Cheers to another great year of farm visits, conversations and digging into the truth behind how food is grown and raised in South Dakota! Thank you for joining us on this journey. There are just so many fun things to discover while making the farm-to-table connection.
Before we say sayonara to 2018, we’re taking one last look back at five of our top stories and recipes of 2018. Read on to see if yours made the list.
5. The Sustainability Story of a Fifth-Generation Farm
Since 1896, David Struck’s family has been farming and caring for their land in Wolsey, South Dakota. Today, three generations work together to grow soybeans, corn and wheat. The best part is, they aren’t alone! About 98 percent of farms in our state are still family owned and operated. “There’s a perception that we’re running big corporate farms out here that don’t care about the environment or about people, but that’s very untrue,” said David. Read more.
4. Cozy Up with Oksana Silchuk & Potato Chicken Noodle Soup
Nothing warms the soul on a chilly day like a bowl of homemade potato chicken noodle soup. Our fans loved snuggling up with Oksana Silchuk as she channeled her Ukrainian roots to create her favorite comfort food. Along the way, she shared her gratitude for initiatives like Hungry for Truth, which keeps her connected to farmers who grow and raise food her family and yours. Warm up with the recipe.
3. Crockpot Beef Bourguignon for Moms on the Go
Looking for a recipe that tastes homemade and doesn’t require a ton of prep? Courtney Hansen, South Dakota cattle farmer and mother of two, has you covered. When she isn’t helping her husband with calving, she’s making quick and easy meals like crockpot beef bourguignon. Read more about her farm and get the recipe to make your family dinner in a snap.
2. Farm-to-Fork Dinner Unites Rural & Urban South Dakotans in Conversations Around the Table
We love getting farmers and families together to talk about important topics like farm sustainability, pesticide use and food safety. It’s even better when it happens around the table. This past summer, 180 South Dakotans joined us at the Country Apple Orchard near Sioux Falls for our third annual Farm-to-Fork dinner to learn the truth about what happens on today’s farms. Get the scoop on conversations, delicious local foods and what attendees learned.
1. Millennial Farmer Goes High-Tech For Sustainability
In our top story, we explored how young farmers are using their college degrees and love of technology to transform their farms. Morgan Holler is just one of several millennial farmers who is leveraging data and adopting technology to make his family business more sustainable for the future. Find out how he’s growing food safely to feed his family and yours.
Those are just a few of the adventures we had in 2018. Look for answers to your questions and find more recipes. Start your new year off right by signing up for our e-newsletter. It’s an easy way to get new stories and recipes delivered to your inbox each month.
Hungry for Truth is an initiative about food and farming funded by the South Dakota soybean checkoff. The goal is to connect South Dakotans with the farmers who grow and raise their food.
Peggy and Brad Greenway take pride in finding new ways to grow safe and healthy food for families. Every day and every season, they look to improve their sustainability by reducing, reusing and recycling on their family farm. Over the years, their “start-up” has transformed into an efficient and environmentally friendly business that’s prepared to support future growth.
“Sustainability is so important to us because it’s the only way our farm will succeed. We need to do our best to take care of the land, water and our animals. Now, we’re proud our son is getting more involved with the farm and will help us keep the family tradition going,” said Peggy.
She loves that recycling happens so naturally on farms. They feed their pigs and cows the soybeans, corn and alfalfa they grow in their fields. The animals eat that food for energy to keep them healthy, and then the Greenways use the manure they create to fertilize the soil. Thanks to farm technology and their team of experts, this reducing and reusing process has become a sustainable cycle.
To grow healthy crops, Peggy and Brad spend time with their agronomist each year, reviewing data on digital field maps. He’s an expert in soil and crop health, and provides recommendations on the right amounts of fertilizer to apply and seeds to plant across each acre. If they have issues with weeds or pests, he can also provide them advice on the type and amount of pesticides they should use to ensure their crops are protected and nothing is wasted. They use his insights to set up the precision technology in their manure spreader, planter and other equipment make each pass across the field as efficient as possible.
On the animal side, the Greenways work closely with swine nutritionist and veterinarian to ensure their pigs stay as healthy as possible. Their feed is specifically formulated to meet the needs of each stage of growth, which means it could change up to 10 times in just six months!
To keep the pigs comfortable every day of the year, the Greenways house them in ventilated barns where they can control important factors like temperature and air quality. Peggy has seen firsthand how keeping pigs happy in climate-controlled barns translates to better efficiency.
“When we moved our pigs inside from our hoop buildings and kept them at a consistent temperature every single day of the year, we noticed it required less feed to get them ready for sale,” explained Peggy. “Looking back at that data now, we’d need to grow 100 more acres of soybeans and 160 more acres of corn if we went back to hoop barns. Better comfort using less land and water is a very measurable sustainability win.”
Those hoop barns aren’t going to waste. They still come in handy during calving. While cattle spend the majority of their lives grazing on open pastures, it’s nice for the babies and mamas to have shelter during birth in the winter months to ensure a strong and healthy start.
As Peggy and Brad continue to look for ways gain efficiencies, being attentive to the needs of crops and animals is something they know won’t change.
“We’re all about reducing waste when we can to make the most of our resources, but there are times when high touch is better than high tech,” stated Peggy. “It’s all about finding a balance so we can continue to grow in the right ways.”
Animal care is top notch in South Dakota. Learn more about ways calving has gone high tech.
