The Practical Blog

Practical Farmers' blog is a place where staff share news, updates, photos, reflections and other musings on our work and members in a more informal setting.

 There is still time to get paid $10/A to add cover crops to your fields. If you sell corn to the Cargill plant in Eddyville, IA or soybeans to the ADM supply chain in Des Moines, IA you are eligible. Sell to both locations? Get double the acres. To get started sign up today at https://pficovercrops.youcanbook.me/ or call Shannon at the PFI office for more information 515-232-5661 or email shannon_k@practicalfarmers.org.


Forty people gathered at Jon and Tina Bakehouse’s Maple Edge Farm on August 25 to celebrate the ties between agriculture and art. Why, you may wonder, would Practical Farmers hold such a field day?

Just shy of 25% of Practical Farmers’ membership is made up of non-farmers. To better bring them into PFI’s community, Practical Farmers committed to holding at least two events each year to educate non-farmers about agriculture in Iowa. Agriculture is such a staple in Iowa, and art feeds our hearts and souls. Art engages and educates people on important topics. Elevating the role and influence art can have when applied to agriculture is a wonderful thing, and was the focus of this creative event.

Food stories

The day started with Tina Bakehouse and Mary Swander sharing stories of how their lives have been impacted by food, and how that relationship has shifted over their lifetimes. Tina said, “Iowa has some of the richest, most beautiful soil. It should be full of agri-hoods!” She asked the audience to imagine a healthy food system, where farming is a panacea for a healthy economy, environment and people. Continue reading

Oats as a feed grain for pigs is nothing new, yet many producers are concerned over the high fiber content and low test weight.  Well-balanced small grain-based diets can perform as well as corn- and soy-based diets, especially when oats are dehulled and fed to gestating sows.

Nutritional Quality and Health Benefits of Oats

Nutritionally, small grains are similar to corn but provide less energy and vary in fiber, fat, and lysine content.  The high crude fiber content of oats is desirable for pigs at all stages of production, but the concern is balancing fiber content without limiting energy requirements to meet daily gains. Of all the small grains, oats have the highest fat content (2-12%), have almost double the amount of lysine than corn, and are rich in vitamin B1, B2, B6, and vitamin A, K, and E. Oats help to maintain normal intestinal function, reduce risk of constipation and diarrhea, and minimize stress behavior.

To summarize oats, have:

  • 20% less than the energy value of corn
  • Higher protein and lysine than corn
  • High fiber content

Nutrient Analysis comparing Corn and Oats (as-fed basis)

Corn Oats
Crude Protein (%) 8.3 11.5
Lysine (%) 0.26 0.40
NDF (%) 9.6 27.0
ADF (%) 2.8 13.5
Calcium (%) 0.03 0.07
Phosphorus (%) 0.28 0.31

                                    Source: Iowa State Extension, 2005

Ripening oats

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Dr. Joel Gruver and the Allison Organic Research Farm hosted a group of PFI members on Wednesday, August 15.

The farm began in 1989 when Western Illinois University was looking to do research on pesticide-free farming practices. Today, the farm is 77 rented acres and has been certified organic since 2009. Recently, the area has only seen about four inches of rain in the last four months, which has played a major role in the success and failure of many of the research projects.

Joel led field day attendees through the farm explaining the wide range of research being conducted at Allison Organic Research Farm.

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Dennis Carney’s conservation ethic stems from observing too much soil erosion and soil movement into streams and rivers. He’s a fifth generation grain farmer between Marble Rock and Greene in north-central Iowa. Most will deny that soil erosion is of any concern on such a flat landscape teeming with rich, black soils. But Dennis outright disagrees with this line of thought. “Wind erosion does happen!” Dennis exclaimed to attendees of his field day on Sept. 6 as he shared the practices he uses on his farm to conserve soil. Since coming back to the farm in the early 1980s after attending Iowa State University, Dennis has strategically incorporated no-till, cover crops and the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) as routine practice.

Dennis Carney (center with microphone) leads field day attendees to a corn field where a cereal rye + rapeseed cover crop was flown on a week prior.

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Are you a beginning farmer setting out to create a successful farm? You probably already know that you need clear goals and passion to make it work. But, without (even with!) keen financial skills and the business know-how, starting a successful farm can be challenging. This is where the Savings Incentive Program can help. The program pairs beginning farmers with experienced farmer mentors; provides targeted learning and peer networking opportunities; offers business planning support and guidance; and gives participants the chance to save money while learning how to build a profitable farm.

We have opened applications for the 2020 class. Are you interested in being part of this class? This program is competitive, so you’ll want to spend time creating a high-quality application. This fall the Savings Incentive Program committee will come together to review submitted applications and select the next class. Below are four tips for you to consider when completing your application.

