The Blomme'n Coop

Our Farm = Your Food

Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 5)

Meet Dane. Millennial, Iowan and producer of life’s greatest gifts: milk, butter and cheese. He’s a pretty big deal.

Can you imagine a world without milk, butter and cheese? I can’t even go there. Thanks to the many hard-working dairy farmers out there, we don’t have to. I want to introduce you to one of these dairy farmers, Dane Lang. Along with his family, Dane runs a fifth-generation dairy farm in Brooklyn, Iowa where they milk about 700 cows every day, three times a day.

My husband and I were first introduced to Dane’s family about nine years ago. We have a custom hay grinding business and the Lang family has been a loyal customer from day one. When I first started my blog a couple of years ago, I knew I wanted to feature different farmers and I also knew that I wanted this particular family farm to be one of them. It’s not very often that you can find a family business where three generations are actively involved and living on the farm. Dane’s grandfather, Maynard, still lives on the farm and comes out to check on things every day. Dane’s father, uncle and brother are all part of the operation. Like most family farms, the dynamics of running a business with family can make things interesting to say the least. But this dairy farm’s rich heritage makes it extra special and I’m excited to share an inside look with you.

If you were to follow Dane around for a couple of hours like I did one Sunday afternoon, I think you would be blown away with the technology they use and the accuracy with which they run their operation and monitor the health of their animals. More importantly, I think you would have a whole new respect for what it takes to manage a dairy farm (Dane would tell you the animals are much easier to manage than the people). I know I sure do.

Dane’s day starts before 6 am, getting the crew going for the first milking. Once everything is up and running, he heads inside for some breakfast at about 7 am. Then he spends the next few hours checking the health of the cows and breeding those that have come into heat.

Talk about multi-tasking! In this photo, Dane is breeding a cow while talking on the phone, without missing a beat. I was super impressed by this . . . I usually struggle to boil water while talking on the phone at the same time.

Other members of the farm are doing chores like feeding and moving manure. The whole crew takes a lunch break from noon to 1 pm. The rest of the day is consumed with more chores, milking and various other tasks of running a business. The cows get milked at 6 am, 2 pm and 10 pm, every single day, without exception.

Arguably, my favorite part of my time with Dane was getting to meet his dog, Ted. Ted is a two-and-a-half-year-old Border Collie. He works about four hours a day, helping Dane move cows to where they need to be in order to be bred. Dane described Ted as the best employee he can find. “He’s easier to train and work with than a human because he loves to work and doesn’t talk back.”

Q&A with Dane

How did your family farm get started?
Our farm was purchased in 1851 by my grandmother’s great grandfather. My grandmother was raised by her grandfather here at the home farm. When he passed away, my grandfather bought as much of the farm as he could. In those days, farmers raised everything, dairy cows, hogs, chickens, cattle, sheep, etc. My dad, Craig, went off to college and when he came home, they started to focus more on dairy.

Did you always know you wanted to farm?
No. I didn’t want to farm. My plan was to go to law school. But, in 2009, I was laid off in the economic downturn so I came back home to the farm. I did the breeding of the cows at that time and I thought, I’ll just stay here for nine months to see what I’ve made. Then the calves were born and I thought, I’ll just stay for two more years to see the growth and development of these calves’ calves. I’ve been here ever since.
It’s a lot more challenging than I expected. To run a dairy, you have to manage humans, not just animals. That can be the most challenging part. You have to understand tax laws, labor laws, OSHA requirements, etc. so it’s a highly managed type of farming operation. Our employees are Hispanic and they don’t speak English. But that’s okay because on a dairy farm, we have a language all of our own. They don’t need to speak English, they speak dairy so we get along fine and they understand what to do.

How has farming changed since your grandfather was in your shoes?
All industries specialize for efficiency. Farming is no different. Our farm here is specialized for milking only. The bull calves are sold and someone else specializes in raising them. We used to raise the heifers but we don’t do that anymore. Our neighbor down the road raises the heifers instead. My brother, Cade, and I raise a certain age group of heifers at a different location. This specialization is all a function of the margin and government regulations.