Hungry for Truth is an initiative about food and farming funded by the South Dakota soybean checkoff. The goal is to connect South Dakotans with the farmers who grow and raise their food.
If farming is like football, harvest is a soybean farmer’s championship game. They’ve clocked countless hours planning, preparing and nurturing their plants to provide nutritious food for South Dakota’s families. Now, it’s time to discover the results. Since farmers are always thinking ahead, and looking for ways to improve, it’s also a time for them to evaluate how their strategies worked and make even better plans for next year.
Last fall, we chatted with David and Miriam Iverson as they prepared for harvest on their farm in Brookings County. As combines began rolling this season, we checked back in with the family to see what updates they made and how they’ve paid off.
“We’ve had a really good growing season this year, and overall the crop looks really good,” said David. “When thinking about changes and improvements moving forward, we typically consider factors like the resources that will be needed, harvest costs and balancing the workload.”
For South Dakota soybean farmers, sustainability means doing the right thing for the environment and continuously improving the land for future generations. That’s why farmers evaluate their practices each season and make adjustments accordingly.
The Iversons made a few changes this year, such as increasing the amount of soybeans they planted and cutting back a bit on corn. They also decided to dabble in a new soybean variety and planted 300 acres of non-GMO high-oleic soybeans for the first time. High-oleic soybeans provide a source of vegetable oil for the food industry that is low in saturated fat, high in unsaturated fat and trans-fat-free.
Since they’re food-grade soybeans, the high-oleic variety is managed and harvested a little differently. Extra elbow grease is needed to clean out the combine, trucks, grain bins and augers before they’re harvested, and farmers have to use a slightly different crop protection strategy. However, their premium price is worth the extra effort. David said they’ve grown well on his farm so far and he may look to plant more next year.
The Iversons also use tools like soil sampling to determine which crop nutrients they’ll use for the next growing season.
“Once everything is harvested, I work with an agronomist to pull soil samples. We do this when we’re ready to rotate crops because the requirements vary for different plants,” explained David. “We send our samples to a lab, and they send back a full nutrient analysis so when a field is changing from soybeans to corn, we know exactly what that corn crop will need in the upcoming year.”
By working with experts to determine specific nutrient needs, David can be efficient with fertilizers and only apply exactly what is needed. Preserving crop and soil health is important for sustainable farming because it supports the longevity of the land, minimizes waste and maintains a healthy environment for future crops to flourish in coming seasons.
“Sustainability to me has a few different legs,” shared David. “One is maintaining soil health. There’s a lot of agronomy that goes into that aspect. There’s also the economic part of it. Improving the soil helps economically, and to be sustainable long term, you have to make decisions that financially benefit the farm.”
David’s family has passed their farm down for four generations and have achieved success through the changing times by implementing new techniques and best practices.
“The biggest aspect in recent years has been adding technology like autosteer and yield mapping,” said David. “That data helps us make better crop decisions and improve parts of the farm that are producing less.”
Today’s technology helps farmers interpret harvest and yield data of past years to grow safe and healthy food in the future. Whether reflecting on this year or planning for the next, harvest is special time for soybean farmers. Find out how another South Dakota farmer plans for the future by reading Matt Bainbridge’s story.
Hungry for Truth is an initiative about food and farming funded by the South Dakota soybean checkoff. The goal is to connect South Dakotans with the farmers who grow and raise their food.
Rodney Elliott started his first dairy farm in Ireland with 20 cows and a big dream. Over time, he added 120 cows to the herd with goals to keep growing, but European grazing systems and government-established quotas stood in his way.
That’s when Rodney, his wife, Dorothy, and their three children looked toward America to realize the family dream.
After a visit to South Dakota and a lot of planning, they sold their farm in Ireland and founded Drumgoon Dairy near Lake Norden. Together, Rodney and Dorothy built high-tech dairy barns to house 1,400 cows and hired a team of dedicated employees to help in the day-to-day work. In the beginning, delegating cow care was difficult because Rodney was used to tending to each cow himself.
“I had to learn to trust other people to do the job,” said Rodney. “And accept the fact that sometimes they’re actually better at doing a job than I am.”
South Dakota dairy farmers like Rodney can manage larger, family-owned dairy farms because of the methods they use. In barns, farmers and employees can watch over each cow, protect them from the elements and feed them custom diets tailored to their needs.
Today, the Elliotts and 45 employees care for more than 4,700 cows each day and work together to grow the alfalfa and corn used to feed them. Rodney and Dorothy’s animal nutritionist helps them develop total mixed rations, which are precise combinations of ingredients designed to fit the needs of each cow. For example, ingredients like soybean meal may be added for extra protein and soybean hulls can be included for additional fiber. On average, South Dakota dairy cows eat 18,000 tons of soybean meal each year.
Farming in a way that is safe for the environment and helps protect soil and water for future generations is a priority for the Elliotts. They care deeply about their community, especially since everyone warmly welcomed them when they moved to the area. Since their dairy barns are newly built, Rodney ensured they comply with EPA standards from the start.
“We try to be good custodians of the land,” explained Rodney. “I treat my farm, not as a right, but as a privilege, and I work every day to keep that privilege.”
The Elliott family has an open-door policy at Drumgoon Dairy and welcomes visitors to stop by and see how a modern dairy is run.
“We are proud of what we do and like to share our story with those who want to learn more about where their food comes from,” said Rodney. “Come and look at the cows yourself. They always answer the questions. If they look content, they’re comfortable.”
