Thursday, July 31, 2008

Getting Noticed on Google

Last week I wrote about our need for a farm website (I still need to get back to a few of you, but I had so many helpful e-mails and offers). It todays world, and being a 28-year-old that has had the internet since I was 13, I realize how important it is to have a web presence of some sort. Of course we don't really need to have an online store or anything fancy, but a website that tells our story and helps people connect with us is a must. As I was talking with my wife's cousin last night he reminded me how important it is to have a website so that you can put it on your business card. That way after having a conversation with you the people can go home and find out more or be reminded of why the were so impressed with your farm (at least that is what we hope).

So, with websites on the mind I thought it was pretty cool when I came across an article titled, "How to get your farm Web site to the top of the list on Google", over on the new Sustainable Farmer Online Magazine. Ranking high on Google has got to be good ... I mean use Google everyday at work looking for ideas for messages, events, or games ... so, a high ranking on Google can be a huge bonus for your farm.

I can't say it any better than they did (and I have to get to work today) so I'll just leave you to the links if this is something to interest you. But, I do think it is a good time to point out the importance of having a website for your farm if you are or will be direct marketing. It can't be the only tool of course, first hand communication will always win, but I see it as another piece of the puzzle.

**One More Thing** I just wanted to add that I'm really impressed with what they are doing over at the Sustainable Farmer website and just want to encourage you (again) to check it out. They have some good articles and information there.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

More Followup From Monday's Post...

Okay, here is the second part of my thoughts on Monday's blog post. I think some good discussion has come out of this and it truly makes me thankful for all the help I receive from the readers of this blog. Today's part includes some of the things that popped into my head after reading through those great and well thought out comments and a couple of closing thoughts.
  • "I feel that America in a whole has fallen into the trap that everything must be convenient and everything priced that way. I feel that is what has gotten us here, lets let govt control our foods, subsidize them, and keep everything on a level playing field. I feel that if uneducated consumers, would take the time to go and visit their local farm, maybe even work for a bit with them, that they would quickly see and be more than willing to pay the premium price for their premium foods." This quote comes from Kramer and I think he is totally right! The things he said about the government and how we got to where we are have been stated on this blog by myself and other commenters ten times over. But, how do we get Joe Blow to come to the farm and educate themselves? I think that may be one of the most serious questions a direct marketing farmer has to answer. It is easy to get the people to the farm that have already figured it out, but how do you get the guy who grew up on a conventional farm (and then left it) in the middle of an Iowa cornfield to come out to your farm and see why they should be willing to pay more? Of course like a total loser I'm not offering up any answers ... just posing the question, but I will say that it is a similar question to the one that I seek to answer everyday at my job (youth pastor).
  • " gets frustrating when you hear that your premium cared for products should be priced closer to factory farmed products." Again from Kramer (not picking on him ... he just had a lot of good stuff to say). I hope that I didn't come across with that type of viewpoint, because I wholeheartedly agree you should receive what you deserve for your work. Also, I just wanted to throw out how I have been surprisingly encouraged by the responses I have had from within my own community and from readers (and the staff) of Epicurious. Of course it is frustrating, and I'm sure it happens in every line of work (sometimes it feels like I'm paying these contractors too much ... but then I realize how much better they are at their job than I would be), but this is where education comes in again. As you can tell education keeps popping up ... more on that later.
  • "If your customers are drawn to your product because of the combination of quality, uniqueness, and a "decent" price (but not cheap), they will be more likely to pay more and less likely to seek a cheaper alternative (as long as the price doesn't become outlandish)." I love this summary from Rich because I think he nailed what I would like to say on the head. It has to be a combination of all of those things (and education) in order to remain sustainable in every sense of the word.
Now for a couple of last thoughts...
  • If you read Joel Salatin (and a few others) you get the idea that if our agricultural system trended more towards what it was in the past (grass-based and local farms) that we would be better off. Is that true or will we always need large agri-businesses that ship their products all over the country? Is it true that we will need a system that is based on growing in one place and finishing in another and then processing in yet another? Just some questions...
  • Also, the word "education" popped up a lot in my ramblings today (and that is really what they are) and in the comments yesterday. How do we go about educating people of the different choices that are out there? And I think more importantly how to handle their money. Because if these articles and blog posts are to be believed and people aren't buying organic/natural because they are running out of money then the problem is fundamentally that we are bad with money as a nation (yeah, yeah, I know ... no news flash there). Being a good steward of your money is something my wife and I are ultra-passionate about because if we weren't there is no way we would be building a house on 40 acres ... just wouldn't be possible with a youth pastors salary and a stay-at-home mom. It is possible with stewardship. Remember, you always have money for what you want to have money for ... now we just need to help people realize they need to spend money on healthy food.
**Just in case you were wondering I chose these pictures of people talking over the fence because I like that image of the conversation on the blog ... and in this picture I want to be the guy holding his pipe down from his mouth because I like his hat :)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Followup to Yesterday's Post...

