Interest is growing in a historic family farm described as a “crown jewel” by Peoples Company and Community Insurance Agency. The eight parcels in Coon Rapids, Iowa, that are up for auction on August 17 have a lot working in their favor. The land is being sold by the agriculturally innovative Garst family, who famously hosted Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev during the Cold War in 1959. Long-term soil conservation practices have been implemented over decades on the land parcels going to auction. They include no-till practices in place since the 1980s, the introduction of cover crops in 2013, terraces, buffer strips, terraces, waterways, contour strips, and headlands. These investments have led to growth in crop yields, a rich soil that reduces problems related to compaction and abundant water retention that is superior to other farms in the area. “These farms are doing better than county averages on yield,” says Liz Garst, granddaughter of Roswell Garst and the Family Business Manager. “I think these farms are hardened for the future and productive because of soil health. But our tenant, George Johnston, also has contributed to our increasing yields through his good farming practices.” Read More: Q&A with Liz Garst, Garst Seed Company Long-term farm operator Johnston says the farms are as good as it gets in the area. The Auction “The farmland market is on fire right now,” Steve Bruere, President of Peoples Company, says. “Farmers have been aggressive buyers and outside capital hasn’t historically been able to compete locally, but this land is more unique because of the easement.” Bruere says several out-of-state inquiries have been made and he anticipates a mix of market participants. The easement requires that certain sustainable agriculture practices be used on the farms and that conservation measures and structures currently utilized on the farms be maintained. The practices include no-till farming, annual cover crop plantings post-harvest with the basis of having continuous, living roots in the soil, and maintenance of existing terraces and waterways. “We’ve been around many conservation easements throughout the years that simply take land out of production,” Bruere says. “What is unique with this easement is that it’s a continuation of how the Garst family has been managing these farms for years, which is with waterways, no-till, cover crops, and terracing. They want to preserve those farming practices that continue to build on the soil health foundation they’ve created.” Outside of the financial and soil health benefits that strengthen the farm, the easement is attractive as interest and demand builds from consumers, sustainability groups, and companies in the food supply chain for environmental, social, and governance (ESG) metrics. “At the end of the day, these farms are set up to meet a lot of ESG requirements,” Bruere says. “Some people may look at this as a ready-made ESG opportunity. A lot of capital is tied to sustainability and carbon and other goals, so this may attract a new style of buyer.” In addition, Bruere says one of the key characteristics that makes this sale unique is the availability of data. The Garst farms have a long history of recorded performance that validates the management practices. “The Garsts have been strong advocates of conservation and sustainability,” Bruere says. “They’re really endorsing the idea of the soil conservation easement. It is a pioneering move.” While some may view the easement as an added layer of complexity and speculate if the land will sell at a discount, Bruere says it’s really an opportunity for a buyer and that the easement requirements aren’t any different than how the land would be farmed without it. To the Garst family, this sale is an act of agricultural innovation to show farmers the real value in soil conservation practices. “In acquiring this land, much which has been in our family for over 65 years, a new owner will have the most well-cared-for soil you will find in Iowa, plus a conservation easement that is flexible enough to make continuous improvements while ensuring the soil continues to yield dividends from good water management, weed control, reduced compaction, and yield growth,” Garst says. The sale is being co-brokered by Clive, Iowa-based Peoples Company and Coon Rapids, Iowa-based Community Insurance Agency. Interested parties must submit a sealed bid by close of business on Friday, August 6, 2021, with a live auction for invited bidders to take place Tuesday, August 17, 2021, at Raccoon River Social Club, 513 Main Street, Coon Rapids, Iowa, at 10 a.m. The sale is expected to close on Friday, September 17, 2021.
