Getting Started in Farming through Sustainable Agriculture

Final Report for FNC95-103

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1995: $4,996.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2000
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


Farm Description:
- 386 total acres including farmsteads. Approximately 1000 head of calves are feed each year to yearlings. Half of the calves are placed on pasture, with the remaining are confined in 3 feed lots and fed silage and corn based rations. Upon gaining 250 lbs calves are then finished at custom feed yard.
- 134 acres of pasture and improved forages in a management intensive system
- 224 acres or row crop land
- Remaining acres in farmstead, feed yards, and lots
- 240 ton upright silo with self feeding system
- 540 ton upright silo with self feeding system
- 12,000 bushel grain storage

Strategies we used to start a farm business:
- Develop a farm system which relies on internal farm resources to reduce the need to purchase off farm inputs and reduce materials handling.
- Place the majority of investments and loans in assets that appreciate in value rather than depreciate
- Prior to starting a farm business save enough money to have 30 percent equity in initial farm investments
- Have a spouse or partner who can provide for 100 percent of family needs while the farm business is begin developed.

Tools we have tried:
- Diversified crop rotations including silage crops, grains, legumes, and cover crops.
o Corn harvested as silage followed by winter wheat harvested as silage followed y forage sorghum intensively grazed.
o Corn harvested as silage followed by winter wheat intensively grazed followed by forage sorghum intensively grazed.
o Corn harvested as silage followed by winter rye harvested as silage followed by grazing corn
o Full season grazing corn
o Grazing corn planted after winter wheat harvested as silage for late grazing
o Open pollinated corn as silage and grazing (specific results from trying open pollinated corn and grazing corn are detailed later.)
- Utilize grazing cattle to harvest the majority of feedstuff produced on the farm
- Utilize diversity of crops, grazing cattle and manure to reduce the purchases of fertilizers and pesticides
- Importing nutrients to the farm by purchasing hay and by product feeds in addition to raising feedstuffs.

To demonstrate the processes and applications beginning farmers are face with when converting a traditional cash grain, cow/calf, feedlot cattle operation to a diversified self sustaining farming system

Major points to document:
1) Farm systems which depends on internal farm resources solely can compete with traditional high input farm systems in quantity of production and cost per unit of production
2) However, marketing farm products from low input farm systems though traditional commodity markets will not generate enough income to support the lower cost advantages of more sustainable farm systems
3) Volume of product to sell is crucial to profitability if marketing through traditional commodity markets
4) Efforts to increase volume tax the ability to acquire operating capitol and stress the available labor supply.

Conclusion from above: to enhance small farm development, markets outside traditional bulk commodity markets should be developed.

5) Transitions from high off farm inputs type farm systems to farm systems which depends on internal farm resources can be costly and disrupt cash flows. Land payment or rent must be paid regardless of what is planted.
a. Establishing crop rotations reduces income during the first year
b. When revenues shift from annual sales of crops to those generated by sales of livestock the extra time involved in raising the animals can create cash flow problems.

Conclusion from above: no solution other then dealing with tight cash flow.

6) Including summer and winter annuals (wheat, rye, sorghum) in crop rotations can produce high quality grazing and acceptable gains
7) Establishing temporary water systems to graze summer and winter annuals is relatively easy and inexpensive
8) Soil structure of land that has been tilled can be severely damaged by grazing animals when soils are wet
9) Most summer annuals must be grazed during July, August, and September when high temperature requires shade.
10) Area of well established pasture or dry lots, both with adequate shade, must be available to move cattle on to when soils supporting grazing summer and winter annuals are wet and/or high temperatures stress animals.
11) Most of our row crop land is not adjacent to well established pastures and dry lots, with shade, severely limiting grazing as management option on land that is included in a crop rotation.
12) When forced to move cattle from a high quality forage to stored feeds, cattle performance suffers due to the change in ration. This problem is greater when cattle are grazing a high energy source such as grazing corn.

Conclusions from above: we have reduced the number of cattle grazing summer and winter annuals. Majority of summer and winter annuals are harvested as silage, grain or hay. Long term seeding of legumes and grasses have been established. These acres are harvested as hay and haylage. If conditions allow cattle have limited access to these acres when temperatures allow and soils are dry and stable.

13) As our operation move toward a increase in machine harvested crops, capitol investment in equipment increased. Our equipment inventory is low in comparison to our neighbors, but is still places a burden on capitol

Sustainable agriculture must be profitable, environmentally sound and socially responsible. Our farm in its current state does not meet these criterions. We have been marginally profitable. Farm practices we have employed have a positive impact on our immediate environment. Even though we have trimmed production cost and off farm purchases, profit margins are still narrow enough to warrant increase production to generate the income levels we need. This reality drives operations of our type toward larger size and volume.

The solution to the need to increase size of the farm operation to deal with narrow profit margins is to generate more dollars from each unit of production sold. This will be difficult marketing through established marketing channels designed to handle farm products as bulk commodities with no identity or tie to a specific farm or groups of farms.

The solution is clear. How to achieve the solution is not so clear. The purchasing patterns of food consumer makes direct marketing difficult. There is a substantial number of consumers willing to purchase foods through different channels, but his group of consumers needs can be easily met by relative few farmers. A few farmers have been successful at direct marketing, especially those who have been direct marketing for many years. New entries into direct marketing are struggling as that particular niche is filled or difficulties due to location limit access to direct markets.

I have seen many people trying many things during my years following people and farm groups trying to develop sustainable agriculture systems. Excellent products are being produced and sold directly to consumers but in most cases volume of sales do not generate income levels necessary to support lifestyles which I desire.

