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Rotationally Raised Video Series
Over the past few years, more and more farmers have been growing small grains again, and even more want to find ways to grow them on their farm. At Practical Farmers of Iowa, we’ve been trying to help with that process. Starting with the first episode “Small Grains: A Revival” – you can learn more about small grains, from the benefits of adding diversity to your crop rotations to growing, harvesting and marketing the crops.
Like everything else we do, this series is farmer-led. The videos are a result of extensive interviews with PFI farmers – young and old, organic and conventional, and from every corner of the state. We also talked with a couple scientists at Iowa State who are avid PFI supporters and focus their careers on diversified rotations and small grains research.
We know that there are two big barriers to adding a third crop like small grains to corn and soybean rotations: markets and knowledge about growing the crops.Our members have hosted field days, led workshops and conference sessions, and presented at farminars.
Science can do more than develop new technology to improve crop productivity. It can also teach us lessons that can enable us to save money. By adding additional crops — and in some cases livestock — to their farming operations, many farmers across the state have been able to reduce the amount of purchased inputs they rely on. With decreased reliance on purchased inputs comes independence. For many PFI members, that ability to independently make decisions about their farms and lives is a big reason why they’re farmers. Episode 2 of Rotationally Raised, “Freedom from Inputs,” goes to the roots of Practical Farmers of Iowa – conducting on-farm research to reduce input costs and take better care of our land and communities.
Once you decide to grow small grains on your farm, you have a few decisions to make: what species will I grow? Oats, wheat, barley, rye, triticale? And how should they fit into your rotation? Should they follow corn or soybeans? And once I choose a small grain, what variety should I grow? In this episode of Rotationally Raised, “What to Plant: Where and Why” we hear from PFI members around the state on how small grains fit into their crop rotation and how to choose a variety that works for your farm.
Once you decide where small grains fit best into your rotation and choose a variety, it’s time to plant. Planting population is one of the most important things for farmers new to small grains to think about. In Iowa, most farmers talk about small grains seeding rates in terms of “pounds per acre” or “bushels per acre.” However, the number of seeds in a given pound of grain can vary significantly in small grains, meaning that one bushel of oats may have quite a few more or less seeds than another.
With corn planters, uniformity in depth and spacing both within and between rows is a precise science. With small grains (at least in Iowa), equipment with that precision isn’t really available or affordable (we’re not talking about singulation in oats, for example). Most Iowa farmers are either using conventional or no-till drills, or broadcasting seed and then incorporating it. In this episode, we zero in on when to plant, how to deep to plant, and why having a firm seedbed is so important with small grains.
Pretty much all farmers that grow corn and soybeans can tell you what each of those crops looks like at V6. But do you know the growth stages of small grains? Just as with corn and soybeans, understanding the growth and development of oats, wheat, barley, rye or triticale is just as important when it comes to raising a successful crop. Knowing where a plant is along the growth curve will allow you to better able to manage fertility, disease, and ultimately know when it’s time to harvest. In this week’s episode of Rotationally Raised, Iowa State University graduate researcher David Weisberger walks us through the growth stages of the oat plant, and several PFI farmers talk about how they manage fertility and disease in their crops.
When it comes to small grains, Iowa farmers have many different opinions on the best time and method to harvest the crops. Unlike with corn and soybeans, there’s a choice to be made: should you swath/windrow or directly combine the small grains standing? Depending on the year, weather conditions and the equipment available on-farm, this may be a choice, or only one of the two options may be available. In this episode of Rotationally Raised, PFI members weigh in on this, as well as harvest timing and how to fine-tune your combine to more efficiently harvest small grains.
Because the markets for small grains require that farmers produce good yields, but also good grain quality, storage is particularly important. Fortunately, most farmers that raise corn and soybeans usually have the equipment and facilities on their farm to keep small grains in good condition after harvest. In this episode, PFI members share some of their experiences with small grains handling, cleaning and storage.
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 episode, PFI farmers talk about those challenges and opportunities marketing small grains.
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 episode, we hear from several members around the state about how they include small grains in their livestock feed.
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.
The first season of Rotationally Raised has come to a close. We hope you learned a lot about production, and that you’ve decided that small grains could work on your farm. That said, in this episode, we shift the focus a bit to include the bigger picture. Members of Practical Farmers of Iowa want to grow small grains again because they’re good for the farm, good for rural communities and good for our food system as a whole. In this final episode of the first season of Rotationally Raised, we explore how diversified crop rotation could play a big role in making the agricultural supply chain – that provides us all with food, feed, fuel and fiber – more sustainable.
We’ve also created a podcast version of this series. Listen here or wherever you listen to podcasts.