Category Archives: Agricultural Exports News
Owning and managing farmland can be a complicated process with few, if any, one-size-fits-all solutions. Communicating with renters, understanding stewardship practices, knowing how to write a farmland lease — nonfarming landowners face these and many other barriers that keep them from realizing their visions for their land. Practical Farmers of Iowa, Heartland Cooperative, Des Moines Water Works, and Peoples Company are hosting a multipart virtual boot camp designed to share the why, what, when, and how of successful and intentional farmland management. “All four partners on this project have the ultimate goal of empowering landowners and renters by providing them with an open seat at the table to learn about and discuss on-farm conservation to improve water quality, equitable leasing arrangements, and build healthy communication skills,” says Ruth McCabe, conservation agronomist with Heartland Co-op. “When supported by both renter and landowner, on-farm conservation practice adoption tends to be long-term, and that is what we are aiming for.” Learn from landowners, farmers, and conservation professionals about successful strategies for implementing conservation and stewardship practices on rented farmland and hear why responsible landownership is so important to building better agriculture in Iowa and across the Midwest. McCabe says conservation farming practices improve soil health and increase the long-term viability, sustainability, and value of the farm. “Additionally, when we improve our water quality and our wildlife habitat, we improve the ecosystem services provided to the environment from our farm fields,” McCabe says. “This, in turn, makes for a more beautiful state with more opportunities to enjoy the outdoors and engage with nature. In an ideal world, the children of our current non-operating landowners might want to come back home and engage more permanently in their family farms. And nationally, perhaps we can change some of those negative narratives that are being told about our current farming systems to positive stories of change and improvement.” Workshop #1: Every Farm Matters Friday, July 30 | Noon-1:30 p.m. With more and more landowners owning smaller and smaller farms, it can be easy to think that your farmland doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. During this workshop, learn why that’s not true and what it means to be part of a watershed. Hear from fellow landowners about why we should all care about intentional and thoughtful farmland management that prioritizes stewardship. Workshop #2: Rhythms of Agriculture Friday, August 6 | Noon-1:30 p.m. The day-to-day business of running a farm can be mysterious to those who aren’t directly involved with agriculture. During this workshop, hear from farmers and ag professionals about a year in the decision-making life of a farmer. Learn more about what research tells us about the priorities of both farmers and landowners, and gain an understanding of the resources, experts, and services that farmers use to help make decisions on the farm. Workshop #3: Strategies & Next Steps Friday, August 13 | Noon-1:30 p.m. Taking an active hand in managing farmland can be daunting for many landowners. In this workshop, learn more about how to build healthy and robust relationships with farmland tenants. Landowners and conservation professionals will highlight best practices for communicating with renters, explore different approaches to farmland leasing, and discuss why building equitable partnerships leads to better farm stewardship. Workshop #4: Strategies & Next Steps for Women Landowners Friday, August 20 | Noon-2 p.m. Managing farmland can be daunting, and women landowners in particular face specific and gender-driven barriers that keep them from achieving their farmland goals. During this workshop intended for women landowners, learn more about farmland management strategies and next steps. This workshop will overlap slightly with Workshop #3 and includes an additional 30 minutes for discussion and Q&A. Register for the workshops online at: https://practicalfarmers.org/events/landowner-boot-camp/
In football lingo it is known as “the trenches.” It’s the area along the line of scrimmage where jumbo-size players – the big uglies, as Keith Jackson used to call them – toil mostly in obscurity, digging and sweating and struggling to control every inch of ground. The football trenches were where Jason Brown dwelled for more than a dozen years, earning a football scholarship to the University of North Carolina as an offensive lineman, and then spending seven successful and lucrative seasons as a center in the NFL. But in 2012, at the age of 29, Brown walked away from football’s fortunes and – along with his wife, Tay, and their growing family – entered a new set of trenches. Or, as he put it, “I was being called to a different field.” That field turned out to be a humble 1,000 acres in North Carolina that Brown named First Fruits Farm. It is a plot of land he has been working for nearly a decade as a sweet potato farmer. Digging and sweating and struggling to again control the ground, though this time as part of a greater calling from God. [embed:render:node:315560:left:picture|image_embed_full]Brown has detailed this amazing transformation from football to farming in the new book Centered, which he wrote with author and journalist Paul Asay. As the cover indicates, it is the story of a man who traded his plans “for a life that matters,” and discovered this life in a hot, dusty field far from the perks and privilege of the NFL. “I knew that in my transition from football to farming, God was