SFA Field Day: 30 Inches of Roots & Soil Health

KCIM Keep Cattle in MinnesotaBy Kent Solberg • SFA Livestock & Grazing Coordinator

A crowd huddled against the brisk November wind during a Nov. 1 SFA Keep Cattle in Minnesota Field Day in Verndale. They were gathered around a freshly dug trench. All eyes were fixed on the man in the trench.

No, this wasn’t a funeral. The trench was dug to look at what the roots of a complex cover crop mix could do in sandy, compacted soils. Root hairs had penetrated the compaction layer and were going down at least 30 inches – Kent and Linda Solberg had planted the 12 species blend of cover crops on July 3.

As cattle grazed on the covers in the background, Kent; Jeff Duchene, NRCS Grazing Specialist; and James Schroepfer, agronomist with Ag Resources Consulting, Inc., discussed soil health, cover crops and managed grazing with a group of attentive producers from as far away as Bagley and Mountain Lake.

Earlier that afternoon, the group toured cover crops and managed grazing on Larry Heitkamp’s farm near Sebeka. Larry shared his crop rotation, cover cropping, fertility program, and how he integrates grazing dairy heifers to build soil health.

These farm tours were part of SFA’s Keep Cattle In Minnesota (KCIM) program and an MDA Energy and Sustainable Agriculture Grant. Based on evaluations from earlier KCIM events, we learned that there was a strong interest in cover crops and how to integrate livestock into cropping operations, so keep an eye on SFA Connect for future events focused on these topics.

‘Building Farm to Institution Markets’ Survey Now Open

2014_11_06_ProducerSurvey_web (1)A survey for Minnesota producers, “Building Farm to Institution Markets,” is now available at: www.iatp.org/FTI through the end of November.

For Minnesota farmers, ranchers and producers currently selling to – or interested in selling to – schools, child care centers, hospitals or other institutions, this survey focuses on identifying the information and tools that producers need to build successful, profitable sales with these buyers.

This comprehensive survey has been developed by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, SFA and Renewing the Countryside – with additional input from over 20 farmers, state agencies, experts and non-profit organizations. SFA members will be especially valuable for this survey, as your answers and feedback will help build a better, more profitable farm-to-insitution system in Minnesota.

Our collaborative project group also held a webinar in early November that featured SFA member Greg Reynolds, Ryan Pesch from the University of Minnesota and Andrea Northup from Minneapolis Public Schools. You can download each presenter’s slides in the right-hand column of this page.

Questions? Contact project partners Pete Huff, Jason Walker or Grace Brogan.

Support SFA on Give to the Max Day

Help advance farmer networking and education in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest – donate to SFA on Give to the Max Day on Nov. 13, 2014.

Click here to view SFA’s Give to the Max Day homepage.

SFA supports sustainable farmers with our networking opportunities, field days, Annual Conference, Midwest Soil Health Summit, and other educational events. SFA has built a crucial network where farmers can rely on support from like-minded individuals as well as tap the wisdom of our community.

We help farmers be more sustainable, productive and profitable, thereby helping build soil health and water quality while putting healthy, ethical food on the plates of people throughout Minnesota and beyond.

If you believe in the importance of family farms, clean water, healthy food and preserving natural splendor and wildlife habitat, then make a tax-deductible donation to SFA today. 

RSDP Seeking Input on Deep Winter Greenhouse Project

RSDPThe Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships are working with the University of Minnesota Dept. of Horticulture on a research project that will analyze several issues related to growing crops in the winter in Minnesota. RSDP is working with ‘Deep Winter Greenhouse’ operators as well as conventional greenhouses to test the conditions under which their crops are grown. Crops will also be grown in growth chambers at the U to identify conditions under which the crops grow best with controlled light, temperatures, and carbon dioxide.

Crops grown in the study will include kale, spinach, strawberries, cucumbers, and a mesclun mix. We will also be conducting economic analyses of the Deep Winter Greenhouses to determine startup costs, breakeven analyses, and examine the potential market for Deep Winter crops.

