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.

Terry Troxel
Iowana Farm
Member since 2012
Crescent, IA

At Iowana Farm, located on her grandfather’s farmland snuggled in the Loess Hills, Terry raises 3 acres of certified organic heirloom vegetables for a CSA; the Village Pointe and Rockbrook Village farmers markets in Omaha; several restaurants; and wholesale.

Terry and her late husband, Chuck, moved back to Iowa from California in 2007 and started Iowana Farm. The 66-acre farm features 20 acres of land under cultivation – the 3 acres in certified organic vegetables and the rest in alfalfa hay. The farm’s fields are surrounded by oak savanna and grasslands.

In addition to annual crops — some grown in one of Terry’s three high tunnels — the farm also has some perennial crops.

Terry hosted a Practical Farmers field day in 2014, presented at PFI’s 2017 annual conference and is part of Practical Farmers’ on-farm research Cooperators’ Program.

Her farm is a busy place, with employees, volunteers, friends and family at work and enjoying each other’s company.

Learn more about Terry:

In 2014, Iowa Learning Farms and Practical Farmers began a joint research effort to investigate the use of a highboy seeder to seed cover crops into standing corn and soybeans. The objective was to determine the effects of planting technique on the successful establishment of sole species and mixed species cover crops. Cover crop planting technique considered two factors: 1) seeding date (into standing crops vs. post-harvest) and 2) method (Hagie Highboy vs. grain drill).

The results are highlighted in a new report: Seeding Technique and Date Effect on Cover Crop Establishment. More details on the project are provided below.

Hagie Highboy

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“We have an infiltration problem, not a runoff problem.” This Ray Archuleta quote was much discussed on third and final installment in the American Society of Agronomy’s 2017 webinar series “Cover Crops – Looking Beyond the Basics.” The webinar, which took place on February 9, featured Anne Verhallen, a soil scientist from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, and Dave Brandt, a farmer from Ohio, describing their scouting strategies for cover crops, and how these practices help them get to the root of production challenges on their farm.

A farmer scouts any time he or she goes out into the field and takes data on environmental and crop conditions. Taking data can mean many things from taking pictures to performing simple tests and recording the outcomes. For example, in order to determine if you have an infiltration problem — which as Archuleta reminds us, is really the source of runoff — Anne suggests performing an infiltration test, driving a plumbing pipe or coffee can with the bottom removed into the soil and then timing how long it take 1 inch of water to infiltrate until the surface is just glistening. Results will vary based upon soil type, but you ideally want to measure an inch of infiltration in minutes rather than hours. Anne says, “The soil needs pores from earth worms or cover crop roots to open space for infiltration. If it crusts then you’re going to start seeing erosion and loss of soil.”

Water Runoff

Run off like this is caused by a lack of pores in the soil which serve as the entry point for water.

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The first season of Rotationally Raised has come to a close. We hope you learned a lot about production, and that you’ve decided that small grains could work on your farm. That said, in this episode, we shift the focus a bit to include the bigger picture. Members of Practical Farmers of Iowa want to grow small grains again because they’re good for the farm, good for rural communities and good for our food system as a whole. In this final episode of the first season of Rotationally Raised, we explore how diversified crop rotation could play a big role in making the agricultural supply chain – that provides us all with food, feed, fuel and fiber – more sustainable.

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Brad Law and family -- wife Megan and boys Gentry, Porter and Sawyer

Brad Law and family
(From left to right: sons Gentry, Porter and baby Sawyer; Megan and Brad)
Law Farms LLC
Members since 2015

King City, MO

Brad Law is one of Practical Farmers’ out-of-state members. He farms with his wife, Megan, and their three boys (Gentry, 6; Porter, 3; and Sawyer, born Jan. 7, 2017) at Law Farms LLC, their 300-acre farm near King City, Missouri, in the northwestern part of the state.

The family grows corn, soybeans, winter wheat and some farmers market produce. “For the produce, we are growing white and yellow popcorn; bi-color, non-GMO sweet corn; strawberries; peppers; tomatoes; and a variety of other items,” Brad says.

