Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bare root trees

I've spent the last few hours going through the local agricultural extensions studies of fruit trees, looking at varieties that grow well and produce a good amount of fruit.  If you're interested in fruit trees for western washington (or anywhere that has similar weather) you'll find a list of reports sorted by tree type and year here.   

What I like about this is that the researchers are objective about what they're reporting, and since the studies span years or decades, you can get a really good idea of what did well and what didn't over time.

So I've chosen a variety of trees which I'll use to both replace existing trees that aren't doing well and to increase the size of the orchard.  Depending on how they do I can market them pretty easily here - think self-service farmstand on the highway - or drive them down the road to the local produce stand.  There's a ready market for good fruit in the city as well.

Note:  I have no connection with raintree nursery other than as a customer.  I include the link so that you can see prices and descriptions, but I'm sure you can find these cultivars at other locations

Most of these trees are either dwarf, or semi-dwarf, or grafted onto dwarfing rootstock; a few of my choices are not; they'll be managed and pruned for production.

I'm adding the following trees

Shiro plum

pic post: Sleeping pigs

Monday, December 30, 2013

Tree moving day

If someone were to ask me what the very first thing that they should do when they buy a farm is, I'd say something that would probably surprise you:   Plant trees

Trees, particularly fruit trees, are something that requires years to grow and get some value from, and you might as well get that clock started ticking as soon as you close on your new property.  

In my case the farm had a variety of trees, but there's a problem:  

County road on west side of property
 The fruit trees that were planted here were actually planted basically on the property line; which meant that the county would end up "pruning" these trees with their road equipment several times a year.  That means that they'd use their brushcutting gear and basically saw off half of the fruit trees randomly.

That's not great for fruit production, or tree health... so what to do?  Well, this is the time of the year that fruit trees are dormant, and I do have a small excavator...  so dig up the root balls of the trees and move them back 20' from the road and fence.   I was as careful as I could be to retain roots and structure, but I did prune the trees back a bit to balance the loss of roots in the move, and I'm hoping that they survive.  They are mostly italian plum trees and produced a pretty good crop last year.  We'll see if they survive.  If not, I'll replace with new trees, consistent with my advice to plant trees as soon as you can.
Trees moved back 20' from fence.
 The second problem I've got is something I have no experience in.  The plum tree in the picture below has some sort of problem that appears to basically have covered the tree and is distressing it.  On the other trees I pruned off all of the growths, but this tree has a massive infestation.  I'm going to see if I can find someone locally to give me an opinion on what it is, but if I can't figure it out I'll probably just cull this tree and try again.
black growths appear unhealthy

closeup of black growths
The growths appear to be in the bark, and cause the bark to ulcer.  With this tree there isn't a branch that doesn't have some of this stuff on it.  On the other trees I'd see one or two growths on the entire tree.  Just to be safe I pruned off any affected branch, but I'd basically have to prune off this entire tree.   If it can be saved I'd like to, but sometimes just removing and restarting is the best option.

UPDATE:  Black knot it is.  I'll cull this tree and watch the others carefully.  You guys are on it!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Growing MJ too popular in Washington state

So far over 1100 licenses have been applied for to grow marijuana in washington state.  The license applications each specify the size of the grow area that they seek, "canopy", and the total amount of grow area has been capped at 2,000,000 (two million) square feet.  

The Washington State liquor control board has stated that in the event that they get applications that exceed the total grow area allocated, that they would reduce each applicants grow size proportionally; so if they get applications that total 4 million square feet, presumably everyone would get half of what they asked for.  

As of December 16th, the latest information available, the state has received:  

283 licenses for tier 1 producers (2000 sq feet or less)
436 licenses for tier 2 producers (2001-10000 square feet)
397 licenses for tier 3 producers (10000-30000) square feet.  

If each of these licenses is for the maximum allowed space, the total right now stands at 16.8 million square feet, a little over 8 times the total area that the WSLCB has allocated.   

Not all applications will be for maximum size; not all applications will be approved, and not all approved applications will actually succeed, but it looks like we're going to be oversubscribed by a factor of 8 or 9.  

So if you applied for a 2000 square foot grow, you'll get 1/8th of that, or 250 square feet; about the size of a large bedroom.  

Just dividing 2 million by 1100 gives you an average grow size of 3,000 square feet.   I think that they didn't realize quite how popular this would be, and it's going to be interesting to see how they deal with this huge oversubscription for production.  

Here's the quote:  
"The LCB may reduce a licensee’s or applicants’ square footage designated to plant canopy for the 
following reasons: 
 If the total amount of square feet for production of all licensees exceeds the two million square 
feet maximum, the LCB will reduce the allowed square footage by the same percentage. 
 If 50 percent production space used for plant canopy in the licensee’s operating plan is not met 
in the first year of operation, the board may reduce the tier of licensure. 
 If the total amount of square feet of marijuana production exceeds two million square feet, the 
LCB may reduce all licensees’ production by the same percentage or reduce licensee 
production by one or more tiers by the same percentage. "

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Question from Email: Marketing pigs

Hi Bruce,

My name is Scott [lastname] and I live in [town], FL.  I recently bought 10 small 

pigs and have weaned them.  
There are really no places around here to buy pigs and the market 
may be slim for them once they get 
grown?  Im sticking my toe in the water to see what happens. 
I grew up in the cattle business and have weaned and sold
 thousands of calves, but never a pig!

Im wondering if you could give me tips on marketing the little suckers?

Any advice would be great!



Hi Scott!

Marketing the hogs is the hardest part, and it's best to have them
sold before you buy them, but that can be difficult.  One of the
 best resources that I know of for small pig farmers is craigslist.  

Here's the link to the craigslist that covers the area you're in,
and I've taken the liberty to
make that link a search
for "pigs" in the farm and garden section.  

If I had no market base, and didn't want to spend much time
selling them, an ad on
craigslist is a pretty safe bet.
 it's free,  you can run it as long as you want, and you can get
an idea of what the local market for
pigs are by looking at what is being offered, and at what price.  

