ASK Jeff: The Rodale Institute’s farm manager, Jeff Moyer, answers your hardcore farming questions

Animals are key to a closed system.

Posted October 12, 2006

What Jeff brings to the table

Jeff Moyer, who’s been the farm manager here at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm for more than a quarter of a century, receives lots of mail from farmers just like you asking for advice. Jeff’s hands-in-the-dirt experience over the past 26 years has run the gamut from refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems (including managing 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market) to overseeing The Rodale Institue Farming Systems Trial®, the world’s longest running side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional agriculture. We thought it would be fun and informative to share some of these farmer-to-farmer exchanges, and Jeff’s practical wisdom, with our readers … and we’ll be doing it on a regular basis.

Got a question of your own? Click here to send it to Jeff.

Dear Jeff,

I enjoyed your article on oil prices and the need to rethink some practices (Oil price spike creates incentive for real change). I assume that you folks don't have livestock. Ruminants are the cornerstone of our farming operation. Use of composted manure plus a rotation that is two-thirds perennial forage makes it easier to maintain healthy soils. Management is still key, of course. We bought our present farm 14 years ago and have yet to purchase a single bag of fertilizer. Our spring cereals this year yielded two tons per acre. First-cut hay yields were down a bit due to dry conditions, but we still managed to harvest an average of 3.5 tons per acre over two cuts.

These results are hardly earth-shattering, but they are respectable. Without livestock, it would be more of a challenge. I hope that some of the deluges of rain you folks have experienced this season haven't caused too many headaches. Here in our part of Ontario, we've had a summer with just about the right balance of moisture and heat. Believe me, it was welcome—in 2005 we had about the worst drought I've ever seen. No rain from mid June until early September.

Ian Campbell

Dear Ian,

Thanks for the email. I’m glad you're reading New Farm and enjoyed the article. Every now and then, it's good to have a year when the weather treats you right. It gives you the inspiration to try it all over again next year.