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Table of Contents African Nighcrawlers in Brooten.................................5 FSA adapts during pandemic.....................................10 Mother Nature does all the work..............................14 Equipment needed on the farm.................................19 Finding farm help is a challenge.............................. 22 Garlic farm to help fund college .............................. 26 Hobby farms can be profitable................................. 29 Unwind, unplug just getaway....................................30 Soil health grants awarded ....................................... 33 Agriculture impacts economy...................................34 Old grains find new life again....................................35 Land purchase serious decision..............................36 What goes into making bacon?................................ 37 PUBLISHER: Steve Ammermann EDITOR: Kelly Boldan MAGAZINE EDITOR: Sharon Bomstad AD MANAGER: Christie Steffel MAGAZINE DESIGNER: Jamie Hoyem

A publication of West Central Tribune, November 2020 2208 W. Trott Ave, Willmar MN | www.wctrib.com 320.235.1150 Content from West Central Tribune staff, Forum News Service, Green Shoot Media, Metro Creative Connection.

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Photos by Carolyn Lange Mike Larson holds a handful of African Nightcrawlers raised at Brut Worm Farms in Brooten.

Mike and Karen Larson, owners, stand next to the soil bins filled with worms at Brut Worm Farms in Brooten.



ike any good livestock farmer, Mike Larson does what it takes to make his herd happy with the right food, housing, bedding, temperature and humidity. As a result, Larson produces a product people can use and – like any good livestock farmer – hopes he can make a living doing it. But Larson’s herd of 1.7 million is a little unusual. “I’m a worm farmer,” said Larson. Specifically, Larson raises African Nightcrawlers. They are kept in large indoor bins on a bed of locally harvested peat and certified organic grains that the worms consume. What they produce is tons of worm castings. “It’s a nice way of saying worm poop,” Larson said. Rich in natural nutrients and used as a soil amendment, worm castings are especially popular with gardeners in the East Coast and West Coast markets. “We got into this business because we wanted to try to make a difference for helping people raise more healthy food and grow things more naturally without synthetic fertilizer and the chemicals and growth hormones and things like that,” Larson said. Continued on page 6

Worm castings are mixed with soil to help plants grow.

West Central Tribune – November 2020 – Page 5

Continued from page 5

Chemicals can harm the biology of soil that’s used to raise food, said Larson. Castings are “chock full of biology” like beneficial microbes and bacteria that’s good for the soil, he said. Located off Industrial Park Road in the small town of Brooten, Brut Worm Farms has been operating since early 2018. It wasn’t an easy start.

Learning from mistakes

With broad experience as a software engineer and a long history as an entrepreneur, Larson launched Brut Worm Farms 2½ years ago after he purchased five acres and five buildings where his father once worked building Brut snowmobiles for Brutanza Engineering in the early 1970s. The first-of-its-kind watercooled snowmobile engine was a “big deal” for Brooten before the company was sold and moved, he said. Working in the buildings where his dad worked is “kind of like coming home for me,” said Larson,

Soil is dumped into a turning trommel to separate the castings as the worms tumble out at the end at Brut Worm Farms in Brooten.

who also chose to carry on the “Brut” (pronounced brute) name in his business. Larson and his wife, Karen, spent three months cleaning the buildings and installing high-efficiency heating and air-handling systems to create an environment with the optimal temperature and humidity. “They’re like livestock, they create a lot of humidity,” he said. “And they also have a lot of CO2 and you

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have to keep fresh air circulating in the buildings.” The first batch of African Nightcrawlers arrived June 2, 2018. There were six bins with about 6,500 worms in each bin. “We proceeded to lose about 20 percent every two weeks, so we were doing everything wrong,” he said. “That’s probably about the time we thought, ‘what did we get ourselves into?’” The next thought was that their new business “wasn’t going to last long if we keep going backwards this quick,” he said. But Larson said they figured out what they were doing wrong, made adjustments to the equipment and pH balance with the bedding and saw the worms multiply and the tonnage of castings grow. “You learn from your mistakes,” he said. “The trick is to not make them expensive lessons.”

Finding success

They went from six bins of worms to 210 bins in about a year.

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By the fall of 2020 they had 270 bins. They sold their first load of worm castings in March of 2019 and within a year they were selling three loads a month. There are 20 tons of worm castings in each load. The castings – which are odorfree and look and feel like a rich, crumbly, damp soil – are primarily sold in 2,000-pound “super sacks” to wholesalers in states like California and Pennsylvania. This summer they began selling 30-pound bags of worm castings on Amazon, which proved to be successful. “It exceeded our expectations,” said Larson. “We sold as much as we could produce, which is a good situation to be in.” That success came with the added cost of hiring someone to do the online marketing, but Larson said the overwhelming positive consumer reviews gives them hope that they’ll become “one of the top brands” in the worm castings market.

Larson said they hope to add “worm tea” to the list of online items for sale on Amazon. The “tea” is a liquid soil builder produced from the worm castings. Brut Worm Farms also blends their own garden soil, called “Brut Super Soil” that uses a combination of worm castings, composted chicken manure, peat moss and rice hulls. That soil is currently available at their location in Brooten and through their website, www.brutwormfarms.com.

The worm has turned

Most Minnesotans have some experience with worms, whether it’s worms squirming in a freshly tilled vegetable garden or worms squirming on the end of a fish hook. The type of worms raised at Brut Worm Farms is not those types of worms. According to Larson, African Nightcrawlers should be kept at 74 degrees, which is why they are housed indoors. Unlike nightcrawlers used for fishing and the red wiggler worms that are commonly used for home composting, African Nightcrawlers would die in a refrigerator and would not survive outdoors in a Minnesota winter, he said.

An African VIDEO Nightcrawler See video lives for about online at 80 weeks. wctrib.com During that time they produce a high volume of castings that are sold and tiny cocoons that hold eggs that are nurtured in separate bins to increase the number of worms at the farm. Making all that happen successfully is a balance of science, a finely tuned environment and big equipment that dumps, tumbles and gently separates globs of tangled worms from the castings and the cocoons in a mesmerizing process that is hard to turn away from. A computerized system tracks each bin of worms to maintain a schedule that includes dumping out every bin every two weeks on conveyor belts and a trommel that rotates like a cement mixer. The castings drop through a screen at the bottom and the worms tumble out at the end of the trommel. “They’re nice healthy looking worms,” said Larson as he holds a handful of worms. “We don’t want our babies to get hurt.” Continued on page 9 Karen Larson fills soil bins with worms at Brut Worm Farms in Brooten.

West Central Tribune – November 2020 – Page 7

Brut Worm Farms in Brooten sells worm castings and other soil mixtures. The business operates out of the former building site where Mike Larson’s father once worked building Brut snowmobiles for Brutanza Engineering in the early 1970s. The Larsons retained the Brut name for the farm.

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Mike Larson stands next to a large bag of worm castings at Brut Worm Farms in Brooten. The Larsons recently started marketing their worm castings on Amazon, selling 30-pound bags. They also routinely ship out worm castings with 20 tons of castings in each load.

