Monday, May 14, 2018

Farmer discussions: No Till vs Till. Which one is better?

There is a discussion going on in the farming community about tilling vs no tilling. Based on that conversation it might be time to rethink the way you're planting your crop.

What is no-till farming?
No till farming is a way of planting fields or beds without the use of a plow or at least drastically reducing the amount of disturbing the land during planting.

This is not a new technology. No-till farming has been around for a long time, and was first documented in Egypt. In the past we used no till practices and contrary to our modern ideals it may not have been because we didn't have tractors. These farmers had a higher crop yield using this method of farming. Here is an article about the history of no till practices.

How do you do it?
Just like any new thing you learn, there is a bit of a learning curve. There are a lot of components and things to think about in the no till method; you may leave fields fallow for a few months, cover crops and planting specific cover crops for the season, and possibly herbicides, and pesticides.

Usually special machinery is used, specifically a no-till drill. It drills a hole for the seeds and then covers it over with soil. There are some alternatives to adding this machinery, broad fork, flail mower, slicer-mower, rotary powered harrow to name a few. If you're interested in learning more contact your local extension office for more specific information.

Heating up the debate
One thing to consider the till method of farming you stir up a large amount of carbon which ends up as greenhouse gas, something that many researchers have been watching for climate change. According to this article by US news the effects of traditional till farming have been heating up the planet. By no means is it the only thing causing that but it is something people are paying attention to.

How does that work? By tilling the ground in the spring organic matter and animal matter, in various forms of decomposition, are released from the ground. When that carbon makes it's way into the atmosphere it is turned to carbon dioxide which acts like a blanket heating up the atmosphere.

So, who isn't tilling?
According to this Washington Post Article no-till farming operations are growing at a rate of 1.5% in the US. While not everyone is switching there are more farmers working this into their farming practices for a number of reasons. In a USDA blog post they talk about how the practice of traditional till method you'll find labor, time, fuel usage, equipment maintenance all take their toll on the farmers pocket.

"No-till has significant economic benefits beyond reduced fuel usage.
A farmer who plows 15 acres per hour, for instance, would save roughly 67 hours of work with each eliminated pass over a 1,000 acre field by adopting no-till. Depending on labor costs and equipment maintenance, that’s an additional several thousand dollars saved each year." USDA 
It is all or nothing?
The good news is you don't have change all at once. If you're interested in using the no till method on your farm you can test out on one field or bed and see how it works before you make the full switch. If you slowly move to the no-till strategy you could see which practices produce more profit yields for your farm. Change is hard and sometimes needs more research and knowledge before put it into production. Taking the slower route might let you see a benefit without the large risk of failing.

To till or not to till, that is the debate. Here's your Pros and Cons:


  • Undisturbed soil reduces erosion, loss of topsoil, moisture, and wind erosion.
  • Also, by not tilling you reduce the organic carbon that is released into the atmosphere.
  • Organic material and crop residue keeps plants watered longer into the season.
  • Biodiversity is kept in the soil
  • Reduced carbon footprint
  • Reduced amount of machinery needed (plows, cultivators, disk harrows) so you don't have to maintain, fix, or purchase. Money saved
  • Reduced amount of skill needed (to operate and maintain the machinery)
  • Soil is less compacted (because you aren't driving heavy machinery over the land multiple times)
  • Money saved on labor and fuel
  • Reduction in the amount of fertilizer used
  • Many programs available to assist farmers in the transition from till to no till
  • More crop yield


  • Root vegetables like potatoes still need to be planted in a tilled bed.
  • Weeds may be persistent (and may need a cover crop and or herbicide)
  • May need to spray for insects or find an alternative method for dealing with them
  • 5-10 year transition back to the original soil eco-system
  • Learning curve: there is a risk of failing while learning 
  • Special machinery-no-till drill, etc
  • Crop residue being left undisturbed instead of grazed
  • Soil may stay cooler longer into the spring. (In a hot summer, areas with droughts, and with rising planetary temperatures this would be a benefit)

Getting started with no-till farming:
There are many resources, information, and guides available to help you if you're interested in the no till approach. I've listed a few but talk to your local agriculture or extension office.

Finding a middle ground
Through history we've had a hand in over-tilling and over farming our soil with devastating consequences. Take the dust bowl in the 1930's. There are also areas in the world that have been deforested, over farmed, and then abandoned. We've learned a lot from our mistakes but mostly go back to our old ways.

Can we find a compromise or middle ground? An alternative to no-till vs till may be in strip-tilling or zone tilling. These practices only disturb a portion of the soil needed to plant the seed. This this a less damaging process which puts both methods into practice. There is even a strip-tilling conference coming to Iowa this year if you're interested in finding out more. 

Here's to farming smarter not harder. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Composting: Turn farm waste into extra cash

If there is one thing my farmer/gardener friends know about, it's soil. And my non-farmer friends, well, they want and need that black gold/nutrient rich soil. I propose a way to bring a little bit of revenue to your farm by bringing that product straight to the people who want it. We propose selling compost. It's both good for the farm and good for the environment. In some areas it a high demand item. With a little research into your local market you might be able to bring in extra cash into your farming revenue stream.