How do you use technology on your farm?
We use activity monitors on every single cow. They monitor their activity 24/7 so we know exactly what is going on with each animal at any given time. We track when they’re coming into heat and know exactly when the right time is to breed them. We know when conception takes place so we’re not just guessing. The monitors help us monitor their overall health. For example, they monitor if they’re chewing their cudd. If a cow is chewing her cudd, she’s healthy. If she’s not chewing her cudd, that’s a good signal that she’s not healthy for some reason. Before technology like this, we had to guess at everything. Now we know exactly what’s going on with each animal at any given time.

Here is a close up of the activity monitors the cows wear around their necks.

As a young mom myself, I often get questions from fellow moms about what is and isn’t safe to buy at the grocery store. As a dairy farmer, what do you want moms to know?
That everything they’ve been told about saturated fat the last 60 years in incorrect. Whole fat is healthy fat and cheese and milk will always be healthier than pop and chips.

I also want them to know that dairy is safe. On our dairy farm, we are inspected by someone about every one to two months. About every 5 months we are inspected by the state of Iowa in order to be able to sell milk. The federal government can inspect us at any given time without notice. A cheese plant that buys our milk inspects us too, mostly for animal welfare reasons. The Department of Natural Resources inspects us. Most of these inspections are not from the government; they are demanded by consumers and we get a premium for allowing the inspections.

The products that we enjoy every day and take for granted are only possible because farmers like Dane have chosen not just a job, but a lifestyle that is rewarding, yes, but is also unforgiving, stressful and challenging. The next time you drink a glass of milk or eat a slice of cheese, take a moment to think about all the tireless work that went into the making of that product.

THANK YOU to all the dairy farmers out there and a very special thank you to Dane for opening your barn doors and sharing your story with us!

Field to Feedlot to Freezer

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Market research shows that one of the most important factors to millennials when it comes to purchasing food is knowing where it came from.  As a millennial myself, I can absolutely relate to that.  I want to know as much as possible about the food I’m providing to my family.  So, millennial to millennial, in this post I’ll show you an inside look at where the steak or hamburger you will eat about four months from now came from.  I’ll also show you what we are busy doing right now to provide high quality feed for these animals for months to come.

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The steak or hamburger you purchase from your local grocery store or favorite restaurant about four months from now could quite possibly come from one of these guys, raised on our family farm, fed with the corn and hay we raised on land that has been in our family for generations.

Over this past weekend, we made high moisture corn which we will store over the next several months and feed to our cattle (your future steak).  In this process, we shell corn that is wetter than the normal moisture threshold for harvesting corn.

We run the corn through a tub grinder machine and pile it in a bunker.  We pack the pile of corn down tight by driving over it with a tractor in order to remove air pockets and create a hard pack.

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The end product is a very high quality feed for our cattle.  We will mix the high moisture corn with grass and alfalfa hay, corn silage and an ethanol corn byproduct.  This means that our cattle are both grass and grain fed.  Our cows and calves that are out in the pastures right now are eating a grass diet.  But this winter when the pastures are covered in snow and the grass is dead, we’ll feed them this mixture of corn and hay.

This corn will travel less than a mile from where it was planted to where it will be fed to our cattle – that’s locally raised in every sense of the term.

But wait, there’s more!  Think back to the field of corn that we just harvested to make feed for our cattle.  The next thing we’ll do is make cornstalk bales off of the remaining corn plant residue from this field.  We will use these cornstalk bales in our cattle hoop barns for bedding.  The cattle love fresh bedding – think about how good it feels to lay in your bed with clean sheets – they feel the same way about fresh cornstalk bedding.  This bedding pack will inevitably get manure in it from the animals and we will have to clean out the manure regularly to keep their environment nice and tidy.  We compost the manure/cornstalk bedding residue and then eventually haul that manure/compost back out to the field where we made the cornstalk bales.  We spread it on the field to replace the key nutrients that we took out of the soil from growing corn and making bales.  Replacing these nutrients with cattle manure will help us to raise a crop in this field again next year.

