Food

Planting Non-GMO Soybeans: Value-Added Production

You’ve heard me talk about the benefits of genetically engineered crops before, and why farmers like us choose to use them. You have probably read about our yields we get with planting GE crops (better known as GMO to consumers), what methods of tillage we use, what chemicals we have used, etc. in some of my past posts. We’ve had a lot of people ask us since we are the first ones to stand up for allowing farmers to use GE technology and why we think GMO labeling is silly…

Why Non-GMO soybeans?

First things first, planting Non-GMO soybeans is very, very different from organic farming, and frankly, the two aren’t really alike at all in my opinion. Planting Non-GMO soybeans is more like farming with GE soybeans than most think, but with a few extra quirks and rules to follow. Our non-GMO soybeans are exported and made into tofu. I’m going to touch on a few areas (not all) of why we chose to plant non-GMO soybeans on our farm this year.

  1. Market – There is a better and bigger market for non-GMO, food grade soybeans than ever before. Creating this market has been something that farmers asked for as the need for protein options has risen in other countries. Our soybean growers association has worked hard to capitalize on this development and invest in the research to grow this specialty market over the past few years. New food-grade seed varieties continue to be developed that are higher in certain protein contents or select oils depending on what they will be used for in the end market.
  2. Price – We receive a higher premium for our soybeans because they are a specialty product. We do have to complete a few more tasks with planting non-GM soybeans like carefully cleaning out bins and trucks to avoid contamination and using only certain approved chemicals. We have to sign a contract similar to what one might sign with GE seed, except our contract revolves around identity preservation and the number of bushels we have agreed to grow. As crop prices continue to drop, farmers are looking to find an extra bushel or take off-farm jobs. The price premium on non-GMO soybeans is one of those options for farmers. Typically, the seed costs less than GE seed which means our end cost of production isn’t as high.
  3.  Tillage- I read a post that said that non-GMO farmers use more tillage than conventional farmers due to weeds. We did no more tillage than we do when we plant GE soybeans or GE corn. In fact, we did no-till in some of our fields this year. Again, planting non-GMO is not the same as organics which may rely on additional cultivation or flame weeding. We do have options chemical wise we can use for weeds. We didn’t use anymore chemical than we typically use in a given year, but we did use different kinds because we can’t use glyphosate, for example.
  4.  Bushels –This is always the main question we get. Will my bushels be on par with GE? Possibly. Possibly not. Every field is different based on soil type, nutrients, even weather patterns vary since we have fields in 3 different counties for us. We had hail damage in some fields compared to none in others. Some had standing water while others did not. All of those factors can impact bushels. However, typically we average around 50-55 bushels per field for our non-GMO soybeans, but we have had fields that have reached into the upper 70’s for bushels per acre this year.
  5. Traits – Some of the traits we look for in non-GMO soybeans are the same as what we look for in GE soybeans – resistance to certain fungus, drought tolerance, past performance on bushels per acre, etc. We also pay close attention to oleic concentration, protein concentration and even hilum color because those are the traits looked at for premiums in a food-grade, non-GMO soybean.

dsc_1316edit

It would be a shame to just say farmers are against GE soybeans, when I don’t think that is the case, and certainly not for us. Capitalizing on new opportunities and markets to create expanded profits and options for farmers is a good thing. You don’t have to plant GE and you don’t have to plant non-GMO. It isn’t for everyone, and how you choose to operate your farm versus your neighbor will be different. It works for us, but it won’t work for everyone. We certainly aren’t dismissing modern technology – in fact, I’d love if every crop was GE and we never had to worry about using a chemical ever, but that isn’t the case.

Farmers will have to continue to evolve with new market trends, new growth markets, and evaluate their current operations in order to succeed. Farmers are finding that planting value-added soybeans can be one of those pathways for their farm to succeed.

