Essex Farm Note
Week 5, 2015
The seed order is in! It was our largest ever, totaling just over $6,000. We went long on some expensive seeds, like hybrid sweet corn. We’re going to experiment with starting some of it in the greenhouse and transplanting it to the field, so as to avoid rot in cold spring ground and the damage inflicted on the young seedlings by crows and seagulls. We also doubled up on certain items, in order to get a volume discount on the seed, and will hold the extra in the freezer for 2016. We are contemplating selling plants from the farm store this spring, so we ordered a little bit of seed for that. Now it is time to think about getting the greenhouses in shape. In previous years, we raised plants in one, and chicks in the other, but this year, we’ll fill both with plants and raise chicks in the east barn. The plastic on the south greenhouse was damaged by an ice storm last year. We limped through last season with patches, but now we really need to re-skin it. We’ll look for a warm, calm day in March.
The seed order total was dwarfed by another big outlay this week: organic corn for feed. Mark spent much of the week on the phone, shopping for 100 tons. The difference between conventional and organic prices is especially startling this year. Conventional corn is selling for about $3.50/bushel at the elevator, which would probably be about $5/bushel by the time it got to our grain bin. So far, the best we can do on organic, delivered, is about $14/bushel, or about $50,000 for 100 tons. This is why it is so tempting for animal producers to switch to conventional, and it is why ‘local’ has quietly trumped ‘organic’ in so many markets. We remain committed to feeding only certified organic grain or grain we’ve grown ourselves. One of our strategies for reducing the grain bill this year is to dedicate more acreage and energy to growing mixed grain/legume/brassica/pasture for pigs. If pigs harvest their own food it saves us the expense of having humans do it for them. Plus, green food and sunshine make for healthier, tastier pork. And while there is some controversy about the numbers, lard from pigs raised outside on pasture is a significant source of Vitamin D. Pasty people who love lard (my people!), rejoice.
Speaking of things piggy, Pancake has been repatriated. He and his buddies moved into the run-in with all the other pigs. It’s a mixed-age group and when I went to say hi to him yesterday I found him sleeping in the valley made by the warm bodies of two 200-lb sows. He looked content.
It was, however, a tough week for the dairy cows. They got some extremely rich second cut clover hay and either the hay or the sudden switch upset their bellies. I am always amazed at how fast dairy cows lose condition when they hit a bump in winter while milking hard. They look rough and thin right now, but should bounce back now that the feed situation is corrected. And the farmer team feels fantastic right now. Our new farmers are learning fast. We have our old friend Sam Ehrenfeld back in the region and in our butcher shop today. And we made an exciting new hire this week: Ben Christian is our new part-time assistant farm manager. He brings a combination of conventional and organic larger-scale livestock and management experience, plus a lifetime of local ag knowledge. We’re so glad he’s here. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this invigorating 5th week of 2015. –Kristin & Mark Kimball