Minnesota Farms

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

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.

The Buffer Strip Controversy…Debunked.

Recently, Governor Dayton announced that he will ask the Minnesota Legislature to put into law, a requirement of a 50 foot buffer zone along streams, wetlands, and lakes. Why? He thinks that this will boost the dwindling pheasant population in Minnesota.

Gov. Dayton has cited lower participation in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) by farmers, and that having a direct effect on the pheasant population. What Governor Dayton fails to mention, is that federally, the number of acres allowed into the CRP program has been decreased due to funding. That means that some farmers went to reapply their acres into the program, and were denied because only so many acres are allowed. Governor Dayton also fails to mention that there is an application process for land to go into CRP and if your land doesn’t fit the criteria put forth by the NRCS/USDA, they can deny your application. It doesn’t mean that farmers don’t want to sign up for the program (many find it a waste to farm marginal ground) it is that they are being denied due to funding or their acres not fitting what The government wants in terms of land. Also, there is a large misconception that CRP is a “farmer only” program. Many landowners, hunters, and wildlife enthusiasts have their land in the CRP program as well.

In the 2008 bill, the acres were capped at 32 million. However, with the passage of the 2014 farm bill, 2014 was reduced to 27.5 million acres being allowed to enroll. In 2015, that number drops to 26 million. 2016, 25 million acres and 2017-2018 at 24 million acres. Currently, 27 million acres are enrolled into the CRP program, and that means that at least 1 million acres will be removed from the program or denied reenrollment in 2015. This also means no new enrollment of additional acres over the cap, so essentially eliminating farmers and private land owner’s ability to rent their land back to the government for wildlife habitat.

For Minnesota, the focus on CRP land for our government is wetland habitat – not exactly pheasant friendly. Majority of the applications have to be directly tied to wetland and wildlife that would directly benefit from wetlands. Think ducks, geese, cormorants, swans, heron, etc. Pheasants prefer upland habitat and prairie.

There is also a law already in place for agricultural ground in terms of buffer zones. According to state law, local government is responsible for the administration and enforcement of shoreland management controls. That is an important piece of information because the water issues from county to county vary greatly. Local governments are allowed to adopt their own shoreland protection rules (with commissioner’s approval) that may differ from state law but can account for the unique needs of the watershed rather than the one-size-fits-all approach. Part of this is where land has been part of an urban use for many years (think of Lake Minnetonka for example), if there are businesses along these shorelands (think Northfield, Minnesota), counties with topography or vegetation that would make minimum state standards impractical (think bluff country), or shorelands that are managed under other land resource management programs that have been authorized by state or federal legislation that have goals compatible with Minnesota law (think alternatives with the DNR or the Discovery Farms program).

Note the buffer strip in the side of the photo on another piece of land we farm.

Note the buffer strip in the side of the photo on another piece of land we farm.

There aren’t easy ways to avoid buffer zones. Everything has to be evaluated, approved or part of another law. Existing shoreland rules require a 50 foot buffer in shoreland areas already, which means 50 feet of permanent vegetation must be maintained. Agricultural use within that 50 feet may be allowed only if the farmer has an approved conservation plan with their local soil and water conservation district or the U.S. Soil Conservation Service. Part of that approved conservation plan includes responsible use of fertilizer and crop protection products, and appropriate set-backs for manure application to ensure proper stewardship of water resources.

Now, how do all these laws and restrictions apply? According to state law they apply to all watercourses intrastate and interstate where the drainage area is over 2 square miles, but if the commissioner finds any other watercourse having a drainage area under 2 miles and with a significant flood hazard, the laws and restrictions apply as well.

Now, drainage ditches are a little different. Many counties have a network of drainage ditches serving a multitude of purposes from draining water from agricultural land to ensuring that water runs off of roadways or draining areas that businesses and homes are built on. The current proposal would more than triple current buffer laws on public drainage ditches – notice that is public – not private. This means this could affect every homeowner out there that has a public drainage ditch in the back of their property.

Currently, the law states that public drainage ditches have to have a buffer strip of 16.5 feet. However, that buffer strip doesn’t necessarily have to be in place until a redetermination of benefits of the public drainage ditch is made by the county. This is why our state should focus on funding our local soil and water conservation offices at the proper level, so they can complete these redetermination of benefits. This is probably the biggest misconception that people don’t understand about current law – the ditch has to go through the redetermination before a person actually has to put the 16.5 foot buffer strip in place. That being said, I don’t know many people who farm up to a drainage ditch without leaving at least 10-15 feet of vegetation already. Also, another thing to understand about how drainage ditches are constructed is that they have a berm up on the sides, or a raised bank, – that means the water doesn’t run down directly into them. The water has to go through the soil, filtering it.

