Posts Tagged With: soil

Farmer Perspectives: Sustainability from a farmer’s perspective

By Kelsey Pagel, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer 

Kelsey and her husband, Matt, are part of his family’s farm near Wetmore, Kan. They are the third generation to contribute to the operation and raise corn, soybeans, wheat, cover crops, chicken and cattle. They are living their dreams as farmers and focus on holistic and sustainable management practices.

Chances are, you’ve seen “sustainably farmed” labels at your grocery store. Did you ever stop to wonder what that means? Like many confusing food labels, the definition is not universal. In fact, sustainability can mean different things from one farm to another.

For us, sustainability simply means affirmatively answering “can you keep doing what you’re doing long term?”

I currently live and work on our farm full time. It’s my family’s sole source of income. Above all, farming is a business — and very few businesses are sustainable if they aren’t also profitable.

On our operation, we see everything from a holistic viewpoint. We firmly believe each living thing on our farm is intimately interconnected. Our choice in one area affects several other things. For example, we feel like the soil is the heart of our operation. Without healthy soil, we can’t raise healthy products — crops or beef.

To achieve healthy soil, we need to have a living root in the ground as much of the year as possible. This helps prevent erosion on our land, and each plant gives organic matter back to the soil — helping the next one grow and flourish. We believe the soil needs the same things we, as humans, need: a diverse diet, shelter against the weather and a little stress.

As soon as a crop is harvested off the ground (by machine or by animals grazing), we rush to get seeds in the ground to start growing. This is the soil’s diverse diet. Plants can actually give back nutrients to the soil.

We are a no-till operation. That means we want the ground to have cover — we consider that the soil’s shelter. In our view, plain soil is open and exposed to the elements. The soil temperature in bare spots is much higher, which requires more water to grow plants. Exposed soil can rapidly lose water and nutrients to the air. Our no-till philosophy helps maintain cool, nutritious soil even during the peak of Kansas summers.

We also want to stress the soil a bit. It’s okay for the plant to have to work a little bit to stretch those roots to get water or fight off a few bugs. The process is similar to how exercise works for our own bodies: a little stress makes us healthier overall.

Our cattle are part of our system. They help the land in a number of ways. Cattle help graze cover crops — again, our soil’s shelter and diverse diet — and add back nutrients to the land through their manure. It’s a natural process that allows the animals to take what they need from pastures and return the favor to the plants.

Our holistic approach extends to our cattle herd as well. We intentionally own the cattle from their birth until harvest, which helps us minimize stress on the animals. We perform sonograms on our finishing calves to let us know the optimal time to harvest. It’s our hope that people can truly taste the generations of work put into our pastures, crops and cattle.

There are many definitions of “sustainable” and “holistic.” The simple truth is that these definitions must change depending on the specific opportunities. To us, this is what works for our bottom line, our land and our family.

Every day, we feel the desire and responsibility to continue and improve the farm we now operate. It’s not just grocery shoppers that want farms to be sustainable — our family wants the same thing. Our parents and grandparents want our farm to be sustainable. It’s the farm they started, and it’s our job to continue the tradition.

It’s not easy, but we do our best to continually learn about the latest science, the best practices and how we can implement new techniques into our operations.

Please feel free to ask any questions or follow our lives online on Facebook and Instagram (@SustainableBitesLLC) or Snapchat (@EverydayKelsey).

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Farmer Perspectives: More with Less

By Molly Drimmel, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer

Molly’s full-time job is a field agronomist. In this role, she helps farmers raise healthy crops. Her husband, David, joined her family’s farm near Wakarusa, Kan., in 2013. Together, they grow corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa, sorghum, chicken, beef cattle, pigs and goats.

These days, it seems like everyone is being asked to do more with less — fewer hours in the day, smaller budgets and less resources. Farming is no different. Today, producers are being tasked with increasing their yields while reducing their costs. To accomplish this goal, farmers must make every acre of ground more efficient as resources become more scarce. And, we’ve done it.