Mike Larson explains the worm farming process at Brut Worm Farms in Brooten.

Brut Worm Farms in Brooten sells worm castings and pre-mixed soils.

Continued from page 7

After the castings and cocoons are harvested, the worms are put back in a bin full of fresh bedding and stacked on pallets with a forklift. “She puts them to bed, covers them up, treats them nice and gentle,” said Larson as he watched Karen put the worms in their new bin. The cocoons are put into smaller bins with different bedding and housed in the nursery building until they hatch and the worms get big

enough to begin producing castings, which takes six to eight weeks. “In every single bin we know exactly what’s going on,” he said. The schedule isn’t as grueling as dairy farming, “but almost,” said Larson, who now has three fulltime employees. If the worms aren’t moved to bins full of new bedding they will “suffer” and run out of food, said Larson. An air exchanger provides crucial air circulation that prevents the worms from suffocating, he said.

“They take a lot of maintenance to keep growing healthy and quickly,” he said. “I’m proud of how we’ve been able to figure out how to do that.” Larson said they’ve learned from their past mistakes and are pleased with the growth of the company. Their next goal is to become profitable. Carolyn Lange is an agricultural and features writer with the West Central Tribune in Willmar.

Carolyn Lange

West Central Tribune – November 2020 – Page 9

Photos by Carolyn Lange Because USDA offices have been closed during the COVID pandemic, an outside window at the Farm Service Agency office in Willmar has been used for customers to receive and drop off documents for various farm programs.



t’s a damp, cloudy day not suitable for combining beans, which made it a good day for Doug Weis to make a trip to the Kandiyohi County Farm Service Agency office to sign one of the many forms required by farmers who are enrolled in various federal agricultural programs. Weis, who farms corn and soybeans near Lake Lillian, stood outside the Willmar office at an open window where Marilyn Dunn, who has worked at the FSA for 34 years, handed him the required form from inside the building. Both were wearing masks during the transaction that took just a few minutes. “Doesn’t bother me at all,” said Weis of taking care of business while standing outside. That’s been the general attitude of ag producers who’ve had to adjust their normal interactions with FSA staff during the Coronavirus pandemic. Following the federal regulations, most offices have not been open to the public for much of the year, which means local FSA staff had to establish safe procedures for working with producers while filing annual paperwork, like certifying planting acres on detailed maps of their farmland, and signing up for new programs like the Coronavirus Food Assistance Programs. Page 10 – November 2020 – West Central Tribune

Karen Wermers, an employee at the Kandiyohi County Farm Service Agency office in Willmar removes documents from a drop box outside the offices. Farmers use the box to return paperwork for farm programs.

Creative alternatives to meeting inside the office, and a good dose of patience and flexibility, has helped FSA staff and producers work together during the Coronavirus outbreak. “We had to be creative,” said Scott Newberg, Kandiyohi County FSA executive director. The staff in Willmar turned a sliding window at the front of the building into a walk-up center, where they meet producers to finalize paperwork. A file box outside near the front door is also available for producers who just need to drop off completed paperwork without seeing a staff member. “It’s been busy and challenging at times,” said Newberg. “We have to take it one day at a time, but we’re getting through it.” Some county FSA offices, including Redwood County and Swift County, are doing business in the parking lot. Producers call to make an appointment and then call when they arrive in the parking lot so staff can meet them outside to deliver or receive paperwork. “We are open for business. It may look a little different, but we are serving producers,” said Alex Fellbaum, Swift County FSA executive director. Chippewa County’s office is located in the courthouse, so producers can be indoors but cannot come into the FSA office. Instead, they stand at the office door where plexiglass divides staff from producers, with everyone required to wear masks.


Increased use of technology – including email and a new app for electronic signatures – and old technology like the U.S. Postal Service, drop-boxes outside office doors and lots of telephone calls – has helped producers and staff complete the necessary paperwork with limited personal exposure. Continued on page 12

Marilyn Dunn, a longtime employee at the Farm Service Agency office in Willmar, stands at an outside window that’s been used to reduce person-to-person contact between office staff and customers during the COVID pandemic.

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But it hasn’t been without challenges. Liz Ludwig, executive director of the Chippewa County FSA, said much of the work they do with producers is visual that includes detailed maps of fields and what crops were planted on each parcel. When that parcel is “a tiny little sliver of land” that could be 0.2 acres Ludwig said it’s easy to point to it on the map when the producer is sitting across from staff at a desk, but it can be difficult to “make sure we’re looking at the same thing” while talking on the phone. On top of doing business outdoors or at windows and doorways, FSA

staff have had to learn and implement two new programs within a couple months. The deadline for the first Coronavirus Food Assistance Programs was Sept. 11 and the deadline for signing up for the second CFAP is Dec. 11. The programs provide financial assistance to farmers whose operations have been negatively affected by the Coronavirus. The back-and-forth exchange of documents means more work – and flexibility and patience – for the producers and staff. All the area FSA directors praised the farmers for being understanding with the changes in office practices brought on by COVID.

“We’re very thankful for the producers and the patience they’ve had with us,” said Fellbaum, from Swift County. “They have been wonderful and understanding,” said Shannon Olson, acting executive director in Redwood County, where staff also meet producers in the parking lot. “We want to thank everyone for their patience.” She said the challenges of handing out maps in the parking lot and communicating through email, regular mail and numerous phone calls back and forth has been a learning experience for producers and staff.

Marilyn Dunn, a longtime employee at the Farm Service Agency office in Willmar, hands documents to Lake Lillian farmer Doug Weis through an outside window that’s been used while USDA offices are closed during the COVID pandemic.

Page 12 – November 2020 – West Central Tribune

We are open for business. It may look a little different, but we are serving producers. – ALEX FELLBAUM, Swift County FSA executive director

“We appreciate the grace and understanding that they’ve shown us and we hope we can give it back to them,” said Olson.

Way of the future

With winter approaching, county FSA offices are exploring options for indoor interactions with producers. In Kandiyohi County, it’s expected that a vestibule at the front door will be used so producers can step inside the entry to interact with staff who’ll be at the second door. Swift County is looking at escorting producers inside the office to separate areas set up with plexiglas, along with required masks and stringent cleaning routines. Moving ahead with the different phases of reopening the FSA offices

will depend, in part, on COVID case numbers in each county, which is a system that school districts use for whether classes are held in-person or with distance-learning methods. While producers and FSA staff are eager to get back to businessas-usual, it’s possible that some of the new tools of technology that have been implemented during the pandemic may stick around and be used even after offices are fully open. If farmers can receive and send documents electronically and submit digital signatures rather than driving to town to the FSA office, Fellbaum said the emergency methods of doing business might be incorporated into the normal way of doing business in the future.

Newberg said the e-signatures are good options and producers are warming up to the idea of using the technology, but the FSA directors in the region all agreed that it’s hard to replace the in-person meeting with a farmer. The “eye-to-eye” contact is the best, said Ludwig. While everyone has worked together to get the work done during the pandemic she and other FSA directors said they definitely miss the human interaction and connecting with the farmers they serve. Carolyn Lange is an agricultural and features writer with the West Central Tribune in Willmar.