A large issue world-wide is waste. Food waste is an item that makes up to 20-30% of what we throw away. According to the Food and Agriculture organization of the United Nations 1.3 billion tons of food (worldwide) is lost or wasted each year. Much of this can be composted back into the soil. Starting small, you might find some solutions locally that make financial sense. Instead of throwing it away, put it to use for the farm.

Here are a few ideas and considerations:

Picking a spot:
Finding a location for your compost might sound like the easiest part of this operation but there are some things to consider. You could find an out of the way spot for your compost and keep it your pile in the same spot all the time. Alternatively, you could put the compost pile on a portion of your growing area and move it every year. The soil underneath will be perfect for planting the following year.

Make sure your space will be able to heat up, has access to water so you can add water easily, and make sure it's in a spot that's manageable to turn.

Another thing to consider is having outside waste brought to your farm. The Rodale Farm found off-farm sources using municipal leaves and grass clippings as well as horse manure to add to their on farm compost. You can read about how they incorporated a compost revenue source here.

Add it up:
All plants have different needs when they're growing and so when they break down they give off different nitrogen and carbon levels. Be sure to incorporate both green (nitrogen) and brown (carbon) items as you add to your pile. At the bottom of this post is a list of things to add and not to add.

Just like the plants you grow, the ingredients you add to your pile are important. The nitrogen and carbon in your compost pile should be balanced as well as the temperature and moisture level. Composting bacteria works best under neutral acidic conditions with the pH ranging from 5.5-8. Compost decomposes fastest between 120-160˚F.  Decomposition happens at lower temperatures but it happens much faster at these temperatures. Keep your pile moist but not wet. A good practice is to water as you add things and turn regularly.

Use it if you've got it:
To cut down on smell of your pile aerate your pile regularly and make sure it's not too wet. You can use an aerator or front loader if you have one to turn your pile.

Add a variety of things to your compost. By mixing in items like hedge clippings, shredded newspaper and larger items you will improve airflow and help break down the compact items like grass clippings. Make sure to smash cornstalks and other large items so that they can be broken down more easily.

When it's done:
After all the dumping and turning and watering it's time to check your product. Finished compost breaks down to about half the volume of the original pile but it's much denser. Compost should look and smell like rich dark soil. You shouldn't see any of the items you've put in the pile. They should have broken down.

In your research you might find information on hot and cool piles. The hot pile will take less time to break down but a cool pile will also break down, but will take longer. Possibly about a year to complete. Which type you have depends on the area and the items you have in your pile.

When you think you're all composted and ready it's time to screen your compost. You can do this by running your compost through a wire screen with about 1/2 inch mesh. Screening can be done to sort out the larger pieces that haven't broken down all the way. Separate theses larger pieces from the smaller ones and add the larger pieces back to compost a little longer.

Bag it up:
You may wonder how you're going to easily bag up this new form of revenue. You have many options.You can sell this to customers by having your own measuring device like a 5 gallon bucket or sell it by the cubic yard. Alternatively you could have the customers bring something to transport it or put it into old feed bags (reuse). If you have the resources you might also give the option to deliver to individuals for an additional fee.

As you're bagging up your black gold you'll need to determine your price for your compost. You'll want to do some further research to see what other compost is going for in your area so that you can be competitive. Screened compost can go for roughly $50 a cubic yard and potting soil will go for $150 per cubic yard. If you're organic or bio-dynamic you can charge more. These prices vary though so do your own research to find your price.

I hope you find that incorporating compost into your agricultural operation can be beneficial to your bottom line as well as helping building back up the soil and reducing the amount of waste that goes into the landfills. Composting seems like a win-win-win for you, the environment, and your community.

Compost is an item you can sell year round as well. Bag up that black gold for the time when the ground is frozen and tuck them away for the winter when clients have smaller projects. A steady stream of income is just good for business. A few ideas that you could help you capitalize on compost are offering compost to your clients that garden, adding it to your own starts, or finding local businesses that need compost - like landscapers. If you're Organic you could sell to local organic gardening groups.

Note: Check with your local Department of Agriculture. There are some areas that are more regulated than others.

Do Compost
- Coffee grounds & filters (greens-N)
- Fruit & vegetable scraps (greens-N)
- Shredded newspaper (browns-C)
- Ash in small amounts (browns-C)
- Garden trimmings (greens-N)
- Eggshells (greens-N)
- Manure (plant eaters only) (greens-N)
- Leaves (browns-C)
- Grass trimmings (browns-C)
- Sawdust, hay or straw (browns-C)
- Finely copped wood or bark (browns-C)
- Old potting soil (browns-C)

Don't Compost
- Animal bi-products, grease, fat & bones
- Meat, poultry, fish
- Seeds and weeds
- Plants that have been treated with pesticides
- Charcoal or Duraflame® ashes
- Treated wood products
- Cat litter or other pet waste

Additional information:
Here are some additional stories of farms that have incorporated composting into their revenue stream.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Spring 2018 Updates

We want to let you know about some exciting changes we've made to Farmbrite. We hope that you like what we've done. 