Year after year, our land yields more per acre. We’re feeding the world with fewer people, less land and reduced inputs. I’ve had a unique vantage point to see this change firsthand. I’m a researcher and have helped bring new technology to the market. In my job, I talk to farmers to understand what they are experiencing in their own fields. Plus, I work on my own family’s farm, and I’ve seen our technology change rapidly in my lifetime.

 

Better seed

Improved seed technology is one important way farmers have been able to produce more crops with the same amount of ground. I’ve headed up a corn research station in Western Kansas and a soybean research station in Eastern Kansas.

Across Kansas alone, there is a vast difference in growing conditions. At the research stations, we are able to experiment with the latest corn and soybean hybrids. Our focus is finding the perfect seed that could grow quickly, produce good yields, use less water and have good tolerance to important diseases. These benefits translate into reduced use of natural resources. Plus, it gives farmers greater flexibility in planting crops, which helps provide a reliable supply.

As a researcher, I’m part of thousands of years of history. That’s about how long humans have been genetically modifying plants. Until recent scientific advances, this process was done by choosing plants with the desirable traits and cultivating those particular plants. Today, scientists can expedite this process by selecting a desired trait right in the DNA of the plant — that’s a GMO, or a genetically modified organism.

In my lifetime, GMOs have provided hybrids that significantly increased crop yields, all while using less water and chemicals. That’s efficient for farmers, but it’s also good for our environment and meets consumer demand.

 

More education

One key to doing more with less is to work smarter not just harder. In my opinion, farmers have always been pretty smart. They know what their ground is capable of. The average age of today’s farmer is about 58 years old. In five decades, they have seen a lifetime of successful and unsuccessful crop years. Now, a younger generation of farmers are coming in with a formal education from universities and experience with advanced farming technology. For example, I have added to our family farm by getting my master’s degree in agronomy, which is the science of how plants grow.

Farmers are using education and experience to tackle some tough problems. One of the most pressing concerns in our state is water availability. Even just 10 years ago, we used a lot more water to grow one crop.

Today, we’ve reduced that amount using better seed technology combined with advanced equipment technology. We can turn off irrigation systems and monitor water use from our phones. Plus, we know a lot more about the plant itself. A little stress can actually help encourage the plant to grow, digging its roots deeper and producing more yield. Figuring out what growth stage of the plant needs the water the most has helped us increase yields with minimal water use.

We also know more about weed control. Many farmers I work with choose to use a herbicide before the crop is planted to help reduce competition from weeds right away. We can also responsibly apply the chemical exactly where it’s needed using global positioning system, or GPS, technology that’s commonplace in tractors these days. A product may not go all over a whole field. It can be applied in targeted areas to reduce chemical use and cost to the farmer.

A farmer can soil sample his field then layer input maps such as fertilizer, chemical and insecticides over yield maps and target specific areas. By identifying high and low producing areas, they can then write prescriptions for a field allowing them to use less inputs. This can reduce cost for the farmer and produce more with less — leading to a better environment.

 

Greater investment

These new technologies come with a greater investment on the part of the farmer. We must invest our money, but we also must invest our time into learning new tools as they arrive. It can be intimidating for older generation farmers, but most folks I know are more than up to the challenge. When my dad started farming, he would find a tree in the horizon and plant straight to it. His row was not always the straightest. In the last few years, my husband has set up autosteer where the GPS plants in a straight line, and he does not even touch the steering wheel until he gets to the end of the row. His rows are perfectly straight. The same GPS can then be used to apply herbicide and fertilizer to get precision placement and efficiency.

My husband and I returned to my family farm in 2013, and it’s been a struggle to grow our operation considering the large amount of money it can take to purchase more acres of land or a new tractor with the latest GPS technology. We don’t go on vacation much, but we’re finding our family moments in what we’re building together. We love the land, our livestock and working together as a family.