creating a transformative story,” Brown said during a phone call in late June. “It’s a testimony, but God is the author. … I want to tell everybody just how awesome and miraculous God has been in our lives.” A quick-paced 203 pages, Centered is a book that can be read in a day or two, but its message will live much longer. The story is about farming, but the focus is on faith and family, especially the support Brown received from Tay, who is mentioned prominently throughout. [embed:render:node:315559:left:picture|image_embed_1_2_width]As detailed in the book, Brown came from a farming background. His grandfather owned a 200-acre farm near Yanceyville, North Carolina, and battled racism as leader of a local chapter of the NAACP. “My grandfather was a farmer,” Brown writes. “He stared down droughts and floods, and wasn’t about to be frightened off by men in sheets.” But in the early 1960s, the situation grew violent, and the Brown family – including Jason’s father, Lunsford – moved to Washington, D.C. It would be nearly 20 years before the family moved back to North Carolina, just before Jason was born in 1983. Lunsford stayed behind in D.C. for another 16 years, working in a government job and doing freelance landscaping on the side. When Jason made visits to D.C. to see his father, he often helped with the landscaping, which he writes is how he learned that “working the land is hard work, but rewarding work.” Athletics did not enter Jason’s life quite as quickly. He was cut from his middle school baseball team, and when he began high school he initially was more interested in the band than football. But he eventually developed into a star athlete and went on to become a first-team All-ACC player at North Carolina. During his junior year at UNC in 2003, Brown’s older brother, Ducie, died while serving as a soldier in Iraq. Brown’s description of his relationship with his brother – and how Ducie helped shaped him – provides some of the book’s most poignant moments. Two years later, Brown was chosen by the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth round of the 2005 NFL draft. He played well enough over the next four seasons to sign a five-year, $37.5-million contract with the St. Louis Rams in 2009, which made him the highest-paid center in NFL history. Brown fell into many of the trappings of NFL wealth, buying a 12,000-square-foot home with marble fireplaces and two massive bars, which he stocked with expensive liquor (including a $1,500 bottle of Louis XIII cognac). He readily admits that neither he nor Tay drink, but they had succumbed to a lifestyle built on pretense. As his playing career hit new heights, Brown’s life was reaching depressing lows. “My identity and self-esteem were wrapped up in football,” Brown writes. “I’d fallen in love with football, and football wasn’t loving me back anymore. … My marriage was broken. My family was broken. My life was broken.” It was a time, Brown writes, “when our bank accounts were full but our hearts were empty.” So Brown turned down offers to remain in the NFL for the 2012 season, and instead embarked on a new calling as a farmer, even though he admits, “most folks (thought) I had lost my mind.” “I’d built a career on spray-painted grass and artificial turf,” Brown writes. “God told me to dig deeper, to sink my hands into the earth and pull goodness out of it.” [factoid]“We’re sharing God’s love in a practical way. Food is a constant need that every single one of us has. Everybody has to eat. So when it comes to making an impact and giving back, the most practical way is through hunger relief.”[/factoid]At this point, the second half of Centered segues into Brown’s fascinating transition to the farm life. It details the numerous obstacles he encountered along the way, including losing much of his NFL savings in shady financial investments, and the repeated moments when he says God answered his prayers through people who helped him at exactly the right time. For example, Brown’s initial harvest in 2014 of 120,000 pounds of sweet potatoes was accomplished with the use of 600 volunteers from the Society of St. Andrews. Over the years he received unexpected donations or discounts on vital equipment, including a brand-new John Deere tractor, which replaced a cranky, old Allis-Chalmers, and a state-of-the-art greenhouse. “I knew my family had my back, but little did I know the community was going to rally around me as well,” Brown said. “That has led to some of the most encouraging moments through it all.” [embed:render:node:315561:left:picture|image_embed_full]Brown gives away most of what he grows to food banks and churches, keeping just enough to feed his family (which is up to eight children) and help pay the bills. He says providing that generosity was part of the calling that lured him away from football. “We’re sharing God’s love in a practical way,” Brown said. “Food is a constant need that every single one of us has. Everybody has to eat. So when it comes to making an impact and giving back, the most practical way is through hunger relief.” But while Brown undoubtedly is giving back by making financial sacrifices most people can’t imagine, he writes that farming has given him so much more. It has made his overall life more enjoyable and left him at peace. He is, as the title readily indicates, centered. “Every seed we plant is almost like a little prayer,” Brown writes. “When we put it in the ground, it’s a way of saying, ‘I believe. I believe you will grow.’ … (Farming) gives us a front-row seat for what it looks like to walk in faith every day, and what the harvest of that faith can be.” Learn more about First Fruits Farm at WisdomForLife.org.
