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.

Thank you to everyone who came to our 2017 annual conference! It’s always wonderful to see so many familiar and new faces each year.

With so many members coming from all across Iowa (and beyond!), it’s also a perfect opportunity to capture more photos of the many faces that make up Practical Farmers of Iowa.

In this week’s member spotlight, we continue our theme of featuring some of the PFI members who helped make this year’s conference another great success.

Michael Christl
Member since 2015
Des Moines, IA

Michael is an aspiring farmer who grew up in the state of Nevada and has been living in the Des Moines area for the past couple of years. He learned about Practical Farmers of Iowa while attending the 2015 Fall Farm Cruise featuring Practical Farmers member farms, such as The Berry Patch, Cory Family Farm and Seven Pines Farm in the Polk and Story county areas.

Michael currently works as market coordinator for Drake Neighborhood Farmers Market — but he is interested in grass-fed and niche livestock.

Through PFI’s Labor4Learning program, Michael was hired by Cory Family Farm, where he worked as a trainee for most of 2016. Michael said that working for the Cory family was “an invaluable experience, and they’ll continue to be [his] mentors forever.” Continue reading

If I am being honest, I groan and roll my eyes a bit when a survey comes my way. At least I used to.

Now that I have been behind the scenes and on the team responsible for our 2017 PFI Member Survey, I have a different perspective. I understand the importance of gathering this information. We really use it. I have been at Practical Farmers for close to a year now. I have lost track of the amount of times we have discussed an event or a programming change and the first question from the PFI team is, “Is this what our members want?” Every time. Without fail.

Since our office is a bit short on crystal balls, we rely on our interactions with our membership to understand what they want, and what they need. We gather that information in many ways; informally through phone calls or chats between annual conference sessions, and formally through discussion lists, program advisory teams, and event evaluations. We also gather it every 3-4 years through our Member Survey. The last one was in 2013 and was a critical step in the development of our strategic plan. Now, as we prepare to update our strategic plan for 2018 and beyond, we once again look to our members for their leadership in determining our organizational path for the future and to evaluate how we have done in the past.

We want to thank all of you who have taken the time to complete the survey. For those of you who completed the survey by March 1, 2017…your name was entered into a random drawing to receive free PFI merchandise. We chose 25 winners from the bunch, and here they are! Continue reading

For farmers that grow small grains, the harvest is just the beginning. After harvesting the crop in July, the possibilities for cover crops to plant on that ground are endless. “The world is your oyster,” says Jon Bakehouse of Hastings. Because you can seed cover crops as early as July 1, there’s plenty of time for those plants to soak up the long, hot days.

Cover crops like radishes and turnips – which, in most years, would not provide much benefit planted in late fall between corn and soybeans – have time to develop large tubers and bust up compaction layers. There’s also time for legumes to fix plenty of nitrogen and forages to put on plenty of biomass. This gives livestock farmers the option to rest perennial pastures in order to graze them later in the fall or stockpile for winter, cutting back on hay costs. In this week’s episode, we talk with farmers who plant multi-species cover crop mixes in the summer for their cattle to graze.

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Time was when oats were included in the diet of nearly every single farm animal (aside from maybe the dogs and cats) raised in the state of Iowa. Cattle, dairy cows, horses, chickens, pigs and sheep all ate oats (and other small grains) at various stages of their lives. That time has now past, of course, on most farms. But for many farmers, small grains still make up an important component of the livestock feed ration. On this week’s episode, we hear from several members around the state about how they include small grains in their livestock feed.

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The 9th annual Beginning Farmer Retreat took place on February 10th and 11th at Ewalu Retreat Center in Strawberry Point. Seventeen aspiring and beginning farmers came together to build their peer network and strengthen the financial position of their newborn operations. These farmers run a variety of operations, everything from sweet corn and vegetables to pasture raised livestock.

Jenny Quiner meeting with Ryan Marcus to review her farm's financial plan.

Jenny Quiner meeting with Ryan Marcus to review her farm’s financial plan, while Matt Lansing (left) and Jon Yagla (right) chat.

Starting the retreat out Friday afternoon was Cindy Mensen, Ryan Marcus and Sarah Bohnsack of the Farm Service Agency. Together these three led the farmers in learning more about the programs that are available to beginning farmers through the Farm Service Agency. Ryan and Sarah shared tips for how to prepare when meeting with a lender along with key financials to prepare before your visit. They helped the farmers develop a better understanding of what lenders and investors are looking at in a beginning farmer’s balance sheet.

