May was a cold, wet month. It has been very difficult trying to plant our corn crop. We have received a lot of rain. This past week we were finally able to get in the fields. We planted the corn in two days. Now we will prepare the ground for soybean planting. Today, Sunday, May 29, Mom, Dad, and I went fishing at Clear Lake, Iowa. We caught 20 bullheads. It was time for a break and a little relaxation. We had a picnic lunch, too.
Our farm has changed over the years in many ways. A very important part of the farm is the crops we grow. My grandfather did not have as many acres as we do today. Currently, we farm 335 acres of land, with some of this being rented ground. About 20 of those acres are in CRP (Conservation Reserve Program). The CRP land is mostly planted with trees for beauty of the earth and wildlife for many animals. Each year, we have about 60 acres of corn, 60 acres of soybeans, 60 acres of barley (or other small grains, like oats), 60 acres of hay, and 60 acres of pasture. The rest of the land goes to permanent pasture, farmyards, waterways, cattle lanes, fence lines, creeks, driveways, etc. The cropland is on a five-year rotational system consisting of corn, soybeans, barley, hay and pasture. The rotational system helps keep nutrients and life in the soil. We always had corn and soybeans on our farm. We use the corn for livestock feed on our farm. The soybeans, we usually sell to companies that make human foods. We used to always have oats, but a few years ago, we changed that to barley as it is a better hog diet. We use the hay for cattle feed during the winter season. We always need pasture on our farm for the cowherd to graze in the summer time and the sows to graze and farrow in.
So, how did we get to where we are today? It has been a long journey for my dad. My grandpa grew the typical crops, as most farmers did in the area. Corn, beans, oats and hay for the cows. My dad, too, after he took over the farm, basically raised the same crops, using chemicals and insecticides to get good yields and clean fields. What turned my dad's view of farming around was one day, October 1979, while painting the barn and listening to the radio. He was listening to the message Pope John Paul II was sharing with everyone in attendance at Living History Farms, while visiting Iowa. He said, "The land is yours to preserve for generation upon generation." That really struck a note with my dad, and from thereafter he has been very conscious of caring for the land and trying to be a good steward. He started making contacts with different farm groups and it was the Practical Farmers of Iowa who gave him a beginning direction to what was and has been quite a change in farming habits. Since than, he has made many friends and has associated with a lot of groups and farmer organizations that have promoted good farming practices.
Farming is a learning process, constantly changing. You never know who to believe and which way to go. The best thing my dad has taught me is to do what you feel is economically sound and environmentally friendly. I have never known what our farm had been like before Dad made the changes to get to where we are today. Before I was even born, my dad was doing research trials with various crops. It wasn't a typical farm like everyone else in the neighborhood. We grew amaranth as an alternative crop. We tried different practices with our crops, including ridge till. We also compared crops side by side studying the effects with strip intercropping. Our family has planted many different trees on our farm for windbreaks and hazelnut trees for woody crops. We also have tested different methods of weed and bug control. Some methods for weed control are timing of planting, cultivating, rotary hoeing, and flame burning. Bug control methods that we have used consist of garlic powdered seed treatment, diatomatious earth, and many others. Through the many trials and studies, one thing leading to the next, it was our family's decision to become organic. This was a goal that we set and we are practicing today. We are very happy with this choice. All of our crops are organic, which eventually led us to our livestock being organic.
As my family went through the years of various practices and research plots, we hosted many field tours on our farm. I was very young when we had many of our visitors, but I know that they came to learn and share. I know my dad learned a lot from others. We've had people from other countries visit our farm. Living in the area that I do, most people in the community used to drive by, scratching their heads trying to figure out what we were doing. They recognized the fact that we were doing things differently than the typical farmer down the road. I'm sure they laughed a lot, too. Today I see it as a really unique, but a great way of farming. I'm glad we planted a lot of trees. It makes our farm look very beautiful. I'm glad we're not using chemicals or insecticides to cause harm to the land or ourselves. I'm glad we have diversity on our farm. It not only looks better, but gives us more than one income to depend on. I think people in our community look up to Dad and see him as a good farmer. I certainly believe that. But, like I said, it took a beginning and a direction and a lot of support along the way. There are other farmers that care for the land, respect it, and use sustainable methods. If all farmers were like this, think of how beautiful the countryside would look and how diverse it would be.
In the future, we plan to keep growing organic crops with better quality and better yields than before. We have also looked at some other alternative crops, such as sunflowers. Our family will continue their journey with farming. I want to be a part of that learning experience and be a good steward to the land.
Farm Fact: We learned about many of our practices that we use on our farm from different farming conferences and observing other farm family operations. Dad has been to many conferences in the past and he and I plan to attend many more in the future for more ideas to share.