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50 minutes | 2 days ago
Small Farmers, Big Stakes
John and Kara Boyd are equally committed to farming and to farm ownership for people of color. John heads the National Black Farmers Association, and Kara runs the Association of American Indian Farmers. They told Field Work hosts Mitchell Hora and Zach Johnson they became activists because of their own experiences with a racist USDA. Meanwhile, they are trying to spread the word about cover crops, no-till farming and conservation. Read more: John and Kara Boyd
43 minutes | 9 days ago
A Winning Personality?
For a few years now, Iowa State University Professor Kevin Kimle has been asking students in his ag entrepreneurship classes to take a personality test. What he’s found so far is that compared to the average person, those ag students score pretty low when it comes to openness. He and the Field Work hosts talk about what that lack of openness might mean for trying new practices like cover crops. And after taking the personality test, Zach and Mitchell learn some awkward things about themselves. Read more: The Big Five Aspects Scale
44 minutes | 16 days ago
The Magical Dividing Line Between Counties
The Nature Conservancy and Purdue University are among a lot of people in the sustainable ag keen to figure out what it takes to scale conservation practices. Does it come down to the availability of funding? Climate? Soils? What happens if all those factors are pretty equal between, say, two neighboring counties, but the level of adoption of conservation practices varies dramatically between them? Kris Johnson from the TNC and Linda Prokopy from Purdue talk about research in three different states where they compare counties with a robust conservation culture to neighboring counties that aren’t doing much. They talk with Zach and Mitchell about cover crop culture, the importance of collaboration among farmers, government agencies and entrepreneurs, and what they still don’t understand. Read more: The Magical Dividing Line Between Counties
70 minutes | 23 days ago
Carrying the Torch
Young farmers coming back to a family operation often have to tease out a place for themselves with hard work, creativity and an entrepreneurial zeal. For Trent Stout, that meant taking on the family seed business and migrating it from being a local corn and soybean dealer to be the go-to source for diverse cover crop seeds. Michael Vittetoe brought cattle to the farm as an integral part of a rotation that relies on cover crops. He might just fold the chickens into the system, too. Hosts Mitchell Hora and Zach Johnson hear how some of their peers are making conservation their part of the family business. Read more: A New Generation Advances the Cause
40 minutes | a month ago
The Down-Low from DC: Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack
The Biden administration has ambitious climate mitigation goals, and agriculture has been called upon to be a strong partner. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack led the department throughout the Obama years and is back at the helm. He talks with Mitchell and Zach about consumer demands for sustainably grown food, how to develop carbon markets that serve farmers first, the need to create more opportunity to sell what’s currently considered waste, and how farmers can make sure their interests are part of any future plans and policies. (Hint: comment here). Read more: Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack on Climate Solutions
59 minutes | a month ago
The Bleeding Edge
Several Washington County families trace their conservation interests back decades. For Rob Stout and Darrell Steele, their dads’ interest in conservation primed them to be open to the idea of no-till. Still, getting it to work took a lot of perseverance through various failures. Eventually, the planter attachments helped. The early pioneers emerged with a willingness to share what they were learning with other local farmers. Like no-tilling, that generosity persists in Washington County. Read more: Families that Led the Conservation Charge in Washington County
53 minutes | a month ago
Mudholes in March
Paul Reed and Dave Moeller explain to Zach and Mitchell that the modern planter row unit was designed to provide good seed to soil contact in the dry, cloddy seedbed of a conventionally tilled field. And why that created a different set of problems in cool, wet early season, no-till fields. They start with the release of the John Deere MaxEmerge row unit in 1972 and follow the development of planter technology right through today’s precision technology, describing how their constant experimentation and collaboration with other pioneers like Howard Martin and Eugene Keeton led to successful no-tilling and a business selling planter attachments. Zach also gets some advice on how to set up his own planter. Read more: Zach and Mitchell go to planter school
50 minutes | 2 months ago
Twilight in Washington County
Mitchell and Zach are trying to understand how Mitchell’s home county in Southeast Iowa developed such a strong conservation culture. Jim Frier, now 88, showed up to the interview with a box full of documentation of all the work he put into educating farmers: flyers from the twilight meetings and field days he organized, which could attract as many as 500 attendees, articles he penned promoting conservation tillage, including one that wondered, back in the 60s, whether traditional tillage systems were on their way out, and photos he took of equipment attachments folks were designing to make no-till work with their existing planters. To be sure, there were a lot of other key people who helped build a conservation movement in Washington County, but Jim Frier teaches us the value of cheerleaders. Read more: Evening meetings helped launch a conservation culture Video: Mr. Johnson Goes to Washington (County, That Is)
61 minutes | 2 months ago
Show Me the Money!
