Posts in Sustainability
Sustainability Spotlight: Local Vegetable Farm

Meet Joe Miller. He and his wife, Chris, are the full-time owners/operators of Miller Farms, a medium-sized vegetable farm in Northern Colorado. Miller Farms consists of 400 acres of vegetables, additional acreage in field corn, and a few more acres of hay.

In addition to farming, a couple of years ago they started to raise cattle for beef – but it’s not much – they originally got into cattle because their kids and grandkids liked to work with them. This sentiment is telling of why Joe is involved in farming at all: his passion is teaching kids and adults where food comes from. He wants to make food affordable.

Read More
Sustainability Spotlight: Community Based Agriculture

Meet Amanda Lindahl. She’s an expert baker, extrovert, wonderful friend, and a passionate gardener. She works for The Giving Grove, a non-profit organization which is part of the Kansas City Community Gardens.

The Giving Grove is a unique subset of American Agriculture – one founded on the principle of helping people grow their own food. Since their inception in 2013, the Giving Grove has partnered with community groups to plant over 145 orchards all over the Kansas City metro, ranging in size from five trees to over 100 trees. The organization provides education, but the responsibility of ongoing maintenance and management of the orchard is the work of the community group partner. These community groups are then the beneficiaries of the (literal) fruits of their labor.

Read More
Sustainability Spotlight: Large-Scale Commodity Farm

If there is one word I could use to describe Lee Scheufler, my father and the co-owner/operator of Scheufler Farms, Inc. it would be efficient.

“I wasn’t going to marry a farmer!” declares Margaret, wife of efficient Lee, my mother and co-owner/operator of Scheufler Farms.

“But my charm overwhelmed her,” Lee jokes with a wink.

Scheufler Farms is a large-scale grain farm in the smack-dab center of Kansas. Lee and Margaret have been married over 30 years and together manage this 100% family farm with only one full-time employee. Their farming philosophy is to run a highly efficient enterprise to capture low cost per unit production.

Read More
Sustainability Spotlight: Industry Perspective

Last December, Marvin showed up on my parents’ doorstep.

Marvin works for ADM (Archer Daniels Midland Company – although nobody ever calls them by their full name) as a marketing agent who procures grain from local farmers.

He and his company want to sustainably source wheat in Central Kansas, but “sustainable” first needs to be defined. Thus ADM is looking for producers willing to share information about their farming practices.  The goal of this  Field to Market program is to determine the most profitable - yet environmentally friendly - way to raise wheat. ADM, in turn, wants to partner with these farms to purchase this sustainably grown grain.

Read More
Sustainability in Agriculture

Farm to Table. Locally Grown. Sustainably Made.

These buzzwords are becoming more than marketing phrases – they are becoming the demands of consumers. Consumers understand now more than ever that climate change isn’t a probability anymore; it’s a reality – and one that needs addressing right now.

Over the course of the next few months, I plan to delve into five perspectives: and industry response to sustainability and an interview with four different types of farmers in this six-part series about Sustainability in Agriculture.

Read More
The Next Generation of American Agriculture

My Dad was featured in the Wall Street Journal last month. That's right, I'm basically the daughter of a celebrity.

He and several other farmers in Central Kansas (like my high school classmate Mason!) were interviewed for the article: The Next American Farm Bust is Upon Us. Unfortunately, the tone of the article was less than positive; apparently I wasn't the only one who noticed the piles of grain across my home state last summer and it's not an illusion that the low price of grain is going to force some farmers out of business.

This begs the question: How will American Agriculture respond to this changing climate?

Read More
But Where Does it All Go?

A few months ago I wrote about the volatility of the farming economy - the Invisible Hand of supply, demand, and incentive programs. Today, that picture is more evident than ever as you drive across the plains of Kansas: mounds of grains are piled high outside of elevators that have been at capacity for months. I mentioned the record-breaking yields that farmers have had this year.

Most industries vary their output based on demand. If toy giraffes are all the rage with the age-one-to-three-year-olds this year, you better believe that more toy giraffes are going to saunter off the production line. When the popularity of giraffes wanes, production decreases.

Unlike other types of producers, farmers are much more at the mercy of the elements (rather than demand) to determine their output, and consumption remains relatively stable. So, when output goes up, prices go down and storage overflows.

This begs the question: where does all that extra grain go??

Read More
Volatility

Unpredictability is the name of the game when it comes to farming. Weather, pests, breakdowns, and (perhaps most frustrating), the marketplace.

Things have been especially good this year: plenty of rain and sunshine at just the right time. Fortunately (or unfortunately?) it's been good everywhere. The Former Soviet Union and Europe had record-breaking wheat harvests this year. Thus, surpluses abound.

For those of you who've had training in basic economics, you know what happens to price when supply outweighs demand. That's right - price goes down.

That's what's happening right now.

Read More
Rained Out: A Story of Mitigating Risk

For all of the technology in modern agriculture - the GPS device in the combine, the weather app on the phone, the wireless electronic truck scale - our food system is still in the hands of Mother Nature.

It's never more apparent how small we humans are in the universe until your game of Pegs and Jokers is interrupted by a tornado warning. There is a false sense of security in having a basement; if a tornado barrels over the house, there's really nowhere to hide.

This is the scary part of being a farmer.

You can plan. You can estimate. You can research and work late nights and get all the planting done on time. But one flood, one hail storm, one extra week without rain can wipe it all away in the blink of an eye. While farming is about knowing how to grow crops in your climate, it's also about business (knowing when to spend money to make money), relationships (you gotta trust people to work with them), and mitigating risk.

Read More
Nitrogen Fertilizer, a Comparison

A few weeks ago I wrote about how nitrogren fertilizer is an essential part of farming because it is an essential part of protein, and thus nutrition for humans.

Across farming philosophies - from conventional to progressive to organic to local - the fact that nitrogen is essential to life is an undisputed fact. Beyond that agreement, however, opinions begin to differ regarding exactly what type of fertilizer is best to use.

While I can in  no way compare to a trained agronomist's opinion, I'd like to offer a (very) brief overview of the options farmers have today about what types of nitrogen fertilizer are available and review a few of the pros and cons of each.

Read More
Nitrogen: the Building Block of Building Blocks

Protein.

I've ranted over its popularity in the American diet. I've warned that we're getting way more protein than we need (although so far there's no evidence that this is necessarily harmful). Yet still for most humans on the planet today, lack of protein remains a major source of malnutrition.

Water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink. This pretty accurately describes our relationship with atmospheric nitrogen. There's lots of it, but it's not in a form that is available for plants to use. Nitrogen as fertilizer comes from one of three places: 1) recycled nitrogen, 2) fixed nitrogen, and 3) synthesized nitrogen.

Read More