FarmStart’s Farm Viability Series – Starting This December

Do you know what’s making money on your farm? Are you thinking about trying a new marketing strategy or crop? Are you asking yourself if you can farm the way you want – and be financially viable?

FarmStart’s Farm Viability Series is a chance to dig deep into financial tools for evaluating and improving your current or future farm business. The series of 4 Webinars, in partnership with NORDIK Institute and AMI, explores financial literacy for ‘working less and making more money’, setting prices, managing debt and accessing land.

 

 

Webinar #1:  Mind Your Business! Financial Literacy and Effective Business Management for Farmers
Richard Wiswall – December 8th, 2015 – 12 noon-1:30pm EST
Registration closes Monday Nov 30th 2015 at midnight.

What does it mean to be “In Business”? Why should you keep records? Because Richard said so? No! To better manage your farm business so you can work less and make more money? Yes! Now that you are in the farming business, learn the language of business. Be a highly effective manager, learn the macro and micro tools of financials, and benefit from some quick tips for success. The webinar will cover financial statements and efficient office practices.

Mind Your Business! is a more advanced course that follows Richard’s Planning For Profit. In 2013 Farm Management Canada, the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario and the Central Ontario Agricultural Conference hosted Richard for a web presentation archived as an Agriwebinar. Richard has generously agreed to answer questions from the Planning for Profit Agriwebinar as well as Mind Your Business! during the question period on Dec 8th, so maximize your time with him by watching Planning for Profit in advance and taking lots of notes!

 

Webinar #2:  Get Ahead of Debt: The 5 Things Farmers Should Know When Preparing For Farm Debt
James Craig – January 7th, 2016 – 12 noon-1pm EST
Registration closes Dec 31st 2015 at midnight

Are you looking for your farm’s first loan? Or is your farm looking to expand and needs to take on more debt? With farms, the word “debt” can be intimidating. But it doesn’t need to be.

Join FarmStart as James Craig speaks on the 5 things farmers should understand when preparing for farm debt. Familiarize yourself with debt concepts, understand how lenders analyze loan applications, and learn some new tips to advance your farm business.

 

Webinar #3:  What It’s Worth: Pricing Produce for Profit
Chris Blanchard – January 19th, 2016 – 7-8:30pm EST

Being a sustainable farmer is more than the farming methods you use, it also means ensuring you can stay in business regardless of your marketing outlet.  Chris Blanchard will help you navigate pricing strategies to meet your customer needs and your farm’s bottom line.

This webinar is offered by the Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network (ACORN). If you are registering for this webinar ONLY, do so at ACORN’s website. If you are registering for the 4-part Farm Viability Webinar Series, access info for What It’s Worth will be provided as part of the Series through FarmStart.

For more webinars by Chris Blanchard, join ACORN’s Winter Webinar Series. Other topics include Capturing and Organizing Data and Marking Horticultural Crops to Food Stores. Winter learning galore!

 

Webinar #4:  Land Access Strategies
by Farmers – to be held in February – details coming soon

 

Cost:

Single Webinar – $25 each

All 4 Webinars – $70

3-part course + 4 webinars = $250  (If you’re near Guelph or Chatham, ON)

 

To register: http://store.farmstart.ca/products/farm-viability-webinars

Questions? Contact Margaret at:  margaret@farmstart.ca

 

Webinar PosterSocial media

When Your Workers Are Family…

Why Do Farmers Farm?

 

Alberta farmers feel like they’re in a fight for their farming lives. At the moment, the issue is Bill 6 – the “EnhancedProtection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act”,  intended to protect the basic rights of farm and ranch workers. But many rural Albertans are concerned about what this legislation will mean for the average family farm.  We’ve seen a lot of you voicing your concerns, signing the petition, and coming together as a community, deeply concerned for the future of this industry.

The bill applies legislation to ALL farm workers. It is highly unlikely that any farmers in this province believe that their workers don’t deserve protection or support. That is not what the backlash is all about. 90% of farms are family owned and the fact is that the majority of farm workers in Alberta are either family members, friends or neighbours. We are an industry that lives and breathes a culture of collaboration and support – where you step in where you are needed without thought for compensation or return.