Yesterday's post birthed some pretty lengthy comments (which is awesome!) from some readers. The comments were so good and and well thought out that I decided to share some more of my thoughts from the article I referenced, the blog post I referenced, the comments from my post, and of course my own post. I think it is great that there is so much discussion on here from time to time because I often type these posts in a matter of minutes and then just move on, but the discussion really forces me to think about many issues. With that in my here are some of my thoughts in a bulleted list:
  • “Consumers are going from national brands to private labels and from more expensive produce, and that would include organics, to lower-priced produce." That is what Brian Todd of The Food Institute has to say about consumer buying habits. I would say that it is a pretty vague comment, but he did also say that the data isn't in yet. Now, here is one thing I take from that quote ... if people are switching from higher priced organic/natural items to lower priced items that were conventionally grown/raised then they were never really buying products because of any great moral conviction (otherwise they would have found a way to continue). Maybe they were just buying those products because it was trendy and they could afford it at the time? I think this proves that maybe there needs to be more and more education for the consumers (just like Kramer mentioned in one of his comments).
  • "My sister shopped at an urban farmers’ market the other day, one that supposedly caters to the low-income residents who live nearby. 'There was nothing there you could buy for $2, even greens or onions,' she said. 'The shoppers were almost all upscale people from downtown offices, not locals.'" This quote comes from the original blog post that I cited and of course is just anecdotal evidence, but it does sort of coincide with the point that I was trying to make in my post. That point being that there is a possibility to price ourselves out of the "local" market. Especially if education is not involved the sales/transactions.
  • "I believe it is important that farmers are paid an adequate amount for their work and realize that a natural/organic product will involve more labor, but are the prices getting a little too gourmet? I believe one of the benefits of grassfed natural beef is that it shouldn't cost as much to finish (even though it takes a little longer). But, I'm beginning to wonder if that savings is passed on to the consumers in all cases." This quote of course comes from my own post yesterday and I just thought I would clarify a few things, because I don't always communicate things as well as I would like. People can charge whatever they feel that they need to charge ... I think that there is some economic principle that says that. But, we have to make sure that we charge a price that fits. There is no way that I believe we need to compete with the supermarket ... it wouldn't work. But, price is a factor no matter how great your product is. As far as the grassfed beef thing goes I think it is true to a point, but it sure is open to debate.
**After rereading what I had written I decided that if anyone was going to make it through the whole thing I need to shorten it up! So, I decided to break it up into two parts ... Today's part contains my thoughts from the article, the blog post, and my blog post. Tomorrows part has some of my thoughts after reading the awesome comments and a couple closing things ... Thanks for the great discussion and keep it coming! Oh, and I want to be the guy leaning against the fence in the picture :)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Economics Effecting Local Food Movement

I found an interesting blog post from the folks at titled, "Does the recession threaten the localvore movement?" The basis of the blog post is from an MSNBC article which tells about the slowdown in the organic and local foods movement because of the economic slow down. I should point out that they use the word recession, but since I don't participate in recessions (farms have recessions too ... I think they call them floods or droughts) I don't want to use that word. I do understand that things are getting difficult financially, but that just means we have to tighten our belts and be smart ... it doesn't mean we need to continually talk about how bad things are and feel sorry for ourselves. People who work hard, save, scrounge, and basically survive will always make it through!

But, the post did make me think and evaluate the entire local foods movement (there is that word again). The article said that the people who are still buy fresh organic foods at stores or markets are not always the locals per se, but rather the more wealthy who come out to get the food. Now it isn't a bad thing that the organic/local food market can cater to the upper class, but does it have to be like this.

I believe it is important that farmers are paid an adequate amount for their work and realize that a natural/organic product will involve more labor, but are the prices getting a little too gourmet? I believe one of the benefits of grassfed natural beef is that it shouldn't cost as much to finish (even though it takes a little longer). But, I'm beginning to wonder if that savings is passed on to the consumers in all cases.

On the flip side I know that if you are selling organic hogs there will have to be a higher price because they will have to be feed more expensive organic grain. I think our sustainable farmers need to reach a good middle ground. A fair compensation for their work, but also a price that their local consumers can afford. If we can't do that then I'm not sure if we are truly sustainable farmers...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Mud, Mud, Mud!

Sometimes things just don't go as you plan... That is the case this year as we are building our house and starting our farm. As winter turned to spring there was a lot of mud on the roads because we had so much snow. Then of course we had the serious flooding in Iowa which led to roads being covered on the way to the farm and mud everywhere. Now we are in late July almost to August, a time when Iowa usually dries out and the corn and beans grow. But, not this year! Our farm is one boggy and muddy mess and it doesn't look like it will be getting better any time soon if the weather people are to be believed (check out the forecast above, it doesn't look to bad until you realize the are predicting 2-3 inches on Sunday).

So, all of this bad weather has made our farming/building life difficult. It is impossible to make fence now for the perimeter or the pigs, the builders can't work because there is so much mud, mowing is something that isn't even an option, I can't get the stock trailer out to pick up panels, and now one of our vehicles is stuck out at the farm. I mean seriously ... what happened to the drought they were predicting (not that I want one).

That is life on the farm though, things don't always go as you planned them and there will always be setbacks. I just hope we get a break sometime soon so the building can be finished, the electricity can be put in, and then we can finally have a gravel drive ... maybe I will have our vehicle unstuck by the!

Friday, July 25, 2008

What's Happening At the Farm?

