Bryce Irlbeck, AgriSecure Business Development
Bryce is a fifth-generation farmer and entrepreneur with a passion for rethinking farm production methods. Bryce honed his organic agronomy skills at Midwestern Bio Ag while being mentored by Gary Zimmer and Bob Yanda, two of the most experienced organic farmers in the U.S. He is a graduate of Iowa State University in Agronomy and Agribusiness.
Guest Post: 6 Ways Organic Farmers Keep Equipment Expenses in Check
21 Sept 2021
With the high price premiums organics offer, you may feel the cost of expensive equipment is justified. But spending too much too soon, especially when you have smaller acreage, is a good way to end up in the red. Organic farmers need to do their due diligence to ensure their equipment purchases are wise investments. Here are six tips to avoid overspending on farm equipment for your organic operation: Do the math Calculate the per-acre cost and ROI for any equipment you want to purchase. That includes not only the price tag, but also the cost to store it, operate it and maintain it. And don’t forget depreciation. If the numbers seem shocking, think about other ways to get the work done on your farm. Most times, it can be done at much less expense than you’d guess. Keep your equipment stock simple It’s easy to feel like you need all of the options out there to run a successful organic operation. The truth is, most farmers can be successful with just a rotary hoe and a cultivator. If you’re wondering whether a piece of equipment is a good decision, ask yourself: Does it solve a problem? Or is it merely an expensive way to deal with a problem? Usually, buying an expensive piece of iron or machinery is only a patch to the challenges you face rather than a permanent fix. Take the emotion out of it At AgriSecure, we always encourage organic farmers to run the numbers when they’re not in a stressful situation. When you’re facing a big problem, it’s easy to make bad decisions out of desperation. Let the math decide whether you’re making a good call, not your emotions. Make the most of your crop rotation You can get more out of the equipment you have by designing a solid organic crop rotation. A good rotation should help suppress weeds, so you don’t need to invest in expensive equipment like row crop flamers. It can also help balance out fieldwork timing, so you’re not trying to do the same task for every acre at once. Hire it out Sometimes, it makes more financial sense to outsource work than to buy the equipment and do it yourself. Consider any weaknesses or areas you struggle with that you could hire someone else to handle. Fit your investments to your farm There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to deciding on equipment. Maybe you’re great at bringing old parts back to life, so buying used equipment would be a wise investment. But if that’s not your strength, maybe you’re better off leasing the machinery and letting the dealer handle any repairs. It’s all about tailoring your purchases in a way that will allow you to become the most cost-efficient organic producer you can be. Tap the experts for guidance If you’re trying to decide what equipment you need to succeed in organics, AgriSecure can help. Our experienced team of organic farmers can help you determine what’s a necessity vs. a "nice to have" and whether a purchase makes financial sense for your farm. Contact us today or visit our website agrisecure.com for more info.
Guest Post: How to Maximize Your Nutrient Program with Organic Fertilizer
09 Sept 2021
Bought synthetic fertilizer lately? You’re probably feeling sticker shock. This is true for conventional as well as organic farmers because anyone who uses manure will likely see demand — and therefore prices — go up. And times of high demand are especially risky for organic farmers who don’t have the option of buying synthetic when supply runs low. That’s why if using manure is part of your fertilizer program, you need to have a good game plan on how to source it and ensure you have enough fertility. Scott Niemela, an organic farmer and co-owner of organic fertilizer company Crop Fertility Services (CFS), shares his tips for creating a solid fertility program with manure. Stock up early It’s far more expensive to not have enough manure than to buy extra early, Scott says. He recommends organic farmers stock up on their manure in advance. Try to commit to a purchase as soon as possible — even a year out, if you can. Know what’s in your fertility Unlike synthetic fertilizer, the amount of nutrients in raw manure can vary, even within the same pile. That’s why Scott says those working with raw manure need to get a nutrient analysis. Depending on the size of the pile, take 6-12 small scoops from a foot into the pile. Never sample from the surface, Scott says, as it won’t give you an accurate representation of the pile. Mix your scoops in a bucket and then submit one or two samples for analyses. Sending more than one sample can tell you how much variability there is in the pile. Work with an agronomist Whether you’re brand new to using manure or you’re a veteran organic farmer, it’s always