-Sara

Field Meal Recipe Ideas

Field meals are something that has always been important to my family. My mom always made sure there was a hot meal taken out to the field, or if we were at a field close to home, a big warm meal would be on the table for a quick 15 minute break growing up. There was always roasts, biscuits, casseroles, warm sandwiches, homemade applesauce, and so many yummy desserts floating around during harvest season at our house. She never packed my dad a cold sandwich, because well, he hated them. My husband, isn’t quite that lucky. She always made sure he would have something hot while working long hours in the tractor. We also had a custom harvester growing up, and Charlie also always ate well at our house during those times too. My mom even likes to make sure now that the hubs has warm food if he is in the fields near her house. She also keeps candy corn (his favorite) stockpiled during the harvest season to run out to him! Lucky man!

Looking back now, these times either out in the field set up around a card table she would bring out, or around our kitchen table for a quick 15 minutes, are some of the best memories I have of harvest season. Food can easily bring a group of people together, and warm food during harvest season does just that. My mom always ensured there was a home cooked meal either ready or delivered.

I can’t always get a meal out to the field, but I try to at least once every week. I depend on a few key items in my arsenal to ensure it is warm when we have field that are 30 to 40 miles apart some times – a crockpot, heated seats, an insulated casserole carrier (I use this one from thirty-one), and plugins in my vehicle. I also keep a plethora of disposable coffee cups, containers, Ziploc baggies, tin pie plates, etc. on hand.

Most times, the meals looks like this...sandwiches, granola bars, chips, gatorade...

Most times, the meals looks like this…sandwiches, granola bars, chips, gatorade…you get the idea.

I’m going to link some of my favorite recipes that I take out to the field below. All of these have been approved by the hubs, so I keep them on a rotating basis during fall and spring. Some of these I don’t follow to a T, or I’ve adapted to be more crockpot friendly, etc. I don’t always measure spices, so use what you feel is appropriate. I go for easy. I go for warmth. I go for cheesy factor and if my non-veggie loving husband will eat it. I always keep refrigerated cans of biscuits or croissants on hand during this time to make with a lot of these.

Spices I always keep on hand to substitute the “real thing” – Onion Onion and Garlic Garlic from Tastefully Simple. These two almost always end up added to any dish in our household. I don’t typically keep actual onion on hand, because the hubs isn’t a big fan, but the onion onion seasoning gives me the flavoring I want in the dishes.

Crockpot Meals

  1. Cheesy Potato Crockpot Soup – This one is perfect for those chilly fall days. I will usually bake biscuits to go with it and bring along. I love the spicy kick the andouille sausage gives it, but use whatever meat you have.
  2. Crockpot Chicken Spaghetti – I don’t use cream of mushroom or mushrooms because I don’t like mushrooms. I use Cream of Chicken soup, and will often only do one can, and then add a package of cream cheese. I also use a can of diced tomatoes and chilies because I often won’t have them separate. I wait and cook my noodles right before heading to the field with this one. I then put them in the crockpot with the chicken so they aren’t soggy.
  3. Cream Cheese Chicken Chili – I don’t usually follow a recipe for chili unless I’m making this chicken chili. Otherwise ground beef, tomatoes, a few cans of beans, corn, garlic, cumin, chili powder, onion, paprika…it all gets thrown in the crock pot for a hearty chili. I will try to make garlic biscuits or corn bread with this one.
  4. Chicken Alfredo Tortellini – Super easy because it uses jarred Alfredo sauce and refrigerated tortellini! I will also use canned chicken with this because I always have it on hand.
  5. Pulled Pork Sandwiches – Pulled pork in the crockpot is so simple! I will either use Dr. Pepper or root beer with mine. I will also bring along the BBQ Sauce so those working can add as little or as much as they want to their sandwich.
  6. Cheesy Turkey Sandwiches – I put all of this in the crockpot as one. My mom will tell you to add a can of cheddar cheese soup, I just struggle with finding it in the store sometimes. And like I mentioned earlier, onion onion and garlic garlic go in too! I will often use turkey breast tenderloin or the fully-cooked oven roasted turkey breast from Jennie-O.
  7. Breakfast Scramble – we have chickens, so I am always trying to use up eggs. I am planning on taking this casserole out to the field for supper this year…so breakfast for supper anyone? I’ve made it a few times just for us, but it makes a lot. I will add chilies sometimes for spice, use ham, etc. to doctor it up.

