The 13th Annual NODPA Field Days Summary
Added November 12, 2013
The 2013 NODPA Field Days was a great success with perfect weather, fantastic speakers, an exceptional keynote address, informative workshops, lots of exhibitors, and delicious food prepared and served by the women of the Mansfield Hose Company Banquet Hall.
Over 35 producers and resource individuals were present at the Farm Tour and over 80 people were present for the rest of the two-day event. The producer meeting provided some fresh ideas and direction for NODPA in the coming year, and the Keynote address, by organic dairy farmer, Kevin Engelbert, gave a sobering look at where the organic milk market is heading. His frank and truthful appraisal of the industry only made the ideas discussed at the producer meeting more appropriate and necessary as next action steps.
It would take a whole 40 page newsletter to adequately recap all the fantastic information shared, discussed and gleaned from our speakers, fellow producers, and resource individuals. We will do our best to give some highlights of each of the speakers and will be inviting them to contribute more lengthy articles on like-minded subjects in future issues of the NODPA News.
Applying Whole Farm
Planning to Your Farm
The NODPA Farm Tour at Kress and Tammy Simpson’s KTS Farm with Ann Adams, Kress Simpson, and Dave Johnson
After the pasture walk and dairy parlor tour at KTS Farm, attendees made their way to the Mansfield Hose Company Banquet Hall for lunch, allowing time to visit with vendors and network and catch up with one another.
Ann Adams, Director of Community Services for Holistic Management International, and Kress Simpson answered questions related to the farm tour and discussed in more detail the concepts of Holistic Management and how Kress applies it on his farm. ‘When you formulate the Holistic Goal and start practicing it and living it, it all makes sense,” said Kress. Kress, who was raised on a conventional dairy farm and had started a career as a hoof trimmer, working 15 hour days with a young family at home, was introduced to Holistic Management over 20 years ago. He described how he experienced a ‘paradigm shift’ in the way he looked at everything. At the age of 32, Kress quit working for his father and a few years later he was milking cows on his own farm – taking a pasture-based approach. He has continued to grow and learn by turning to grazing publications, such as Stockman Grass Farmer, attending conferences, and participating in a Holistic Management Discussion group where he and other producers support each other as they continue to apply the concepts of Holistic Management on their farm.
Dave Johnson, organic grain grower and retired organic dairy farmer shared experiences from his grain growing business; from what he grows each year, to the infrastructure needed to support the diverse grain and forage crops that exist in a healthy crop rotation. “When you are organic you are growing 5-6 crops at a time and will need at least 4 grain bins,” Dave explains. Crops grown on his farm include: corn, sunflower, wheat, spelt, oats, hay, winter barley, soybeans and cover crops. Costs shared in his Gross Profit Analysis included: seed, fertility, planting, tillage, weeding, harvesting, yield estimates, drying, cleaning and storage. One recent decision Dave has been considering is whether to invest in additional grain cleaning equipment to increase the crop value for seed grade.
After these two presentations, Ann Adams covered some basic principles of Holistic Management including the first steps of: 1) Defining what you manage; 2) Stating what you want; 3) Aiming for healthy soil; 4) Considering all tools (human creativity is an important one); 5) Test your decisions (social, environmental, economic); and 6) Monitoring your results.
How do we move from problem solving to making desired outcomes happen? Who is your management team and what are the assets? Often times when we are problem solving, we are narrowing our focus. By careful planning, we can experience expansive thinking and planning versus dealing with things as they come to us on the farm and finding ourselves in reactive/crisis mode.
For more information on Holistic Management, you can go to www.holisticmanagement.org, or you can contact Ann Adams at: 505-842-5252, ext. 105
Keynote Address: The Future of Organic Dairy
Kevin Engelbert gave an excellent keynote speech, which pulled no punches about the reality of the organic industry and the need for producers to take action. In his usual modest way, Kevin related how he got an email invitation to be the keynote speaker and thought it was a mistake, ‘No one has wanted my opinion since I was on the NOSB.’ Kevin related his personal history and how he diverged from his father in the need to expand the farm, following the tradition of his grandfather, “Dad wouldn’t buy more land – though my grandfather did.” Now Kevin and his wife Lisa are transitioning the farming operation to their sons and diversifying the farm’s activities. Like any generational transfer there is a healthy tension with the boys wanting to have more cows and get out of the grain business, and their parents looking at many sources of income.
