Mechanics of a Diversified Farm Field Day
Eric and Ann Franzenburg opened their farm up to 60 friends Sunday, September 18. They discussed how they have diversified to increase profitability and create a resilient farm. Read more about their operation in last winter’s newsletter here.
The rain kept people from the Regi obstacle course Eric had set up in the field, but didn’t keep people from learning about their high tunnel, greenhouses, machinery, and GAP certification.
Eric Nordschow from Windridge Implements brought some additional machinery to demonstrate some options available for specialty crop farmers.
Here are a few notes from the field day:
Eric and Ann have insulated their side by side greenhouses underground to hold in heat that is introduced subsoil through water lines. Read more about their system here. They use a corn boiler to provide heat to the greenhouse. When the system was installed, corn was selling for $3.50/bushel. This year it will likely sell for almost $7/bushel. Add the sweat equity is requires to fill the boiler daily, and Eric is not convinced that corn is the most efficient or cost-effective product to use in his system: “Industry is just starting to explore alternative energy options. Hopefully we will see some good innovations.” When Eric visited the manufacture of his boiler, Year-a-Round Corporation, in Mankato, MN, they were burning chipped tires in their heaters. He is interested in seeing more energy-dense crops pelletized for use in his corn boiler.
I sat in on the GAP discussion, so missed the machinery discussion. If you want to know more about farm machinery shown in these photos, you’ll have to ask Eric Franzenburg, Eric Nordschow from Windridge Implements, or any of the other folks shown in the pictures.
Ann discussed the process they went through last fall to become GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certified. She summarized some pros and cons of the process:
- It helps you assess your food safety plan and procedures.
- It formalizes training for employees and family.
- It makes you think carefully about why you do what you do.
- It holds you accountable for the products you introduce into the market.
- It creates a simple way to track items in case of a recall.
- It is expensive: the farm has to pay for the certifier to make at least two farm visits a year including travel, and there are no certifiers in Iowa currently.
- The process is currently set up to certify by crop. Ann and Eric only got certified for grape tomatoes. Certifiers need to see the actual harvest of each crop to be certified, and have a GAP plan for each. This is laborious and expensive.
- The new USDA Food Safety Modernization Act requires farms to have written food safety plans. The Tester Amendment exempts farms with less than $500,000 in revenue from this requirement. However, some aggregators and wholesalers are requiring GAP certification for all producers who sell to them.
- Requirement discrepancies between certifiers: USDA requirements differ from Primus requirements, a certifier currently working with some Iowa businesses. This is causing minor confusion and differences in food safety plans.
Ann and Eric are not going to re-certify next year because their markets don’t currently require GAP certification. Ann does feel she learned a lot of practical lessons during the process, and has an implementable food safety plan the farm will continue to utilize.
Different entities in Iowa are working to getting GAP requirements more in line with small producers. For instance, they are working on whole farm certification rather than a per crop certification. They are working to change the requirement to see each crop harvested to crop families (i.e. bunching greens, roots, etc.). They are also training people in Iowa to be GAP auditors, so farms won’t have to pay for an out of state certification visit. Some of these changes to improve the certification process may have already taken place.
Ann recommends all farms create and adopt a food safety plan. Here is her plan, as well some of her farm logs. She adapted these from a template she received from USDA.
- Pheasant Run Farm GAP plan
- Pest-Rodent Control Log
- Packing Room and Cooler Cleaning Log
- Mock Traceback Log
- Illness-Injury Reporting Log
- Manure Applications log
- How to Create a Lot Number
- First Aid Kit Monitoring log
- Fence and Field Inspection Log
- Cooler Temperature Log
Here is a link to blank templates:
Ann shared a few tips for recordkeeping components of the plan:
- Don’t put it in the plan, unless you want to do it (if the plan says you will clean the bathroom daily, and you end up cleaning it twice a week, you will not be complying with your plan).
- Only report what you’ve done. Don’t check off future activities (again with the bathroom: “I know I clean the bathroom every Wednesday, so I’ll go ahead and check all Wednesdays for October.”
- If you use examples from the template, tweak them to conform to the realities of your farm.
The field day wrapped up with a wonderful local dinner. Ann and Eric’s daughter Ellen crafted some delicious peanut butter bars for dessert. She promised to share the recipe, so if you were there and want it, send me an email!