a good idea to work with an expert on your fertility program. Scott recommends finding a good agronomist, noting that it’s personally made a big difference on his own organic farm. A good agronomist should be able to get at the root of any fertility problems and create a plan to address them. Scott advises giving them 2-3 years to make improvements on your farm. If they don’t pay for themselves within that time, look for a new agronomist. In-furrow organic may be the next trend Liquid in-furrow fertilizers are not a new concept in conventional crop production. But liquid organic in-furrow fertilizers may soon be more commonplace on organic farms. Scott is currently testing a mix of molasses, humates and biologicals as in-furrow liquid fertilizer on his own organic farm. He’s always skeptical of trends, so he makes sure to test new products and ideas before he sells them. Scott says that farmers are welcome to reach out to him at the end of this season to see how the results of the in-furrow trials went. Supporting organic and conventional farmers While CFS’ mission is to empower organic farmers, they also work with conventional farmers who want to use organic fertilizer for its nutrient and soil-building benefits. In addition to selling chicken pellets and raw chicken and raw poultry litter, they offer Purple Cow Organics fertility products, humates, and organic weeding equipment. To learn more about CFS, visit www.cropfertilityservices.com . Interested in organics? AgriSecure can help If organics is something you’re interested in, AgriSecure can help. With a team that has first-hand experience of large-scale organic row crop production, AgriSecure can help you get certified, find the right markets, secure organic fertilizer and make the move to a more profitable future. Contact AgriSecure today for a free consultation.
Guest Post: How Organic Farmers Can Reap Even Stronger Profits with the Specialty Markets
Investors diversify their portfolios for financial stability. Farmers can do the same by diversifying their crops and the markets they serve. If you’re an organic farmer, you’re already off to a great start. But you can diversify even more — and boost your bottom line — by getting into the organic specialty markets. Capture higher premiums Organic farmers already see significant profit potential from the high premiums of organic commodities. (Note: organic corn and soybeans have averaged over $9.50 and $20 per bushel, respectively, in the last decade.) With specialty crops like popcorn, clear-hilum soybeans and grains for food companies, the premiums are even higher. You can conservatively expect to sell organic specialty crops for 10% above organic commodities. Finding the right buyer Breaking into the specialty markets depends on two things: your reputation and your network. We recommend growers get some solid organic production experience before venturing into the specialty markets. Even the best farmers make mistakes in their early years of organic. You don’t want a valuable learning experience to occur on an important contract. On B&B Irlbeck Farms, we were certified organic for 5 years before we got into specialty crops. I’d advise giving it at least 3 years after transitioning to organic. Once you’ve built up your organic experience and reputation, you can begin to seek out buyers. Don’t be afraid to make some cold calls. Start in your own backyard. That’s how we became the organic grower for a local distillery. How to serve the specialty markets Scored a contract? Congrats! Now it’s time to make sure you deliver. Naturally, specialty markets pay more because it takes a higher level of management and production. You need to be even more on top of the weeds and fertility. And you need to make sure you’re buying the right organic seed . But growing the crop isn’t usually the toughest part. The challenge is managing the business relationship and providing them the documents they need. If your buyer calls up asking for information, you should be able to deliver it within 30 seconds. You need to be organized and detail-oriented. And you need to manage risk well because a failure on your part could be detrimental to their business. Finally, you need the proper infrastructure. Make sure you have the correct handling setup, drying setup and harvesting tools so you can manage the crop separately from your other organic and conventional crops. What it takes to succeed To be honest, not every organic farmer can serve the specialty markets. The time and management required to succeed may not fit with the rest of their operation. So how do you know if you have what it takes to become a specialty grower? Talk to one. They can explain what it takes to succeed and how to determine if it’s a good move for your business. If you don’t know any organic specialty growers, reach out to us. Our team at AgriSecure has first-hand experience with the specialty markets. Our mission is to help farmers succeed with organics, so we’ll give you the expertise you need. Your first call with us is always free. Contact us today for a free consultation or visit agrisecure.com for more info.
