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.

Continuing work from the previous two years, Practical Farmers of Iowa and partners conducted another round of oat variety trials in 2017. Fifteen varieties were screened at two Iowa State University research farms (Kanawha, Nashua) and one PFI farmer-member farm (Wayne Koehler, Charles City)  Find the new report here: Oat Variety and Fungicide Trials 2017.

Alert Smith 2015 (194)

Key Findings:

  • The variety Antigo had the highest test weight at each location (>38 lb/bu) but was also among the lowest yielding varieties. Reings scored a test weight of 38 lb/bu at Kanawha
  • Application of fungicide did not improve oat yield or test weight for the four varieties tested at Nashua

Learn more about this project below.

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“Land is like our checking account – we can’t take out more than we put in,” said Jamie Hostetler, to an audience of 165 people at his field day in September. Jamie and his family operate a grass-fed beef farm, raising Red Devon cattle and specializing in seed stock production. The cattle are rotationally grazed and managed in a way to “nurture life above the soil and below the soil” explained Jamie, who strives to produce the highest quality meat while simultaneously regenerating the soil.

Hostetler field day_9_16_17 (155)

Jamie Hostetler’s herd of purebred Red Devon and Red Devon crossbred cattle graze during his field day on September 16, 2017 at Rolling Meadows Farm in Bellevue, Iowa.

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October is a busy month in the fields – not only are corn and soybean harvest underway, but it’s time to plant winter small grains for next year’s harvest. Our small grains shared learning call this month therefore featured Paul Mugge and Dick Sloan, farmers who have been growing winter small grains for several years, offering their best practices for small grains planting and management to ensure a good stand and yield come spring and summer.


This is Paul Mugge’s small grain of choice. He raises variety NE4236GT organically for Albert Lea Seed on his farm in O’Brien County. He plants triticale with a no-till drill on the day after soybean harvest. “My ideal scenario is to finish planting triticale by October 10 – it doesn’t look like that’ll happen this year because it’s so wet. But last year I didn’t get it into the field until the end of October and I had a great stand because the fall was so long and warm.”

Mugge Fall Triticale Talk color

Paul Mugge has over a decade of experience growing winter triticale. This photo shows Paul (with microphone right) addressing his audience in a field of triticale on his farm in 2006.


Because Paul farms organically he has big ridges in his soybeans from cultivation. So when he goes to set up his planter for triticale he adjusts some of his coulters shallower so his drill follows the contour of the ridges. He plants about 100-110 pound/acre of triticale. In his triticale seeding rate trial in 2016 he found no significant difference between an 85 lb/acre and a 135 lb/acre seeding rate, so he’s not too careful about getting a precise plant population. Triticale has a more consistent seed size than other small grains so going by lbs/acre is fairly consistent and works for his operation. Continue reading

On September 7th, the Canfield family hosted a field day on their farm near Dunkerton in northeast Iowa. A few years ago, the Canfields decided to make a big change on their farm: they shifted from producing conventional corn and soybeans for the commodity market to raising non-GMO corn and soybeans along with oats and hay. They also started an on-farm feed business and direct-market much of what they raise through that business.

The Canfield Family.

The Canfield Family.

The Canfield farm has been around a long time. I interviewed Earl for our video series on small grains production, Rotationally Raised, that we released on YouTube earlier this year. Before we started the interview, Earl ran inside and changed into a shirt the family had made last year in honor of the designation of their farm as a Heritage Farm – meaning it had been around for 150 years. The family proudly wears these shirts at any event related to their farm, and keeping it going for generations into the future is clearly a big reason they do what they do.

Earl Canfield

Earl Canfield

“The way we’re farming now,  it’s been a wonderful thing for our family. When we were just raising corn and soybeans, the opportunities for our kids to get involved was very limited,” Earl says. He says now, the kids are all directly involved with the day-to-day operations of the business. “We are trying to create some new, viable business opportunities for my children and my grandchildren and however many generations we are privileged to have on this land.”

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Gary and Carol Gadbury Members since 2015 Manhattan, Kansas

Gary and Carol Gadbury
Members since 2015
Manhattan, Kansas

Gary and Carol Gadbury are urban farmers in Manhattan, Kansas, where they work on a large backyard plot to raise vegetables, fruit, chickens and cereals.

“We kind of have a woodland garden area and a vegetable garden area and a small orchard,” Carol says.

These practices are a natural culmination of the Gadburys’ careers. The two met through Carol’s brother – Gary’s undergraduate roommate. At the time, Carol was returning home to be a nurse practitioner, but both were interested in gardening, herbs and medicinal plants. Despite this, both pursued “corporate paths” until more recently.

“It’s sort of like we came full-circle back to where we started from – getting back closer to the land,” Gary says.

However, their diverse backgrounds have played an important role in their farming. As Carol says, “it all kind of ties in.” A former docent for school children’s programs at a local native prairie preserve, Carol holds her master’s degree in anthropology and has experience in marketing. Gary is the former department chair of statistics at Kansas State University. Gary retired a few months ago, giving the two of them more time to focus on urban farming. Continue reading

“I can’t remember a time in my life when gardening wasn’t part of my life,” said Darla Eeten of Good Eetens Produce Farms.