The proposed Act will apply legislation to farming operations without recognizing the economic and social impacts it will have. One of the many young farmers we’ve seen voicing their heartfelt concern on Facebook is Daniel Schneider, who’s blog post has gone viral (with over 3,400 shares to date!), and the way he puts it is very representative of many of the blogs and status updates we’ve seen these last few days.

“it’s a bill that has the best of intentions, it is intended to prevent injury or death on farms. By all rights it sounds like the logical solution . . . Here’s the problem. We don’t want those rights, and we never asked for them . . . . Those affected by this bill were not consulted or given a voice on the matter.”

You can read Daniel’s full blog post here: http://tinyurl.com/oz964df

If this proposed bill was a project or initiative being proposed by a non-profit group and seeking government support, it would not meet the criteria for demonstrating collaborative efforts. Farmers must be part of this important conversation.

A series of town hall meetings are being held to present information and hear concerns and opinions. A collaborative process however,means working together to address the issue, educating each other and building trust, taking action and evaluating the outcomes. It will be important that the government process demonstrates the same guiding principles for collaboration that is expected of other organizations. It is our hope thatBill 6, rather than being rushed into legislation, would be taken under meaningful and careful scrutiny in a manner that involves Alberta’s family farmers and takes their concerns to heart.

I Decided That I Would Farm For One More Year…

Mike Kozlowski is an incredible young farmer near Red Deer, Alberta and he’s also a good friend of ours, an inspiration to many others in the farming community, and a passionate producer of healthy food for his local community and customers.  A few days ago, he publicly shared a deeply personal insight into the struggles he faces in carrying on with his farm business.  With Mike’s permission, we’d love to share his post with you:

 

 

This is all really personal, but I want to share because it’s important to me and it’s real, and there are just so many cat videos on here.

It’s the end of the farm season. A handful of tasks remain before I shift and start to focus more on yoga for the winter. Last year at this time I was beat and beaten. A hard season had taken its toll and my emotional and physical reserves were low. I was able to gather enough strength to get clear on one goal though; I decided that I would farm for one more year, and if I couldn’t find a way to make farming feel good, I would quit.

I love this picture that Andrea Wiseman masterfully caught of me this fall. I love the flying carrots, dirt and roughage that make the photo seem to move. I love the look of joyful abandon on my face, and the way I can see that joy expressed in my body. What a stupid thing to do, to whip carrots around like such a lunatic. Better than the look of joyful abandon though, was the feeling at the time. I made a decision to get in touch with my joy body, to let it flow through me, to let go.

It’s no secret that farming is a big commitment, a challenging lifestyle, and a labour of love. So much is out of our control, there are never enough hours, and the to-do list never seems to end for those intense six months. Years ago, a mentor of mine told me that he didn’t know how long he would be able to keep farming because of the crippling levels of stress that lead to illness, negativity, and dark thoughts.

I’m happy to say that I figured something out this year that has changed everything. It’s the end of the season, I feel energized, positive, and ready for more. It’s a bewildering position to be in, so drastic from how things have been in the past. I’ve considered that the change could just be that I’m one year older and one year wiser. I’ve considered that a few smart business decisions have saved me time and money.

The truth is, I think it’s more than that. I’ve made a decision to make this work. I decided that I can’t give traction to those feeling of extreme stress, anger, self-pity, or that feeling of “I’m working so fu&king hard and just need a break and why fu&k does everything always go wrong”. These feelings still come up, but when they do, I’m learning to connect to my body, notice the sensations, and let them pass through me. It sounds simple, anyways.

Connecting to my body sounds esoteric, but in a literal sense, it usually means sending awareness to my chest. I feel something in there; movement, something stirring, that I could probably call energy, though that term can be troubling because of it’s wide and varied use. When I become aware of that physical stirring, it’s like a manifestation in my body of the things going on in my brain. If I can find it physically, it becomes possible to explore it, observe, breathe, let it pass and carry on.

This isn’t yoga, exactly, though my yoga practice this summer has helped me immensely. It’s a combination of ancient and modern ideas, techniques, and philosophies that I have learned from countless amazing teachers, books, meditations, and practices.