On June 18, 1984, Betsy Freese reported to a third-floor cubicle in downtown Des Moines, Iowa, for her first day of work. She’d just been hired by Successful Farming after graduating from Iowa State University. A day in the life of an ag journalist 37 years ago looked much different from today’s fast-paced emails, Zoom interviews, and market-shifting global news. Five editors were dedicated to covering livestock for Successful Farming magazine. Smoking was permitted at your desk. “I worked in a haze of secondhand smoke,” she recalls. There was no social media or internet. Filling her Rolodex with knowledgeable sources was a slow process of building trust. Articles were physically copied and pasted into magazine page layouts. Cutting copy was much harder than hitting the backspace key. Film photography took more planning and patience than whipping out an iPhone. This summer, Freese is retiring after a lauded career covering rural lifestyles, breaking news, farm chemicals, and livestock. She recently sat down at her new home outside Indianola to reflect on her time with Successful Farming. SF: Tell me about getting hired at Successful Farming. BF: Loren Kruse [managing editor of Successful Farming] came up to Iowa State and did mock interviews. I took my clipbook in because I had worked a couple of summers at the Delmarva Farmer when I was home. I had quite a few stories, and I told him, “I want a job.” I wore a suit. I guess he was impressed with my aggressiveness. He called one night and said the assistant swine editor job was available. I was thrilled Loren wanted me to interview. I interviewed with [editor in chief] Rich Krumme, and he was not really impressed. I got terribly nervous. I got dry mouth and couldn’t even talk. I was 21 years old. I’m sure I seemed so green, but Loren and Gene Johnston [senior swine editor] had faith in me. LISTEN: Successful Farming's Betsy Freese retires Gene was my direct boss, and he and I got along great. He realized I knew a lot about the hog industry. I had grown up on a hog farm and most of my courses that weren’t journalism were animal science. So, they hired me as assistant swine editor, which I’ve always said is the lowliest job in ag journalism. SF: You’re known in the industry for your highly anticipated annual Pork Powerhouses® report. Tell me about that. BF: When the first Pork Powerhouses report hit mailboxes in September 1994, I was with my three young children at a fall festival on the square in Indianola. I’d just finished all that work and was exhausted. I remember walking around with them, worrying about the story and its effect on our readers. People had been writing and calling in to the magazine because it was so shocking for readers to see those sow numbers. Nobody had really detailed the growth at these big pig companies. Some people even called and said they were quitting the pork industry. They were getting out of the business. One farmer said he and his neighbors in Illinois, who all raised hogs, had met and they were all selling out. They saw the numbers and were like, “Forget it. We can’t compete with this.” (By 1998, the market collapsed because of overproduction. People who hadn’t gotten out, a lot of them went out at that point.) I just remember sitting there at the fall festival thinking, What have I done? I’m destroying the swine industry by writing this. But it was just fact. There were people who thought I had made up the numbers. They couldn’t believe the numbers. Nobody could be that big, they said. You realize you’re impacting people’s lives. SF: What did that feel like to realize? BF: I remember that being scary. With other stories over the years, though, people have said they were really encouraged or inspired to try something new. That feels really good. SF Bio Name: Betsy Freese Background: Freese was raised on a strawberry and pig farm near Rising Sun, Maryland. After college, she settled in central Iowa with her husband, Bob, where they raised their three children, Nowlan, Warren, and Caroline. Education: She has a bachelor’s degree in agriculture journalism from Iowa State University. In 2020, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences named Freese the recipient of the prestigious Henry A. Wallace Award for her professional achievements.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s quarterly agricultural trade forecast projects fiscal year 2021 U.S. farm exports at $164 billion – the highest total on record. This represents an increase of $28 billion, or 21%, from last fiscal year’s total, and a $7-billion increase from USDA’s previous FY 2021 forecast published in February. The annual export record of $152.3 billion was set in FY 2014. “U.S. agricultural trade has proven extraordinarily resilient in the face of a global pandemic and economic contraction. This strength is reflected in today’s USDA export forecast,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “As we conclude World Trade Month, it’s clear that trade remains a critical engine powering the agricultural economy and the U.S. economy as a whole. Today’s estimate shows that our agricultural trading partners are responding to a return to certainty and reliability from the United States. Yesterday’s action regarding the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement also made it clear that our trading partners must play by the rules. Ensuring that all U.S. producers and exporters have access to global markets is a key to building back better and ensuring the continued strength and resiliency of rural America.” Key drivers of the surge in exports include a record outlook for China, record export volumes and values for a number of key products, sharply higher commodity prices, and reduced foreign competition. China is poised to be back on top as the United States’ No. 1 customer, with U.S. exports forecast at $35 billion, eclipsing the previous record of $29.6 billion set in FY 2014. This growth is led by Chinese demand for soybeans and corn. Other top markets, in order, are Canada, Mexico, Japan, the European Union, and South Korea, with demand remaining strong across the board. USDA projects that total exports of bulk commodities and meat will reach record levels for both volume and value in FY 2021. On the bulk commodity side, this is true for both corn and soybeans exports, with sorghum export value also at a record. On the meat side, beef and pork export values and volumes are projected at an all-time high, as is broiler meat volume. The full USDA export forecast is available at: www.fas.usda.gov/data/quarterly-agricultural-export-forecast.
