Thursday, September 27, 2012

Oh No :: No More Bacon!

Just the other day our local news station had this article on their website ...

"Bacon, pork prices to increase next year"

There were a few quotes that stood out to me ...

The group said farmers worldwide are cutting their herds "at a significant rate" that could double pork prices in Europe in the second half of next year.
"If I were purchasing all my grain to feed my hogs, I'd probably be closing out right now," said David Struthers. 
"You will be able to eat BLTs next year. You just might be paying a little bit more for the bacon than what you did this year, but we will not run out," said Joe Kerns. 
"If we have another dry year things could get really ugly," said Struthers.
Wow ... there is so much to think about in this little article. First of all it has me scared ... the fear has been there deep down for awhile, but I've tried to not let it come to my mind. But, I'm with Mr. Struthers ... if we have another dry year things could get really ugly. As a beginning farmer who still hasn't established everything on the farm and as a hog farmer that must purchase feed I don't even want to begin to think about grain prices going any higher than they already are. I'm praying (really praying) for a wonderfully cold and very snowy winter followed by the muddiest spring the farm has seen!

The article goes on to talk about the shortage that is expected in Europe and the probably price increases that will be seen in the United States. Many hog produces are cutting the numbers in their herds (in fact I know a few hogs leaving the farm in my area as well) and once those cuts are felt there will likely be price increases.

But, for me the most telling quote was this one ...
The National Pig Association is calling on consumers to choose local products to help boost prices to help farmers.
I whole heartedly agree with that statement! I have one question though ... are they talking about purchasing from local farmers directly or purchasing for local grocery stores. The only reason I ask is because at a recent taste test there was a pork shoulder roast from the local small-chain grocery store. The person hosting the tasting talked to the meat department at the grocery and asked about where it came from ... the grocery store said it came from Tyson, but that it probably was an Iowa pig. The host then called Tyson directly and they said there was a chance that it came from Iowa, but it also could have come from Canada or Mexico.

My thoughts ... purchase directly from you farmer and then know for sure you are supporting your local farmer! In fact we haven't raised our prices yet (and hope not to), so you can reserve a hog for the spring at the same prices you could last fall.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Single Sport Athletes ... err ... Farmers

Before we started the farm (and during the first year of farming) I was a head girls varsity soccer coach in our community. I loved soccer, coaching, and impacting students so it was a perfect fit for me. But, what it wasn't a perfect fit for was the farm and it seemed that just as soccer got busy the farm got busy so I knew that soccer had to end if I wanted to farm. But, if you have had any sort of involvement in high school sports over the past 10 years or so you have experienced or heard of the push towards single-sport focus. What I mean is that many students are moving away from playing four different seasons of sports and beginning to focus in on one sport and playing/practicing year-round.

It just too me about 30 seconds and a Google search for "single sport high school athletes" to come up with article after article talking about how it is detrimental to the athlete in so many ways. Here is one article and here is another. A few quotes really stood out to me ... "'A lot of parents are going to fast-track their kids,' Cuthbert says, 'and you've got to be careful about burning a kid out.'"
"Experts and may area high school coaches contend the one-sport emphasis is premature for an athlete who has yet to reach full physical and emotional maturity and has the ability and desire to play multiple sports." 
"A growing number of young athletes are focusing on playing a single sport, putting themselves at greater risk of serious injuries, physicians said." 
"Some parents believe that specialization can help their children becomes stars, earning a college scholarship or even a pro career." 
"The movement toward specialization may produce more successful athletes, but it also results in more injuries. More than 3.5 million children 14 and younger were treated for sports injuries in 2010, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. In contrast, 1.9 million were treated in 2002, according to the Centers for Disease Control."
You can see there is quite a feeling that this specialization in sports for students is not a great idea. I tend to agree with that because of what I saw with the students I coached ... or the ones I didn't get to coach because they were "focused" on only one sport. But, this is far from a sports blog ... so what does it have to do with farming?

To put it simply I think much of agriculture (like American youth sports) is too fractured and specialized. Of course I could go on and on about how specialization in agriculture is something I don't care for, but that really isn't my current frustration. My current frustration stems from the news I heard on the way into town this morning ... the farm bill will have to wait until after the election.

Of course this is the same farm bill that I went to Washington D.C. to discuss two summers ago (I guess things take time). But, it really isn't the fact that we won't have one that frustrates me (I don't know enough about it). What really has me down is the fractured state of agriculture in the United States (or the world). As I listened to the radio and read a few news reports I found that not only was the legislation fractured along party lines, but also along farmer lines. Farmers are at times lined up fighting against other farmers!

While in D.C. I had one senators staffer tell me that all I wanted was the playing field tipped in my direction. That I wanted an advantage, "because that is what everyone wants". That made me angry ... it still makes me angry! I don't want an advantage ... I just want to be able to do my thing and I want to be able to look at things holistically ... not fractured and compartmentalized.

It seems if we continue down the fractured and specialized road we will just find ourselves with twice as many injuries each year ... you know ... like we are seeing in youth sports partially as a result of the "benefits" of specialization.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Time For a New Boot

On September, 26th 2006 (wow ... almost exactly 6 years ago???) I wrote my second ever blog post. It is probably obvious from the post that I was pretty proud of the fact that I was able to wear out a pair of boots (even though it took about 10 years) ... it is also obvious that I didn't have a lot to write about! In case you are wondering I ended up trying a pair of Georgia Boots (they didn't workout) and ended up with a pair of Wolverine Boots (they were great). Now I've moved on to Red Wing Boots because I was able to get a great discount when I was working at the farm store.