Casseroles/Sandwiches

  1. Million Dollar Spaghetti – This baked spaghetti is always a crowd pleaser, and is one of my favorites.
  2. Doritos Taco Bake – This is one of my husband’s favorites because he loves Doritos. You can cook the crust before if you are worried about a mushy crust. I’ve never had an issue with it, but some people do.
  3. Funeral Sandwiches – You bake these in a 9×13 pan so they are nice and warm. My husband loves hot ham and cheese sandwiches, and the flavor in these is amazing. A warm sandwich makes up for the cold ones I usually send J
  4. Cheesy Bacon Chicken Casserole – I always say use whatever cheese you have on hand!
  5. Bacon and Cheese Muffins – I will usually make a batch or two of these for the weekend, so the hubs had something to take out in the mornings with him. These are simple, and could easily be used as a “grab-and-go” option for lunches or supper.

Desserts

  1. Pudding Cookies – they stay soft which makes them delicious! I like the cheesecake pudding cookies myself, but you can use any kind of pudding.
  2. Butterfinger puppy chow – my husband loves butterfingers, so I will usually make a batch of this for him to munch on.
  3. Chocolate lasagna – this is one they have to stop and eat, and isn’t made for taking in a tractor. I will bring it along with usually another meal that they truly have to stop for.
  4. Carmelitas – these are very rich bars, but another favorite in our household.
  5. Christmas Crack/Saltine Toffee – Whatever you want to call this, it is so simple to make and so delicious. I like that I can break it up and separate it into snack baggies so everyone gets some.
  6. Revel Bars – the hubs loves these bars and again, simple and they make a lot. Helpful when you have a lot of people to cook for!

Things I always bring out to the field when delivering meals:

  • Garbage bags
  • “farmer” napkins aka papertowels
  • Forks
  • Serving utensils
  • Wet ones

And some days, it’s pizza from the local Casey’s because lets face it, this lady runs out of hours in the day.

I hope all of you have a safe and blessed harvest season! May we all find a few fleeting moments of time together with our families during these busy times, even if it is 15 minutes around a card table and a crockpot.

-Sara

 

CommonGround: Field to Fork Dinner

Common Ground. That is the goal of the CommonGround group…to find common ground around food and farming, and for everyone to walk away with a better understanding of farming and why farmers choose to farm the way they do.

This past week, I was able to be part of an amazing event – The first CommonGround Field to Fork Dinner held in Minnesota.

Field to Fork Dinner at Thallman Farms

Field to Fork Dinner at Thallman Farms

Planning for this event started many months ago with four of us working on the details, look and feel of the event, in preparation for a crowd that maybe was unfamiliar with agriculture, but eager to visit a farm, ask questions, and have a conversation about food.

Thallman’s have an absolutely gorgeous farm, and were so generous in hosting the event. It couldn’t have been more perfect…dining right next to the soybean field.

13938466_10157270269295402_4209948904431126364_n

We diligently planned things like signage, decorations, photographers, custom printed invitations…even down to what forks and style of plates we should use were discussed. Details were key in the Field to Fork dinner.

It was nice to meet consumers and just talk…what about food concerns them, what questions do they have, what are they passionate about? How can I help you as a farmer? What things do you enjoy doing? Even transportation in the cities versus rural areas was discussed at my table.

My friend Betsy from Jensen Farm and Seeds provided me with a large box with wheat, canola, dark red kidney beans, navy beans, barley, and pinto beans. She also provided us with some fun facts like this one about dark red kidney beans!