The issue with craigslist is that  you will not get the best price;
 there's always someone
 on craigslist selling
animals for the lowest possible price, but where you can set
 yourself apart from the
others is by talking about
your husbandry and standards, and about your particular pig

For a little better view on what the higher-end prices are, search
a site like eatwild.com
and see what the producers
there are asking for their pigs, or at your local farmers market.
My guess is that you'll
 find some pigs selling for $2/lb,
 and some selling for $14/lb.  Never, ever compete on price.
Compete on quality.  

I have found a ready market for pigs from cubans in my area
 who want to BBQ whole
pigs for family gatherings.
Eastern Europeans also are big markets for whole pigs.  See
 if there's a russian
orthodox church in your area
as a start.  often donating a pig for a church bbq or some other
 charity fundraiser is
 a way to get your name out
 there, too, and it builds goodwill.  

Pacific islanders are GREAT pig customers.  Tongans and
Samoans being two
groups that have purchased
lots of pigs from me.

With a total production of 10 pigs I think you should be able to
sell all of them handily.  

Some specific suggestions:  

Sell to family and friends.  A half a pig is small enough to fit in an
 average upper
freezer of a refrigerator, and everyone
 enjoys pork.  Your price should pay for all of your feed costs plus
something for
labor and equipment; what that is
 depends on you.   It takes about 800lbs of feed to bring a pig
 to market weight; around here that feed is
about $0.27/lb, which gives me a feed cost of $216.  figure
$100 for labor and
equipment per pig, and I'm at
$316, which works out to a cost basis for the pig of $1.58/lb.
 I sell my own pigs
 at $2.25/lb, which gives me a
net profit of about $134 per pig, but since I could hve sold
 that weaner pig for
$100, my actual net is $34/pig
with much less risk.  hmmm.. might have to raise my prices.  

Over at thoughtfulfoodfarm.com, he started at a price of $3.50/lb for his pork,
and here's a blog entry about his
experience selling his production.  

The reason that I can continue at $34 profit per animal is that I
 sell thousands
 of pigs, mostly as weaners, mostly
during the spring and summer.  I finish pigs mostly because
 the prices for
weaners in the winter
sucks, and I can make more money by doing so.  if I were
able to, I would be
 strictly a farrowing operation
and selling everything at weaning.  Much simpler business,
margins are
good, risk is smaller.  

Question from Email: Eating boars

Question from a reader about eating boars:

your boar story caught my attention.. i was curious how old that boar was.. 700 pounds 
I'd guess he was over 18 months.. My dad is in [town removed, but about 20 miles from
 me] and buys those boars and cuts them then feeds them for a few months then 
butchers them and still turns it into sausage.. i am in maryland now and farms 
out here are nonexistent and i have access to a 400 pound hampshire for like 30
 cents a pound and the boar is 9 months old and am trying to decide if i just 
want to butcher him straight away or try to castrate him and then feed him 
out for another couple months.. i've killed wild hogs (all sows) because of
 the smell issue and i have noticed that even wild sows meat smell bad 
but just like all other wild game i just discard all the fat.. unfortunately
 i love pork chop fat but if it has to go it has to go.. another issue is
 the anectdotal toughness which could be more related to age than
 sex.. at any rate, i was trying to find otu what your results of the
 smoked hams and stuff were and how old that boar was you 
described to help me kind of make up my mind.. considering hogs 
are still selling at a buck a pound live weight here im thinking this 
boar turned into sausage is still a lot cheaper than taking more days
 off from work to go deer hunting :) if you could let me know some of
 that info i would really appreciate it.

thanks in advance..

I think that he's referring to this blog entry in this message, where i talk about
eating a 700lb boar that we culled.  I was curious to see what the meat was
like, as I'd read about other folks eating boars, and frankly, the market price
 on big boars is Terrible, truly horrible.  

And that's what he's talking about there.  400lb boar at $0.30/lb is $120.00
 for the animal, which for meat is very, very cheap.  That's part of the
 reason that I never sell boars at auction, and I don't sell many to customers.
  I usually will cull and process them here on the farm.  

My experience with that particular boar was that the meat was fine,
 particularly in sausage form.   I really couldn't tell the difference between
 old boar sausage and sausage made from a younger pig.  I'm going to
 talk about why that is now.  

The issue with boars, and this is reflected in the market price, is that
 there is a risk that the boar will have an unpleasant taste present in
 its fat.  It's commonly referred to as "boar taint", and concern
about the potential for boar taint is the primary reason that male
 pigs are castrated routinely in the US market.  Without testicles
 the animal will not have boar taint.  

Boar taint is only detectable to a small percentage of the population;
I've found about 1 person in 20, or 5%, can detect it.  For someone
 who can smell boar taint, the smell of cooking boar has an
amonia/wet dog odor that is pretty strong.  The meat is edible, its
just the smell that puts folks off.    In my immediate family my brother
 Bryan cannot smell it, nor can my brother Ken, but I can.  

I processed another boar that did have boar taint, and couldn't stand
 the smell of the cooked meat.  I gave the bacon to my brothers, and
 they both said that it was great.  No complaints.  So I ended up giving
 the whole animal to them, and they, and their families ate it. 

With older animals the meat is tougher, and is better suited to slower
 cooking methods.  I wouldn't grill an older animals pork chops,
 but I sure would stew them.  Sausage is the easiest thing to do, as
 the grinding of the meat removes any toughness issues.  But the
boar taint issue remains.    The hams were tough and chewy.
Tasty, but probably better as sausage.  

This may sound gross so far, but realize that a lot of the sausage you
see in the store is culled sows from hog units.  The meat is fine, and
sausage spicing is such that it really is the dominate flavor.  Even if
 there were boar taint you wouldn't detect it in sausage.  

Yes, you can buy boars at a relatively low cost, but there's a small
 chance that you can't eat them.  The only way that I've been able to
 reliably tell is to cook a bit of the fat with a propane torch at time of
 slaughter.  Since I can smell it if has boar taint then I will usually
 either turn the animal into spiced sausage -- pepperoni, andui,
chorizo -- or I'll grind the animal and use it to feed my airedales.  
 Good quality dog food is north of $1/lb, and so I'm basically getting
 at least that when I use it to feed my pack.  