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Photos by Noah Fish Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin had the directors of Frogtown Farm in St. Paul, Minn., at his farm in Northfield, Minn., to teach them about regenerative practices like the ones that HaslettMarroquin has perfected.

REGENERATIVE REVOLUTION Poultry system expands from SE Minnesota

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s a farmer, Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin would tell you himself that he produces nothing. Nature does all the work. However what Haslett-Marroquin can be credited for is leading a regional deployment of his patented regenerative poultry system, and managing systems development, infrastructure and farms operating under it. Haslett-Marroquin and the Tree-Range system have turned southeast Minnesota into the epicenter of a budding movement in regenerative agriculture in the Midwest and beyond. The mission of the system is to deploy regenerative poultry at scale in the bordering region southwestern Wisconsin, northeastern Iowa and southeast Minnesota. Haslett-Marroquin said so far what’s been done is the organization of foundational support for the system and its infrastructure. Fundamental to that infrastructure is deployment of poultry processing. Haslett-Marroquin said after a few years of work, the first poultry processing facility in Stacyville, Iowa, was purchased and is now in the Page 14 – November 2020 – West Central Tribune

process of becoming operational, with plans to open for processing next year. “As we open that plant, we are scaling up from a few hundred-thousand chickens at the start to around 1 million chickens when it’s fully deployed,” Haslett-Marroquin said. “That would bring us to about 200 production units, and that means between 50-75 farms.” Six farms using the Tree-Range system are already established in the region. Haslett-Marroquin said that by next fall, there will be 10 fully-operating farms and another 10 in the pipeline. They are seeking more farmers in the region that want to become part of the system. Haslett-Marroquin hopes construction at a future regional industrial park in Albert Lea, Minn., will be underway within the next five years. The city of Albert Lea is already a partner on the project, which he said will process more than just poultry but an aggregate of other sectors in the region by farms practicing regenerative agriculture at a system-level.

He said by the time they are done deploying enough farms to supply the facility in Stacyville, they will have “enough throughput to initiate the process of deploying the industrial park.” “Yeah it is radical — no apologies there, and yeah it is totally different and decolonizing — no apologies there either,” said Haslett-Marroquin, who moved to Minnesota as an immigrant from Guatemala in 1992. “All of that why? Because it’s better. It’s simply better. It’s a better chicken, a better farming operation and it’s a more rewarding way to work with the land.” On a recent Friday fall afternoon, HaslettMarroquin had the directors of Frogtown Farm in St. Paul at his farm in Northfield. He doesn’t usually do free tours, but Frogtown was looking to deploy regenerative practices like the ones that Haslett-Marroquin has perfected.

Under the trees

Regenerative agriculture is a system of farming that seeks to improve farmland, with an emphasis on things like soil health, water management and working with the land. “Tree-Range is really the expression of all of this integrated management systems that aims at putting

Six farms in the Driftless Region are using the TreeRange system, and Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin said that by next fall, there will be 10 fully-operating farms and another 10 in the pipeline. They are seeking more farmers in the region who want to become part of the system.

chickens back under the natural environment, which is under the trees,” said Haslett-Marroquin of the TreeRange system. Poultry is a jungle fowl that evolved in the jungles of southeast Asia, and Haslett-Marroquin said it’s essential to raise birds in the closest modern version of that habitat. According to the University of Georgia Extension, 99% of the total poultry production in the U.S. is done in conventional systems, where birds are raised in buildings and fed commercial feed with antimicrobials and dietary supplements. The Tree-Range system incorporates crops native to the jungle habitat like hazelnuts and elderberries. Also growing in the paddocks now at the operating units are stories of sugar maple, basswood, oak and other trees that will create a canopy to shade and protect the chickens. Continued on page 16

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Chickens arrive at the Tree-Range compound farms at 1-day old, and stay four weeks inside of a building. On the fifth week, chickens start rotating in the two outdoor paddocks that each farm has. Rotation is based on how the paddocks regenerate, but chickens always move freely, eating bugs and working the soil. When Tree-Range birds are adults, they are loaded and sent to a processing facility east of Rochester. But before they are shipped, the birds are prepared a special drink for their last three days containing nonhomogenized vinegar, garlic, onions, sage and Saint-John’s-wort with “a hint of peppermint.” Haslett-Marroquin gave several reasons for this practice: preflavoring from the sage, peppermint

and vinegar; parasite discharge from the garlic and onions; intestine cleanse from the garlic, onion and vinegar; a calming effect from the Saint-John’s-wort, which reduces their appetite when food is cut back before loading. “Regenerative poultry requires a full connection with the cycles of life. Those connections are what allows us to partake in the cycles of life with spiritual integrity,” HaslettMarroquin said.

Chickens worldwide

Haslett-Marroquin picked chickens as the first livestock to be raised in the regenerative system because he said nowhere in the world prohibits eating them. While cultures throughout the globe forbid eating certain animals such as cows or pigs, chicken soup is the recommended

Seitu Jones, co-founder of Frogtown Farms in St. Paul, kneels to be on the same level as Reginaldo HaslettMarroquin, CEO and president of Regenerative Poultry Systems. Marroquin exhibited to the Frogtown directors his patented Tree-Range System for farming poultry. The system restores a jungle-like habitat and brings back native species like hazelnuts and elderberries, which allow the chickens to move freely, eat bugs and work the soil.

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dish everywhere in the world for people feeling unwell. “If we are going to make a global impact at a system level, we needed to pick something that is common to everybody,” said Haslett-Marroquin. Chickens are ideal for the small amount of land at regenerative farms in the system, and compared to the year it takes in producing cows or pigs, the economic cycle in raising chickens is small. “If you make a mistake (in raising chickens), within 65 days you can correct your mistake,” said HaslettMarroquin. “And you can grow and learn, and do this three or four times a year.” Haslett-Marroquin said for a big flock, which is about 1,500 chickens, it takes farmers around one and a half hours a day to take care of them. He described taking care of his own flock on just under one acre of land that morning before the tour. He had a 7:30 a.m. meeting on his schedule, and went outside at 7:10 — he harvested feed, brought it to the flock and moved the feeders to a new area, all in 20 minutes. “I was five minutes late,” he said with a laugh. Later that afternoon, his daughter took 30 minutes to get the flock new feed and water, and that was all the care the Tree-Range chickens needed for the day, for a total of 50 minutes, said Haslett-Marroquin. That’s not including the 1-2 minutes it took to close the door at night when the chickens had gone inside. “That is why it’s critical that we systematized and simplified it, so

Tree Range chickens at the farm of Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin, CEO and president of Regenerative Poultry Systems.

that chickens can just be chickens,” Haslett-Marroquin said. “And we don’t have to do so much work.”