My friend Betsy from Jensen Farm and Seeds provided me with a large box with wheat, canola, dark red kidney beans, navy beans, barley, and pinto beans. She also provided us with some fun facts like this one about dark red kidney beans!

All of this conversation was accompanied by amazing food – with most ingredients grown in Minnesota. Caprese (which I think I’m going to now make with some fresh tomatoes from my garden), roasted sweet corn, a delicious vegetable medley and pork ribs. Dinner was complete with delicious pies including strawberry rhubarb, apple, and pecan to name a few. The pies were topped with the most amazing fresh whipped cream.

Sweet Cheeks Honey was given away as favors, which was a really awesome opportunity for me to talk about our bees and what we do on our farm. Martin County Magic Seasoning was also given as favors.

Sweet Cheeks Honey as favors

Sweet Cheeks Honey as favors

We finished off the night with a Q&A session from the crowd.  I was genuinely surprised by some of the questions, and intrigued as well. Sometimes I start to wonder if maybe we aren’t listening enough to our consumers. Many of those I talked to, just wanted to understand better what we did, or wanted to support local with their dollars, and they weren’t sure how to do that. Some of the questions were around regulations, the farm bill, and even technology.

The food was delicious and  beautifully prepared. The handcrafted tables came from Country Style Accents.  The weather proved to be perfect, even if it was a bit muggy while setting everything up. Lastly, the conversation and sharing what we do as farmers was so meaningful to everyone who attended.

My boss provided some of the wine grapes from his vineyard. He sells his grapes to Chankasa, a winery that was featured at our event.

My boss provided some of the wine grapes from his vineyard. He sells his grapes to Chankaska, a Minnesota winery that was featured at our event.

I am so grateful to be a part of this group of amazing women. This was my first major event with CommonGround, and I can’t wait for more. If you ever have questions about your food and farming, please reach out. If I can’t answer it, I will find someone who can…and the farm women of CommonGround have a wealth of knowledge to share. Join in the conversation.

The Women of CommonGround and the FFA Volunteers who assisted.

The Women of CommonGround and the FFA Volunteers who assisted.

-Sara

Dear Subway, I really wish you would have talked to a farmer.

*Please note due to the overwhelming response, I am unable to respond to every comment individually. I am however, reading them, processing & learning. Thank you!

Dear Subway,

I really wish you would have talked to a farmer.

I really wish you would have done so before your big announcement saying you would, as of 2016, be sourcing all of your turkey and chicken as being raised without antibiotics.

I really, really, wish you would have visited those farms that supply your turkey, chicken, and as you stated, eventually your pork and beef that will be sourced as antibiotic free as well.

Here’s the deal. I like your food, I really do. Your chopped salads and chicken bacon ranch sub are my favorites. I layer my sub with veggies like cucumbers, spinach, and onion. However, your marketing ploy makes me sigh, as I guess I need to check off another restaurant that I can no longer eat at.

ALL meat that hits the market for consumption is and continues to be antibiotic free. See, meat is tested for antibiotics, and livestock given antibiotics have to follow strict withdrawal periods before they can be sold for meat. Farmers have to keep accurate records about what antibiotic was given, when it was given and to what animal. Animals that are sick are often housed in a sick bay or removed from other livestock to help stop the spread of a disease. Sometimes, it involves treating more than one animal to prevent the disease from spreading. Animals are treated based upon a veterinarian’s recommendation for the best course of action, and farmers follow that plan of care to ensure that animal is healthy.

Minnesota is the number one producer of turkeys. I have many turkey farming friends. I see how their birds are raised and cared for, and have been in their barns. Have you? Have you asked a farmer what it is like to treat a sick animal or let it suffer? Have you asked them why antibiotics are an important tool in their toolbox on their farm? Yes, birds are raised indoors in Minnesota. Wouldn’t you want to be indoors during -35 degree weather?