If that isn’t sustainable farming, I don’t know what is!  It’s a constant cycle of giving and taking, ensuring that all resources are used as efficiently as possible to minimize waste and cost.  This provides you with a healthy, delicious product while keeping costs as low as possible (by better utilizing resources) and providing a living for our family.  Win-win-win.

The corn we shelled this weekend will provide energy and nutrition to our cattle which will ultimately end up in your freezer to provide many delicious meals for your family.

That’s the inside scoop on where your beef comes from:  from our field, to our feedlot, to your freezer.

Weaning My First Calf

img_3861A few weeks ago now, my oldest daughter started four-year-old preschool.  I thought it would be pretty anti-climatic and, for all intensive purposes, it was.  But it also felt like the moment she walked into that classroom, the last four years were just suddenly gone, as if I hadn’t seen that moment coming at all.

One of my favorite things to do on our farm is to watch mama cows take care of their calves.  When I became a mom myself, I somehow related to those big ole girls on a whole new level.  Cows and moms pretty much look the same when they’re being protective of their young:  wide eyed, ears perked and ready to pounce on anyone and anything that might harm their babe.

I felt like a first-calf heifer dropping Laney off at preschool.  Tightly holding her hand as we walked into the school (wondering how much longer she would let me hold her hand), scoping out the new surroundings, discretely sniffing her hair because I wouldn’t smell her scent again for hours . . . wide eyed, ears perked and ready to pounce.

When you have little kids, everyone tells you to enjoy them because it goes so fast.  You can’t imagine how true that is until you’re going through it yourself.  I don’t want to spend my entire motherhood feeling sad that it’s going fast and my kids are growing up.  But this little milestone has brought a lot of perspective.

I can’t take back the stressed out mom moments from the last four years but I can try to reduce them moving forward.  Before my next little calf goes off to school, I want to focus on the priceless, little moments . . . the stress relieving sound of giggles, the squeezer hugs around my neck and the sweet voices asking me each night to lay with them for one more minute.

Wishing you greener pastures as you grow my sweet Laney Bug.

Knee-High by the 4th of July

If you’re from a rural area, you’ve probably heard the old saying, “Knee-high by the 4th of July.” Depending on your location, this may or may not apply to cornfields in your area this year. But as I sit at my desk, looking out my window at a cornfield with the 4th of July closing in on us, I see corn that is far taller than I am, let alone knee high.

Because of today’s advancements in crop production, especially the use of GMOs, we’re able to plant much sooner than in years past. Weather permitting, we can plant in April (March if you’re in the Southern states) without fear of insects or disease killing the crop. This was the limiting factor not that long ago and the reason why corn couldn’t be planted until mid to late May, therefore producing corn that was knee-high by the 4th of July.

As we all prepare for the celebrations of the 4th we’re probably purchasing things like hot dogs, hamburgers, corn on the cob, beer and fireworks. Let’s take a moment to think about where all of these products come from. Let me briefly take you down memory lane . . .

When I was a young girl, my parents would let my brother and I skip school in early September to go the Farm Progress Show when it was in either Illinois or Indiana. We never went to the show when it was in Iowa because that was WAY too far away . . . who knew I’d live there someday!

The most memorable trip for me was when I was in about 4th or 5th grade and Bonnie Blair was at the show signing her autograph and handing out posters. She was the hometown hero of Champaign, IL (not far from where I grew up) and incredibly famous at that time since she’d recently brought home more gold merchandise from the Olympics. I was in complete awe of her . . . she and Reggie Miller were my biggest heroes at that time even though I had never stepped foot on an ice rink.

