The road to soil health inspires farmers

CEW-MR-3-Soil health3by Troy Bishopp

STATE COLLEGE, PA — So a soil guy, tillage radish developer and an organic grain craftsman meet at a conference. If you use your rural imagination a good joke might be in the offering. When it comes to discussing the attributes of healthy soils and fertility to a packed house of farmers, it’s no laughing matter for the three Microbe-teers.

NRCS Conservation Agronomist Ray Archuleta from Greensboro, NC; cash crop/vegetable farmer and founder of Cover Crop Solutions, Steve Groff from Lancaster, PA and grain farmer and co-owner of Lakeview Organic Grain, Klaas Martens from Penn Yan, NY, led an all-day pre-conference track titled: Agroecology Principles & Biomimicry Strategies for Enhancing Soil Function at the 24th annual Farming for the Future PASA Conference. [Read more…]

Heritage pigs at Bittersweet Farm

CE-MR-3-BITTERSWEET-Brianby Sanne Kure-Jensen

Brian Bennett of Bittersweet Farm has been living with pigs for over 30 years. Each year, he raises 10-12 litters of certified organic pigs with 6-8 piglets per litter. The pigs live as families outdoors not in big barns. Bennett’s farm is in the small town of Heuvelton in northern New York close to the Canadian border. All the farm’s pigs have names. “I like to know who is coming to dinner,” said Bennett with a smile. To people offended by smelly pig barns, Bennett reminds them that he does not run a confinement operation. Farrowing huts may smell of manure and afterbirth, but it’s all connected: “Energy, passion, life process and life force.” Bennett’s favorite heritage breeds are Tamworth and Gloucester Old Spots (also known as Gloucester, Gloucestershire Old Spot or Old Spots). These breeds are known as great mothers. Bennett used to raise Yorkshire pigs but their large liters lost too many piglets, especially in extended subzero periods. Heritage pigs thrive on pasture, in woodlands and with diverse diets. Growing much of the pigs’ food on the farm, Bennett spends just over $2 on purchased feeds per pound of meat. Processing at a USDA certified facility costs about $250 per pig or another $2.00 – $2.50 per pound. Bennett and his family process culls on the farm for family consumption. Bennett shared his extensive experience at a workshop called “The Practical Pig” at the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY) Winter Conference in Saratoga Springs, NY. [Read more…]

Creature comforts

CM-MR-2-Improving cow759by Steve Wagner

Concerns about cow comfort haven’t changed much in 130 years other than to diversify those concerns. “When we look at a cow’s day, 75 percent is spent eating and resting,” said Penn State’s Dan McFarland, a Capitol Region Extension Educator from York County PA. “So time away from the pen becomes pretty important.” McFarland was one of the presenters at the 2015 Lebanon Dairy & Crops Compliance Days at the Lebanon Valley Expo Center. When we think of the creature comforts, cow comfort specifically, it is often a passing thought, another one of those incidentals. Dan McFarland is different. He and a handful of ag engineering confreres who are similarly inclined not only think about it; they think about it from this angle and that. They hypothesize and theorize over creature comfort dimensions and measurements to the nth degree, putting it all under the theoretical microscope of time and motion study. Accordingly, he and his wide range of associates have produced charts and graphs to explain how to make life better for cows during every waking, and sleeping, moment. [Read more…]

Cattle feeders learn more about finishing cattle

CEWM-MR-4-Cattle feeders8by Jon M. Casey

For the 160 attendees that attended this year’s Lancaster Cattle Feeders Day, there was a lot to learn about how grading and labeling of beef takes place. With PSU Retired Extension Economist, Lou Moore leading the way, Dr. Ty Lawrence, director of the Beef Carcass Research Center at West Texas A&M University and Dr. Jonathan Campbell, Penn State Meat Extension Specialist, together put on what this writer considers one of the most interesting cattle feeder days in recent memory. They touched on everything from the state of the current U.S. and World Ag economies to meat product labeling. Dr. Lawrence focused on how to finish beef cattle to receive the best sale price for the effort. Together, these three experts gave an informative overview, covering everything from what goes into Nathan’s Hot Dogs to the political wranglings of foreign nations as they deal with U.S. farmers. At the end of the day, there was much to contemplate. [Read more…]

Establishing a safety culture

CEWM-CN-MR-2-Safety Culture9804by Sally Colby

Dairy farmer Walt Moore says prior to 2007, his farm had several workers compensation claims. “We had one really big one,” he said. “The herd manager was injured while moving a heifer. He came back in limited capacity, but was never able to fully return to work.”

After several more claims, Moore’s rates went up. Eventually, his insurance company decided that the farm was a high risk and dropped them. “We had to go with the state workers program,” said Moore, adding that he had to stay with that program for three years. “The rates are substantially higher than commercial insurance.” [Read more…]