grazing management, Facebook poetry, ways of knowing and much more.
Maggie McQuown and Steve Turman of Resilient Farms were our guests on the show this week. Maggie and Steve moved to the their farm near Red Oak in southwest Iowa where they “retired” about five years ago. Since then, they’ve been working to improve the resilience of the farm, which has been in Maggie’s family for more than a century. On the show, we talk about the different conservation practices they’re using to improve soil and water quality; working with farm operators on conservation efforts; farm transitions to future generations; and their newly built, ultra-efficient Passivhaus.
Maggie and Steve wrote a legacy letter published in the new book “The Future of Family Farms: Practical Farmers’ Legacy Letter Project” edited by Teresa Opheim. You can find that letter in Teresa’s blog From “Pleasant Prospects” to “Resilient Farms”: Maggie McQuown and Steve Turman on their farm legacy.
On June 15, Maggie and Steve will be hosting a field day focused on some of the conservation practices they’ve put in place on their farm. You can learn more about their field day here.
This week on On-Farm is Deb Finch of Finch Livestock. Deb farms with her husband Eric near Marshalltown in east-central Iowa, where they raise meat goats for direct to consumer sales. They began raising goats a little more than 15 years ago. On the show, I talk with Deb about all things goats – from feed to fencing to health to markets, and her upcoming field day.
One of the biggest problems goat owners face is that the animals are highly susceptible to parasites. In the past, when goat owners had problems with parasites, they treated them by administering de-wormer to the entire herd. But Deb and many other goat farmers have moved toward only treating animals they know to be infected, largely in an effort slow resistance to de-wormers. Using the FAMACHA test and doing fecal eggs counts are two ways that goat owners can use to determine which animals need to be dewormed.
On June 27, Deb and Eric will host a two-part event on their farm that will cover those and many other topics. The morning portion — a pre-field day workshop — will be led by Dr. Paul Plummer, a veterinarian at Iowa State University (and goat owner). He will lead a two-hour, hands-on FAMACHA training. The FAMACHA test allows goat owners to assess parasite loads by examining goats’ eyelids. The field day will begin after lunch, where Dr. Plummer will give a lesson on parasite management, and Deb will talk about all different aspects of raising goats while leading a tour of her pastures.
Stay tuned to Practical News each week for new episodes! You can find out more information about On-Farm at practicalfarmers.org/podcasts.