Saturday, November 28, 2015

Learning to farm, going against the usual rule

A lot of my early farming was spent looking at other peoples operations and learning from them.  Good and bad, true and false, I basically approached farming as a complete unknown, and 10 years ago it was.  My family history has farming in its background, but neither my mother or father farmed.
So I'd look around and see someone doing something, and genrally speaking I'd do the exact same thing, which meant I did some odd things.  Later, as my learning progressed those things didn't seem so odd anymore; it just took a while to figure out why it made sense.  

combining winter corn from bruce king on Vimeo.

And this applies to crops, too  If you look around in your area you'll see crops and farming activity, and usually it's because that particular crop or activity is well-suited to the environment.  So I never tried to grow pomergrantes here because I didn't see any.  

So this year I went against that basic rule, and planted grain corn, which is corn designed to be harvested for the corn kernels themselve, instead of the entire plant and kernels for use as animal feed.  I'm still going to use the corn kernels as animal feed (although they'd make great organic corn everything!) but I wanted a crop that I could grow somewhere else and only have to transport the highest-value portion - the kernel - to reduce my costs in bringing it back.

The grain corn that I planted this year was planted on a schedule so that it would be physically mature on september 1st - at least according to the seed vendor.  As you've seen, I watched and watched and watched the corn as it matured, and then dried.  

Despite having a warmer-than-usual year, the corn matured 2-3 weeks after the stated maturity date, and really didn't get dry enough to combine until 2 months later, around the second week of november.  

golden grain pouring into combine from bruce king on Vimeo.

During that time we had lots and lots of rain, and two floods, which I was sure would be the end of my corn, but surprisingly enough, the fields where I planted aren't in direct current -- the water rose and fell pretty gently, and for the majority of the corn, the water didn't get high enough to touch the ears.  Tall corn is good!

The corn is coming in somewhere around 23% moisture, but will keep best at 15%; so I'm using small grain drier to dry 5,000lbs of corn at a time.   The high-moisture corn can be  used as feed pretty much straight out of the field; the dried version will probably need to be rolled or ground or something to make it more digestible for the animals.  

I'm going to call this against-the-grain a success, and given that the corn is still in pretty good shape despite floods and rain... well, I think that I'll be planting corn somewhere on my fields from here on.  

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Farm venture fundraising - but what?

So I'm reading through the fundraising post of a farm venture, this one wants to teach people to farm, and I'm all for that, and I run across this:

First, I'm pretty skeptical that crowdfunding donors actually get good value for what they donate.  Dont' get me wrong - these crowdfunding efforts are GREAT for the farmer - they get the money and have few or no restrictions on it, and in my opinion don't have to ever complete their stated project, or if they do, they can do it on their own schedule -- like sugar mountain that has slipped their schedule between 3 and 5 years so far, and it's slipping further as time goes by.

"young female farm manager" - not the best qualified, or the best fit, but the age and sex is specified.  That's pretty amazing to me.  Imagine if I posted an advertisement like that for my farm:

  "Hiring a farm hand.  Males only, women need not apply, and no one over 20"

I'd probably get viral status, don't you think?  And the headlines would be great.  Maybe you can suggest a few in the comments.

With this sort of fund raising request, there's no backup for the things you'd normally see in a grant request, or a proposal to a bank for a loan.    Stuff like a business plan.  A copy of the most recent results.  Even the biography of the founder of this farm is blank:

If you want to rely on the good intentions of generous individuals I think that you have the responsibilty to use their funds in an appropriate manner.  Discriminatory hiring and black-box numbers don't really leave me with the impression that they've really throught this out.  And the leave the prospective donors with no way to verify if the proposed changes were made, or in fact if there's any progress at all.

Here's where I will give Walter Jefferies full credit:  Despite being years behind in the schedule he's doggedly pursued completing his project, and has posted many updates showing the projects status and the milestone passed.   And that's wonderful, and basically missing from most crowdfunded projects.

While I did donate to Sugar Mountain, I'm not going to be donating to Tricycle farms.  I'd prefer they get their training wheels first.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The cows reflecting on eating grass
I'm running 40 cows right now; 30 of them are dairy, 10 are beef.  Some of the 30 are kinda-beef; they're 50% holstein 50% angus cross steers that I've produced and am growing out.  

I looked at buying some steers in both 2014 and 2015 and just couldn't bring myself to pay the price that animals were getting at that time.  The market has gone done a little (it's still high to my eye, but its not in record territory like it was) and my reaction to that was to retain a few of my own steers to grow out.  

The steers are pretty tasty; the angus/holstein cross is efficient at converting grass to meat, and they're relatively docile and easy to manage.   If you've got the space and forage, cows are a pretty easy crop to bring to market.