‘We have enemies’

Local and state agencies have become more receptive of regenerative agriculture, but that wasn’t the case all the time for Haslett-Marroquin. He’s been farming land in Northfield since 2006 that is considered to be “rural-residential,” and county ordinance allows for only .10 animal units per acre to be raised on it. In the early years, he was raising more chickens than he does now on the site. At a township meeting, his neighbors reported that Haslett-Marroquin was over the limit for animals allowed. He answered honestly when asked how many chickens were in his flocks. “They were going to shut me down,” he said. “The sheriff was sitting at the meeting.” Fortunately he was prepared for it. In a 200-plus-page report, he had his entire operation and protocol detailed, with the first line of it reading the local ordinance: “To preserve the natural character and the agricultural vocation.” “I told them, read through that document, and if you think I’m violating the spirit of the ordinance, then we can have a conversation,” Haslett-Marroquin said. “All I am doing is exercising my constitutional right to feed my family.”

If they were to still demand that he stick to the .10 animal units, HaslettMarroquin said he would’ve insisted they provide him the scientific, agronomic and logical management basis in which they determined it was supposed to be that limit. “I am not violating any of the natural laws, and am actually delivering a much better version of the opening statement in the ordinance,” he said. After all of that, there was still one official in the township that wasn’t OK with what he was doing, which Haslett-Marroquin assumed was because he looked different from the farmers the man knew. That individual told him he wasn’t a farmer because he didn’t have 40 acres. Haslett-Marroquin said the discriminatory and untrue statement only went to motivate his campaign even more. By that time, he’d met over 3,000 people in town and organized Latino communities in Owatonna, Faribault, Winona and Red Wing. “In Northfield alone, we brought over 400 families together,” he said. “I was sitting at every city council meeting because I wanted to learn how it worked, and learn how the township worked with the city.” Denise Mwasyeba, who is on the board of directors for Frogtown Farm, said that people of color in agriculture and all industries are used to encountering naysayers like this.

“We have enemies and you have to put on your armor to fight the enemy, because that’s just what’s happening in society,” said Mwasyeba, “I have to throw cold water on myself as I’ve gotten older, because now I get mad, and you can’t do stuff until you calm down and think.” Seitu Jones, co-founder of Frogtown Farm, said the couple who helped manage their farm the first season faced a similar experience to Haslett-Marroquin. Next to their house in St. Paul, the couple had a hoop house. “People called and complained to the city, saying if you want a hoop house, you should be out on a farm” said Jones of the couple, who were people of color. “These were complaints from their neighbors.” That’s why Haslett-Marroquin’s ultimate goal with the project isn’t to make a bundle, but to create a strong alternative to the conventional system which he says “pries and feeds on ignorance and fear.” “It’s a community-based system because we have to cooperate with others, and with our neighbors, and get to know them,” said HaslettMarroquin. “Be more of a person in the community than an entity that gets in a tractor and goes and does these things.”

Hazelnuts are used as feed for the Tree Range chickens at the farm of Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin, CEO and president of Regenerative Poultry Systems.

West Central Tribune – November 2020 – Page 17










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A UTV or ATV makes traveling around tough terrain seamless and is more cost-efficient than driving a full-size pickup. While you may not have the same cargo space, these lightweight vehicles are exceptional for analyzing your fence perimeter, tending to distant crops and checking in on livestock. Consider a vehicle with a sizable cargo box so you can bring along the tools you need to complete jobs. Some may be equipped with a hitch that couples to a wagon or trailer for more room.

Compact tractor

Suppose your farm requires more heavy-duty equipment than a UTV but isn’t extensive enough to compensate for a large tractor’s investment. In that case, a compact machine can be an excellent fit. Find one equipped with a quick hitch on the front and rear to accept multiple Category One implements. With a compact tractor, you can attach things like front buckets, mowing blades, a mulch finisher or aerator to enhance your performance and profitability.

Post-hole digger

You will need to repair fence posts while tending to your farm. Whether livestock or weather cause the damage, a post-hole digger takes care of the back-breaking labor. A post-hole digger is also a great companion for odd jobs around the property like building a pole barn, deck or shed as your equipment expands. While you can typically borrow this equipment from a local rental outlet, ensuring one is on hand is great for quick fixes and to avoid an animal escaping due to a downed fence.

This farmer loosens compacted soil between rows of potato bushes, improving the quality of ground to allow water and nitrogen air to pass through to the roots.

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Photos by Trevor Peterson Brock Georgeson of Maddock, N.D., played with toy trucks as a boy. Now he works with huge, modern-day farm equipment.

BIG CHALLENGE Finding help on the farm

By Jonathan Knutson | Forum News Service


rock Georgeson likes his job. Oh, some days are better than others and some parts of the work are more satisfying than others, but he enjoys what’s he doing and plans to stick with it. “This job isn’t for everybody. But it’s worked out for me,” said Georgeson, who, since 2004, has been a selfdescribed jack-of-all trades for a farm and seed company in Maddock. People like Georgeson are in short supply across the Upper Midwest. Farmers and ranchers struggle to find employees to help operate their farms, with demand exceeding supply for both seasonal help and full-time, year-round employees. Producers try to find ways to limit the problem — switching from three combines to two larger ones to require one less operator, for example — but the need for workers persists. It’s not just the Upper Midwest. Zippy Duvall, a Georgia farmer and president of the National Farm Bureau Federation, said last year that “farmers and ranchers in every state tell me that the shortage of labor is the Page 22 – November 2020 – West Central Tribune

Bryan Kenner

Brock Georgeson

greatest limiting factor on their farm.” The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates the problem, though it’s impossible to say how much, in part because farm workers are designated as “essential,” according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report. In any case, the difficult questions of how to find employees, how much to pay them and how best to retain them have no easy answers, according to three Upper Midwest farming operations that responded to Agweek’s request for input on farm labor challenges. One is located in Maddock in north-central North Dakota, and the others in west-central Minnesota and south-central Montana.

What’s responsible?

National statistics can be misleading, since they’re the averages of what can be major variations in different parts of the country. What’s true in, say, the California vegetable industry might not be true, at least not to the same extent, in, say, a rural Montana ranching community.

But several causes of Upper Midwest farm labor shortages are obvious: ○ Farms are getting bigger, and, even though farm equipment is getting bigger, too, larger farms need more employees than small ones. Reflecting that, hired workers accounted for 35% of all ag workers in 2016, up from 25% in 2011 and 20% in 2003, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service. And farms’ principal operators and spouses accounted for 59% of all ag workers in 2011, but just 49% in 2016. ○ Farm towns are getting smaller, leaving fewer people in town to potentially help on nearby farms. For example, Maddock’s population fell from 750 in 1950 to 500 in 1990 and to about 400 today. ○ Metropolitan areas now account for the majority of farm employees. That works against farms and ranches a considerable distance from metro areas. ○ Smaller farm families mean fewer family members to potentially help on the farm and greater need for hired employees. (Nationwide, average family size dropped from 3.56 in 1970 to 3.17 in 2019, according to Census Bureau numbers.) Reflecting that, the number of family farm employees dropped by half from 1970 to 2000, USDA says. ○ The ag sector generally pays less than the non-ag sector. In 2019, nonsupervisory hired farm workers earned an average of $13.99 per hour, compared with an average

Brock Georgeson, a self-described jack of all trades, has many duties in his farm job, including repairing and maintaining farm equipment.

of $23.51 per hour for nonsupervisory production workers outside ag, according to USDA. ○ Farming operations, particularly ones with both crops and livestock, often need their workers to do multiple tasks, some of which potential employees might be unwilling or unable to do. The cyclical and seasonal nature of farm work, which typically requires long hours at planting, harvesting and other key times, can further discourage would-be farm workers.