Since 1896, David Struck’s family has been farming and caring for their land in Wolsey, South Dakota. Today, three generations of the family work together to grow soybeans, corn and wheat. While their roots run deep in the Beadle County soil, the family has adopted new technology over the years, allowing them to become more efficient and sustainable.
For South Dakota soybean farmers, sustainability means doing what’s best for the environment and continuously improving the land for future generations.
David has played an active role in implementing new strategies to farm smarter, faster and more efficiently along the way. His son, Brady, is the fifth generation to be actively involved and brings a fresh perspective to the farm as a recent graduate of Lake Area Technical Institute.
“We do more in an hour than my grandpa did in a season, and we do more in a day than my dad did in a season when he started farming,” said David. “It’s almost hard to fathom, looking back and seeing how far farming has come.”
For example, GPS technology completely changed the game for the Strucks, allowing them to farm with precision. Flat rate application of pesticides and fertilizers is a thing of the past on this farm. Instead, they tailor how much they apply as they move throughout their fields to make sure they use the exact amount needed. GPS technology has also saved them time and labor.
“We used to have two guys constantly circling the farm in pick-ups to monitor irrigation systems and look for anything that could be wrong,” said David. “Now, with GPS, we can monitor them from the office.”
The Struck family also plants cover crops to protect their land. This emerging trend allows farmers to manage nutrients and weeds by planting crops like rye, barley or even radishes and turnips, to capture nutrients and moisture, and to keep the soil in place.
The Strucks also use no-till farming, which means they don’t disrupt the soil by plowing between plantings. Instead, they leave the stalks and roots where they are after harvest, and the leftover organic matter sticks around to enrich the soil and help retain moisture. Capturing as much water as possible is important to the Strucks since they farm in a dry region.
Speaking of moisture, they even use special irrigation technology called drop nozzles to reduce the amount of water lost to evaporation. In fact, their evaporation rate is less than a third of what it was 30 years ago.
These strategies may not have been used by David’s great-grandpa when the farm was established, but by embracing change and innovation, the family has grown safe and healthy crops for more than 120 years.
“There’s a perception that we’re running big corporate farms out here, that don’t care about the environment or about people, but that’s very untrue,” said David. “There are some big farms, but they’re still family farms with multiple generations involved in every one of them.”
In South Dakota, 98 percent of farms are family owned, and over 2,500 of those have been in the same family for more than a century. While the Strucks have expanded their farm throughout the years, it has always remained a family affair.
“We’re very family oriented out here,” said David. “Are we big? Yes. It’s different than it was 100 years ago, but we’re still family farms, not giant, faceless corporations.”
Eggs are a staple ingredient in so many of our favorite dishes, from protein-packed breakfasts to comforting chocolate chip cookies. South Dakota hens lay almost 700 million eggs a year to fill that spot in our refrigerators, but rarely do we stop to think about how they’re raised.
One farmer who spends a lot of time and energy taking care of those amazing birds is Jason Ramsdell of Dakota Layers in Flandreau. His family-owned farm processes about 1 million eggs every day. Leveraging technology helps the farm be more efficient, which keeps the operation sustainable and boosts the quality of life for his chickens.
For farmers like Jason, sustainability is an important part of doing business. It means continuous improvement and doing what’s right for the environment and the birds he cares for. Many farmers strive to leave the land in better condition than they received it to benefit future generations.
“We make sure nothing is wasted,” said Jason. “We have water lines feeding into each of the barns, so the chickens have just the right amount of water readily available to them. We also feed them out of a trough, so they don’t have the opportunity to waste any of the feed by scattering it on the ground.”
Dakota Layers isn’t the only environmentally friendly egg farm. Since 1960, American egg producers have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 71 percent, used 32 percent less water and about half the amount of feed today as they did back then.
Advances in technology help farmers waste less water and feed, but improvements in the quality of feed have also made a big difference. Today’s chickens are fed protein-rich soybean meal, corn, distiller’s grains and added vitamins and minerals. The eggshell is made out of calcium, so chickens need a diet rich in that nutrient in order to create healthy eggs.
“Anything that’s taken in by the bird is used to produce the eggs,” explained Jason. “Since eggs are one of the best sources of protein out there, layers need a protein- and calcium-rich diet.”
Everything Jason does, from choosing a blend of nutrients to feed his hens to designing barns to house them, is centered around creating healthy, safe food for your family.
“One of the most interesting things many consumers might not pay attention to is how our grandfathers moved hens from a cage-free environment to cages specifically to keep them healthier and to ensure the safety of the eggs,” Jason stated. “Because our hens are in a closed environment, we can keep a closer eye on their health.”
Newer chicken facilities have what’s called “belted high rises” that ensure manure is quickly removed from the cages via a conveyer belt. This improves air quality and reduces the chance of cross-contamination between manure and the eggs.
Laying facilities also have temperature controls to make sure hens are comfortable. Farmers like Jason are constantly checking the temperature of their barns, as well as the air quality and the amount of water and feed available to the chickens to make sure their hens are healthy and happy.
Want to try Dakota Layers eggs? You can pick them up at Hy-Vee or County Fair Foods locations in the eastern part of the state. After you pick up a carton, check out this tasty egg bake recipe to fuel your morning.
Farmer Matt Bainbridge tries to make each planting season better than the last. This means growing healthier crops, higher yields and improving his farm practices to take care of the environment for future generations. It’s a tall order, but he has technology and farm data on his side.