On this episode of Field Work, hosts Mitchell Hora and Zach Johnson talk money with the founders of two startups. Sami Tellatin says FarmRaise will be a one-stop shop to help farmers apply for grants and loans. And FarmRaise will do all the paperwork! Robyn O’Brien helps lead rePlant Capital, a new venture capital fund that invests in farmers who implement regenerative practices. Replant is working with Danone, and other big food companies whose customers want to know more about sourcing. Read more: New Ideas in Ag Finance
63 minutes | 2 months ago
We're Back: Carbon Markets, Choppers and Charm
President Joe Biden has said he wants to pay farmers to grow cover crops and put land into conservation. How will that work? He also has big plans to reduce and capture carbon emissions, which could spell opportunities for farmers. But the science is still tenuous and the math would have to pencil out. Zach and Mitchell tap Farm Journal News Director John Herath for an overview of how the Biden administration is addressing sustainable ag and who farmers need to pay attention to. Then former USDA Undersecretary Bill Northey discusses his takeaways after serving as the first head of Farm Programs and Conservation, where he brought FSA, RMA and NRCS together under one mission area. Read more: Five things to keep an eye on in the Biden administration
3 minutes | 2 months ago
Coming Soon: Field Work Season Three
46 minutes | 10 months ago
Your Field Day is Buffering: Sustainable Ag Navigates a Pandemic
The world has changed in some massive ways since Field Work hosts Zach Johnson and Mitchell Hora sat down to record the first episodes of the season back in December. We’re now living amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. At the beginning of 2020, farm incomes were expected to rise. Now they’re projected to dip as commodity prices slump. So that raises the question: what is the outlook for sustainable ag in this environment? What becomes harder-- and what becomes easier-- for farmers wanting to swap ideas about conservation practices? What are the roadblocks or advantages to trying something new right now? In our season finale, Zach and Mitchell discuss these questions with Lauren Lurkins, the Director of Environmental Policy at the Illinois Farm Bureau.
23 minutes | a year ago
Ag Retailers and Conservation: Can They Work Together?
Samantha Schmidgall, the Agronomy Marketing Manager with Ag View FS in Walnut, IL, is driven by the cooperative foundation of her agricultural retail company. “If we're not doing what our farmers and our farmer-based board want us to do, we're not checking the box of doing the right thing that day,” she said. In recent years, her farmer community has encouraged the company to embrace sustainable ag technologies and practices. “We might have one or two growers that suggest, you know, hey, can you look at this? Can you see if this is cost effective for us? And when we find those things, we're implementing them across our company,” she explained. Over time, the addition of these conservation practices has evolved into a core philosophy of how they run their business. “Trying to be the leader in conservation is something that we truly take pride in and our customer owners do as well,” Schmidgall said. Agricultural retailers have a significant impact on the types of agronomic practices farmers adopt in the communities they serve. Farmers rely on these companies for everything from seeds and inputs to essential agronomic advice. That role of trusted adviser gives retailers influence with the farmers they work with. Trust In Food, in collaboration with Environmental Defense Fund, recently published a report called “Growing for the future: Business lessons from ag retail’s conservation leaders”. The report notes, “More so than almost any other stakeholder, ag retailers are positioned to play an influential role in the continuous improvement of sustainability across the agricultural value chain.” But many retailers prefer conventional growing over sustainable ag. “Retailers can be a roadblock to adopting sustainable ag practices if they’re not into conservation,” said Field Work co-host Mitchell Hora, a farmer in Iowa. That’s why Hora, along with fellow farmer and co-host Zach Johnson, wanted to hear from folks on the retail side who have made conservation a top priority. Malcolm Stambaugh works with Schmidgall at Ag View FS as a Crop Specialist. In 2012, he began working with his farmers to implement 4R nutrient management. 4R Nutrient Stewardship is an efficient framework for applying nutrients that emphasizes using the right fertilizer source, the right rate, at the right time, and in the right place. Since 2012, Stambaugh has helped 16 growers participate in the 4R program, and was recognized as one of the 4R advocates of the year in 2019. Along with their 4R work, Ag View FS encourages all their salesmen to use the ‘maximum return rate on nitrogen,’ or MRTN, tool to calculate the most profitable rate of nitrogen application for each grower. “Just to make sure that we're doing the right thing economically and we're doing the right thing agronomically,” Schmidgall explained. “It doesn't do any good for anyone to put on an excess of nitrogen that's not getting used in the right way.” Schmidgall has seen that as more growers adopt conservation nitrogen application techniques, it sparks interest in the larger community. “When people in the area see that we have more of these enduring farmer 4R advocates… there's a lot of guys that are asking, ‘How do I do that? How do I be a part of that?” she said. That initial interest in conservation opens the door for Ag View FS to introduce those growers to a whole set of sustainable practices that could benefit their operation. “It's not only fertilizer, it's not only doing the 4R practices, but it's soil sampling on a grid. It's VRT (variable rate technology) application of lime, phosphates and potassium. It's no applications on frozen ground. It's utilizing cover crops,” she said. Schmidgall and Stambaugh see that it’s going to take years to refine the best uses of newly developing conservation techniques. Right now, they’re collecting data on the best uses of these techniques. That information will guide their company over the coming decade. “So right now we're doing the legwork, doing the trials to figure out what's going to work, what isn't working,” Schmidgall said. “And if you're not working with an ag retailer who's interested in doing those trials and working with those products, there's a potential for you to get left behind.”