So, this can’t solve 100% of our problems. It can’t change our chemistry or our past. But when coupled with an extreme commitment to self-care (I posted a video at the end of September on my timeline describing how I got married to myself this summer), I’ve found that life feels infinitely better, the future seems bright, and I feel powerful and energized. Most of the time.

God I just hope that you are all on a path toward self-development and discovery, that you can find more ways to live with positivity, and though we all know the darkness exists, that you are figuring out ways to feel better each day and let more of your light shine into the world.

Farm on bro! Much love and bliss your way.

Mike

 

 

 

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Farms the Way You’ve Never Seen Them Before!

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Technology has been a major force in being able to farm more effectively and efficiently. Here are 6 videos demonstrating the beauty of agriculture that can be captured with personal farm drones!

1. Captivating footage of one family farm using their personal drone.

 

2. Drone footage of Bristle Farm’s 2014 whole corn harvesting process!

 

3. Farmer shows his fun side while using feed and cattle to make a smiley face.

 

4. Amazing drone footage of harvest season in Australia!

 

5.Watch the beauty of one farm through the transition from Winter to Spring.

 

6.An Average day on a dairy farm in Canada.

 

Go Ahead, Be Hard On Your Beliefs

FarmOn Einstein Quote

 

“We must think critically, and not just about the ideas of others. Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out onto the verandah and beat them with a cricket bat. Be intellectually rigorous. Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privilege.” – Tim Minchin

What we believe is important – really important, for that matter. Because our beliefs naturally guide us to make decisions and take actions that carve our path and influence the direction we take. And while our beliefs play a big role in shaping us, it’s critical that we take the time to truly examine our beliefs and reconsider some of our assumptions. But sometimes, that’s easier said than done.

In the agriculture industry, there are many different beliefs about the “right” way to do things. We operate on information overload, as each side of a heated topic bombards us with staunch proof and steadfast statistics to back up their unwavering beliefs. Often, people passionately argue their belief from habit or defense of their livelihood, rather than taking a step back to actually examine if their beliefs still hold truth when all of the information is carefully weighed.

But here is the awesome thing about truth: it can handle questioning. It isn’t offended by poking and prodding. I think, at times, we are afraid of questioning because we fear that it will damage all that we have built to be true based on our belief. However, that’s the beautiful thing about questioning, it pushes us towards answers. Because questions can’t change what is true, but they can inspire understanding that leads to either a confirmation or a change in our beliefs based on logic and fact.

As farmers, we must be careful not to segregate ourselves based on belief. The way you choose to farm is NOT the only thing that defines you. You don’t have to follow traditional practices to prove you honour agriculture’s past. You don’t need to farm organically to care about the Earth and understand the need for sustainability. You can love and respect animals while still raising them for food. Too often we become so entrenched in our beliefs that we can’t see the big picture: that when it comes to food, we’re all in this together!

If we are honest with ourselves, and truly question our beliefs based on the quest for truth, we must admit that there are sustainability issues with some of the ways we produce food and that every type of farming will play an important role in the solution. Sparking change that will ensure the health and future of our planet for generations to come will require a new way of doing things and the ability to set aside pride, fear, and the need to be “right”. Instead, we must move forward with great intention based on what we now know, rather than what we have always believed. The need for innovative collaboration and unity within the brotherhood of farming has never been greater. Each of you will play an important role in that which will be a defining moment, a “tipping point” for food production as we know it. So be brave in questioning your beliefs. Understand that just wanting something to be true cannot make it so. Be comfortable knowing that it’s okay to change course if need be. What you do as a farmer is essential, how you do it is ever evolving based on new knowledge. And that, friends, is as it should be.

5 Things Every Producer Needs To Know Before Selling Cattle Online

Marketing cattle online is becoming the next big thing in our industry, but with so many gadgets, services and technology available today it can be overwhelming where to even begin. So we talked to David Moss, co-founder of Agriclear, to help us hack into what buyers are actually looking for when purchasing your cattle online, and how to get yourself ready for successfully selling online.  Agriclear is a new platform for producers to securely purchase and sell cattle online, and we think it’s pretty cool because it’s one of the first platforms that has truly simplified the process and made it safe and secure for both buyer and seller, by adding a payment assurance backstop to every transaction. Agriclear is backed by the TMX Group (owners of the TSX among other companies), and this gives producers across North America that sense of security and peace of mind when marketing online.  Here are David’s top 5 tips that every cattle producer needs to know to help increase sales online.