Following the conclusion of these studies, short courses will be offered around the state to provide opportunities for growers to learn about the results and techniques of the various production models.

If you are interested in receiving periodic updates on the progress of this study and have the ability to ask questions and provide feedback please contact Greg Schweser at schwe233@umn.edu or 612-625-9706. To learn more about RSDP, visit its homepage.

Executive Director’s Note: Learning Environmental Accountability

John Mesko

John Mesko

By John Mesko • SFA Executive Director

Agricultural practitioners have known forever that everything in the environment is connected with every human being on the planet. Nothing new to us. SFA was started 25 years ago in part because of that very idea, that what we do on our farms affects the environment and the community and the food we produce as a nation.

Actually, we’ve become known for our coordinated approach to sustainability. So much so, I’ve been invited by Conservation International to talk about what we are doing to promote sustainable agriculture in general and soil health in particular. As I write this, I am in Washington, D.C., with other sustainability leaders to attend Conservation International’s Ocean Health Index Roundtable. Conservation International has developed an Ocean Health Index, and the idea here is that everything on the planet contributes to the overall outcomes in terms of ocean health.

The first global rating of ocean health is not exactly stellar. Businesses, including farms, and countries individually contribute to our earth’s ocean health. Something I hope to bring to Conservation International is the understanding that ocean health is rooted in soil health (pun intended).

This is actually a part of a larger effort in global sustainability circles to assign a credit or a debit to a company’s books or a country’s economic ledger based on the contribution each entity makes to environmental health. It’s gotten me thinking about the assessment of our own farms and how they contribute to overall soil health and water quality. We know certain farming practices work for the benefit of the environment. It’s hard to miss with the soil health building practices such as cover crops and grazing, and the intense combination of those, that we will be highlighting at the 2015 Midwest Soil Health Summit.

But what do those practices actually contribute to the bottom line of the environment? And as a part of financial sustainability, what do they contribute to the bottom line of the farm’s economy, the community’s economy and our societies social health? I’ll let you know what I learn from this trip and what other sectors of our economy are doing to integrate environmental accounting into their outcomes.

Remember SFA on Give to the Max Day Nov. 13

GTM Day 2014Once again, SFA is asking for your support on Give to the Max Day, which this year is Nov. 13.

Click here to visit SFA’s page.

Feel good about donating to SFA – we do not have costly overhead expenses, so your dollars go directly into helping us provide more farmer networking and educational events. Our programs are making a difference, and with your help we can make an even larger impact on agriculture in the Upper Midwest.

Give to the Max Day has moved to a new site after last year’s five-hour blackout, so hopefully those issues will not return. Some SFA folks were unable to donate because of the blackout, but remember that you can always donate 24/7/365 on our homepage.

All donations to SFA, whether on our homepage or the GiveMN Give to the Max Day site, are fully tax-deductible.

Free SFA Soil Health Webinar Set for Nov. 21

KCIMRegistration is now open for a free SFA Keep Cattle in Minnesota webinar featuring soil health experts Michael Lehman and Wendy Taheri of the USDA North Central Agricultural Research Lab in Brookings, S.D. The webinar, set for 1-2:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 21, is part of our Keep Cattle In Minnesota project and functions as a bridge to our upcoming Midwest Soil Health Summit, where both Lehman and Taheri are scheduled to present.

Presentations include:

Cover Cropping: A Great Tool for Building Soils That Work – Lehman will consider the invisible world of soil microorganisms, what they do that is helpful to producers, and how cover cropping is one management tool that promotes soil microorganisms and their beneficial activities.

Understanding the Importance of Diversity in Cropping Systems – Taheri’s presentation will help farmers understand the importance of diversity in their cropping systems and the role cover crops play in creating and maintaining diversity.

To register, click here. This webinar is sponsored by The Pasture Project.

Calling All Budding Farmers to the 2015 SFA Annual Conference

Art and science projects, cooking lessons and more – the Budding Farmers program is coming to the 2015 SFA Annual Conference, set for Feb. 14 at the College of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph, Minn.

