At our annual Grain Place Foundation Field Day on July 17, guest speaker David R. Montgomery shared about his work on soils and civilization (and why he’s hopeful!) as our keynote speaker. His presentation gave a big-picture frame to the importance of our work, and underlined the importance of making farming decisions that promote the health of our soil.
Grain Place Farm founder David Vetter offered this year’s farm tour, with a description of our 9-year crop rotation system, as well as some history about rotations we tried over the decades of organic farming on this land.
Grain Place Foods President Christian Evans led our tour of Grain Place Foods, focusing on the community of people who work at our organic food and feed processing plant; these are some of the people who make it possible to live out our motto: How your food is produced does matter.
Grain Place Foundation Board Member Dr. Charles Francis (University of Nebraska) gave a quick overview of some of the research we’ve been working on, including long-term comparisons of crop yields on conventional and organic farms.
We were inspired by the conversation we shared–we talked about the farm with current Grain Place farmers Raymond Hain and Jason Smith. We also reflected on David Montgomery’s presentation with a panel discussion that featured Grain Place Foundation board member Dr. Kathleen Delate (Iowa State), and Mad Agriculture’s Rebecca Baldwin-Kordick.
Our 2020 Grain Place Foundation Field Day is now available to watch from wherever you are! You can see our Farm Tour, make a visit to Grain Place Foods, hear our keynote from Brise Tencer of the Organic Farming Research Foundation, or watch the panel discussion the followed the keynote.
by David Vetter, Richard Little, and Charles Francis, July 2020
The nine-year diversified,
irrigated organic rotation at the Grain Place was established in 2002 with two
replications and average plot size of 12 acres. There are five years of organic
crops, and four years of hay and pasture. We analyzed corn and soybean yields
and net returns for two cycles and compared these with conventional corn and
corn-soybean rotations using average farm data from Hamilton County.
Organic yields were 30% lower for
corn and 60% lower for soybeans than conventional monocultures; no conventional
yield data are available for comparisons with our barley or popcorn. Organic
farmgate prices are conservatively based on feed grain prices, rather than
higher food grade prices. All organic grains were processed on farm by Grain
Place Foods. Organic corn price was 101% higher than conventional, and organic
soybean was 83% higher than conventional. Due to substantially lower input
costs and even using conservative organic prices, the returns from the
diversified organic system were impressive.
Net returns for the three years
of organic corn and soybeans in the nine-year rotation (one year of corn, two
years of soybeans) were positive for all but the first year. Organic net
returns were higher than or equivalent to continuous corn or corn-soybeans for
16 of 18 years. The figure below shows the net returns after fixed and
operating costs across two cycles of the rotation at GPF compared to county
averages for conventional crops. Average net returns in the organic system were
almost $300 acre, while returns for continuous corn were about $60/acre and for
corn-soybean were about $150/acre; the difference is primarily due to lower
production costs in the organic system plus price premiums.
These results have been used in classes at UNL in Spring Semester, 2020, and are posted on the GPF web site in July 2020. It is unclear why conventional farmers plant continuous corn in the county, when the county averages show a clear advantage to the two-year rotation. More important for us are the results showing that organic systems are consistently more profitable than conventional systems, and without the dangers for farmers of chemical exposure. They also reduce the pressure for even wider development of herbicide-resistant weeds, which would be an advantage for both conventional and organic farmers. Further analyses will evaluate the entire nine-year rotation to assess the value of diverse crop sequences to add resilience in yields and incomes to cropping and crop/animal systems in the Platte Valley of Central Nebraska.
Education in farming practices is most effective in the field, where hands-on activities provide new experiences for those without a farm background. One of the educational missions of the Foundation is to provide and opportunity for students to work side-by-side with experienced farmers on the long-term rotation and other projects under way at GPF. This summer we have two interns joining the farm team, and both are excited about this practical learning arena.
Jane Coghlan is an incoming junior at Arizona State University studying Sustainable Food Systems with a minor in Nutrition. She returns for a second year to join the GPF field team. Jane is from a small town in Texas called Argyle which is just north of Dallas. “I did not have any farming experience until my internship last summer at the Grain Place. I enjoyed it tremendously, so I came back again this summer to continue learning and building experience. I love farming because every day I learn something new and form a deeper connection to the land and animals. David Vetter’s way of farming with nature is a big inspiration to me. I hope to positively influence the world through organic farming like he is doing”. The resident farmers at GPF reported that Jane learned plenty in her time on the farm in 2019, and are delighted that she is returning for a second experience.