“On our farm, we have access to online data from farms across the country and track everything we do on our own land. It helps us be more efficient with seed, crop nutrients and pesticides. We can manage a large piece of land like it’s small,” said Matt.
While Matt and his family use several sustainable practices to grow crops and raise cattle, today he’s focused on planting.
“We plant about 150 acres in a day, driving at a speed of 5 miles per hour. It’s important we take our time to make sure it’s done perfectly. Planting and caring for crops is something we only get to do about 50 times in our lives. We want to get it right.”
Let’s explore the steps he uses to make each growing season more sustainable.
1. Review field data. The first step is looking at the data from the last harvest. Thanks to precision technology, Matt knows exactly how well crops grew in each field. He can tell which seeds did well, which ones didn’t and what factors may have contributed to the results. He uses this information to inform his seed selections for the next growing season.
2. Select high-performing seeds. Next, he chooses seeds he thinks will work best for his farm. Matt grows soybeans, corn, wheat, alfalfa and forage crops for cattle, which means planting a combination of GMO and non-GMO seeds. Matt chooses seeds based on the data from his own fields, what he’s seen growing in other fields around him and information he’s found online. He typically purchases seed in December.
3. Load field maps. As spring approaches, Matt works with a local expert to digitally map out each field. This helps him plant the right amount of seeds and apply the right amount of crop nutrients for optimal growth based on the soil type. Soils that are light and rocky get fewer seeds, while black, heavy soils receive more. The maps help the planter limit waste and improve efficiency.
4. Set up planter. Before heading out into the field, Matt makes sure the soil map software syncs with the GPS system guiding the planter. The software and hardware need to communicate so seeds are planted in straight rows with the right spacing at a precise depth.
5. Check seed placement and depth. Once he gets out into the field, Matt periodically checks to make sure everything is working properly. How? Good old-fashioned digging in the dirt. For the first few hours each day, he physically gets out of the planter and digs near the freshly planted seeds to ensure everything is happening as it should. Sometimes the way his grandparents did it is still the best.
Interested in learning more about precision technology? Read this blog that compares Fitbits and farming.
When it comes to food and choices in the grocery store, it’s tough enough to decide what to make for dinner. The last thing you need to worry about is pesticides on your produce. To help keep crops and your food safe, South Dakota farm families use technology to apply just enough pesticides to protect crops and get the job done. They are always looking for ways to improve how they farm to be good neighbors.
For Lake Preston soybean farmer Paul Casper, this translates to planting GMO crops, driving a sprayer equipped with automatic shut-offs and using large nozzles to ensure more product stays on the plants. These tools help him apply less pesticides in a more effective way. Like all farmers, Paul goes through training so he knows how to mix and spray safely.
We’ll let Paul explain how he uses technology to protect his family and yours.
Interested in learning more? Get a deeper look at the crop protection technology on Paul’s farm.
Not many farmers can say they’ve cultivated their South Dakota land for nearly 90 years. But then again, Eunice McGee of rural Colton isn’t your typical farmer. Affectionately known by her friends and neighbors as the “Iris Lady,” Eunice not only tends a flower garden with 140 varieties of rare irises, she’s also pretty good at growing corn and soybeans on her family farm.
“I’ve been farming since I was 10 years old. I used to drive a team of horses alongside a one-row corn picker with my father. I’d stay with the wagon until it was full,” said Eunice, who turns 97 later this year. “Now I use my iPhone to check the farm markets to decide when to sell my crops. I think I’ve seen more changes in farming than anyone else around here. We just continue improving.”
With her eyes on the future and her knowledge of the past, Eunice embraces farm technology and new practices while staying committed to being a good neighbor and growing safe and healthy crops.
Though it was hard to give up the horses, she was the first woman in her area to purchase her own tractor, a move that caught the banker off guard. She also began planting GMO corn and soybean seeds when the technology became available because they require less water and pesticides to protect the plants. She said that, despite all the changes she’s seen in farming, she still feels safe eating food that’s grown and raised on farms.
Today, her son-in-law Tom Langrehr and neighbor Dan Fladmark tend to the day-to-day field work while her daughter Deb Langrehr takes care of the bookkeeping. Eunice actively maintains massive gardens of irises, tulips and day lilies, delivers equipment parts to the field and is the key decision-maker when it comes to managing the farm. Her neighbor, Jeff Thompson, enjoys stopping in to see the flowers, finding out how her crops look and discussing market trends, which Eunice has at her fingertips.
Every year, she determines which seeds to plant, where to plant them and when to sell her crops. She also works with the local co-op to spray pesticides when needed and harvest her soybeans and corn because she doesn’t own a combine. There’s no doubt farming is in her blood, and she has her grandfather Lars to thank for it.
Lars Berven came to the United States from Norway in the late 1800s with hopes of finding land and starting a family. After a brief time in Wisconsin, he headed west and settled on 160 acres in Sioux territory. All he had to do was plant crops and tend to them for a year and the land would be his for free. The natives were friendly and eventually named the farm Minnewawa Farm after the “gentle waters” that flowed in a nearby creek. That was 1875.
By the time Eunice came along in 1920, her father had taken over the family farm and grown it to 320 acres. She farmed alongside her grandfather and father as they expanded to the 805 acres she manages today. When she got married to her late husband JC in 1943, they moved to a new farm just two and a half miles away. In addition to growing crops, she also raised chickens for eggs and maintained a garden full of vegetables over the years.