PepsiCo, Inc. is launching a new, impact-driven Positive Agriculture ambition with a goal to spread regenerative farming practices across 7 million acres, approximately equal to its entire agricultural footprint. The company estimates the effort will eliminate at least 3 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by the end of the decade. Additional 2030 goals within the agenda include improving the livelihoods of more than 250,000 people in its agricultural supply chain and sustainably sourcing 100% of its key ingredients. “Any plan to tackle the urgent challenges facing the global food system must address agriculture, the source of nourishment for billions of people and a key lever to address climate change and inequality,” PepsiCo Chairman and CEO Ramon Laguarta says. “As one of the world’s leading food and beverage companies, a resilient food system is essential to our business, and with our scale we have an opportunity and responsibility to drive meaningful change. PepsiCo’s Positive Agriculture agenda prioritizes investment, innovation, and robust collaboration with our farming partners to deliver impact around the world. Working together, we can reduce our collective carbon footprint, feed a rapidly growing population, and provide meaningful economic opportunities for more people.” PepsiCo’s Positive Agriculture agenda aims to source crops and ingredients in a way that accelerates regenerative agriculture and strengthens farming communities, with a focus on: Spreading the adoption of regenerative farming practices across 7 million acres – approximately equal to 100% of the land used around the world to grow crops and ingredients for the company’s products. In the U.S., for example, PepsiCo has worked with farmers to plant cover crops on over 85,000 acres and has seen up to a 38% net reduction in on-farm greenhouse gas emissions, including soil carbon sequestration. Through efforts with industry-leading partners, the company will expand regenerative agriculture programs to more than 500,000 acres of U.S. farmland by the end of 2021. PepsiCo will also continue to grow its global network of Demonstration Farms, which enable peer-to-peer learning and in 2020 grew to more than 350 farms with more than 80% adopting regenerative farming practices. Improving the livelihoods of more than 250,000 people in its agricultural supply chain and communities, including economically empowering women. PepsiCo will focus its work on the most vulnerable farming communities linked to its global value chain, including smallholder farmers and farmworkers, women, and minority farmers. The company will continue to advance this goal through diverse partnerships, including the U.S. Agency for International Development, Inter-American Development Bank, CARE, National FFA Organization, and the National Black Growers Council. Sustainably sourcing 100% of key ingredients, expanding to include not only its direct-sourced crops (potatoes, whole corn, oats, and oranges), but also key crops from third parties, such as vegetable oils and grains. PepsiCo sources crops across 60 countries and supports over 100,000 jobs in the agricultural supply chain. “Through our Sustainable Farming Program and ongoing work with tens of thousands of farmers, we’ve seen firsthand the ability to drive solutions within our agricultural communities, resulting in nature-based outcomes," Jim Andrew, chief sustainability officer, PepsiCo says. “Today, we’re accelerating our Positive Agriculture agenda because we know we have to do even more to create truly systemic change. By focusing on regenerative agriculture practices at the local level to improve soil health, we can build a stronger foundation for our products and help make the entire food system more sustainable.” PepsiCo advocates for the establishment of industry-wide regenerative agriculture standards and measurement. In the absence of such standards, the company will measure progress towards its Positive Agriculture goals by tracking acres and people engaged in the initiative and, over time, the impact toward five key outcomes, including: building soil health and fertility; sequestering carbon and reducing emissions; enhancing watershed health; increasing biodiversity; and improving farmer livelihoods. PepsiCo is engaged with leading organizations like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to develop a method for setting science-based targets for water that consider the benefits of regenerative and resilient farming systems and practices on water quality and water quantity. “Working across the supply chain is necessary if we are to transform the food system, reduce carbon emissions, support healthy watersheds, restore biodiversity, and improve livelihoods,” Sheila Bonini, senior vice president of Private Sector Engagement at World Wildlife Fund says. “It’s encouraging that PepsiCo is announcing an approach to its agricultural supply chains that can be positive for both nature and people, and WWF looks forward to partnering with PepsiCo on an ambitious and scaled regenerative agriculture agenda.” Leveraging innovation, including digital technology, and collaboration is central to PepsiCo’s approach to catalyzing systemic change. Together with the World Economic Forum and others, PepsiCo recently launched the concept of Food Innovation Hubs to develop local food systems that are inclusive, efficient, sustainable, and nutritious. The Positive Agriculture agenda is another step in the company’s PepsiCo Positive journey and follows PepsiCo’s recent announcement to double its science-based climate goal, targeting a reduction of absolute greenhouse gas emissions across its value chain by more than 40% by 2030, as well as pledging to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040.
