Monday, February 27, 2017


We spent Thursday through Friday at the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Conference. Seeing long time friends is always wonderful. It is a fact that we who do things a little differently in agriculture are so scattered and sparse that it takes a regional conference like this to relax and feel among friends. And the large numbers of young people with their children and babies is heartening. The mood among us older ones at least was pensive. Many face retirement without really knowing how best to proceed. All too many have no one to help into the business following us. And current political events point to a real wrong turn taken by our politicos, and perhaps all of us, beginning decades ago. How did it get so terribly wrong? We have work to do, no matter our age. The first question is about order and priorities. What needs to come first? It is my hope that as we work to pull us and our country back from rage, hatred and fear and to heal those corrosive attitudes we can also see some of what needs to be restored in order for us all to live a satisfactory and conserving life here on earth, and to take on that work. We have reached a critical point in our country and the world. Let none of us shirk the task.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


One thing that upsets the feeding plan to outwinter-feed on pasture-the cattle is a thaw. We have had several this odd winter already and the cattle generate an amazing amount of mud. They punch holes in the sod, destroying the pastures, and fouling the feed. It is becoming apparent that we must always have a plan B. Now typically we feed the cow herd on the cropping acres. We couldn't this year because of the wet late summer and fall. This meant we weren't able to get all our cornstalk bales-bedding-hauled in. Cattle out there would wreck the bales, so we gave it up and kept them on the pastures. Now they need to come off, to the lots I suppose, much as I hate it. The Sustainable Farming Association has made available several videos of Alberta, Canada farmers winter feeding their cattle and I am fascinated by the idea of placing the bales in October and then bale grazing by means of an advancing hot wire for the winter. But this winter shows me that at least part of that layout must be on the cropping acres for use during the warm times. The mess can be more easily corrected if you are just planting corn anyhow.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

soil health

The fourth annual soil health conference sponsored by the Sustainable Farming Association runs this week in Fergus Falls. I can't go and am really missing it. We have had someone, generally me, there each year as this is critical stuff. Attention to soil health, to the multitude of microscopic critters and plants that should be in the soil, is key to so much. Those critters grow plants which cover the soil and provide food for animals and us. Soil critters stabilize the soil, keeping it from washing and blowing away. And they sequester carbon, something all of us need to understand as we try to stabilize our climate that we have been burning so much carbon into. Sequestering happens as organic matter in the soil is built, and building that requires living roots in the soil at all times of year. It requires regular cover crops featuring a variety of species and it is likely to mean more farming with perennial plants instead of annual. These things would be revolutionary in agriculture and the pity is that so few know about them.