It is been awhile since I have updated the happenings of the farm, but since this is The Beginning Farmer blog I thought I better keep a good record of how the farm is beginning. As usual things have been very busy both on the home front, the work front, and of course the farm front. It seems like we have been doing a lot of family traveling lately which I enjoy and don't enjoy at the same time, but I'm glad to have the chance to do it. At work I am staying busy planning summer activities for the students and filling in for the Pastor when he is gone (I'm glad we have a full-time guy again!). And on the farm front... well, let me just throw out some bullet points for the past week or so.
  • The building is progressing as much as weather is allowing and I think the building contractor phase will be wrapped up pretty soon. The roof is mostly on (needs the ridge vent), all the windows are in, the house is wrapped in Tyvek, and the steel is up on the North side of the house. We are VERY pleased with the way it is coming together and I'm especially anxious to sit at the dining room table or in the living room this winter with a big mug of hot chocolate and look out our large picture windows. If you want more details on the building process you need to check out the general contractor ... errr ... my wife's blog!
  • Wednesday I took hold of the rare opportunity of somewhat dry ground and expanded the pigs area a little bit. We still aren't out on pasture yet, but they are doing a great job of tilling up next years garden. Our garden will be huge (48' x 48' is huge compared to what we've had) next year. It might be a little overwhelming, so we will just plant lots of corn!
  • We are again moving our chickens in the movable pen we built last year and I love having them again. Now we just need to get the egg production up from this possibly broody hens who have only had cracked corn for a while. But, eggs are coming.
  • This mostly falls into my wife's category, but the black raspberries are beginning to ripen and she enjoys that. While I don't like the berries I do enjoy picking them, so that is a bonus for me.
  • One of Wednesday's overwhelming things was that I had to hustle so I could by some used cattle panels. And by "some" I mean about 126! There are just a couple things about them ... one, they are still standing so I have to take them down ... two, there are a few that aren't so great. My plan is to take them all down and then separate the good from the bad (there are around 40 that are just leaning against a shed). The bad ones will be cut up and sold for scrap, or I'll use the good sections for smaller areas. The good ones will probably end up as fencing around the homestead area ... no electric to worry about with the little ones around. At $5 a piece I can't complain.
So, as you can tell things are cruising along. There are a few hold ups (loan people take too many vacations), but we are still excited about what is happening and the work that we are doing.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Today was a pretty overwhelming day in more ways than one. It was overwhelming because I was trying to squeeze a lot of work into the day and we had something pop up that I needed to handle. But, the cool reason that it was overwhelming is because I was able to attend a Practical Farmers of Iowa Field Day featuring Gearld Fry! I only had two regrets from the field day. First of all I regret that I wasn't able to stay the entire time (I know I missed out on a lot!). And secondly, I regret that I wasn't intelligent enough to take it all in...

Although I was only there for two hours I could tell that Mr. Fry knew what he was talking about and I that I didn't know nearly enough. He spent some time talking in the barn and then we went out to the corral where he was evaluating come cows and eventually bulls. I was only able to be there while he evaluated two cows, but it was pretty interesting. Once I have some free time I know that I'm going read and re-read all of the articles on his website ... I was that impressed!

While I can't do it all justice and can't remember half of what he said (it was very overwhelming), let me just throw out a few bullet points from the day:
  • If you aren't line breeding you aren't doing the best that you can do. This is a pretty a pretty bold statement and it did prompt a few questions, but Mr. Fry was pretty strong in his beliefs ... I can't even begin expound on this idea, but it was very interesting.
  • Butterfat has a huge influence in meat tenderness. And a bald udder is an indicator of high butterfat content. Oh, and there were a couple of questions about genetic testing for tenderness. Mr. Fry said that it was good research, but also said he had no reason to give people money to do testing that he could do by looking.
  • There is a dime sized spot of hair on the back of a cow near the front shoulders that can indicate whether or not a cow is pregnant.
  • From about August through December (I think I got that right) is when a cows body most wants to get pregnant (you get the idea).
  • You gotta get your bulls from your own herd, and I think this is where he mentioned the importance of a paternal herd ... I think.
  • Bulls need to look masculine and cows need to look feminine.
  • Finally, this is the one I liked the best. We need to be studying what our forefathers of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries wrote about cattle, because they had it down!
There is just a little bit of what I heard/learned today, but I would suggest that you check out Mr. Fry anytime you have the chance ... oh, and don't leave early :(

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

This Beginning Farmer Needs a Website

Sometimes I feel guilty for doing it, but then I remember how much knowledge there is out there among those that read this blog. So, from time to time I blatantly ask for help and today is going to be one of those days where I need the help of those more in the know than I am.

Quite awhile ago I purchased the domain name so that I would have it for when I was ready to add a website. At first I tried to use it as the URL address for this blog through some sort of pointing or something with GoDaddy/Blogger, but that seemed to slow things down so I canceled that. Now as a few more things are beginning to fall into place I'm really feeling the need for a true online home for Stoneyfield Farm and The Beginning Farmer blog.

That is where all of you smart computer people come in ... even though I'm young and thought I was somewhat computer savvy I have found that I can't really figure out this website thing. Right now I just want something very basic with a front page and contact information so that I can point people to the website ( when they inquire about the farm, but I'm having a bit of trouble getting it setup so it works in a somewhat easy way.

I suppose that I should also mention that I have a Mac, but if need be I could access a PC to do the work. So, do any of you know what I need to do to get my website up and going? If you have some tips or suggestions or anything else just reply in the comments or click on the new e-mail link I made on the top right (that is one html thing I could figure out).