Guest Post: Organic Profits Offer Potential for Small Farms
Nowadays, it’s nearly impossible to become a farmer from scratch. Between the land and equipment required, most people don’t have the money to get started on their own. That is if you’re trying to do it with conventional crops. That’s the situation Nick Casey found himself in. Growing up working on farms, Nick always wanted to be a farmer. But he wasn’t grandfathered into an operation and didn’t have the cash to buy one. However, he did have 10 acres in Ramsey, Illinois, that he purchased in 2014. While working at a school, he heard a student talk about how her father got into organics. It piqued his interest. So he met with the student’s father and decided to give organic farming a try. He grew his first organic crop of white corn in 2018. Organic certification without the stress Because the land had been in food plots since 2014, Nick already completed the organic transition process and was able to jump into organics right away. Did you know there are six scenarios in which you can skip or shorten the organic transition period? Check out this blog post to learn more . He also decided to work with an organic certification company, but it wasn’t a great experience. It took talking to the company and the organic farmer he knew to understand what information he needed to provide. So when he met AgriSecure account executive Kenn Jenkins at the Farm Progress Show that fall, it didn’t take long for him to switch. “I looked at dollar for dollar and saw I’d be getting three or four times the services for the same amount of money I was getting just for certification.” - Nick Casey And the certification process improved. Instead of Nick being on his own and digging through physical documents, Kenn was present for the inspection. He brought his computer so he could send digital files immediately to the inspector. And he answered questions that were out of Nick’s scope. “The certification process with Kenn present was less stressful because I had someone backing me up,” Nick says. “That was a tremendous advantage.” Wealth of knowledge supports better organic management Joining AgriSecure also opened up a whole new network. Before becoming a member, Nick based his decisions on the other organic farmer. With Kenn’s help, he could find the right source of organic inputs. Nick also tapped into expert advice and education on organic management. Instead of visiting the one organic farmer he knew — who was an hour’s drive away — he can attend webinars, access information on the AgriSecure website, or call Kenn, who he says always gets back to him in a reasonable timeframe. This near-instant access to knowledge is not only convenient but has improved his farming. Weed management is Nick’s biggest obstacle, but he says it continues to get better because of what he’s learned from AgriSecure. Organics makes expansion possible Thanks to organics and AgriSecure, Nick has grown his operation to 130 acres and will be 100% organic in 2022. His goal is to continue expanding so his three sons can become farmers. “Organic was our way to have the resources every year to expand a little bit because we were profitable,” he says. Joining AgriSecure has made that pursuit easier. Nick considers partnering with the company a necessity for organic farmers. “It’s well worth the money spent to tie in with AgriSecure.” Thinking about organics? AgriSecure was founded by organic farmers to help other farmers make the leap with success. If you’d like to become a farmer, expand your farm, or secure better profits, organics may be the solution. Contact AgriSecure to schedule a free consultation .
Guest Post: Organic Farmers Should Ignore the Age-Old Advice to Plant Early
27 July 2021
It’s been ingrained in you your entire farming life: plant early. But if you’re an organic farmer, or in the process of becoming one, your new mantra should be the complete opposite. Ignore your neighbors rolling through their fields in early April — your time will come at the end of May. Why should organic farmers plant later? Let’s discuss. Fast emergence fights weeds Your goal as an organic farmer is to get your crop out of the ground as fast as possible. You want to see it emerge within 72 hours of planting and canopied within 2-3 weeks. The faster your crop emerges, the more it can get in front of the weeds. And the only way your crop will emerge that quickly is if the soil temperature is warm and stays warm. We prefer to plant when the soil temperature is at least 60 degrees. Conditions are also usually a little drier if you wait later to plant. Higher moisture means more weed growth. And if you plant later than your neighbors, it reduces the odds of cross pollination tainting your organic crop. Data from AgriSecure’s MyFarm platform show that planting later is also advantageous for yield. There’s a strong correlation between planting around May 20-25 and above average organic yields. What if conditions are dry? Like many areas of the country, our organic farm in Iowa experienced less-than-ideal moisture this year. When these conditions pop up, it’s important to think about tillage timing and cover crop use. Think about how you need to adjust those two practices to ensure you have enough soil moisture for germination. You don’t want to till 2 inches deep and dry out the soil where the seed will be planted. Instead, you may opt for tilling a half-inch deep to control weeds while preserving some moisture. Push plant populations In addition to pushing back the planting date, organic farmers should consider bumping up their seeding population. This helps offset the risk of low germination, though it’s worth noting that with the quality of organic seed today, that’s not a huge concern. It also helps protect plant losses that occur during weed control. On our farm, we up the population about 5%, but you could go up to 10%. When it’s time to consider replanting Despite best intentions and execution, you may have a field that’s looking like it won’t fulfill its yield potential. Should you replant? First consider stand count. If your stand is too low, crop insurance will cover it. The payout is based on an estimated yield loss times the spring grain price. Even if stand count is good, you may decide it’s worth replanting based on weed pressure. Please note: crop insurance will not cover this. But weeds can be so detrimental we’ve found it’s worth it to pay out-of-pocket for a replant to get the weeds under control. Even this year we made the mistake of planting too early, and decided to replant because of the amount of weeds. Want expert guidance on organic production? Planting timing is just one of the changes in thought processes you’ll make in your transition to organic. Why go it alone when you can be guided by those who have been there, done that? Schedule a free consultation with AgriSecure to learn how we can help make your organic farm as successful and profitable as possible.
