Published Apr 26, 2013

Net $6,400 an Acre?

By Teresa Opheim

If you farm corn and beans and are new to Practical Farmers, you may be a little surprised to learn that vegetable farmers are a vibrant part of our membership base.

And that’s a good thing: With land prices the way they are, farming enterprises that can be profitable on a smaller number of acres are a necessity.

Practical Farmers’ vegetable farmers are dead serious about farming. Their model involves intensive production, a lot of physical labor, and often a wide variety of crops sold direct to consumer. Their farms are small in acreage but big in profits per acre. One farmer told me today that he nets $6,400 per acre with his vegetable operation.

Practical Farmers’ goals are the same for our fruit and vegetable producers as they are for our crop and livestock producers: That their enterprises be profitable, as well as protect the environment and enhance local communities.

Our fruit and vegetable farmers are eager to learn from and share with all of the other types of farmers in our membership. I asked them what they would most like corn and bean farmers to know. Here are some of their responses:
1. Their operations are not “hobby farms” but their livelihood.
2. Most diversified vegetable growers target a gross income per acre in excess of $15,000. “In our case, we try to hit $20,000 an acre in value,” reports Rob Faux of Genuine Faux Farm.
3. Most pride themselves on being “farmers” (rather than “gardeners”, as they are growing for profit)
4. Most stagger plantings and are harvesting product much of the year
5. They are particularly susceptible to loss of livelihood from direct chemical spraying and spray drift.

Rob Faux again: “Most of the popular pesticides, herbicides and fungicides used in corn/soybean operations are not intended for, and are thus not rated for, application on most produce intended for direct human consumption. Our fears regarding pesticide drift and misapplication are founded as much on the potential loss of a crop as your fear of loss to pests, weeds or fungus.”

I for one think the increase in vegetable producers in Iowa is one of the most welcome trends in Iowa agriculture. The segment is helping us achieve the Practical Farmers’ vision:
• Families earning a good living
• Wholesome food
• Hard honest work
• Good stewardship
• Diversity on the Iowa landscape.