Had an interesting discussion with an ex farmer's daughter

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by TedH71, Oct 16, 2006.

  1. TedH71

    TedH71 Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Turns out her family used to farm extensively near Hughton, KS but all of them decided to quit farming and rent out the land to keep in in the family. I asked the daughter who is deaf like me why the family quit. Her words were: The chemicals that you spray on crops were getting too expensive and gas was also expensive. She also said that you had to kind of keep up to date on the farm equipment since they were getting more and more expensive to own and operate so they basically did an auction and paid off the farm with the equipment that they sold plus paid off the equipment itself as well. I asked her why didn't they go organic...she said that the land was so big that it would be hard to make the crops be completely organic without losing it to pests/bugs....is that a correct assement to make? I was stratching my head at that line of thought...they used to have cattle as well..the daughter was the last one to own cattle but she sold out as well. She didn't explain why.
     
  2. goatlady

    goatlady Well-Known Member Supporter

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    she said that the land was so big that it would be hard to make the crops be completely organic without losing it to pests/bugs....is that a correct assement to make? Not really but it may very well depend on the crops being grown. My neighbor in SD farmed 1800 acres organic and was SD FArmer of the Year 2 years running for having significantly higher bushels per acre production than anyone else in the state including those farming convenrionally using chemicals and chemical fertilizers. Took him several years to get the land into the top condiiton to produce that way though
     

  3. kenuchelover

    kenuchelover Well-Known Member

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    No, it's NOT correct.... organic can be done on any scale, & is actually more efficient with a large operation..... the same economies of scale apply (stuff is cheaper in bulk, it's more efficient to release beneficial insects on a large acreage than to do so on a small one where the perimeter-to-acreage ratio is higher & you get too much stuff wandering in or out vs staying where you control things, etc).

    The farm equipment argument is also flawed.... dealers kept pushing the "you need newer & bigger equipment so that you can farm more land & make more money" argument..... but this led to higher equipment costs & lower profits per acre AKA work harder to get less AKA smaller margins & easier to go bankrupt. You were better off using older (CHEAPER) equipment, either second hand equipment (for a scaled down comparison, I just bought a 33 yr old walk behind tractor with a mower attachment that outperforms a brand new Troybilt of similar cost. And the "top line" Troybilt was still flimsy enough to die of treeroot induced bent crankshaftitis in just 3 months. AND the 33 yr old antique is more versatile, many accessories exist for it.... I got a riding seat & a rototiller thrown in along with the mower part, and plan to hunt down several other items) or to buy good stuff & maintaining it till it died of old age SEVERAL DECADES LATER (rather than trading in for bigger & better as often as possible). You were better off staying small, and PAYING MORE ATTENTION PER ACRE. You were better off diversifying, rather than going monoculture like the big equipment encouraged (if you pay megabucks for a giant corn planter, you're NOT as likely to also grow potatoes & a half dozen other minor crops at the same time).

    Too many folk turned to hybrids dependent on all kinds of chemical inputs (chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, etc).... allowing higher yield but also much higher input costs (& the higher yields resulted in lower crop prices!).....when they could have made as good or a better living off open pollinated lower input heirlooms. (Raise own seed = HUGE savings per acre. Genetically diverse = not as vulnerable to pests & requires less pesticide input = lower costs. More robust (as one example, the old OP corns had FAR more viable seed..... it germinated better, & was still good after far more years in storage, than hybrid seed) crops = tolerates weeds better (more competitive crops) & requires less herbicide input = lower costs. Often deeper rooted = requires less fertilizer = lower costs. And.... what with all the damnfools going to hybrids, OP strains were more of a specialty crop & could command a higher price under various circumstances (available to sell as seed, had higher nutrition, different appearance, better taste, etc).

    Bigger is NOT always better..... less CAN be sometimes more.
     
  4. Marilyn in CO

    Marilyn in CO Well-Known Member

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    I know where she's coming from when she says that the expenses were getting to them, however, yes, organic can be done but it takes several years to get the soil structure to change and the patience to do it. Also, I understand the old machinery issue as well, because it is hard to farm large acres with old stuff, we do it but we are getting to the end.....our machinery is old. It also takes MUCH more tillage without the chemicals so you have more fuel expense on big acres and timing is everything. One also has to rotate crops to make organic work and sometimes that isn't feasible with certain climates & micro climates. I think the most important element of changing from chemical/commercial fert. farming is the desire/will/belief that organic is a better way of doing it and you must believe in it to really stick with it. We do it on our alfalfa acres but here it is very hard to totally be organic on corn as we cannot rotate crops because of the drought/water situation. I am talking in general large acre farms, not the little homesteading situations where it is much more feasible.
     
