Friday, October 28, 2011

Small Plot Organic Grains and Local Farming Gains

While some farmers have "gone big", we've decided to "go small". We're working with small equipment, heirloom seeds and our neighbors to meet our needs on our terms.   

Here's a short video I made in September while cutting our barley with an old International Harvester sickle bar mower and our John Deere tractor.  (UPDATE:  hahaha - blogger and youtube don't like my .mov video! So, think of it as a briefly animated still and imagine a really great video! - JQ)

In north america, grain production has gradually evolved from being part of the small mixed family farm into  a major element of industrial agriculture. Farms now produce hundreds or even thousands of acres of grain with huge energy, tilling, spraying, harvesting and storage costs.    

It costs a lot of money to operate a modern grain growing operation. We don't have the resources to build the farm infrastructure for industrial grain growing. I'm not sure we would want to. But we were encouraged to believe we could meet our own needs with a book written by Gene Logsdon of Ohio, by making traditional homestead grain farming part of our farm crop rotation. The Book is titled, "Small Scale Grain Raising: An Organic Guide to Growing, Processing and Using Nutritious Whole Grains for Home Gardeners and Local Farmers.

The point is that while most small organic farms focus on niche vegetables or high value produce, small grain plots can create big benefits on small mixed farms. The book opened my eyes to the amazing yield potential of small plot organic grain farming, the market potential of  growing grain for our animals and selling good whole grains directly to consumers.

Space Requirements

So how much space do you need to produce a bushel of grain? (Notice that bushel weight varies, though each weight is considered a single bushel measure)

Some examples from the book:

Corn = 10' x 50' = 56 lbs
Oats = 10' x 62' = 32 lbs
Barley = 10' x 87' = 48 lbs
Wheat = 10' x 109' = 60 lbs

I don't know about you, but 56 pounds of dried corn turned into meal would pretty much meet my household needs for a year.  Same with 60 pounds of flour.


We have no grain drills or combines. We broadcast seed, harrow it into the soil and harvest by mowing and then hand thresh on the barn floor and winnow in the barn yard. I've found some good ideas for do it yourself small threshing and cleaning equipment on Youtube.  This is not as easy as using heavy equipment...but the yield costs less and the bank doesn't take a cut.  Plus we get a hand made, hand graded and selected product.    

There are a wide variety of home mills available for turning whole grains into cracked grain or flour.  We aren't there yet.  But once we get better at growing and harvesting it would make sense to buy a mill and sell whole or milled grains in household quantities as a value added organic product at the farmers market.

Let's Talk Beer...

So, a guy could grow his own barley and small batch malt the grains for brewing.  In our case, we selected a two row barley that grows well in our climate.  Two row is easier to grow and this variety serves as a malting barley but can also be used for feed grain. While it is not as good as other barley for animal feed, it will serve as animal or human food and most importantly, the basis for beer. And 48 pounds of barley from a plot the size of a large suburban yard will make a lot of beer.

Working With Neighbors

We bought in our organic chicken feed this year at a about $35.00 for 50 lbs from the local co op.  It cost us roughly twice as much to buy organic feed over conventional feed.  We broke even on our meat chickens.  We've contacted a local organic grain grower and are planning to work directly with the producer to buy what we need.  This is important.  We'll continue to grow small plots of grain because of the direct farm and eventual market benefit.  But we've learned that it's better to go to local people who specialize in a product and support their effort rather than try to carry everything ourselves.

Next up - Using a Home Made Flail on the Threshing Floor 

1 comment:

Rob said...

So cool John - well done