I have seen a calf come down with pneumonia, just like I did during my sophomore year of high school. I watched my Dad call the vet out. I went to my doctor. The vet prescribed an antibiotic and instructed my dad on how to administer the correct dosage of antibiotic to save the calf. My doctor gave me a prescription for 2 antibiotics and cough syrup with the correct dosage and directions for how to administer the antibiotic to myself so I wouldn’t get sicker. The antibiotics worked for the both of us. That calf went on to lead a perfectly healthy life, never needing an antibiotic again, and became hamburger on one of our customer’s plates. Would it have been better to just let the calf die? Is that calf not worthy of treatment just as I am?

Why are you afraid to have the conversation with farmers, to learn about what they do instead of forcing them to change the entire industry and their practices? Have farmers asked you to change how you do business? Farmers’ frustrations keep mounting as more and more companies are asking them to do something without rhyme or reason, explanation, or understanding. Farmers don’t do anything “just because,” there is research, time, dollars, education, sweat, blood, and tears involved in every decision made. Please Subway, won’t you just take the time to ask? To look? To understand the decisions from housing, to feed, to what breeds to raise, to who to hire, to what bedding gets used, to why an antibiotic may be necessary… before you make another announcement? An announcement, that I will fully admit, you are going to find very difficult to actually come through on.

I understand some things have happened that have tarnished your reputation over the past year, but hurting the family farmer will only add to that issue, not help. I vote bringing back shredded carrot as an option and that will go a long ways, and having a conversation with the farmer who works tirelessly to raise the product you need to sell those delicious sandwiches.

Sincerely,

A farmer

Subway footlong

Top 5 Things Subway Customers Need to Know

Subway Announces That A Bullet Is Their Treatment of Choice for Sick Animals

Disappointed in Subway; Caving Into Fear

Subway Eat Fresh – Stay Politically Correct
Subway Removing Antibiotics and Facebook Comments

There Are No Antibiotics in Your Meat, Now Stop.

Ruffled Feathers over Subway

Food Dialogues- Antibiotics and Livestock

Fact or Fiction – Common Antibiotic Myths

Note: As of 10/23, Subway has updated their antibiotic free policy to now read:

That said, we recognize that antibiotics are critical tools for keeping animals healthy and that they should be used responsibly to preserve their effectiveness in veterinary and human medicine. Our policy is that antibiotics can be used to treat, control and prevent disease, but not for growth promotion of farm animals. Accordingly, we are asking our suppliers to do the following:

  • Adopt, implement and comply with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (“FDA’s”) guidance for industry 209 and 213, which requires that medically important antibiotics not be used for growth promotion. Visit the FDA site to learn more.
  • Assure that all antibiotics use is overseen, pre-approved and authorized by a licensed veterinarian before they are administered to any animal.
  • Keep accurate and complete records to track use of all antibiotics.
  • Adhere at all times to all legal requirements governing antibiotic withdrawal times. This assures that antibiotics have been eliminated from the animals’ systems at the time of slaughter.
  • Actively encourage, support and participate in research efforts focused on improving animal health while reducing antibiotics use.

H.R. 1599 – GMO Labeling at the Federal Level

I’ve seen a lot of headlines come across social media lately in regards to H.R. 1599 – The Safe and Affordable Food Labeling Act. Most of them have stated in  one way or another that our Federal Government is banning GMO labeling on foods. When you see headlines like “Congress may ban states from GMO labeling” instead of “Congress may create federal GMO labeling program” how do you interpret it? (Thank you CNBC by the way for that misleading headline!)

This is why we need to learn to evaluate our sources and frankly, read the proposed bill ourselves. It is set to be voted on by the House today, and is suspected to pass due to bipartisan support.

