Sunday, November 18, 2012


Greetings from Baker Heritage Farms;

Yesterday, David and Donald worked on the Turkey run, installing a wire along the bottom of the fence to keep animals out. Once the wire is fully installed, we will be placing rocks along the outside of the bottom of the fence to further discourage animals from accessing the pen. We will also be placing a wire at the bottom of the chicken coop fence but will using the rocks as the chickens will be in the hen house at night.

If you have been following our blogs, you know that we have been looking at winter cover crops to increase Nitrogen levels in the production fields. You may also notice that we are writing a series of Farm Risk Management articles designed to assist backyard and small acreage farmers in controlling their risks with the goal of decreasing expenses and increasing profits.

While it may seem strange that we have mixed the two (researching cover crops and risk management), they actually go hand-in-hand. Risk management is not just about insurance. It is about looking at every aspect of your farm operation to determine whether the cost is worth the risk. This principle may have saved Baker Heritage Farms several hundred dollars.

We were planning on planting winter ryegrass in all three production fields, along with Hairy Vetch or Crimson Clover, to increase Nitrogen levels for next years crops (if you remember, our soil samples indicated a need for Nitrogen). As we are "all-natural" (organic), we had to ensure that all seed and inoculates were certified organic. When we started pricing seed, we determined the following costs would be associated with purchasing the seed (not including delivery costs):
  • Winter Rye - Requires 60-120 pounds (organic) per acre. We planned to put down rye in all three production fields (.5 acres each times 3 fields) for a total need of approximately 90 pounds (at the low end). While non-organic seed was $1.19 per pound (and only required an application rate of 25 - 35 pounds per acre), certified organic seed was $5.15 per pound, for an approximate cost of $463.00.
  • Hairy Vetch - Requires 30-40 pounds (organic) per acre. We planned to put down Hairy Vetch on two production fields (.5 acres each times 2 fields) for a total need of approximately 45 pounds (we would have applied this seed to fields one and three due to the cost being less than that of Crimson Clover seed). The cost of the raw seed was $3.39 per pound for an approximate cost of $152.00 (not including inoculate, which would be required).
  • Crimson Clover - Requires 20 - 25 pounds per acre. We planned to put down Crimson Clover on one production field (.5 acres) for a total need of approximately 25 pounds. The cost of the raw seed was $12.55 per pound for an approximate cost of $313.00 (not including inoculate, which would be required).
Total seed costs would have been approximately $928.00 plus the cost of the inoculate and shipping.

This is where the correlation between planting winter cover crops this year and risk management comes into play. We are at the end of the planting season for winter cover crops (seed should be down no later than November 18th on average) and we would have been further delayed by delivery time and potential weather issues. There was still a chance that the seed would germinate and the crops would grow; however, there would have been no guarantee. From a risk management aspect, this would mean that Baker Heritage Farms would pay close to $1,000 to take a chance on having the winter cover crop grow and accomplish our goal, and the chance was decreasing daily.

In looking at other alternatives, we researched alternative methods of getting Nitrogen into the soil and maintaining our all-natural (organic) standards. David and Donald finally decided that they would go ahead and apply an certified organic fertilizer this year. While we are trying to avoid application of even certified organic products, basic risk management principles lead us to make this decision.

We were able to find a product, HFPC Hydrolyzed Fish Powder, which has several benefits. It will provide approximately 10% N (Nitrogen) to the soil and will also boost Microbial activity, providing immediate benefits. The cost of a 40-pound bag of powder is $129.00 (plus shipping). The downside is that it must be mixed with water (20 pounds per 100 gallons of water per acre, for a total need of 30 pounds per 150 gallons of water). We realized that we did not want to apply the solution with hand sprayers (they only handle 4 gallons of solution) and that we would need a tow-behind sprayer.

In researching tow-behind sprayers, we found that we could purchase an Agri-Fab 25 Gallon tow sprayer from Home Depot (where we now have an account that includes our Agriculture Tax Exemption) for $369.00 and free shipping (online exclusive). Total cost for the powder and sprayer - $498.00 plus shipping (for the powder) and water. A cost savings of approximately $500 from planting winter cover crops.

Agri-Fab 25 Gallon Tow Sprayer
More importantly then the direct savings in costs, is that we know the Nitrogen will be there when we plant, and we are no longer under time constraints as we can apply the Fish Powder in early spring as we prepare the soil.

This process, in reality, is part of the risk management process. Will it work? While we cannot guarantee either method, our financial loss is less with the Fish Powder then the cover crop seed. Normally, we would not be faced with these potential loss factors; however, we are still trying to play catch-up with our planting schedule, which shows how important pre-planning is, even in farming.

With the "new" economy, fewer jobs, lower income, higher expenses, and more government intervention into business, the use of risk management techniques in every aspect of small farming operations becomes a high priority. Small (backyard and small acreage) farms are already following good risk management techniques as they are able to diversify their crop and livestock selections and, subsequently, spreading the risk. If one crop fails, the chances are very good that the other crops will not (with proper management).

Until next week,

Blessings from Baker Heritage Farms

And God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have then for food." Genesis 1:29

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