November 21, 2003: November is here and
the weather in Eastern Pennsylvania couldn’t be better.
We had substantial rain late in October, (which this year
is par for the course), but the temperatures are very mild
and the skies are clear. Perfect for getting in the late cuttings
of hay, the soybeans and the corn. We’ve got all the
apples picked and in the cooler, the soybeans are mostly harvested,
sold and already delivered, my favorite football teams are
winning about half the time, and the kids seem to be doing
well in school – life is good!
Our institute manages its fiscal year to coincide with the
calendar year, making this BUDGET TIME. Yes … that time
of the year when financial planning takes place. I must be
getting old since it seems like I just did this the other
week, but no – it was last year and it’s time
The real challenge for me is that part of the budget which
I allocate to capital items. The electric and fuel bills will
be what they are. Property taxes and other known expenses
will be easy to calculate based on historical information.
But the capital side of the budget needs some very creative
thinking and a fair bit of research. Like most of you, there
are a zillion things “I need,” but very limited
This year I’m looking at converting a no-till planter
that was set up for research plots from two rows to four rows.
I should look into a new, or at least “new to me”,
orchard sprayer, and a plot combine for research needs. I’d
really like a mid-sized tractor in the 130 horse power range,
This sort of activity really is an opportunity for change.
And spending large sums of money on equipment or buildings
should encourage you to review your entire operation with
a critical eye towards the future. No sense investing “new”
dollars into “old” systems if it’s time
to make other changes. Where do you see your farm 5 years
or 10 years from now? With the cost of new equipment, you
and I will be living with our decisions for a long time …
or paying the price for poorly suited tools or the cost of
re-equipping the farm.
One of the areas of re-tooling I’m looking into is
cultivation equipment. The 4-row cultivator I’ve been
using for the past 15 years or so doesn’t quite seem
to have the degree of adjustment or flexibility I think I
should have to get the job done right. We’ve had such
odd weather the past few years. It’s either too wet
or too dry whenever I need to cultivate. So I need to do some
research into what’s new in the exciting world of cultivation
equipment. I know there are lots of options out there and
finding the right tools for the job won’t be easy. If
any of you has any suggestions I’d love to hear them.
Maybe you know of a piece of equipment that has performed
well or one that I should avoid. Email
or write and let me know.
Nutrient levels: organic vs. conventional
Many of you have written to comment on my last article, where
I talked briefly about the new direction for The Rodale Institute
Farming Systems Trial® (FST)—tracking nutrient differences
in food produced organically versus conventionally—and
the need to address food quality issues. I’m glad to
hear that many of you support our efforts. Although some of
you questioned my sanity, most of the comments where very
positive. We are well aware of the difficult tasks ahead as
we buck the system once again, but it’s important work
and the end goal of healthier soil and healthier people makes
it all worth while. And the site we have selected for studying
nutrient differences, the FST here on our farm in Eastern
Pennsylvania, is one of the few places in the world where
the highly documented diverse farming systems plots with intense
historical data necessary to conduct these studies exists.
I look forward to sharing the information coming out of this
work with you as the results slowly come in.
Nurse crops for cover crops
Well, as I started this article by saying it’s November,
and outdoor activities are starting to wind down. As I look
out across the farm, the only crop I see left to harvest is
the corn. The gardens are starting to look bare as the last
of the root crops are harvested, and the still green cover
crops are filling in the beds. While only the hardiest leaves
are still clinging to the trees, this farm looks green from
end to end. The wheat I planted last month is up and looks
great, as does the barley—the promise of a good harvest
next summer. My vetch and oat cover crops look like they’ll
make it into the winter with sufficient growth to survive
This year I planted spring oats with most of my hairy vetch
as a nurse crop. I’ve noticed in the past that by planting
a grass with a legume I can get the same amount of nitrogen
contribution, for next years crop, with a lower seeding rate
of the legume and still put the same amount of biomass back
into the system. This saves me money since the legume seed
is an expensive part of my cropping system. The rye I immediately
sowed after soybean harvest is beginning to emerge. And the
hay fields are greening up after last cutting.
I’m writing this on Election Day, and by the time you
read this the polls will long be closed, the campaign signs
torn down (hopefully), and all those annoying radio spots
just a distant memory. I hope all your candidates won and
pray they all have the strength and wisdom to move our governing
bodies in a positive direction.
Until next month, I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving
and have much to be thankful for.
From One Farm To Another . . .