Do Better on the Land You Have

I recently read a New York Times article on soaring farmland prices. An 80-acre Iowa farm sold on auction for $10,600/acre to the local John Deere dealer/owner. As he said, where else do you go with money? Farmers are not the only ones who make money as farmers do better; our economy will do better, too. We hate paying taxes and always keep investing in our businesses, the perfect plan for America.

So where is that Iowa family who sold that farm going with their money? Farmland, I guess, is a secure investment—but I’m glad here at Otter Creek Organic Farms we are not buying more.

Consider this: instead of buying expensive acreage, why not invest more in the land we have—get it healthier, working better? Organic corn selling at $15+/bushel and 50 extra bu/acre is a no-brainer! Seed costs the same, as does tillage, some cultivating, planting and harvesting. True, there’s a little more expense for hauling all that extra corn, but who is going to complain about that?

Yes, I am convinced that most farmers can produce 50 more bushels of corn, 10 additional bushels of beans, 2 tons more alfalfa/forage and of better quality, too. Some farmers are already there, and now they want 50 more. Is that achievable? Not if they continue doing only what they have been doing! To get the first 50 was easier—switching to BioAg fertilizers, making sure the ground wasn’t hard and that residues weren’t sitting atop the ground, not breaking down. For many it meant a little surface tillage, breaking the crust, putting residues into the top few inches of the soil and ripping/digging deep or farming in a zone where soil structure and fertility can be improved. A plant’s got to have a place not tightly compacted, where roots can grow and be able to get down to needed nutrients. With soils, the top is easier to fix than the lower levels.

I’ve read articles stating that the cracks in the soil from the drought have subsoiled it for you. I’m not sure about that. Dead, hard, tight soils do crack a lot in drought, but the next year they still seem to be hard and dead.

 

“Getting better now has huge rewards. And once you are there, healthy soils and high yield can be maintained.”

 

Calcium is a nutrient that has a huge impact on soil structure and plant health, that’s one reason for the 50 bu/acre increase. Fertilizers from Midwestern BioAg also address possible limiting nutrients. Our fertilizer is a manufactured blend of many minerals including natural sources, all carefully chosen. Carbon, food for soil biology, is blended into this low salt index, buffered fertilizer.

Make a few other farm changes, based on your limiting factors, and you’re on your way. We all know there is more production out there to be gained.

Droughts are eye-openers. We are planning on putting irrigation on our main farm and have applied for permits, so hopefully by next year, we will have water available if needed. My son says now that we have water, we can’t let soil fertility be our limiting factor. My comment was with the price of land and farming and with what the crop’s worth not only in tons but in quality, why let nutrients be your limiting factor on any land, any time? If it doesn’t rain now it will eventually, and the type of fertilizer we add will be available then. It’s not like it’s gone, unless your soil is eroding away. If so, do something about it.

What level of balanced fertilizers, manures/compost, cover crops and tillage with a purpose do I need to do? That is the recipe for where the next 50 bushels of corn, the next 10 bushels of beans, the next 2 tons of forage will come from. What a great time to be in agriculture! Getting better now has huge rewards. And once you are there, healthy soils and high yield can be maintained.

So instead of buying more land, now’s the time to do better on the land you have. Call or visit with your Midwestern BioAg consultant on how to get to that next level.

Focusing on Healthy Comfortable Cows

Numbers don’t always tell the whole story. Take, for example, the cull rate at the Hoewisch Dairy. At 28 percent, it’s higher than we’d like to see on a good biological farm—except that rate reflects the fact that this family farm culls for profit. With an excess of cattle, annual sales of up to 20 head that they don’t have the space to keep builds their bottom line with an added revenue stream.

And it means that they keep their production levels high.

Healthy, comfortable cows are the focus for brothers Jeff and Kevin (who combined their dairy herds on the home farm in 1999) and Kevin’s son, Jacob, who together work the Fremont, Wisconsin operation with an enthusiasm and optimism for the future of dairying.

According to Kevin, “nutrition is so good” with the Midwestern BioAg program. “Calves don’t get sick, cows don’t get sick,” says Kevin. Cows also get bred back; the Hoewisch’s veterinarian recently commented that their herd had one of the best pregnancy rates this past August—despite this summer’s high heat.

Calves are bright-eyed and energetic, reflecting good health. They get PectiLyte for the first two weeks of life, along with MBA’s Milk Replacer until weaned at 8-9 weeks. Cows stay on MBA minerals throughout their lifetime: as heifers, dry cows (Dry Cow Mineral), and lactating cows (TopCap, CharCal and Kelp in the TMR plus free choice offerings). The Hoewisches also like that the MBA minerals are “more natural and more available.”