Along with my signed Bonnie Blair poster, I also came home from the show that year with a t-shirt that would survive many moves across the Midwest with me and that I still have in my dresser to this day. Although it’s not quite as bright white as it used to be, the message still resonates. At the top of the t-shirt it says, “Soybeans, they’re in almost everything.” And then it lists products on the front and back of the shirt that are made with soybeans. It even says at the bottom that it was printed with soy ink. As a young girl, this made such an impression on me . . . I had no idea that the crop my family grew made so many different products that people all over the world use.IMG_2559IMG_2560

The same is true for corn, wheat and other crops of course. Here are just a few interesting things that are made possible by corn:

  • Fireworks! As you watch those beautiful displays of fireworks this weekend, be sure to thank a corn farmer!
  • Toothpaste
  • Makeup – Mary Kay is corn fed too!
  • Shampoo
  • Gypsum/drywall
  • Spark plugs
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Beer
  • Coffee
  • Paint
  • Tires
  • Paper products
  • Gas and oil
  • Adhesives

Even though you may not be connected to a farm or have an interest in farming, your lives and the products you use every single day are made possible by farmers.  

This 4th of July, be safe, have fun and enjoy the products brought to you by cornfields everywhere.  God bless the men and women who serve this great nation and the farmers who feed it. 

Meet Sweetie

Meet Sweetie.  She is one lucky gal.  When she was about three weeks old, she found herself in this predicament.  Not good . . .

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My farmer found her in this hole and thinks she was probably stuck in it for about two days.  Her mama was lying right beside her but was helpless of course.  This happened right in the middle of corn planting so my farmer was a little behind on checking the cows and calves.

After getting her pulled out of the hole, it was evident that she was in pretty bad shape.  We took her to the veterinarian to be examined.  She had an infection, a rectal prolapse and was dehydrated.  They gave her an IV, treated her with antibiotics and fixed her prolapse.  They also gave her a steroid shot to reduce the inflammation in the joints of her back legs.  When she was stuck in the hole, her legs were scrunched underneath her and left her very weak and in pain.  She came home to recover and received a couple of rounds of antibiotics as the infection persisted.
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She needed to be bottle fed since she was away from her mother but she refused to suck the bottle.  Each day, twice a day, we would try to get her to suck the bottle but when she wouldn’t, we had to tube her.  Tubing a calf means that you insert a tube that is about eighteen inches long down their throat and into their stomach.  The milk will slowly empty into their stomach.  This is a last resort as it’s not a pleasant process for the calf but it is essential to get them the nutrition they need to survive.

Eventually the calf did begin to suck the bottle and became stronger each day.  Once she was strong enough, we fostered her to a cow that had lost her calf.  It took some work and patience but they are now a pair and are doing well.

In the picture below, you can see that she has lost the hair on her hips and part of her back.  When she was stuck in the hole and fighting to get out, she rubbed the hair off and in places, rubbed her skin raw.  Sweetie is still fighting some wounds on her back end and needs to be treated with a product called Catron which keeps flies and maggots away.   IMG_2640

This is just one of the countless examples of how we take care of our animals.  Using antibiotics responsibly is something we take very seriously.  Antibiotics saved Sweetie’s life.  Today she is thriving and will be going out to pasture very soon where she’ll spend the summer on the green grass with her new mom.

The Four Letter Word – GMOs

Okay, it’s technically a three letter acronym in the plural form but I was grasping for a catchy title.

As a mom, I want to make sure I’m giving my girls the best start possible and doing that includes providing a healthy diet.  Aside from the occasional bribe of fruit snacks for finishing their dinner or being quiet in church, I want to make sure they have three balanced meals that are safe and nutritious for their growing little bodies.  In my household, these safe, nutritious meals include GMOs.