“This spring we are embarking on a new addition with a 26-by-96-foot high tunnel, which will be a new learning experience. We have also ordered 2,000 ever-berry strawberry plants to expand our strawberry production to beyond what our boys can eat.” Continue reading

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Roots of cereal rye in early April (pictured) can be a food source for harmful pathogens and insects if not managed carefully.

We don’t often think of our cover crops as gun slinging cowboys and cowgirls of the old west, staring down their pistols at villains of agriculture: diseases, insects, and weeds. But by the end of the webinar “Cover Crops and Pest Management: The Good and the Bad,” I was pretty convinced that while cover crops are no silver bullet for the big bads of agriculture, they mostly fall into the good category – even if they have a glint of the bad in their eye.

This first installment in the American Society of Agronomy’s “Cover Crop 2017 Webinars – Beyond the Basics” series explored the relationship between pests and cover crops. The two speakers showed that cover crops can be effective for combating pests (particularly weeds), but their potential to double-cross the farmer and become a host for insects and diseases should always inform management decisions.

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Peoples Company of Clive has just released a new guide on farmland transfer–and the guide is peppered with quotes, photos and tips from PFI members.

In “Your Farmland and the Future: Setting Goals, Taking Action” we hear from:

  • Rick and Jane Juchems of Plainfield, who communicate often with their son and daughter about their legacy plans. “Our children need to know what is going on,” Jane says. “We are trying to get everything on the table so that no one’s expectations are inaccurate.”
  • Bob and Linda Lynch of Gilmore City, who share their strategies, such as life insurance and gifting of land, designed to ensure that their son Jay will be able to stay on the land and continue as the fifth generation of Lynches to farm.
  • Susan and Rob Fleming of Carlisle and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, share how they have used their farmland for income, for conservation and to provide land for beginning farmers.

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    Deb Tidwell and Jeff Klinge, featured in “Your Farmland and the Future”

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You want a high tunnel. Maybe you already bought it. You thought you could put it up on your own. Then, like Jeremy (pictured below), you realize you had bit off more than you could chew. You thought, “It’d be great if I could talk to someone who’s done this…” or better yet, “I’d like get some hands-on experience building a tunnel before wrecking my own…” 

23 Hanson high tunnel 2015 (248) jeremey quigley

Lucky for you, it’s time for another PFI High Tunnel Build Workshop

ht build flyer

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Cover crops are an important practice to sustain the natural resource base upon which agriculture depends, the soil. Cover crops help provide year-round cover to soils which not only reduces erosion from wind and water but also captures fugitive nutrients like nitrate-nitrogen and dissolved phosphorus before they pollute nearby water bodies. In the Cornbelt, farmers have increased their acres of cover crops over the past four years as reported in an annual survey conducted by the Conservation Technology Information Center and the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (2016). But even with this increase in popularity little germplasm improvement for cover cropping characteristics has happened. The species farmers are planting today for cover crops have had little germplasm selection for specific cover cropping characteristics, presenting significant opportunities to improve the environmental and agronomic benefits of cover crops.

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To better understand what cover cropping characteristics farmers want and need to improve their success with cover crops a review of the four annual SARE/CTIC surveys was conducted; specifically on the sections about Challenges and Benefits. In the first three years of the survey farmers were provided with a set of 11-15 Challenges to rank (CTIC and SARE 2013, 2014, 2015). In Year Four (2016), survey respondents were provided 11 Challenges to rank as a Major, a Minor or No Challenge on their farm.  Cover crop farmers ranked 10-17 different Desired Cover Crop Benefits as shown in column two.

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Are you grazing cover crops this spring, or plan to in the fall? If so, it’s important to check and see if your corn or bean herbicides have grazing restrictions. Some common herbicides do not allow for grazing of cover crops or crop residue.

If you’re grazing covers this spring, look back at what herbicides you applied to those fields in 2016. If you’re planning on planting and grazing covers in crop fields in the late summer, plan your upcoming herbicide application appropriately. Before you spray, read labels to ensure it’s safe to use your cover crops (and your crop residue) as livestock feed.