 

Can you see the lake behind those trees? That's because there is way more than a 50 foot buffer strip in place here on a piece of land we farm next to a lake.

Can you see the lake behind those trees? That’s because there is way more than a 50 foot buffer strip in place here on a piece of land we farm next to a lake.

There are many other issues with this proposed law. Fines can range up to $20,000, and it is up to the DNR to decide whether requirements are met. Who is going to pay for additional enforcement and DNR? This is also why I strongly urge local control is better – work with your local soil and water conservation district, your NRCS office, etc. They know much more about the soil types, the issues your county faces, etc. than the DNR.

This also means that we have a state agency, the DNR, taking control of private land, your land, without compensation, which violates private property rights. This is especially important. If landowners, not just farmers, can’t plan for the future, make decisions about their property or even appeal for their land, it affects your rights as a property owner. The DNR can and will say what you can or can’t do on your land, without reimbursement or any real reason why as the 50 foot buffer is an arbitrary number, not scientifically justified or studied.

Yes, everyone wants clean water, and honestly, probably farmers more than most because we make our living off of that water. We depend on it every single day for our livelihood. Our kids drink from the same wells on our property. We shower in it, we swim in it, we give our livestock it. But this isn’t about clean water. This isn’t even about pheasant habitat (sorry MN Pheasants Forever – your own website even says that buffer strips are not the best habitat for pheasants as it creates a smorgasbord for predators to come along and eat their nests!) At the end of the day, this is about property rights.

If you don’t understand the many different things farmers are currently doing to protect water, wildlife habitat and soil, please ASK! This is why things like precision agriculture and variable rate application are so important to farmers. This is why we tile, allowing soil to filter water and eliminating nutrient run-off and soil loss. This is why farmers install buffer strips or grass waterways on their land. This is why farmers put in terraces, not only to hold soil back, but to create spots for wildlife to nest and live from the pheasants to rabbits to fox. Farmers often plant cover crops to hold in soil and create a filter as snow melts in the winter. Farmers practice strip tillage or no tillage. They plant crops like hay and alfalfa in areas that might need a denser coverage. Often, the water management practices put in place take time to see results, sometimes over 50 years. Farmers are doing many different things every single day on their farms, but what works for one farm, might not work for another. This is why a “one size fits all 50 foot strip” is not the answer.

-Sara

2014 Crop Season Update

#plant14 has been interesting so far. Mother Nature and Gremlins seem to have been against us all spring so far!

We had multiple things go wrong. Everything from flat tires to oil leaks to wheel bearings going out on the roller to bent cylinders and wire harness issues. I won’t go into detail on those. You’d probably cringe. I’m convinced Gremlins have found their way to the farm.

Replacing shovels on the cultivator

Replacing shovels on the cultivator

We also had very wet fields. Everything would look dry and crusty on top, then a few inches down…BAM…mud. This makes it extremely difficult to plow or plant, and our tractors were getting stuck left and right. With wet muddy fields, we can’t create the seedbed we need to either for our seeds.

We got most of our fields planted, except there are parts that we didn’t plant within the field. We had to pull up at the risk of getting stuck. We still have 1 field to finish. That is it, just one.

The Cat

The Cat

Mother Nature decided to open up the skies the last few days. Some areas got 7 inches of rain while others only a 1/4. We had flash flood warnings for our county. I drove past fields yesterday with water standing covering 3 acres or more. My heart hurts for those farmers that now have to make a decision to replant or take a crop loss.

Needless to say, its has been a difficult and trying spring. We still have a few hay acres to plant and one field of soybeans. I’m hoping this week/weekend we will be finished.

Cultivating a field getting it ready to plant

Cultivating a field getting it ready to plant

My handsome husband filling up the fertilizer spreader

My handsome husband filling up the fertilizer spreader

This spring has been SLOW going!

This spring has been SLOW going!

I hope your spring might be going a little better than ours! We are still hanging in there though!

-Sara 

 

 

Pictures!

Here are some quick photos of our soybean fields. They were planted in early May. 

Can you spot the two deer in our fields? Another cool thing about agriculture is usually we provide habitat (and food apparently!) to a lot of wildlife as well!

We try to check on our fields on a weekly basis. Things we check for are plant health, size, bug damage, wildlife damage, quality of the ground, and more! 

Mark is heading out to check out the soybeans.

Bacon is growing fast! We always make sure he has plenty of fresh water and food. The pellets we feed him are full of nutrients and minerals he needs to make sure he is growing and healthy!