Diverse Minnesota farm’s approach

Michael Yost understands firsthand that ag’s seasonal nature, as well as other issues, complicate hiring farm employees. “It’s always challenging, especially from a workforce respective, to find people willing to do everything that a farming operation needs done,” said Yost, of Yost Farm in Murdock, Minn., about 20 miles west of Willmar, Minn. His family farm, in which his father, Mike, and brother, David, also are involved, grows corn, soybeans, alfalfa and sugar beets, chops silage, pumps manure for local dairies Continued on page 24




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and operates custom harvesting and trucking businesses. It has a dozen year-round employees and as many as 12 seasonal employees during planting and harvesting. Yost Farm, which began in 1876, takes what Michael Yost called “a multi-prong approach to hiring.” That includes actively recruiting students from local community colleges, maintaining a strong social media presence, networking with area ag businesses to learn more about prevailing wages, keeping in touch with area retired or semi-retired farmers who might be interested in part-time work and working through H2A, the federal program that brings in temporary foreign workers. In the hiring process, “We’re upfront about the cyclical nature of the work,” Yost said. The business gives employees vacation days when they’re first hired and tries to be generous in giving them time off when needed, but emphasizes that long days will be necessary. As for determining compensation, “it isn’t easy,” Yost said. In deciding what to offer potential employees, Yost Farm visits with other farmers and ag businesses in the area and also tries to understand what the potential hires might earn elsewhere. In some cases, Yost Farms might pay a little more than necessary. “At the end of the day, we’re not as concerned about paying someone what the market maybe demands if they’re a really good employee,” Yost said. He stressed that total compensation, not just hourly pay, is the ultimate measure. For full-time employees, Yost Farm offers a base salary, a 401(k) with employer match and health insurance. Take these number with a degree of skepticism — remember the warning that averages can be misleading

Brock Georgeson is committed to his farm job near Maddock, N.D., and knows that long work days go with it, especially during harvest.

— but USDA earlier this year pegged average hourly farm wages nationwide at $15.07, with average hourly ag wages in the Northern Plains at $15.93. Relatively low pay in southern U.S. states pulled down the national average. Ultimately, the important thing is to hire employees “who jell well with our team,” Yost said. “We don’t want to be in a position that we need to take the first person who calls (about a job opening).”

Challenged in Montana

Rhonda Hergenrider would like to hire someone to help full time on her family’s Montana farm. She and her father, Randal Hergenrider, with occasional help from her sister, raise sugar beets, malting barley and hay, and run a cow-calf operation near Belfry, Mont. “Quite honestly, there’s some things that just don’t get done because we don’t quite get there,” she said. “But to get someone with the qualifications (for full-time, yearround work) we need and then to pay them the kind of wages it would take — the salary they could get anywhere else — the (profit) margins are far too thin to make it work.” And much of the work is highly physical, especially tasks associated with calving and flood-irrigation, which her family practices, further

complicating hiring the right people., Hergenrider said. To obtain truck drivers during the sugar beet harvest, Hergenrider has traded meat and hunting rights on the farm for labor. “But that wouldn’t work for a full-time position, obviously,” she said. Hergenrider completed a leadership program through the Montana Farm Bureau Federation, in which her special project was to find creative ways to address farm labor issues. She would welcome “some sort of database that includes a list of farmers and ranchers looking for labor and sportsmen looking for places to hunt with the idea of offering some sort of exchange that would be unique to each specific situation. The need is real on both sides; we just don’t necessarily know each other,” she said. She isn’t sure how such a database would be developed or who might do it. “But I think there are some possibilities there. It’s about collaboration and maybe developing some alliances with the sportsmen world,” she said. Hergenrider, 39, said she and her father, 72, have a close relationship and that she’s grateful for the opportunity to work with him. But she knows he won’t be available to help forever, which makes the challenge of finding more farm labor even more important to her — a need for many other farming operations with a family member near or past the normal retirement age. “It scares me to death. Who steps in when he can’t?” she said. “I think about it every day. We’ve got ideas, a plan, but certainly it’s a concern.”

Looking for the right people Bryan Kenner, who employs Georgeson, operates a farm that raises wheat, edible beans, barley, soybeans, corn and field peas and

“It’s always challenging, especially from a workforce respective, to find people willing to do everything that a farming operation needs done.” – MIKE YOST, Yost Farm in Murdock

Page 24 – November 2020 – West Central Tribune

also operates BK Seeds, which sells seed and crop protection products.. Between them, the two operations have four full-time employees, in addition to Kenner. He divides their duties between the farm and seed company. Kenner stressed that overall he’s had success hiring and retaining good employees through the years. Even so, “in the past year, we’ve had some struggles. It’s difficult to find qualified people,” he said. “This spring, we lost an employee and we’ve struggled to replace that person.” A part-time employee is helping to fill the gap, but Kenner wants to hire a permanent, full-time worker. “We try to have just full-time help. It seems like when people are here every day, they understand the big picture a little better and do a better job,” Kenner said. “We try to have people in both business.es, as long as they’re comfortable moving between them, so we can keep them busy year round.” For example, the sales and operation manager for the seed company also drives the combine. “Our busy season for the farm isn’t always the same as for seed. Essentially, they’re working part of the year for the seed company and part of the year for the farm. Spring is the worst time of the year, because both businesses are busy,” Kenner said. He’s looking now to hire a warehouse management position with BK Seeds, with the employee also driving truck and working in the shop during winter. Experience isn’t necessarily a criteria for the job. “Sometimes lack of experience is OK. (Without it), we

Bryan Kenner operates a farm and a seed business near Maddock, N.D. He’s had good luck overall in attracting and retaining employees, but there have been challenges recently.

can train people on how we do things,” Kenner said. In past hiring efforts, Kenner has worked with Job Service North Dakota with “some good luck and some not so good. We prefer to hire people through word of mouth and references from people we know in the industry,” Kenner said. However, “that doesn’t always work because if there’s somebody good out there, somebody else is probably hiring them.” A bigger factor is, “it’s hard to find people who are willing to put in the hours when it’s required and (for) the kind of jobs they have to do,” said Kenner, whose motto is, “there’s no job I’m not willing to do myself.” The farm and seed operations do their best to allow employees to take time off for family events, but “when it’s harvest time or spring time, we put in some long days, and back-toback days, and the biggest struggle is finding people who accept that kind of lifestyle.” Kenner said his businesses have tried to adopt to the changing needs

of employees, who were single when hired but now have families of their own.