But, just yesterday I purchased new boots ... errr ... a new boot. As you can see in the picture this is probably the most expensive boot I've ever purchased, but I'm very thankful to have a "boot" again on my right foot. I even get to wear a sock!!!

Honestly though, even though it is very very very painful to walk I am walking again and hopefully I can get to farming again. I realize not everyone has known about my wonderful achilles tendon tear, but I'm thankful for all that have been supporting through help and prayers. I still have a long ways to go and it's not like I can do much, but at least this is a literal "step in the right direction".

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Give & Take :: Nitrates, GMO, Local, Organic, Etc.

One of the greatest benefits of setting up at the Downtown Des Moines Farmers Market is that I have a chance to interact with customers. This interaction (as I mentioned in the previous post) allows me the opportunity to share our farm story and my passion for the way we raise our livestock and the meat we produce. But, it has also allowed me to see what is most important to customers when it comes to the way that we raise the food that we sell.

The big topics that always come up are animal welfare, nitrates in the bacon, GMO grains, locally raised (there are quite a few people who ask if I raise the livestock), organic certified, and plenty of other topics of debate. Sometimes the customers like the answers that I give and purchase ... sometimes they don't like the answers and they give it a try anyways ... and sometimes they don't like the answers and they decide not to buy at all. But, when it comes down to it for me it is really a game of give and take.

I say give and take because if I may one choice, such as deciding to use organic grains, then it will impact another aspect of the farm ... in that case the cost of the finished product for the consumer. With grain prices as high as they are now it is already difficult to figure out how everything to come together financially, but I can't image how it would be if I was only using organic grains. Recently I spoke with an organic hog farmer who was paying $18 a bushel for corn and nearly $30 for beans! Basically twice as much as I'm paying for locally raised (most likely GMO) grain.

If I was using organic grains my prices would have to be raised significantly and I would probably lose some customers because of that ... probably not many people would be interested in $7 or $8 ground pork. So, for the time being I'm sticking with my locally raised grains that aren't trucked around the midwest and support local businesses. Would I like to be able to use non-GMO grain ... YES!!! But, that will have to wait until I can source it in a way that makes sense ... or I can raise my own (that is a dream).

That is just one example of the give and take questions that are continually facing the farm. Financial sustainability means lots of questions like this and lots of conversations with customers. One thing I wouldn't mind changing is the nitrates because it seems to be a big concern for customers, but so far my processor doesn't feel comfortable with the other options.

How about you ... what do you think of these debates and give and takes?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Virtual Farm Tour :: The Farmer's Market

While not literally on the farm ... the Downtown Des Moines Farmers Market is a huge part of the farm. Last year we did twelve dates at the market (including the two winter indoor markets), and this year we are full-time vendors there each week beginning in May and ending the last Saturday of October. We are in the homestretch now, but it has been a very good and eventful season so far ... even if I've done about half of it on crutches and in a cast!

The Downtown Des Moines Farmers Market is a pretty large market covering four city blocks plus three north/south side streets off of the main avenue. I believe it has somewhere close to 200 vendors and averages large crowds each week with over 15,000 people. Needless to say it is a very large crowd each week and even though it has been hot we have had nice Saturdays and plenty of people.

For our farm the biggest thing about the market is getting our name out there, meeting people, and sharing our story. The great thing about the market is that there is an opportunity to really build a relationship with the customers and they can get a pretty good picture of the farm. Just in this first year we have built a great following of regulars who come pretty much every week (and mostly at the same time). Those regulars have also become some of our best advertisers and often recommend our pork to friends or people checking out the display while they are making their purchase.

We have been averaging about a hog per week in sales at the market with pork being the mainstay of our sales ... and the only thing that we've had consistently each week. At the beginning of the market we had a little lamb left over which sold very well, and the one beef we did this year sold out very quickly! We have also had our whole chickens for a few weeks and should have more throughout the last two months of the market. But, our pork has been our thing and I hope to gain a reputation as the place to go to for the best pork at the market.

The biggest thing about the market for the farm though is just the exposure. I have often commented that our eventual goal is to be selling just wholes and halves. I strongly believe that is the most sustainable method for the farm and for the way we raise the animals, but in order to get to that place people need to get to know us. This year we have been taking reservations for whole/half hogs and quickly filled up the spots for our fall hogs and are now taking reservations for the spring. If things keep up the way they are going now I can see us eventually working our way out of the market ... which could be a good thing.

But, for the time being ... the market is a great avenue and connection to a great crowd interested in some of the best pork available!

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Outsmarting the Drought :: Dick Thompson

Dick Thompson is a man that I've never met, but he is one that I have often read about. Mr. Thompson was the founding force behind Practical Farmers of Iowa and still is deeply involved in the research and field studies down in the organization. In the article linked below he shares how he beats the drought through diversification instead of relying on crop insurance and other payments. I think this statement of his from the article sums it up best, but you should read the whole thing for yourself ...
"In 1988, our bean yields were 17 bushels over county average, our corn yields were 27 bushels over county average - so, I rest my case."
I think our farmers and the entire country would benefit from Mr. Thompson's approach, but those are just my thoughts ... let me know what you think!

Having a Profitable Farm Year, Rain or Shine
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