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Following Up on a High Failure Rate

This weekend there were some great comments on my post, "A High Failure Rate", and I thought I would take a few minutes to follow-up on them because they really made me think (that is the great thing about this blog ... thanks everyone!). What I have done is taken the quotes (in italics) and then added my comments below. I would love to hear more of what you think on this subject, so keep the conversation going.

(JRG) "I would like to believe in 10-20 years, the 20% of concerned citizens will grow to a larger percentage. The more we do to tell the story of sustainable, local 'agrarian' agriculture at every possible venue we can, the greater the likelihood that 20% will grow to become a majority."

I do believe that you will see the number of people concerned about their food choices will grow. In fact I would say that 2 years ago I knew only a handful of people that cared, and now it seems like I'm finding more and more people everyday ... even some people that surprise me.

(Mellifera) "I'd love to hear more about the specifics of people's business problems, in the interest of not repeating history..."

I'm no expert, but I would say a lot of it has to do with getting too big too fast. And with this I'm not so much talking about small scale sustainable farmers, but commodity crop farmers who try to have an operation with their neighbors. I would also throw out unrealistic expectations as a reason ... but Mellifera alluded to that in her whole comment.

(Rich) "I seriously doubt if the odds of success are that low. What are the odds of having a professional sports career? 10,000:1? 1,000,000:1? I would think that the odds of succeeding would be closer to 15% or 20%, still low but not as dismal as 1 in a million."

I was curious about that also.

(Lance) "I was particilarly curious as this post, and still often wonder if my goals are achievable. Time will tell. Thanks for all the info."

Lance, first of all I'm glad you stumbled on the on the blog and I hope you stick around and get involved in the discussion. I do think you goals are obtainable ... but, it will take crazy work!

(Lance) "It would be nice if there was some kind of official club, at least then it might not seem like I am feeling in the dark so much."

I am totally with you there! I too felt like there should be some sort of official club, and that became part of the reason that I started this blog. I had read all about how Salatin did it and talked with a few others, but I wanted to know how a young guy with out land (Salatin had land) or money could actually make it work. I searched and searched, but couldn't find what I was looking for. So ... I started the blog and started to chronicle what we are doing.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Marketing Or Movement?

This morning I stumbled across a new documentary (watch the preview and explain to me why all low budget documentaries have similar sounding music) title, "What's Organic About Organic?".  It appears to be an interesting documentary and I look forward to watching it whenever it comes available (hopefully it won't take as long as "King Corn").  But, right away in the preview it brings up the question ... is the organic thing a movement or just a marketing ploy?  This is a question that was running through my mind this week because I was able to spend some time with my cousin from Washington state who works for the USDA certifying organic farms.

We have really never considered going completely organic because there are some major feed cost issues that would have to be worked out, but if I believed there was enough market for it I would have no problem going that direction.  We are just focused now on providing a small farm raised animal that is as natural as we can get ... basically we aren't feeding organic grains to our chickens and pigs ...

But, the bigger question is this whole idea of a "movement".  I have always had a hard time when I thought about identifying myself with a "movement" (other than the Gospel) because it just feels like a "movement" is something weird or way more liberal than I can stomach.  But, on the other hand it seems like if I am part of the thing that encourages eating fresh and local food I am a part of a movement ... can I handle that?

The bigger question that it looks like this documentary tackles is the question of what is behind the organic labeling (at least that is what I think it is about).  I am very interested to hear their thoughts and your thoughts ... so, let me know what you think.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

How Far We Have Come

This past Wednesday my family and I had a chance to go up to my Aunt and Uncle's and visit with our extended family. It is always fun to go up there because that is the families home place and they are doing a great job of keeping it up and bringing back some of the buildings that were breaking down. But, the other reason that it is fun to go is because my Uncle is a tractor collector ... specifically Minneapolis Moline and all related stuff.

Above is a picture of my uncle on his Moline Universal tractor. This tractor was produced in the teens and was called a universal because there were attachments for plows, cultivators, binders, and more. Some of the implements that could be used attached in any interesting way. In order to use the plow for example you took of the back portion of the tractor (the back two wheels and the seat) and then attached the two bottom plow and switched the seat over.

A picture like this really shows how far we have come in farming ... even for small scale farms like ours.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Boomers, X'ers, and Millennials

Allan Nation posted a little snippet from a study on the eating habits of Baby Boomers (43-62), Generation X (32-42), and Millennials (16-32). He doesn't link to the study, but he does give a basic summary of the findings:
"Baby boomers believe in balanced meals, consumption of fruits and vegetables, and avoidance of fats; but Millennials are the largest users of natural and organic foods. Boomers are far more interested in limited trans fat consumption that the other two generations. Millennials eat more meals away from home than at home while Boomers tend to reserve dining out for special occasions. Only 40% of Gen Xers dine out more frequently that they eat at home."
It is funny because as soon as I read that quote this morning I clicked over to blogger to start writing this post. The first thing that popped into my mind was that we need to get the natural/local/organic food into more restaurants (both large and smaller local ones). After I had that thought I went back to read the rest of Mr. Nation's post and saw that he came to the same conclusion.

On the flip side, I think it also points out that we need to continue to educate. I have to admit that I have a passion for helping people be good stewards of their money, and eating at home more often than eating out is one of those stewardship issues. Of course restaurants don't want to hear that, but I think they will be fine because plenty of people will still eat out. When you combine the importance of eating local and supporting the local economy there are so many benefits.