So what does this bill actually do? It creates a voluntary, federal GMO labeling program. Why is it important that GMO labeling is done at a federal level? It is important because right now, the creation of patchwork state GMO labeling laws are hurting consumers, businesses and confusing grocery stores and people alike. What does a GMO label or Non-GMO label mean in Iowa if standards are different in Missouri? Frankly, it doesn’t really mean a thing to consumers. If each state can make different rules about what is allowed and what isn’t, then what does that say about the trust of a label? And why would we need one at all then, if it doesn’t have a set standard?  This bill would also arrange federal policy for GMO labeling, which currently requires labeling for genetically-engineered products that are materially different from their conventional counterparts in terms of functional, nutritional, or compositional characteristics.

GMO infographic

A federal labeling system would create clarity for the consumer by clearly labeling products the same way, with the same requirements. For instance, you would only see one label, same color, same design, same logo, etc. backed by the FDA, rather than a Minnesota label on this pack of cereal from Company A and a Idaho label on this box of cereal from Company B. Does this actually create the label if it passes? Not at this time, but it gives authority to the FDA to set the standards and create a federal labeling program if needed. Currently, the patchwork of state labeling that is starting, will drive up costs of production for food companies, and this cost will ultimately be passed on to consumers or consumers won’t be able to purchase a favorite product made in New York because that company doesn’t want to pay to put a label on created by Vermont’s state, or pay for the number of employees it would take to understand and cover all the regulations from states with labeling requirements.

I am all about consumers having more knowledge about their food and what they feed their families. I know for some, organic is very important to their lifestyle and diet. For me, thought it isn’t a big deal. However, it has been stated over and over again that there is no difference between GMO and non-GMO foods and they are safe – See HERE and HERE. It is also why I’m an advocate for doing your own research – finding scholarly articles and science based fact, and asking farmers directly, rather than reading the news headline. I went and read through H.R. 1599. It isn’t about banning labels, it’s about creating labels – and giving the FDA the ability to create a federal regulation that is easier for consumers to recognize and understand, as well as for companies and businesses to follow. If you choose to follow a non-GMO diet, that is just fine and you can do so by purchasing foods with the USDA Certified Organic label currently. What I don’t want, is a Mom at the grocery store confused as to what GMO, Non-GMO and Organic mean in one state versus the other and what apple is what. I don’t want a mom stretching her grocery budget to have to pay $2 more for a nutritious food product because Food Company X had to put a special label on their product in order for it to be sold in her home state. Sometimes, federal regulation is necessary and this is one of those times.

Many farmers and farm organizations support the passage of H.R. 1599, despite many of us also believing that GMO’s are safe and don’t need labeling. We understand that consumers want more knowledge about what they eat, but we also know a hodgepodge system isn’t the answer either. We want clarity for everyone involved from the farmer to the food industry to the consumer.

Find out more HERE about why Farm Bureau supports H.R. 1599 and find out some information about Minnesota and GMO’s and labeling. 

-Sara

Convincing my Husband we Need more Livestock…

I grew up with all kinds of livestock from sheep to cattle to chickens. I absolutely loved it. There was honestly nothing better than growing up on the farm, learning life lessons while caring for an animal that depended on you. My dad got me my first sheep, Gizmo, when I was around age 5. I remember playing with him in the house (bless my mom’s soul for what she went through with all of us kids – she even put diapers on this lamb so I could have it in the house with me!) and rollerblading and he’d follow right along behind me. He got a mixture of feed that included the “odd colored” fruit loops that we purchased from a cereal company in the neighboring town. My kindergarten teacher thought it was pretty neat we fed him fruit loops!

I also learned the circle of life with Gizmo. It wasn’t easy when I knew it was time for him to go to market and become meat for our freezer, but I also learned a valuable lesson about what our livestock was for, their role on the farm, and how to respect an animal that would later provide nourishment for my entire family. I learned all of this at a very young age, whether I knew it at the time or not.

