minnesota agriculture

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.

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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

Hit the Brakes…It is August Already?

This past weekend the calendar rolled over to August 1st. How did this happen? Where did summer go? I really just want to hit the brakes. Push pause. I’m trying to enjoy slower nights on the patio, watering flowers, and picking green beans from the garden but there is also a lot of work to be done. We still have a list a mile long of things we need to finish around the house before harvest season.

Our baby girl will be 4 months old already on the 16th of August. She’s rolling over, talking like crazy, loves sitting up as much as she can, and I’m pretty certain Auntie Becky might be her favorite from the way she laughs when she’s around. Miss Harper is finally starting to get a little bit of chubs on her so she’s hopefully catching up on the growth chart.

Sticking her tongue out is a skill in her book.

Sticking her tongue out is a skill in her book.

Love that smile!

Love that smile!

We cut wheat in July this year. We tried planting wheat as a cover crop, a crop we use to help hold soil in place over the winter, a few years ago and didn’t have much success. This year, we were able to actually have a wheat harvest. The hubs spent some time getting the combine ready for the first small grains harvest it had seen, and Kevin and Ray combined it all in one day. We also baled the wheat straw and now have wheat straw available. We already have our livestock covered where we board for bedding, so we will most likely sell this online or send it to an auction.

Winter wheat we had planted for a cover crop on about 70 acres.

Winter wheat we had planted for a cover crop on about 70 acres.

Winter wheat we harvested in July.

Winter wheat we harvested in July.

We’ve also been busy cutting and baling hay. The hubs and I have about 4 acres of grass hay that we use for our beef steer and horse. We hire out some of it, and then borrow equipment from a friend to cut the rest. The hubs and I have been searching for our own hay equipment, but with low crop prices, purchasing equipment can be difficult, so the deals we have worked out now with friends are what we operate with. The barter system works great most days when you are a young and beginning farmer.

cutting hay. Yes, this was our first cutting off this field...we got a little behind this summer!

cutting hay. Yes, this was our first cutting off this field…we got a little behind this summer!

We have been watching our corn grow all summer. We check it about once a week for issues with insects, fungus, etc. Thankfully, we have had a very good growing season here in Minnesota. I always remember my Dad saying “we plant the seed, but God gives the harvest.” We continue to say prayers for a bountiful and save harvest season.

farm field rural mn

-Sara

Honeybee Update

Doesn’t it seem like summer just started and now we only have a month left?

We are busy making some last-minute purchases for our bees, and getting ready to plan our fall extraction – which will be our first time extracting!

As many of you know, we expanded from 2 hives to 12 this year with 2 different breeds of bees – Italian and Russians. We have our bees in 2 different locations and are excited to get a crop of honey this year!

Frame of capped honey.

Frame of capped honey.

Pictured above is a full frame of capped honey. The white capping is the wax that bees put over the comb of pure honey to seal it. This is what we extract. We cut the wax capping off with a capping knife, and then place the frame inside an extractor to extract the honey. We are going to try making both honey sticks and lip balm in addition to honey. Starting in September, we will be very busy with extracting and bottling!

These are our Italian bees.

These are our Italian bees.

Although we aren’t sure if all of our hives will winter over this year, we will once again be prepping our hives for winter around the end of September/early October. We never really know if our bees will make it through or not, as it depends on many factors including weather, honey stores, and colony strength to name a few. It is a struggle we face as bee keepers, and one we can’t do much about. We can do everything in our power to get them off to a good start including feeding them, treating them for issues when needed, placing them in the right location and more.

We are already making plans to expand our hives again next year, and expand into a secondary business of backyard pollinator hive rentals! If you want to follow what we are doing all summer with the bees, and check out more photos, visit our Facebook page!

-Sara  

River Valley Woman – Today’s Faces of Farming

Who would have thought…I’m now a cover girl, and at 8.5 months pregnant none the less!

I was recently asked to be part of the Women in Ag Issue “Today’s Faces of Farming” put out by River Valley Woman, a local publication that serves the Mankato/New Ulm area region.

April issue of River Valley Woman

April issue of River Valley Woman

I was pretty honored when they asked me to be the feature. Their reasoning? Because I am doing so many different things in agriculture! Maybe it is because I’m interested in it all, or I just love agriculture that much or that I thoroughly enjoy giving back to my ag community, but I never really thought of myself as “busy.” I just do it all because I love it. Yes, I work a full-time job in ag. Yes, I farm. Yes, I volunteer my time on boards in my community. Yes, I help do all the communications for our farm and our businesses. Yes, I am going to school for a Master’s in ag. Yes, I am in the FBM program. Yes, I am completing a rural leadership training. Yes, we are expecting our first child smack dab during planting season and honey bee arrival. But honestly, none of it ever feels like work because I thoroughly enjoy doing it all, learning more every day, doing the research, interacting with others, and being in the tractor.

Ag is in my blood. I grew up on a Century farm and continue to farm that same exact land today. I hope to be able to continue that farm far into the future, and pass the same love I have for the land, animals and livelihood to my children. I did not take a traditional route of ag education, but I think that helps give me a very different and often consumer driven perspective to agricultural issues. I also think agriculture needs to embrace those who don’t take the traditional route – we need everyone working in ag to make a difference and help feed the growing population.

I am lucky enough to be able to work alongside my best friend and husband as we work to build our honey bee business, Sweet Cheeks Honey, continue our education through Farm Business Management, operate farm land with his brother and contribute to the family business. We are both passionate about agriculture, and the legacy we are working to continue, that it doesn’t make any of it ever seem like a job.

I love working along side my husband, who is one of my biggest encouragers!

I love working along side my husband, who is one of my biggest encouragers!

If you are in the area, I invite you to pick up a copy – there are some amazing women in Ag featured as part of it, including my friend Wanda from Minnesota Farm Living, and you’ll even catch a photo and information from some of our relatives, the Annexstad’s who operate a family dairy in the county over from us!  I love that there are so many amazing women in ag featured in this magazine. Honestly, there were far more deserving ladies I work with and know for the cover and feature story than me. There are days where it doesn’t feel like we can move our ag dreams ahead fast enough or get where we want to be. We still have so much we want to do in agriculture and with our farm dreams! I just sincerely hope more women will consider a career in agriculture be it in communications, IT, finance, education, procurement, seed sales, soils and plant health, engineering…the list goes on! We need everyone, and we need good ideas & perspective.

Don’t forget to read the latest edition online!

A special thanks to Despres Photo and River Valley Woman for their work on the story and photos, and giving me a chance to be featured and tell my story.

Doing some online communications via the iPad for our businesses.

Doing some online communications via the iPad for our businesses.

Out with one of the hives before we start adding more.

Out with one of the hives before we start adding more.

P.S. For those wondering from the article, no baby update yet – I’m thinking rock picking in the skid loader this weekend might help with that situation. ;)

-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