Hosted by two commercial row-crop farmers, Field Work is a podcast that provides space for frank, realistic discussions about the benefits and challenges of sustainable agriculture. Hosts Zach Johnson and Mitchell Hora explore the successes and challenges farmers experience as they adopt new practices, without greenwashing over the difficulties.
The Magical Dividing Line Between Counties
The Nature Conservancy and Purdue University are among a lot of people in the sustainable ag keen to figure out what it takes to scale conservation practices. Does it come down to the availability of funding? Climate? Soils? What happens if all those factors are pretty equal between, say, two neighboring counties, but the level of adoption of conservation practices varies dramatically between them? Kris Johnson from the TNC and Linda Prokopy from Purdue talk about research in three different states where they compare counties with a robust conservation culture to neighboring counties that aren’t doing much. They talk with Zach and Mitchell about cover crop culture, the importance of collaboration among farmers, government agencies and entrepreneurs, and what they still don’t understand.
Read more: The Magical Dividing Line Between Counties
Carrying the Torch
Young farmers coming back to a family operation often have to tease out a place for themselves with hard work, creativity and an entrepreneurial zeal. For Trent Stout, that meant taking on the family seed business and migrating it from being a local corn and soybean dealer to be the go-to source for diverse cover crop seeds. Michael Vittetoe brought cattle to the farm as an integral part of a rotation that relies on cover crops. He might just fold the chickens into the system, too. Hosts Mitchell Hora and Zach Johnson hear how some of their peers are making conservation their part of the family business.
Read more: A New Generation Advances the Cause
The Down-Low from DC: Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack
The Biden administration has ambitious climate mitigation goals, and agriculture has been called upon to be a strong partner. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack led the department throughout the Obama years and is back at the helm. He talks with Mitchell and Zach about consumer demands for sustainably grown food, how to develop carbon markets that serve farmers first, the need to create more opportunity to sell what’s currently considered waste, and how farmers can make sure their interests are part of any future plans and policies. (Hint: comment here).
Read more: Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack on Climate Solutions
The Bleeding Edge
Several Washington County families trace their conservation interests back decades. For Rob Stout and Darrell Steele, their dads’ interest in conservation primed them to be open to the idea of no-till. Still, getting it to work took a lot of perseverance through various failures. Eventually, the planter attachments helped. The early pioneers emerged with a willingness to share what they were learning with other local farmers. Like no-tilling, that generosity persists in Washington County.
Read more: Families that Led the Conservation Charge in Washington County
Mudholes in March
Paul Reed and Dave Moeller explain to Zach and Mitchell that the modern planter row unit was designed to provide good seed to soil contact in the dry, cloddy seedbed of a conventionally tilled field. And why that created a different set of problems in cool, wet early season, no-till fields. They start with the release of the John Deere MaxEmerge row unit in 1972 and follow the development of planter technology right through today’s precision technology, describing how their constant experimentation and collaboration with other pioneers like Howard Martin and Eugene Keeton led to successful no-tilling and a business selling planter attachments. Zach also gets some advice on how to set up his own planter.
Read more: Zach and Mitchell go to planter school
Twilight in Washington County
Mitchell and Zach are trying to understand how Mitchell’s home county in Southeast Iowa developed such a strong conservation culture. Jim Frier, now 88, showed up to the interview with a box full of documentation of all the work he put into educating farmers: flyers from the twilight meetings and field days he organized, which could attract as many as 500 attendees, articles he penned promoting conservation tillage, including one that wondered, back in the 60s, whether traditional tillage systems were on their way out, and photos he took of equipment attachments folks were designing to make no-till work with their existing planters. To be sure, there were a lot of other key people who helped build a conservation movement in Washington County, but Jim Frier teaches us the value of cheerleaders.
Read more: Evening meetings helped launch a conservation culture
Video: Mr. Johnson Goes to Washington (County, That Is)
Fun and Important
Zac and Mitchell are entertaining, knowledgeable farmers that address important issues. Having grown up in Iowa, lived in Minnesota the last forty-nine years, and never involved in farming I really appreciate what you two are doing.
Best source of industry reality
Excellent show! I appreciate how you weave together trends and hot topics in ag with on the ground reality. So informative, engaging and hugely valuable.
Straight Ahead Farming
Great, fun farming talk. Lots of sustainability topics. Entertaining.