Jingyue Zeng is a senior Agronomy major at UNL and will graduate this summer. “I have devoted my passion to plants for all of my life, I have always liked to take care of plants and watch them grow when I was young. I have worked for a Chinese company in my hometown last summer, measuring, recording and reporting the growth of pineapple for 32-acre pineapple field, and helped to do weed management and prepare fertilizer mixtures. Organic farming has a special interest for me. I have also learned about the agricultural industry here by attending a meeting of the Nebraska Wheat Board”. Jinghue was a student in both the Agroecology and the Organic Farming classes at UNL this past spring, and is a volunteer intern at GPF this summer.
We look forward to welcoming additional interns to work with the farm staff at GPF, and can provide housing and a modest stipend when grant funds are found to support this important educational activity. In the near future, we’ll share interviews with these two interns here, in hopes that we can attract more students interested in learning about organic farming and livestock integration as well as value adding on the farm. If you have questions, please contact GPF board member Glenda Vetter for details on opportunities.
We are glad to have received a grant from the North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE). Their Farmer Rancher Grant Program is a competitive grants program for farmers and ranchers who want to explore sustainable solutions to problems through on-farm research, demonstration, and education projects. We were awarded $9,000 for the project, “Sustainable Silvopasture Hog Production Compared to Drylot System.”
This year, you can log onto our Grain Place Foundation Field Day from anywhere with internet access. Register ahead of time, and participate in conversation during our annual Farm Tour, and following the keynote presentation by Brise Tencer of the Organic Farming Research Foundation. As the sign at our driveway says, “How your food is produced does matter,” and there’s never been a better time to learn more.
We are eager to share what we’ve been learning from our decades of practice at organic farming, including through this year’s experiments in permaculture and in pasturing some of our pigs.
Join us on Saturday, July 18 from 10am-noon (Central). Register to participate in the webinar. As usual, the Grain Place Field Day Tour and Seminar are open to anyone, and free. (We’re sorry we can’t offer you the option of an organic lunch on the farm this year–you’ll have to find good food wherever you are!)
In cooperation with InternNE, Grain Place Foundation is offering a six week paid student internship at The Grain Place farm this summer. Below is a brief description. The scheduling is flexible between June 1 and August 15. On farm housing provided. If you know of someone who might benefit from this have them register on the InternNE website or contact Glenda Vetter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 308 383-1716.
The intern will learn the history of The Grain Place, Inc. and what has been done the last 40 years in regenerative and organic farming. This includes a 9-year crop rotation and use of livestock in building soil health and carbon sequestration and how it affects the day to day decisions in farming. Knowing the history of the farm will help them understand current and future research. The intern will make suggests for the current data collection and documentation. The intern will help us to document ecological diversity. They will be looking at natives in terms of plant, animal, and insect species and their density.
The Aurora News-Register featured this year’s Grain Place Foundation’s Field Day events and the “Dreaming of a Vetter World” film screening and Q&A with a set of articles over two week’s issues. We’re so grateful for the local spotlight on our work and on our part in a much bigger conversation about our food system and our common future. You can read summaries of the July 17 and July 24 articles online. Or click the links below for a pdf of the whole article!
FARMING UPDATE (IN A WET SPRING!) We are thankful that we were able to get the corn planted by May 20th and it is up and showing down the row very well. However, since then it has been so wet we only just now planted the soybeans and the rest of the spring planting! The weeds are coming too in the corn so we need to get it cultivated. We are praying for two weeks of good weather to get this planting and cultivating done!-Raymond Hain, Grain Place Farmer
Welcome to our Summer Intern: Jane Coughlan!
We welcome summer intern Jane Coghlan from Argyle, Texas. She has completed her freshman year at Arizona State University in the School of Sustainability. Jane is particularly interested in sustainable food and agriculture systems. She does not have farm experience and is looking forward to learning all aspects of farming. She began her internship on June 4th and will be with us until June 26.
The past three years have seen us struggle to find the right person(s) to carry on the farming at the Grain Place. Thanks to the efforts of volunteers we have managed to keep the farm going through several changes of personnel. We think we finally have the right folks in place stabilize farming operations and enable us to enhance our legacy as a pioneering organic farm.
We have a new resident farm family living in the farm house! Raymond and Kathryn Hain moved in on October 28, and Raymond began as Farm Manager on November 1. They are both native Nebraskans, with a wealth of experience and education. Raymond farmed his parent’s family farm in east central Nebraska for several years before he and Kathryn served in Jerusalem as missionaries. Kathryn recently completed a PhD in History at the University of Utah.
We are also pleased to welcome Travis Stumpf to the Grain Place farm team! Travis attended the Farm Tour Day in July and then began coming over from his home in Doniphan, NE to help out. He became a full-time employee this fall. We are grateful to have his passion for regenerative agriculture, his desire to learn and youthful energy.