Friday, October 24, 2008

SARE Program in USA Today

As sustainable farming takes root, green thumbs get greener
By Judy Keen, USA TODAY

ALTURA, Minn. — The 160-acre Kreidermacher family farm, once a traditional dairy operation, has become an incubator for sustainable farming methods.

Ed and Joyce Kreidermacher, now 63, bought the farm when they married in 1967. Over the years, they shifted from cows to hogs to growing flowers. Their son Eric, 33, is using environmentally friendly techniques and making the farm less dependent on oil.

Biomass boilers heat the greenhouses. Ash from the boilers fertilizes fields. Watering systems were designed for conservation, the soil mix used to grow plants includes coconut fiber and rice hulls instead of peat moss from environmentally sensitive bogs, and plants are grown and sold in biodegradable pots.

"We're looking for ways to do things better and be better for the land," Eric Kreidermacher says. "People respect and are willing to pay for a plant produced in a way that's more sustainable."

Kreidermacher is part of a growing trend. More old-school farmers are using techniques that protect natural resources instead of damaging them with chemicals, erosion and animal waste.

Many farmers are "rethinking … what farming is," says Kathryn Draeger, statewide director of the University of Minnesota's Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships.

'Doing the right thing'

Sustainable farming, the ability of a farm to produce food indefinitely, with little or no harm to its ecosystem, is catching on across the USA, says Andy Clark, national outreach coordinator for Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, a U.S. Department of Agriculture program.

Interest is driven by consumer demand for locally grown, organic and sustainable products.

"Farmers have always been good stewards of the land," Clark says, "but now they can get paid for it."

What farmers are doing:

• Dave Petty, who raises cows, calves, corn and soybeans on 4,000 acres in Eldora, Iowa, has turned some crop production land into pasture to prevent erosion and protect nearby streams from fertilizer runoff. After fall harvests, he doesn't till his fields because leaving crop residue in place adds nutrients to soil and helps it retain moisture.

"Every major decision we make has to be sustainable," says Petty, 56.

• Scott Stone's family cattle ranch in Woodland, Calif., irrigates 600 acres of pasture and cropland with water from a nearby soup factory, limits the amount of time cows graze on each pasture to reduce disruption to plants and soil, and makes conservation projects a priority.

It takes time and money, says Stone, 51, but "you're doing the right thing. There are long-term benefits."

• The Yon family farm in Ridge Spring, S.C., also practices rotational grazing, says Lydia Yon, 43. They fenced their streams to prevent erosion and keep cattle from tainting them, making groundwater cleaner, she says. They plant grasses that give nutrients back to the soil.

"What's good for us from a business standpoint and at the same time is good for the environment is not something we do because we have to, but because we want to," she says.

A shift in focus

Sustainable farming makes financial sense for Kreidermacher.

Not long ago, the farm here used 80,000-100,000 gallons of propane every year. Now, by using biomass boilers that burn pellets made of corn and wood, consumption is down to less than 20,000 gallons. Kreidermacher's goal is to reduce that number in the next three to five years and use propane only as a backup.

He buys 600 tons of corn and wood pellets for the boilers each year, so he recently bought a pellet mill and planted native grasses that are being harvested and will be processed into pellets. When the mill is paid for, he'll save more money, he says. Biomass boilers heat two greenhouses, a barn for 1,400 hogs and the house.

Kreidermacher conserves water by capturing rain and pumping water into a growing table for his plants instead of watering them from overhead. The pots he uses are made of rice hulls or wood fiber and can be composted, but they don't break down for two or three years.

The impetus for his innovations was to find ways to make his mums, poinsettias and other plants healthier, Kreidermacher says. Gradually, his focus shifted to the environment. Planting native grasses on 20 acres two years ago, he says, resulted in "an increase in wildlife habitat and water quality, helping erosion problems."

Kreidermacher plants about 30 acres each of corn and soybeans and next year will grow organic corn, wheat and barley. He wants a wind turbine to generate more oil-free energy.

"You have to keep changing for the good of the land," he says.

