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Moving Beyond Conventional Cash Cropping


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Moving Beyond Conventional Cash Cropping

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Moving Beyond Conventional Cash Cropping

  1. 1. MOVING BEYOND CONVENTIONAL CASH CROPPING AGRONOMY SYSTEMS GUIDE Abstract: This publication is written for those looking for a way out of the high risk, long hours, low pay, poor prices, and dim future associated with conventional cash crop production. There are viable alternatives to continuing in the cash crop business for those who can adjust their thinking. Finding alternatives to commodity crop production is the focus of this publication. Certain principles provide insights into ways to move forward.By Preston SullivanNCAT Agriculture SpecialistMay 2002 PRINCIPLES OF SUCCESS It’s safe to say that if you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’re going to keep getting whatyou’ve been getting. If you are searching for an enterprise that is easy, profitable, and proven, youwill find that many other people are already doing it. To build wealth, do what others cannot or willnot do—produce a product that is different and difficult to produce (1). Using these two criteriakeeps competition to a minimum. Taking small initial steps is one approach. Adding an alternative, more profitable crop to a corn-soybean rotation or a wheat-barley rotation is a step toward disconnecting from the cash-grain sys-tem, just as farm families who cooperatively market their products directly to consumers as foods,rather than as commodities, are disconnecting from the system. Farmers can also benefit by growingmulti-purpose specialty crops that will give them lots of flexibility in both production and market-ing, thereby reducing their risk. For example, you can use dry peas for feed grain, hay, green manure,or seed; lentils for food, forage, or green manure. If there’s a drought or the field is too weedy, grazeit or turn the crop to green manure. If it’s a wet year and a clean field, harvest the grain crop. Table of ContentsPrinciples of Success ................................. 1Examples of Successful Transitions © 2002from Cash Cropping ................................... 2Conclusion ................................................. 5References ................................................. 6Resources .................................................. 6ATTRA is the national sustainable agriculture information service operated by the National Centerfor Appropriate Technology under a grant from the Rural Business-Cooperative Service, U.S.Department of Agriculture. These organizations do not recommend or endorse products,companies, or individuals. ATTRA is headquartered in Fayetteville, Arkansas (P.O. Box 3657,Fayetteville, AR 72702), with offices in Butte, Montana and Davis, California.
  2. 2. After receiving training in Holistic Manage- Other ATTRA Publications of Interest ment™ (3), Robert Moore and his son Taylor took Evaluating a Rural Enterprise a path to a brighter future with less personal Direct Marketing stress and lower overhead cost than when they Alternative Agronomic Crops were row croppers. For years they had battled Marketing Organic Grains Johnson grass, bermuda grass, and crab grass in Green Markets for Farm Products their cotton fields. Now these grasses—and oth- Ecolabeling: Marketing Sustainable ers such as Dallis grass and bluestem—are their Agriculture allies. Moore says that they are working with Entertainment Farming and Agri-Tourism nature by letting the grasses that want to be here Sustainable Agriculture Organizations and return. Their cattle love these forage grasses. Publications With a wide variety of grasses available, they can Making the Transition to Sustainable Farming graze from mid-February to mid-November. Overview: Adding Value to Farm Products After giving up cropping, they increased their Keys to Success in Value-Added Agriculture cow herd from 200 animals to 600. Their 2,000 acres are divided into 50-acre paddocks, withHere are a few more principles of success: about 200 head in each paddock at various times.1) Produce products that sell at your price, With their cropping enterprise they had 20 em- rather than commodities that someone else ployees working full time. Now the father and sets the price for. son work together with one full-time employee.2) Buy wholesale and sell retail (just the oppo- Before cattle, they worried about crop success site of cash cropping). and prices and were often relieved just to break3) Stack enterprises together that complement even. Now they can live off what they make. one another to reduce overhead costs. Taylor says, “We’re definitely happier now and4) Pool resources with partners through col- have less stress.” ATTRA can provide more