Sustainability is a buzz word we often see on social media and on the news. What does it mean and how are we implementing strategies on our farm?
Sustainability is avoiding the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance. As an Education Outreach Coordinator for Linn County Farm Bureau, I often teach on different conservation practices and the importance of our natural resources. It is key for us to maximize production while conserving our soil, water, and overall inputs. We practice what is called high intensity flower farming. Growing lots of flowers on a little bit of land. Last year we planted over 2000 plants on less than 1/4th of an acre. It is my goal to replenish the soil and leave it better than how it started. We have a small/average herd compared to many farms in Iowa, but no mater if you are small, medium or large, conservation is important and many farmers implement these same practices!
1) Cover crops on the flower field. This is our second year planting cover crops on our flower field. What is a cover crop? Cover crops are planted in the off season to help prevent against erosion, assist with weed control and to add organic matter back to the soil. This year we planted a basic winter rye. Last year we did a cover crop seed mix. It just depends on prices and availability for what we end up planting. Rye is a very common cover crop. Many farmers are choosing to plant cover crops and the trend continues to increase but there all limiting factors. It can be difficult to plant a cover crop during the midst of harvesting (especially if there is a shortage of labor) and before the ground freezes. There is also a pretty significant cost to plant and terminate the cover crop.
2) Cows graze on pasture ground. I've heard many misconceptions about the environmental footprint caused by bovine animals. Cows are really unique and cool creatures. They fuel their body with grass and the result is delicious meat or milk. Many of the pastures grazed by cattle are not suitable for crop land. Especially out west, grazing animals can utilize land that would otherwise not be suited for growing crops on.
According to an IALF blog, "When you hear people talk about “cow farts” in conjunction with climate change, they’re really getting at methane (CH4). The kicker is, cows don’t actually fart methane; they mostly burp it. Yes, cattle do burp methane. Though methane has a higher atmospheric warming potential than carbon dioxide (CO2), it breaks down much faster. Like, 16 times faster." Continue reading here: Climate Change and Cows | Iowa Agriculture Literacy (wordpress.com)
3) Manure is spread out on the field or composted for the flowers. We repurpose our cow's manure as fertilizer for the fields and compost for the garden. The compost has a mixture of manure, hay and corn stalks.
4) We save and reuse as much as we can! Tyler and I just finished garden clean up. We save and reuse as much as we can. It makes clean up a little more time consuming but it is important to reuse year after year. We save the weed fabric, netting, drip tape, stakes, posts, etc. We also try to be very savvy when it comes to the cows. We are in the midst of cleaning up the farm and we have saved and repurposed many things!
5) Our cows graze on cornstalks post harvest. Not only do our cows graze on land not suited for planting crops but we also take advantage of corn stalks when the crop rotation lines up and is close to home. The combine is pretty efficient now-a-days but it will still miss some corn. We let the cows clean up the fields. They enjoy the corn as a special treat and they will eat the corn stalks as a roughage.
6) We have implemented drip irrigation on our flower field to cut down on the amount of water we use. Water use is important for farming but we want to make sure we are not wasteful. We use drip irrigation for the flowers. This allows slow drips directly to the root system.
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Thank you for reading!