News from the West


The end of summer brought both bounty and hardship to Western farmers and ranchers. From hurricanes to fire, flood to drought, many have struggled with serious impacts to both their operations and their communities.

But as farmers do, you are rebuilding, pitching in, and standing together. Times like these remind us how important it is to strengthen our communities and build a common voice for resilient agriculture.

NYFC’s Western team has been working with members across the West to do just this. Here’s some of what we’ve been up to recently.

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Announcing NYFC’s Land Affordability Calculator

 


findingfarmland.youngfarmers.org

 

Fall is when farm work, done under the glow of the sun, gives way to farm planning under the glow of a computer screen. If your farm planning includes a search for—or even just a dream of—land of your own, NYFC has a tool for you.

This fall, NYFC launched Finding Farmland, a website designed to help farmers and ranchers across the country make informed financial decisions during the process of accessing land. The site was created in partnership with Fathom Information Design, a renowned firm that partners with clients to understand, express, and navigate complex data through visualizations, interactive tools, and software.

The main feature of the website is a Land Affordability Calculator, which you can use to compare financing costs for two different farm properties, or to compare different financing scenarios for a single property. The site also contains an interactive case study of one farmer’s land access story, which highlights important resources and partners that may play a role in your land search.

 

Comparing financing scenarios with NYFC’S Land Access Calculator

 

The calculator is designed to be useful during any stage of your land access journey—whether you have a specific property in mind or are just beginning to consider options. If you are just starting to think about accessing land and are unfamiliar with real estate finance, you can use the calculator to explore several concepts that are important to understand when working with lenders. If you have a property or two in mind, the calculator will help you determine the monthly financing costs for each parcel under different scenarios, as well as the total cost of financing each property. We hope that you will return again and again to Finding Farmland as you plan your business and access land.

Finding Farmland is in beta mode. NYFC encourages your feedback on this version so that we can develop it into a valuable tool for beginning farmers and ranchers. If you have questions, feedback, or suggestions, please email Mike Durante, NYFC’s land access program associate, at findingfarmland@youngfarmers.org. We will incorporate your feedback into our next version of the website. In addition to the Finding Farmland site, NYFC will offer a series of in-person trainings around the country and additional online resources over the coming year.


Finding Farmland is supported by a grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture through its Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program [award #2016-70017-25498].

Marketing my grain is a mouthful

By Mai Nguyen

My grain is a mouthful. It is  identity-preserved, non-Plant Variety Protection (PVP), incrementally upscaled heritage seed grown using rain-fed, on-site fertility, carbon sequestering, integrated pest management, nonsynthetic sprays, low fossil fuel, no-till practices and brought to market as stone milled whole grain flour. That’s a mouthful that the commodity market can’t swallow. But that’s okay because what I do isn’t only palatable to the public, it’s craved.

In my first year, I took my grain to my local farmers’ markets. My booth stood out from the pepper baskets, vegetable pyramids, and flower bouquets. People aren’t used to seeing grain at the farmers’ market. I wondered how many people would stop at my booth, and before I finished that thought I saw a tuft of curls shoulder past the casual market strollers. “I’ve been waiting for you my whole life!” she exclaimed as she reached for jars of whole grain. “The market manager posted on Facebook that you’re selling whole grains—whole grains with names and flavor. This is what I’ve wanted my whole life!” This woman, Carol, seemed increasingly excited as she perused my display of farm photos,  the hand-drawn histories of each grain, and the color-coded reusable jars.

Later, another woman came by and expressed gratitude for my endeavors. Her husband had diabetes and needed to eat whole grains, which she had difficulty finding for bread making. Driven by a search for flavor or healthy food, a group of regulars came each week to exchange jars and stories. I learned about how the Red Fife rose, they learned about the next steps in field prep, and we gained a relationship of accountability and care.

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Ready, set, harvest: fixing equipment & finding markets

By Andrew Barsness

The fate of my crop—and my profit—often comes down to the state of my equipment. As harvest approaches, farmers are busy prepping all of their harvest equipment while they still have an opportunity to do so. During harvest we’re often working hard from before sunup to after sundown, leaving little time to work on broken machinery. Due to the time-sensitive nature of harvest, downtime resulting from equipment breakdowns can be disastrous.

Every grain crop has a moisture content range in which it can be successfully harvested. Grain that’s too moist makes the harvesting process difficult or impossible; grain that’s too dry is also problematic, and reduces both yield and quality. It’s critical to get the crop off of the field and transported to a buyer or a storage facility when it’s in that Goldilocks moisture range. It also needs to be harvested before any inclement weather arrives. Every time a grain crop that’s ready to harvest gets rained on, the grain quality goes down. Multiple wetting and drying cycles can have a devastating impact on quality. (more…)

Farming is all about timing, but climate change is changing the rules

By Mai Nguyen

There was a worrying absence of metronomic clicks. I took out my voltmeter and detected only a faint current in the sheep fencing. In search of the impediment, I checked the solar panel output, connections, and electric twine that made up the portable fence. The problem lay in an entanglement of wire and brambles.