than laborative ventures. a dozen farmer-ready publications that go into detail about grass-farming enterprises and alter- EXAMPLES OF SUCCESSFUL native marketing of animal products.TRANSITIONS FROM CASH CROPPING FROM TOBACCO TO SHRIMP Below are several examples of people who Bill Rich switched from burley tobacco tohave made the transition out of conventional freshwater shrimp (4). He dug 1-acre ponds at acash grain farming and into alternative enter- cost of $5,000 to $6,500 and harvests about 1,000prises. These people utilized some of the prin- pounds of shrimp each season. The shrimp areciples mentioned above to increase their profit- stocked June 1 and harvested September 28. Free-ability. Please realize that not all of these enter- dom Freshwater Shrimp Company of Byrds-prises are ones that everyone can do. That fact town, Tennessee provides the juvenile shrimp.alone makes them more profitable. Consider Bill and other growers have the option to sellwhat unique talents you have that can be con- their shrimp back to the company or market themverted into a profitable enterprise. All new en- on their own. Sinceterprises need to be thoroughly evaluated before shrimp are in highproceeding. Contact ATTRA for our publication demand anyway,Evaluating a Rural Enterprise. you don’t have to build a market, says FROM BATTLING GRASS TO GRAZING Doug Elder, the For several generations the Moore family in owner of FreedomNavasota, Texas, raised corn, milo, and cotton Freshwater Shrimp.(2). After finally having enough of rising pro- Profitability on anduction costs, persistent drought, and low com- acre of shrimpmodity prices, they decided to break the family should be in thetradition and switch from row crops to cattle. $1,200 to $2,500 range. Depending on prices ofPAGE 2 //MOVING BEYOND CONVENTIONAL CASH CROPPING
  3. 3. both, an acre of shrimp should replace the profit BIRDS, BIRDFEED, AND BIO-FUELfrom an acre of burley tobacco. Of course, as with Dave Pollard of Mantua, Ohio grows wildany new enterprise, additional labor and other bird feed grains (sunflower, milo, and millet) andcosts need to be evaluated before proceeding. For markets them all directly from his farm at 20¢more information, request the ATTRA publica- per pound. In 1998 he started raising free-rangetion Evaluating an Aquaculture Enterprise. chickens. By 2000 his annual production was 650 PUMPKINS, HAY RIDES, AND birds, with standing orders for 800 more for the SCHOOL TOURS next year. Currently he is trying “sundiesel” made from sunflower oil he produces on his When dairy farms in Tennessee were suffer- farm. Using a simple process, he extracts 100ing from low milk prices, Albert and Celeste gallons of oil (valued for fuel at $1.50 per gallon)Blackburn made some adjustments to their from each acre of sunflowers. From that extrac-Jefferson City, Tennessee dairy operation. Lo- tion he also ends up with 1,250 pounds of 28%cated near a large city on an interstate highway, protein meal that he feeds to his free-range chick-the Blackburns saw an opportunity to entertain ens. With his chickens consuming 3 pounds ofschool kids during the week and adults on week- feed per pound of marketable poultry, and sell-ends. They turned their old gristmill into a gift ing for $2.00 per pound, Pollard estimates an in-shop and grew pumpkins for the school kids. In come of $950 from one acre of sunflowers. Thatthe first year they attracted 1,100 students, each works out to 400 pounds of chickens that eat the paying $6 to milk 1,250 pounds of meal, plus $150 from the oil sales a cow, ride a hay (7). Request the two ATTRA publications Alter- wagon, and pick native Agronomic Crops and Sustainable Poultry: out a pumpkin. Production Overview for more information. The (5). ATTRA has a Thomas Jefferson Agriculture Institute listed in publication called the References section of this publication also has Entertainment information on alternative crops. For more in- Farming and Agri- formation on biodiesel, call ATTRA. Tourism available by request. PECANS, BUFFALO, AND GAMAGRASS SEED A Farm Shop Enterprise Dan Shepherd and his father Jerrell changed their farming focus from commodity grains to Terry Joe Payne of Owensboro, Ken- pecans, buffalo, and gamagrass seed when they tucky uses his farm shop and tools to realized they had no control over wholesale grain build large, heavy-duty barbecue pits. prices (8). After switching, the Chiftonhill, Mis- He makes several models, some on souri, father-and-son team captured niche mar- legs and others on wheels to be pulled kets they formerly never had access to when sell- behind a vehicle. Prices range from ing only commodity grains. $1,800 to $6,000. Payne’s barbecue The family started farming corn, beans, and pit enterprise evolved from his cater- wheat on 1,900 acres in the 1960s. Dan’s late fa- ing business. Metal for the