Updates in our new release:

1.) We have improved the overall look and feel of Farmbrite to make things easier to use. 
You'll see a new side menu that replaces the previous tabs making it easier to navigate and find what you're looking for.

2.) Improvements to scheduling
You can now assign tasks to specific users, add a color to calendar items for better organization, and receive a daily email summaries of tasks and your schedule. 

3.) New Grazing features
Easily manage your grazing operations to assure you are not over grazing your pastures and keep track of animals in fields and their length of grazing.

4.) Track growth metrics for livestock
Keep track of and chart weight and height changes for your livestock to better predict market readiness and potential health problems. 

5.) Track nutrients for fields and crops
You can now record and chart changes in soil health for individual plants and fields.

6.) We have updated our charts and graphs to make information easier to obtain.

7.) We have improved the weather widgets on the dashboard

8.) We've added additional data points for livestock to make it easier to record breading status and key information.

As always, we are constantly working to improve Farmbrite. If you have any suggestions or concerns about the changes we made please let us know.

Visit our help site to view more information about these changes as well as general documentation. 

Take a minute to review us:

Friday, February 3, 2017

10 Tips To Market Your Small Farm

You've bought the seed, tilled the soil, watered and waited and the crop is ready to be picked. If you haven't lined up buyers already, here are some ideas to bring people to you.

1.) Sell direct from your farm:
Putting a small farm stand at the edge of your property is one way of getting your product easily to the public as they drive past. Make a cute sign that tells people what you're selling. Start smart and small.

2.) CSA: Community Supported Agriculture
If you're not currently offering shares for a CSA you should consider it. You specify how many shares you will grow in a year and then sell them to your customers. Then throughout the year as your harvesting things your customers get to pick up fresh produce or meat products weekly or monthly. This is a great way for people to help you out as you get started and also line up customers. Treat them well and they will come back year after year.

3.) Sell to restaurants:
This is a big step. You have a quality product, be proud of that. You have to be brave and go talk to them. How do you do that? Well, let's look at what they're looking for: quality and consistency. Here is an article that gives specific information on the specifics of supplying to restaurants.

4.) Farmers Markets:
Sell at your local farmers market. The people come to you. Find your local farmers market here 

5.) Be creative:
Tell your story. What makes you different from other farms and ranches? Tell people you meet about how you're different. Ask around and see who you can build relationships with. Ask for referrals, have a field party or a pig roast to get people to your farm stand and paying attention to what you're doing there. Once they're at your party get them to sign up for your CSA.

6.) Internet:
Broaden the range of people you can sell to by using the internet. You can easily create an online presence by having a website. There are many sites out there to do this. Create one with a shopping cart or use the shopping cart feature on farmbrite to sell your products online. Make it easy for people to find you and buy your items.

7.) Create a blog or vlog:
Customers love knowing about you and what you're passionate about. Do you love cows? Write about cows. Is your new found passion growing popcorn? Talk about that. Make these posts fun. Share your excitement about what you're doing and they will be excited too! or or even are great sites to look at.

If the written word isn't you thing, another option that's popular is starting a vlog (video blog). You can create a channel on YouTube and post videos there. Really you can post about anything but again it's your passion that's inspiring to the viewer and that's why they watch. You can be doing morning or evening farm chores, fixing fences or turning a bowl on a lathe. Then you get paid when people watch these videos because there are ads.

8.) Get your tweet on:
Social media is a another great way to get your name out to the public. You want it to be easy for people to learn about where you're located, what you grow and sell, and then how to contact you. Take a little time each day to post a tip, a photo, recipe or just a simple Hello. Some sites to think about, twitter, instagram, and of course facebook. There are other sites, there are more everyday, but keep it simple and just post to a few.

9.) Weekly emails and give-away's:
A weekly email sent out to your past customers is another way to interact with your customer base. Tell them what you're growing, what you're planning and get them involved.

Do you have some extra squash around? Why not have a contest. Who can refer the most people to your farmstand, website or facebook page? Here's an armload of squash for the winner.

10.) Word of mouth:
Talk with everybody you know and tell them what you do and why you're passionate about it! Proclaim it from the highest mountain. When you aren't selling yourself, who is? Then after all your friends understand how passionate you are about your business offer them a friend discount and ask them to refer their friends. This is one of the best ways to get new business.

Maybe you've already done most of these items, great job! If you are still looking for ways to market your farm keep doing what you're doing. The most important part is to keep going and not get discouraged. Keep talking to people and getting your name out there. Show the world how passionate you are about your work and it will reward you.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Reporting on your livestock - Livestock Reproduction Report

I wanted to take a moment to showcase one of our new reports that we recently released. The report I chose this week is the Livestock Reproduction Report

You can find this report on the Livestock tab. After you have entered your animals and their genealogy records you can use this report to look at which animals in your herd are producing and which ones aren't. Select a type of animal and a year range from the drop down list. The report will display each mother and how many offspring they produced during that year.

This will give you much more visibility into the fertility of your flock and which years were more productive, which part of your livestock was producing, and which ones weren't. 

Here is a screenshot of an example flock.

We hope that changes like this will make keeping these records easier for you and your business more efficient.

As always, we love hearing from you! Let us know what you think or how we can make this better.

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