‘We’re good’

Georgeson, who lives in Maddock and has three young children, has been an excellent hire, Kenner said. “Brock’s been great. I can say I’m leaving for a few days for a wedding and he just knows what needs to be done,” Kenner said. Georgeson grew up in Maddock and has strong ag ties. As a young man, he was employed by another area farmer, which he says, “ just didn’t work out. Bryan came and knocked on my door. I told Bryan, ‘As long as you never yell at me, we’re good.’” After 16 years, the relationship remains successful, said Georgeson, who also operates his own welding shop on the side in Maddock. Working on a farm won’t appeal to most people, Georgeson said. “But for some people it can be good. It has been for me,” he said.


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Photos by Karen Tolkkinen The Olberding family works in tandem to plant the garlic. Julie Olberding, left, rakes earth over each clove that son Blake plants from his bag. Daughter Leah measures a bit of fungi to drop into the homemade garlic planter held by Chad Olberding, right.

MINNESOTA FARM FAMILY FINDS A NICHE WITH GARLIC And, yes, it keeps away vampires, apparently

By Karen Tolkkinen | Forum News Service


n a peaceful setting not far from Holmes City in Douglas County, there is a patch of earth where vampires fear to tread. It’s Rustic Roots Farm, which grows about the most vampire-proof crop around: garlic. This fall marks the third consecutive year that owners Chad and Julie Olberding and their two kids, Leah, 12, and Blake, 10, have planted garlic, which is a bulb that is planted in the fall after a hard frost and is harvested the following summer. They bought the small farm for their children, and hope sales of garlic, strawberries and hay will help pay for their college expenses some day. “It’s a way for them to not only learn about stuff but it goes into their savings accounts,” Julie said. Garlic is one of the specialty crops, along with asparagus, that Minnesota is encouraging as an additional source of income for growers in the state. Since 2017, the state has received nearly $4 million from the federal Page 26 – November 2020 – West Central Tribune

The Olberdings ordered a box of seed garlic to try a new variety this year.

government through the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. It has sent $173,500 of that to the Sustainable Farming Association to launch the Minnesota Garlic Project, which trains farmers in the best ways to grow and sell garlic. The nonprofit also received $58,000 to develop asparagus as a profitable crop. “The bottom line is that garlic, especially certain types of garlic, can do really well — really well — in Minnesota,” said Jerry Ford, network coordinator and garlic trainer for the Sustainable Farming Association. “They thrive here. Garlic will store for months and you can keep on selling through the winter.”

Garlic gets its own festival

Julie Olberding makes sure the garlic cloves are all facing the right way up. They are planted after a hard frost, develop roots throughout the fall, go dormant in the winter, and are harvested in July.

Much of America’s grocery store garlic comes from California or China, Ford said, with China dominating the world garlic supply. In California, four large growers dominate the garlic market, although he said Minnesota growers tend to keep their crops small. Garlic can get wiped out by freak acts of nature. In 2012, conditions created a “perfect storm,” with an early spring causing garlic to poke through the earth just in time for the jet stream to carry hordes of a tiny bug, the aster yellow leafhopper, into the state. They started chewing on the garlic stems and transferred a bacteria

into the plant. Growers had no idea anything was wrong until June, when green garlic stems, called scapes, shriveled and yellowed. “There wasn’t much garlic to be sold that year,” Ford said. A University of Minnesota plant pathologist, Dimitre Mollov, figured out what happened, and Ford said it took two more seasons to build back up. The Olberdings said they know their garlic crop can fail. They have checked into insurance, but their premiums are so high it wasn’t worth it, Julie said. Minnesota garlic differs from California garlic in that it’s designed for northern climates. Northern garlic tends to have a little less bite than southern garlic. Another key difference is the size of the cloves. They’re much bigger in northern garlic, which some cooks prefer because they don’t have to peel so many cloves. “In some of the hardiest, most northern ones, there are only four cloves in a bulb,” Ford said. Continued on page 28

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The Olberdings bought an old 50-acre farm several years ago and now grow garlic, strawberries and hay there.

Continued from page 27

Ford said he moved to Minnesota in 2002, married into a farming family, and wanted to start growing garlic. At the time, it was difficult to find Minnesota garlic growers so he bought his seed garlic from Wisconsin. Unbeknownst to Ford, a professor named Joel Girardin grew more than 100 varieties of garlic in the 1980s and 1990s and kept meticulous records of his work. Girardin and Carl Rosen, head of the University of Minnesota’s Soil Science Department, found that Minnesota could produce garlic that had good flavor and stored well. Then the work fell dormant until the Sustainable Farming Association decided to throw a party and call it the Minnesota Garlic Festival. “It was almost a tongue-incheek thing,” said Ford, who has a background in theater. “People showed up in droves. All of a sudden garlic growers came out of the woodwork.” Nobody has an accurate number of how many Minnesota farmers are actually growing garlic. Ford said the association’s best count is that, in May 2018, there were 80 farmers growing garlic to sell and, in May 2020, 119 growers. He is mentoring 15 new garlic growers planting their first crop this spring. Garlic sales in Minnesota fetch about $264,000 annually, which is a

drop compared to the billions that crops like corn and soybeans bring into the state. However, that cash is important for the families who grow garlic, Ford said. “You’re probably not going to make that off rutabagas,” he said. He can make $1.50 a pound for organic onions, he said, while garlic will bring in $10-$14 a pound. But it’s also more difficult to grow than onions and the initial investment is more costly, he said.

Health food

The Olberdings plan to grow up to a half acre of nine different kinds of bulbs this year. Their crop sold out this year, and so they’re growing more — 225 pounds, up from 170 pounds last year. They sell to home cooks as well as co-ops and other growers. They’ve gotten most of their business off their Facebook page, but the Minnesota Garlic Project has helped, as has word of mouth. Their varieties include popular varieties such as Music, Tamarack and Carpathian. “Some of it was honestly what was available our first year,” Julie said. “We got into it a little late the first season. Since then we’ve added varieties that we think are interesting or would do well in our area.” Besides its flavor, scholarly studies have indicated that garlic offers noticeable health differences. In 2000,

Page 28 – November 2020 – West Central Tribune

researchers at Weill Medical College of Cornell University reviewed garlic studies and found evidence that it lowers bad cholesterol while preserving good cholesterol. They also found evidence that garlic slows atherosclerosis, lowers blood pressure, and has other cardiovascular benefits. “Because garlic is a food and not a licensed medication, it cannot be marketed as a product intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any illnesses,” the college announced at the time. “However, it clearly has a very low toxicity … and … together with other healthy dietary and lifestyle measures may safely be recommended to people seeking a heart-healthy diet.”