Cow comfort is visible upon a visit to the free stall barn. There’s a cow resting in every sand-bedded stall—though Jake admits that currently the “barn is too full.” (It’s that pesky problem of too many healthy cows again!) A calf and heifer shed, added in 2008, provides a quality environment for raising young stock and, at the same time, it’s labor efficient.

Before starting on the MBA nutrition program, Jake recalled, “our protein bills were so high. We were getting milk but it was expensive milk.” Production also wasn’t consistent. “Now we’re getting 70-75 lbs. pretty consistently throughout the year,” he says, with a rolling herd average of over 23,700.

Quality milk is another emphasis for the Hoewisches. The walls of the farm office next to the milkhouse are lined with rows of milk quality awards. Last year’s SCC, for example, was a fairly typical 43,000, and this year they’re averaging about 50,000 each month. Attention to detail and knowing their cattle pay dividends. “You need to know every quarter of every cow,” says Kevin.

The Hoewisches note their ration is “high forage with more haylage than corn silage.” Jake says, “We have excellent quality feed this year” with protein over 20 percent.

 

“We were getting milk but it was expensive milk.”

 

“Years ago, we were lucky if we had 15 percent on first crop, rising to 17-18 percent on later crops,” recalls Kevin. In fact, they found that now they have to “tame that down a little” in the ration by adding wheat straw to the TMR along with feeding baled hay. Hay, mostly alfalfa with some fescue, clover or timothy, is fertilized with 250 lbs. of MBA’s 2-6-20 and gets BioCal:® “It keeps our calcium levels where they need to be.” Manure is spread on older stands that will be rotated to corn, as well as corn-on-corn fields.

A limiting factor for the farm is land. They currently work about 400 acres, owned and rented, supporting the 140-cow milking herd and young stock, plus about 35 bull calves grassfed for beef to age 24-30 months.

Their clay loam soils are high in fertility, but with a tendency toward being too wet and easily compacted. Tillage includes sub-soiling, rotary hoeing, cultivating which aerates the soil (and saves on herbicide costs), and growing green manure crops (oats following corn silage) to build organic matter. “We don’t add any N besides what’s in the 10-9-10 starter,” says Jake. “Manure goes on all our corn ground.”

They work with MBA Certified Consultant Clem Griesbach. “I trust Clem,” says Kevin. They appreciate the timely service, quality products and good, money-saving advice he provides. “He brightens our Monday mornings,” Kevin adds of Clem’s weekly visit.

Kevin says that going biological is an educational process and a different way of thinking—but one the Hoewisch family finds successful, profitable and fun. Hard work, family and faith are all important to this farm family. “God has blessed us and taken care of us, even this year,” says Kevin. And they consider Midwestern BioAg one of those blessings.

From the Farm of Gary Zimmer

Dear Farmer/Agribusiness person,

We are glad to have gotten through the year with enough feed for the cattle. It was not a fun year. Where are we going to go after having experienced the summer of 2012? By July 20, I thought it was over. With no rain in sight, every promise fizzled. We obtained a temporary permit to pump water out of Otter Creek. By the time we got that paperwork done, found the equipment, realized the hassles and found that there were only small areas we could actually water, it was raining. Not a lot, but the irrigation did give us something to do—there sure was not much hay to make.

L-CBF Advantage on Corn

We just finished the corn harvest. It was a long ways from great, but we did average over 100 bu/acre—certainly nothing to brag about. We weighed some test plots with our new L-CBF molasses-based fertilizer and checked other areas. Our highest yielding corn was over 175 bu/acre and the L-CBF plots had an over 10 bu/ac advantage. The L-CBF corn got off to a better start and had better root systems.

Our high-yielding corn all followed alfalfa. With the warm and early spring we had there was a beautiful knee-high crop to work shallowly into the soils. These are our best, loamy type soils which have had lots of mineral inputs, green manure crops and a good rotation (alfalfa then corn, a green manure crop, corn and back to seeding with triticale and peas as a nurse crop and WinterKingII alfalfa with a grass/dry hay blend from MBA seeded at 5+ pounds).

This farm is a ways from the home farm, so stacked, aged, turned, bedding pack manure is applied at 2-4 tons/acre when it’s in forage crops. We also apply some pelleted chicken manure on corn ground at 1000 lbs./acre.  MBA’s OrganiCal is applied yearly to the forage crop along with 200-400 lbs. of a blended fertilizer.

Now that’s a recipe for good, high quality crops even without rain. The next question is how to repeat this over more of the farm.

Gary F. Zimmer