  5. rambler

    rambler Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Farm input costs keep going up; prices continue to stay steady or drop. _Most_ people like it that way, so the govt & industry leaders aim for those goals.

    Thus, farms need to get bigger & produce more per acre to continue. One makes less per acre, but keeps a bit of positive income.

    That is how it is, no matter what any of us _wish_ it was like.

    Organic can work, but often times it is very impractical. It either costs more per acre, or yields less per acre. (Yes there are exceptions to that - but you need to be lucky enough to jut have the right 1% of soil type to start with....) Typically organic crops get a premium price - sounds good right??? BUT for example, I can haul my regular soybeans 1/2 mile to th elevator and get $5 a bushel. OR I can raise organic soybeans, and can haul them 24 miles to the organic buyer. But only when they ask me for them. And I will get 50 cents to a dollar more per bu. So, I have mucxh more transportation costs; mush more storage costs; and I risk a lot more crop loss to aphids, weeds, etc. All for very little net increase.

    Organic production does _not_ increase regular farm income much, if any, at all. Only if you are lucky to have the right soils, the right market (note that if the buyer 24 milers away, the next closest organic buyer is about 100 miles away - tho they would then be swamped with crops & wouldn't pay much premium......)

    Organic production on a large scale only helps a small % of farmers who are lucky with location, soil type, and so on.

    The current business climate of ag in the USA rewards bigger scale, bigger yields. It is very difficult to buck that trend all by yourself.

    Livestock are being punished by town yuppies who are vocal about smells, Mississpppi river polution, wetlands issues, and so on. There are rules on how much manure you can put on land, which land, dust issue, and so on. It is becoming difficult to raise livestock unless you are very large & able to afford all the $$$ regulations & permits. NAIS is a very, very tiny thing compared to the other issues us livestock farmers face. In Iowa, there are preposed regulations to not allow manure to be spread on land going into soybeans. As well as EPA preposals to not allow dust on farms. And 300 foot setbacks from wells, tile, wetlands, muddy footprints, etc for any manure application - which needs to be incorporated within 24 hours.

    All these rules are killing livestock industry - including the big farms, not just small farms or homesteaders - and our food industry, starting with livestock, is moving to Suth America, Mexico, and the East.

    Farm equipment - parts for old machines cost more than the machine itself, and often times you can't even get them any more. My combine is one of the most popular models of the mid 1970's, and I could not bu a pulley that broke on it last year. I had to torch one off an old junker machine. How long will that last????? Is that something one can depend on for their livelyhood?????? I wasted 2 sunny days getting that deal fixed up last year - with rain & snow in the forcast, was a difficult & possibly very very costly situation......

    Much machinery is run on a lease program these days, farmer rents it from the dealers, dealers keep it running, and farmer runs it over enough acres to make it pay. That is how business is done, and if you do things differently that is fine, but you are on your own. You better have a plan on what to do when things don't work out.

    GPS and $5000-10000 monitors really help get top production & all, but you need to have a lot of acres to pay off all that $$$ stuff. Those that have it can afford to pay a bit more for rent or land. Yuppies & govt like those things, it appears people with them can do a better job of regulating fertilizer runoff so people with such $$$ are rewarded. If you go it alone - you are on your own, and might face different regulations....

    I would think somewhere in Kansas would be a very, very difficult place to go organic & make it big. Far from the yuppie markets that will pay extra or care about organic, far from population centers to do roadside stand sales, a climate that supports wheat & irrigation crops, not organic ones.

    One needs to get bigger or get out of the way......

    How it is. It's what people want.

    --->Paul
     
  6. kenuchelover

    kenuchelover Well-Known Member

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    Part of the problem is a mental inertia with respect to certain self destructive practices.... such as the thought that all weeds must be eliminated & that the ground should be bare soil for planting (intensive tillage has ruined untold millions of acres, and decreased soil fertility WHEREVER it's been used). But low-till & no-till methods HAVE been proven highly effective time & time again. For just one example, studies have shown that corn can be seeded directly into fresh mown grass (bermuda, etc).... the corn sprouts & quickly overtops the regenerating grass, while the corn roots reach deeper into nutrient & soil moisture levels that the grass doesn't touch. You don't merely save on tillage doing it this way, but you also benefit from the grass cover conserving soil moisture AND later being available for grazing. Similar scenarios exist for many other crops, tillage can be greatly reduced IF you're willing to break out of the pathological "scorched earth monoculture" mindset. Companion planting & polycultures are another example.