Read the story at the USA Today site here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Minnesota NCR-SARE Grant Project to be featured on the History Channel

Tim Carroll logging with draft horses – photo by Ronnie Hartman

After working at a treatment facility for juveniles for 16 years, Tim Carroll never planned to have a successful career logging with horses. But Carroll married his wife, Doreen, who had three riding horses, and he soon grew attached to draft horses and began using them to plow his driveway and do other work on his property. Soon after, down the road from his home in Minnesota, Carroll noticed a neighbor had hired a machine logger. The rest, you could say, is history

“Those loggers had left a mess on his property,” explained Carroll. “I asked if I could come by and clean out some of those logs with my horses. It didn’t take long and I had a crowd of people watching. People started asking me if I could come out to their land. Before I had my first job done, I had three contracts waiting. Not long after that, I had 27 contracts. After 5 years, I quit my day job, and started doing this fulltime.”

Cedar River Horse Logging and Wood Products has been in business for 18 years using draft horses for sustainable forest management.

“Equine forestry,” as Carroll calls it, became his new passion. Other than cutting firewood, Carroll hadn’t been involved in forestry. Before he got started fulltime, he traveled around the country working with other horse loggers, such as Jason Rutledge with Healing Harvest Forest Foundation.

Carroll developed a strong desire to educate people about the benefits and sustainability of equine forestry, so he submitted a proposal to from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (NCR-SARE). He received a 2006 Farmer Rancher grant from NCR-SARE for $6,000 to promote this low-impact forest harvesting method.

“Draft horses are incredibly efficient, and people need to know that,” explained Carroll. “This project was started to educate the public about equine forestry and to bring young people into the profession. The average age of a horse logger is 45-55. It’s not for a lack of demand for the work; it’s a lack of educated young people getting involved.”

With his project funds, Carroll created a DVD to demonstrate and promote equine forestry. It was aired on Twin Cities Public Television (TPT). For the production, Carroll set up an old fashion logging camp with a 20 man crew, 11 horses, four saw mills, and a camp cook. During production, the camp logged and sawed 36,000 board feet in eight days.

“The film was aired for the first time on January 12, 2008 on TPT and I have had a lot of calls from people who want their land worked with horses,” said Carroll. “I have done a lot of seminars and demos and found people really want this service. This grant has given me an opportunity to understand the PBS system and how it works. My role as a businessman is changing from a producer to a manager and teacher.”

Carroll is convinced his method is sustainable from many angles.

“I don’t think that there’s a system that’s more sustainable for logging than ours,” he explained. “Horses cost about $2.50 per day to operate, including deprecation, and we can move a semi load of logs per day with them. We even use them to harvest the hay they eat. Skidders don’t produce baby skidders. Horses reproduce colts.”

Carroll’s project will be featured on the History Channel’s Modern Marvels program on November 21st, 2008. Visit the Modern Marvels web site for listings.

Read more about Carroll’s project online at the SARE reporting site.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

NCR-SARE Awards $100,000 Diversity Grant

Barbara Norman in her blueberry patch. – photo by Joan Benjamin.

For Barbara Norman, sustainable agriculture is more than an interest; it’s a lifestyle. Norman is a third generation farmer on her blueberry farm in Van Buren County, MI, and has been awarded the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program’s (NCR-SARE) first ever Diversity Grant for $100,000.

The Diversity Research and Education Grant Program is a new NCR-SARE grant program. Its purpose is to fund people and/or projects that can help NCR-SARE reach and work with underserved audiences to improve agricultural sustainability in the region. Chaired by Robin Salverson, the NCR-SARE Diversity Committee was formed to respond to NCR-SARE’s goal to reach and work with underserved audiences.

“We have long had the sense that NCR-SARE isn’t as effective as it could be at involving all the people that are interested in making agriculture more sustainable in our region,” said NCR-SARE Regional Coordinator, Bill Wilcke.

“A majority of NCR-SARE stakeholders believe that agriculture will be more sustainable if we involve a greater variety of people and perspectives in our decision making and if we fund a greater variety of projects,” said Wilcke. The Diversity Initiative is a reection of our acknowledgment that we could use some help in setting up systems and practices in becoming more diverse and serving more diverse audiences.”

Ultimately, along with a call for proposals, NCR-SARE committed to building strong relationships with existing programs and organizations that currently serve those that may be under-served by NCR-SARE. That goal will not only inuence future funding, but also how NCR-SARE communicates and engages in outreach in the region.