The hubs and I have frequently talked about our farm goals and what they include. Three years ago, we raised and butchered a pig for meat for our freezer – it is still providing meat for the two of us, and we gave meat to our family as gifts as well. We also raised chickens and had some for meat and some we kept for egg production. I however, missed cattle the most. The cattle were one of my biggest memories of my family’s farm. I can remember mixing milk replacer for the calves, a sweet smell that always hung in our garage. Dunking noses in buckets, teaching calves to drink from a pail was always a soggy mess. Dehorning and castrating calves was always an interesting time on the farm that resulted in everyone helping, me, my brother and Dad, and if my other siblings happened to be home, yep, they were helping too! Shipping cattle to market or our local butcher was something that always reminded me that livestock were not pets, they had a role in life.

We have been really trying to figure out a way to diversify more, to bring more livestock on to the farm since it something both the hubs and I continue to be passionate about. Luckily for us, we have friends who farm and also believe in helping each other out when possible. We recently purchased this guy, a Jersey beef calf, and were able to work out a deal with our farming friends to have him at their place.

calf

He is cute now, but cute gets big. We named him T-bone since we try to name all of our livestock as one of the products they will become (our pig was the Baconater aka Bacon). In about 18 months or so, he will be going to butcher for beef in our freezer as well as sold in quarters to friends and family. The hubs is learning about things like dehorning, vaccinations and castration since he didn’t grow up with livestock, and I am getting a refresher of it all again since it has been five years since I’ve had cattle.

I think the hubs operates sometimes with the mantra “happy wife, happy life” since I convinced him we needed to purchase T-bone. I keep telling him, our own hamburger in our freezer! I’m also glad that we have farming friends who we can work with to try new adventures and learn things every day. We bounce ideas off of each other, talk strategy and work together to get certain jobs done when necessary. Farming is kind of like a big family some days, one I am thankful for, because I learn something from every single farmer I know. I am thankful for those opportunities when I can listen and ask questions because it can only make our farming operation better, and make us better farmers ourselves.

Now, if I only I could get him to get me those three hens for my backyard…

-Sara 

 

Why Bees Are Dying. It is More Complicated Than You Think & No, It Isn’t Monsanto’s Fault.

My Facebook newsfeed is full of well-intentioned people posting about Monsanto’s latest news piece from Mexico and the bees, but fail to actually read it or understand the issues that someone raising bees are actually concerned with. It was all about Round-Up aka glyphosate (a weed killer not a neonicotinoid) and the banning of Round-Up ready soybeans to protect the bees.

I finally made a Facebook post about it because I was so frustrated. I am going to go into a little more detail about that post here.

