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Monday, October 17, 2016

Newsletter - Dispatch from the National Small Farms Conference II

I had a dream last week about starting a farm…it was a disaster.  I had a partnership with two close friends who both have farming experience and would be great to work with – but then there were a whole bunch of other partners I didn’t know.  They were working on these projects that made no sense at all.  The details are foggy, but they were working on something that was exceptionally time consuming, really elaborate, and had no chance of making any money - and I couldn’t convince them it would not work.

Where am I going with this? First and foremost, my nightmares are atypical.

Secondly, this feeds into my “Dispatch from the National Small Farms Conference, Part II” on profitability.

Also, there is a grant opportunity for livestock producers available, and a research opportunity for organic produce farms that use manure.

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From the National Small Farms Conference:  Small farm profitability:  I attended several presentations and viewed multiple posters along this theme.  Cindy Fake, of University of California Extension gave a presentation titled “Beginning farmers and ranchers 2.0: Scaling up to profitability”. 

Through a survey they did of local farmers, they found…

  • A need to focus production on fewer crops to gain efficiencies, their recommendation was fewer than 10
  • I asked the presenter if they’re advising against CSAs, the answer was “yes”
  • While highly diverse cropping systems weren’t as profitable, diversification in markets was important

I can imagine you might be shaking your head, I get it -  MN and CA are different, and yes diversity is important for soil health and biology, fertility, diseases, insects, etc, etc, etc.  They, nor I, are advocating for a monocropping scenario.  There’s a lot of room for rotation growing 10 crops.  Also, scaling up may not always be the answer – marketing, financing, and labor/production management adjustments (among others) could provide solutions.

However, while a farm can lack diversity, the pendulum can swing too far the other way, at some point, we may end up juggling too much, getting away from what we’re best at producing and our most profitable enterprises.  Finding the right mix is a challenge – take a look at the Farmbyte below and business planning resources to find ideas.

Farmbyte:  Profitability, financial benchmarks, and economic impact of local food

Ryan Pesch, Extension Educator produced a report on his work assessing profitability of local farms in central MN.  Listen to an interview and read the report in this Farmbyte.

Business planning resources

There’s a lot out there, here are some resources that come to mind.

AgPlan (Web based business planning, UMN.  Find online training here)
Fearless Farm Finances (book, MOSES)
USDA New Farmers (website).

Livestock investment grant

It’s a grant, for livestock producers, from the MN Department of Ag.  Will help pay for construction of facilities, fencing, feeding and waste management equipment, etc.  More details on their website.

Research opportunity

The UMN Southwest Research and Outreach Center (SWROC) is looking for organic produce farms to participate in research investigating the breakdown of microbes in raw manure used to fertilize organic fruits and vegetables. Participants will receive soil test results, feedback on managing manure, and an incentive payment.

SWROC Research

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Friday, September 30, 2016

Newsletter - Dispatch from the National Small Farm Conference

Last week, I attended the National Small Farms Conference in Virginia Beach (don’t get jealous, it was raining pretty much the whole time, I blame Poseidon, at right).  The conference is held every four years, this year it was hosted by Virginia State University, Virginia Cooperative Extension, and the USDA with support from Virginia Tech.  Three of us from the UMN Extension Small Farms team attended.

The conference is designed for folks like me in Extension, but also farmers, government, and researchers – along with anyone interested in learning how to better support small farms.  Here’s part 1 of what I learned followed by a training opportunity that’s coming soon to SE MN.

