Q&A

DEAR NEW FARM:

At 28 years of age, I am a fifth generation farmer living in northeast Nebraska. Our farm is primarily livestock based, which means a large portion of the crops we produce are fed to our cattle. In short, generations of "conventional wisdom" have led to a staunch belief in conventional farming on this farm and throughout this area. All the hype about ethanol, etc., has done well to increase everyone’s focus on conventional farming as we plant more corn-on-corn acres and implement all the genetics and chemicals (not cheap) available to force the land to give us what we want. Any talk of organic around here is basically blasphemy, and I find very few to talk to who can speak about the subject thoughtfully or objectively. As a young guy, I have not yet lost the ability to think outside the box. I feel strongly that organic is really on to something; It just makes a lot of sense to me on many different levels. Knowledge is power and if I had more knowledge about how to implement organic in my region I might be more empowered to pursue it. If there is any information specific to my region or similiar regions I would be glad to have it.

Sincerely,
Scott J. Uecker
Nebraska

 

DEAR SCOTT:

The first thing you need to know is that you are not alone. While it may very well feel that way to you as you talk to other farmers in your area, there are many farmers your age who are thinking outside the box. Knowledge is power, as you say, and we’ll do what we can to supply you with some basic information to bolster your arguments. We have seen that farmers can do anything they put their minds to. If you or any of your neighbors wants to make organic work, you can. There are strong and growing markets for food products of all types including beef. Of course there is a real shortage of grains across the country as more and more farmers are transitioning their livestock (dairy, beef, poultry) to organic. You’ll certainly need to do your homework in terms of finding the market if you work on transitioning your operation, but they are definitely there.

The other thing to consider is that a transition process can, and should, start slowly—one piece at a time. By that we mean you can transition one field, one crop, or a portion of your herd at a time. You don’t need to do everything all at once. This way you can ease into the new markets and learn as you grow. This is often a good way to bring the rest of your family into the process as they can see your success.

We encourage you to keep thinking and working toward this goal. You do have some great folks in Nebraska, such as John Doran, Ph.D., a semi-retired USDA-ARS soil scientist. You might contact him to discuss your ideas. Also, check out our Farm Locator for other farmers growing and raising sustainably in your area. A quick search resulted in nine farms in Nebraska. In the meantime, we’ll send you some reading material to get you thinking, and we suggest you keep reading New Farm as a source of more information. Opinions about agricultural practices change slowly, but they do change—even in rural Nebraska. Farmers, like most folks, need to see success and will watch very closely as those first risk-takers move out into a different arena.

We wish you the very best and know that you are on the right track, even if it is less traveled.

NF

 

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