When you hear the term, “GMO,” what is your gut reaction?  I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that it may not be a positive one.  But why is this?  Because some Hollywood celebrities that have never stepped foot on a farm said they were bad?  Because so many labels in the grocery store now say, “Non-GMO” and that must mean that GMOs are bad, right?  Science continues to prove over and over again that GMO foods are safe for us to consume.  Yet, there is still a lot of concern and fear surrounding them.

What exactly are GMOs?  A GMO, or genetically modified organism, is the product of a precise plant breeding technique that uses a trait found in nature and transfers it to another plant. There are nine GMO crops available: corn (field and sweet), soybeans, cotton, canola, sugar beets, alfalfa, papaya, potatoes and squash.  GMO apples are currently being developed as well.  Farmers have been using selective breeding of crops for thousands of years.  And they have actually been growing GMOs for decades.  GMOs have been painted as a product of an unnatural process.  However, gene transfer actually occurs in nature without human intervention.  Take the sweet potato for example.  It is one of the best known GMOs and it was created thousands of years ago by the one and only, Mother Nature.

GMOs were first commercially sold in 1994.  At this time and in the years to follow, an increasingly smaller portion of the population was farming.  This means fewer and fewer people were and are involved in the production of food.  This has led to disconnection and ultimately a real fear of how food is being produced, with GMOs being one of the most controversial topics of all.  Today, farmers and ranchers in the United States make up 2% of the population.  That leaves 98% of people who are not directly involved in the food production process and who have a lot of questions about the practices and technologies farmers use to raise food out here in “fly over” country.

On our farm right now, we are in the process of planting this year’s crop, which for us, includes planting field corn and soybeans that are genetically modified.  The GMO field corn we grow contains genetic traits to help protect against insect pressure as well as provide herbicide and drought tolerance.  We also grow GMO soybeans which contain genetic traits to help with insect resistance and herbicide tolerance.  We find many benefits to growing GMO seed on our farm including the ability to better manage the amount of pesticides we need to protect our crops from harmful insects, more effective weed management using less herbicides and a reduction in tillage practices ultimately helping us protect our vital resources – soil and water.

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This kernel of GMO field corn is from the first field we planted on April 21.  Despite the challenging conditions we have been facing, this seedling is off to a decent start with the radicle root shooting off the bottom and the mesocotyl shooting up the top.   

Growing crops involves a lot of risk.  Risk of insect infestations, risk of drought, risk of disease breakouts and more.  Plant breeding and the use of GMO technology helps to mitigate some of these risks.  It’s one piece of the puzzle we use to grow food that is safe, sustainable and provides energy in so many ways whether it’s fuel for our bodies, fuel for our animals’ bodies or fuel for our cars.

I am pro GMOs and have complete confidence in the safety and nutritional value of the food I feed to my family.  But that doesn’t mean I am anti non-GMO or organic food.  Organic food provides a safe nutritious option for consumers as well.  It’s a tall task to feed the world and it takes farmers of all types to get the job done.  Ultimately, consumers’ demand is what drives the food we produce.  We are extremely lucky to live in a country where we have so many safe, healthy choices.  Whether you prefer certified organic or GMO foods, you are able to provide your family with wholesome, sustainable food products that you can feel good about.

Here’s the bottom line:  being concerned and questioning the food we put in our bodies is a healthy thing to do.  It’s our job as farmers to provide a safe, sustainable product to feed your family.  It’s imperative to our livelihoods that we do so.

For more information on GMOs, check out these great resources:  GMOAnswers and FindOurCommonGround

 

 

 

Off to the Races! Corn Planting 2017

If you drive across any Midwestern state right now, you’ll see machine shed doors opened up, planters stirring up dust in the fields and jumbo-sized coffee mugs in the farmers’ hands.  It’s planting time.  What a privilege it is to be able to provide food for the world.

What is corn used for?

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The following diagrams are from the National Corn Growers Association 2016 publication, “World of Corn.”