For our operation, we have chosen to establish links with cattle feeders, packers and food processors that can deliver a ready to eat product in grocery stores across the country. We will expand the operation to meet these needs. Unfortunately, the people who do the daily work on our farm will receive a nominal wage. This is the trend in agribusiness. We plan to position ourselves to take advantage of these trends.

Production Goal:
To provide summer annuals for back grounding cattle.

General Conditions:
Baldridge Grazing Maize was no till planted on 3.2 acres on May 12, 1997 at a rate of 26,600 seeds per acre. Previous crop was soybeans. Herbicides plus 120 lbs of nitrogen were applied 5 days prior to planting. Weed control, conditions for emergence and early growth were good. Dry and hot conditions (90 degrees and above) prevailed during July and August. Prior to grazing corn, cattle were grazing a combination of smooth brome grass, orchard grass, alfalfa, red clover and timothy in intensive management system.

115 heifers averaging 533 lbs were weighted on August 17 and turned into 3.2 acres of grazing corn (97 days after planting). Cattle were moved daily to fresh corn. The 3.2 acres provided for 11 days of grazing. Cattle were weighed on August 18.

On 3.2 acres, 115 heifers gained a total of 1080 lbs. Per acre production totaled 338 lbs. average daily gains were .85 lbs per head per day. Seed, fertilizer, herbicides, application, planting, row cultivating, land charge and interest totaled $210 per acre. Cost of gain excluding labor totaled 62 cents per lb.

During the first six days, cattle were forced to consume nearly all available plant material. Cattle were not content. During the last five days cattle were allowed to waste more feed, improving their disposition but decreasing utilization. Both grazing corn and field corn were firing up to the leaf at the ear. Ear size and leaf quality were reduced.

Cattle appeared to be stalling early but seemed to adapt to the grazing corn just before they ran out. Stool samples of the poorest performers were collected indicating moderate levels of worms in these animals. On the sixth day of the trial, cattle were fed a wormer.

Consider the following factors: the short time these cattle were eating grazing corn, possible internal parasite problems, dry hot weather, and time necessary to adjust to different diets. Combining these factors with successful experiences of other farmers, I conclude we documented a transition or adjustment period of my cattle to grazing corn.

1998 plans:
25 acres of grazing corn will be planted after grazing winter rye. Forage type soybeans will be included in a portion of these acres.

General Conditions:
Pioneer 3394(3394) and Open pollinated (OP) corn were planted in pairs, side by side. Each pair was repeated 5 times in strips containing 8-38 inch rows. The order of corn within each pair was chosen at random. Strips ranged from 446 to 745 feet long. 3394 was planted at 25,300 seed/acre and OP corn at 15,000 seeds/acre on May 12, 1997. All other inputs were the same. Previous crop was soybeans. Herbicides plus 120 lbs of nitrogen was applied 5 days prior to planting. Weed control, conditions for emergence and early growth were good. Dry and hot conditions (90 degrees and above) prevailed during July and August. Strips were harvested September 13.

For the comparison, the center two rows of each strip were chopped and weighed. Samples were collected from each and analyzed for dry matter, crude fiber, total digestible nutrients, net energy for maintenance, net energy for gain, and protein. The differences between the two corns were analyzed using a paired comparison, a simple technique farmers can readily adapt to their equipment size.

Rations were developed using the quality and yield data differences for both corns. Rations were based on a 500 lb, medium frame steer gaining 2 lbs per day for 250 days. Cost to produce each corn and cost to feed the steer to target weight were calculated.

Four portable weight blocks were provided by the University Extension Agronomist, David Lindell to record weights. Cost of silage analysis was paid through University Extension.

OP corn cost $40 per bag (including UPS shipping), 3395 cost $97.30 per bag. Differences in planting population, cost per unit and accrued interest produced a cost per acre advantage for OP corn of $23.40.

Significant differences were recorded in dry matter produced and percent protein. 3394 produced a slight yield advantage of 70 lbs of dry matter per acre. Open pollinated corn contained significantly higher protein levels of 1.9 percent. No significant differences were found between dry matter, crude fiber, total digestible nutrients, net energy for maintenance, or net energy for gain.

Cost per ton of silage produced is based on 3394 producing 4 tons per acres of dry matter and open pollinated corn producing 3.97 tons of dry matter per acre, both at 40 percent dry matter. Based on $267 per acre cost for OP corn, per ton cost equaled $27. At $290 per acre cost for 3394, per ton cost equaled $29 per ton.

To produce 250 lbs of gain, feed cost utilizing OP corn totaled $84.50. Feed cost utilizing 3394 totaled $91 for a difference of $6.50 per head.

Harvest plant population for 3394 averaged 23,500 plants per acre. OP plant population averaged 8,500 plants per acre.

Emergence of OP corn was poor, 15,000 seed per acre planted with 8,500 plants per acre harvested. OP corn was starting to lodge by harvest under favorable conditions. No problems were encountered with 3394.

Op corn contains higher protein content and cost slightly less to produce then 3394 in 1997 at this specific location. Potential lodging problems could negate this cost and quality difference, therefore I do not plan to use OP corn as my sole source of corn silage.

1) 55 people attended two public meetings with the following focus
a. Sustainable farm systems
b. Fencing in management intensive grazing systems
2) Help organize a farmer to farmer network to support sustainable agriculture in Missouri (SPAN-Sustainable People in Agriculture Network)
3) Served as first president of this organization
4) Served on planning committee for first annual meeting of SPAN drawing 150 people
5) Completed two on farm demonstrations on open pollinated corn and grazing corn
6) Results of these demonstrations were publicized via Internet (University of Missouri Agriculture Education Bulletin Board) and University Extension newsletter in West Central Missouri.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.