Those vampires

And about those vampires? Why do they fear garlic? In 1998, Dr. Juan Gomez-Alonso, a Spanish neurologist, published a theory in the journal Neurology suggesting that 18th-century vampires were really people suffering from rabies. Rabies causes hypersensitivity, which could explain why these so-called vampires avoided light and garlic. The Olberdings’ crop is apparently keeping vampires away. “We haven’t seen any of those in quite a number of years now,” Julie joked.



full-time farming operation isn’t the right move for many Americans with limited space or capital. Starting a hobby project, however, can help familiarize someone with the industry and lead to a profitable venture. Whether you decide to harvest fruits and vegetables or raise animals, this part-time journey may eventually lead to an even more prosperous opportunity. For those interested in growing foods but are hesitant because of a lack of land, consider investing in a hydroponic setup. The Sustainable Food Trust says that using this method means plants are grown in water or an inorganic fabricated substrate. When searching for a building to house your hobby farm, look for places that offer natural light or low ceilings to hang lighting devices. Here are some other small investments you can make that can create a handsome secondary income.

One thing to keep in mind is that the small birds quickly become prey to cats or coyotes. When possible, try to invest in a sturdy coop to keep predators away.

Grow flowers A greenhouse or properly prepared bed can be a high growing ground for beautiful flowers. Ask an expert at your local nursery for plants that are in demand in your area and grow heartily in your location. With a little practice and a green thumb, bring your harvest to a farmer’s market or market to your region’s bouquet shops. Use your return on investment to purchase more bulbs and an exotic variety of blooms.

Raise chickens

Your livestock farm doesn’t have to include expensive cattle or other large animals. Consider getting started with a smaller creature like broiler chickens. According to the experts at Hobby Farms, these chicks are typically ready for market in as little as six to nine weeks. The quick turnaround can be compared to the longer timeframe of egg-laying hens, which usually require about nine months before they’re ready for sale. The broiler chicken breed also takes up little room and can be raised on the pasture or small land area. The quickest way to get started is by buying chicks. If they’re unavailable, consider incubating them from an egg.

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LETTING GO CAN GET YOU BACK ON TRACK By Katie Pinke | Forum News Service

Photo by Elizabeth Pinke


n a previous career chapter, I traveled across the U.S. for client work, which required a 92-mile commute to or from the airport. I drove early, late and in all weather conditions to avoid additional nights away from my kids and husband. While I’ve seen the majestic beauty of the vast prairie at all hours of the day and night, I’ve also experienced the ugliness of prairie storms while navigating two-lane roads. Even though the calendar says autumn, I’m stuck in a winter blizzard funk. I debated skipping this difficult topic and sharing pretty images from soybean harvest instead. After all, there are few things I enjoy more than riding in the combine with my dad. But then I wondered, does anyone else feel like they’re in a difficult season? For the past 10 months, through numerous transitions and changes, I’ve felt like I’m driving on a dark road in whiteout conditions. You know — the kind of blizzard that Page 30 – November 2020 – West Central Tribune

requires a white-knuckle grip on the wheel and your eyes fixed to the road to make sure you stay the course as the wind tosses you around and you plow through snowdrifts. Can you relate to feeling like your life is stuck in blizzard conditions? Maybe it’s due to the weariness from COVID-19 and impacts of financial struggles, a health diagnosis or condition, parenting through a pandemic, strained relationships, isolation, politics, elections or a host of other challenges left unnamed, but you face them. I desperately want to get to the other side of this stuckin-a-blizzard feeling and, as a wooden sign in my living room reads: “Autumn shows us how beautiful it is to let things go.” Many times on those past lonely, treacherous drives, I questioned if I had made the right decision to drive home. I let worry consume me. With experience, I learned to talk to God on my drives. I knew the roads.

I gained confidence, drove slowly, kept a dialogue going with God and found my way home through numerous winter storms and a few blizzards. Only once did I miss a turn because of limited visibility — and actually, I didn’t see I had missed the turn; I felt the road change. Instead of a snow-covered paved road, I found myself on a prairie “road.” Thankfully, I didn’t get stuck. It was pitch black — not a single light from a town or farm could be seen. The wind was howling. I collected myself for a minute and then put my vehicle into reverse to backtrack to the pavement. I made the correct turn and continued along the road to lead me home. Last month, I needed to retreat, a getaway to unplug. I need to let things go as my wooden sign says. My husband, daughters and I hiked in Maplewood State Park, near Pelican Rapids, Minn. We first went on a known path that was easy and comfortable, the Hallaway Hill Overlook. Our daughter, Elizabeth, age 12, took photos. Then we went to the other side of the park and found a lesser-traveled hiking path. We followed the map and found our way around a lake, walking close to four miles in all.

Photo by Elizabeth Pinke

The next day, Nathan and I returned for a longer, five to seven-mile hike, depending on which path we followed. We had to pay attention to marked signs, and Nathan kept a park map in his hand. During parts of our hike we couldn’t see the path ahead as fallen leaves completely covered the ground. I stopped several times to let go of the white-knuckled, driving-in-a-blizzard feeling that gripped me. In the Minnesota woods, I let go of all that consumes me and focused on those immediately around me and the beauty of fall. I left my phone behind. No distractions. I felt like the tension of trying to find my way through a prairie blizzard lifted. I let go. I followed my husband’s hiking lead, talked with God in the woods and felt assurance for the season ahead. Before a real winter storm hits, get outside. I recommend a state park hiking trail to find the beauty of autumn and let go. Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at kpinke@agweek.com, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke

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ucks Unlimited and partners have been awarded an $8.73 million grant in an effort to develop an agriculture producer focused program where they will concentrate on soil health within the prairie pothole region. “We’ve been pretty excited about soil health and helping land owners and producers implement some new practices to help better their farm or ranch’s soil,” said Bruce Toay, manager of conservation programs for Ducks Unlimited. The program will bring financial assistance to agriculture producers. The money they receive will be used to help them implement practices into their farm or ranch that help with their farm or ranch’s overall soil health. “Financial assistance will be given to agriculture producers to implement practices that build soil health, improve profitability, create diversity and wildlife habitats,” Toay said. Some of these practices include planting more perennial species on their land, cutting back in the practice of tilling, incorporating cover crops, integrating livestock on the land and much more. The new ag producers will be partnered up with other agriculture producers who are already following this model, the goal being to help the new producer

understand and excel in this new endeavor. While overall yield is still important when implementing these practices, the program is more focused on the producer’s profit margins. “This program is not necessarily a yield-driven model, but a profit model by reducing your input costs. If your soil health is going up, then your needs for fertilizer and herbicides will be going down. Eventually you’re making more money and we will be analyzing how the overall profit margin changes for the producer,” Toay said. Ducks Unlimited has also partnered up with the Soil Health Institute who will be working closely with producers to collect data from their farms and ranches. The Institute will take a look at how the soil health changes while the producers are involved in the program and see how their soil improves. The program is in the beginning stages of development and is estimated to be open to producers in the early months of 2021. Toay hopes the program will grow and flourish in the years to come. “I am really hoping the success of this program will lead to more similar grants in the future. We want this program to be both beneficial to both agriculture producers and the prairie pothole region,” Toay said. For more information please visit https://www.ducks.org. West Central Tribune – November 2020 – Page 33



any people rely on the agriculture industry for their foods, but think little of the impact that agriculture has on the larger economy. However, data indicates that agriculture can serve a significant role in the process of solidifying the economy of a country, particularly developing nations. Agriculture also can contribute to the economic prosperity of advanced countries. IPP Media points out that the economic history of many developed countries indicates that agricultural prosperity

contributed heavily to their economic advancement. When the basic food supply is strong, the national economy can be strong as well. Particularly in the early days of the United States, farming held a crucial place in establishing the American economy and culture, and still shapes the country today. Many states find that farming and other agricultural pursuits contribute much to the local and national economy. For example, new research from the University of Wisconsin in

Madison and University of Wisconsin Extension show that agriculture is a powerful economic force in Wisconsin. Agricultural businesses help generate more than $83 billion in activity and have created more than 400,000 jobs in that state. The public should not disregard how strong a factor agriculture can be in establishing a strong economic environment. Safeguarding agricultural jobs and the agricultural industry is crucial to economic stability.

