#RelentlessAsYou Contest!

You work hard, right? Our newest sponsor, Valent. At Valent, they know what you go through on a daily basis and why you can be described as #Relentless. Some farm until 2am, some all night, through the rain and on a rare occasion, snow, with very little reward. As you begin prep for planting in 2015, be sure to consider why you or a neighbor are relents! Then all you need to do is submit it to win $1,000, for your community!!

Valent wants you to share your story with the world. Be sure to held on over to the Relentless As You website, where you may find all the details

You’re not organic farmers but you don’t grow GMO’s? How do you talk about that?

As part of our “How do you talk about that?,” series, Shannon Seifert shares how she tells the story behind their non-organic and non-GMO farm. 

Not organic and no-GMO’s. Confused? Many are. Orange Patch Dairy doesn’t grow GMO crops, but we’re not an organic farm Non-oganic and non-GMO. How do you talk about that? with Shannon Seifert www.AgChat.orgeither.  With GMO’s in the news, this only increases the importance of communicating about our farming practices. Here are some points we use when talking about GMO’s:

Stress the importance of using crop rotation to control pests and weeds.  We’re conventional farmers, but thanks to a crop rotation which includes forage crops like alfalfa, we haven’t needed to use GMO technologies in our corn varieties.  We basically only grow corn and alfalfa to feed our cows.  Alfalfa works as a great crop to control weeds and break up our corn crop rotations.

Be transparent: when needed, we do use herbicides and insecticides.  We use chemicals as needed, based on the recommendations of our agronomist, but since our crops are fed as forage, we want to minimize the amount of chemicals we use.  We capitalize on the natural defenses of our crops.  However, this can also be said for GMO crops as well, since they allow a reduction in many chemical applications.

GMO’s are an option that we might use if needed.  We could benefit from GMO’s or might use them in the future if we face an issue where our agronomist would recommend them, but for right now, our crop rotation and farming choices don’t require GMO’s.  In the past pests like corn borer, have damaged our crops and lowered our yields, but we’ve been able to use other agronomic tools and rotation to minimize future damage.

Just like consumers, we demand choices.  When we choose our seeds for the growing season, we have a wide variety of traits to choose from: height, grain yield, forage yield, digestibility, drought resistant, standablity, tolerance to insects, resistance to herbicides, etc.  As dairy farmers, we put a strong focus on varieties that will make the best, most digestible feed for our cows first, yield comes second.  If we can grow high quality feed for our cows, we know we will get high quality milk.  A grain farmer will choose varieties that may have a higher grain yield instead; different farmers with different goals.

There’s no single “right” way to farm.  Often we forget that there is no single “right” way to farm.  Each farm has its own environment and a farmer manages and makes choices which are the best for that environment.  We make choices on how to best improve our soils, use our natural fertilizers (cow manure), and produce the most tons of forage per acre, while making sure that each pound of feed we grow helps us grow healthy cows.  We make choices that are the best for our environment and our cows.

Are you a non-GMO and non-organic farmer? How do you talk about your farm?


Shannon Seifert - Visit www.OrangePatchDairy.blogspot.com


Shannon Seifert is a dairy farmer from Southern Minnesota. After working a full time job as a dairy nutritionist for 4 years she returned to the farm in 2009, working side by side with her husband every day. Together they milk around 200 cows. They love what they do and wouldn’t trade it for the world. You can catch up with Shannon on the Orange Patch Dairy Facebook page or on their blog OrangePatchDairy.blogspot.com.


