Capital purchases: An opportunity to think
more deeply about where your farm is heading
It makes no sense to invest new dollars into equipment designed for old systems, says Jeff. He also offers a few thoughts on mixing nurse crops with your cover crops.

By Jeff Moyer, The Rodale Institute® Farm Manager

with readers

Jeff has had quite a few email conversations with readers in recent months, and we think lots of them are instructive … and even entertaining. They give you a fly-on-the-wall view as two farmers grapple with problems and decisions—from out-of-control vetch to which piece of haying equipment to buy. Enjoy.

No-till corn, part 1: Corn and quack grass

No-till corn, part 2: Corn and Johnson grass … and hey, what about the price of soybeans?

No till corn, part 3: A reader shares the results of his own experiments

No-till corn, part 4: Help! The vetch is out of control.

Haying equipment dilemma: Sickle bar or haybine?

Help with composting on a large-scale corn and soybean farm

Advice for a beginning farmer

How to convince consumers that organic is more nutritious

Jeff Moyer is the farm manager at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm, and has been here for over 26 years, refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems. The farm has over 1,000 organic apple trees, a 3-acre CSA, 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market, and 25 acres of experimental research plots that have been used to test and compare the yield, soil health and environmental impact of organic and conventional systems for the last 22 years.

"It's been extremely rewarding to work at The Rodale Institute," says Jeff. "Working on projects and with people who are having a positive impact on family farm practices, economics, and environmental stewardship is very fulfilling. The positive changes I've seen on our own farm over the years—and farms around the world— convinces me that we're on the right road."

How to contact Jeff

Jeff's email:

Phone: 610-683-1420

Mailing address:
611 Siegfriedale Rd.
Kutztown, PA 19530

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 once again.

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 resources.

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, but ….

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 crops

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 the cold.

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 . . .