pits is ther came to realize that they would never get formed from 12-gauge steel, and the ahead economically doing what others were do- rest of the fabrication and assembly ing, but they could increase their income by do- work is done in his shop. Most of his ing what others wouldn’t do. The gamagrass sales have been local and all his ad- seed operation consumes about 80% of Dan’s vertising word-of-mouth or from people time, with the other two new enterprises—pe- reading his nameplate attached to one cans and buffalo—taking up the remainder. of the units. So far, he’s not needed Dan is a firm believer that to succeed in al- to pay to advertise (6). ternative agriculture you’ve got to communicate with your customers. Farmers who are focused on production must become comfortable with //MOVING BEYOND CONVENTIONAL CASH CROPPING PAGE 3
  4. 4. floor was seeded with bluegrass. Though the bluegrass does not produce a high tonnage of forage, what it does produce is readily consumed by their buffalo herd. They started their herd in 1969 and rotate it through the gamagrass pas- tures using management-intensive grazing. During the summer, the herd is moved about every four days. Their gamagrass seed operation nets about $700 per acre on 400 acres. In 2000 they netted around $300 per acre from the pecan operation, but they expect that production to at least triple in the coming years. Through their store they sold 70,000 ears of sweet corn at 10¢ each, but even at that price they net about $1,000 on 15 acres. While not being a big moneymaker, the sweet corn does attract lots of customers who buy other products as well. The Shepherds feel that everything fits to-marketing. The Shepherds market their buffalo gether, with the various enterprises spreadingproducts—including breeding stock, meat, hides, out the workload evenly. The family helps spon-and horns—through their on-farm store, where sor “Buffalo Day,” when many area residentsthey also sell pecans, sweet corn, pumpkins, gather to eat buffalo burgers donated by the fam-peaches, jellies, and other products, including ily. The family has time to participate in theirnuts they buy from out of state. Dan’s wife, Jan, local Rotary Club and have hosted young peopleruns the store and manages the books. Dan over- from Russia, Thailand, Belgium, and France.sees the farm operation and does all the buying. Dan offers some tips for making the transi- tion from commodity crops. First, don’t look to Contact ATTRA for our publications on alternative agriculture as a bailout; think of get- Sustainable Pecan Production and Bison ting in or making the change to the system in Production. good times, not bad (8). Keep in mind: • The products of alternative agriculture re- The focal point of the Shepherds’operation quire different gamagrass. They discovered gamagrass while • The average learning curve for anything newlooking for a forage for their buffalo herd. With is up to eight from USDA researchers, they learned to • Given all the risk, it’s a lot easier to sit backgrow and harvest seed from the grass, thus cre- and say it won’t work. Making change is notating another marketable product. Seed produc- easy; if it were, everybody would be doingtion is particularly tricky because the seed does it.not mature evenly and drops off the stalk when RAISING TRADITIONAL CROPSmature. The seed must also go through a cool-down period before it will germinate. Harvest- ORGANICALLYing is very tricky, and the harvested seed is stored Carmen Fernholz of Madison, Minnesotawet at just above freezing for six to eight weeks made the switch to organic farming when facedto meet the chilling requirements for germina- with limited choices for staying profitable in histion. commodity crop operation. He now grows or- Once their pecan orchard was established, the ganic barley, oats, wheat, flax, corn, soybeans,Shepherds continued to grow commodity crops and alfalfa and raises 800 to 1,200 finished hogsin the alleys between the young trees. As the each year. After more than 20 years of experi-trees matured and began producing nuts, the row menting and learning about organic farming, hecrops were crowded out. After that, the orchard got his farm certified in 1994. He markets hisPAGE 4 //MOVING BEYOND CONVENTIONAL CASH CROPPING