Farmer In the Spotlight – Nicole Small and The County Fair Linky Party

Telling your story is an important piece of agriculture advocacy but its only a piece. What happens to your story if it doesn’t reach your Nicole Small, Tales of a Kansas Farm Mom hosts The County Fair Blog Linky Party each Friday. www.talesofakansasfarmmom.blogspot.com intended audience? It remains an untold story. So how do we get to those audiences? Nicole Small, of Tales of a Kansas Farm Mom and known for her Flat Aggie series, has once again reached into her bag of tricks to develop The County Fair project. We were able to catch up with Nicole to learn more about this new project and how she agvocates.
What is The Country Fair Blog Party and how does it work?
The Country Fair Blog Party (aka Linky Party) is where bloggers can link up 1-3 of their own posts to the party. The links show up on all of the co-hosts blogs. We welcome any topic, but each week we feature the most viewed posts in the following 3 categories: Agriculture, Food, and DIY Projects.
While we don’t award “prizes” we do feature the favorite posts the next week. I know from the experience of being featured on other parties that it can get you 100+ hits on an old post. We try to invite at least 3 non ag bloggers each week to the party. I usually invite newer food blogs. And, we invite newer ag blogs when we find them as well.
How did you come up with the idea for the County Fair? 
I have a pig farmer wife friend who reads lots of blogs.  She kept finding these linky parties that she insisted I participate in.  They really Linky Party on www.talesofakansasfarmmom.blogspot.com helped me reach beyond my friends and family and find a whole new group of followers and bloggers to follow and learn from.
I got to thinking that I needed to try to get some of my ag friends to join in the fun and decided to try one of my own.
How has the County Fair project increased your engagement with non-agriculture folks?

We are still in the infancy of this project, but I keep inviting food bloggers to link up with us each week and I am getting them to link up, but more importantly they are starting to follow me on other outlets so we continue the conversations about how food is raised.
What & how much do you farm?

We raise corn, soybeans, wheat, milo, hay and cow/calf  6000 acres
How long have you been blogging?

I started blogging in March of 2012.
Which social media outlet is your favorite and which is most successful?

I prefer to use Facebook currently, but Pinterest definitely drives the most traffic to my blog.
You are also the founder of the #FlatAggie project. Tell us a little bit about that project and the results as far as reaching non-farm/ranch folks.
I can not take credit for the founding Flat Aggie that does to the Sarah of The House That Ag Built, but she has been excited to watch our Aggie’s as well as her own class’s.  I love this project, because I can get farmers to talk about their farms that wouldn’t normally.  They will write a report for kids with a paper doll, because it isn’t as intimidating as talking with adults.  The funny thing is that so many are so far removed from the farm that often we need to break things down to the kids level for them to be understood.  I can’t tell you how many adults (especially the teachers that sent Flat Aggie out) tell me that they have learned so much from the reports.
It has been a great way for me to get agriculture into 4 classrooms in 2 states (Kansas and California) on a regular basis.  I can work on the reports when I have time and the teachers can present them when they have time.  It is a win win for both of us and the kids love the reports.

Grain Bin Safety Week – 15 Tips to Keep You Safe

1.) Maintain grain quality (e.g. moisture, heat, etc)

2.) Never enter a bin without a “bin entry permit”

3.) Never enter a grain bin unless it is really truly necessary

4.) Never enter a grain bin alone – have an outside observer who can both see and hear you

5.) Most young teens do not have the experience to be your wingman

6.) Time is of the essence – if you’re engulfed, it takes only 90 seconds for you to die

7.) The outside observer needs to have a sure quick method to contact emergency responders in an emergency

8.) Always lockout unloading equipment before entering (so they can’t be turned on by mistake)

9.) Always check oxygen (min 19.5%) and toxic/inflammable gas levels (phosphine CO2 dust etc) before entry

10.) Always always always use secure a lifeline (harness/rope/ladder) for everyone inside

11.) Ensure that there’s adequate lighting inside  People---Group-of-Firefighters Nationwide Agribusiness

12.) The lifesaving tip of last resort = cross your arms in front of your chest if you’re sinking – so that you can breathe

13.) Even during the most frantic times, never every risk your or anyone else’s life with a 5-minute shortcut

14.) Have a written plan for training and rescue

15.) The most important safety tip – train-and-practice often

Grain bin safety is such an important task that no one should take lightly. In addition to the tips above we want to share a fantastic contest with you that is going on now. Nominate your local fire department to win an invaluable grain bin rescue training and the rescue tube, brought to you by Nationwide Agribusiness.

Other great resources:

Learn more about our sponsor Nationwide Agribusiness on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4zOjiKXz6o – and their website.


