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Rotationally Raised, Episode 12: Small Grains in the Corn Belt, A Sustainable Supply Chain

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.

Nathan Anderson, who direct markets beef from his family’s farm near Aurelia in northwest Iowa, says that the best way for consumers to understand why to support farmers is to visit a farm. “I think there’s a number of farmers that are very open to sharing about their operation,” he says, “I know I really appreciate those opportunities.”

Jon Bakehouse of Hastings says that doing things a little differently – even if it’s just on a few acres, starts conversations. “It shows people that you can do something different,” he says, “it gives you the open door to start talking about diversity and why it’s important and why maybe your community should be thinking about it more seriously on a large scale.”

Earl Canfield and his family, who farm near Dunkerton, started raising small grains for a number of different reasons. But perhaps the most important is that raising a diversity of crops is good for his family. He says that as agriculture has gotten bigger and moved more toward specialization, there are less opportunities for young people on the farm – both to be able to gain experience and responsibility with different crop and livestock enterprises, and to be able to stay and find work in rural America.

In the Canfield family’s case and in every family’s case, that all depends on making an income, “Farmers need to be able to earn a profit on the different crops that they’re growing on their farm,” Earl says. For farmers like Nathan, Jon and Earl, one answer to making a diversified farm work is by seeking out customers directly who support the type of agriculture they practice.

But for many farmers, that’s not practical, for one reason or another. They still, however, believe that raising crops in rotation — and in tandem with livestock — is what works for farms, families, the environment and rural communities. As consumers and people who live off the farm in towns and cities get on-board with diversity in Iowa’s agriculture, opportunities exist for creating new markets and building additional resilience into the food and agriculture supply chain.

And that’s why, for the last couple years, we’ve been working with various partners throughout the agriculture supply chain to figure out how to reward Corn Belt farmers in the marketplace for growing crops in diverse rotations. If you’re interested in this, or to learn more about how you can get involved with this initiative, contact Sarah Carlson – [email protected], who leads this project. You can see what we’ve worked on so far on this project here- “Small Grains in the Corn Belt.” To learn more about small grains production, please check out our small grains page at practicalfarmers.org/small-grains.

Thanks again to all the members of Practical Farmers of Iowa who dedicated their time, thoughts and energy to make this series happen.

Also, if you like the music, please check out farmer-musician Matt Woods. The guy is awesome. And he plays lots of shows. He’ll probably be somewhere near you soon… Rotationally Raised wouldn’t have been the same without his driving guitar. Thanks, Matt!