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Flow Yoga on the Farm Benefits Just Food, Connects Farmers and Grocery Shoppers

We kicked off summer with our first-ever Flow Yoga on the Farm on Saturday, June 3, in a gorgeous green pasture just east of Lawrence. The weather was perfect! Thanks to the nearly 70 guests who came together for this beautiful yoga practice and food drive. Together, we raised more than $300 for Just Food and filled an entire barrel with food donations that will benefit community members in need.

After some sweat and savasana in the early summer sun, we enjoyed a fresh brunch with a make-your-own yogurt parfait bar, pastries, juice and milk from Hildebrand Farms Dairy (the farm of CommonGround volunteer Melissa Hildebrand Reed).

We had a blast trying out some new yoga poses with instructor Cherish Wood of Kansas City. We might leave that challenging crow pose to the birds flying over our fields, but we had such fun and walked away with a good sweat. The shade was very welcome after our practice!

Farmer volunteers Frances Graves, Kim Baldwin and LaVell Winsor shared the most commonly asked questions about their farms. If you didn’t get a chance to visit with them after the practice, you can learn more about their farms here. They’re also available to answer questions that might pop up down the road, too. That’s what we’re all here for!

Special thanks to Lowell and Krystale Neitzel and their family for hosting us on their beautiful ranch land. You can learn more about their farm on Facebook. They’re known for their sweet corn, so don’t miss out on that later this summer. Yum!

Our farmer volunteers enjoyed connecting with folks in the Lawrence area and talking about how we raise food on our Kansas farms and ranches. Often, food and farming are divisive topics, but this event was full of positivity and great questions about all shapes and sizes of farms, which is what CommonGround stands for. We’re all about sharing our love for our land and our animals. If you have a question about how farmers and ranchers raise your food, we’re always here to chat so you can feel more confident in your food choices.

Learn more about the national CommonGround program at findourcommonground.com. Don’t forget to like CommonGround Kansas on Facebook and on Instagram at @commongroundks for details on future events.

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Kids’ Reading List: A Handful of Dirt

My brother and I spent plenty of summer afternoons during out childhood making mud pies and dirt cakes.  Amazon: A Handful of DirtJust before presenting Mom with our creations, we would place the perfect dandelion in the center.

We thought of dirt as a toy, but author Raymond Bial tells a much different story in A Handful of Dirt.

Full color photos compliment informative text as readers, Grades 3-5, are introduced to dirt dwellers of all shapes and sizes. The tiniest protozoans, myriad invertebrates as well as mammals and reptiles whose burrows aerate the earth will change the way the reader looks at one of Earth’s most precious resources.

Even learn how to setup a home compost heap following the author’s instructions.

Thanks to Holly Spangler for compiling this list, which was featured in the March 2012 issue of Farm Futures magazine.

Check out the past selections in the reading list:

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Kids’ Reading List: Seed, Soil, Sun: Earth’s Recipe for Food

What’s your favorite recipe?  Maybe it’s your mother’s apple
pie or your neighbor’s banana bread that gets your mImageouth watering.  There is one ultimate recipe that makes all these dishes possible.

The sixth book in our Kids’ Reading List series is Seed, Soil, Sun: Earth’s Recipe for Food by Chris Peterson.  This American Farm Bureau Foundation’s Agriculture Book of the Year celebrates the yearly planting, growth, and harvest of our plant food.  The simple ingredients to Earth’s recipe, seeds, soil, and sun, all combine to create much of the food we each and some food for animals. Read on in the book to discover more about the wonder that is Earth’s recipe.

Young readers, from four to seven years old, will enjoy the colorful photographs by photographer David R. Lundquist. They will learn from Peterson how seeds use soil and sun to grow into the fruits and vegetables they enjoy at the dinner table.

Thanks to Holly Spangler for compiling this list, which was featured in the March 2012 issue of Farm Futures magazine.

Check out the past selections in the reading list.

Categories: Kids' Reading List | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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