On March 4, the high temperature in Iowa was 16 degrees with a low of -4, with snow along the roads and in the fields. Just two weeks later, we experienced some of the warmest weather this year with a high reaching 63 degrees. And technically it’s still winter.
As you can imagine the snow has been melting very quickly releasing moisture into the air in the form of fog. With most of the snow is gone as the sun shines brightly, nature is giving us a reminder of all of the work to be done in the coming weeks.
Niman Ranch hog farmers employ traditional farming practices including diversification, meaning that raising pigs is just one part of their entire operation. Pigs can be an integral part of a crop rotation system. Hogs may be raised on a plot of farmland one year, allowing them to exhibit their natural behaviors out on the pasture while their manure provides nitrogen, potassium and other valuable nutrients to the soil. This creates the perfect base for the following year’s crops: first nitrogen loving corn, then soybeans, a legume that balances out the soil, followed by oats and hay which also restore nutrients to the soil and have the added benefit of establishing a rich base for the future when the pigs will be grazing once again on the pasture.
In early spring many farmers begin seeding oat pastures and grassy waterways. This is an important step to slow soil erosion, and filter chemical pollutants
before they reach our streams and ground water helping to maintain our water quality. In recent years with the rise of corn prices and decreasing incentives for implementing conservation methods, farmers are under immense pressure to plant fence row to fence row in an effort to obtain the highest crop yields. Our multi-generational farmers with an eye on the future realize the value of their investment in these sustainable practices and continue with the tradition of planting them because they pay off in the long term. If our nutrient rich topsoil gets washed away so eventually will yields.
To mark National Agriculture Day on March 18, we are holding our annual hog farming meeting in Ames, Iowa. Hundreds of Niman Ranch hog farmers will convene to reconnect with one another and share ideas. There will be expert speakers touching on a variety of topics discussing the unique challenges our farmers are facing and sharing potential solutions. I am looking forward to seeing everyone there!