“Healthy products are made from healthy ingredients grown in healthy ecosystems,” says Jack Scott, vice president of sustainability and responsible sourcing for Purina. Partnerships and programs that put sustainability into action while supporting farmers financially continue to pop up in the industry. Purina, leading manufacturer of dog and cat food brands, is part of several initiatives doing just that, including the Soil Health and Habitat Program from Pheasants Forever. Utilizing precision agriculture technology, Pheasants Forever works with producers and growers to analyze data using Truterra Insights Engine from 30,000 acres of private lands in the Prairie Pothole Region to help enhance soil health, protect water quality, and implement conservation planning. Results from the analysis will help guide enrollment of low-production acres into the program, providing those landowners who are contracted to be in the program for five years with a one-time financial incentive payment for grassland or cover crop mixtures. “There is a balance between ensuring the land stays healthy and productive and the farmers remain economically viable,” Scott says. “We are proud to work with Pheasants Forever. They have been a great long-term partner with us and through the Soil Health and Habitat Program, they are promoting sustainable soil, while at the same time thinking about how to protect wildlife habitat. This complements our goals and mission and the great work farmers are doing.” SF: What are Purina’s sustainability goals? JS: At Purina, we’ve been committed to making our high-quality pet products sustainably, whether it’s through package recyclability, reducing our energy or water consumption in factories, or making sure that we’re sourcing our ingredients responsibly from areas that are also responsible. Almost all of the ingredients we source come from farms here in the United States. If you take a look at our products, we rely heavily on plant and animal agriculture. We recognize that to be in business for a long time and to source our ingredients long into the future, they must come from places that are rich and bountiful and that care for the environment. We recognize the critical role that farmers play in this and we want to make sure that we’re there to support them and work with them, recognizing their stewardship of the land as we are the recipients of what they produce. Our goal has always been to find ways in which we can work together and support the farmers to ensure that the land stays healthy and bountiful. SF: Why the Prairie Pothole Region? JS: Often, when people think about the Prairie Pothole Region, they think about the different shallow lakes and accompanying wildlife. We have partnerships with other conservation organizations that work with farmers in those areas. A lot of what we’re talking about here are grasslands that offer nesting cover for wildlife. This is a critical area, not just for our supply chain where we source ingredients, but one that requires collaboration among multiple partners to provide the ingredients in a healthy way that benefits habitat at the same time. SF: Why is it so important to invest in sustainability? JS: We talk about soil, water, and biodiversity and habitat as the building blocks to improve healthy ecosystems. That ecosystem will return services back to us in the form of recreation, healthy food products, and others. In this particular case, we aren’t ignoring water – it is certainly part of soil health – but we’ve focused on wildlife habitat, too. By working with farmers and using technology, this program identifies productivity across the landscape. If there are areas that are not as productive, then there may be an opportunity to take that land out of production, improve the economics of the farmer, and turn that into a wildlife habitat. In the future, that approach can return some of the richness back to the soil, which we recognize helps improve the overall ecosystem. We want to protect the environment and help farmers to remain productive, responsible, and financially viable long-term. SF: How do technologies and data support sustainable farming and the supply chain? JS: It is critical to support farmers by using the latest in technology. There are many farm families already utilizing data, drones, and measurement instruments in the field. They’re doing so in order to make the best possible decisions for their land, productivity, and financial viability for their farms. Technologies can also include new methodologies for supporting that land. In the Soil Health and Habitat Program, we use the Truterra Insights Engine from Land O’Lakes, which is designed by farmers for farmers. The Engine helps farmers get the most out of their land from a production standpoint as well as financially. The insights and methodologies might not only improve the land, but the communities, too, by removing land that doesn’t deliver profit and returning it to nature, back to wildlife. That’s where organizations like Pheasants Forever come in to provide that knowledge and guidance. Soil Health and Habitat Program The Soil Health and Habitat Program operates in phases and has so far exceeded expectations in number of applications across the Prairie Pothole Region. Ryan Heiniger, director of agriculture & conservation Innovations at Pheasants Forever, says the program is working with 11 farmers in the initial phase and using fall 2020 yield information to drive decision-making this year and beyond. “Our goal is to be laser-focused and laser-accurate on where habitat acres are plotted on the fields,” Heiniger says. The program targets acres with underlying hydrology, agronomy, or other issues that cause them to be consistently unprofitable. Heiniger says the ultimate goal is to turn those red acres green. And to take it further, by implementing practices like cover crops, those green acres could go greener. The program provides $20 per acre to offset the cost of cover crop seed. Pheasants Forever acts as an adviser, providing answers and serving as a liaison to other programs that may also fit an operation. “A core principle of ours is to roll up our sleeves with the farmer and help them put their precision data to work,” Heiniger says. The Truterra Insights Engine allows Pheasants Forever and the farmer to measure outcomes and determine which investments moved the needle on soil health, conservation, and even carbon sequestration. “In the future, we’ll look for ways to add additional partners and foster public-private partnerships to leverage funds and ultimately do more,” Heiniger says. Incremental changes and adaptability are key in growing the program while staying true to farmers’ goals. “As we look at our partnerships upstream and the whole supply chain, we recognize everything that the agricultural community and these farmer families do for us,” Scott says. “We’ve found ways in which we can work and help them in their mission to be successful. It’s always a pleasure for us to say thank you to the farmers and the farmer families for everything they do.”