    Re fuel expense, total fuel cost is irrelevant.... it's the cost PER ACRE that factors into your profit margin. Now, running a huge machine that rips up & covers ground much faster saves time.... but it's not neccessarily fuel efficient, and if anything it'll lead to increased soil erosion. My grandfather started with a part share in one farm.... he ended up with a thousand acres by paying close attention to his fields, by rotating crops, by listening to soil conservation admonitions, and following the advice of his county ag extension..... and by not getting rid of equipment until it wore out (heh, even then he'd keep it, as potentially useful raw materials

    Huh? You might not be able to grow "certain" specific crops or cultivars, but there is a wide range of alternates..... folk just need to ASK COUNTY EXTENSION if they don't know of them already.

    Yes, persistance is vital. As is willingness to look outside the imaginary lines. (Any local resources that can replace chemical fertilizers? Factory waste from local food processors, maybe?) On corn, though, I'm not entirely convinced about it's difficulty. I see you're in Colorado (bad area for row crops to begin with, for water reasons. I assume you rely on govt water projects, or do you pump from deep wells?). Would your situation allow you to interplant corn with a legume covercrop? To rotate corn with cattle? Have you considered specialty corns, such as organic blue (etc) corn.... you can get drought resistant OP varieties that require fewer inputs & often have better insect resistance. Yes, yields will be lower (usually), but on the other hand you can sell something like blue corn for several times the normal field corn price. Ornamental corns can also bring a goodly profit..... they're retailing for a dollar an ear! I suspect that if you put in some of the old "pioneer" era corns (some of the old Oscar Will Seed Co varieties), you could easily sell them at a high markup.... as seed, as ornamental ears, and to milling companies for specialty products (cornmeal marketed as "historical", much as Rhode Island is making a fortune off it's white flint used for johnnycakes).
     
  7. Marilyn in CO

    Marilyn in CO Well-Known Member

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    LOL, oh to be sure, we don't farm squeaky clean fields, we have weeds and we do minimum till. Total cost of fuel is irrelevent......oh honey, it's relevent.......would you like to see my monthly gas/diesel bill compared to 10 years ago.....it's scarey. Rotating crops is an issue with us because we use corn to feed cattle which is our main feature. We can rotate somewhat but our irrigation issues prevent us/limit us to what we can do. Growing specialty corn crops doesn't fit our program again because we need the corn to grow finished cattle and the cattle is what makes this farm work. We cut way down on our corn acres this year and replaced with sorghum....a lot cheaper to grow, less water and very high protein level........mix with corn silage and cattle do well. Yes, the water situation here is not good, we spend a LOT of money on electricity to run pivots.
     
  8. DaleK

    DaleK Well-Known Member

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    Also there's a good reason why a lot of people going into organic are new to agriculture. They can afford the transition period. Those of us already farming just can't afford to deal with lower yields, higher labour and more tillage costs for several years yet still get conventional prices for our crops while the transition occurs. We're taking enough of a hit already, if we were to take a BIGGER hit for that period of time in hopes that there MIGHT still be a premium for our crop at the end, most of us would be broke before we lasted long enough to be certified.
     
  9. Marilyn in CO

    Marilyn in CO Well-Known Member

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  10. grams

    grams fiber crone

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    You know maybe the got out because they were just tired. You think you have stress at work. Try having a family to feed, taxes to pay and 500 head of cattle in the field and the bottom fall out of beef prices during a drought. Folks I will tell you the romance goes out of farming real quick then. No boss to go to see about getting a raise due to higher costs and no unemployment if the crops don't make a profit and you still have to have a crop next year, where is that money coming from to buy seed? It is a wonderful way to make a living, but it can kill you from the inside out fast also.
     
