Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Droscha Family Dairy

One of the tough things about farming is that it is a public business.  Everybody can see what you are doing.  Everybody feels qualified to criticize.

You can own a factory filled with 1950's vintage equipment, bearings squealing, piles of scrap everywhere.  And who is to know?  Those who know are likely to not have any standards of comparison.

That makes it difficult to innovate in agriculture except in small, safe, baby steps.

So it is notable when a family farm makes a huge jump.  That is what the Droscha Family Dairy did when they went organic.  I got a pretty good view of the transition because their operation is on the main East-West Highway in Eaton County and borders M-100, one of the main North-South roads.

Some parts of the transition went very smoothly.  The management intensive grazing looked to be plug-and-play.

Other parts had to be painful.

Everybody knows how to grow corn.  Let me rephrase that, "Everybody knows how to grow conventional (non-organic) corn."

The crux of the problem seemed to be that corn is a tropical grass.  It likes it WARM.  Treated seeds, pre-emergent herbicides and Genetically Modified seed allows the conventional farmer to plant when the soil is 50 degrees Fahrenheit at one inch of depth.  In Eaton County that is often around May 1.  The treated seed prevents most of it from rotting.  The corn slowly germinates and lolly-gags around until mid-June.  Then it grows like a house afire.

Weeds don't lolly-gag.  They outgrow the corn seedlings in the cool weather and then smother them unless they are whacked with glyphos (Roundup) or prevented from germinating (Atrizine).

The Droscha corn fields had been fertilized with cow poop and there was no shortage of weed seeds.

Some weeds, like lambsquarters and foxtail are decent forage.

Other weeds like velvetleaf is nasty, stinky and not very palatable.  Cows that turn up their noses at the dinner trough cannot make much milk.

This corn will be harvested for silage.  You can see the ear development so it should have decent energy content.

This year their corn looks GOOD!  They cracked the code.

They are also experimenting with other warm season, annual grasses that they plant very close together and then harvest as hay.

So the Droscha family has my admiration.  I admire them for having the cajones to break away from the pack and to venture into a new business.  I admire them for being brave enough to fail in the public eye.  I admire them for making aggressive countermeasures to address those failures.

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