  5. 5. own crops and animals in order to keep his rela- the environment and cutting costs. He says ev-tively small operation competitive with larger ery year is different, and what worked one yearfarms. He also ensures payment for his organic may not work the next. He has less capital out-crops through a unique trust account with his lay and fewer economic risks as a result of switch-co-op. His wife Sally works a full-time job off ing to organic farming. However, he also suf-the farm. fered some temporary yield reductions as he pro- gressed up the learning curve. ATTRA has several publications on organic production, certification, and marketing. CONCLUSION Starting a new enterprise boils down to ask- Fernholz spreads his workload through the ing a series of good questions. Among theseseason by dividing the farm into quarters, each questions are:with a different crop in the rotation. He hiressome labor each year to pick stones and do hand • Do I have the resources to do this?weeding, but he still manages to do most of the • Do I really want to do this?farm work himself. His primary labor expense • Do I have the experience and information tois custom harvesting the alfalfa. He, his brother, do this?and nephew work together on the feeder-to-fin- • How much profit can I make?ish hogs. (His brother owns and manages the • How will I market the products?breeding and farrowing operation.) The hogs are Most of the available enterprise planningsold on the conventional market through a buy- guides ask entrepreneurs to first assess their per-ing station that he operates near his home. Be- sonal and family objectives. They stress the im-tween 1997 and 2000, the station served as many portance of having some sort of business plan,as 50 farmers in Fernholz’s area (9). He works financial plan, and marketing plan before pro-with a National Farmers Organization office in ceeding. Determining the profit potential for theAmes, Iowa to find buyers. enterprise is essential before spending more time or money developing the means of production. For information on raising hogs, request the Details of planning a new rural enterprise are ATTRA publications Sustainable Hog available from ATTRA in our publication entitled Production Overview and Considerations in Evaluating a Rural Enterprise. Organic Hog Production. In all the case studies presented here, you can find examples in action of the following prin- Fernholz’s organic soybeans bring around ciples:$16.50 per bushel. (Request the ATTRA publica-tion Organic Soybean Production for more infor- • Do what others cannot or will not domation.) He has not found a consistent market • Choose alternative enterprisesfor the other grain crops. To avoid loss or non- • Sell directly to end users to reduce the num-payment from smaller organic buyers who may ber of intermediaries and to keep more dol-renege on contracts, his farmer- lars in your own pocketmarketing cooperative features a • Stack enterprisesspecial grower-supported trust • Differentiate your product asfund used to pay farmers for in some way special —thisbreach of contract. His flax crop, adds valueraised for human consumption, • Find market nichescurrently sells for $1 per pound • Cultivate good relationships($50 to $60 per bushel). with buyers Fernholz tells others consid- • Be consistent in quality andering the transition to organic to deliverygo into it not for the market but • Consider cooperative market-for the philosophy of benefiting ing or processing //MOVING BEYOND CONVENTIONAL CASH CROPPING PAGE 5
  6. 6. • Analyze your operation for ways to reduce RESOURCES costs Thomas Jefferson Agricultural Institute Once you have embraced these principles, 601 West Nifong Blvd. Suite 1Dopportunities to employ your current resources Columbia, MO 65203in different ways become more apparent. From 573-449-3518there, the path toward a transition will begin to E-mail: info@jeffersoninstitute.orgtake shape. Even though change is never easy, it be done. Take a fresh look at your people, The Thomas Jefferson Agricultural Institute is aland, and other resources for market potential. non-profit agricultural education and researchIf possible, visit other families who have made center working in support of family farmers.significant changes for the better in their opera- With a focus on crop diversification, thetions. For additional ideas, see the following re- Jefferson Institute provides farmers withsource list. information on how to grow and market alter- REFERENCES native crops. Among the crops they are work- ing with are: canola, buckwheat, amaranth, flax,1) Nation, Allan. 2001. Allan’s Observa- sesame, sunflowers, millet, and alternative tions. Stockman Grassfarmer. February. legumes. They have a number of publications p. 16-17, 20. on growing and marketing alternative crops,2) Leake, Linda. 2001. Flower Children. several multi-state projects evaluating alterna- Hay and Forage Grower, January, p. 19- tive crops, and an e-mail bulletin on upcoming 20. events and developments in new crops.3) Allan Savory Center for Holistic Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) Management National Agricultural Library, Room 304 1010 Tijeras, NW 10301 Baltimore Albuquerque, NM 87102 Beltsville, MD 20705 505-842-5252 301-504-6425 E-mail: http://www.sare.org4) Anon. 2000. Jumbo shrimp. Progressive The SAN website contains a wealth of informa- Farmer. December. p. 34. tion on marketing strategies, how to conduct5) Anon. 2000. Welcome to the pumpkin on-farm research, alternative crops, and much patch. Progressive Farmer. December. p. more. Numerous bulletins and reports are 34. available on-line. They sponsor a lot of on-farm research.6) Anon. 2000. Barbeque Pits—A farm shop enterprise. Progressive Farmer. Decem- Kansas Rural Center, Inc. ber. p. 34. 