Whoa, it’s cold! But don’t worry, our soils are covered.
Winter can be hard on soils and on the organisms that live in them. Our livelihood is dependent on healthy soils, and those soil bugs, so we take steps to keep them happy and comfortable all winter long.
🌱 We don’t till, or plow, our fields. No-till farming means less traffic across our field (less compaction) and less disturbance within the soil.
🌱 Because we are no-till, you see all of the “trash” from our cash crop on the field. That trash provides protection for the soil, and food for our soil bugs, all winter long. Every part of the plant has nutrients. When we leave the trash on the field it breaks down and returns those nutrients to our soils, where next year’s crop can use it.
🌱 We plant cover crops- crops planted in between cash crops and not for harvesting. This is triticale, one of our favorite covers. We could write a book on how cool cover crops are, but here’s the quick run down on what this guy will do: break up the soil, allow water and oxygen to better infiltrate, make nutrients more accessible, increase organic matter, provide food for the soil bugs and more.
🚜 Producer Note: This triticale was broadcast with fertilizer at a rate of 50 pounds/ acre.
What you see above is crazy exciting for our family!
These two pictures are from two fields, only separated by an old fence row. The photos were taken about 4 foot apart.
The farm in the bottom photo has been traditionally managed for north Missouri row crop farms. You see larger and more compacted soil clods, fairly typical of dirt in the area.
On the farm in the top photo we have been using no-till and cover crop practices for three growing seasons. What you see, and would feel if you were here, is a light and loose soil. It's full of organic matter without any compaction. (Think of potting soil compared to dirt from your backyard.)
We have actually added soil to this farm by allowing crop residue and cover crops to decompose and turn to dirt. In only three years, we have changed the soil makeup of our farm.
What cover crops and non-till translates into on our farm is...
🌱 Less soil loss from erosion
🌽 Higher nutrient content for our crops
🌱Increased ability of the soil to hold water
🌽Decreased runoff of water and chemicals we use for our crops
🌱Reduced need for added fertilizers
All of these things mean we are protecting our farms, protecting our environment, and creating better long-term profitability (which is important because even though it's our way of life, this is also his full time job.)
When someone wants to discount my information on modern agriculture, they state that we are just “for profit farmers”. People even protest farmers making a profit, with signs saying things like “people over profit”.
Some people seem to be of the a mindset that those who are trying to make a living farming are in some sort of conspiracy with “Big Ag” that results in nearly all the evils of the world from starvation and obesity to autism and cancer.
Last week, a visitor to my blog asked me to visit a website of a self proclaimed "sustainable farmer". He appeared to be taking full advantage of all the hot buzz words – he was verified organic, labor intense, small, local, natural, non-GMO, hormone free, antibiotic free, gluten free, Monsanto free – but he was not sustainable.
How do I know? On the side bar, of every page on his website, he was asking for donations to be able to continue his farm.
Farmers have to be profitable to be sustainable! And you WANT farmers to be profitable. Here is why.
1. Farming takes a lot of money. And if farmers are going to make long term investments, they must be profitable. The information, technology and equipment available is constantly changing and improving. When farmers can take advantage of these changes they can get better at managing the high demands of the industry with caring for their farms and caring for the environment.
For example, when my father in law made the management decision to switch to no-till farming in 1992, it took money to do that. He had to purchase a new drill and new attachments for his planter. He had to spend time and money learning about the process.
A person can farm on a small scale as a hobby. These types of farms are great for the people running them and the people that are close enough to buy from them! They are are often supplemented by other sources of income and only exist as long as those other sources (like website donations) are available. These small farms are NOT a sustainable model we can duplicate across the country to meet the high demands of modern agriculture.
"These small farms are NOT a sustainable model we can duplicate across the country to meet the high demands of modern agriculture."
2. Farming takes a lot of work with crazy hours. Right now, 93-96% of all farms in the USA are family owned. Farmers, and their families, give up a lot to live this lifestyle. I have never met a farmer who would change a thing, but if they cannot make a living at this they would never be able to justify the hours and sacrifices they make. Farmers have bills to pay and kids to send to summer camps just like you!