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Ideas for online education: Some of you have participated in our “Living on the land” program.  In the past year, our team has been working through a process of moving towards a hybrid in-person/online educational program. 
  •  I was encouraged to learn what Oregon State University (OSU) has done with their “Growing Farms Workshops”
  • We know from our own survey work that our audience is open to learning via online education, but still want an in-person experience to connect with peers and educators
  • This was how they built their program, OSU has had success in reaching audiences by going to a hybrid model

Staging farmers in their first 10 years:  OSU (again, they’re doing good work) has assessed how farmers move through their first 10 years of farming.  In the presentation “Successfully navigating the first ten years: Education targeting farm developmental stages to achieve long-term viability for small farms” from Garry Stephenson and Lauren Gwin shared how they break down the stages;
  • Stage 1:  Proving you can grow and sell
    • First 2-3 seasons, inefficient, learning from mentors, high levels of confidence
  • Stage 2:  More deliberate, less frantic
    • Easing the burden with equipment and hired labor, letting go of perfection, scaling up and saving backs
  • Stage 3:  How can we make money?
    • Systems are in place and time for experimentation, balancing idealism and realism, maybe time for a business plan
  • Stage 4:   I can do it, but should I still?
    • Assessment, reflection on lifestyle, career, future, family

Do these stages ring true for you? If so, what stage are you in?


Speaking of farmer education…

Living on the Land: Buffalo, MN

Living on the Land will provide you with a solid background in all aspects of land management. The basic agricultural information will help you be a good steward of your land and prepare you for more advanced learning opportunities.  The eight-week course, offered by University of Minnesota Extension, begins on October 19th with goal setting and individual property inventory, then addresses soil, plant, livestock, and water basics. You’ll also have plenty of time for networking and questions. 

New Farmer U

New Farmer U is a weekend training for beginning farmers Oct. 21-23, 2016 in Lanesboro, MN. Experienced organic farmers and ag experts will lead workshops on topics such as soil fertility, pest management, and farm machinery. Land access, certification, and business planning are also on the agenda, along with expert-led roundtables. New Farmer U is hosted by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, Renewing the Countryside, and Land Stewardship Project with support from the USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher. 


That’s all for this week, have a great weekend.

PS:  Feel free to share using the social media icons at the top of the page, or with this link,

Jake Overgaard
Extension Educator


Additional resources

Monday, September 19, 2016

Newsletter - Farm Safety and Health Week

I was working last week to harvest a corn silage plot with a local farmer.  We’ve had wet weather in southeast MN lately, and more rain was in the forecast.  Needless to say, they were in a hurry.  I was doing my best to work as quickly and efficiently as possible so that I didn't slow their work down too much.  Having grown up and worked on farms, I was reminded of the pressure one feels in these situations.

That pressure can push us to take short-cuts, stress us out, and is simply tiring.  At these times, it’s important to remind ourselves and one another to always keep safety in mind. 

This week, we recognize National Farm Safety and Health Week by highlighting these useful resources.

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Article:  Farm Safety is a Year-Round Priority

Emily Wilmes, Extension Educator in Stearns, Benton, and Morrison Counties, shares ideas on working with livestock, training, equipment, and creating a culture of safety. 


The Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center (UMASH) has multiple MN connections including the UMN School of Public Health and College of Veterinary Medicine.  They have developed many resources on farm safety including fact sheets, posters, videos, and more.  Take a look at their resources.

MDA’s Rollover Protective Structures (ROPS) Rebate Program

The MN Department of Agriculture’s ROPS program will reimburse farmers and schools for the cost of rollover bars and safety belts. 

Caught in the grain!

Article from North Dakota State University on grain bin safety with recommendations on precautions and rescue procedures.


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Additional resources

Friday, September 16, 2016

Learn how to graze cover crops at field day

Livestock producers interested in cover crops should attend this field day in the Oronoco/Rochester area to learn about grazing cover crops, cattle nutrition, and the benefits to soils.  Speakers include Eric Mousel, UMN Extension Livestock Educator; Dan Nath, NRCS Soil Scientist; and Dean Thomas, Area 7 Soil Health Tech. 

The field day will be held at the Anthony Rossman farm.  On the farm, a 6 species cover crop mix was planted following peas.  The Rossmans produce beef cattle, the cover crop is being grazed this fall.  Attendees will learn how cover crops fit in their crop rotation and how they are utilized by cattle.

