Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Holthaus Family in Iowa Building Sustainable Operation

Source: AgriNews

WAUKON, Iowa —

Kyle Holthaus refers to KyMar Acres, his family's farm near Waukon, as a work in progress.

Kyle and his wife, Mari, and their children Teddy, 8, and Violet, 6, grow vegetables, herbs, bedding plants, cut and potted flowers and tend a flock of 600 laying hens.

"We helped Iowa get first place in eggs," Teddy said proudly referring to Iowa's ranking first in the nation in egg production.

Violet explained that she and her brother collect all the eggs.

Mari said they farm five of their 15 acres. Her parents, Lee and Kathy Newman of Mabel, Minn., farm with them. The Newmans grow root crops as well as winter squash.

This year Mari and Kyle are selling their cut flowers direct to florists for the first time. What's left, they sell at farmers markets in Decorah, Waukon and Cedar Falls.

The couple are founding members of GROWN Locally, a cooperative of 12 small northeast farmers who are selling fresh, high quality foods to local food service institutions. Mari is president of the group. She said the cooperative is focusing on food safety training this summer thanks to grant from the Northeast Iowa Food and Farm Coalition.

"We take food safety seriously, and we want to make sure that we're following all the rules correctly," she said.

Kyle explained that when GROWN Locally started 10 years ago, members decided it made more sense for them to pool their products and sell to institutional buyers. Some of their clients include Luther College and T-Bocks, both in Decorah.

The couple has been growing for farmers markets for four years. They see it as a way to diversify what they do.

Mari's father, Lee, and her brothers Tim and Bill built the couple a 60-foot-by-20 foot greenhouse and a handling building over the winter. Both buildings were made with mostly recycled materials. The handling shed is an old hog building dismantled from another farm. There are separate washing and handling areas for vegetable and eggs.

Mari and Kyle use the greenhouse for potted flowers, herbs and starting plants. They start nearly all their plants. The couple is also experimenting with growing tomatoes in bags. They should have ripe tomatoes soon.

Outside, they grow herbs, flowers and vegetables.

Mari's sister, Anna Newman, helps with farmers market sales.

Kari, a CPA, runs an accounting business from home, and Kyle works as the parts person at Windridge Implements in Decorah.

"I grew up on a dairy farm and when we bought this farm —it's 15 acres — we knew that conventional farming was not an option," Kyle said. "We only have a seven-acre field, but we can grow vegetables."

They rotationally graze their hens on pasture. The hens are in a paddock one to two weeks before moving. Once the hens rotate to a new paddock, the Holthaus family sprinkles on seed and lets the grass rejuvenate.

Kari and Kyle recently received a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grant to determine the economic viability of Black Soldier Fly grubs as an alternate protein source for hens.

"We read about this in Mother Earth News," Kyle said. "The larvae help with composting raw material and can also be protein for the hens. This a trial. There are no guarantees it will work, but we're interested in looking at anything that will make our farm more sustainable."

Because Kyle works at Windridge, he has been involved with general manager Eric Nordschow's efforts to offer a line of farm equipment aimed at small fruit, vegetable and livestock operations.

"Eric has been very active in the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Coalition, and he understands the importance of local food," Kyle said. "He's in the implement business, and he realized that for local food production to expand in the area, there was a need for equipment. He's doing an excellent job of making equipment available for sale, rental and demonstration."

Kyle said they use the equipment for weeding and transplanting and they've also experimented with the potato planter, which also plants tulip and gladiolus bulbs and garlic.

"The other night, I drove the tractor and Teddy and Violet planted the potato sets," Kyle said. "We did 1,500 row feet in 30 minutes. If you were crawling on your hands and knees it would talk a lot longer."

For more on this project, visit the SARE reporting site and search using the project number FNC09-776.

Monday, June 14, 2010

MN Project Makes Killing Weeds "A Blast"

Source: Morris Sun Tribune | Morris, Minnesota
By Tom Larson

ARS Soils Lab scientist Frank Forcella calls himself a “weed guy” who sits around with colleagues trying to figure out how to kill plants. The discussions get pretty creative, and sometimes they sound downright goofy.

That was the first reaction when Forcella got this idea: “I was sitting around thinking, ‘I wonder if we could use a sandblaster to kill weeds?’ ”

Well, as often happens with really smart people, a crazy notion turns out to be not so crazy after all. In fact, Forcella’s idea has netted him and the lab almost $175,000 in grant money to explore it further.

In October, Forcella will receive the grant from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program. Organic farmers are especially eager to know if using an “abrasive grit applicator” to control weeds in corn is practical in a large-scale operation, he said.

“What we’ve done so far is small scale – one row at a time,” Forsella said. “(The grant) will help us do a full-scale demo model to prove if it works and calculate the economics.”

If the plan continues to develop positively, organic farmers might one day be able to use corn gluten meal for the grit. It’s potentially a win-win-win proposal: blasting the crops with corn gluten meal would kill the weeds, its high nitrogen content has led the organic industry to approve it as a fertilizer, and corn gluten meal also has been proven effective as a pre-emergence herbicide, Forcella said.

“Here, you get three bangs for your buck,” he said.

Researchers also are encouraging producers to reap the carbon sequestration benefits of introducing biochar into their fields. Forcella’s research will include experiments using gritty biochar as the abrasive.

“It’s another incentive for farmers to use biochar and sequester carbon,” he said.

Experiments have not been performed on beans, and Forsella said that currently the procedure is more suited for heavy-stalk plants in corn fields or vineyards. But researchers plan to look into just about every potential application.