Some of Amber Bristow’s earliest memories on her family’s cranberry marsh in Warrens, Wisconsin, are the spring and summer midnight rides with her father. She’d wake up, watch cable TV, and then tag along in the truck with a cooler of snacks supplied to fuel their task of checking for frost on the vines. “Growing up, I was Dad’s little shadow. He always included me, but because I have an older brother, Dad didn’t expect I’d be the one to come back home to farm,” Bristow says. She took on the least glamorous jobs throughout middle school and high school like picking up sticks and pulling weeds. And in college, Bristow earned a sports management degree that led her to work with baseball teams in Wisconsin and Iowa – a far cry from her farming background. Yet, every monthly visit she made back home brought her closer to realizing she was truly meant to be there. “Eventually I talked to my parents about coming back to the marsh and really only had to convince my mom,” Bristow says. “That was four years ago, and I’ve been under my dad’s wing ever since learning the ropes and will someday take over for him.” SF: What is the history of your farm? AB: Our marsh started as 11 acres in 1918 and has since grown to 230. We run a small operation with my dad, my husband, one of my cousins, and two other full-timers. Although I don’t have an exact date, we became part of the Ocean Spray farmer-owned cooperative shortly after our founding. SF: For those unfamiliar with the crop, how do cranberries grow in a marsh? AB: We have sandy, acidic soil and the cranberry vines grow in beds dug into the ground. Cranberries are perennial, so to protect the vines in winter, we flood the beds with about 24 inches of pond water and when a layer of ice forms, we pull the extra water off back into the ponds. We do this process a couple of times during the winter months until there is about 10 to 12 inches of ice and then spread sand across the beds. In spring when the ice melts, the sand falls through and pushes the vines down encouraging new growth. This process promotes better bud development in the spring and gets rid of any insects that may remain from the summer. SF: What is a misconception in cranberry farming? AB: The biggest misconception is that people think we work in water all of the time because the image of cranberries they’re most familiar with is flooding during harvest. We do flood in the fall so the cranberries can be moved around easier. But most people are blown away to learn we actually farm in marshes year-round. The berries don’t magically show up in the fall. Because cranberries are a perennial fruit, some of the vines we have are over 60 years old. They keep reproducing and we don’t have to replant or rotate crops out. Cranberries love the sandy, acidic soil, and we can’t really grow any other crop in these conditions. They are one of the few native fruits to North America. I also want others to see cranberries as more than a seasonal food. Find the fresh fruit in stores and freeze them so you can use them throughout the year, drink cranberry juice, and snack on dried cranberries. There is a wealth of nutritional value and antioxidants in cranberries; I think they should be part of everybody’s everyday diet. Many great things come from this tiny fruit and that’s what makes me proud to grow this crop. SF: How did you start your Instagram @cranberrychats? AB: About three years ago, I realized I wanted to share more of my life on the marsh and address the misconceptions I kept hearing. I started posting on my personal Instagram page but felt like I wasn’t reaching the right audience. Then the Women in Ag account, which has thousands of followers, reached out to feature me. I was blown away and didn’t even know there was a side of Instagram focused on badass women in all aspects of agriculture. Many people reached out to me after I was featured commenting on what they learned and telling me to keep it up. I’ve always viewed social media as a scary place that can provoke criticism but the more I saw other women in ag use Instagram, the more I felt like I could do it and bring representation of the cranberry industry to social media, which was lacking. SF: And how did your podcast with Becca Hilby, Forward Farming, begin? AB: One of the people I met through social media was Becca Hilby, a dairy farmer in southern Wisconsin. We have similar personalities, humor, and we’re both a little impulsive. So when I reached out to ask if she would start a podcast with me, she said yes. Forward Farming is our podcast – named after the Wisconsin state motto. Milk is the official beverage of Wisconsin and cranberries are the official state fruit, so it all ties together. SF: What topics do you cover in Forward Farming? AB: We talk about being female farmers, Wisconsin agriculture, and how we move the industry forward. In each week’s episode, we start by sharing our highs and lows of the week because often social media only shows the good things but there are a lot of negatives that we tend to avoid. We’ve opened up our platform and make it OK to discuss our struggles because everyone has them; we may as well talk about it and not feel secluded. You’d also think that by growing up in Wisconsin, we would know more about each other’s industries, but Becca and I have