Unmanned Aerial Systems, You Must Understand the Facts for 2014

This week we’ve been discussing a technology that seems to be rattling the agriculture industry – unmanned aerial systems. We had a Unmanned Aerial Systems - Chad Colby - AgChat.orgfantastic discussion last night during #AgChat on Twitter where we discussed various sub-topics such as types of UAS to the legalities behind the devices. While the technology is becoming more readily available, its important that you understand the facts behind utilizing it. Therefore, we have provided a reference guide to assist you as you make decisions about how you will fit it into your farm or ranch.

reposted from AgTechTalk.com with permission from Chad Colby

One of the most promising new technologies for use in agriculture is Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS).  These systems have the potential for farmers to monitor their crops for problems in a quick and affordable manner. It is very important to understand the facts about this new technology. I continue to hear of farmers planning to hire newly formed UAS companies for 2014, and that my friends is against the law. If a company is offering you a service to provide images or information from a UAS for a fee – it is ILLEGAL.

Many companies in the Agriculture Industry are investing millions to learn how to understand the capabilities of Unmanned Aerial Systems. In the spring of 2014 you can expect lots of expanded research to understand how to measure the vegetative index of a plant to detect issues like disease, nitrogen deficiency, flooding, etc. To do this they will use infrared and thermal camera technology. Colleges and Universities all over the country are also working to help develop programs for students who can support this new industry. The uses for this technology is truthfully unlimited.

Photo credit Chad Colby AgTechTalk.com

Two different aerial systems exist to do this type of data collection. One is a small helicopter with three to four rotors and the other is a small fixed wing airplane. The one you should choose depends on your mission and which systems works best. Honestly, the actual ship is the easy part. The technology already exists to do almost all functions needed to “scout” and get imagery of any field.

The biggest development over the next year or two will be the camera technology used in the systems. Camera designers are currently working to build a camera specifically for UAS. These cameras hold the future of how effective UAS will be in agriculture. It’s easy to get an infrared image, the challenge is to be able to make effective decisions with the data collected. A few weeks ago I saw a new design of a thermal camera, and wow was it impressive. I will be doing some independent testing of cameras in the spring of 2014 and will be reporting back on those.


One of the major reasons I have become outspoken about UAS is because of the lack of knowledge about this topic. There seems to be some serious confusion about the current Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations. It’s very important if you are considering this application on your farm is to understand the rules. The facts are this simple: If an individual or company flies any unmanned aircraft for commercial use, it’s against the law. Period. You can use a unmanned aircraft for non commercial or private use, provided you operate it correctly as a hobby aircraft.

Chad will be hosting an Unmanned Aerial Systems Training Class on Saturday,
Feb., 15th, 10am-3:30pm at the Asmark AgriCenter in Bloomington, Il.
For additional information contact Chad directly at chadacc@aol.com or 309-361-5564.
written by Chad Colby

Chad Colby - AgTechTalk.com

Beginning at a young age, Chad Colby’s passion revolved around technology. Known as the “tech guy” amongst his friends and family, Chad grew up in Bureau County, IL, where he worked on the family farm. After leaving the farm, he spent several years with a Los Angeles based aviation construction company developing, building, and designing airport hangar projects across the country. During this time, Chad earned his pilot’s license and found a passion for aviation.  He then returned to his roots in Illinois and combined agriculture with aviation to educate farmers and ranchers about the latest technology in the industry.  In 2013, Chad developed AgTechTalk.com to provide readers with the best information pertaining to unmanned aerial systems. As a guest speaker at the 2013 John Deere Global IT Conference he shared his expertise while presenting, “Drones in Agriculture, the Next Phase in Precision Farming.” Most recently he has been involved with Market to Market as well as This Week in Agribusiness’ and travels the country delivering presentations about the latest in precision agriculture. Chad resides in Bloomington, IL  with his wife Karen (partner at McGillicuddy Corrigan Agronomics) and daughter Bristol. Connect with Chad on Twitter: @TheChadColby, by visiting www.AgTechTalk.com or by emailing him at chad@agtechtalk.com.



Redhead Creamery Brings Youth Back to the Farm

webshotThis week we’ve been discussing young/new farmers and startup businesses. The Tuesday night #AgChat was fast-paced and fun! Questions ranged from determining the “ideal” age for a young farmer to challenges facing new farmers and types of skills needed to be successful.

A unique success story we would like to highlight comes from Minnesota and the Redhead Creamery. We were able to catch up with Alise Sjstrom, President and dreamer maker behind the expansion of her family’s dairy.

