Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Organic Farmers Share Tips...

This past week at a Thanksgiving party I picked up an article from the Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman (November 7, 2007 issue) that my father-in-law had been saving for me. It was just a short article about a conference that took place in Sioux City, IA, but it did give me some encouragement to see what is happening in my state when it comes to unconventional farmers.

The speaker at the conference was Kim Alexander who currently lives in Texas. An interesting thing about his story is that he had previously lived in Iowa and his family owned farm land. He was not able to farm on the family land because the family decided to put it into the Conservation Reserve Program (new at the time). I don't know all the details, but the article says that he then learned of Joel Salatin and his principals on "growing food people want to eat and how to direct market our farm products" so he decided to grab hold of those ideas and put them to use on his Texas farm. I wonder to myself why he wasn't able to stick around here in Iowa ... maybe this is an illustration of why it is so difficult for young farmers (even those that have farming in the family) to get started in farming. Oh well, he is a making a go of it in Texas (although I'm glad I'm up here in Iowa!).

It sounds like he is doing the Salatin thing all the way around. They have a 40-head cow/calf herd, 2,000 broiler chickens, 1,400 laying hens, 300 turkeys, and a custom poultry-processing operation (that is a good value added option). It is pretty exciting that his family (mom, dad, and eight children) are making a go of it on the farm, but it is even more exciting and impressive that they are doing it on 300 acres of land ... that they don't own! Check out what Mr. Alexander has to say about that: "We rent and lease, for $100 a year, from the city people who go out and buy this expensive $7000 an acre land and then haven't a clue as what to do with it."

That is pretty exciting. The one hurdle that most people always point to is the high cost of land and the lack of availability. I have heard lots of people criticize Mr. Salatin because they believe his ideas don't translate to other farmers because he started out with a serious amount of land. But, the Alexander family started out with nothing ... in fact they might have had a chance at family land, but ended up doing it on their own. Mr. Alexander said in the article, "The shortage here isn't land, it's the shortage of warm bodies who know how to husband the land."

They market their chickens and eggs to local grocery stores and white table-cloth restaurants, but they do other things to make their farm profitable that are slightly more "outside-of-the-box". They collect used vegetable oils to fuel their trucks and build their own equipment for the farm. What an encouraging article for me. Sometimes I wonder if the farming idea is even possible, but when I read articles like this I get another burst of energy and continue to push on.

6 comments:

Steven said...

The republicans are debating about corn subsidies and talking about Iowa. It's too bad they didn't let Ron Paul take the question. I cant believe they even let that you tube question in..... Maybe it will get people thinking. .

Tim Young, Nature's Harmony Farm said...

Great post! I love to see what the Alexander's are doing, and there is a strong need for more local farmers to supply great food like that to their respective markets. Setting up the on farm poultry processing, which I've done as well, is one thing, but the real hurdle in most states is having to live within the rules of "inspected meat requirements", only to find there are virtually no facilities available to inspect and process for small farmers. The customer demand is there and, as usual, the government gets in the way.

Tim Young
www.naturesharmonyfarm.com

Ethan Book said...

Steven and Tim, Thanks for the comments! It is neat to hear that you have set up an on farm processing operation also Tim. It looks like you have a pretty diverse farm going on down there and I look forward to learning more about it in the future.

Kramer said...

Ethan,

The main issue you run into vs owning land or renting land to develop grass fed beef, free range chickens, living off the land goodness is land improvements. When you do MIG farming (Managed Intensive Grazing) the way that most innovative vs traditional farmers are doing, there is a lot of things that go into the land. Perimeter fencing, cross fencing, water lines, seeding, and severe pasture improvements. If you are doing this on your land that you own, no loss. You are building up your land and this can then build year after year and hopefully be handed down to your kids. When renting, most of the time the owner will not pay for appropriate fencing or accomidations to make your MIG operation successful, but also, a lease can end at any time. Maybe they give you a year notice, but it is still over. Now you have to start over. I feel that you should never have to pay to rent land. In fact, when MIG is done correctly, such drastic improvements are made in soil properties and forage makeup that you should actually be paid to use the land. I read more and more people are doing this. Once you really get into innovative farming, I feel there is no way you could rent land to build your operation. Too much investment.

Kramer said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ethan Book said...

Kramer - I removed one comment because it was a duplicate ... not trying to censor you :)

You bring up some very good points in your comment. I suppose you would have to work something out as far as fencing goes in the rental agreement because if you had to invest in perimeter fencing it would be a huge investment for something you may not always have access too. I agree with most everything that you say, but I do wonder how you are supposed to get started in farming if you don't have access to land.

Take me for example (I do have access to land at the moment, but it is a long ways away). I work full time in ministry and my wife stays home with the kids. We are frugal and put away as much as we can, but the reality of it is there is no way we could buy more than maybe 20 acres or so of land around here with a house. That is a start, but not a full-time thing which is the direction we would like to go. If that is what we did I do not believe we could ever make it to full time farming (possibly if I had a much higher paying off farm job, or I decided to doing something like vegetables or cut flowers instead of livestock we could make it work). But, if we were able to rent land and start making money right away that didn't have to go to paying of $2,500 - $6,000 an acre land you could move full time to the farm more quickly.

In some ways I see it as a catch-22. I do think that I would want to own my own land for just the reasons you brought up, but it is encouraging to read about people who are making it work without having to dive thousands upon thousands of dollars in debt.

I look forward to reading more of your comments! You always add so much to the conversations.

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