I do not reccomend castrating a big boar; the testicles are huge,
 have a big blood supply, and unless you have a way to stop the
 bleeding can cause the death of the animal.  Plus it is a 700lb
 animal, and major surgery on that size pig is a big undertaking.
  A big boar is a very, very powerful animal, and if he gets wind of
what you're thinking...  

Friday, December 13, 2013

Chicken math

Chickens can do math. 

I know, it's hard to believe, but stick with me.  When I'm collecting eggs I always leave an egg or two in the nest to remind the chickens to lay their eggs there again, because chickens, while they can't count, do know the different between zero eggs and some eggs. 

But there's a second number that a chicken cares about -- it's between 10 and a dozen.  If I don't collect the eggs, the chickens will look at them, and when they get a bunch of eggs, about a dozen, they'll start to sit on them to try to hatch them. 

It's been pretty consistent with the heritage breeds, like the barred rock, a little less so with the white leghorns (the chicken in the picture at the start of this post) and I just realized this today. 

Chickens can count.   Here's chicken math:     0, (some eggs) 12

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

seasonal pigs

 The market for weaner pigs (pigs that are mature and eating solid food, but just off the sow) is seasonal.  I get the best prices for pigs in the spring and early summer, and the price gradually declines until december, and then starts going up again.

That's the market price, that is.  When the price drops below my cost of production I just keep the pigs born, and raise them out.  So these pictures are of my winter pig crop.  Some of them I'll choose as replacement gilts, one I'll choose as a replacement boar, the other hundred or so will become the finished hogs i'll sell in the spring and early summer.

I'm still able to sell everything I produce, so I don't have to worry too  much about having spare hogs that I can't sell; pigs are a popular table fare, and one of these days I might produce enough extra to make it to a farmers market, but not so far.
I keep the pigs in a smaller area for the winter; I want to save the grass and sod for next year; so the ground where they're kept is pretty bare, but we give them a good ration of fruits and veges as part of their normal diet; they're pretty happy to eat their fill and then go burrow into the sawdust to dream of their next meal.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Keeping the pigs warm

 The weather has been clear and cold for the last few days; the daytime high has been around freezing 32f (0c) and evening is about 10 degrees cooler (-7c), and you'd think that it would be hard to keep the pigs warm, but it's not nearly as hard as it is when it's 40f and raining. 

The pigs fight to be in the path of the chips.  They come out of the truck slowly; no danger to the critters
The key to keeping everyone comfortable is to make sure that the bedding that they have is dry.  I've tried grass hay and straw and finally settled on sawdust; our local sawmills produce vast quantities of the stuff; it's pretty cheap - smells good - and it doesn't turn into stucco when its got manure in it.  It shovels out or scrapes out easily, and it composts pretty quickly. 

It's the same sort of materials that people buy in pet stores in 3 to 9 cubic foot bales, I just get it in bulk.  This sawdust won't ever leave the farm; it'll serve as bedding, and then it'll serve as feedstock for the compost pile, providing a good ration of carbon, which is the key to having compost that doesn't smell.

65 cubic yards at a time, delivered right to the barn
The pigs love it when the sawdust gets delivered.  They jockey to be as close to the back of the truck as they can to get showered in chips.  the chips come out of the truck pretty slowly, and they don't weigh much, so there's no danger to the animals, and it's pretty fun to watch the piglets run back and forth across the shower of chips and squeal.

In bedding areas I put down 12 to 24"; start with 12, and watch the bedding.  In places where its getting wet, I'll put more.  Every month or so I'll herd the pigs to one side of the barn and turn over the bedding; bring fresh to the surface, bury the manure.  As I do this it'll start to compost, and that composting action below the surface will heat the top dry layer. 
So when its cold, like it is now, I'll come into the barn and see just the snouts of the pigs sticking out.   Everyone warm in their blanket. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A change of seasons...

In north america, we're in the middle of winter.  My high temperature today was 32 degrees F (0 C) and my low is looking like 20f (-7c).  It's on cold days like this I start looking at my seed catalogs and plotting what I'm going to plant.

But on the other side of the earth they're just finishing spring and going into summer.  So if you'd like to read about spring vegetables and see pictures of what you might have in march and april and may...  take a look here for a discussion of spring vegetables that she liked.  

Or here for some talk from another author about succession planting

Or here for a discussion of the dastardly crocus that are just up too soon!

Yum.  Fresh spring vegetables.

Marijuana grow application locations

Grow applications in Washington State
Map updated 12-16-2013, retailers and grow sites both listed now.  1117 grow applications, 513 retail applications

You'll find an interactive map at this link that will show you all of the grow applications that have been made to the liquor control board as of the first two weeks of the license period.  Zoom around and see where they are in your neighborhood; each grow operation has a little clickable area, so you can see the type of grow and the name of the entity and the street address.  A couple of the addresses (17 out of approximately 630)
didn't work, so this isn't a complete map, but it's a good start.

The state has allocated 2,000,000 square feet of "canopy" space; that is, the area that is actually used by plant leaves; each application has a "tier" associated with it.  Tier 1 to tier 3, with 3 being maximum sized grows, 10,000 to 30,000 square feet.

Just taking the canopy space and dividing it by the maximum size grow gives you 67 operations for the entire state.  Clearly with over 10 times that number applying, we are going to run out of canopy long before applicants.  So the state has said that they will reduce the canopy requested proportional to the amount of over subscription.

So if they get applications for 4 million square feet, they will give everyone 50% of what they have asked for.  The producer canopy space is being handled differently than the retail licenses -- there, if they get more retail license applications than there are licenses available they'll hold a lottery.

I'm actually a little surprised that the applications haven't broken 5,000 yet.

A quick perusal of this list shows that some of them have obvious location problems; I fully expect some of the applications to be rejected because of background or finances or whatever, but it's clear that at the start of this process there will be more than 1,000 people who are licenses to produce marijuana in Washington state.

Should be an interesting competitive environment.

One thing that should be noted:  None of these producers have any idea who they're going to be selling to.  They're only allowed to sell to retail stores, and those licences won't be handed out for months.  Unlike other farming where you can sell your crop before you plant it, these producers will be forced to plant and grow without having customers yet.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

What is farming supposed to be like?

I was reading another blog, and the author was talking about his feelings about farming; and as I read it I realized I've heard this general train of thought from several farmers that I know.  