Q: The Redhead Creamery is a new venture for your family. What was your motivation for beginning the Redhead Creamery?

A: The idea of coming home to my parent’s farm to make cheese came from a trip to the  National 4-H Dairy Conference when I was a senior in high school. We toured Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, and I was hooked. I came home and told my parents that the only way I would come home to the farm was if I could make cheese. They said ‘go for it’. I’ve basically dedicated my life to cheese ever since.

The name Redhead Creamery comes from my hair color, as well as the color of my three sisters’ hair. It was a no-brainer.
Q: Beginning a new business in agriculture is risky, what resources did you use to help guide you through the process?
A: There couldn’t be a more opportune time to start a new business in Ag than now. I have some advantages: I grew up on a dairy farm, I went to an Ag-focused university (University of Minnesota, Twin Cities), my jobs have always focused around Ag or cheese, I married a guy that grew up on a dairy farm, my parents are as supportive as they come and I have an awesome support system all over the country. That doesn’t mean we didn’t seek out help.

Past co-workers and acquaintances of cheese companies have been the best resources. Artisan cheesemaking is not very common in central Minnesota, but our banker has been outstanding. He’s even taken the time to read some of our farmstead cheesemaking books <– another resource. Our farm business manager has assisted us with financial guidance and business structure. My personal experiences working for cheese companies and my training at the Vermont Institute of Artisan Cheese ultimately guide us through this process.
Q: Your family used a unique way to partially fund your business. Can you tell us a little bit about the process?
A: I first want to make clear that Kickstarter did not fund our new business. Starting up a farmstead creamery will cost us nearly 10 times what we raised through the campaign.  What it did do for us is raise awareness. Our first contributor was from California. We’ve never met the guy, but he has now named a cow on our farm.

Lucas (my husband) read about Kickstarter in the New York Times about 5 years ago when we were living in Vermont. He thought that if we ever did decide to come home and start a cheese company, that this could be the best tool we use. He was right. The press and exposure we got from those 30 days of raising $35,000+ was unbelievable. We knew we needed around 500 contributors to average out what was typically given, based on statistics from Kickstarter. We had 499 and were funded 8 days early. Our rewards were based on things that we would appreciate getting: cheese, tours, branded swag and dinner on the farm and social media is what allowed us to really get the word out. Lucas had sent out a press release about a week prior, but Facebook gave us the ultimate exposure.
What really helped us succeed is the help and experience from past Kickstarter campaigns. We attended a workshop at the American Cheese Society conference all about Kickstarter from two successful entrepreneurs who started or expanded their businesses on Kickstarter. Their experiences and answers to our questions really helped refine our strategy for the better.

Q: If you had to do it again, what would you do differently?

A: I’m not sure that we would do anything differently if we were to run a campaign again. Some of the best advice we got prior to launching is to give ourselves enough time to get the rewards out. It takes some time to get everything organized, no need to beat yourself up over it.

Q: Are you providing tours of the creamery?

A: Once we are up and running, tours will be available at the creamery. We are still a few months out before we can begin production.

Q: What is it that connects the creamery to the consumer?

A: We specifically designed the creamery so that the public can come in and watch us making cheese without interrupting the actual cheesemaking process. The processing area is all on one floor – the basement. The public can come in on the upper floor and look down through viewing windows into the cheesemaking room. The upstairs also has a kitchen and tasting room where we hope to host smaller events and gatherings.

Our dairy barn is only 50 ft away from the cheese plant. We will be gravity flowing the milk right from the milk room to the cheese processing room, so visitors will be able to fully realize the connection of cows to cheese and fresh milk to quality cheese.
Q: What goals do you have for agriculture advocacy?
A: Other than doing something we truly love, the primary reason for coming back home is to give our own children the opportunity to grow up on a farm. The second, is to further educate our peers about where their food is coming from. We plan to host events and tours as well as sending ourselves to them for cheese tastings and educational purposes. We have the moral obligation to talk about and show what we do in a positive and exciting way. We can’t wait to get started!
Such an inspirational story and passion for cheese! Like anything in life, you must start somewhere. The Redhead Creamery began as a dream and in the spring of 2014 they will have brought that dream to reality. For more information about the creamery or to follow their story visit the website or Facebook page.
Are there other farmers or ranchers who have utilized the KickStarter or similar campaign?
Jen Schweigert - TheMagicFarmHouse.com
Jenny serves as the AgChat Foundation Communications Director while helping manage her family’s small hobby farm in central Illinois. In addition to AgChat.org, she can be found blogging about life on the farm, Jersey dairy cattle, hunting and her boys, all at TheMagicFarmHouse.com.