Norman’s interest in helping underserved farmers is evident in much of the work she has accomplished with Michigan Integrated Food and Farming Systems (MIFFS). In 2002, Norman coordinated a SARE project centered on African-American and Hispanic farmers in order to serve a growing need in southwest Michigan. This newly funded NCR-SARE Diversity Grant project will work with a broader audience and a broader geographic area than her previous work.

“Service providers in other states within the north central region are also interested in working with underserved farmers; however, they need the mentoring of an experienced outreach person who can make the connections within the underserved community that lead to successful projects,” explained Norman.

“Leaders in the underserved communities recognize the advantage of receiving mentoring from experienced farmer advocates who can bring them together with the service providers who can help them,” said Norman.

Norman has selected three specific areas to concentrate efforts for this project: Detroit, MI, Kankakee, IL, and the historical farms of Nicodemus, KS. Norman and MIFFS outreach coordinators targeted these three underserved communities based on demographic data and the potential to build on key relationships with service providers in those underserved communities.

Moving forward with the project, MIFFS outreach staff will meet with potential leaders and early adopters in the targeted communities, develop partnerships with service providers who are interested in working with the underserved communities, and establish this SARE sponsored project as a means to develop relationships among SARE, the leaders/early adopters, the underserved farmers, and the service providers.

Norman’s enthusiasm about the project is sure to inspire the participants.

“I think this project will contribute tremendously to sustainable agriculture in the region,” said Norman. “The more people we get involved, the more the word will spread. More people will be aware of SARE and what SARE has available. As more farmers see the advantage of working with SARE, it’s going to become more exciting.”

To read more about NCR-SARE Diversity Initiative, click here.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Wisconsin Chicken Hatchers Receive SARE Grant for Unique Breed Hatching Experiement

Despite the cold Wisconsin winters, Julie Maro and her husband recently were able to establish a small hatchery in Western Wisconsin, hatching a unique breed of chicken that comes from parent stock raised on certified organic feed.

Although Maro and her husband had been raising meat chickens at Coon Creek Family Farm, they had a strong desire to establish the first Wisconsin-based hatchery to produce organically raised chicks specifically bred for a pasture-based poultry production system. The breed they selected for their project was the Corndel Cross developed by Timothy Shell of Mt. Solon, Virginia.

With a 2003 Farmer Rancher grant from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (NCR-SARE) for $5,981, they managed to raise a healthy flock of breeder chickens through a Wisconsin winter.

“After 9-11, there was some discussion about possibly discontinuing shipping of day old poultry through the mail. That potential threat as well as the desire to have a poultry system that was as sustainable as possible prompted us to consider establishing our own hatchery,” explained Maro.

The couple discovered, during their project that the with the costs of feeding, housing and caring for a breeder flock over our Wisconsin winters, the price of certified organic chicks became cost prohibitive to most. However, they did consider this project successful from several standpoints.

“The knowledge gained from our hatchery project has allowed us to successfully incubate a wide range of poultry and waterfowl both for our farm as well as neighboring farms,” said Maro. “It also put us in touch with a wide range of knowledgeable poultry persons whose expertise we continue to call upon even today.”

According to Maro, the Corndel Cross chickens had few health problems making them enjoyable to raise. Over the course of the summer, they raised more than 350 Corndel cross chickens on their farm. During that time, they lost only 10 in the brooder and only 5 once they were turned out on pasture.

A special insulated room was their structure of choice after a hoophouse proved to be less than ideal due to humidity and moisture build-up.

“The room we added as winter housing for our breeder flock has now been converted to a brooder room for our current groups of meat chickens and turkeys. The research we put into this room has enabled us to start these different varieties of poultry with very little brooder mortality. Our hoophouse is now used as an ideal structure for summer pasture-raised laying hens,” said Maro.

Timothy Shell, developer of this breed, has relocated out of the country and Maro and her husband feel an added responsibility to continue raising these Corndel Cross chickens, since they are one of the few producers who have a Corndel Cross breeder flock.