Guest Post: How Organic Farmers Can Better Select Seed
13 July 2021
Seed selection is a similar process for all farmers. Do your research. Study up on trials. Consider your specific field conditions. Select seed that you think will perform the best while also spreading out risk. But there’s also some special factors organic farmers should consider when making this decision. Scott Ausborn of Blue River Organic Seed shares his tips for choosing the right genetics for organic operations. Look for variety and vigor Every field has its own unique conditions. And there are a lot of variables that can impact organic production. That’s why Scott recommends looking at as much replicated testing data as possible to see how a variety handles different environments. In particular, he advises looking for genetics that will: Emerge quickly and are vigorous so the crop is up before the weeds Handle some stress like low fertility or pests and diseases You should also opt for multiple varieties that each have their own strengths. So if Mother Nature brings rain or shine, you’ll hopefully have something that can handle the conditions. And don’t forget the market. Scott says a lot of specialty markets are looking for specific factors like food-grade soybeans or high-weight corn. If you’re selling to one of those buyers, make sure your seed will produce crops that match their needs. Do your own trial work The best way to find out which varieties work for your fields is to test those varieties on your own fields. Scott says the 36-month organic transition period is an ideal time for this. “If one doesn’t perform like you had hoped,” he says, “it’s better to make that mistake during your transition” than when you’re certified organic “because your organic crop is worth twice as much as the transition crop.” Many organic seed companies — including Blue River — also offer test plot seed for those who want to do their own on-farm trials. Benefits of buying early The earlier you make your seed selections, the better. Many organic seed companies offer early-order discounts, so there’s a financial incentive. But it also helps guarantee you’ll receive the specific seed varieties you want to plant. Scott explains that when they take orders in September, the organic seed fields haven’t been harvested yet. They have an estimate on how much they’ll produce, but they don’t know about the quality. By the time they’ve sorted through the high-quality, usable seed, there may not be enough for every order. Seed orders work on a first-come, first-serve basis, so the earlier you are, the more likely you’ll get your top choices. From selecting seed to finding buyers, AgriSecure can help If you’re new to organics and trying to navigate this market, you don’t have to go it alone. AgriSecure’s team of experienced organic farmers can help you create a profitable plan and give you guidance on how to execute it. Get in touch with us and learn how we can help.