Challenges Facing the Young Farmer

This week we’ll be talking about Young Farmers during #AgChat, Tues., Jan. 14th, 8-9PMET (NOTE TIME CHANGE). The conversation will continue on the blog throughout the week with additional young farmer posts.

With the average age of an American farmer being 57, there is a substantial need for young farmers. Today’s youngTim Zweber farmer faces challenges which have hampered the ability to begin their business and lively hood. Two of those challenges include the availability of  land and prohibitive costs.

In locations of the country such as Pennsylvania, there are efforts like PA FarmLink which connect older farmers with the younger generations. The goal is to eventually transition the state’s 4.2 million acres, owned by farmers age 55 and younger, over to younger age groups. This movement will ensure that those acres will remain in production agriculture. While this example is specific to Pennsylvania, you can check with local resources such as your county Farm Bureau.

Overcoming the challenges of cost are not always that simple. In some cases young farmers are looking towards more non-traditional, niche operations. In the state of Illinois for instance, farms such as Marcoot Jersey Creamery and Ropp Jersey Farm have transitioned from sending their milk to dairies into becoming on-site cheese makers. In both cases, this has allowed younger generations to become invested in the farms. Another Illinois farm family, the Kilgus Farmstead, manage a direct to customer operation raising Jersey milk cows, beef, meat goats and pork. In 2009 they became the first farmstead to bottle their own milk. Changing their business structure and bottling on-site allowed for more of the younger family members to become part of the farm. In all three cases the producers are dedicated to telling their stories to the public by offering on-site stores, tours and seasonal events.

While these are certainly not the only challenges facing today’s young farmer they tend to be most prominent. Later this week we will share some additional resources to help guide you to follow your dream of being a farmer.

What are some other challenges facing young farmers and the solutions behind those challenges?

 written by Jenny Schweigert


Jen Schweigert - TheMagicFarmHouse.com


Jenny serves as the AgChat Foundation Communications Director while helping manage her family’s small hobby farm in central Illinois. In addition to AgChat.org, she can be found blogging about life on the farm, Jersey dairy cattle, hunting and her boys, all at TheMagicFarmHouse.com.



Crop Rotations and the Importance of Diversity

In the 100 years that our farm has been in the family, we have grown a variety of crops. Wheat has always been in the rotation, along with the occasional oats, barley, and flax. For many years, the Olson family grew seed for the Minnesota Crop Improvement Association.

Currently, we have a three crop rotation – about 1/3 corn, 1/3 soybeans, and 1/3 small grains. Our small grains are usually hard red spring wheat, and a small field of barley mixed with field peas. We like the three crop rotation because it spreads out the work load, has different weed suppression, breaks the insect cycles, and is good for the health of the soil.

The first thing we do in the spring, as soon as we can get out into the fields, is prepare the small grain fields.  Depending on which field is ready first, we’ll either plant the barley and peas first, or the wheat. We use a grain drill, and GPS AutoSteer technology to seed the grain as soon as the seed bed is ready. When we plant our barley and peas, we first seed the field peas, and then we move the grain drill over about 3 inches, and seed the barley. The barley and peas grow together, dry down together, and get harvested and stored together.  They are separated before they are hauled to their final destinations by a portable grain separator that we have here on the farm.

Small grain fields tend to have different weed issues than corn and soybean fields do. Since the small grains are planted so early, they are established before the smaller weeds get a chance to become a problem. This helps to control the smaller weeds by smothering them out.  One nice thing about this natural weed suppression is the minimal need for weed control in the small grain fields. Although we still walk the fields for Canada thistle, we are able to concentrate our weed control efforts in our corn and soybean fields.