3. Farmers need to be experts. Farming is not easy and it requires expertise in a lot of areas. If you want your farmers to be experts in protecting the environment, food safety, technology, soil science, biology, the weather and the countless other areas they need to master – they have to be able to do this for a career. They have to be able to afford to devote the time and money into educating themselves and improving their farming practices.
Someone recently commented on my blog that farmers “just do whatever the experts tell them”. If you have ever met a farmer, you’ll know there probably is not one in existence that just does what someone tells them to do. Farmers take great pride in making management decisions and they need the ability to spend the time and money to make educated choices.
4. Profitable farms can focus on long term planning versus short term cash flow. It’s popular to claim that farmers make management decisions based solely on increasing a single year's yields or increasing a single year’s profits. The truth is some farms are forced to do that.
Farms that have not been profitable in the past and are feeling that pressure can often be forced to make decisions that may lower input costs or increase cash flow in the short run. This can result in some of the devastating stories we hear about mismanagement of animals or food on farms.
Farms that are profitable can make decisions based on what is best for the long term. A farmer’s long term is not his retirement – it’s his grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, taking over the farm.
Financial stability allows farmers to make decisions that are best for soil health, animal health, the environments surrounding our farms and consumers. Contrary to what internet activists will tell you, it's not in the industry's best interest to poison consumers.
Sustainability on farms is a process with many steps. The first step, the foundation to any farm being sustainable, is to be profitable. It’s time to stop making profit an evil word and start embracing it for our farmers and the industry!
"It’s time to stop making profit an evil word and start embracing it for our farmers and the industry!"
Sustainability is a buzz word. Consumers often associate the word with very small or organic operations. There are a lot of pieces to true sustainability, but nearly all farmers have the ultimate goal of leaving their farm to their children and grandchildren. In fact, most farmers rank this as a priority over short term profit!
So how are we making that happen? How are modern, large scale farms sustainable? How are farms far away from you suistanble?
I am going to explore what we do here at Uptown Farms over the next several weeks with #SustainabilitySundays!
The picture you are looking at above is showing two of the most exciting technologies on our farm - "no till" production and cover crop usage!
This week, let's look at "no till" farming!
I see comments in online discussions about how farmers today are "too lazy" to plow their fields and just rely on chemical. Let's look at what is actually going on when you see a field that has not been plowed.
For years farmers thought it was necessary and beneficial to till or plow the soil prior to planting. Studies now show us this isn't true and that tillage, especially deep tillage, can really have adverse effects on our soil health as well as the soil organisms that we need for long term productivity.
Plowing can create what is called a "plow pan", which can stop water and root systems from being able to penetrate into the soil profile as effectively as they should.
Newer equipment and GMO technology allows us to maximize the benefit of "no till".
First, it helps on top of the soil. It keeps our soil covered which minimizes weed growth, helps to regulate soil temperature and helps to retain moisture in our soil. We take soil coverage even farther by using cover crops (discussed more next week).
Second, as the corn trash is slowly decomposed by our ever growing earth worm populations, it adds to the organic matter inside the soil profiles. Organic matter (OM) provides food sources for the thousands of microorganisms that we need to exist in our dirt. OM also helps control soil compaction and retain water within the soils!
Plowing does incorporate most of the OM into the soil, but in a much quicker period than the the slower and more natural process allowed by no till.
On top of the corn stubble, you are seeing cereal rye. We do not harvest the rye for a cash crop here, but use it as a cover crop. Our cover crops are planted after harvest and compliment the no till production. They will be terminated either shortly before or after the cash crop (in this case it would have been soybeans) is planted.
To me, there is nothing more exciting than cover crop technology and I will discuss it more in depth next week!
Kate Lambert grew up in northern Illinois, not on a farm but active in FFA and showing livestock.
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