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To see how corn is planted today, it’s hard to even imagine that it was once planted one row at a time or with a horse.  The screens you see in the cab below serve as a control center.  We can monitor just about everything happening with the planter – what the seed singulation is, the seed spacing, how much down pressure is being applied to each row, how much seed is left in each row, etc.  Auto-steer technology is driving the tractor which allows the operator to pay closer attention to all the details taking place behind them.  Automatic row shut-offs will shut the planter off once it has crossed over an already-planted area, saving on seed and improving yield in those areas.

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This picture is showing the seed trench where the corn kernel is dropped at about 2.25 inches deep.  IMG_2249

After the seed is dropped in the trench, these closing wheels will seal up the trench and the drag chains help to cover and level the trench.

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Good seed spacing is important, but even more so is proper seed depth.  It is critical to get every plant emerging at the same time so that they grow and develop consistently.  If a plant emerges later than its neighboring plants, it could become a runt (more like a weed) and will not be able to compete with its larger, neighboring plants which will rob it of essential nutrients and sunlight.

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It’s pretty difficult to get through the day without the use of products made possible by corn.  Whether it’s the food you eat, the soap you shower with, the fuel you put in your vehicle or the carpet you walk on, products made from corn are all around us.

The Grass IS Greener on the Other Side

We have some happy cows on the Blomme farm right now.  After a long winter, we turned some of our cow/calf pairs out to pasture last night.  This might be one of the coolest sights of the whole year.  After spending the last few months in barns to keep them protected and comfortable from Old Man Winter, they now can explore and enjoy the fresh green grass, sunshine and wide open spaces.


Before turning them out to pasture, we vaccinated these calves for respiratory diseases and pink eye.  We will monitor them closely to make sure they don’t break with something like pneumonia while out on pasture.  A big part of having cows and calves on pasture is checking fences and making sure that everything is in good shape to keep them where they’re supposed to be.

These calves will continue to nurse their moms until they are about four to five months old.  At that time we will wean them and they will consume grass hay, corn and protein pellets.  Prior to breeding, the cows on pasture will be supplemented with ground hay and silage to make sure they have adequate nutrition heading into pregnancy.  They will also be supplemented with salt and mineral to round out their nutrition program.

These calves will ultimately be fed out and harvested for meat.  If you pay attention to meat packaging, you will see labels that say things like “grass fed,” “grain fed” or “grain finished.”  These calves will be a combination of grass fed and grain fed.  They will consume grass while on pasture with their moms and then will be grain finished (along with rations of grass hay, silage and gluten) in our feedlots.

The video below has a special treat for you.  You will be serenaded by my 3-year-old’s rendition of “Let it go,” the famous soundtrack from the movie Frozen.  Seems quite fitting for this situation as I’m sure the cows are feeling a lot of freedom being turned out to pasture!


Picture perfect evening with these mamas and their babes.

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What’s Hoppin’ on the Farm

In the spirit of Easter, here is an update on what’s hoppin’ on the Blomme farm these days.

Planting

Spring planting is knocking on our door so there is a lot of excitement as well as nervousness in the air.  Depending on where you live, some farmers have started planting already.  Others are waiting for their fields to be “fit” or dry and warm enough to plant.  We have some rain in the forecast for the rest of this week so depending on what Mother Nature does, we will likely start within the next week.

It’s critical for good stand establishment and ultimately a successful crop to plant the seed when the soil is above 50 degrees and the forecast looks warm and dry.  Seedlings don’t like cold, wet conditions which can bring on disease, deformities and even death.  We only get one shot to get it right so planting is the most critical task of the year as far as crop production is concerned.  And the window of optimal planting conditions is only five to seven days on average so it’s very important to be ready to go when conditions are right.  It’s easy to see why this is a high-stress time of year for farmers!