Guest Post: What to Know About Imports’ Impact on Commodities and Organic Grain Prices
29 June 2021
Conventional corn and soybean prices are on the rise. While organic soybean prices are strong, organic corn isn’t rising at the same pace. What gives? David Becker says the difference in organic prices isn’t because of commodities. It’s due to basic supply and demand, particularly the supply of imports. David is an analyst at The Jacobsen , a Fastmarkets price reporting agency and publishing company that specializes in opaque markets like organics. Here he shares his insights on the organic market and the factors that impact it. Why organic soybean prices are on the rise The biggest factor on organic soybean prices is imports. Particularly those from India, our biggest contributor of organic soybean and soybean meal. Imports from India this year are down for several reasons. Shipping prices have skyrocketed due to COVID. The European Union rejected a number of shipments over certification issues, which the U.S. also responded to. Then, U.S. organic soybean meal processors filed an anti-dumping lawsuit against the country. So with a big decrease in supply, prices for domestic organic soybeans keep climbing. The Jacobsen reported that prices hit $35 per bushel in the Midwest in May. Commodities’ indirect influence on organics So how do commodity prices impact organics? According to David, it’s an indirect effect. What happens is when conventional prices in the U.S. rise, they rise globally. That makes conventional crops in countries we import from more competitive to organic. So farmers in places like Argentina and Ukraine may decide to grow conventional instead of organic. That leads to fewer organic imports, causing domestic organic prices to increase. U.S. farmers do this, too. If the gap between conventional and organic crop prices is small enough, organic growers may decide to grow conventional over organic. As long as demand continues to rise, it’ll eventually lift organic prices. But David notes this usually takes a cycle or two. Watch the Federal Reserve The high prices for conventional and organic crops all depend on the economy, David says. Which is why he advises farmers to pay attention to the Federal Reserve. He explains when the Federal Reserve starts raising rates and the fiscal stimulus slows, that’s when we’ll see prices fall. “The good times are predicated on what’s going on in our economy and the Federal Reserve and their monetary policy stimulus,” he says. “And when that ends and the music stops, you should quickly look for a chair and sit down.” Growing organics? Get expert guidance for your marketing If you’re an organic grower, you know that the market is tricky to navigate. You’re probably spending a lot of time and energy trying to find buyers that will maximize your profits. You don’t have to navigate this alone. With AgriSecure’s Organic Grain Marketing service, you get market insights and access to buyers, so you can better manage risk, capture upside and improve profits. If you’d like to learn how AgriSecure can help, contact grain marketing expert Dahn Clemens. Send him an email , book a call or call him directly at 402-651-0237.
Guest Post: How to Protect Your Farm from Pesticide Drift
15 June 2021
Pesticide drift is a concern for many farmers today. Whether you’re organic, growing non-GMO or have a specialty crop that’s susceptible to certain chemicals, drift can cause a lot of damage. How does drift happen? Drift is when a chemical — usually an herbicide — unintentionally moves from where it was applied to another field. Particle drift is the one we often think of, which is when droplets or dust travel during application. But vapor drift can also occur after application. Conditions like high winds or hot weather are often the cause of drift. And some chemicals like dicamba are more susceptible to moving. You can’t control how other farmers or applicators handle their pesticide applications. But with a few preventive steps, you can reduce the odds of drift wreaking havoc on your farm. 4 steps to prevent drift 1. Communicate with neighbors and applicators The best way to prevent drift is to talk to your neighboring farmers early on. Most farmers want to be good neighbors. A courteous heads up can go a long way in ensuring they take extra precautions to avoid drift. You may even want to work together on your rotation plans, so you don’t have a susceptible crop next to a field where the odds of drift are higher. Also consider any other entities like railroads or power companies that may spray near your fields and request a “no-spray” agreement . 2. Register with DriftWatch This free website allows growers to communicate with pesticide applicators about their sensitive crops. Applicators can see the fields you’ve labeled on the interactive map and take extra precaution to avoid drift. If drift does happen, it can also serve as additional documentation that you attempted to make others aware of your fields. 3. Post signs at field entrances More a human error issue than drift, but it can happen so it’s worth mentioning: applications to the wrong field. You can prevent this from happening by buying some “No Spray Zone” signs and place them at field entrances where an applicator can clearly see them. 4. Maintain a buffer Don’t plant crops right up to the field’s edge. Instead have a buffer of cover crops or perennials around the perimeter. That way if drift does happen, it hopefully won’t go beyond the buffer. Have a high contract or really low tolerant crop? Make the buffer a little bigger. Protect your organic crops Do you have drift damage on your organic crops? You don’t have to go it alone. AgriSecure’s team of experienced organic farmers can help you navigate this problem and create a plan that gets you back to organic production as soon as possible. Contact AgriSecure today for a free consultation .