“We deeply appreciate receiving this grant and the opportunities it has given us,” said Maro. “Without it, we would not have been able to afford to take on this project. We have learned a great deal and feel we can use the knowledge gained during this year to expand and improve on our efforts at developing a local hatchery for organically raised Corndel Cross chickens.”

Coon Creek Family Farm’s pasture-raised certified organic birds are available for the holiday season. Call (715) 834-4547 to reserve yours today.

More about their project is available online at the SARE reporting web site.

Since 1988, the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program has helped advance farming systems that are profitable, environmentally sound and good for communities through a nationwide research and education grants program. The program, part of USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, funds projects and conducts outreach designed to improve agricultural systems.

Coon Creek Family Farm Corndel Cross chickens – photo by Julie Maro

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Kansas Pumpkin patch receives “Extreme Makeover” with funds from NCR-SARE

Just off of Highway 77, running north from El Dorado, Kansas, runs seventy three acres of agritourism property which is a part of Carroll and Becky Walters’ family farm and pumpkin patch, Walters’ Pumpkin Patch.

For almost 20 years, the Walters have been growing and selling pumpkins at their U-Pick patch in Northern Butler County. They host more than 20,000 visitors during their six weeks of operation during September and October. Not long ago, they had been interested in adding another attraction for their pumpkin season, as well as new products and an added attraction to market to the public in the spring and summer.

In 1997, they contacted the State of Kansas in hopes that there might be grants or funding which would help them to build their business. They wanted to build the agribusiness component of the pumpkin patch. After doing their research, they submitted a proposal and received a 2005 Farmer Rancher grant from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (NCR-SARE).

“We had heard of the SARE funding when we started the grant writing process. A friend from Burns had gotten funding and suggested we apply too....and she helped us as we wrote that first grant,” explained Becky Walters.

The team set to work with their grant funds and built a leaking pond with a windmill which collected the runoff from the construction work on the new Highway 77. They added signage at the windmill to tell visitors how the windmill works and allow them to “feel” the coolness of the water that was being pumped from deep inside the Flinthills. They supplied the pond with native fish that came from the creek that flows through their property.

They’ve added a self guided walking tour of native Kansas wildflowers and offer their seeds and new plants for sale. They offer educational tours, group picnics, camp fires, and seasonal events.

“Kristie Wilson, owner of Hudson Gardens, set us up with a landscape designer,” said Walters. “She had many good ideas for developing our wildflower areas and I did really like her idea of using a kiosk to set out information for our visitors.”

Their facility has become a focus on the Flinthills Prairie and its beauty. They use educational signage to draw attention to the native grasses, flowers, and the flinthills rock that are prevalent in the area.

“There is nothing exciting than seeing a group of school kids watching a crawdad crawl along the edge of the pond, or seeing their excitement when a turtle pops his head up out in the middle of the pond. These things, we in the Flinthills all take for granted, but seeing a kid from the city find the amazement in the country, is truly something that we should all do,” said Walters.

“If I had this to do over again, would I do it? Most certainly. Would I recommend this kind of fun to others? You bet I would!” said Walters.

On October 25th, 2008 the Walters will offer an “all you can carry day” at the pumpkin patch. For $15.00, all the pumpkins you can carry with your own two hands/arms and between your knees will be yours for the carrying.

Read more about the project on the SARE reporting site.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Beef Research and Education Project Featured by Beef Magazine

Mary Holz-Clause, Margaret Smith, Terry Gompert, and Laura Paine's 2007 Research and Education Project was featured by Beef Magazine.

Their project aims to work with beef producers to collect accurate, current production costs and to document methods, techniques, and the knowledge contributing to success of these businesses.

To read more about their project, visit the SARE reporting web site here.


Sustainability Showdown
Oct 1, 2008
By Loretta Sorensen

Even though there's a demand for grass-finished and organic grass-finished beef, is it cost effective for beef producers to provide that kind of product?

That's the question a Midwest beef study hopes to answer. Terry Gompert, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension educator, says a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) grant is providing funds for a 2008-2009 study involving beef producers in Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Kansas and South Dakota. Margaret Smith, Iowa State University (ISU) Extension program specialist, and Laura Paine, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture Division of Agricultural Development, are also serving as study coordinators.

