Third in a series of four stories about leaders in the Practical Farmers of Iowa network.
NEXT INSTALLMENT: Ron and Maria Rosmann, DECEMBER 16, 2002

Diversified operation in southwest Iowa emphasizes customer relations & direct marketing
For the Madsens, direct contact with customers is essential
-- for profit AND pleasure.

By Darcy Maulsby

Farm At A Glance

Madsen Stock Farm

Location: Western Iowa; approximately 70 miles northeast of Omaha and 70 miles west of Des Moines
Important people: Vic and Cindy Madsen
Years farming: Vic has farmed since 1970, and in 1975 the couple purchased the farm where they currently live
Total acreage: 300
Tillable acres: 260
Soil type: Marshall and Shelby soils, highly variable with slopes from 2 to 15 per cent, composed of loess and glacial till. Organic matter varies from 2 to 4 percent.
Crops: corn, soybeans, barley, oats and hay
Livestock: hogs and chickens
Regenerative farm practices: Longer crop rotations that include small grains and hay; cover crops; composting hoop house hog manure for field crops; using home-raised seed whenever possible
Marketing: Niman Ranch, Audubon County Family Farms, farmers markets and direct marketing from the farm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"When the kids were little, they wanted to help on the farm, but we were always telling them, 'Don’t go near the equipment, don’t go near the chemicals.' It dawned on me that the only safe time they could be in the field was when we seeded oats."

The relationship is foremost: "It’s important that customers know where our farm is and who the farmers are who raised their food," says Cindy Madsen, pictured here with Vic. "Once you form this relationship, the customers identify you as almost part of their family."

If you visit Vic and Cindy Madsen’s farm southwest of Audubon, Iowa, you’ll hear a rare sound for a modern farm—the clucking of chickens.

In an era when most chickens are raised by the thousands in large confinement barns, a flock of poultry in the barnyard is a notable sight. The birds are one component of a farm that has not bought into the “get big or get out” philosophy of agriculture.
The Madsens farm 300 acres, which is a very small operation by today’s conventional agriculture standards. The Madsens have learned, however, that you don’t have to farm thousands of acres to support a family.

The family raises corn, soybeans, barley, oats and hay, along with hogs and chickens. To round out their diversified operation, they would like to add cows or sheep. Currently, the Madsens’ farm income is derived from the direct marketing of poultry and pork (25 percent); pork sold to Niman Ranch and on the open market (25 percent); grain sales (20 percent); government payments (15 percent) and hay sales (5 percent).

Direct sales of meat, and a focus on relationship marketing, are a big part of the Madsens’ business.

“You have to have a relationship with your customer. It’s important that customers know where our farm is and who the farmers are who raised their food. Once you form this relationship, the customers identify you as almost part of their family. We host farm tours so our customers can see where their food is grown. This is a working farm, not a show farm,” Cindy said.

A different way of farming

The Madsens share an agricultural heritage. They both grew up on Iowa farms, and Vic has farmed since 1970.

In 1975, the couple purchased the farm where they currently live and where they raised their three sons. They are the third family to manage the farm, which was established in 1886. The farm is located approximately 70 miles northeast of Omaha and 70 miles west of Des Moines.

The Madsens became interested in sustainable agriculture when their boys were growing up.

“When the kids were little, they wanted to help on the farm, but we were always telling them, ‘Don’t go near the equipment, don’t go near the chemicals.’ It dawned on me that the only safe time they could be in the field was when we seeded oats. It seemed like we were giving them a very negative view of farming. We decided we wanted to find a way that would let the kids become more involved,” Vic said.

Sustainable agriculture provided the answer. “Sustainable agriculture is a whole different mindset. To me, it’s more people-friendly, and it’s safer,” Vic added.

Today, Vic and Cindy provide the majority of the farm labor and management. Their two older sons, Jeff and Mark, are not involved in the operation. Their younger son, Eric, 19, helps with farm work on weekends and during the summer months.

Unlike the corn-soybean rotations that many Iowa farmers use today, the Madsens raise corn, soybeans, barley, oats and hay. They do not plant genetically-modified crops.

The Madsens have 23 acres of organic production, but they use herbicides, when necessary, on the remaining crop land. “This year, we had heavy weed pressure, so I used more herbicide. While we’re not purists, we do prefer to use as little herbicide as possible. You can use one-third less nitrogen if you place it properly and time the application right,” Vic said.

In recent years, the Madsens have raised corn and soybeans on their organic acres. They have sold organic soybeans to Heartland Organic Marketing Co-op in Stuart, Iowa.

Pork and poultry production

The Madsens have 40 sows and use three deep-bedded hoop buildings in their farrow-to-finish pork production system.
Their swine herd includes Berkshire, Yorkshire and Chester White genetics. “The Chester White/York genetics mean hardy, prolific hogs. A study from the National Pork Producers Council shows that Berkshire genetics provide the highest eating quality,” Vic explained.

Some of the Madsens’ pork is sold to Niman Ranch, and the rest is direct marketed. (Editor’s note: Niman Ranch was started more than 25 years ago in California. In the Niman Ranch system, livestock are humanely treated, fed the purest natural feeds, are never given growth hormones or sub-therapeutic antibiotics, and are raised on land that is cared for as a sustainable resource. Many Niman Ranch hogs are raised in Iowa.)

The Madsens have also raised poultry for 16 years. Each year, they have about 100 layers and raise 900 broiler chickens. Most of the poultry is sold locally, within a 30-mile radius of the farm. The Madsens also sell some eggs.

“We don’t feed our livestock hormones, drugs or meat by-products. We use barn lime and good sanitation to keep our animals healthy. For the chickens, we use a poultry feed pre-mix that contains no meat-and-bone meal but has extra vitamins and minerals. This makes a big difference. When we started feeding the chickens this product, they really perked up, and showed brighter, whiter feathers,” Cindy said.

The Madsens’ poultry is processed nearby in a state-inspected facility in the small town of Kimballton, Iowa. Their pork that is direct-marketed is processed in a state-inspected plant in Atlantic, Iowa. Because the meat is not federally inspected, it cannot be sold outside of Iowa.

The Madsens’ products are not organic, due to the customer base in Iowa. “If we went organic, I’d have to add quite a bit to the cost of my chicken. The population around southwest Iowa isn’t like the customer base in Chicago, or even West Des Moines. We don’t have a lot of affluent, dual-income couples like you find in metro areas. We have to sell our products at a price people can afford,” Cindy said.


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