 

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1.      High Quality Media Sells – take several high definition (HD) pictures from several angles and ensure the photos are representative of the entire lot being sold.  Take several short (10-30 second) HD videos of your cattle, and ensure the environment they are in (i.e. on grass or in a feedlot) is clearly shown in the media materials. Click here to learn how to take better photos with your iPhone.

 

Pupils you betray me

2.      Describe Your Cattle Accurately – ensure you accurately describe your cattle, including animal type and kind, condition (green, medium, fleshy), vaccination program, implant program, and current feeding program.  You want to ensure your description matches what buyers are seeing in the pictures and videos you have provided.  If you are describing your cattle as green, and yet the videos clearly show fleshy cattle, buyers will have concerns.  You want the reputation of always being fair and accurate in your description.  This includes fully disclosing any poor doers, late calvers, or “neighbours bull” events!

 

cattle scale

3.      Know Your Weights!! – this is absolutely critical!  Take representative test weights often.  Do not rely on last year’s results to predict this year’s weights.  Cattle that do not hit the sale weight is a big issue for buyers.  A missed in-weight will often result in their inability to hit specific finished target markets, and will “weigh heavily” on your online reputation.

 

consolidated sale lot

4.      Package and Prepare Your Sale Lot – where possible, package your selling lot(s) into uniform groups of cattle, including colour (breed), weights, sex, animal type, and program.  Sort off any sick or compromised cattle.  Take the perspective of a buyer.  Build sale lots that you would want to buy, avoid trying to “hide” off-type cattle in your sale lots.  Check out this great video with Brenda Schoepp on how to consolidate your cattle.

 

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5.      Be Flexible – listing and selling online is a relatively new phenomenon.  You will need to be flexible and fair with your counterparty to the transaction.  Shipping dates may need to adjust, cattle may get sick prior to the agreed to delivery date, your buyer may need a couple more days to clear pen space for your cattle, or weather may play a role in when both parties can complete the transaction.  Communicate openly and often with your buyer, build that trust, and demonstrate your integrity.  Creating an online market place takes patience and commitment from all parties.  Doing your part in making the online experience a positive one.  Selling online is truly a win-win opportunity for both the seller and the buyer, be a positive participant of this transformation in cattle marketing.

Increasing Your Brand Awareness Is Good Farm Marketing

Make A Stencil: Increasing Your Brand Awareness Is Good Farm Marketing

Article by John Suscovich from Farm Marketing Solutions

Your farm is your brand, and your brand is your farm. It is always good practice to increase your brand awareness. This is particularly true when you are starting a farm.

On my farm and off I am always putting my farm name anywhere I can. I leave business cards at cafes and book stores, I leave pamphlets at doctor’s offices, and I have shirts with my farm name on them that I wear anywhere I go. After all, I want my business to be a success, and in order for it to become a success more people have to know about it.

With visitors coming every week to my farm I wanted a way for my farm name to get into the pictures that they take, and for it to get into the pictures that I take and put online. A simple solution for me was to create a cardboard stencil so I can “tag” all of my stuff and increase brand awareness.

The process was very simple, and I will have the stencil as long as I can keep it in one piece. Here’s what I did:

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I chose a simple font and printed out the letters to my farm name in a very large font size. Obviously the whole name will not fit on one sheet so you will have to print out several sheets.

branding_2_500x375
Next I lined up all the letters and taped them onto a piece of cardboard. I actually doubled up on the cardboard and cut out two stencils at once. Always good to have a back-up.

branding_3_500x375

Choose a simple font that will be easy to read. It will also make it easier to cut out. I used Arial for this.

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Put it everywhere. I have it on my chicken tractors, my farm trailer, and I’ll even put it on my Vermont Cart. Just make sure the stencil doesn’t move when you are painting or it will look funny. Here I held it with bricks. I have also used a t-50 stapler to hold it while I spray.

