Published Aug 1, 2014

No man is an island

By Sally Worley

And neither is an organization like Practical Farmers

PFI’s staff and 2,500 members regularly work with a variety of partners to strengthen farms and communities through farmer-led investigation and information sharing. I asked staff to name the organizations they work with—and received a list of 100-plus groups. Add to these the 100 supporters who sponsor our field days and annual conference (including the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture), and we are part of quite a community.

Here are just a few of these partnerships.

Practical Farmers is teaming up August 18-22 with the Iowa Beef Center, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Iowa Cattlemen’s Association for a mega event with the popular grazier Jim Gerrish. (Kudos to Joe Sellers, Extension beef specialist and PFI member, for all of his work on this event.) The holistic management trainings we put on with the Land Stewardship Project and Holistic Management International earlier this year were other examples of working together to bring high quality programming to our livestock producers.

Perhaps our closest collaboration of all is with the Iowa Learning Farms, our partner for many cover crop field days and more. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach agents across the state also are key collaborators on our cover crop research projects and outreach events. Cover crop researcher Tom Kaspar of the USDA National Institute for Agriculture and the Environment (I still like their old name, the Soil Tilth Lab) is such a good partner that we recently gave him a bottle of whiskey made with Iowa rye to thank him.

Yet other partners are pilots Ralph Storm, Wes Sharp, Klinkenborg Air and more. We need to work with business people to address barriers to planting more cover crops: One of those barriers is that cover crop seed needs to go on fields during crunch time for farmers; flying on that cover crop is one solution.

The ability of many of our members to farm is being compromised by pesticide drift. These farmers asked PFI to help, and we then went to the experts, the Pesticide Action Network (PAN). PAN is helping farmers set up drift monitors on their farms so they can document the damage. The group has also provided us with excellent information on the importance of pollinator habitat and much more. Iowa Department of Agriculture  and Iowa Farmers Union also are partnering with us to address pesticide drift.

Practical Farmers has the nation’s largest savings match program for beginning farmers, but there are a number of groups giving this idea a go, and we are hooked in with them in a partnership led by California FarmLink. Another amazing partnership: Lincoln Savings Bank, where participants in our Savings Incentive Program have their savings accounts and Practical Farmers keeps their match money until the beginners complete the program. Lincoln Savings Bank has not only given us a good interest rate but has provided financial expertise to our beginning farmers as well. Twenty other business experts have provide feedback to our beginning farmers on their business plans.

This summer, a group of talented AmeriCorps employees have landed on PFI farms to audit energy efficiencies of farm buildings. Another of our friends, Center for Energy and Environmental Education at the University of Northern Iowa has arranged for and is documenting what these young experts find.

Many PFI members have been willing to share the steps they’ve taken to plan for the future of their farms and businesses. We’re fortunate to have many experts provide helpful feedback to those farm families, including the Beginning Farmer Center (John Baker), Value Added Extension at Iowa State (Margaret Smith) and Principal Financial Group (Landis Wiley).

Practical Farmers is part of the best coalitions: The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). Through NSAC, Practical Farmers gets extensive analyses on federal farm policy; NSAC gets feedback on what will work outside of the Beltway. We work closely with the National Wildlife Federation similarly by sharing farmer experiences and benefiting from NWF’s important work on reducing the barriers surrounding cover crops at the federal level. On the state level, Practical Farmers has partnered with Conservation Districts of Iowa to help soil and water conservation district commissioners advocate for better land stewardship and state and federal employees too through our work with the Iowa NRCS and IDALS Water Quality Initiative.

Whew! I could go on and on. Thank you to all of our partners! We couldn’t accomplish what we do without you.