This free field day will be held September 27th from 9:00-11:30 am.  The Rossman farm is located at 7000 70th St NW, Oronoco, MN.  If you have any questions, please contact Dean Thomas by phone, 507-765-3878 Ext 3, or email,

For more information, view the flyer.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Newsletter - Labor Edition

I hope you all had a great Labor Day weekend!  Speaking of labor (what a transition!), here are some resources to help you understand the legal side of hiring employees and interns on farms, some labor saving tips, and recommendations for safely working with cattle.

To sign up to receive this newsletter via email, fill out this form.

Legal guides:  Interns and employees
Farmer Legal Action Group (FLAG) has produced two manuals for small farms with guidance on how federal and MN State law apply to farms in these areas. 

Webinar: Tools for small scale crop production
The focus of this webinar is on hand tools, principally for vegetable production.  From the National Center for Appropriate Technology.

Article: Ten steps to better weed control
Weed management can require a lot of labor – here’s a list of ways you can reduce the time you spend handling weeds.  From University of Vermont Extension.

Videos and Factsheets:  Stockmanship

The Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center (UMASH) has developed resources providing advice on working with cattle.  They have factsheets and videos in English and Spanish on stockmanship.  Very high quality, useful information. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Newsletter - Soils Farmbyte + Value added grant

I’ve been preparing and holding local field days this week and time is at a premium.  So, I have an abbreviated newsletter.  The field days are nutrient management focused, soils are on my mind and so I’ve got a soils-focused Farmbyte for you. 

Also, there’s a fantastic grant opportunity from the MN Department of Ag that comes around annually, I think many of you could benefit from the grant.

To sign up to receive this newsletter via email, fill out this form.

Soils:  Sampling and nutrient guidelines

In this Farmbyte, we share…
  •          A video on soil sampling procedure
  •          Nutrient guidelines for fruit, vegetables, row crops and small grains
  •          Article on how to maintain soil fertility in organic fruit and vegetable systems
  •          USDA Web Soil Survey

MN Department of Agriculture's Value Added Grant program
From their website...

Who's eligible?
  • Individuals (farmers) or businesses
  • Agricultural cooperatives
  • Local government entities

What can you use the money for?
  • Equipment purchase or physical improvements to intended to support businesses that will:
  • Start, expand, or update livestock product processing
  • Purchase equipment to start, upgrade, or modernize value-added businesses
  • Increase the use and processing of MN Ag products (required for all grants)
  • Purchase equipment or facility improvement to increase food safety
  • Increase farmers' processing and aggregating capacity to sell to schools, hospitals, or other institutions

Maximum grant award is $150,000, minimum is $1000.

For more information, visit the MDA website.

That’s all for this week, have a great weekend!


P.S. Feel free to share this using the options at the top of this page.

Additional resources
UMN Extension Crops Website & Calendar of Events

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Newsletter - Happy National Farmers Market Week

This week is National Farmers Market week (read the USDA news release), so I'm sharing some marketing ideas and resources.

Prior to joining UMN Extension, I worked on a farm in Winona County.  During that time, I spent a season selling (mostly) fruit and (some) vegetables at the Winona Farmers' Market, I really enjoyed it.

Obviously, after just one year I'm not the professional marketer that many of you are, but here are the strategies that worked well for me;
  • The advice "pile it high and deep" is sound
  • Vary the height of product displays
  • Clearly display prices
  • Smile and say hello to EVERYONE that passes
  • Get to know and support your fellow vendors
  • Have fun
For more ideas on display, The Art & Science of Farmers’ Market Display (UVM Extension) has some great ideas.

Other marketing resources

In each newsletter, we list "additional resources" at the bottom.  Among them, is the UMN Extension Community and Local Food Resources.  Within this site, there's a great section on marketing local food.  There's an excellent list of resources, take a look.  

Some of my favorites on the page are;

Marketing local food:  Start with this manual, it's great and has a MN focus.  From MISA, 

Marketing strategies for farmers and ranchers:  Shorter, similar to "Marketing local food".  From ATTRA.


Hope it's a good week at the market for vendors and customers alike.

That’s all for this week, have a great weekend!


P.S. Feel free to share this using the options at the top of this page.

Additional resources
UMN Extension Crops Website & Calendar of Events
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