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You can see my stencil on the end of my chicken tractor that I brought to an Earth Day event.

Return on Investment

My farm name is increasingly in my pictures that get shared all over the internet. Since it is clear that I take my business seriously and I want to be a success, others want to see me succeed as well. That leads to an increase of CSA members (4 since the event a couple days ago), and a bolstering of the community around my farm.


What can you be doing to increase brand awareness for you farm?

Link Photo courtesy of Farm Marketing Solutions

Article courtesy of Farm Marketing Solutions

For more information on how to brand your farm business check out a video by Ernest Barbaric on creating your brand online.

 

What Can Farmers & Small Towns Gain Through Using Social Media?

More than 100 million people are said to be using Twitter. With all the buzz around the service – challenges about how many followers people have, tweeted photos appearing on the big screen in major stadiums, and every business having a twitter icon on their homepage – one would have to wonder what would small town people to use the service. That was exactly what I was able to learn at the recent 140 Characters Small Town Conference in Hutchinson, KS.

If you haven’t heard of the 140 Conferences, you may be interested to hear founder Jeff Pulver’s thoughts on what the meeting can do depends entirely on the people who come. As he and event co-host Becky McCray opened the Small Town conference last week, Pulver said:

In America, 300 million people live here [in small towns] and only 65 million people live in the big town and everyone else lives in a small town and the technology we have that is touching our lives, that is effecting the way we work and live, effects everybody. It doesn’t discriminate. The same way that someone in education in Hutchinson is being effected by this is very similar to what’s happening in New York City. In fact, I think in some places, people in small towns are leading the way in being able to take a technology and run with it, to show and lead and use it. And I’ve found it fascinating to discover that.

We put a lens on small towns and put a lens on people who are affecting change and doing things. Either someone is touched by these technologies or they touching technology. That’s what the conference is really about. You will see lots of interesting voices coming forward and sharing their stories, sharing themselves.

McCray is one of the millions of Americans living in small towns or rural areas. Running a small business and living on a farm in northwestern Oklahoma where they raise cattle, she urged Pulver to bring 140 to small towns last year. This year as she took the microphone, she asked the crowd if they wanted to hear her “rant.” She drew the following picture in the audience’s mind:

Last week I opened a copy of the Chicago Tribune and saw a huge inside page dedicated to a story about the drought effecting Oklahoma and Texas and Kansas and New Mexico. And splashed across the middle of that story was a huge photo of a farmer from Oolagah, Oklahoma, in his overalls and his ball cap standing in the cracked and parched earth that is the remains of his farm pond. In short, they made him look like a hick. And he was surrounded by this story on the people who are fighting the drought, and their substandard housing, and how they are broke dirt farmers and it kind of made the rest of us look like a hick too.

See, there’s not room in the photo to tell the story of that farmer. To explain that he probably has between one and two million dollars in assets under management. There wasn’t room to explain that in his pocket is a Blackberry and that he is constantly connected with commodity prices, that he is probably a skilled commodities trader to protect his business. There wasn’t room in the photo to talk about his understanding of commercial lending, of cash flow management, of financial statements of all the disciplines of management that he has had to master to survive as a farmer.

There wasn’t room in that surrounding story to tell any broader of apicture of small town than just the broke dirt farmer. But there is room online and there is room here. We have room. We have room to tell a real story….

We can change some perceptions about who we are. Starting with our own. Because probably a lot of you were told the same thing I was told – ‘If you have any brains and any ambition, you will move out of the small town to the big city so that you can pursue opportunity.’ Which is wrong because today we can pursue opportunity from anywhere.

As she talked through this, the images of my small towns came into mind. Having lived in a Mississippi Delta town of 600 people for several years, I can point to students who were being told that the real promise was in big cities both overtly and in more subtle ways. But I can also point to individuals who “bucked the system” and decided to invest in their small towns, who got involved in the schools, helped bring the arts to their communities and many times, those people were farmers. I was busily walking down Memory Lane when Becky turned to a turn of phrase farmers know well.