Is anybody working on getting their food into local restaurants? I recently wrote about a place in North Carolina that is connected with a farm ... pretty cool thing.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A High Failure Rate

A slightly late post today. We were at my Uncle's last night and my wife convinced me (not that difficult really) that since we were at the farm everyday now with the pigs and the building we should have some chickens. Sooo..... I spent extra time at the farm this morning fixing up our chicken pen and getting them sort of settled. I'll have to do a little more work to get everything in tip-top shape again (since we haven't used it for a while), but we should have eggs pretty soon. Also, we still have five chickens at my Dad's ... we will bring them back up once we are out there during the day and evening so we can let them roam during the day.

Now, back to the Allan Nation column that I began writing about on Monday...
"The start-from-scratch career path now has a failure rate similar to professional sports. Farming's problem with kids today is we don't tell them the truth."
That is what Mr. Nation reports John W. Phipps (of Top Producer Magazine) has to say about today's state of farming in the United States. But, Mr. Phipps doesn't believe that it is totally hopeless for the young farmers of today. He believes there is a place for them in "agrarian agriculture". That is the term he used, and I'm not too sure I like it ... but, oh well ...

Anyways, this agrarian agriculture that he is talking about is exactly what this blog and so many that read this blog are all about. Mr. Phipps defines agrarian agriculture as, "Producing for a market that values how a commodity is created (organic, local, free-range, etc.), is labor intensive and sensitive to public perception." Of course that is something that many who read this blog already know, but it is always great to hear this type of thinking from a "top producer".

Maybe the tide is turning? What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Wednesday Farm Round-Up

It has been a few days since I updated everyone on what is happening at the farm, so I decided today I would take a break from my analysis of Alan Nation's latest editorial column. Below are just some of the happenings lately:
  • As you can see the picture on the left we now have a floor in our house. Having that slab of concrete just makes it begin to feel like it is all coming together and helps give us a better picture of what the real size of our new house will be.
  • Since the concrete is down our builder is now able to come back and put on the steel, doors, windows, and frame in the mud room. He said he may be able to start on Saturday, but looking at the forecast I'm guessing it will be closer to early next week.
  • Last weekend we made the pig pen a little bigger in order to encompass the entire area of next years garden. They are really beginning to work through the soil and adding some much needed fertilizer! They do seem to respect the electric pretty well now, so I am toying with the idea of putting the feeder pigs out in a electric netting pen ... except I don't have any perimeter fence, so I'm a little wary. Any thoughts?
  • Yesterday we were finally able to begin baling hay at my dad's place. Between the unending rain and trip by my dad and family it has taken awhile. It didn't go without a hitch, but we have it begun ... I'm sure I'll post more on our baling experiences later.
  • And finally, I guess I have neglected to blog about our latest news ... Steven did notice ... we are expecting our third child this coming November! Just in time to join us on the farm (hopefully we will be on the farm by then...).

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Young Farmers Need Not Apply

This little snippet from Allan Nation's latest editorial (the one I referenced yesterday) really got my mind churning,
"The net result, he said [the 'he' in this case is John W. Phipps], will always be an ever-smaller need for replacement farmers. This huge implication for young people who would like to farm but aren't in line to inherit a large farm.

'Put bluntly, agriculture's problem with young people is we don't need them,' he said."
Here is what I think ... that statement is true ... that statement is scary ... that statement reiterates how difficult I think this farming thing can be ... and to top it all off it makes really feel for the students that I work with that have a desire to farm. Just a couple weekends ago I was chatting with a recently graduated high school student from my church who has a HUGE desire to come back and work on the family farm, but with only a few hundred acres does he even have much of a fighting chance (if he continues with what he knows).

Mr. Nation also relates this statement from Mr. Phipps,
"He said throughout his whole farming career he had heard that X percentage of farmers were 65 years old and would soon need replacing. And yet, due to the constant increase in scale there has never been a shortage of farmers."
Now, don't get me wrong I'm not advocating keeping farms small just because they are pretty and romantic. Or that we need to make sure there is a farm for everyone that wants to farm. As with all things I think there needs to be a high level of quality, but I believe there is something dangerous behind these "titan farms". As Mr. Phipps said, there is a problem when you have "ever-increasing productivity in an industry with a fixed land base."

So, do you think we can turn back the clock on this trend on a large scale? I think that those looking to grab a niche (maybe more on that tomorrow) can find a place, but will we just continue to have farms that are ever increasing in size or will the bubble burst? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Titan Farmers

As I read "Allan's Observations", the editorial column by Allan Nation in The Stockman Grassfarmer I was introduced to a term that I had never heard before, "Titan Farmer". The entire column was actually great and full of tons of little nuggets, but I think I'll tackle them one at a time over the next few days ... for now I just want to discuss this interesting term, "Titan Farmer".

So, what is a "Titan Farmer"? Well a "Titan Farmer" is a farmer who farms between 20,000 and 40,000 acres of land, and are even planning on getting bigger. Mr. Nation writes, "...thanks to super-sized machinery and resulting low labor costs per acre these farmers can afford to bid cash-lease land away from farmers in the thousand acre category..." And to tell you how serious these guys are there is even mention of a cash-lease on 2,700 acres right here in my home state of Iowa that went for $400 an acre ... UP FRONT!