“I just love being outside,” said Eunice. “Farming gives me the opportunity to be outdoors with the animals and nature.”
Another thing she loves to do is cook meals from scratch to feed the combine crew who harvests her crops. Typically, the crew pushes through harvest without breaks, but not on Eunice’s farm. She gets them out of the field with mashed potatoes and gravy and sends them home with their favorite pies.
“The world is so fast paced these days. On our farm, we take meal breaks to slow down a bit, enjoy our blessings and talk to each other,” said Eunice. We couldn’t agree more. Conversations around the dinner table are one thing that should never go out of style.
Enjoy reading stories about real South Dakota farmers? Here are a few we think you’ll like:
Now that you know farmers use pesticides to protect crops from diseases, insects and weeds, and the steps for pesticide application, it’s time to take your education up a notch. Precision technology – such as GPS, auto steer, variable rate spraying and tablets – are important tools for today’s family farms. With precision at their fingertips, farmers can track crop growth, health and yields to improve their family farm businesses each year.
Paul Casper grows approximately 4,500 acres of soybeans and corn near Lake Preston. He’s the fourth generation to run the farm along with his father Warren and son Drew. Let’s take a look at his technology and why he thinks his sprayer is the best piece of equipment he owns.
Just like you use GPS to get to where you need to go, the Caspers use it to ensure they cover each acre in the most efficient way. The GPS signal helps guide their equipment on a straight course through the field. Tools built around GPS can even turn the equipment around when it reaches the end of the row!
The Caspers also keep digital soil maps of each of their fields so they plant the right amount of seeds, and apply the right amount of fertilizers and pesticides to grow healthy crops. Using advanced software, technology transfers from tractor to sprayer to combine right through their tablet so they can track all data throughout the season.
Paul’s sprayer is loaded with advanced options that help keep his family, neighbors and animals safe from pesticide drift and crops safe from applying too much. The sprayer automatically slows to speeds of 2-3 miles per hour when he drives near a neighbors’ house or the edge of a field. The pulsating system also increases the size of the water droplets in the spray increase to keep pesticides from drifting in the air.
The two arms on the side of the sprayer, called booms, self-level according to plant height as he drives across the field. This helps them float the right distance above the plants so the spray reaches the leaves and doesn’t drift. The booms are also equipped with automatic shut offs that stop spraying when it reaches the end of the field to turn around. This helps him avoid overlapping applications.
Creating a Sustainable Future
Being a good neighbor, growing healthy crops and taking care of the environment is important to continuing the legacy of the family farm. Paul, Drew and Warren try to make the best decisions now so one day Drew’s daughter Madi has the chance to take over.
“My father recently told our banker that the sprayer we bought three years ago is the best piece of equipment we own,” said Paul. “The technology in it is so accurate. It helps us be better managers of our business and the environment because we can apply the right amount of product at the right time in the right place. We even use it to apply fertilizer.”
In addition to the mechanical advancements, Paul says many of today’s pesticides are less likely to drift off the field because of new formulas that require more water. He also adds a soy-based agent to the tank to help the spray he applies during the growing season adhere to plant leaves and resist movement with wind and humidity.
“There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with farming. You have to have the right tools to apply the right products and make the best decisions possible,” said Paul. “We track what we do and try to improve each year. It’s all part of being a good neighbor and creating a sustainable future for our family farm.”
Keep learning how farmers use technology like drones and treated seeds to grow safe and healthy food in South Dakota by reading these:
We recently asked the question: What would you do if you drove by a field and saw a farmer spraying pesticides? If you missed it and want to know more, read this. We hope you give the farmer a friendly wave as you drive by. They have your family’s safety in mind.
Today, we go behind the scenes to learn about pesticide application on the Casper family farm near Lake Preston. There’s a lot that goes into making sure crop protection products are applied in an effective and safe way before they even get to the field.
Let’s take a look:
Step 1: Put Safety First
Safety comes first for Paul Casper and his family who grow about 4,500 acres of soybeans and corn near four South Dakota lakes. “We take spraying more seriously than planting and harvesting,” he said. “It’s about being a good neighbor, making sure our children and grandchildren are safe, and growing healthy food we can all feel good about eating.”
Being safe includes having the right certification to apply pesticides, using protective gear when handling and spraying products, and knowing the right amount and time to apply. Paul’s sprayer even has a cab shield so his granddaughter, Madi, can ride along with her dad, Drew, in the field.
According to Paul, many of the products and safety practices he uses are no different than avid gardeners, just on a larger scale. In fact, Paul’s wife, Korlyn, is a gardener who uses some of the same pesticides to protect her plants.
“We get bugs on our tomatoes and potatoes. If we didn’t use pesticides, our fruits and vegetables would be eaten up,” explained Paul. The whole family enjoys grabbing healthy snacks fresh from the garden. They just wash them first to eliminate any dirt, microbes and pesticide residues.
Step 2: Identify the Pest and Solution
The Caspers may be certified to apply all types of pesticides on their crops, but just because they can, doesn’t mean they do. First, Paul and Drew employ crop rotation, minimal tillage and use GMO seeds to try to prevent problems before they start.
“I’d rather treat a specific problem and take care of it early instead of applying pesticides to growing crops in the middle of the summer. GMOs help us be more precise and efficient with crop protection products and still grow healthy plants,” said Paul. Scouting fields regularly also helps them identify and deal with issues early.