I think that before I started farming I had a vision of what a farm would be like.   A typical day might be something like get up, check on the animals, check the fences, eat breakfast/read paper, do chores/run errands, check on the animals in the afternoon, go home.  

And I thought that maybe there would be binge work, like during haying season, long days for a few weeks a year, sort of related to harvesting mostly.  Picking the corn, or pumpkins or whatever.  

And I had some idea that in order to have animals I'd have to raise them from babies or chicks or poults; that I'd probably have to kill animals now and then, and that I'd get really dirty from time to time, which I really actually like.  Nothing better than washing a hard days work off in the shower and being good-tired.  

I actually like working on something alone; and I thought there would be long periods where I was working on something alone, and all of that appealed to me.  

So the first year of my farm was kind-of that way.  I wasn't producing much in the way of anything, and there was a bunch of work setting up the farm.  I had purchased bare, fairly swampy wet ground, and I had to build everything from scratch, but I enjoyed that part.  

In the 2nd year I started selling things to people, and had more and more interactions with customers.  It got to the point where I had a hard time doing work sometimes; I like to talk to people, and it was hard to say to them "hey, I've got to get this done before dark, so I have to go now", so I found myself working until after dark many days over the next few years, and as the business grew, a lot of the stuff that I liked I didn't get to do much of.  

That's the same sort of transition that happens when you have a small business that grows.  At some point it grows past the point where you can do all of the work, and so your work becomes managing the people who are actually doing the work.  If you get big enough you'll be managing the people who manage the people who do the work, and so on.   But I enjoyed the business, and in the 3rd year started hiring help consistently; at first during the peak times, but then generally full-time.  Having some production help allowed me to do more things, and I viewed it as a way to get more choice over what I was doing. 

Somewhere along there I started having to deal more and more with the disaster my neighbor caused, and with various government agencies; in year 4 and 5, I'd say that 25% of my time was taken up squabbling with one regulator or another, and while I enjoy a good argument, that wasn't on my list at all when I was thinking about farming.  In fact, managing people wasn't on my list.  And retail sales weren't.  When I look back at it, I'd say that 10% of my time was spent on my "ideal" farming activities.  I was still busy, but my day-to-day tasks had morphed into something that was not even close to my initial vision.  

In fact, where I enjoyed my farm the most was the days when I sent everyone home and it was just me, doing the chores and working on something, and getting dirty and good-tired and clean.    

For me, cleaning the farrowing pen and watching the sow enjoy her fresh hay; feeding the pigs that are ALWAYS thrilled to be fed, no matter what, watching the cows chew their cud as I fork over the alfalfa and rub that flat spot just above their tail that they seem to like so much...  that's what farming is supposed to be like.  And when I feel like I've been chasing my tail all day, I go and chase theirs and it all works out.  

Flood watch

My farm is located next to the North Fork of the Stilliguamish river, and this river has two faces.  On one hand it's pretty and has great fishing, but on the other it's the closest thing to a flash flood that this state has.

Most of the area that it drains is steep mountain foothills, and for the first few rains of the season the water soaks into the ground.  But after the ground is good and wet, WATCH OUT.  Any rain that falls comes into the river in a couple of hours.

In fact, I was so impressed with the torrents of rain that I bought this little weather station and it's been confirming that I get 1" or more rain for days straight.  In an 8 day period I got 9.7" of rain.  I'm going to compare that with the rainfall from hurricane sandy.  I get hurricane levels of rain but spread out over a week or 10 days.  And then I get it again.  And again.

So that graph up there shows the river rising 10' in 12 hours -- and it really DOES rise 10' up the banks.  I used to consider my 12' bank to the river to be 'high bank', but after watching this river do its thing, I'm glad I have it or I'd be underwater 15 or 20 times a year.

at 13 feet the river would start going over the bank into the lower parts of my fields; at 15' I'd have water 4" deep around the house.  The barns are actually elevated above the house by another 2-3' (the old farmer who built this place clearly valued his livestock and equipment; probably figuring he could build another house off the income).

So I make the rounds; all of the animals are bedded for the cold that's expected on monday, all of the equipment is parked in safe places, everyone has food and water; and I go back to the house and my bed and really like hearing the rain on the window.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The coyotes thanksgiving feast

They are large, pretty impressive birds.  Someone got quite a meal.  
I was out walking the fields today when I came across the remains of a thanksgiving feast.  My guess is that this great blue heron was the dinner of a coyote.  I found the feather pile in the brush line away from water, and the herons are a bit large for the local red tailed hawks to take, although the bald eagles do swoop on them from time to time.

Click on the picture for a closer look.  the head is center bottom
There wasn't much left; coyotes are pretty efficient, but there is one thing that says that it might not be a coyote, but could be a hawk or eagle; in the lower right corner of the photo are some feet and bones.  Coyotes tend to eat the entire bird, feet, bones and all and leave nothing.  This was a fairly large bird, so it might have been that the coyote was just too full.  When a raptor takes another bird  you'll often find the entrails eaten and the flesh but the bony parts - wings, backbone, head - remain.

The fields are greening slowly; the alfalfa and grass are both growing slowly and don't seem to be bothered by the nightly frosts.  During the day it's 40 to 50 degrees.  It'll be lush and green next year.  

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Summary: The Marijuana business in WA state

Washington state voters legalized the production and consumption of marijuana via the initiative process last year.  Initiative 502 described a licensing scheme where people could grow and sell marijuana under state supervision, and gave the actual implementation of the rules and regulations to the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB), with a deadline to have the regulations in place by December 1st, 2013.

Washington State voters allowed marijuana (MMJ) consumption and use for medical reasons in 1998 via initiative 692; but the portions dealing with retailing and production were inexplicably vetoed by then-governor Christine Gregoire.

There are no state laws or rules regarding the retailing of marijuana under the current MMJ law, nor are there restrictions on where dispensaries (places were marijuana is retailed) can be located.
Yellow areas are where retail marijuana can be located in this portion of Seattle
Here's a link to a bigger map
The exclusion zones aren't limited to Seattle.  they are state-wide.  Seattle just has more people making maps that I can find than Everett or Walla Walla or Spokane.