1. What experience do you bring?

Tell us what you’ve done to prepare yourself to farm. A farmer is constantly learning from season to season and having experience will help you take advantage of the benefits of the program. Have you worked with another farmer or on your family farm? Have you studied agriculture or taken workshops to learn new skills? The clearer a picture you can paint for the committee, the better they will understand what you’ve done to prepare to be a successful participant. Continue reading

Terry first learned to save seeds from her mother. Her mother would remove the seeds from the pulp, put the seeds in a glass with some water, and see if they sank. The ones that didn’t sink, she would pour off. The good seeds she would dry on a paper bag on top of the refrigerator. When Terry started farming, that’s how she saved seeds. But when Terry attended a seed-saving workshop with Nathan and Beth Korymb through the NSAS, she decided to save seed commercially. Beth and Nathan visited and inspected Terry’s farm, and they recommended her to High Mowing Mix, making it possible for Terry to get a contract.

Tom Stearns, the founder of High Mowing,  gave her some additional advice that she passed along. “You want to make money. It’s easy to not make money at this. Do the minimum for these tomato plants. Do not trellis these. Do not weed them.” Taking this advice, Terry’s seed tomatoes are the last seeds she starts and the last tomatoes she harvests. She does use paper mulch on them to keep the weeds down, and “herds” the plants into the bed to keep the edges tidy.

“I had the most confidence in saving tomato seeds,” Terry says. “High Mowing buys seed by the pound; certified organic heirloom seed is bought for $350/lb, if you have an 80% germination rate. Every 5% of additional germination rate, I get another $50/lb. If you get germination into the high 90s, that can be $450/lb. It’s emotional to throw seed away, but like my Mom did – let the floaters go – they don’t have the germ in them.  With the yield I had, I made three times more selling tomatoes retail than I did saving and selling the seed… but – saving and selling seed is a very laid-back thing.”

“The tomatoes have got to be very ripe. The seed does not pulp up and create a germ until it’s ripe. The seed pockets are all there in the bottom of the tomato flower, and you’ll learn what the seed pockets look like in different kinds of tomatoes when you start doing this. You’ll develop strategies for what’s the quickest way to get the  seeds out of the tomato. A 5-gallon bucket of ripe tomatoes will yield 2 oz. of seed; it takes 8 5-gallon buckets of tomatoes to save 1 lb of seed. It takes about 120 plants for 1 lb of seed.” Continue reading

Scott Shriver of Shriver Farms started with 40 organic acres back in 1998, and today he farms 2,000 organic acres. After 20 years of organic weed control in corn and soybeans, Scott shared his experiences with 115 attendees at a recent PFI field day. Shriver Farms was homesteaded by Scott’s great-grandfather in 1876. Scott came back to the farm in 1994. In 1998, Scott bought some ground after reading up on organics. Forty acres of this new ground was able to go right into organic production, so Scott decided to give it a go. It took the next ten years for the rest of the farm to transition to organic production.

“It’s a learning curve, technology has changed a lot in that ten years,” Says Scott. “It would have been a disaster if we tried to transition everything all at once.”

The Shriver Weed Control Fleet
Much of the discussion revolved around how Scott controls weeds and the equipment he uses on his 1,500 acres of row crops. Scott uses a variety of methods including cultivation, cover crops as mulch for soybeans and flame weeding for corn.

“We’re picking up equipment and learning along the way,” Scott says. “The longer I do this, the more I know that I don’t know.”

It starts with planting. Scott gives a lot of credit to the guidance systems on his tractors to ensure straight rows. “If you can plant in a straight row, that straight row is just that much easier to cultivate.” Scott has a wide array of cultivators and other weed control implements in his arsenal. Each one is used at a different stage in the life cycle for his corn and soybeans.

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There’s something hiding in the prairie grass at Dwight and Bev Rutters’ 640-acre farm northwest of Spencer – birds, frogs, the metal dinosaur sculpture. Dwight said, “I keep him around because he don’t eat much.”

Dwight’s sense of humor and knowledge of all things prairie kept the attention of the field day crowd as both him and his wife, Bev, gave a tour of their expansive prairie and wetlands at The Prairie Flower. Over 40 people attended the morning field day on August 9 to learn about the prairie farming business. Dwight led the group on a tractor with a wagon full of people while Bev followed in an ATV with even more people loaded on.

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It may still be summer, but it’s time to start thinking about planting cover crops. Our cover crop directory is a great resource for locating cover crop seed suppliers and seeding services in your area. We update it every year to include businesses that sell cover crop seed, provide cover crop seeding services, custom cover crop spraying and seed cleaning. This year is the biggest directory yet with the most business listings! Cick on the cover below or this link to the 2018 Cover Crop Directory to check it out today.

In order to secure these services at a favorable price and to get first choice at seeding dates, it’s best to line up seed and seeding in July and August. Several of the businesses listed in the cover crop directory are what we call “one-stop-shops.” With the description of the field and your cover crop selection, they can source seed and arrange for it to be seeded for you. In the directory, these businesses are listed in bold and italics.

Cover Crop Business Directory 2018 Cover Image with a plane flying above a green soybean field

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