Forsella, a research agronomist, began his professional career in 1979 and he joined the Soils Lab in Morris in 1988. He left for four years but returned to Morris in 1992. Alternative and sustainable agriculture has been a focus of Soils Lab research, and Forsella’s research is especially relevant for organic farmers who don’t use traditional chemicals to control weeds and pests.

The “sandblasting” is really a misnomer since the techniques have evolved considerably in the short time since Forcella and other researchers began working them.

First, they bought a sandblaster and rigged it up to an All Terrain Vehicle. They used ground up ag residue for the “sand.” Ground up cherry pits and walnut shells were just a couple of the products fed through the machine, Forsella said.

The results have been encouraging.

According to Forsella, when corn cob grit was applied at the one-leaf and three-leaf stages of corn development, weights of weeds in small sample plots at the end of the growing season were reduced greatly. The reduction was equivalent to 87 percent weed control.

Corn yields did not differ from those in hand-weeded check plots and weed control was only 60 percent when grit was applied at the three-leaf and five-leaf stages of corn.

“Sandblasters are cheap and it was a way to make use of the residue,” he said. “It’s an alternative use of something that we’d normally throw away. If the weeds are small enough, they just shred.”

The technique, if it proves feasible, probably will only appeal to organic farmers, he said.

“Round-Up works so well that conventional farmers would never go for it,” Forsella said. “But if they can do this for a couple hundred bucks per acre, it might be feasible for organic farming.”

The process is getting even more refined. It’s only been used on corn plants between four inches and 12 inches in height, and so far there’s been little damage done to the plants while the weeds have been effectively eradicated.

Forsella’s received positive feedback from organic farmers. He talked to a group of organic growers during a seminar and the response was “tremendous,” he said.

“One guy said, ‘I can build that myself and I’m going to build one this summer,’ ” Forsella said, with a laugh. “I said, ‘No, no, let us do the research first so we know we’re not leading you up the wrong tree.’ But the response was enthusiastic.”

Carmen Fernholz, an organic farmer for 40 years, took a break from cultivating his corn earlier this week to talk about Forsella’s research.

“I think, in theory, that if it can be put together, it would be great,” Fernholz said.

Fernholz holds a half-time position with the University of Minnesota as an organic farming consultant at the Southwest Research and Outreach Center and is the contact for the Minnesota Organic Farmers’ Information Exchange.

He’s talked with Forcella about the research and said it’s fitting the project has received substantial grant funding.

“It’s a challenging theory, but it certainly does deserve further research,” Fernholz said. “Frank does great work. That’s the role of soil scientists and weed scientists. Crazy as an idea might be, that’s how things evolve.”

The Soils Lab will work on the abrasive grit applicator system with South Dakota State University researchers Sharon Clay, of SDSU’s Plant Science Department and Teresa Hall, head of the SDSU Mechanical Engineering Department.

The promise of the project aside, it can’t help by make a scientist feel a bit old, Forcella said with a laugh. He presents talks on the project and shows off the make-shift apparatus.

Most agriculture research today deals in genetics, not engineering better machinery, he said.

“It’s a bit embarrassing,” he said with a chuckle. “I show people the initial setup and it’s a simple sandblaster with a funnel to hold the grit. It looks so rinky-dink, and I’m up there with the projects about things like DNA extraction. I think to myself, ‘I’m at this level and here are all these young kids working with DNA and doing things with genes. I need to retire.’ ”

[where: Minnesota, Food, Minneapolis, Twin Cities, 55418

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Dakota Rural Action Farm Beginnings Tour Garden Goddess Greenhouse

Dakota Rural Action held its first farm tour for South Dakota Farm Beginnings students at the Garden Goddess Greenhouse in Milan, MN. This small greenhouse and urban farm, feeds 18 families through the winter on baby greens and fall storage crops.

Farm Beginnings is a program originated by the Land Stewardship Project in Minnesota. Dakota Rural Action licensed the program in 2009 with help from an NCR-SARE Research and Education grant and will graduate the first class of beginning farmers this summer.

To read more about this NCR-SARE Research and Educaiton project, visit the SARE project reporting site online at:

For more information check out Dakota Rural Actions website at: and the Garden Goddess website at:

Friday, June 4, 2010

Simple Earth Hops in WI to Provide Hops for Local Beer Producers

Source: Madison Hops Examiner

DODGEVILLE, Wisconsin (May 27, 2010)--Today, Matt Sweeny announced the launch of Simple Earth Hops, a Dodgeville, Wisconsin new farming business, who will provide ethically grown hops to local beer producers.

Simple Earth Hops is a new 1/4 acre hopyard located at Greenspirit Farm CSA in Dodgeville, Wisconsin. The hopyard was founded with the idea of providing a much needed agricultural product for local craft brewers. Simple Earth Hops was established to demonstrate that local farmers can produce a consistent, sustainable supply of ultra high quality hops by working directly with local craft brewers while still maintaining a focus on ecology, the land and the people involved.

"Craft beer producers have made it clear that they desire a local source of hops. Simple Earth Hops will address this need for a local sustainable supply of hops by small locally owned craft beer producers."

Look for Simple Earth Hops to elaborate more on the details of a Grand Opening hopyard tour/beer tasting event in late July, 2010 and for the hopyard harvest tour & beer tasting in early Fall, 2011.

For more information about Simple Earth Hops: send an email to Matt Sweeny or contact him via Facebook or use the secure contact form on the Simple Earth Hops website.