  • First of all, soybeans are a self pollinating plant. You don’t need honey bees to pollinate soybeans. However, that doesn’t mean that honeybees do not visit soybeans, because they do. Soybeans are a flowering plant, however it isn’t known how honeybees visiting soybeans affect yields. Research is currently being done on this.
  • Second, Round-Up, aka Glyphosate, sold by many, many chemical companies out there not just Monsanto is a weed killer, not in the class of neonicotinoid’s that bee keepers are worried about. That being said, typically glyphosate is applied in early spring before weed emergence, long before bees are out in full force. And let’s face it, soap and water can kill bees too. Many farmers, including us, are transitioning away from glyphosate due to weed resistance. In fact, we didn’t use it at all this year. Glyphosate is the last thing I’m worried about as farmer hurting bees. That is like worrying about my bees getting caught out in a rain storm. The modern and large-scale use of glyphosate is more common in your neighbor’s backyard to kill weeds on their patio.
  • Third, neonicotinoids are what bee keepers are worried about. The studies are inconclusive. Largely inconclusive. Mark and I have sat in and listened to some of the greats like Dr. Spivak talk all about this. There are a few things you need to know about neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids are used as a seed treatment in modern agriculture, meaning the seed has a coating that has it in it and helps protect the plant while it is growing from munchers like aphids, beetles and other insects. The concern with them is the dust that can happen during planting. However, new technology involving planters as well as new seed lubricants eliminate that dust by up to 90%. Neonicotinoid’s don’t actually kill the bees. They make a bee, essentially drunk. Think of the last time you had a few too many beers. Standing and forming complete sentences was a tad difficult yes? Since bees have to go much further than ever before to find nectar due to habitat loss, when they are essentially “drunk” they may not always find it back to the hive, and then die or when they do find their way back to the hive, their pollen is no longer good.
  • Fourth, we have been losing bees since WW2. Long before any types of these crop protectants were used in agriculture. Remember too that a bee’s lifespan is measured in weeks. They don’t live very long in general, but multiply quickly.
  • Fifth, one of the major issues (larger than neonicotinoids) are mites. This is our number one killer of bees. Mites are nasty little parasites that operate much like a tick, except for bees. They can quickly destroy an entire colony, and this is a major issue we deal with. We actually have to medicate our bees during the fall, before wintering them, in order to protect them. Most bee keepers medicate their bees due to mites.
  • Sixth, another major issue (often larger than neonicotinoids as well) is habitat loss. This is a big deal. Which is also another reason why we believe strongly in CRP and RIM land here at Hewitt Farms. We often put more land into CRP and RIM because we believe in restoring habitats for wildlife, bees included. Our bees are out on a piece of 20 acres of RIM land, that bumps up into CRP. We planted the RIM land in a clover and wildflower mixture specifically for the bees. Farmers are not the only ones who may have contributed to habitat loss through increased planting of corn, soybeans and wheat, the general public has also contributed. From tearing up fields to build new subdivisions, to paving new roads or building a school on outskirts of town in what was once prairie. All of this has contributed. So how can you help and move forward? Plant bee friendly flowers. Consider planting a whole flower bed in bee friendly flowers. Consider turning your front lawn or back yard into a bee friendly prairie. Try planting an apple tree or two. Plant a few hardy blueberry bushes. All of these things will help with bee habitat. You are going to start to see farmers changing what they are planting here because of crop prices, which is a good thing, as it will bring additional crops into the mix for bees.
  • Seventh, bee keeping is a business. Bee keepers don’t just keep bees for the fun of it. They recoup through shipping them for pollination and making honey or using the beeswax. This all causes stress to the bees. Hives aren’t just left to their own accord. I know of bee keepers that ship their bees from Minnesota down to Texas or California. This puts stress on the hives and can bring other diseases into your hives too. Every time you open a hive to take out a super or to check on the comb, it can cause stress on the hive. Yet, you have to do this because it is a business. You aren’t just going to keep bees to keep bees. You use the products they create: the comb and honey, as well as the pollination they do. There are a lot of steps you have to follow when taking care of a bee hive.

So what can farmers do? We can easily make sure we are spraying early enough in the spring when bees are not out in full force. However, this is completely weather dependent. We can focus on seed treatments rather than sprays. We can look at alternative crops to try. Some Minnesota hardy crops we can try are pumpkins, cherry trees, apple trees, and blueberries. I know that Mark and I are both interested in trying pumpkins in the future on our farm.  But anyone can consider planting more of these around their garden or home. Think of a hedge of blueberry bushes at the end of your property! You can help pollinators and have delicious blueberries! We actually planted a cold-hardy blueberry bush this year at our home. Maybe you are interested in having a bee hive out on your property. We are always looking for additional places to put our hives, so if you have a piece of land you think we should check out to place a hive on, let us know!

Checking the hives and removing a pollen patty, a feed we give to the bees.

Checking the hives and removing a pollen patty, a feed we give to the bees.

It is important not to blame this on one company. It is important to think of what we can all do going forward. Stopping the blame game and realizing we all play a part in it and are all at fault is also important. There are things we can control like I mentioned above, but there are some things we can only combat like mites and viruses our bees pick up. If you have questions about our bees, and what we are doing, please don’t hesitate to ask at any time!

-Sara