There is the future of farming. One of these "Titan Farmers" even told Top Producer Magazine that he has two full-time marketing people that have the sole purpose of finding land to rent and keeping the land owners happy. They use these two marketers to find full-time farmers that are farming farms in the 1,000 acre range or so and then buy them out and hire them to work for the Ultra-Mega-Super-Duper Farm (maybe I just coined a new farming term).

With all of that in mind I believe one of the most interesting quotes from Mr. Nation's column, and subsequently from a column by 1,700 acre farmer John W. Phipps, is this:
"Phipps said in his spring column in Top Producer that there has been little discussion about the long-term impact of an ever-increasing productivity in an industry with a fixed land base."
There is a lot to think about there, and to tell you the truth there is a lot there that causes me to pause... As I said this months column was full of little nuggets, so the story does not stop here.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

New Online Magazine: Sustainable Farmer

Steven LeGrand told me about this new online magazine first, and then I saw it was mentioned in the news section of the ATTRA website also. I hadn't had a chance to check it out until just yesterday, but it looks like it is the beginning of a very good website/online magazine. They have sections for everything from marketing to raising animals and also feature videos. It looks like a good resource for both farmers and consumers and hopefully it will become a great home for sustainable farming discussion and learning.

So, head on over and check out

Friday, July 11, 2008

New Book From Greg Judy

I'm not sure what happened, but as I was picking up last night I noticed that I had the July issue of "The Stockman Grassfarmer" sitting on my desk and I hadn't even leafed through it. I guess with the busyness of the house going up and work on the farm it was shuffled to the bottom of the pile. Anyways ... once I find it I started leafing through it and reading bits and pieces of the cover article by Greg Judy. At the end of the article it mentioned that Mr. Judy had come out with a new book titled, "Comeback Farms". Luckily (I believe it is published by them) there is a review of the book in this issue and it looks fairly interesting.

Mr. Judy is also the author of, "No Risk Ranching, Custom Grazing on Leased Land", (long title) and this book appears to be an extension of that book and examination of what he has learned since writing that book. Probably the most interesting topic included in the book are the sections on High Density Grazing (HDG). Mr. Judy has been a huge promoter of this and stocks his cattle at very high rates with multiple moves per day. But, not a lot has been written in books about HDG so it should be interesting to see what he has to say.

The book also looks at multi-species grazing (always a good thing), land leasing, and specific details about the fencing/water equipment that he likes to use. It sounds like it is full of useful information, but I think I should point out that the book is written (by the articles own admission) for people that are already familiar with Management Intensive Grazing. I'm not sure if/when I would tackle this book, but it does sound like it would be a pretty good read.

**As an aside, I just thought I would mention that this is the 300th post on The Beginning Farmer Blog. Thanks to everyone who takes the time to read and comment, you all have been such a great encouragement and help!**

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Thursday's Farm Update

We don't have a ton to update on the farm progress this week because we had around 5 inches of rain in the last week or so (maybe more, but I don't have a rain gauge out at the farm). As you can see the picture above the house looks about the same except that it is ready for the concrete slab to be poured. Having the slab down is a huge step because after that our builder can come back in and finish up the windows, doors, siding, and roof. If we can get the concrete done and our other work the basic structure should be done pretty soon. Now we just pray for NO rain (I know I shouldn't say that) and pray that a couple little snags can take care of themselves (the fact that we are first time general contractors pops up every now and again).

Other than the building we have good news from the garden. Just like other gardeners and farmers in our area we have been fighting water all spring and summer, but a couple weeks ago we were to put in a few things out at the farm ... for fun if anything. Now we have beans, corn, and pumpkins taking off. We also planted some tomatoes, peppers, and yams that we had been growing in pots since early spring. Of course the upper 80's and the high humidity have helped things really pop.

The last thing that I finished up this week was clearing the grass/brush from the areas where I'm going to put the fence. And, I think I finally have it all planned out... Basically we have slightly less than a half mile of high tensile electric to put up along the roads and then I'm going to just run two or three hot wires along the edge of the woods with steel t-posts. The million dollar question right now is what posts I am going to use for my line posts on the high tensile exterior fence.

For some time I have been thinking about using Powerflex posts ... and I think I do want to go ahead with them even though the cost is a little more. Now I just need to figure out how to get them in Iowa and pray that freight/shipping doesn't kill the deal. Has anyone used Powerflex posts?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

"Get Big or Get Out"

Yesterdays post on the current/impending crisis in the pork industry and how we got to this place made me want to read a little more about Earl Butz. (As an aside, according to a post on Allan Nation's blog pork prices could hit $10 cwt.) Since Americans don't spend a lot of time discussing Agriculture Secretaries in their high school history classes I didn't know much about Mr. Butz until I watched the "King Corn" documentary. In the movie the two guys went and visited him and talked about some of his policies that helped keep food costs low for the consumers. Even though the movie is about the over abundance of corn in our food, and Mr. Butz helped that along, they seemed to soften up as they talked with him because they could see what his intent was ... to a point.

Anyways, since I didn't know to much about Mr. Butz I did what any self-respecting twenty-something raised on computers would do ... I looked him up on Wikipedia! He served as the Secretary of Agriculture from 1971 - 1976 under Presidents Nixon and Ford and according to Wikipedia had a sometimes bumpy ride. It seems like he liked to run his mouth a little bit and that eventually caught up with him (he resigned a week after making some comments).