Darla and her husband Michael run the all natural produce farm on 12 acres outside Everly. They aim to sustainably produce vegetables, fruit and cut flowers with little to no mechanization and no chemicals. On September 14th, they hosted a field day on their farm sharing some of what they’ve learned over the years.

Darla and Michael (center) with Darla’s daughter and son

Darla and Michael (center) with Darla’s daughter and son

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Color and fashion were the first topics of the day at Fred Howell’s field day. Surprising? Not if you want flowers to be a successful part of your business. “New color trends starts in home fashion magazines… it the color is accepted there, then it goes into women’s fashion, which is fairly disposable. Then it starts creeping into your home – on the wastebasket, the napkin holder, the tissue box… it’s full-circle when it’s in an automobile. That’s where a color ends.” Fred has seen many colors cycle through, in addition to varieties of flowers, ornamental grasses, and berries.

Unfortunately, Fred is finding that dried flowers themselves are a little out of vogue right now with modern designs, and increased shipping costs are also a factor in limited sales. But adapting the business to stay relevant is nothing new to Fred and his family. In 1963 the Howells began growing Christmas trees as a college fund for their seven kids, including Fred. The Christmas tree business saved their farm in the farm crisis of the 1980s, and they’ve continued to diversify. While Fred’s brother runs the tree farm, Fred and his wife, Cindy, have a diverse agritourism farm that includes a floral greenhouse, dried flowers, gift barn, pumpkin patch, corn maze, and an ever-growing list of Fred’s inventions for family fun. Three of their children – Jennifer, Josh and Erin – work with them.  


Fred began growing for dried flowers in 1985. In 1999 he added pumpkins, and says, “Pumpkins sell a lot of dried flowers. People that wouldn’t normally give dried flowers a second glance will buy them if they come to buy a pumpkin.” Continue reading

Dan Wilson, who farms in Northwest Iowa, recently suggested I read Joel Salatin’s post in the latest Stockman Grass Farmer. I am summarizing some of the column here. Not to embarrass Dan, but he and wife Lorna are working hard to put into place the tips listed below, including their amazing work to develop a multi-salaried, multi-enterprise operation. Right now, they are farming with two sons, one daughter and two daughters-in-law on a farm that includes row crops, beef cattle, dairy cattle, hogs and much more.

Dan Wilson, in one of my favorite photos of him. This image appeared on the Practical Farmers newsletter cover several years back.

Dan Wilson, in one of my favorite photos of him. This image appeared on the Practical Farmers newsletter cover several years back.

Many of you have read Joel Salatin’s work and some of you have even seen him speak at PFI or other events. He is a firebrand advocate for small sustainable agriculture (and a funny guy as well). He has added editing the Sotckman Grass Farmer to his speaking and farming enterprises.

Salatin writes: “Within half an hour of our farm I can take you to 100 farms that are either on the market now, will be in the next five years or have been sold in the last five years. If this were a disease, it would be called an epidemic. The fact that in the next 15 years 50 percent of America’s agricultural equity — land, buildings, equipment — will change hands is imply unprecedented and undeniable.”

Salatin writes that families who have successfully transferred farm businesses to the next generation have commonalities:

1. They view the farm as a business and not a hobby.

2. They talked about the transfer respectfully with each other, often with a mediator.

3. They honored the child/children who stayed on the farm and did not saddle that sibling with payments to non-farming ones.

4. They endeavored early on to develop multi-salaried, multi-enterprise operations.

5. They cultivate family time.


For more on the Stockman Grass Farmer:

For more on Salatin:

For more on Dan and Lorna Wilson:

I had the chance to tag along to the Jefferson airport with the crew from Stott Aerial Spray and Bill Frederick of Iowa Cover Crop last week to shoot some footage for some upcoming cover crop videos we are producing. I cut together a little snippet, and thought some of you would be interested. For more info on where to find businesses to help seed cover crops, check out our Cover Crop Business Directory.

 I’m guessing most of you are done with aerial seeding, but should be going on the ground soon – drilling and air-seeding as the beans and corn come out. Good luck with harvest and fall cover crops seeding!

After taking a several month hiatus from our shared learning calls, in September we jumped back into the swing of things with a call on crop insurance options for small grains. Mark Gutierrez and Criag Christianson from the regional Risk Management Agency (RMA) office in Minneapolis joined us to review the available policies for these crops. We compared and contrasted single crop policies and whole farm revenue policies so farmers could make informed decisions about what crop insurance option would work best for their small grains.

Individual Crop Plans:

Individual crop plans insure a farmer’s yield or revenue on one product, such as oats. If that farmer produces corn, soybeans and oats and chose to insure through single crop policies, they would have three policies – one for corn, one for soybeans and one for oats. Within individual policies there are three different types of insurance that you can purchase, which I’ll list so it’s easier to read:

  1. Yield Protection Plan – Policy is based on 3-10 most recent years of actual production history on your farm of the crop in question. Then loss claims are based off of production levels or yields. Loss payments are your production shortfall multiplied by your projected price for the crop.
  2. Revenue protection plan – Policy is also based on 3-10 years of production history, but compensates for price drops rather than yield drops. The price secured by the policy for the product is determined using spring projections and actual harvest prices.
  3. Area risk protection plan – For this plan, the RMA assesses yields over a whole area and when they drop below a certain threshold everyone in the area with this policy receives a payment – whether or not the farmer personally has suffered substantial yield losses.

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