  11. bill not in oh

    bill not in oh Well-Known Member

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    There are basically two cultures in agriculture. In an over-simplified version..
    1) Large to giant farms that are forced to sell their products as commodities to brokers or other resellers (quite often 2-3 marketing levels from the end consumer) as they don't have the incentive, local market, and/or mindset to sell to that end consumer. They therefore sell their products at a wholesale or brokered price, forcing them to operate at very small margins and on very large properties to compensate for the smaller profit margin. They have the added disadvantage that the market price is dictated by someone else. Most people that operate under these economic conditions either don't know how or don't have the financial resource to make a transition to an alternate operation that could offer a better total income. [edited to acknowledge DaleK's post - posted as I was writing]

    2) Smaller operations that size and tailor their operations to sell premium and/or value added products directly to the end consumer in their local market, often at higher than retail grocers and certainly at prices higher than brokers and wolesalers. The problem with this culture is that the producer sometimes attempts to compete on a price basis with mass retailers and it just can't work. There is a rapidly growing market for sustainably grown produce and pasture raised meat and currently the producers don't begin to keep up with the demand. The smart producers working under this type of system will cultivate their customers as well as they cultivate their produce crops - customer loyalty is critical. Find and retain the folks that understand the benefits of your products and understand the VALUE that your products represent. This type of operation has the advantage of the producer setting the price, not the buyer. The biggest chalange in a farm of this culture is that it requires very careful planning in its early stages to anticipate demand for their products for the coming 1-2 years and preparing to meet that demand. The number one rule in retail business is still location, location, location....

    That said.... For a family owned farm to convert say 1000 acres of land that had been 'conventionally' farmed for 50 years to a certified organic operation would certainly be challenging economically, physically and emotionally. And even if you did succesfully accomplish this, you would still fall into the large farm model and be forced to sell at the very least the vast majority of your products at a wholesale or brokerage price. I've been through Houghton, and there is not a large enough local market to sell the products of even a 50 acre farm. Unless they were really up to speed on all the sustainable, organic, permaculture practices and had a burning passion for farming, they probably did the right thing... for them.
     
  12. rambler

    rambler Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Most amazing thing I've read this week.

    That exact scenario is _not_ posible. Corn sprouts, grows a couple inches tall, then stops & sets it's roots. It does not grow taller for a couple week period. Then, once the roots are set, and _if_ it gets good sunshine, it shoots up very, very rapidly in a growth spurt, bringing it's growing point out of the ground. Corn is _very_ sensitive to shading tho, and will die off if any weed or grass grows taller than it.

    Established grass will _clobber_ it, smothering it & killing it off. The grass will _always_ outpreform the corn - and be stealing shallow nutrients & moisture frome that corn that is trying to set it's irst roots.

    You would have much better luck trying soybeans your way, tho the grass would win, it wouldn't be quite the landslide the grass will have over the corn....

    One can do what you are saying with rye, or another small grain. Or clovers. There are ways to get at least part way to where you are going. It's not easy, you need to cut the small grain at just the right time, etc. But, possible.

    But, NOT with grass!!!!!!! Wow, what a failure that would be! :)

    Go to some ag forums, and talk about chisel plowing or molboard plowing, & the farmers will jump all over you, for wasting fuel, time, soil..... Things have changed quite a bit. Only ones working up the soil are us few up in the cold, overly wet, short summer areas with heavy clay soils - need to heat up & dry out the soil in spring, or one would never get into the fields. Hopefully gains will be made in sptrip tillae to allow us to cut back as well.

    --->Paul
     
  13. Windy in Kansas

    Windy in Kansas In Remembrance

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    I've had fun reading this thread.

    I doubt few if any of you aware of the climate around Huguton, KS. Here is a link showing their monthly and annual rainfall totals. The average is less than 18.5 inches per year.

    Without irrigation it would be hard to grow a cover crop and still have enough moisture left for planting anything. Without chemicals this area of Kansas is where you get a wheat crop every other year since the land needs to be fallowed in order to store enough moisture to produce a crop.

    It would be great if everyone could switch over to organic methods but it costs big bucks to even provide the fertilizer for one crop, let alone several while you farm is switching.
     
  14. TedH71

    TedH71 Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Thanks for the info but keep in mind, I'm living in Wichita, KS which probably has more water than Hughton. Am wondering about the feasibility of starting up a farm/ranch in the Wichita area and what should be the going rate for leasing land?
     