I wondered if I should corral the sheep into their pen while I fixed the problem or leave them grazing. It was already late in the day, and I needed the sheep to finish mowing the field before seeding time—before the big rain that was forecasted to arrive three weeks earlier than usual. I decided to leave the sheep to their urgent task as I worked on mine, delicately untangling the barbed twine.

I must have tugged too hard. An adjacent post fell, then another, and the one after that teased the wire’s tautness with a wavering tilt. The domino of poles provided a sufficient opening to new pasture: the neighbor’s vineyard.

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A letter to our members and supporters after Charlottesville

August 2017

Dear Members and Supporters,

Through the tragic events in Charlottesville two weeks ago, we bore witness to the very worst and very best of our nation: we saw people on our streets marching under banners of hate, who went on to commit murder and other violent acts; and we saw people linking arms and putting themselves in harm’s way to defend equality, love, and respect. While we are sickened by the acts of terrorism, and haunted by vicious chants, at the same time we are emboldened by the words and actions of so many Americans who are willing to stand up against racism.

The violence that rose in Charlottesville is another link in a heavy chain—part of the long history of racism and oppression in this country. It is a heartbreaking reminder that we have not fully reckoned with our complicated history as a nation, and that this continues to have consequences. This history has also profoundly shaped our agriculture and food system, and so is deeply relevant to our work as a coalition.

We understand that condemning what happened in Charlottesville is not enough. This is a call to pay attention. To engage. To be accountable in the ways we’ve committed to, and to seek new ways to work in coalition and solidarity to build a food system—and a country—that uplifts us all.

We are also reminded that our struggles are all connected. Where oppression exists, everyone suffers. Fannie Lou Hamer, farmer and civil rights activist, put it this way: “Nobody’s free until everybody is free.” This is why we must fight for racial equity, justice, dignity, and inclusion—every day, together.

In solidarity,
Lindsey Lusher Shute, Executive Director and Co-founder
Alex Bryan, NYFC Board President

Make hay while the sun shines (and market grain while the toddler sleeps)

By Halee Wepking, Meadowlark Organics and Bickford Organics 

Hello! Halee Wepking here, trying to do what I can to help out my husband, John, who is currently turning over windrows of hay that was rained on yesterday in hopes that the predicted storm will miss us tonight and they can bale dry hay tomorrow. As they say, make hay when the sun shines, and get to work when your toddler’s napping!

I don’t spend much time on a tractor these days, but I have been spending most of our son’s naps working on our packaging copy, marketing plan, and coordinating a few wholesale orders for a local grocery store, catering company, and independent bakers who use our flour. Though we’re just a few years into growing small grains, we have made many valuable connections with bakers, larger retail stores, distilleries, and grain buyers. (more…)

An Ever-Changing Puzzle

By Andrew Barsness

The crops are thirsty. My farm is on the outer edge of the area affected by the severe drought in the Dakotas, and it’s been over a month without any significant rain. Standing in my fields, I’ve watched as rain fell just a few miles to the north or south, tantalizingly close yet so far away. Despite prudent planning, passion, and working from before sunup till after sundown, farmers are ultimately at the mercy of Mother Nature.

Ironically, rain was in abundance early this spring. So much so that I had to delay planting soybeans from late May to mid-June due to wet conditions, among other things. I did manage to plant one 60-acre field of wheat in early May, which benefited from the early rain. In the past, this particular field has been very problematic in terms of weed pressure. Unfortunately, several weeks after planting it became clear that the weeds would take over the field, and nothing could be done about it. I decided to terminate the wheat crop and replant the field with soybeans instead. This set me back a bit in added costs and a later planting date, which reduces yield, but it was a necessary evil. The ground was dry at the time, and it hasn’t rained since. As a result, germination has been poor, and it’s questionable as to whether or not that field will be successful. Then, of course—to add insult to injury—after I terminated the wheat and planted soybeans, the market price for wheat went up by about 60 percent. That’s farming for you. (more…)

Run for your FSA County Committee

Through policy advocacy and working with USDA staff at the national level, NYFC has been fighting to make sure that Farm Service Agency (FSA) loans and programs truly serve the needs of all young farmers. There’s also a way for you to get directly involved with the day-to-day operations of FSA and to shape FSA programs at the local level.

This month is the nomination period for FSA County Committees. (more…)

Organic farming is freedom

Halee and Henry posing on the Oliver.

By John Wepking, Meadowlark Organics and Bickford Organics 

This spring has been marked by extremes: long periods of frequent rain and then weeks without a drop. Our soils have plenty of room for improvement, but I am grateful to be farming ground that is relatively balanced and has a decent level of organic matter, which allows our soils to receive moisture during heavy rains and hold that water during droughts. Without cover cropping and crop rotation we’d certainly be losing this battle.

For me, organic farming is freedom: freedom to choose the way we farm. In a conventional system, nearly everything is prescribed for you: when and what to plant, when to spray, what to spray, where to sell your grain, how much your grain is worth. You may decide to use cover crops or no-till equipment, but beyond that, conventional grain farming is relatively devoid of choice and full of expenses that we in the organic world do not rely on to the same degree. In order to succeed, we need to listen to the world around us. Nature has no shareholders, needs no profits. Given the choice of listening to nature or listening to the businesses that exist, fundamentally, to make ever-increasing profits off of farmers, I’ll listen to nature every time. (more…)