“We're gathering data from producers involved in three types of beef production,” Gompert says. “We want to analyze a comparative study that looks at both input costs and overall profits for organic grain-fed, organic grass-fed and grass-fed beef. The data will tell us if there's enough profit, or any profit, for low-input producers who use a forage system to fatten their cattle.”

Gompert is assisting 12 producers in completing detailed documentation that will provide the study's analysis data. Smith and Paine are working with similar groups.

The study's first challenge was to develop the structure of the form used to gather study information. “What we found in developing the form was that nearly all existing forms were used to gather information on feedlot production,” Gompert says.

In creating the study questions, Gompert says administrators realized the complexity of documenting costs and profits from a grass-finished beef operation.

“How do you allocate part of the ranch assets to ensure the accuracy of your figures?” Gompert asks. “If you're raising annual crops to finish your beef, how do you accurately allocate those costs in your operation? We eventually came up with those answers because we want to make sure the study documentation reflects real numbers.”

Gompert holds degrees in beef production with a focus on grazing management. He also owns a grass-fed beef operation.
Producer input

One portion of the project includes publication of case studies documenting several participating producers. The information should further assist beef producers involved in or considering a grass-fed operation.

“It's no secret every beef producer has variations in their operation,” Gompert says. “In South Dakota, we're gathering data from Pukwana grass-finished ranchers Julie Williams (DVM) and her husband Larry Wagner. We're also obtaining information from Tim Eisenbeis at Marion, who produces organic beef.”

“Neither Larry nor I like the numbers side of our operation,” Williams says. “This will force us to take time to document our cost information. We feel like we have a lot more money when we're using solar collector leaves to produce most of our feed. What we really need to know is what it costs us per pound to raise a calf. That information will help us determine the value of our animals when we sell them.”

Gompert says the data from participating producers will be very valuable, even though the operations are very different. “A comparative study of the two processes with specific input costs and sales prices is what producers need in order to decide the kind of operation they're going to use,” Gompert says.

Although there are completed studies regarding the cost of producing beef, the researchers couldn't locate a study with the same focus as the one they developed.

“We want producers who are considering grass-fed and/or organic beef to be able to review this study's results and identify the questions they need to ask before making any changes,” Gompert says. “This study should help them decide if some aspects of grass-fed or organic beef are too expensive for them, especially if they have to make use of stored forage.”

Gompert reports he found it difficult to locate organic grain-fed cattle because the cost of organic grain currently is about 50% higher than the cost of traditional grains.

“Organic grain-fed beef is absolutely not profitable right now,” Gompert says. “Corn is just too high; consequently it's pretty clear to producers that they're not going to make a profit with that type of product in the short run.”

Organic grass-fed beef producers face entirely different issues than organic grain-fed, beef producers. They need to carefully analyze input costs and operational requirements and changes to make the right decisions for their operation.
The issue of forage supply

“The biggest challenge grass-fed producers face is having a high-quality chain of forage available 12 consecutive months,” Gompert says. “We can put together high-quality silage and hay, windrow grazing and plant annual crops and graze them late into the fall. We can use native plants and improved pastures and manage all of them appropriately so we have the highest quality feed.”

“High tech” isn't a term producers think of when considering grazing management, but Gompert says learning to effectively produce and use forage requires a significant amount of planning and strategic development.

“Some of this doesn't come naturally and we're really in the learning stages of knowing how to make the most of our forages,” Gompert says. “We need to consider a large variety of forage types and forage-management plans in order to fully explore our options.”

While he doesn't have the data he needs to begin developing an analysis, Gompert believes grass-finished beef will prove to be more cost-efficient than other types of production. He says consumer demand is pushing producers toward grass-finished and organic beef products. However, if costs are prohibitive, consumers won't actually purchase those types of beef.

“Consumers have to realize the cost of producing this kind of meat might be more expensive than traditional methods,” Gompert says. “If they're willing to pay the added cost, producers will do well. But if the costs prove too high, that market will go away.

“Feedlots have been popular because producers could efficiently produce lower-cost meat with a high-quality feed,” Gompert says. “It's been a good model, but some other models are being expressed right now and we need to seriously consider them.”

Loretta Sorensen is a freelance writer based in Yankton, SD.