So there's a pretty big fight going on right now between current MMJ retailers and the state government-backed I502 retailers.  Initiative 502 describes a set of setbacks from schools, parks, arcades and other locations where children are present, which are basically the same as the federal restrictions.  The net result of this is that most areas of most cities in Washington state will not meet I502s criteria, and there's been complaints that the total number of retail outlets is absurdly small.  The city of Seattle alone has over 300 MMJ dispensaries at this time, but is only allocated  21 retail licenses under I502.  With very limited placement and few licenses I502 retailers face a substantial competitive threat while MMJ dispensaries are operating as they have been.    The Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes has actually urged the WSLCB to allow more retail licenses.

The other big issues is that I502 describes a 50 to 75% tax rate on marijuana, where MMJ sales are untaxed.  

The WSLCB isn't blind to these issues, and neither is the legislature; it's likely that the proposed regulations that are submitted to the legislature on January 1 will contain substantial changes to the existing MMJ regulations that level the playing field between MMJ and I502.   Look for a lot of arm wrestling between the MMJ community and the WSLCB and the Washington State Legislature for the next couple of months.  

While the MMJ and I502 fight goes on at the State level, on a city and county and tribe level there's a whole different fight going on.  Many cities and several  counties have either put a moratorium on I502 locations or businesses, or have modified their zoning to control the placement of I502 (and in some cases, MMJ) businesses, either retail or production/processing.   At least two native american tribes have also prohibited the production or sale in their tribal reservations.   In my case, the regulations that Snohomish County has put into place seem pretty reasonable and rational.  Anyplace you can put a liquor store you can put a marijuana store.  Agricultural zones can be used for production or processing of Marijuana, and while some cities in this county have issued moratoriums, the county as a whole is pretty much open for business.  

None of this complicated zoning/regulation issue has deterred people from applying for licenses.  The WSLCB recieved over 900 applications in the first 48 hours of the licensing period, and they are receiving between 200 and 300 more each day.  I expect the number of license applications to increase as we get nearer to the deadline.  I predicted that we would have 10,000 applicants last year, and at 300 a day now,  we are on track for that.

 It's been interesting to watch this play out.  My guess is that the retail stores will open to supply problems; and that most of the people who are applying for licenses now don't really have an accurate picture of what the economics will be like over time.  I expect the wholesale price of a pound of pot to be something like $800 to $900, net of taxes, pretty close to the cost of production.

Welcome to farming, folks.  Just jump right on in.  The waters fine!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

root mass farm; farming vegetables on a shoestring

I ran across a podcast where the operators of root mass farm talk about their 3 acre market garden operation in Massachusetts.

They are farming on rented ground, with a landlord that owns and adjoining plot were cattle are kept.  The manure generated becomes the fertilizer for their vegetables.

They've been operating 3 years now, doing the farmers market thing and if you're interested in knowing what it looks like, it's worth listening.  

You'll find the podcast here.

The government trough - part 2!

The Old Silvana Creamery is a raw milk dairy that is a couple of miles from me, and they recently posted a letter on their facebook page.  Here's an excerpt:

"...WSDA (washington state department of agriculture) and the Snohomish County Conservation District will be forcing Old Silvana Creamery, LLC to close...."

He goes on to say that he's been working with the Snohomish County Conservation District on a farm plan, and in a meeting between the WSDA, the dairy operators and the conservation district on Friday, they told him that he couldn't use his manure lagoon to store manure, and that he needed another 8 acres of land so that he could have enough area to spread manure on.  They also told him that he needed to come up with some sort of rainwater management system, and he had to get a manure separator, which is basically a machine that takes manure and separates out the solids from the liquids.  Once separated the liquids are typically what gets put into the manure lagoon.  

So my first post on this is how this stuff starts; you usually get a state or federal agency that comes to your farm and acts as the "bad cop", and points you to the conservation district and tells you that if you only had a farm plan you'd be safe from them...

In this case, the Old Silvana Creamery is pretty clear that the regulations that he's being asked to comply with aren't being applied randomly or only to him, but apply to every dairy that operates in Washington State.  here's the quote:

"...I want to be clear that what the WSDA and the Snohomish County Conservation District is doing to us has nothing to do with the fact that we are a licensed raw milk dairy. These are regulations that are imposed on all dairy farmers in Washington state, no matter how small or large..."

What's going to happen?  My opinion is straight into the trough he goes.  The conservation district will fund a manure containment tank if the existing manure lagoon can't be made to work; they'll subsidize concrete pads under the manure, and a roof over it, and maybe even a manure separator or a big chunk of it.  They could
spend $300,000 on this stuff; he'd have to come up with some of that, probably $100,000.00

I have to admit that I'm a little surprised that he thinks he could escape the dairy regulations, though.  He's been a dairyman for a long time, and all of these regulations have been in place for a long time.

Old Silvana Creamery says something in his letter that I really do feel, too:

"...I told them that why should the people of Washington/U.S. pay for my dairy farm?? Especially for changes that I believe are totally unnecessary. This whole thing makes me sick..."

Here's a guy who really doesn't want a subsidy, who would rather go his own way; without any evidence of any issues, who's basically having a subsidy crammed down his throat, on pain of being put out of business.

You can read the whole letter here.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Government trough

I recieved a certified letter from my friends at the Department of ecology today, and it had all of the usual stuff in it.

But I thought I'd comment about the "financial assistance" that was mentioned.  I don't know what it's like in other parts of the country, but around here, the soil conservation districts really don't have a job.  For the most populated counties, there isn't much farming left; certainly far fewer farms in King and Snohomish county than at any time in history, and fewer still every year.  

But they're charged with conserving the soil, and they are paid for with property taxes levied on all landowners.  They are really pretty motivated to use the money that they get, millions of dollars, because it's a little  embarrassing to have a big bank balance grow, seeing as how we're all told that the government is broke all the time.  But the conservation districts aren't.  

Some of the money offered in this letter is federal.  I can lease my land to the government for more than I can likely make on crops if I choose to grow them; I think that I get $400/acre/year or so.  The theory is that it's all for the salmon, or the marbeled murrelet, or some other critter, but there's really no accountability.  I'd get a lease payment and basically there's no measuring whether or not we get more salmon or murrelets or whatever.  