Mark Gingrich and Pete Kerns sharing their goals with each other.

Mark Gingrich and Pete Kerns sharing their goals with each other.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent in two groups. One group focused more on financials, digging deeper into the burning questions they had as they started to draft their business plans. The rest of the group met with Margaret Smith from Iowa State University to dig deeper into their goals. Using the “SMART” method they created goals and mapped out a path to accomplish them. They also discovered that the fireplace room in the basement was quite chilly without a fire.
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Who are the decision-makers on your farm? How well do you communicate with them?

What is the biggest challenge you face on your farm? What is the root cause of that problem?

Is there an issue causing a “log jam” to your farm’s success?

How much profit are you planning to make on your farm? Is 40 percent net attainable? Why not?

Questions like these served as jumping off points for discussion during the two-day Advanced Financial Planning Workshop for fruit and vegetable farmers led by Cindy Dvergsten of Holistic Management International. The workshop left accounting and farm recordkeeping aside, instead focusing on giving farmers a holistic framework with which to evaluate farm decisions, form a financial plan to sustain their farm, and monitor the impact of their implementation over time.

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Today I’d like to introduce you to two farmers: Jenny Quiner and Dusty Farnsworth. Jenny runs a ¼ acre urban vegetable farm in Des Moines while Dusty farms several hundred acres of organic and conventional row crops with integrated hogs and cattle. What do these two have in common besides their membership in Practical Farmers of Iowa? They both use the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to develop infrastructure and implement environmental protection measures on their farms.

EQIP logo

EQIP is a federal cost-share program for farmers who implement any one (or more!) of  a large list of approved practices. Though EQIP applications are accepted on a continuous basis, March 17, 2017 is the deadline to submit mid-year 2017 applications for timely response. In 2016, 122 approved practices included projects such as installing windbreaks, bioreactors, and pollinator habitat or writing grazing and nutrient management plans. Approved practices are determined on a county by county basis depending on the environmental and conservation needs of the area. This map shows the 2017 lists of approved practices by clicking through for each county.

All approved practices qualify for 50% cost share, but certain factors such as historically under-served farmer status and/or alignment with federal initiative policies cause the cost-share rate to climb to a maximum of 90% (specifics on page 1 of this document). Though formulated as a percent, the payment is actually a flat rate based on the cost of implementing the practice in your area.

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We recorded a handful of presentations at last month’s annual conference, and now they’re available on our YouTube channel. We’ll have a handful more posted in the coming weeks. You can find the PDFs of these presentations on our annual conference multimedia page.

Keynote – “Pass It On” – PFI members Susan Jutz of Iowa City, Dan Wilson of Paullina and Vic Madsen of Audubon give advice to younger farmers, and share stories from their years of farming experience.

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Marketing can be challenging for any crop, especially when commodity prices are low. But for small grains, the number of elevators that will even have bids out for most small grains is limited. Because Iowa farmers recognize the benefits of adding a third crop to their farm, they are finding both traditional markets and on-farm uses for the crops. On this week’s episode, PFI farmers talk about those challenges and opportunities marketing small grains.

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Thank you to everyone who came to our 2017 annual conference! It’s always wonderful to see so many familiar and new faces each year.

With so many members coming from all across Iowa (and beyond!), it’s also a perfect opportunity to capture more photos of the many faces that make up Practical Farmers of Iowa.

In this week’s member spotlight, we continue our theme of featuring some of the PFI members who helped make this year’s conference another great success.

Jerry Peckumn (right)
Peckumn Farm
Member since 2004
Jefferson, IA

Jerry farms with his sons near Jefferson, raising row crops, cover crops and hay on about 1,900 acres. He cuts hay on part of the farm, leaving the rest for wildlife, and also maintains several areas of native prairie and forage species.

Jerry uses many conservation techniques to protect his soils and water resources on his farm, and is a vocal advocate for protecting Iowa’s soil and water quality.

In addition to serving as board president for Iowa Rivers Revival (read more about his activity with IRR here), he has participated in several Washington D.C. fly-ins organized by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (of which Practical Farmers is a member) to advocate for effective federal agriculture and conservation policies.

In 2015, Jerry received the Center for Rural Affairs’ Citizen Award for his efforts to advance policies that benefit farm families and rural communities.

With his son, Tom, Jerry also owns Peckumn Real Estate, which specializes in both residential and farmland sales.

In 2012, Jerry helped lead a PFI farminar on tax preparation for farmers. Click here to listen to or download the audio of that farminar — just in time for tax season!