Renewable Farming

Ecologically focused farmers convene with confidence while global markets tremble

Much of our daily media is focused on threats of multinational stock markets and shaky debt worldwide. Ag forecasters fear that weakening economies overseas will cripple exports. But a subset of U.S. farmers are planning for 2016 with confidence — and undimmed enthusiasm.  Here are some examples of what they’re looking forward to.

Today is the last day to pre-register for the Practical Farmers of Iowa conference at Iowa State University Jan. 21-22. You can walk in and register for an additional $10.  Download a PDF of the detailed conference schedule here.

Practical Farmers of Iowa is celebrating its 30th year of “farmers teaching farmers.” The membership has grown dramatically, and today it’s composed of a wide array of younger, highly enthused and very diversified farmers. I can remember when the PFI on-farm experiments were focused on conventional questions like nitrogen response.

When I was a research cooperator with PFI, Iowa State agronomist Rick Exner considered me weird at wanting to test inoculation of seed in-furrow with mycorrhizal fungi. But even then in those early years a quarter-century ago, Tom and Irene Frantzen of New Hampton were encouraging early experiments with cover crops. Now, cover crops are “in.” (At the PFI conference, Tom will report on another innovation: Modifying a cultivator for more efficient weed control. Remember cultivators?)

We usually exhibit WakeUP at the PFI conference, but a busy speaking and travel schedule this winter precluded that show, which is like a big reunion. We encourage you to take part.

Renewable Farming will be presenting our latest field trial findings with WakeUP and other products at the AgriEnergy Resources conference Tuesday, Jan. 26 at the Timber Creek Convention Center in Sandwich, Illinois. This will be a big gathering of farmers. Here’s a link to AgriEnergy conference details.

AgriEnergy Resources is one of those enduring biological-ag companies whose research and vision of a ecologically based ag future emerged early. It was radically opposed to the pervasive paradigm of the 1950s through the early 1980s. One of the first presentations at AgriEnergy seminars back in the 1980s was a movie on “Paradigms” —  how worldviews lock up our minds. 

Today, the paradigm has shifted. AgriEnergy’s fastest-growing products are those for organic and non-GMO growers.

This growth is clear to the “big six” ag chemical/seed companies. They’re pouring billions into biological research. To shorten the marketing pipeline, they’re buying up small “bio” companies the same way they vacuumed up small seed firms over the past 20 years.

Back in the late 1960s, I can recall the crops editor of Farm Journal, Ralph Wennblom, coaching the rest of us editors that:  “The only reason you need soil to grow a crop is to hold up the plant. You can use chemicals and fertilizer to provide everything the crop needs.” When Lane Palmer rose to the position of Editor-in-Chief at Farm Journal in 1968 (and appointed me Managing Editor), he announced that “In the next 20 years, we will preside over the chemicalization of American agriculture.” He did, retiring in 1986. A real gentleman, but bound by the paradigm of his time and commercial constraints.

Little signals of big ag changes are all around us. Yesterday at our Hy-Vee supermarket in Cedar Falls, workers in the recently enlarged organic produce section were hurrying to re-stock the fresh greens section with everything from Swiss chard to purple cabbage to 10-pound bags of juicing carrots. Produce manager Darren Deterich said, “Every January, there’s a bigger rush on our organic foods, especially fresh vegetables and fruit. Maybe it’s all the New Year’s resolutions…. ‘This year, let’s eat organic.’ But it gets bigger, every year.” That demand base is being reflected at companies serving organic and biologically oriented growers.

About 15 years ago, I visited with Reuben Stoltzfus in Lancaster County, PA. He had launched “Lancaster Agriculture Products.” It first operated from a small storefront on ground level, with a church meeting room on the upper level. Today, Lancaster Agriculture Products has a large warehouse and a wide array of products for organic and biologically benign cropping.  It’s at Ronks, PA.

On Feb. 12 and 13, Lancaster Agriculture Products will host a major “Real Health Conference” for farmers. It will bring together 31 presentations from many of the “deans” of ecologically sound agriculture and health. For example, our longtime friend Dr. Arden Andersen will open on Friday with a presentation titled, “Agriculture, Food & Cancer.”

Saturday will bring on leaders such as Dr. Don Huber, Dr. Michael McNeill, veterinarian Paul Dettloff and many others. You can see the entire lineup by visiting the link just above. I would like to lift out of that conference program part of a note from Reuben Stoltzfus:

“Education and lifelong learning have certainly built this company. Over twenty years ago, my father and I set out to educate ourselves about nutrient-dense soils and other aspects of sustainable agriculture. We valued the mentors who helped along the way: Dr. Siegfried Luebke, Dr. Dan Skow, Dr. Paul Dettloff and Dr. Arden Andersen. Their wisdom taught us that nutrition is the foundation of our existence and good nutrition ultimately begins in the soil in which our food is grown. There is a close tie-in between the quality of soil and the state of human health. Our health depends on the nutrient value of our food and it is the quality of the soil that determines how high in nutritional value our foods are.”


By Jerry Carlson, published January 14, 2016