As he developed the presentation Kevin became more philosophical and laid out his commitment to organic production. Kevin illustrated how agriculture allowed the world to explode and thanks to the development of it, cities were formed, but commercial agri-business has also been the most destructive thing on earth. With the drive for production and high yields, monocultures were encouraged and the diversity of the plants disappeared. The soil depths used to be measured in feet in the Midwest… now it is measured in inches. Kevin maintains that organic is the best hope if agriculture is supposed to feed the billions of people in a sustainable way.
Kevin identified one of the challenges with current farming as government regulations, which are becoming more burdensome, especially for many smaller farm operations. Another challenge is that consumers are even more removed from how their food is produced with people taking their food for granted and currently less than 1% of the population is involved in farming. Like most agricultural policy experts Kevin illustrated how the cheap food policy has been a poor policy since the beginning encouraging food imports and making the US a milk deficit nation, importing even more than we export, for example 40% of fresh fruit is imported.
Kevin raised the question about where the food we eat will be produced in the future.
Farmland is disappearing along with the farmers skilled enough to operate them as the price of land increases along with most inputs. With the concentration of ownership retailing (Wal-Mart had 22% of sales in 2010 with Kroger and Safeway together at 15%) it has been proven that you can have smaller margins and still have a profit. With the margins for the processors and distributors staying the same the farmer has been losing his margin with cost of production weighing heavily on producers. Despite his love for parity pricing to determine the farm price, Kevin promised not to go into any detail as he was afraid he’d drive his audience away! In an analysis of organic milk Kevin sees that the problems caused by the low pay price of organic milk leaves producers with only a few choices when the pay price drops and everything else stays the same - get bigger, diversify, cut corners. Organic producers are seeing the same prices that conventional farmers are faced with.
The Engelberts ship to Organic Valley (OV) and feel very fortunate to be with them…. “There are things I like, things I don’t like.” Kevin reflected that OV doesn’t have any true power and, despite the correctness of their goals and ideals, they have to ‘play the game’, and have become victims of the existing system.
Showing his passion for protecting the interest of producers and their families, Kevin stated that organic dairy producers can not continue to have a pay price that doesn’t meet their needs to survive. As producers can afford less health insurance, work longer hours and get more tired and stressed out, there will be more injuries, more divorces and a loss of family life with long term far reaching effects.
Kevin went into some detail about his time on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB); acknowledging how much the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) is controlled by the politicians. He maintained that they were encouraged to drag out the Pasture Rule, and that although the Grazing Symposium and the Origin of Livestock was already written when he was on the NOSB, vested interests didn’t want it published. Kevin observed that many USDA employees and committed organic farmers are trying to do something right while others in Washington DC are trying to water down the regulations so that they can get their product out as quickly as possible.
Kevin related his thoughts that prior to the USDA becoming the accreditor of the organic label he was tired of the many independent certifiers not getting along. He was glad at the time that the organic community went to the USDA to develop a rule that everyone could follow. He was disillusioned by how politics has corrupted or interfered with what good folks want to do, with their many ‘backroom’ deals. He went on to say, “Organics is tied to the political system and the government, which has chosen to be dysfunctional and unpredictable with too much greed and corruption.” He sees a need to appeal directly to consumers and envisions that there may be a need for another label controlled by farmers that adheres to the spirit of organic production rather than the current adherence to regulations.
Sprouted Grains; Fodder Feeding
Andrew Dykstra (WA), John Stoltzfus, and Roman Stoltzfoos shared their knowledge and experience in using fodder feed on their farm. Through their trial and effort, they have refined their personal systems and had some important pieces of information for attendees:
The benefits to feeding fodder to a dairy system include: 1) increasing butterfat by at least 2 points, 2) reducing Somatic Cell Counts, and 3) better feed digestibility (through the high enzymes in the sprouts). Though all three producers had stopped feeding grain once they introduced fodder to the cows, one of the producers is considering adding a small amount of grain back into the diet with the hopes that the enzymes in the fodder will increase the utilization of the concentrates.
All of the producers had to address mold issues and made improvements in their systems to reduce or eliminate it. The goal is to have about 60-70% humidity in your sprouting room with good ventilation; you need heat and air to keep the humidity under control – even in the summer. “Any grain can grab mold and hold onto it”, explains John Stoltzfus. John his pinned his issues down to clean seed, air quality, germination of 90% or higher, and an ideal temperature and humidity in his sprouting room of 70 degrees F, and 70% humidity.