Guest Post: Cover Crops Benefit Organic Farmers in More Ways than One
Many organic farmers want to reduce their reliance on traditional crop inputs. And one of the best ways to achieve this goal is by planting cover crops. In addition to higher-yielding crops, most operations will benefit from improved soil health along with a wider range of crop marketing options. Case in point: Justin Raikes. This fifth-generation farmer has been so impressed with the results of cover cropping on his Nebraska acres that he decided to launch his own seed business called Nebraska Cover Crop. He’s inspired to share his experiences so that more organic farmers are aware of the benefits cover crops can provide. The Decision to Go Organic Justin runs a large family farm. About a quarter of the 4,500 acres are certified organic and they have 700 more acres in transition. Justin says his decision to go organic is working out even better than he expected. Organic price premiums are a clear benefit, but so is improved soil health. Last year, the corn plants in his fields looked strong and robust – even the ones growing next to an escaped waterhemp overwhelmed by Japanese beetles. “That’s not something we would typically see in a conventional field,” he says. “I think that push is encouraging.” Launching an Organic Cover Crop Seed Business Justin started his organic cover crop seed business for the economic benefits, a chance to give organic farmers better seed options, and a family history of entrepreneurship. His grandfather ran a seed plant for public hybrid development for about 40 years beginning in the 1930s. He says, “I can appreciate where his mindset was at the time. Having the ability to produce your own high quality seed was both a necessity for him and the community as a whole.” By launching his business, Nebraska Cover Crop, Justin can now offer a lower-cost option to growers in his county and beyond. Marketing Opportunities with Organic Cover Crops When organic farmers plant cover crops, it can open doors to new markets. The Raikes are raising crops they never would have considered on a purely conventional operation. Justin says cover crops offer a new way to realize economic benefit, better soil health, and more. He says there’s often a payoff for going organic and/or utilizing cover crops. “You can do a lot of things right on the conventional side and still get annihilated,” he adds. “At the end of the day, organic farming rewards you as much and even more than you invest in it.” - Justin Raikes, Nebraska Cover Crop Nebraska Cover Crop To learn more about Nebraska Cover Crop call 402-521-0827 or email email@example.com . AgriSecure Can Help If you want to build a network and receive guidance from a team with over 50 years of large-scale organic row crop production experience, AgriSecure can help. Contact us to learn how you can transition to organics or scale an existing operation.
Guest Post: What Are the Benefits of Intercropping in Organic Farming?
31 July 2020
Weed control can be a source of concern for organic farmers, not to mention those considering transitioning acres to organic. But with higher premiums for organic crops, many farmers are willing to take on the challenge. One approach to obtaining sufficient weed control and getting the most out of your organic crops is through the practice of intercropping. What is intercropping? Intercropping is the cultivation of two crops together in the same field. It allows farmers to grow at least one high-value crop, while letting the cropping combination suppress weeds and bring agronomic benefit for the following crop year. Not unlike planting a cover crop, intercropping can remove the need to use tillage as weed control and help prevent soil erosion. A closer look at our intercropping trial In 2019, B&B Irlbeck Farms partnered with Rhea Brothers to conduct organic intercropping trials . We discovered that intercropping could offer a solid economic return and provide a number of agronomic benefits. But there’s still much to learn. Here are a few things we found during the trials: Intercropping is complex. Planting, harvesting and storing multiple crops at the same time can be quite involved. The key is to minimize the number of moving parts. For example, separating yellow field peas and canola was a labor-intensive task that required five people: one combining, one driving the grain cart, one driving the semi, and two cleaning the crops into separate bins. The next year, we utilized a process that allowed us to unload into a new grain cleaner that separates the crops. It took only one person to handle the cleaning process, and it was completed in a matter of hours. Find a seeding rate that works for you. Different intercropping mixes, fields and management practices will determine what seeding rate to use. The trials mentioned above saw seeding rates that were too high, some too low and next time will be somewhere in the middle. It may take a little trial and error to find the rate that works best for your operation. Planning is key. Good planning is essential in an intercropping set up. Choosing products that have similar maturities, so they can be harvested at the same time is important, as is sourcing the seed and inoculum. Planting and harvesting may take a little more time, so be sure to add that cushion into your schedule. Want more in-depth analysis of the trial? Ready to start intercropping on your farm? Intercropping can be a great way to improve your bottom line and cut out the stressful task of weed control on your organic farm. It may be a good idea to start on small acreage, and be aware it may take a few growing seasons to really make it a successful process. If intercropping interests you, contact AgriSecure for information on how to get started with the practice on your farm.