304 Pratt Street, PO Box 133 Whiting, KS 665527) Pollard, Dave. 2001. Sundiesel and 785-873-3431 chickens. The Stockman Grassfarmer, letters to the editor. March. p. 3. Kansas Rural Center is a private nonprofit8) SARE. 2001. The New American Farmer: organization that promotes the long-term health Dan and Jan Shepherd. Farmer profile. of the land and its people through education, < research, and advocacy. The Rural Center shepherd.htm>. cultivates grassroots support for public policies that encourage family farming and stewardship9) SARE. 2001. The New American Farmer: of soil and water, and is committed to economi- Carmen Fernholz. Farmer profile. cally viable, environmentally sound, and < socially sustainable rural culture. Numerous fernholz.htm>. publications and a newsletter are available.PAGE 6 //MOVING BEYOND CONVENTIONAL CASH CROPPING
  7. 7. Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society2035 190th Street 9824 79th Street SEBoone, IA 50036-7423 Fullerton, ND 58441-9725515-294-8512 701-883-4304E-mail: E-mail: tpnpsas@drservices.com PFI sponsors statewide field days, publishes the The Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture newsletter The Practical Farmer, is involved Society promotes ecologically and socially with numerous on-farm research projects, has a sound food production and distribution systems lending library, provides bulletins and videos, in the Northern Plains. They sponsor publica- and sponsors workshops and seminars. PFI tions and farmer events, including a summer currently has 30 research cooperators. The PFI symposium and farm tour and a two-day website is quite comprehensive and has numer- annual winter conference. ous useful resources. Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society P.O. Box 736Land Stewardship Project Hartington, NE 687392200 4th Street 402-254-2289White Bear Lake, MN 55110 E-mail: jillw@hartel.net651-653-0618 The Society promotes an agriculture that builds180 E. Main St., P.O. Box 130 healthy land, people, communities, and qualityLewiston, MN 55952 of life, for present and future generations. They507-523-3366 sponsor annual meetings, farm tours, field days,or and workshops. They have a speakers’ bureau103 W. Nichols and a team of mentors who provide one-on-oneMontevideo, MN 56265 assistance with the transition to sustainable320-269-2105 farming practices. They produce a quarterly newsletter of agriculture practices and philoso- The Land Stewardship Project (LSP) is a phy. private nonprofit organization whose primary AERO mission is to foster an ethic of stewardship for Alternative Energy Resources Organization farmland, to promote sustainable agriculture, (AERO) and to develop sustainable communities. Their 432 North Last Chance Gulch membership consists of farmers as well as rural Helena, MT 59601 and urban residents working to secure a health- 406-443-7272 ful food supply; preserve soil, water, and Email: wildlife; support diversified, profitable, family- AERO fosters the development of sustainable sized farms; organize communities for positive communities in rural states of the Rocky change; hold corporations and governments Mountain West and Northern Plains. They accountable; and create a sustainable vision for promote the use of renewable energy, conserva- our food and agriculture system. They have tion, sustainable agriculture, and community four offices in Minnesota. Membership in- self-reliance. Their sustainable agriculture cludes a subscription to the Land Stewardship efforts help farmers and ranchers find ways to Letter, workshops, and opportunities to connect sustain the productive capacity of their farms with others who share these values. while maintaining their rural communities. They offer sustainable farming information, financial and technical assistance, farm tours, and educational events. //MOVING BEYOND CONVENTIONAL CASH CROPPING PAGE 7
  8. 8. AgVentures Magazine11950 W. Highland Ave.Blackwell, OK 74631580-628-4551Fax: 580-628-2011E-mail: AgVentures@aol.com Published bi-monthly for an annual subscrip- tion of $21, the magazine provides 101 ideas per year on how to profit from your land. Each issue features articles on livestock, crops, aquaculture, niche markets, and state assis- tance.By Preston SullivanNCAT Agriculture SpecialistEdited by Paul Williams andRichard EarlesFormatted by Gail M. HardyMay 2002 The electronic version of Moving Beyond Conventional Cash Cropping is located at: HTML PDF 8 //MOVING BEYOND CONVENTIONAL CASH CROPPING