The dry matter content in Fodder is about 22% and a pound of barley seed typically makes 7 pounds of barley fodder. Lab tests have shown that malting barley sprouts (the most popular seed to sprout) is low in Calcium, so make sure to supplement your cows with some minerals. Some of the panelists make sure to add some Calcium mineral with their kelp and salt, for example.
As for finding seed, it is important to note that seed meant for sprouting should be dried at no higher than 120 degrees F; seed that has been dried to 180 degrees will not germinate. Make sure that any seed you purchase for sprouting has an excellent seed test weight (at least 50 for Barley), is mold free, and has a good germination rate (90% or higher). Attendees were also encouraged to purchase their seed in the spring, as it may be hard to find later in the year.
ODairy Live! Ask the Vet Q & A
Doctors A.J. Luft and Susan Beal did a wonderful job sharing their insights and approaches to a number of livestock health questions. A couple of the questions asked are below with a summary of their responses:
1. When asked if they have a Vaccination Protocol, A. J. provided some sound advice: “Try not to stack vaccines on top of themselves. Most modified live vaccines are okay, as long as they are not given to pregnant cows or young calves.” With bovine pneumonia and clostridial infections being very difficult to treat, he recommended the following protocol, noting that a producer should work closely with their veterinarian in building their vaccine schedule:
Susan Beal added that she does not recommend vaccines to a farmer until she has seen the herd. She warned producers to be careful of over-vaccination as “lots of antigens at one time can be immunologically confusing to ask the body to respond to this”.
2 The next question was looking for the best way to treat a cow that does not clean. Susan uses a combination of homeopathic remedies as well as infusing the cow with calendula tincture. She will match the remedy depending on the symptoms expressed by the cow. For example, if the cow is “pushing a size 12 calf out of a size 10 pipe”, she turns to Arnica. If there is bland, yellowish discharge and the cow is not too thirsty, she will also use Pulsatilla. Other things that she would want to know is: what happened in the cow’s life beforehand? Is there enough energy in the diet? Is the Ca/P ratio appropriate? A.J. concurred with the importance of knowing the cow’s history including water quality, herd dynamics, and housing conditions. He believes in infusing cows and likes to use dextrose as an infusion along with a product by Crystal Creek. Sometimes all the cow needs to clean is fluid (drinking water or infusing or both). Both veterinarians discouraged pulling the cleanings out – unless it has been a couple days and there are lots of flies. Another product discussed was ‘Uterine Care’, a colostrum whey product. Another suggestion was to massage an acupressure point located below the stifle.
Multi-Species Cover Cropping
Dave Wilson (Kings AgriSeeds), Jeff Moyer (Rodale Institute), Charlie White (Penn State Extension) wrapped up the two day conference discussing crop rotations, plant species combinations to consider, time(s) of the year to plant, and above all, to keep an open mind. There are many purposes for planting a cover crop and they include: soil improvement, recycling nutrients, nitrogen retention and supply, weed suppression, pollinator resources, insect pest management, forage production, and clean air and water.
The mixture of species in a planting can offer a diversity of benefits to the soil biome as well as to the above ground canopy: from heavy roots to tap roots to heavy top, etc. When considering the mix of species that you want to plant, consider the plant architecture and structure, the growth periods, make sure they don’t complete with each other for space or sunlight, and don’t compete with each other for nutrients. And what if we didn’t have to plow in our cover crops every year? A Mulch/Roller can be used to kill the forages, allowing you to plant your new seeding through the heavy amount of biomass with a no-till planter.
Thanks to our Sponsors and Supporters who helped make this event possible: Horizon Organic, Holistic Management International (HMI), Lakeview Organic Grain, Organic Valley/CROPP Cooperative, Prince Agri Products, Fertrell, Agri-Dynamics, Lancaster Ag, NOFA-NY, Rodale Institute, Organic Dairy Farming Cooperative, Acres USA, Albert Lea Seeds Organic, Blue River Organic Seeds, Buffalo Molasses, Dairy Farmers of America & Dairylea (DMS), FarmTek, King’s AgriSeeds, Inc., Neptune’s Harvest, PASA, Pennsylvania Certified Organic, Nature’s Best Organic Feed, River Valley Fencing, Thorvin Kelp, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Services, Wellsboro, PA Field Office.