When August rolls around, we are scouting the small grain fields a little more often as we prepare for harvest. We like that one-third of our harvest is finished before the soybeans really start maturing. After the small grain is harvested, we will plant a cover crop of oats and tillage radish before turning our attention to the upcoming soybean harvest.

Over the winter, Jonathan and I attended a few conferences and soil health seminars, and listened to scientists talk about the importance of diversity in our rotations. Healthy roots in our cash crops mean better yields, and plants that can handle stress better. For many farmers, who do not already use a three crop rotation, and easy way to get a few of the benefits of a third crop is to plant a cover crop following soybeans.

Having a three crop rotation is one of the requirements for organic certification. We have always had an alternative crop in with our corn and soybeans, so this was not a difficult one for us. We like that growing a third crop helps to spread out planting and harvest, and we like what it is doing for our soils. Growing hard red spring wheat and a barley and field pea mix has worked well for us, and we’ll continue to grow them. Just like our ancestors did.

written by Carolyn Olson


Carolyn Olson guest post about crop diversification on AgChat.oCarolyn Olson raises organic corn, soybeans, field peas and small grains with her husband and their three daughters on 1100 acres near Cottonwood, Minnesota.  They also finish about 7000 conventional hogs annually.  The Olson family lives in the same house, and farm some of the same land that was purchased by Jonathan’s great-great-grandfather in 1913.

Carolyn grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis, but became a farm wife in 1988.  She quickly learned how to drive tractors, haul corn wagons, and help with tillage in the fall.  She loves watching the seasons change, and looks forward to each growing season.  

Carolyn is the current president of the Lyon County Farm Bureau, chair of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture Organic Advisory Task Force, and secretary of the local FFA Alumni Chapter. She is active in the Minnesota Farm Bureau, having served on the Promotion & Education committee, Growth committee, and Resolutions committee.  She is the co-chair of the Minnesota Farm Bureau Pork Chop booth at FarmFest. She has volunteered for FFA Chapters in Lyon County, helping with contest judging, Farm Safety and Petting Zoo days. She has also brought the FFA officers to the Farm Bureau Day on the Hill.  She is active in her church as a Senior High youth group advisor, Sunday school teacher, worship leader, and Choir member. She has served on the Southwest Minnesota Synod Assembly Planning Committee, where she has helped create the programs and worship experiences for over 700 attendees.

Ethanol and Cows

The ethanol world had a big shake up the other week when EPA announced a reduction in the renewable fuels standard. How much ethanol that will be required to be blended into gasoline is proposed to be dropped around 3 billion gallons from the 2007 goal of 18.15 to 15.21 billion gallons. Major news outlets picked up the story pretty quickly which tells you the importance of the potential implications beyond the farmyard. Reluctance by fuel manufacturers to blend ethanol above a certain level along with declining fuel use means they’ve hit a “blend wall”. This could mean trouble for crop farmers relying on ethanol production as a market for corn to keep prices up.

My Twitter and Facebook feeds saw an awful lot of chatter about this and its potential effects on crop markets. Notice I didn’t say corn markets even though that’s the major crop used for ethanol production? That’s because all the different crops we grow in this country including the forages and grains I feed the animals on my farm are constantly competing with one another for acreage. If one crop is worth more, others have to follow or they won’t get planted and corn has been leading the charge lately. It would be hard to make a case that the number of bushels of corn going to making fuel for our cars hasn’t had an effect on the prices and availability of feed for my animals. This graph from a Congressional Research Service report shows the increase in use of corn produced for ethanol.

Annual US Corn Use

While I feel bad for my crop growing friends who may be seeing an end to what have been some of the most profitable times in recent history, I’m looking forward to livestock farmers having a chance at a decent year of profits which have been hard to come by lately. Hay prices which are a major portion of the ration for our dairy cattle have gone from $130/ton 3 years ago for good quality hay to $230/ton for the same quality today. There has been a considerable amount of hay ground turned into corn ground in the past 5 years and I have a hard time believing that ethanol played no role in that. I was a supporter of ethanol in the beginning, believing what was good for some farmers would be good for all farmers in time and I’m still not entirely convinced that isn’t true. With the increases in crop prices meat and milk prices have followed which means there’s a lot more dollars flowing into agriculture as a whole. The increase in feed costs, despite higher prices for meat and milk, means margins have remained slim for livestock farmers especially those who don’t grow all their own feed.