Anytime someone is handing out free money it's a pretty popular program.  You see, I could just go and find the worst, swampy areas of my farm, and I'd get a check for $5,000 a year or so... for doing nothing.  I'd show up on the list of farms that were "subsidized"  (the lease payments show up as farm subsidies) and I could go my merry way.  This is a BIG business in this area.  We've spent $560,000,000.00 (Five Hundred and Sixty Million Dollars) on this sort of stuff, and we are all encouraged by every agency to jump into the government trough.  Here the department of ecology is threatening me with enforcement action, but they'd go away if I enrolled in this free-money program.  It's a weird extortion racket -- the mafia would be a lot more popular if they acted like these guys do.  

 Mafia:  "so, nice store you got here.  Be a shame if it burned down"
 Store owner:  "uh, yes.  What can I do for you?"  
 Mafia:  "here's $400.  as long as you take that money, we'll stay out of your store"
 Store owner: "ok!  deal!" 

No accountability.  I don't have to do a darned thing but cash the check.  Pretty sweet deal, huh?  

But it doesn't end there.   One of my farmer friends was showing me his nice, new concrete slab he got poured.  "Yea, all i had to do was claim it was for water quality, and BOOM!  I had a slab!".  It was a beauty, too.  6" thick, level, hundreds of square feet...  concrete is pretty nice stuff on a farm, and free concrete; such a deal!
high tunnel (mine, but same sort of structure)

Another farmer friend was crowing about the high-tunnels that the conservation district had purchased for him, or subsidized; I don't know if they'd be scandalized to know that he was growing Marijuana in them now; he's happy with his government-subsidized cash crop, but he says "Bruce, it was so easy...  I just fill out the forms and BOOM!  free high tunnels!"

So I'm at a meeting of the Snohomish County Agricultural Advisory board, and just before the topic I was there for was a presentation by a consultant, who was talking about the fifty million dollar (50,000,000.00) funding they'd received for some salmon project.   So I asked him.  For that fifty million dollars, how many more salmon will we have?  "oh.. we don't know.  But we are accountable!  "
So if your project doesn't produce even 1 more salmon, will you lose your funding?  
"oh no.  We're locked in"
One of the board members said, afterwards, that this particular funding was great because local farmers got part of the money.  and I said what I thought at the time:  You mean you got a place at the trough.

I'm a pig farmer.  I understand a place at the trough, and some days it seems like everyone is lining up.  As long as I get my meal, I don't care what goes on with the rest of the money.  Head down. 

Nom Nom Hom!

So I've got a question for you guys.  Would you take the money?  

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Cool weather gadget

I found a home weather station at a local warehouse store - costco - for $80.  Setup was simple; install batteries, place the sensors where you want them, turn it on.  the internet connection took a little fiddling; but this was up and running 20 minutes after opening the box.
 It tracks rainfall, humidity, wind direction and speed, indoor and outdoor temperature and barometric pressure.   It keeps all of the information that it tracks, so you can look back to see when rain fell, for instance, or how much over a period of time.  In the picture below it's showing that we've had 1.24" of rain in the last 24 hours.
 We've actually had quite a bit of rain in the last few days; averaging 1" of rain daily; temperatures in the 40s or high 30s.   I think that the rainfall at this farm is higher than at the other farm; I'm in the foothills of the mountains, and the clouds shed water on their way over.  2" of rain over 24 hours is enough to raise the local river level 4'.
3" of rain in 3 days.  Time to dig out the seed catalogs!

The model I've got is closest to this one, but mine didn't come with the pc software interface.  It does however come with an internet connection, so I can see what the conditions are at the farm on my cell phone from anywhere.  that's very nice.

Friday, November 15, 2013

When you talk to a farmer about their farm...

live, healthy piglets.  Easy to write about
There's something that is worth saying, dear internet reader, about what you read on the internet about farms.  As someone who writes a farm blog, the hardest thing that I have to write about is where I failed at something.

And by failure, I'm talking about stuff that I made a bad choice on or picked a bad direction, or even those cases where I'm not particularly to blame, but I failed anyway.  The weather, accident, disease, whatever the issue was, when things don't go right that's when it gets hard to put it down in the blog. 

So I'm reading a discussion about farming economics, and the author says "Well, this is a mashup of the experiences of this farmer I knew" - stories that the farmer had related to the author, and I sat there after reading this, and what I heard in my head was "um, you didn't hear the whole thing from that farmer. "

That's particularly true about revenue numbers.  In all honesty, only the tax man and I know what I made on my farm, and that's true of every farmer you see out there.  I talk about the economics of what I do from time to time, and I scoff at people who claim to be paying off a million dollar investment with 100lbs of cheese a week, but in all seriousness, even if you ask a farmer directly about their operation you'll rarely get a straight answer.  Or a verifiable answer. 

So when this woman trotted out some revenue numbers that I presume she'd gotten from her friend, I was a little skeptical.  Strike that.  A lot skeptical. 

Old school farmers in this area are extremely laconic, but a typical discussion of farming economics goes like this: 

  "Hi Bob!  How's the farm?"
  "oh, you know...  the corn went in late, and that cold snap... probably lost it all"
  "Oh, that's terrible!  what did you do?"
  "well, we waited a while, and some of the corn came back, but the cows broke down the fence and ate it all!"
  "gosh.  so what happened then?"
  "Well, there was a little left, but the combine broke and we didn't get it all out of the field"
  "so... not so good?  "
  "no, terrible.  lost that crop three times this year"

But I know for a fact that the corn in question was the highest yield this guy had ever seen, but if you'd taken his statements at face value, he's going broke multiple times every year. 

Blog farmers, however, have a different take on the same issue
  "I have selected my corn crop out of seeds I saved from the finest genetic stock, and my corn is the best corn that's ever been grown, and I have people fighting and dying to buy my corn from me!  and if you read carefully, I'll tell you all of my corn secrets!"  And it's usually accompanied by very carefully framed shots on the single corn plant that managed to survive to harvest.  Oh yea.  they bought their seeds from the same vendor as the old school guy. 