There are plenty of people out there that believe the ideas of Mr. Butz, "Get big or get out", "From fencerow to fencerow" farming, and his never ending encouragement for farmers to produce more and more have led to the obesity of America and more. I may not go so far as saying that today ... I'm no scientist ... but, he did make some radical changes in farm policy that are still with us and effecting us today.

I do agree with people who say that the policies of Mr. Butz did lead to the agri-corporations we have today, but for the sake of fairness and to present both sides of the story I will post this quote from an article by Sara Wyant of the "High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal":
For a lot of today's "Baby Boomers," President John F. Kennedy symbolized the hopes and dreams for those lucky enough to live in America in the early 1960s. A few years later, Earl Butz became a cabinet member and delivered a similar sense of promise and optimism for those wanting to make a living off of the land.

During his five years as agriculture secretary, net farm income more than doubled over the previous 10 years and farm exports tripled. He engineered a massive grain sale to the Soviets in 1972 and the Soviets essentially bought up the U.S. grain reserve.
Do any of you have any thoughts on Mr. Butz or his policies?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

It is About Survival

I know that this is a topic that I have blogged about before, and the article that I'm taking the information from is from the June, 11th edition of the "Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman". Nonetheless I am dumbfounded each time I read about the current crisis in the pork industry. The title of the article that I read yesterday is, "Goal is survival, economist tells Pork Expo crowd", and it really details a difficult time for the hog farmers across the country. And by difficult I mean they are losing money or on the edge of losing money.

Glenn Grimes, of the University of Missouri, said this, "There will be some rough times ahead, but the hog industry will survive. One of the things you have to think about is how to get from here until the end of 2009, not about how much profit you will be making. Your goal is to survive." The article goes on to say that the breakeven cost for most of the hog farmers in Iowa is around $60 per hundredweight. Today lean hogs are selling at about $70 per hundredweight. So, there could be a little profit ... but, corn, bean, and fuel prices have gone up since July, 11th.

I guess I read an article like this and think about the ramifications for the farmers and I wonder how in the world this could happen. It is not like we are talking about computers or iPods here that are just "wants". We are talking about food! How have we as a nation gotten to the point where producers lose money in order to provide food for our nation and the world. Okay, I guess I understand the "how" and to a point I understand the "why" (we are addicted to cheap subsidized food), but I really can't figure out how we can keep going in this direction.

There is one other thing that I think about when I read an article like this ... can I make any money with the eight feeder pigs that I will have finished this fall and for sale. Right now it costs about $18 per hundredweight of feed and pigs like to eat (even though they are the best converters of feed to weight). Will those numbers work out for me and will I be able to make ends meet?

Remember ... I'll have wholes and halves of pork for sale this fall ... let me know if you would like to be added to the list!

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Building Continues...

Okay, sorry for such a late post today. Between family, church work, farm chores, trying to sell a house, and the building work things are a little crazy around here lately. Because of that my early morning posts are becoming more difficult to pull off if I don't write them the night before. I would encourage everyone that enjoys reading the blog regularly (I do feel sorry for you if you keep up with this mumbling) to subscribe on the right through Feedburner to receive the posts in your inbox. It is just an easy way for you to keep up.

Now, for the updates:
  • As you can see from the picture above we have the waste lines roughed in and the water line run. It is absolutely wonderful to have water on the farm ... now for the electric ...
  • We went to a wedding this Thursday/Friday ... it is always nice to take a break from the work.
  • Saturday morning we worked on the plumbing stuff in the morning and then my Father-in-Law and I went out to finish pulling all the old fence posts. I got one pulled when a seal burst on my left hydraulic cylinder on the loader. Let's just say that fluid was flying and the work was done for the day!
  • I spent a small part of Saturday evening dickering with my cousin/uncle over the price of some used cylinders. Now I have two cylinders from an old Hesston baler. They are two-way instead of one-way, so that will be nice. I do need to get more hoses, couplings, and fittings now though before I'm up and running again.
  • Yesterday we went to my dads to check on the cows, horses, and chickens. I was dinking around with some stuff while the family looked at the cattle. When I went over I noticed something was different ... there was one more calf! There was a little black bull calf born in the last two days to Kenosha. That makes five calves this year (three heifers and two bulls).
Lots of stuff on tap this week... I'll keep updating and remember to check out the subscription on the right if you would like.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

A Picture Update...

I'm off to the farm bright and early to help rough in the plumbing that will go under the concrete slab. So, here is a picture from the progress on Thursday morning. Hopefully I'll have another update this afternoon.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Our Founding Farmers

On this Fourth Day of July we celebrate the independence of our great country, and I truly do believe it is a great country.  I believe we owe the freedoms that we have today to our founding fathers who built this country out of a desire for freedom and liberty.  In honor of this great day I just want to leave you with some quotes from our "Founding Farmers".

"Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens.  They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to it's liberty and interests by the most lasting bands" -Thomas Jefferson

"The science of government it is my duty to study, more than all other sciences; the arts of legislation and administration and negotiation ought to take place of, indeed exclude, in a manner, all other arts.  I must study politics and war, that our sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.  Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain." -John Adams (if this doesn't speak to the importance of agriculture I don't know what does)

"Agriculture is the most healthful, most useful and most noble employment of man." -George Washington

"There seem to be three ways for a nation to acquire wealth.  The first is by war, as the Romans did, in plundering their neighbors.  This is robbery.  The second by commerce, which is generally cheating.  The third is by agriculture, the only honest way, wherein man receives a real increase of the seed thrown into the ground, in a kind of continual miracle, wrought by the hand of God in his favor, as reward for his innocent life and virtuous industry." -Benjamin Franklin

Thursday, July 03, 2008

A Thursday Farm Update

Well, this past couple of weeks has been a major break from the type of blogging that I have been doing since I started this blog nearly two years ago. But, on the other hand this is just what I had in mind when I started the blog. My idea was to be able to chronicle my journey from a guy living in town towards my goal of becoming a full time farmer. Well, I'm no where near being a full time farmer yet, but I do feel like we are making progress towards the dream and that the steps that we are taking now are huge jumps towards our desire as a family.

So, here is what has happened on Tuesday and Wednesday along with my plans for the weekend. As you can see in the picture at the very top they started putting in the boards that span between the posts on Tuesday. Those boards are what we are going to put our insulation between and what we will attach the sheetrock to. Then on Wednesday night when we went out (after the rain storm) we saw that they had finished all the framing of the walls, cut the posts down to size, and were ready for the rafters (which were in place on the ground). You can check out the slight difference on the second picture.

The house isn't the only thing that has progressed this week. While I have spent the evenings mowing the perimeter and along the woods in preparation for the fencing Becca and the kids have been putting in a small garden. Some transplanted tomatoes, peppers, and yams along with some beans and corn. We will see what comes up this year, but we haven't set our sights to high. One nice thing about the farm is that there is a natural garden out there also ... this week Becca has also picked some black raspberries and we will be overrun with black berries in the near future judging by what we see.

Thursday afternoon and Friday we will be gone to a wedding, but on Saturday we have a huge work day planned. We are going to rough in the plumbing (it goes under the concrete) and run water to the house. Also, while we are doing all that we are going to put in a hydrant near the garden. Hopefully by the end of the day we will have running water on the farm. If only the electricity would come quickly...

**As always you can click on the images for a bigger version**

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Got Milk? Raw Milk that is...

Yesterday I came across an article on the New Farm website titled, "Dairyman wants super-quality raw milk in retail stores". The dairyman in this case is Jerry Synder, of Sunny Cove Farm, and the "super-quality" raw milk is unpasturized, 100% organic, and pathogen free. Mr. Synder direct markets his milk (along with grassfed beef, organic apples, and maple syrup) from an on farm store that is open Tuesday through Friday from 2:00 PM until 5:00 PM. He runs a small herd, by most standards, of 50 cows on his all grass dairy.

It all sounds great ... super quality milk, an all grass dairy, organic beef, on farm sales, the store is only open 12 hours a week, small scale, family operated, and customers willing to pay the premium. But, Mr. Synder doesn't want to just sell his milk on the farm. He wants to fight the laws and the regulations to allow "super quality milk" that has been super tested to be sold in the stores. Mr. Synder has his milk tested regularly and it tests at levels 1/4 of the allowed limit. He attributes those great results with quality herd management, knowledge of genetics, sanitation, and nutrition.

At this point I have no desire to have a milking operation on the farm, unless it is just milking a couple of our Dexters for ourselves. But, I find this battle going on in New York pretty interesting because Mr. Synder is producing a superior product and is now trying to work within the system in order to take it to a larger market. It reminds me of Joel Salatin's book, "Everything I Want to Do is Illegal" (which I will read sometime). I encourage you to check out this article and give me your thoughts on raw milk sales. Also, I would be interested in what the laws are in your state. I think here in Iowa it is illegal.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Starting to Take Shape

I'm going to try and strike a balance between farming research, commentary, thoughts, ideas, and of course farm building. But, last evening when we went out to the farm to do some work we laid our eyes 25 sticks stuck in the ground! This is a pretty big deal for us because what you see in the picture on the left is the very beginning of our new house. As I have mentioned numerous times we are building a pole building that we will finish off ourselves so these posts are pretty much the foundation and frame of the house. From here things will hopefully go up pretty quickly.

The plan (pending weather and contractors) is to have the building framed up by Thursday (it looks like the weather will hold). Then on Saturday we are going to rough in the plumbing underground so that hopefully (fingers crossed) we can do some grading and pour some cement early next week ... after the septic is in I guess. Once all that floor stuff is done than we will be ready for steel to go up on the sides and the roof. Of course we will have a slab floor, which could be cold, but we are going to put a combination of high density foam and bubble wrap under the concrete to help keep it slightly above freezing!

But, the cool thing about this house is that it is a little different and it will have a barn look to it. The building will be red with white trim and have a big sliding door on the end facing our pastures (a little storage). And, to top it all off there is going to be a great view of the pastures below the house. Here are some of the plans for the week:

Finish mowing the perimeter of the property in preparation for fencing.

Expand the pig area (training to electric) with the panels I bought at an auction this weekend.

Fence in the garden (garden fencing and electric fencing).

Get water on the property (should be coming in tomorrow and then we'll install a hydrant).

Find more berries for my family to eat (I don't care for them, but I enjoy finding them and clearing out the woodline).
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...