Prior to planting, a lot of farmers are busy right now tilling the soil, applying anhydrous ammonia, shaping and seeding waterways and spraying weeds or cover crops.  We planted some cover crops (rye specifically) last fall on some acres where we chopped corn silage.  We did this because chopping corn silage uses every last bit of the plant and therefore leaves the ground very bare.  Since there was no residue on the ground, the rye helped to prevent soil erosion and also served as a great source of feed for our cows (they loved it!).  The rye is now about six to eight inches tall and lush green.  It’s time to spray and kill the rye so that we can plant a soybean crop into that field.

Seeding Alfalfa

A few weeks ago, we seeded some ground to alfalfa (a perennial flowering plant in the pea family) that was previously planted to corn.  We did this for a couple of reasons.  Most importantly, we need the alfalfa crop to feed our cattle.  But we also rotate crops on our fields that are very hilly in order to prevent soil erosion and maintain the integrity of that ground.  This particular field had been soybeans and then corn the last two years.  This alfalfa crop will grow for about four years and then we will put this field back into a corn/soybean rotation.

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Filling the drill to seed alfalfa.

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This is one of the many conservation practices that farmers utilize to minimize soil erosion and therefore minimize the amount of nutrient run off.  In addition to preventing soil erosion, alfalfa has many other benefits including absorbing nitrates in the ground water, providing a rich habitat for many species and serving as a valuable host to a wide variety of insects, some of which actually naturally help with pest control.  Alfalfa is a pretty amazing natural fertilizer as it fixes its own nitrogen from Rhizobia bacteria and helps provide nitrogen for future crops while also improving soil tilth.

Calving Progress

We are now about half way through our calving season.  We have been blessed with a few sets of healthy twins the last couple of weeks.  The conditions the last couple of weeks have been muddy, making things difficult for the baby calves and their moms.  Because of this, we did some rearranging of our cattle and moved some cow/calf pairs into one of our hoop barns to provide better conditions for them.  The hoop barns offer a warm environment where we can better maintain dry bedding to keep them comfortable.  Fortunately, the weather has improved and we are getting ready to turn the pairs out to pasture.

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Ruthie bottle feeding a calf.  *Photo credit – Connie Blomme

Easter Feast – Where Does It Come From?

Before grandma presents her amazing spread, where do some of the Easter dinner favorites come from?

  • Did you know Iowa is the #1 egg producing state?  As you devour those delicious deviled eggs, thank an Iowa egg producer.
  • Plan to pig out on that Easter ham?  Iowa is the #1 pork producing state as well.  Enjoy that Easter ham guilt free knowing that you’re consuming safe, nutritious protein that was likely raised by an Iowa farmer who truly cares for the well-being of their animals.
  • Love you some green bean casserole?  You can thank the fine farmers in Wisconsin for being the top producing green bean state in the country.
  • And this one is no surprise . . . Idaho produces the most potatoes of any state in the country.  Thank goodness for those potato farmers making mashed potatoes a staple at our Easter feasts.

Hungry yet?  I wish you all a blessed Easter!

Farming With Fertilizers

IMG_1841Farmers use a variety of tools each year to help grow an abundant crop.  Have you ever wondered just what exactly farmers are putting in the ground and why they are using these substances?  I’ll try to shed some light on what actually goes on out in our fields.  After reading this, I hope you feel confident and reassured that we do everything we can to take the best care of our most precious resource – our land.

On our farm, we apply nutrients such as manure from our livestock, nitrogen, potassium, lime and phosphorous.  We also use chemicals such as herbicides, pesticides and insecticides to control weeds, pests and insects that negatively impact our crop yields.  I will talk more about spraying chemicals a little later this spring when I can show you what we do in action.  For now, I’ll focus on fertilizers.

Why do we use nitrogen?  Nitrogen is essential for a healthy and successful corn crop.  Each year’s crop removes a certain amount of key nutrients from the soil and it must be replaced in order to continue raising crops and maintain the overall health of the soil.  It is critical to keep the soil in good condition, otherwise, it will be “mined” of its key nutrients and will not be productive.  On our farm, we do a variety of things to ensure that we are using the most efficient amount of nutrients.  By this I mean the right amount to have a successful crop while at the same time minimizing negative impacts on the environment.  One thing we do regularly is take soil samples.  Soil sampling helps us to know how much of each key nutrient is currently in the soil.  It provides direction to know if we have too little, too much or an optimal amount of any particular nutrient.