I've exaggerated a little here, in both examples, but not much.  Whether it's sheep or corn or pigs or random vegetables, take the claims you see on the internet with a grain of salt.  No one is going to tell you all of the facts; read between the lines a little.  If the average commercial sheep herd is producing 1.87 lambs per ewe, someone with 30 sheep who's producing triplets everywhere... well, a little suspect. 

My best sources for information are the publications put out by either agricultural colleges and universities or small government-funded research projects like SARE.  As you look at your farming practices and results, and compare it to the internet, don't be surprised if your animals don't do as well as the reports.  Don't be surprised at all.

Monday, November 11, 2013

"you won't get this by working for me"

Update:  The last part of this post is how to raise $600k for your farm

Jeff Richardson wrote an entry about types of farms on his blog that I thought was interesting, and it reminded me of a conversation I had , which I'll relate here.

I use medium duty trucks for my farm; because they're cheap, sufficiently large to do useful work, and I don't have to worry much about them getting banged up as I buy them used and sell them even more used.

So instead of buying one $40,000 pickup truck, I buy 3 or 4 pickups that cost $5k each, and if any of them require any major repairs they either get sold broken or fixed on a relaxed basis.  If you've got a couple of trucks around, one out of commission isn't any big deal.

I get these trucks from craigslist, watching for particular makes and models, or from the local auction where the city and county governments sell their trucks.

So I saw a truck on craigslist that fit my bill, but it was a little over what I wanted to pay, but I figured I'd take a look at it, and met the fellow in the parking lot of a supermarket and looked at his truck and talked a bit about farming in general.  Did I say he was a farmer?  Well, he wasn't, but was soon going to be; he wanted to sell the truck because he had sold his horse and didn't need the truck to move the horse, so was selling it.

"What brought you here", says I.  "Well, " he says "I was working on a ranch in Wyoming.  it was a pretty big place; about 96,000 acres, and one day I was riding back to the bunkhouse with the owner, and I asked him how I could start farming, and he said something that really hit home for me."

"what was that?"

"He said 'you'll never get here working for me'.  He told me that I needed to go get a job and earn some money and then come and ranch; that working on the ranch would never get me to owning one.   So that's what I did.  I went back to school and got a degree, and I'm just about done with working here.  I've been here six years, and heading back to Wyoming with the money I've saved to buy a ranch. "

"So you moved here with the goal of earning a nest egg to buy a ranch back there?"


I think that this is one of the clearest answers I've got to "how do I start a farm" or "where do I get the capital to buy a farm" that I've run across. and this fellow was well along on his path to achieving this goal.   I like this answer so much better than "hope a genie gives you three wishes, or that you win the lottery, or that someone will just give you land", which is actually pretty common.  Nothing good comes easy.  Nothing worth having can be had without a bit of suffering. 

This 6 year stretch in Seattle was his chore, his price, for his ranch.  We all have chores we need to do.  He set a goal and worked over the course of years to achieve that goal. 

There's a lot of folks who really, really want farms to be something that are self-funding.  They want to make a farm that produces enough income to fund itself, and honestly, I don't think that I have ever seen that happen.  Maybe you know of a farm that did do that.  A much more common story is what this fellow is doing; you earn the money with your city job and apply that capital to your country job.
I wrote an entry in October of 2012 about this very same issue, called "The myth of young farmers", and if you're interested in this topic, take a look at that entry.  I wrote about my conversation with Irwin. 

Take home lesson:
  If you want to farm,  a plan that involves you, and your effort, is much better than a plan that depends on anyone, or anything, else.   There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.
  If you are serious about your goal, there may be a period, measured in years or decades, before you can realize it.  That is normal, to be expected, and I haven't seen anyone avoid it.
  Sustained effort over time takes discipline and the willingness to stand back up after you get knocked down, with the full knowledge that you may go down again.  And again.  And again.
  Don't look at what other people have without realizing that when you look at their results, you need to consider their history, too.  Sure, that inherited 200 acres looks good.  But someone, at some point in the past, made the sacrifice to buy that land, and the sustained effort.    Good land has never been cheap at any time, but it sure does look cheap 50 years later.  grandpa suffered for it if the heirs did not.  But suffering was endured. 
  And no one is 'entitled' to farm.  there's no farm fairy out there to wave the wand.  You are your own farm fairy.  Want it?  Work for it.

Followup:  How to raise $600k for your farm with a minimum wage job
What I'm suggesting here is to make money somewhere else and then farm when you've got the capital in hand to be able to afford it. 

Most people try to earn the money for their farm by farming.  That's a nice idea, a farm that is profitable enough that it allows the farm to expand -- but there are more sure ways to get to where you want to go.   What I'm suggesting is an off-farm job combined with living way under your means to save money for a farm. 

How much money would you say would be enough for you to buy and own outright the farm you'd like to have? $200K? $400k? How much capital would you like to have to start a farm? Another $100k? 200k? 

So lets say your farming number is $600k, 400k for the farm, 200k for working capital. If you saved $500 a month starting at age 30, at age 61 you'd have $635k * If you saved $750 a month you'd have $641k* at age 56. 

$500 a month in take-home pay is a minimum wage job for 15 hours a week. $750 a month is a minimum wage job for 23 hours a week. 

Not everyone will work a part time job for 25 years to achieve their goal. Not everyone will become a farmer. And the other thing is, if you had $600k, would you be a farmer or would you choose another direction? For those folks who have made money elsewhere and gotten into farming, the answer is no. They choose to farm despite having other options. 

I've deliberately used minimum wage in this example; if you have skills or education that would allow you to earn more than minimum wage, your goal will be achieved sooner. 

* Here's the calculator I used to figure out the amount you'd have in X years.  

Sunday, November 10, 2013

This is the hard part of the year

This is my 8th year of full-time farming;  November is the hard part of the year for me.  It's the part of the year where my discipline and mettle is tested; i don't look forward to November, now is where I find out if my preparations for winter were good enough.

The big problem with this time of year is that we get the most rain and the most wind, and it's never cold enough to freeze, but it's cold enough to stop growth.

Which means that anyplace that has mud now, or turns into mud, remains mud until next March, 5 months from now.  A little under half the  year.

The primary challenge is keeping the animals bedded well.   In warmer times, better weather, a couple of domes and a pasture are all that's needed; they spread the manure out on the fields and grass, the growth takes care of the composting, and life is good.