This year, a weed known as marestail invaded their crops. Paul and Drew had to act fast to control it and talked with their crop consultant about solutions. He helped them identify the weed and recommended a contact herbicide that absorbs quickly to maximize application safety, but before they can apply it, they have to wait for the right weather conditions.
Step 3: Wait for the Right Weather
The ideal day to spray pesticides is dry and warm with wind speeds less than 15 miles per hour and no rain in the immediate forecast. Humidity should be between 50 and 60 percent and outside temperature no greater than 90 degrees. This helps keep the spray from staying in the air and drifting into different areas.
If the weather conditions aren’t right, Paul and Drew wait for another day to spray. “It’s just not worth taking a chance,” Paul said.
Step 4: Mix With Water and Apply
Once all the conditions are right, it’s time to transport the bulk pesticide product to the farm, mix it with water in tanks and pump it into the sprayer. Then they head out to the field to apply.
For the marestail herbicide, Paul and Drew combine approximately 18 gallons of herbicide with 1,000 gallons of water and a special soy-based product that helps the pesticide adhere to plant leaves and absorb better and faster. This mixture protects approximately 70 acres of crops. That may sound like a lot, but it turns out the actual amount of pesticide applied to an acre of land might be much less than you think.
“It’s about the size of medium latte spread over an area the size of a football field. Most of what you see being sprayed on the field is water,” explained Paul. The water truck stays with the sprayer and can cover 500 acres per fill.
According to Paul, the sprayer is the best piece of equipment they own. Not only does it have safety features that protect his family, it’s also equipped with precision technology to protect the families who live around his farm. We’ll take closer look at it in our next blog.
You’re driving from Sioux Falls to Mitchell to visit friends, and you see a large piece of equipment with wide arms and big tires driving through the soybean field toward your vehicle. After a closer look, you see it’s spraying something. Is it water? Is it a pesticide? Should you be concerned about your safety?
Your answer might depend on what you know about pesticides and how farmers apply them. Since most people don’t get a chance to stop by a South Dakota farm to get the scoop firsthand, we decided to bring the process to you. First, let’s start with the basics: What are pesticides and why do farmers use them?
Three Main Types of Pesticides
Paul Johnson is a weed science coordinator at South Dakota State University in Brookings. Paul grew up on a crop and livestock farm near Sisseton. His dad served on the county’s noxious weed board and Paul started spraying crops at the age of 12. It’s easy to see why Paul describes himself as a “weed-fighter,” even though pesticides aren’t just used to eliminate weeds.
“Pesticides is a term used to describe a substance that controls weeds, insects, diseases and other organisms to protect and grow healthy crops,” said Paul. The three main types used on South Dakota farms are herbicides to control weeds, insecticides to control harmful insects and fungicides to control certain types of diseases.
Why Farmers Use Pesticides
Though they may seem small, insects, weeds and diseases can quickly take over fields and cause big losses. Farmers use pesticides to stop the damage and save their crops. To act quickly and safely, they need the latest research and product information at their fingertips.
That’s where Paul and his team of extension specialists come in. They conduct field research throughout the year and share what they learn online and in educational sessions to help farmers identify and treat the problems they see in their fields.
“Part of my job is to monitor crops and compare what I see to previous years. We alert farmers if we see a problem so they don’t get caught off guard,” explained Paul. Top pests he watches for are soybean aphids and grasshoppers that devour plants and grasses quickly. Waterhemp, kochia and marestail are weeds that take over fields and compete with corn and soybeans for sunlight, water and other resources.
Pesticide Certification, Safety and Using Less
You might ask yourself, “Can anyone just climb up in the sprayer and start applying pesticides?” The fact is, South Dakota farmers must be certified to apply pesticides. They attend classes to help them select products, learn how to apply them and make plans for each growing season. If they have an unexpected issue, they talk with specialists like Paul to make the safest choice.
“Pesticide safety is a big concern for all farm families,” said Paul. “Thirty years ago, we spent a lot of time talking with farmers about having the right safety gear to apply pesticides. Today, we use pesticides that are much less toxic. We still need to take precautions, but I’m confident we’re safer than ever.”
In addition to pesticides being safer, farmers today also use less to get the job done.
“When I started my career more than 30 years ago, it was common to use approximately two to three quarts of pesticides on one acre of land,” explained Paul. “An acre is about the size of a football field. Now some pesticides are applied at only two to three ounces per acre. Most of what you see being sprayed on the field is water.”
Now that you know more about pesticides and why they’re used on the farm, should you be worried when you see a sprayer in action? We’ll find out in our next blog when we go behind the spraying scene and get into the field with Lake Preston farmer Paul Casper. In the meantime, here are some great resources on pesticide use and how they affect your food:
Paul Casper has always had a strong connection to the land. His love for the outdoors began when he was young, spending a lot of time hunting, fishing and trapping. Almost everything he does for work and recreation is tied to the environment. That’s why using sustainable agricultural practices are so important for his family and farm.
“What we do on the farm every day has an impact on our family, the food we eat and what we do for fun,” explained Paul. “The water is right beside us so we continually look for ways to improve our farm practices to take care of our soil.”
Paul isn’t kidding when he says the water is right beside them. Today, the family farm is surrounded by four lakes: Lake Thompson, Lake Whitewood, Lake Henry and Lake Preston. That hasn’t always been the case.
Paul used to ride horses and hunt in the pastureland that eventually became Lake Thompson. In the mid-1990s, heavy rains permanently turned the ground into a lake, and now it’s one of his favorite places to take his grandkids fishing. Keeping those waters and the land around them safe while protecting his corn and soybeans are very important parts of his plans.
