Expert no-till farmers Robin and Kelly Griffeth will teach how to use crops as solar collectors at Practical Farmers’ 2016 annual conference – Jan. 22-23 in Ames

For Release: December 10, 2015

AMES, Iowa — When Robin Griffeth looks out at his crop fields, he sees more than rows of commodities that need to be managed for best yield. Rather, he sees acres of living solar collectors that harvest sunlight, shelter the soil and feed the microbes his plants need for optimal health.

“The sun’s energy is going to be used in one of two ways: photosynthesis, which is constructive, or heat, which can be very destructive,” says Robin, who farms with his son, Kelly, in north-central Kansas. “In the presence of living plants, photosynthesis converts the sun’s energy into life-giving food for us, as well as livestock, wildlife and soil biology. In the absence of living plants, however, the sun’s power is instead used to heat the soil, which not only dries the soil but can actually begin to kill vital soil biology.”

Robin and Kelly raise corn, soybeans, wheat, grain sorghum and sunflowers on 3,700 acres near Jewell, Kansas. They have been continuous no-tillers for 20 years. They also strive to keep living roots in the soil as close to 365 days a year as possible to further conserve soil and water through companion crops and cover crops.

“We came to realize that our management determines how solar energy is going to be used,” Robin says.

Learn from Robin and Kelly how to use your crops as solar harvesters at Practical Farmers of Iowa’s 2016 annual conference, “Farmers Teaching Farmers,” taking place Jan. 22-23, at the Iowa State Center Scheman Building, on the Iowa State University campus in Ames. Robin and Kelly will lead three sessions:

• In one in-depth workshop (“Living Plants as Solar Collectors”), learn how Robin and Kelly are harnessing solar energy to improve their soils, increase yields and reduce inputs – and how you can use this exciting perspective to increase your farm’s profits and resiliency.
• In another session (“We Learn More by Accident Than We Do on Purpose”), Robin and Kelly will share some of the mistakes and “unplanned experiments” that helped them learn new ways to improve their profit and soil conservation methods.
• In an “Ask an Expert” session, the Griffeths will be available to answer your questions about no-till, companion crops, cover crops, soil conservation and other questions inspired by their other conference sessions.

Register online at, or contact Erica Andorf: or (515) 232-5661. Those who pre-register by Jan. 14 will save $10 per day. Special rates are also available for students and PFI members.

This year’s conference celebrates the farmer-led approach to learning, teaching and sharing information that has been Practical Farmers’ hallmark for 30 years. Attendees will learn from their farming peers about land and soil stewardship; building community; creating viable farms, farmers and food systems; farm transfer; and more.

Additional field crop sessions at the conference include:

• Interseeding Cover Crops
• Managing Nutrition for Plant Health and Yield
• Rolling Cover Crops with Modified Equipment
• On-Farm Solar Panel Installation and Financing
• Modifying Cultivators for Better Weed Control
• Nitrogen: Important Soil Nutrient or Water Quality Challenge? – (In partnership with Iowa Learning Farms)
• Practical Tips for On-Farm Pollinator Habitat
• Top 10 Cover Crp Species for Iowa – 2016 Edition – (In partnership with Iowa Learning Farms)
• Evaluating the Roller-Crimper for Cover Crops in Corn and Soybean Terraced Ground – *(Part of the SARE Farmers Forum)
• Adapting Cover Crops to Northern Climate Conventional Cropping Systems– *(Part of the SARE Farmers Forum)
• Ask an Expert: John Kempf

Small Grains Short Course: In addition, those who want to learn more about the benefits and how-to’s of expanding their crop rotation can sign up for a pre-conference short course – “Growing Good Small Grains” – on Thursday, Jan. 21, from 1-7 p.m., and Friday, Jan. 22, from 8-11:30 a.m., at the Scheman Building.

This in-depth course will delve into how to successfully grow small grains to help reduce fertilizer and pesticide inputs; plant cover crops earlier; build soil organic matter; provide forage for livestock; and spread the farm workload and cash flow more evenly throughout the year. The course will be taught by a suite of experts, including farmers, researchers and small grains marketers.

Keynote Address: The conference will also feature a keynote address on Friday, Jan. 23, by John Kempf, farmer and founder of Advancing Eco-Agriculture. His keynote – “Common Characteristics of Successful Farmers” – will explore characteristics of farming operations he views as “extraordinarily successful,” and how farmers can work those same principles into their decision-making.

Practical Farmers of Iowa’s 2016 annual conference is supported by several major sponsors, including: Albert Lea Seed; Grain Millers; Iowa Learning Farms; Iowa State University Department of Agronomy and Graduate Program in Sustainable Agriculture; Natural Soy Products; Natural Way Feeds; Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area; Sunrise Sheds; USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service; and WeedGuard Plus.


Practical Farmers of Iowa strengthens farms and communities through farmer-led investigation and information-sharing. Our values include: welcoming everyone; creativity, collaboration and community; viable farms now and for future generations; and stewardship and ecology. Founded in 1985, farmers in our network raise corn, soybeans, livestock, hay, fruits and vegetables, and more. To learn more, visit


Stefan Gailans | Practical Farmers of Iowa | (515) 232-5661 |

Tamsyn Jones | Practical Farmers of Iowa | (515) 232-5661 |