The Hybrid Organic Farmers…

While I do not grow any certified organic beef at the feed yard, my favorite farmer does grow some certified organic animal feed.  Matt began growing some organic alfalfa and corn in 2004 in an effort to diversify our farm.  It has proven to be an effective risk management and marketing tool, but those advantages do not come without a unique set of challenges.

The certified organic alfalfa field that is located around my house and horse pastures...

A certified organic alfalfa field adjacent to my house…

For animal feed to be certified organic, it has to be grown on land that has been free from all prohibited products (synthetic fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides) for a minimum of three years.  In addition, the farmer must use approved seed and also maintain a management plan which protects the soil and water quality of the farm.

In the nine years that Matt has grown certified organic animal feed, the single largest challenge has been weed control.  The inability to use herbicides to spray for weeds creates an enormous task when creating a viable long term farm management plan.  Despite the fact that the crop rotation plan which Matt employs goes a long way to helping control weeds, in the long term we still have a never ending weed problem.

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My favorite cowgirl/chef pulling sticker weeds in the north horse pasture…

One of Matt’s certified organic fields boarders my house and horse pastures.  Several years ago, it was time to tear up the alfalfa field and rotate it into corn.  Along with the corn, the sticker weeds moved in…They then spread from the edge of the field into my horse pastures and yard.

I don’t like weeds.  In addition, it is my opinion that among the weed population, sticker weeds are some of the worst.  They spread like wildfire and develop nasty stickers that are very painful to the touch.  Because I am unable to spray the weeds on the edge of the field, the girls and I try to control the weeds the old fashioned way.

We filled many wheel barrows full of them this summer...

Harnessing the power of my free labor force…

As you might guess, this chore has created some negative thoughts relative to their daddy’s organic farming.  My favorite young women do not relish the character building hours that they spend hand pulling the sticker plants out of the pasture.

Ahh, the fun times are unlimited when doing "sticker weed chores"...

Ahh, the fun times are unlimited when doing “sticker weed chores”…

While the parent in me thinks that this process is a good learning experience for the girls, the farmer in me feels a certain level of frustration with our current inability to effectively control weeds in the long term on the organic fields and boarders of our farms.  Matt is constantly searching for ways to deal with this weed challenge, and the girls and I are certainly hopeful that he will soon be successful 🙂

I think that Shellie, the dog, is the only one that enjoys the chore...

I think that Shellie, the dog, is the only one that enjoys the chore…

Over the years, I have learned that no food production system is perfect—each type comes with its own unique set of pros and cons. 

There is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, rather there are hard management decisions that lead to less than perfect results.  The bottom line is that we do the best that we can with our ultimate goal being a long term sustainable farm.

A field of traditionally raised animal corn that will be harvested to feed to my cattle...

A field of traditionally raised animal corn that will be harvested to feed to my cattle…

Because different people desire different types of food products, both production systems have a place in our society.  Matt and I have chosen a diverse blend on our farm in order to attain a broad spectrum of financial, environmental and social sustainability.  My favorite farmer and I have many passionate discussions as we routinely evaluate what is the best course for our farm.

9 Comments

Filed under Farming, General

9 responses to “The Hybrid Organic Farmers…

  1. For all of you FYF email followers, I apologize that I cluttered up your inbox on Sunday evening with a link that did not work. This is the post that should have been linked in that email. I am “technically challenged” this week, and I appreciate your patience with me!

    Anne

  2. “Over the years, I have learned that no food production system is perfect—each type comes with its own unique set of pros and cons.”

    I couldn’t have set it better. I think often in ag we get tripped up on organic vs. conventional, as if we have to pick a side. Your post does a great job of explaining that we’re all on the same side, and neither is perfect. Thanks for posting!

    • Hi Rosie,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I appreciate your support and your kind words. I agree that we are all “in this together” and would love to see more teamwork as we move into the future!

      All the best,
      Anne

  3. Rex

    What sort of crop rotation does your brilliant, favorite farmer use?
    I understand that the fourth year after the alfalfa is planted it qualifies for organic. Does he get a fifth year before organic corn? Then how does he go about killing the weeds?

    • Hi Rex,

      You are correct that year four an alfalfa field can go into an organic rotation. Matt typically gets 7-8 years out of an alfalfa stand, so he will get 3-4 years of organic alfalfa and then transition into organic corn for a rotation crop. Usually after a year in corn, he goes back into alfalfa and sprays the field before planting the new seeding of alfalfa. The field is then conventional for several years before going back into organic alfalfa. There are times that he does something different (he has also experimented with organic soy beans), but the above rotation is the normal rotation.

      The problem is that sometimes there gets to be a strong enough weed stand during the organic years that spraying the field once prior to planting new alfalfa is not effective at killing the weeds. Once the alfalfa is in the ground, you can not spray again b/c that would kill the alfalfa along with the weeds. There is some “round up ready” alfalfa seed on the market but that is not on the approved organic seed list so Matt cannot plant it. It is this scenario (when one herbicide spraying prior to planting new alfalfa is not effective) that in the long term creates a weed problem. This is exactly what happened on the field by my house as described above in the post.

      Hopefully this makes sense. Let me know if you have more questions.
      Anne

  4. Cheyenne Wright

    You are rite when you say we are all in this together. Weeds are such a inconvenience for all farmers. You and your family seem to have it well figured out and continuing on doing your homework. I enjoy your blog very much.

    • Hi Cheyenne,

      I am so glad that you enjoy my blog. I hope that you will continue to read and follow! I agree that weeds are a huge problem, and we all need to keep getting smarter on how to control them.

      One of the things that I love most about our farm is that we never run out of things to study and do “homework” on 🙂

      All the best,
      Anne

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