learned a lot from each other. SF: What is one of your favorite episodes? AB: Becca and I are both into hunting and follow Alex Templeton on social media, a female rancher in Missouri who is also a bow hunter. She is sponsored by Matthews hunting brand and helped design the women’s line of gear for SITKA. She agreed to be on our podcast and we learned so much about ranching. Since we are mostly dairy in Wisconsin, it was interesting to hear her side of agriculture and realize that in many ways, we’re still the same. SF: March is Women's History Month. What does it mean to you to be challenging the norms in farming? AB: Because there are many family-run cranberry marshes, women have always been involved, but it seems recently a lot more women are stepping up and running the show. I grew up watching some of these women and never felt like I couldn’t do it, too. I looked up to my grandma as I watched her work with my dad and grandpa. When watching for frost, she would be up until midnight or 1:00 a.m. so that my grandpa could get some sleep at night. There are many powerful women in our industry who I admire even now, and see them filling leadership roles makes me confident I can do the same. With the women in ag community on Instagram, it’s empowering to see that it doesn’t matter if you’re a woman or man – if there is a job to be done, a calf to be pulled, you can do it. SF: Whom do you admire in agriculture? AB: I admire the heck out of my dad. He married into cranberry farming and had to overcome a huge learning curve to work with this unique crop. There isn’t a manual on how to grow cranberries; it comes from experience and attention to detail. I feel fortunate that I’m able to learn from him. I try to soak up as much as I can because I know he’s willing to take a few steps back now. He’s always been my role model on and off the marsh. SF: What are you looking forward to this year? AB: There are a lot of big changes coming this year. I’m pregnant with my first baby due at the end of August, just in time for harvest. Everyone is excited and eagerly awaiting little cran-baby. This year is all about growth and generational change for me and my entire family.
At the crossroads of National Agriculture Week and Women’s History Month, we celebrate the work of women in agriculture. For a second year, March 25 is proclaimed Women in Agriculture Day in Iowa. The statewide celebration is a collaboration between Stine Seed Co., the Iowa FFA Foundation, the Iowa 4-H Program, FarmHer, and the Iowa Office of the Governor. Read More: Q&A with Emily Schmitt. Schmitt is the third generation in leadership at Sukup Manufacturing, directing legal, human resources, communications, strategic planning, and other administrative functions of the company. Read More: Q&A with Liz Garst. Garst was born into a farming legacy and has since carved out her path in agriculture as a self-proclaimed soil health crusader who speaks, educates, and leads by example through her family’s farming operations. “Women from all walks of agriculture, including research, seed sales, farming, trade, agribusiness, education, and more, play a vital role in helping the industry prosper and advancing it for future generations,” says Jessica Drake, marketing coordinator for Stine. “We’re proud to work with many inspiring and influential women at Stine and across the industry, and we’re excited to recognize all women in ag for their accomplishments. Our partnership with FarmHer, the Iowa FFA Foundation, and the Iowa 4-H Program enables Stine to elevate, empower, and educate women in agriculture throughout the industry. We thank the governor for her support in establishing a Women in Agriculture Day in Iowa.” Read More: Q&A with Kristin Peck. By combining her passions for animals and creating jobs as CEO of Zoetis, Peck works to improve the health of animals and positively impact the people who care for and depend on them. Read More: Q&A with Brandi Buzzard. From her Kansas ranch to the White House, Buzzard reaches consumers while fueled by faith, family, and beef. “Iowa is proud to recognize the nearly 50,000 women who serve in leadership, support, and influential, decision-making roles across Iowa’s 86,000 farms,” the proclamation notes. In addition to female leaders on the farm, the proclamation acknowledges the women who are making a difference in the state’s various commodity and industry fields. Today – every day – is an opportunity to celebrate the work women do everywhere in the industry that feeds the world. Read More: Q&A with Carla Schultz. This Michigan farmer says everyone has a place at the table and harnesses an online presence to advocate and educate. Read More: Jacquelyne Leffler is the fourth generation on her family’s farm. She works to ensure its success through transition and new business opportunities. “While we celebrate the accomplishments of women who are paving the way for the agriculture industry year-round, we’re pleased to have an official day in Iowa marking their efforts in agriculture and their leadership and expertise in the workplace,” says Myron Stine, president of Stine Seed Co. Join the Women in Agriculture Day in Iowa celebration by sharing your ag stories on social media using the hashtag #TogetHER4Ag.
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