Like many farmers in South Dakota, Paul uses sustainable practices like crop rotation and soil sampling. The GPS technology in his tractor and sprayer help him apply the right rates of pesticides safely and only in areas where they’re needed. The Caspers also practice no till, which means they don’t disturb the soil after crops are harvested. Leaving the stalks and plant roots in the fields reduces the chance soil will wash or blow into the lakes. It also improves the health of their soil and allows them to use less equipment so they don’t use as much fuel.
“We have greatly improved our farm practices over the past 15 years to preserve South Dakota’s land and water,” said Paul. They have no plans to slow down. This year, they’re looking at planting cover crops, which is a crop grown for the protection and enrichment of the soil.
The more Paul pays attention to sustainability, the better his crops grow. Now that his son and granddaughters have returned to the family farm, safety and sustainability are even more closely connected.
“We live and breathe farming, so we need to preserve the family farm for the next generation,” said Paul. “We also swim in the lakes, and eat the fish we catch, the animals we hunt and crops we grow. There are no shortcuts to being safe and environmentally friendly in agriculture, but I found it’s always worth the effort to do things right.”
Learn more about Paul’s farm practices and how he turns the veggies from his garden into delicious chicken kabobs by watching this episode of Across the Table.
For many South Dakotans, summer time includes having fun on the water. Whether it’s a road trip to the lake or a quick dip in the river, it’s a tradition that’s great for escaping the heat and creating memories that last a lifetime. The same holds true for farmers like Colin Nachtigal who lives near the Missouri River and enjoys fishing, kayaking and swimming on hot summer days.
“When we’re out working on the farm and it gets hot, we jump in the river for a quick dip,” he said. “I’m excited to teach my 18-month-old how to swim in it someday.”
While Colin doesn’t get to be on the water in summer as much as he’d like, he does spend most of his time on the banks of the Missouri working with irrigation pumps. He, along with his dad, two uncles, brother, and six cousins, grow corn, soybeans and wheat and raise beef cattle along the river. He’s part of the fourth generation to cultivate the land and thinks of the Missouri River as more than just a swimming hole.
“Some of our land is irrigated, and the water comes right from the Missouri River. Our rural home’s water system uses water from the river, so we also drink it,” said Colin.
He uses sustainable farm practices to ensure the water is safe for his crops, animals, family and neighbors who depend on it. The Nachtigals blend reliable practices from the past and innovative technology of the future to prevent soil erosion. This includes GMO seeds, minimal tillage and using equipment that puts crop nutrients, like fertilizer, in the soil.
“Minimizing tillage, or no-till, means that we’re leaving the soybean plant roots in the ground after harvest to hold the soil in place. Putting the fertilizer into the soil instead of on top helps the plants use it more efficiently. Both reduce erosion and keep the river clean,” explains Colin. He also uses GMO seeds that require less pesticides. If he does have to apply pesticides he waits for the right day.
“We’re always looking to improve on the ways of the older generation. Learn from them, but also try new ways to take care of the land and water,” said Colin. “Hopefully one day my daughter will be part of the family farm and grow food for people in South Dakota. In the meantime I’m looking forward to making more memories with her on the river.”
Summer isn’t the only time of year to make lasting memories. Learn how South Dakota farmers spend time with their families all year long by reading these blogs:
June may be dairy month, but if you’re anything like us, cheese is a year-round obsession. In South Dakota, Dimock Dairy is known for some of the best handmade blocks, curds and spreads you’ll find anywhere.
The journey for these delicious cheeses starts seven miles northwest of Dimock on Marty Neugebauer’s farm. Marty grows corn and soybeans, and raises beef cattle in addition to operating a dairy. He started selling milk to Dimock Dairy in the 1980s as a junior in high school when he his mother Anita expanded the family farm. When his mother retired in 1998, his brother Darin joined the operation. Marty knows dairy products don’t get any better than what’s right down the road.
Today, his family business is one of four family farms selling milk exclusively to Dimock Dairy. He’s proud to support a local business and enjoys knowing their products get their start on his farm. He claims their butter is the best ever made with the aged cheddar a close second.
Marty gets going every morning at 5:15 a.m. Before bringing the cows in around 6 a.m., he sanitizes the milking equipment and pipes to make sure the milk is clean when it reaches the bulk tank. Keeping things clean is Marty’s number one priority so he can send the best quality product to town.
He brings eight cows into the barn for milking at a time. Each cow goes into the same stall on the same side of the parlor every day. According to Marty, “Cows need routine. If you change anything, they won’t give the same amount of milk. Keeping them comfortable and happy is important to milk production.” He sanitizes the cows before attaching the milkers, which suction right to the cow. The milkers are equipped with a sensor to detect the flow of milk and stop pumping when the milk stops flowing.
Marty says cows have their own unique personalities and pump different amounts of milk. They can provide anywhere from 25 to 50 pounds per session, and it only takes about five to eight minutes to milk each cow. After the milkers shut off, they detach automatically and he disinfects the cows so they’re clean. Within 15 minutes of coming inside, the cows head back outside for the day.
Next, the fresh milk flows into a receiving jar and is pumped through a plate cooler to reduce its temperature by 20 degrees within seconds. It is then collected in a bulk tank where it’s chilled to 38 degrees F until a Dimock Dairy bulk milk truck picks it up.