Becky talked about the “hybrid vigor of ideas” that is achieved by getting a variety of people in the room, I knew that the day, that this conference had the potential to be incredible. I know I learned a lot while I was there and it was great to be in a room filled with people so passionate about America’s small towns.

In the coming days, we will share some more of the other presentations that were shared during the day as perceptions shattered. And we’ll show more perspectives on just how much small town residents have to gain through social media.

Originally published September 29, 2011 by Janice Person

Article courtesy of Beyond the Rows

Link Photo courtesy of Thomas Hawk

 

 

How to Tell your Farm Story using Social Media

 

We Are Our Own Gatekeepers

Just a decade ago, the media was dominated by a few (very loud) voices. We watched the TV news at 5 p.m. and read the newspaper over coffee. If, as a farmer or a manufacturer or an inventor, we wanted to tell our story, we wrote up a press release and faxed it out – hoping someone would bite. Or, we sank thousands into advertising.

For the most part, farmers didn’t need to hire a big-city public relations firm to tell consumers that milk came from cows. Then came the social media revolution.

For the first time in history, the “gatekeepers” of media didn’t have the power to pick through a pile of press releases and decide which story to run or which consumer questions to answer (and which to ignore). Suddenly every individual had a public voice and a collective of individuals could create a revolution in a matter of days (literally, in some cases).


What happened next?

An overwhelming number of questions came pouring out of the consumer sector. Suddenly, people who previously thought to themselves “I wonder how many gallons of milk comes from a single cow each day?” could simply Google it. And if they couldn’t find out through Google, they could post the question on their Facebook page. Conversations got started and questions got answered.

The problems and uncertainty for farmers (and all industries) in this open information marketplace lies in the fact that the people who “answer” may have no idea what they are talking about. Misinformation becomes fact. Complicated answers become black-and-white. Conversation becomes argument.

This scenario of question/answer has played out in every industry in every sector in every marketplace. People want to know who is making, growing, shipping and selling the products they buy, eat and use. And they have the right to know. And we should be proud to share our stories with them. The more consumers understand the diverse, complex and fascinating world of food production, the more respect and understanding the industry will earn.


What do we do now?

It’s simple: we embrace transparency and tell our stories honestly with the people we work with, sell to, and learn from. It’s called public relations, agvocacy, conversation, or more simply, storytelling.

We are proud of what we do and are proud of our industry. We put food on the table of hundreds of millions of families each day in North America alone. And we stand together against bad actors and actions.

Of course we must listen to and acknowledge the concerns of those who trust us with their dinners, but with our voices, we must focus on our stories: our future, our technology, our commitment to safety, health, and social and environmental responsibility, our love of the land and our way of life, our dedication to our families. We admit our shortcomings and work to improve.

The more of us who choose to engage proactively and productively in conversation with the consumer audience, the more powerful our message will be. The tools we can use are Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and Google+ (to name just a few).

As an ag business newbie and self-proclaimed city slicker, I was honored to be invited to the second Agvocacy 2.0 conference in Nashville, Tennessee, last month. The AgChat Foundation, a social media advocacy organization established to “empower farmers and ranchers to connect communities through social media platforms” held the conference to connect and teach ag professionals like me (and you) how to effectively use online platforms to help us tell our stories.

As I sat in the room a hundred ag professionals who have embraced social media and are using these tools to share these messages, I began to think of all of the millions of others who have yet to engage. Yes, the conference was amazing and I learned a lot. Yes, I think you should try to go, if you can. But, yes, I also understand that many farmers and ag professionals don’t have the time or knowledge to jump into Facebook or Twitter and figure it out.

One of the key messages of Jeff Fowle, AgChat Foundation past board president, in his opening remarks at the Agvocacy 2.0 conference was “reach beyond the choir.”

In my attempt to reach beyond the choir, I am appealing to you — the farmer and industry professional who doesn’t know where to start — pick one place to start.

Set up a Twitter account (it’s simple) and follow @AgChat@agchatfound and me (@amyserves). I’ll help you figure out how to follow along during the weekly AgChat. You can start by just reading the conversation.

