sustainable farming

Regenerative Agriculture: Returning to Our Roots

By Karen DuVall

Whenever friends visit my hometown, one of my favorite spots to show off is the bison ranch across the road from my parents’ woods. Carl Van Meter dreamed of looking out his window to see bison roaming as they once had two hundred years ago, so he purchased a pair in 1976. The herd grew to about 100 head, and they were a source of fascination to me as I grew up along with them.

Van Meter Buffalo Ranch in Buffalo, Indiana

Van Meter Buffalo Ranch in Buffalo, Indiana

Regenerative Agriculture holds a similar philosophy to return agricultural acreage to its natural state. What exactly is regenerative agriculture? It’s a practice that’s steadily gaining in notoriety and popularity.

  • Conventional Agriculture focuses on efficiency, high yields, and monoculture (large fields of one type of crop.)

  • Sustainable Agriculture focuses on doing no harm to the land and local food production.

  • Regenerative Agriculture goes a step further by using farming and grazing practices to rebuild topsoil and restore soil biodiversity. This draws down carbon dioxide from the air and improves the water cycle, which in turn helps to reverse climate change.

Healthy topsoil, healthy worms, healthy crops, healthy humans, healthy planet

Healthy topsoil, healthy worms, healthy crops, healthy humans, healthy planet

Due to its very nature, there’s no one right way to practice regenerative agriculture. It heavily depends on the specific needs of the location and local community. It looks to indigenous knowledge and skills from that area. Some examples are conservation tillage, cover crops, composting, and pasture cropping. Here’s a sample of a range of regenerative ag organizations leading the way around the world, while economically benefiting the ag producers.

In fact, bison are a key component of a regenerative agriculture effort at Kankakee Sands in northern Indiana. The Nature Conservancy has been converting 700 acres of row-crop land back into prairie. Bison provide a necessary service to the prairie by grazing down dominant plants, which encourage other plants to thrive and increase biodiversity. This broader range of food encourages more indigenous wildlife to return. Even their large hoofprints are regenerative because they enhance seed dispersal and planting.

Small farmers are facing enormous pressures. Prices are volatile, especially for soybeans and dairy. Extreme heat, droughts, flooding, and shifts in growing seasons are undeniable. Often it seems that the only option is to consolidate with large farms. As ag producers are imagining different paths using sustainable and regenerative practices.

Prosperity Ag is here to help. Whether you’re a conventional, sustainable, or regenerative farmer, there are funding opportunities out there as you weather the storm. Contact us today to learn more.

Getting Resourceful: Soybeans, Grain Dryers, and Energy Efficiency

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The extremely wet weather this fall, coupled with political and economic changes, created an especially difficult harvest season for most soybean producers. On top of low prices, farmers faced severe price docks for high moisture content in their beans. According to the Progressive Farmer, usually beans are docked six to eight cents per bushel for five percent moisture damage. This year, deductions were sharply higher, around $1.80 per bushel. That left farmers with no choice but to dry their beans in grain dryers designed for corn.

We called up Chad Martin, energy auditor, to talk about the effects these unusual circumstances had on on-farm energy usage. Chad is a from a fifth-generation family farm in Cass County and has 12 years of experience as an energy auditor at Purdue University.

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1.       Thanks for talking with us, Chad. Okay, first thing’s first. Exactly what is an energy audit?

Sure. An energy audit is a comparison of the documented performance of an existing dryer to a prediction of what the performance of a new one will be. It takes into account your energy prices and eliminate growing season variables from year to year. It also considers upkeep and maintenance on the equipment. An energy auditor gives you an unbiased third-party view of the cost and energy savings that could come with a new dryer.

2.       What other types of energy audits do you do?

I’ve done audits on lighting system upgrades when people switch to LED, several audits for swine buildings and dairy farms… The challenge there is that dairy prices are so low that it’s hard to make capital improvements. Greenhouse production is another one, but I’d say 85% of the audits I’ve done have been with grain dryers.

 3.       This year, a lot of farmers resorted to drying soybeans. Is this a common practice?

The last time was in 2009, when high moisture in corn was the biggest issue, and a small portion of soybeans were dried, too. We saw older dryers sit empty during the previous drought year in 2008, then used to their maximum in the 2009 rainy year. That brought a lot of hidden efficiency problems to the forefront for farmers. So that was the first wave of energy audits we did for the USDA REAP grants. We partnered up with Prosperity on several REAP grants a few years later.

4.       What impact does it have on dryer efficiency?

The dryers are being used for something they’re not designed to do, so they won’t be as efficient. Drying soybeans requires a lower temperature because you’re drying them down two to four percentage points of moisture, not 15 to 20 percent for corn. You’re also running a smaller amount of beans through the dryer at one time, so high capacity dryers have a higher of risk of splitting the beans from agitation. That means a lower-quality bean, which means another price dock. Some farmers have tried in-bin drying their beans as an alternative.

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 5.       What’s on the horizon for grain dryer efficiency?

The biggest development is real-time monitoring that gives you data you can access on your phone or iPad. Once we know the historical record over the past two or three years, that data tells us where things can be improved or areas for maintenance. Sensors in dryer are getting more sophisticated, and data analytics can be used on different types of hybrids. That means you can make improvements without getting a whole new dryer.

 As farms get larger, they’re adding not just one but two or three combines so they can get the crops out quicker. They need a dryer that keeps up but maintains its efficiency, especially with spikes in energy. Utility companies are starting to treat farms as small manufacturers. Since all the farms in the area are using their dryers too, they’re hit with demand charges. So we’re becoming more mindful of how we manage electricity. VFDs (Variable Frequency Drives) help motors mitigate those demand charges by running dryers at off-peak times to reduce costs.

 6.       Is renewable energy becoming more of an option with grain dryers?

Renewable energy with drying is a challenge. Dryers only operate two or three months out of year, and sometimes not at all, so it’s hard to justify the capital investment. Solar is much better suited for a dairy or hog operation because the energy usage variations are more steady and predictable.


 A big thanks to Chad for taking the time to talk with us. If you’d like more information about energy audits, you can reach Chad at 765-586-0860 or cmartin.energyservices@gmail.com. If you have questions about funding for your energy efficiency or renewable energy projects, you can reach us here.




Welcome!

We're excited to kick off Prosperity Ag's blog. Our team members here at Prosperity are looking forward to sharing their perspectives on subjects like renewable energy and energy efficiency, local foods and sustainable farming, and anything else affecting rural communities. We would love to hear your feedback. Let's get the conversation started!