46 minutes | a year ago
Solar, Wind and Cranky Neighbors
Crop prices ain’t what they used to be, so some farmers have sought out additional sources of income. On this episode of Field Work, Zach Johnson and Mitchell Hora talk to Pat Duncanson, a fifth generation corn and soybean farmer in Minnesota who has installed multiple solar panels on his land. We also hear from Fritz Ebinger, who works with farmers to assess their options for solar panels or wind turbines.
59 minutes | a year ago
Where's the Money for Sustainable Ag?
There’s a whole world of funding that can help to bring conservation practices onto a farm, but wading through the web of federal, state, and private programs can feel like a full time job of its own. So Zach Johnson and Mitchell Hora bring on Kevin Norton, the Associate Chief of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to learn about government cost share programs. Then, Wisconsin dairy farmers Tom Zwald and Todd Doornink explain how their farming community has banded together to find money for sustainable agriculture on their own through the Western Wisconsin Conservation Council. Be sure to check out a video of Mitchell’s visit to Tom’s farm on our YouTube channel, where Tom describes what he’s doing on the crop side of his farm to protect water, and how his dairy is also re-using water multiple times in its operation.
54 minutes | a year ago
Farmer Incentives, Mayonnaise and More!
Food companies are seeing a lot more demand from consumers for sustainably-grown food. But how is that demand translating into actual incentives for farmers to adopt conservation practices? In this episode, we bring you the conversation Field Work co-host Mitchell Hora moderated in November 2019 at the Sustainable Agriculture Summit. Panelists included Unilever’s Stefani Millie Grant and Ben Crook from Hellman’s Mayonnaise, who explain how big food companies are trying to encourage more farmers to use sustainable ag practices, and farmer Scott Henry, who participated in Unilever’s sustainable soy program. Special thanks to the host partners for inviting Field Work to record at the 2019 Sustainable Agriculture Summit. It’s an annual gathering for major food companies, government agencies, academics, conservation groups, and farmers committed to advancing a coordinated and comprehensive approach to driving change in agriculture sustainability. The Host Partners are Field to Market and Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. The next summit will be held in Phoenix, AZ in November 2020.
34 minutes | a year ago
The New Cash Crop: Carbon
There are certain regenerative practices that help to put carbon back into the ground, which can be beneficial for crops, soil, and the broader environment. Some companies are trying to provide another benefit to these practices -- a way for farmers to get paid. Through emerging carbon markets, companies trying to offset their carbon emissions can pay farmers for the services that take carbon out of the atmosphere. This week, Field Work hosts Zach Johnson and Mitchell Hora talk to Christophe Jose, the co-founder of Nori, one of the companies working to make this possible, about the challenges and benefits of carbon markets.
23 minutes | a year ago
Water + Us
Water plays an important role in all of our lives. But how much do we actually understand key water topics, like the share of Americans who get their water shut off or the biggest causes of pollution? Field Work co-host Zach Johnson talks to Andi Egbert from the American Public Media Research Lab as well as Kinsie Rayburn and Drew Slattery from Farm Journal’s Trust in Food initiative about research into average Americans’ and farmers’ understanding of key water issues.
49 minutes | a year ago
Rick Clark’s 7,000 Acre Investment in Regenerative Ag
Farmers often get the advice that they should “start small” when it comes to conservation practices. But Indiana farmer Rick Clark of Clark Land and Cattle is proof that you can do regenerative ag at scale. He raises no-till soybeans, no-till corn, and has had great success planting cover crops on his 7,000 acre farm. What’s more, this is the first year that all his acres will be grown without chemicals as he transitions to organic. Field Work co-host Mitchell Hora visited Clark’s farm to learn about his journey as a farmer. And he learned the secrets to Rick’s massive cost savings of $670,000 a year.
28 minutes | a year ago
A Visit with the Hosts of The Modern Acre
After a big bet on growing asparagus backfired, the Nuss family had to rethink their approach to running Nuss Farms. Tim and Tyler Nuss, the 5th generation on the farm and the hosts of The Modern Acre podcast, join Mitchell Hora and Zach Johnson to talk about how their family decided to embrace regenerative agriculture. Featuring: pastured poultry, diversifying your business, how to change an old school farmer’s mind, and a really bad chicken joke.
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