Marty repeats this process at 4:30 p.m. every day. It takes three hours to sanitize and milk about 90 cows each morning and afternoon. In between milkings, he takes care of his beef cattle, tends to his crops and completes other tasks on the farm. “There’s always something to do,” Marty said.
Cow Comfort and Nutrition
For many dairy farmers like Marty the key to good milk production is keeping cows comfortable, giving them plenty of access to water and feeding them a nutritious diet. While Marty’s cows eat mostly distillers grain made from corn and silage, many dairy farmers in South Dakota also feed theirs soybean meal. Did you know there are approximately 117,000 dairy cows in South Dakota that eat 31,000 tons of soybean meal each year? Good thing soybeans are the state’s second largest crop.
Dimock Dairy Delivery
Every other day, approximately 10,000 pounds of milk leaves Marty’s bulk tank to take on a whole new shape and flavor. We’ll explore how Marty’s milk becomes the delicious cheese at Dimock Dairy in part two of this blog so stay tuned.
What about the gallons of milk you find at the grocery store? Ever wonder how it gets from the farm to the shelf? Read about its journey.
Pesticide residues on your food can be a scary thought. Maybe the topic crossed your mind while making dinner or as you shopped the produce aisle in your grocery store. Pesticides are used to protect crops as they grow, but do they remain on plants after they leave the field? And, more importantly, should you worry about feeding your family those crops?
If you’ve spent time online reading lists like the Dirty Dozen, you may think your family’s health is at risk. The truth is crop protection products like herbicides and pesticides must meet safety standards before they can be used in the field. The farmers who use them are required to attend educational classes and become certified so they apply them in the right amount, at the right time and only when needed. They use precision technology to make sure their application is accurate. After all, they feed their families the same foods you do and want to make sure they’re safe for everyone.
So what is the right amount? Well that depends on the crop, product and pest problem, but the average farmer applies only about a coffee cup’s worth of pesticides per acre of crops. An acre is approximately the same size as a football field. Most of the spray that goes on the field is water. Any pesticide residues that may remain on plants in the field decrease considerably as crops are harvested, transported and exposed to light.
By the time food reaches the grocery store, it has gone through testing with the USDA to ensure it meets requirements set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is safe to eat. Pesticide residues allowed on produce are so small they’re measured in parts per billion. In fact, the average child could consume 7,240 servings of carrots in one day without any effect, even if the carrots have the highest pesticide residue allowed by USDA.
Most fresh fruits and vegetables test below the threshold levels set by EPA, so you shouldn’t be worried about their safety. The best way to protect your family from unwanted residue, dirt or surface microbes is simply washing all fruits and vegetables before serving. This is also true for foods grown organically. Rinsing fruits and veggies is an easy task. For most foods, a quick water rinse should do the job. Thick-skinned produce such as carrots, potatoes and squash should be scrubbed. With leafy greens, toss the outer leaves.
Watch this video for a quick review.
You can also create your own produce wash by mixing one tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar with two cups of water in a spray bottle.
Have you ever calculated how much fruits or vegetables you’d have to eat to feel the effects of pesticides? Try this calculator. You might be surprised at the results. Learn more about how farmers responsibly use crop inputs like pesticides by reading these blogs:
It’s almost time for South Dakota farmers to get out in the fields and begin the 2017 growing season. There’s a great deal of preparation that goes into planting, and everyone in the family helps out.
Back in March, we checked in with John Horter and his 6-year-old son Dane on their family farm near Andover. Dane shared some insights about what he does to prepare for planting season, what it takes to grow healthy crops and why it’s important to grow food for people and animals in South Dakota. It all starts with a tractor high five!
Can’t get enough of Dane’s on-farm insights? Watch his report from the 2016 harvest.
Have you ever wondered why many farmers use GMOs? Researching the question online might lead you to believe that they don’t have a choice when it comes to the seeds they plant. In fact, farmers often choose to plant GMO seeds because it helps them be more sustainable, more efficient and preserve their land so they can pass it on to future generations. We decided to go right to the source to get answers.
“The safety and quality of the crops I raise are very important to me and my family farm. I know the science and research behind the products I use on my farm shows they are safe and sustainable. Being able to produce more with less natural resources and crop protection products is a decision I feel good about.” – John Horter, farmer from Andover
“GMOs play an important role in farming today. In fact, if my dad hadn’t used GMO crops in the summer of 2012, he most likely would not have had a corn harvest at all. We received record-low rainfall that summer, and his corn survived because of its drought-resistant genetics. If he had not used GMO seeds, his corn and much of the entire corn crop in the country would have died, wreaking havoc on the food and renewable energy systems.” – Amanda Eben, livestock specialist from Rock Rapids, Iowa, who is active on her family farm
“We choose to use GMOs on our farm because we believe in their value; not just increasing our yields and product quality, but also the added value they bring to the food industry. The USDA, FDA and EPA all require extensive testing of GMOs before they are released into the marketplace, taking an average of 13 years. Because of these modifications, we can grow crops in areas where we couldn’t before. For example, we can plant drought-resistant corn in years where we are concerned about the water we need to feed a growing crop.” – Morgan Kontz, farmer from Colman
Now you know many farmers choose to plant GMOs because the technology allows them to grow food safely and improve their on-farm sustainability. It’s great to have choices both in the field and in the grocery store. What other questions do you have about GMOs? Let us know by leaving your question in the comments.
Learn more about the safety and process of creating GMOs by reading Where Do GMOs Come From?