The cold season means that I need to keep the animals indoors, or on a hard surface, and it means a lot of cleaning.   I tried a deep litter system last year for the pigs; and it worked pretty well; but I haven't moved that building to the new farm yet, and the barns that I have on the farm are really poorly laid out for tractor access.     Not to say that I won't be using the barns for agriculture -- I have plans for them.  But for my pig operation, I really do need some specific things that would be hard to get with the existing barns on this property.

What I've been contemplating for winter pig housing is a bigger version of the hoop barn that I built last year on my other property.   Why?

Labor costs, primarily.  Either my labor, or someone elses.  The easier cleaning is to do, the more often it will be done.  And the easier it is, the less it will cost to do it.  With deep litter you're replacing the bedding every six months or so, so the frequency is pretty low, but the amount of bedding -- hundreds of yards of wood chips or sawdust -- means that you really need to do it with equipment.   the wood chips/sawdust actually come out manure-enriched and make pretty good soil, and the fact that it's a solid makes it easy to handle with a loader.  

The hoop barn can be completely cleared of chips and pressured washed in an 8 hour day by two guys.  One to run the tractor, the other running the pressure washer.

So I've converted the smallest of the barns here into a pig house, and it's working ok, but the access to the barn really isn't very good at all.  When the farm was laid out this guy though an 8' wide lane was plenty big.  For my tractors that's a very tight turn from one 8' lane into another.  To make this farm work better I've been thinking about trading in one of my tractors for a skidsteer.

But I have to say that this is the first year that I've had a roof over every single animal that needs it, and I'm very happy about that.  Grateful.  

Because there's a roof over my head, too, when I'm working.  Big change for me.

A little bit of pig husbandry...

There's a lot of folks who keep pigs on pasture that reccomend that you basically let the pigs raise their piglets communally, and here's the problem with that idea:

piglets squealing and fighting when nursing from a sow from bruce king on Vimeo.

The sow in this case is a very nice black sow; calm, good mother, attentive.  She'd like to nurse her pigs.  But every time she lays down every single piglet for hundreds of feet around zero in on her and fight over the nipples.

This is what I've seen happen when  you group-house piglets and sows.  Sure, someone is getting the milk, and it's the bigger piglets.  They'll wade right in and knock the smaller pigs off the nipples and drink all the milk.

When they're small, even a difference of age of a couple of days will make a difference.  In my husbandry we keep the pigs seperate for the first 3 weeks to give them a good base of nutrition; they get some food that only they can get to (creep feed) and they get all the attention from their mother that they want.  After that we gradually allow them more freedom, until finally we put the sow out with the herd.  About a week after that we pen the piglets to wean them and allow the mother to dry up.

This particular pig has 8 piglets, and 6 of these pigs are hers.  The sow, honestly, would allow anyone to nurse from her; she's just happy to be nursed on.  But she doesn't like the squealing and squabbling; thats why she gets up and moves in the middle.  That's actually the mark of a good mother; she is attentive to her babies and when they're unhappy she responds.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The bear

I've got a bear.  

There's quite a bit of wildlife around this farm; and some of it is big game.  The bear I saw is a 150lb or so black bear, and it was doing what I'd be doing if I were a bear:  eating salmon.  The orange lines on the map are where the salmon are right now; i've got salmon runs on both sides of my property.  We just got done with the pink salmon who came in large numbers; at least 5,000 died along the river curve that is north of my property; and we're now in the middle of the silver, coho, salmon run.  The pinks are small, 4 to 8lbs.  the coho are a bit larger; call it 6 to 12lbs.  So a single coho is a pretty good meal and there are hundreds of them, too.  

The straight line at the bottom of the photo is a surprise to me; I didn't know there was a salmon run possible there.  It's a very small stream on the other side of the old railroad bed from my farm, and right now it's stuffed full of coho.  The land on the other side is a pretty big swamp, and there's a family of beavers that live there and they have spent all their time converting the swamp into a series of pool-and-drops -- they build a dam, water backs up behind it forming a pool, and there's a small waterfall that drops into the next pool.  

Where you see the salmon is when they move from one pool to the other, swimming up and over the little beaver dam.   I started noticing salmon that were consumed in a different way than a bird would; scraps of flesh, bones eaten, some carcasses with the skin stripped off but the meat remaining.  

Have a good feast, bear.  Find all you need to make the sleep comfortable.  

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Changes in the weather

rain approaching
 It's starting to feel more like winter now; in the 30s at night, highs in the 40s or low 50s.  I'm still getting used to seeing the weather come in.  The valley I live in focuses the clouds; you'll see the rain showers come in.  I don't have anything that I need the rain for right now; the pastures I planted have plenty of moisture; at this point watching the rain is mostly just a note. 

Sometimes i'll dress differently; if I plan on being out all day, a full, formal set of raingear makes it completely comfortable.  good clothes, good boots, good hat...  makes sitting in the rain tolerable.  raingear also means that i don't have muck on me when i go back to the house... i just hose off the gear and I'm good to go. 

One thing that is on my list to do with this house is to build a full-on mud room.  outside door, washable floor, laundry sink, shower, washer and dryer.  For those days when you get covered in dirt and might as well just get it all over with before you go into the house.  heck, I'm tempted to tile the floor and a little up the walls so that you can just hose the whole thing down when you're done. 

rainbow signaling the end of the rain
today it was patchy showers; the rain gauge shows 2.5" have fallen in the last 2 days, with more expected. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

the dogs

 My pack of airedales is having a great time; they've got 70 acres of space to roam, and they're taking their job of patrolling the whole property very seriously. 
 Every day there is a concerted rush to the edge of the big field, and then they run all the way to the other end, about a mile, as quickly as they can.  There MUST be something interesting happening out there!
 Having reached the  eastern edge, they move to the northern edge and patrol the river shore.  There's still quantities of pink salmon carcasses there; they prefer them very, very rotten.  Yuck.  I'm starting to see silver salmon carcasses now; we're in the middle of the coho run now, until sometime in December . 
They spend hours running from one side of the field to the other; I'm going to figure that they run 6 to 8 miles a day on average.  I like having them have the run of the place; one of the benefits of a good perimeter fence.