Where will things go from here? I don’t know, to be honest, and if I did know I’d be a billionaire hedge fund manager by now. Personally I look forward to being able to find more farmers to work with that will be willing to plant hay and non-GMO crops for my livestock with a willingness to do a multiyear contract that will ensure we both make a decent living. I doubt the renewable fuels industry will go away and I hope it doesn’t as I feel it’s part of the solution to our energy and climate problems but it may have just grew too fast for our own good.

Guest post written by Tim Zweber
Tim Zweber
Tim farms with his wife, Emily, and his parents on their fourth generation organic dairy in Elko, MN. In addition to the dairy, Zweber Farms raises beef, pork and chickens for direct marketing. The Zwebers use Twitter, Facebook, and their website and blog to spread positive messages about agriculture. “Social media is important to our family because it is a way to develop relationships with consumers and other farmers.”

Ethanol’s Pendulum

It amazes me how the social pendulum has swung from ethanol being a political and media darling in the mid 2000’s to a social outcast Ethanol's Pendulum written by Greg Schwarz on AgChat.orgrecently.  Granted, much is at risk for stakeholders and consumers alike.  Objective discussions become challenging when issues become emotionally charged.  Social media has sped the rate of idea exchange.  This leaves many of us in the position of responding to criticism and negative attacks rather than proactively addressing each issue.

Hopefully, my experience will help balance the pendulum.  Diversification helps a farm survive the ups and downs of individual markets.  That is why I purchased shares in a farmer-owned ethanol plant in the early 1990’s.  Later, I added a contract turkey enterprise to my operation.  Ironically, the poultry industry is very outspoken against ethanol.  Higher grain prices mean higher feed prices, which poultry and some livestock producers dislike.  The missing link in the discussion is how much of the price of corn is related to ethanol production and how much is worldwide weather and other market forces.

Grain markets are dynamic.  Blaming only ethanol for higher corn prices is conveniently simplistic.  At the same time, failing to acknowledge ethanol has played some part in thinner poultry margins is disingenuous.  The discussion needs balance.  Currently, corn prices are below levels we saw in 2007 when the federal Renewable Fuels Standard set the bar for biofuel production.  Hopefully, this change eases some of the tension.  Agriculture needs to do a better job of keeping its disagreements out of the headlines.  Production agriculture already has enough critics.

I am thankful my ancestors chose Le Sueur County to build a life around farming.  Our deep rich soil and favorable climate are just right for crop and livestock production.  So far I know of nobody in my area discovering oil under their farmland.  My dad and his dad and his before him, raised a multitude of crops including flax, wheat, oats, alfalfa, sweetcorn and peas.  Over time we’ve learned field corn is the most productive and most profitable crop for our farm.

To illustrate, assume an average yield of 180 bushels of corn per acre.  That is 10,080 pounds of corn.  Through processing, only the starch is removed yielding 522 gallons of ethanol.  The protein is still intact.  That protein is about 3,360 pounds of what we call dried distillers grains (DDGs), a very high quality livestock feed.  My farm could produce about 55 bushels of wheat per acre.  That is 3,300 pounds of wheat.  Therefore, the DDGs alone from one acre of corn are roughly equal to the total pounds of wheat I can produce from the same acre.

I have used this analogy in conversations with friends, relatives, news reporters and civic groups.  It helps people understand why I raise corn on my farm.  From there the conversation can migrate to clean air, a strong economy, and dependence on fossil fuels.  It is my hope that a balanced discussion of the issues surrounding ethanol will swing the pendulum once again.

Written by Greg Schwarz

 _________________________________________________________________Greg Swarz farms near Le Sueur, MN with his wife and two teenage children where they raise corn, soybeans, and turkeys.  He serves on the board of directors for Heartland Corn Products ethanol plant in Winthrop, MN as well as the Minnesota Corn Growers Association and is a member of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association.  Greg graduated from the University of Minnesota with degrees in Animal Science and Agricultural Economics.  He has also completed the Minnesota Ag and Rural Leadership program. You can follow Greg on Twitter using handle @LoneOakFmr