Make a Facebook page for your farm (ask around! Your local Chamber of Commerce can probably help, or your teenage kid, for sure!). Connect locally, regionally and through the industry and share your daily life. Start by connecting with others through AgChat Foundation’s page (https://www.facebook.com/AgChatFoundation).

Visit www.agchat.org and read a few of the blog posts highlighted to get an idea about what other people are writing.

If you have something to say, but aren’t sure which avenue to take, connect with the AgChat community or email me and I can try to help.

We’re all in this together. We’re our own gatekeepers and our own storytellers, and through agvocacy, we are our own public relations machine.

Let’s use the tools we have available and get our story out. It’s one we can all be proud to share.

Article courtesy of DCCWaterbeds via Progressive Dairyman

Link Photo courtesy of Paolo Del Signore


How do you use social media to connect with consumers?

Want to learn the meaning of good conversation? Check out Tim Wray in “Get the Conversation Going.”
 

Why Soil Testing is Important

 

To Test Or Not To Test

Article by Wayne Batten

If your car or boat has set around without being operated since last fall, would you get into either one and set out on a 90-day trip?  I don’t think you would.  Are you planting crops, gardens or other plants in the coming days?  Have you tested your soil?  If not, there is not much difference in planting your crops without a soil test and beginning that 90-day trip without checking your equipment.

I know by now you may be saying, “You Extension people are always harping about soil testing” and you would be correct.  Soil testing is that important.  How many of you are guilty of adding some fertilizer and or some lime and expecting the plants to grow?  Maybe they will grow as expected, maybe they will not.  A simple soil test can prevent many problems seen each year by Extension Agents and others.

How do I need to pull soil samples?  Begin by drawing a map of your farm, home lawn, garden or whatever areas you will be sampling.  Look over the terrain.  Do you notice any obvious changes in soil color, texture, any changes in weeds growing there now?  If so, you may need to make each of these “different” areas a new sample.  Be sure to label the map you have drawn with names, numbers or some means to be able to distinguish where each sample came from when you get the results in a few days.

Now you are ready to begin pulling soil samples.  You will need a soil probe or a shovel, a plastic bucket, soil sample boxes and a pencil.  If your soil probe or shovel is rusty, clean it first.  Never use a galvanized bucket for collecting samples.  If you do so, many of the micronutrient results will be incorrect.  From each area you plan to sample, dig down about 4 to 6 inches and collect some of the soil from throughout the area. Pull a sample like this from at least 10 places for each different area on your map.  Mix the subsamples well in the plastic bucket and pour the mixed soil into the soil sample box.  Be sure to label the box with the appropriate name or number so you will know where that sample came from when you get the results back.  Soil sample boxes are available at your local Cooperative Extension Center and at many farm and garden centers.  You can mail your samples to the lab in Raleigh or bring them to most Extension Centers and we will send them off for you.

By now, you may be saying to yourself, this sounds like too much work, I will just apply some lime and fertilizer and let it grow.  Would you add oil to that engine before beginning a trip without checking the level on the dipstick first?  I don’t think so.  Adding lime and fertilizer without a soil test is the same thing.  Many people think you cannot add too much lime to soil.  That is very wrong.  Micronutrient deficiencies are very common in many areas of North Carolina, especially on sandy soils in the southeast.  Too little lime results in a low pH whereas too much lime may lead to a very high pH.  Different crops have different pH requirements.  When soil pH levels get out of the desirable range, nutrients like iron, manganese, boron, copper and zinc become less available to plants for uptake.  Often the symptoms exhibited by the crop may look similar with a pH that is too high or one that is too low.

By soil sampling, you can potentially save money that might otherwise be spent on unneeded lime and fertilizer.  Many of the soils in Sampson County have had routine phosphorus applications for many years.  Phosphorus does not leach out of the soil very quickly and many soils now have adequate levels in storage.  Most tobacco farmers have found they are able to save a lot of money by applying fertilizers without phosphorus.  You only know if you have adequate phosphorus levels by soil sampling.

Article courtesy of North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension

Link Photo courtesy of NRCS Soil Health

 

For more information about soil check out Susan Penstone’s excellent article The Real Dirt on Soil.

What’s your view on soil testing?