Monday, February 25, 2013

This Week on the Farm

This past week was a pretty busy one on our farm.

It started out with a round of soil tests. Each year, we (Phillip) test our soils to help us plan for the year. Soil testing allows us to see exactly what nutrients are left in the ground from the previous year. It also gives us a clear picture of our pH levels.

Why would we want to know that much detail about our farmland? By knowing exactly what is in the soil, we know how much fertilizer and lime to apply. We always strive to put the correct amount of extra nutrients in our land; the amount that a growing crop will need to thrive, but not too much as it will be wasted if the plant can't take up the nutrients. The cost of spreading fertilizer and lime can really add up, and we definitely don't want our money to go to waste.

This year, Phillip again sampled our soils using a method called grid sampling. He used GPS technology to take samples throughout our fields in the exact same spots as last year - 65 samples total over 100 acres.

He is able to use that grid sampling technology to create a map of our fields and a "prescription" for the year's fertilizer and lime applications. We are using software that allows us to pull that prescription from or computer, put it on an SD card, and give it to the family farmers who come in to spread our lime and apply our fertilizer.

The applicators we use have the ability to apply whatever we need on a variable basis, based on our prescription map. "Variable application" means that not only are we getting exactly the nutrients we need, but we're getting them exactly where we need them. It helps us to limit the amount of chemicals we need to put on our ground and ensure that we are helping our crops reach their full potential.

This time of year is also crammed full of ag education. As an Extension Agent, Phillip spends many nights teaching or moderating classes for other farmers in the area. This week, it was classes on crop pests and irrigation.

I also had some educational opportunities in the past week. Friday I headed to Baltimore for our annual CommonGround conference. We are a group of women who actively farm and are giving consumers a place to ask questions about how their food is grown, direct from the farmers who grow it. On Saturday we attended the B'More Healthy Expo at the Baltimore Convention Center to talk one on one with attendees about their food.

I think we had some great conversations at the Expo. People asked questions about organic food, genetic engineering, local food, and my favorite, "How did those chickens get such big breasts?"

We were also invited to share some information via a cooking demo with a Fox 45 reporter. Hopefully no one noticed how nervous I was! Jennifer Cross, another CommonGround volunteer, was on stage with me and we fielded some questions about farming and food while we made smoothies.

The coming week looks like it's going to be a busy one too. Farm families are busy year-round, not just during planting and harvest seasons.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Almost Wordless Wednesday

Social media this morning at Delaware Ag Week.

Ten on Tuesday

blog keyboard1. I’ll be at Delaware Ag Week tomorrow giving a presentation on getting started with blogging. I feel like I’m still getting started, so hopefully I’ll learn something too!

2. I’m also gearing up for the regional Women in Agriculture Conference. Just opened registration! I’ve attended this program six times (I think) and it’s always been an eye-opener. I’ll be a speaker at this one, too, talking about why I use social media and why you should, too. The conference is held at Dover Downs, and is an awesome price at just $45 for two days worth of info. (Just the meals at Dover Downs would probably cost that much, so it’s practically free!).

3. Thursday is my birthday. My son told me I thinks I’m going to be 17, which coincidentally, is how high he can count. Not sure if I should be flattered by the number, or annoyed that he assigned me the highest possible number he knows. (Other than “nineteen-thirty”, which I have repeatedly told him is not an actual number.)

4. I am actually older than 17. In case you were wondering.

5. We just got back from our first family trip to Disney World, which really is the happiest place on earth. I would go again tomorrow. My husband wants to go again in 20 years.

irrigation6. We are still in the midst of getting our irrigation installed. The system is there, and it’s running, but we have to cross quite a few ditches with our system. Which means we have to build some bridges. P + I will be hard at work building bridges over the next month.

7. I could hardly type that last sentence without laughing. There is NO WAY that I will be involved in the bridge-building process. This is best for everyone. Trust me. My construction skills start and end at hanging curtain rods.

8. The whole irrigation process has forced me to add a few titles to the typical farmer’s job description. In addition to gardener, accountant, chemist, nutrient specialist, equipment operator, and mechanic, I have now included construction manager, electrician, and architect.

9. When this time of year rolls around, I just want to make soup all year long. Anyone have a really good recipe for soup they’d like to share?

10. We received our 2012 Census of Agriculture in the mail last week. Wow, this thing is detailed! It’s important to fill it out though, because the Census is one way we as farmers (and you as consumers) get a better picture of agriculture as a whole in this country.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What is Sustainable Agriculture?

Last week, I was lucky enough to attend a "Celebration of Sustainable Agriculture" at a local grain farm. The farm was highlighting its newest venture into being more sustainable - an installation of solar panels to generate electricity.

The farm, located on the upper eastern hore do Maryland, also puts great effort into conservation practices, such as no-till and limited-tillage techniques. They use soil testing and precision agriculture (GPS) to monitor and precisely apply necessary nutrients to their crops. And, surprising to many people who have a certain picture of "sustainable" in their minds, they use genetically enhanced seeds for their grain crops.

I was excited to see that this large, well-respected farm was attempting to redefine "sustainable." Or perhaps I should say they are bringing it back to its traditional definition.

The dictionary defines sustainable as "able to be maintained at a certain rate or level."

USDA defines sustainable AGRICULTURE a little more specifically as an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will over the long term:

  • Satisfy human food and fiber needs.
  • Enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agriculture economy depends.
  • Make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls.
  • Sustain the economic viability of farm operations.
  • Enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.

But the common, public definiton is much different. Consumers tend to associate "sustainable" with some or all of the following:
  • Organic
  • Non-GE or non -GMO
  • Small farms
  • Local

While many of those items can be part of a sustainable farm or agriculture business, I just want to emphasize that conventional and traditional, yes, even large farms, are also operating in a sustainable way.

Because, at least to me, the most important part of sustainable is that it is ongoing. We want our farm to still be operating for the generations yet to come. That means we have to carefully manage our soil, our crops, and above all, our money. Farming is a business, and in order for us to keep our land in agricultural production, we do have to be profitable. (At least monst years. Lord knows Drought-Pocolypse 2012 was a challenge.)

Since we purchased our farm in 2007, we've made efforts to keep our farm as sustainable as possible. We use no-till techniques and cover crops when we can to protect our soil from erosion. We use precision technology and genetically enhanced seed to target our chemical and fertilizer applications, making sure we get exactly what we need, exactly where we need it (and with very limited waste).  This fall, we installed an irrigation system with hopes of keeping our farm more profitable. 

I encourage you to find out what the farms in your area are doing to be a "sustainable" farm. I think you might be surprised!

As always, please leave any questions or replies in the comments, or tweet me @carabecca.