In addition to soil samples, we also use soil and yield maps to understand how much was removed by last year’s crop and to determine how much we need to apply to reach our yield goals for the coming year.  From these and other factors, we are able to decide how much nitrogen each field should receive.  We can even use variable rate prescriptions which means that we load a prescription into our monitors and our equipment will apply varying amounts of the nutrients throughout the field, depending on how much each area of the field actually needs.  This way, we’re not overapplying in an area of the field that is already abundant or underapplying in an area that is deficient.

Since we have livestock on our farm, we are able to utilize their manure as a fantastic source of fertilizer for our soils.  We use a lab analysis from our hog manure samples to help us understand how much of each key nutrient is in the manure that we apply to our fields.  Manure has been identified as a waste product for years.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  Manure is full of valuable, key nutrients and is a real asset for our soil health and crops.

In the next month or so, when driving across corn country, you are likely to see farmers pulling white tanks across the field, like the one pictured below.  These tanks are filled with anhydrous ammonia, a form of nitrogen.  There are many different forms of nitrogen and methods of applying nitrogen.  With this particular method, we pull a toolbar with the anhydrous tanks hooked up behind it.  The anhydrous is knifed into the ground about four to six inches deep depending on the field conditions and amount of residue left over from previous years’ crops.  The trench that the anhydrous is placed in is then covered and sealed with closing discs.  The goal is for the nitrogen to be placed where it will be readily available for the corn plants’ roots to take up.

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How do we determine how much anhydrous ammonia to put into the ground?  There are several variables that play into this decision.  On our farm, we utilize a crop model to help manage our nitrogen decisions on several of our fields.  This will help us monitor the amount of nitrogen in our soils throughout the growing season to make sure we have enough to reach our yield targets without wastefully overapplying.

For years, there has been extensive research done on nitrogen management as it pertains to crop farming.  As an industry, we have learned many things that help us do the best job possible to be good stewards of nutrients and our land.  For example, we know that adequate levels of potassium helps the crop to utilize the nitrogen in the soil so we make sure that our soils have adequate levels of potassium as well.

We also know that multiple applications of lower rates of nitrogen is typically better than one larger shot of nitrogen.  Whenever possible, we try to “spoon feed” the crop.  For example, we may apply a baseline amount of anhydrous ammonia before planting.  And then come back and sidedress liquid nitrogen around early June.  Later in the season, when the corn plants are very tall, we could use an application such as Y-Drops if (and only if) the crop is needing more nitrogen at that point.  The benefit to doing multiple, lower dose applications is that you’re applying the nutrient as the crop needs it and eliminating waste of the nutrient.  This benefits us from an economic perspective and it benefits the environment as well.  In a perfect world, we could do this with every field.  But, we don’t farm in a perfect world.  On our farm, we have hills, contours and odd-shaped fields that don’t allow us to make applications once the crop is up out of the ground (because we would run over and damage too much of the crop).  Nevertheless, we still try to manage each field as efficiently as possible.

In addition to the technology used to determine how much nitrogen to apply, we also utilize a variety of conservation practices on our farm to help prevent the soil and its nutrients from eroding and leaching into the water.  We use things like grass buffer strips, grass waterways, planting on contours, terraces and more to help keep our soil in place and prevent as much run off as possible.

Farmers are investing a tremendous amount of time, energy and money to manage fertilizers better than ever before.  And the ag industry as a whole has made incredible advances in understanding how the soil holds these nutrients so that we can all benefit from more efficient application of them.  It maximizes the profitability of our operation and helps us take care of our resources like soil and water.  This ultimately benefits everyone by growing safe, sustainable food while protecting our environment.

 

 

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