 SFA member Monica Irwin of Northfield launched Budding Farmers in 2013 after years of experience working within the local food system as a farmer, farmer’s market manager, community educator, and good food activist. The goal of the program is that all kids should know where their food comes from and why they should be eating healthy food.

At the SFA Annual Conference, registered children will complete art, science and cooking projects, and move around playing imaginative games. Also, each child will go home with plenty of fun activity pages and materials, including a seed-sprouting kit, so they can be a Budding Farmer at home.

“We’ll be doing hands-on agriculture-themed activities that focus on the Budding Farmers motto: ‘Learn, Cook, Grow – I’m a Budding Farmer!’” said Irwin (right).

Registration for children’s programming is just $10 – Budding Farmers students will return to their parents for lunch, and parents may want to pack snacks and drinks for their students to have during class time. Children attending must be between 3 and 12 years old and potty trained; kids under 3 are welcome to attend the conference but are the responsibility of their parents. Click here to register.  

To read more about Monica and Budding Farmers, visit her homepage or read this 2013 article from the Northfield News.

Volunteer Registration Now Open and Other Annual Conference News

  • Volunteer registration is now open – all 2015 volunteers receive a newly designed SFA t-shirt. Volunteers are needed to be session monitors, help with parking and registration, setup/teardown, and more. To volunteer or to learn more, contact SFA Volunteer Coordinator Gretchen Boyum at 218.535.1567 or boyumfarms@gmail.com.
  • Register through Dec. 30 at the rate of $45/members and $55/nonmembers. SFA members will receive a separate email with discount registration instructions. Only SFA members will receive this separate email.
  • Vendor/Exhibitor Registration is open as well. Visit our Annual Conference homepage to download the proper form.
  • Scholarships to attend the SFA Annual Conference are available for current students and require a volunteer commitment; for more information, email Jerry Ford at jerry@sfa-mn.org.

From The Executive Director: Send us your memories, your thoughts, things you’ve learned

John Mesko

John Mesko

By John Mesko • SFA Executive Director

SFA has played a major role in the advancement of sustainable agriculture over the last 25 years.  Founded in 1990, SFA’s Farmer to Farmer Network™ organization has helped to develop and promote foundational practices in agriculture; some of which have become mainstream.

For example, in 1990, reduced tillage and no till agriculture was somewhat obscure for most farmers.  Today, zero tillage, particularly in soybean production has become the standard.  Today, farmers are smarter about chemical applications, there are more farmers markets, more farmers selling direct to consumers and more beginning farmers than ever.

These advances would not have succeeded without the network of SFA farmers, who over the years have shared their insights and learnings with neighbors and friends through SFA chapters and involvment in SFA events.  If you’ve been around SFA for any length of time, you’ve had a hand in this as well.  Send us your memories, your thoughts, examples of the things you’ve learned.  Its time to celebrate the accomplishments of all of sustainable agriculture!

Upcoming Webinar: Building Farm to Institution Markets

Nov. 6 webinar postcardA free webinar and survey to help Minnesota food producers grow, “Building Farm to Institution Markets,” is set for 3-4 p.m. Thurs., Nov. 6.

This webinar is for farmers, ranchers and producers currently selling to, or interested in selling to, schools, child care centers, hospitals or other institutions. It will provide an introduction to farm to institution practices and benefits. It will focus on how the needs of the producer can be matched with the needs of the buyer, accessing the potential of this rapidly expanding market channel. This webinar pairs with a new survey that invites producers to share their input on farm to institution opportunities, barriers and resource needs.

Presenters scheduled to appear include:

  • SFA member producer Greg Reynolds, who will discuss his experience with farm to institution sales
  • Andrea Northup from Minneapolis Public Schools, who will talk about the institution’s perspective
  • Ryan Pesch from University of Minnesota Extension, who will talk about the market potential of institutional sales

This is a project of: Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Renewing the Countryside, and Sustainable Farming Association.

Click here to register.