  15. kenuchelover

    kenuchelover Well-Known Member

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    Wasn't it once calculated that the most efficient use for most of the great plains region was to remove all the barbwire fences, build metal pole fences around the towns & habitations, abandon the croplands, and run free range bison in the region? Between annual bison harvesting, eco-tourism, and running chartered hunts (on everything from bison to pronghorn to wolves), it would supposedly give the current inhabitants a better living AND cost the govt less in subsidies.
     
  16. rambler

    rambler Well-Known Member Supporter

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    The Buffalo Commons idea.

    Don't think anyone _living_ there thought much of the idea - then or now. :) We did get a real feel for how _little_ other folks in the USA thought of us.............

    --->Paul
     
  17. kenuchelover

    kenuchelover Well-Known Member

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    Here's a couple of links showing that it is possible.

    http://nfrec.ifas.ufl.edu/sodrotation/PPT/Fri 5 Sod talk.ppt
    & http://nfrec.ifas.ufl.edu/sodrotation/PPT/Fri 5 Sod talk.ppt
    (See abstract for "No-Till Management of Agronomic Row Crops in Perennial Sod")

    http://corn.agronomy.wisc.edu/Publications/PR_JournalArticles/006-01-0046.pdf
    No-Till Systems for Corn following Hay or Pasture. M. A. Smith and P. R. Carter
    (found fall killing of pasture followed by no-till corn in spring resulted in CHEAPER production costs for corn than did conventional tillage..... this was chemical killing of grass, but I've elsewhere seen studies saying that live steam killing is cheaper than herbicide use)

    http://www.ag.auburn.edu/aux/nsdl/sctcsa/Proceedings/1985/Joost.pdf
    No-Till Production of Corn and Sorghum Silage in Southeast Louisiana
    (Found that early planting of corn created a canopy which suppressed grass sod by shading)

    I've also got a pdf article somewhere in which researchers merely MOWED bermuda grass just before planting corn, with excellent results. I'll try to dig it up if you're interested.









    Go to some ag forums, and talk about chisel plowing or molboard plowing, & the farmers will jump all over you, for wasting fuel, time, soil..... Things have changed quite a bit. Only ones working up the soil are us few up in the cold, overly wet, short summer areas with heavy clay soils - need to heat up & dry out the soil in spring, or one would never get into the fields. Hopefully gains will be made in sptrip tillae to allow us to cut back as well.

    --->Paul[/QUOTE]
     
  18. rambler

    rambler Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Thanks. I see they are trying this in the south. I'm in the north - I shoulda been a little more clear, that with the local conditions up here in 200 bu per acre corn & cool season grasses, it would not seem to work well. Very interesting to see what they are doing there. Up here, very short growing season, we plant into 45-50 degree soil, and harvest corn after a killing frost, so I don't know when the grass would grow/ harvest/ etc. Just not a realistic thing up here.

    The first presentation is only pics, looks interesting but not sure of what they are doing exactly.

    The 2nd presentation kills off the sod with herbicide & notills into it - yes this does work very well, you only need the proper planter with notill attachments. In _my_ location the soil would be very cold & wet, but it is a good concept and can work well across most of the country. Soybeans are easier to do this way - less issues with bugs & all since corn is actually a grass & there is a mono-culture aspect to planting corn into dead sod. But anyhow, if you are spraying the sod, works good.

    In the third presentation, they are using chemicals to suppress - almost kill - the sod, to give the corn a chance. You hadn't specified the use of spray in your first message, seemed like folks were looking at organic methods at that time. I understand this could work out fine if you use the proper dose of chemical suppression of the grasses. Sort of changes what you originally said tho - just mow the grass & plant corn, & all will be fine..... ;)

    Corn is a warm season grass. Cool season grasses will kill it if they are not controlled somehow - more than just mowing. And warm-season grasses will want to grow at the exact same time, so will not do well in the shade of corn. That is with the climate & soil conditions up here in Minnesota. It looks like the long growing season down south, using sprays they can work out a system that offers some options here.

    Thanks for the links.

    --->Paul
     
  19. Jolly

    Jolly Well-Known Member

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    If people can make money doing something, they will do so.

    Anybody see any four-row equipment on the farm anymore? Maybe on truck farm operations, but it's obsolete on row crop operations...
     
  20. Windy in Kansas

    Windy in Kansas In Remembrance

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    http://www.agmanager.info/farmmgt/income/

    Ted, Kansas Farm Management Association complies data from actual farm records and makes them available to the general public.

    Your county extension office has lists of current rents for various types of ground and locales.

    My very best wishes at giving farming a try.