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Page 34 – November 2020 – West Central Tribune


ANCIENT GRAIN GOING MODERN By Jonathan Knutson | Agweek Staff Writer

Courtesy photo / The Land Institute A farmer can sow Kernza perennial grain in August of one year and the crop is ready for harvest in the August of the following year. Here, the perennial is close to waist-high in July. There is no need to sow again because the cycle continues.


ne of the world’s oldest grains has found new life. Now, a new $10 million grant aims to further boost commercial use of Kernza. Informally known as the Kernza Cap, the five-year program, which began Sept. 1, seeks to promote the production, awareness and commercialization of Kernza, which supporters say is the first commercial perennial grain in the United States. “This project will simultaneously advance the genetics of Kernza, guide farmers on how to grow it, and partner with companies on how to use and market it. We envision this collaborative approach will ensure that Kernza is agronomically sound, economically viable and environmentally sustainable,” said Dr. Jacob Jungers, assistant professor in the Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics at the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural, and a leader in the project. Unlike regular wheat — an annual plant that must be planted every year — Kernza is planted just once and comes back year after year. Kernza is the trademark name for the perennial grain harvested from new varieties of intermediate wheatgrass. The latter originated in Europe and Asia but was introduced into the U.S. decades ago to provide forage

for livestock. More recently, intermediate wheatgrass was identified as a good candidate to become a perennial grain crop. It features relatively large seed size and a deep root system that helps it tolerate drought. And because it isn’t planted every year, it also can help farmers avoid planting difficulties in wet springs. Kernza itself isn’t new. The Land Institute, a nonprofit agricultural research organization in Salina, Kan., began researching and developing it nearly two decades ago. What’s new is that the project, formally called “Developing and Deploying a Perennial Grain Crop Enterprise to Improve Environmental Quality and Rural Prosperity,” brings together academic and non-academic experts from 10 universities and 24 nonprofit and farm and food organizations. “This grant is built on years of active collaboration among the stakeholders and is an exciting step toward our vision for Kernza and other future perennial grains being developed at The Land Institute and partner institutions globally.” said Rachel Stroer, acting president of The Land Institute, a partner in the project. The grant was awarded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Sustainable Agricultural Systems Program. More information: kernza.org/kernzacap. West Central Tribune – November 2020 – Page 35



hether you’re a seasoned farmer or just breaking into the industry, deciding to invest in land is a serious decision. Choosing the wrong plot or buying at an inopportune time can cripple your operation going forward. Find out what to look for in the market and how to get the best deal when considering extending your farmland. When you don’t have the liquid capital to make a purchase of land in cash, governmental programs offer exceptional benefits for farmers. Consider applying for an FSA Direct Farm Ownership loan. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, this opportunity offers up to 100% financing for: ○Enlarging family farms. ○Improving or expanding operations. ○Increasing agricultural productivity. ○Assisting with land tenure to save farmland for future generations. You can find out more information by visiting with a Farm Loan Program staff member at your local lending institution.

Finding farmland

After you have financial backing, finding suitable farmland is another significant decision. The Noble Research Institute suggests that farmers analyze factors like soil conditions, irrigation availability, the local climate and location before purchasing a plot of land. Form a thorough strategy to decide how much ground you require and the steps to make it profitable. Take inventory of your equipment to determine if a more significant operation will need more expensive machines to maintain, as they can be a considerable investment.

Richard Sigurdson

Buying the land

Much like most property transactions, you should be prepared to negotiate when finding the best value. You may consider hiring a real estate agent proficient in agricultural deals to give yourself an advantage. Once you have a few pieces of land in mind, buyers often benefit from obtaining a property boundary survey. An expert will ensure that the seller’s potential investment is legally owned to avoid problems with competing farmers in the area. Ensuring the boundaries are ironclad alleviates the risk of adverse possession. This legality is common in farming and means that if the land is occupied, effectively used and controlled by someone without ownership, that the law will eventually consider them to be the owner. While an attorney can help resolve the issue, the costs can be a burden during an investment.

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any people subscribe to the notion that “everything is better with bacon.” Imagine being able to control the quality and flavor of pork products, and knowing just what went into producing delicious bacon? In an era of growing uncertainty about commercially produced food, many agriculturally inclined people are raising livestock right on their properties, and small-scale pig farms can be a successful venture. Despite pigs reputation as dirty animals, the animal resource PetHelpful indicates they are actually one of the cleanest farm animals. Pigs tend to wallow in mud only if they do not have proper shade and a clean, steady water supply to regulate their body temperature. Furthermore, giving pigs plenty of space to roam will enable them to keep dry, clean and cool. Pens should be large enough so pigs can sleep and eat on one end and use the other end for soiling. Pigs also are intelligent animals that will adapt to routine. This means it may be easier to care for pigs than some other farm animals. Even though pigs can grow to be quite large, they do not need to live on an expansive farm. Many pigs can live quite well on an acre if their pen and foraging areas are rotated periodically. Data from the past 50 years shows that today’s pig farms use less land and other resources to produce one pound of pork, according to the National Pork Board. Therefore, raising pigs can be a sustainable undertaking. According to Mother Earth News, when selecting pig breeds for a pig farm startup, these are popular as leanmeat producers and shouldn’t be hard to find: Yorkshire, Duroc-Jersey, Berkshire, Hampshire, Poland-China, Chester White and Tamworth. Choose sows (females) or barrows

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(castrated males) for the best-tasting meat. Also, keep in mind that pigs are social animals, and even though the average family will do just fine with one pig’s worth of meat, pigs do better if raised in pairs or more. Pigs need a varied diet to thrive. Diets should include grain, milk, fruits, vegetables, and greens from pasture. Experts suggest novices ask a veterinarian or another pig farmer about feeding. A family garden or bartering with other families nearby for food materials can keep feeding costs minimal. Many pigs can be butchered by the age of six or seven months. After pigs reach that age, they begin to grow quite large and become a much larger investment of time and money. Pig farming can be a worthwhile venture. More indepth information on raising pigs is available at http:// porkgateway.org/resource/introduction-to-raising-pigs/.

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Page 38 – November 2020 – West Central Tribune

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