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Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week

Permalink What information can you give me on starting a community farm or greenhouse?


Answer: I am pleased to provide you with information regarding community farm and greenhouse models.

If it is not too late, I would suggest the following approach in getting started with your project.

1. Develop a list of your resources. It sounds like land and soil might be a limiting factor, but other resources to consider are buildings, vacant lots, and other infrastructure within your community that can be used by the community to grow food—be it inside or outside.

2. If soil is a limiting factor, I would suggest starting a community composting project. This would help to develop a source of organic matter that the whole community could participate in, while reducing the waste stream in your community. The organization Community Compost has a lot of information on this topic and would be a good start. Note: they are a British organization, but many of the issues/ considerations still apply.

3. Consider not only plant crops but animals as well. Vegetables are a very small proportion of most diets. Having chickens, other foul, and maybe some other forms of protein should be considered when growing more local foods. Of course there is fish readily available too!

4. Once you do have an idea of what your resources are and what your vision is for localizing foods, develop a plan as well as a list of materials and supplies that you will need to make it a reality. Tying in educational activities will help in securing funding, if that is necessary for your project.

Models are a good place to find ideas and adapt according to your unique community situation. I have listed below a few model community farms/ greenhouses that might interest you.

There is a new movement in urban areas called SPIN farming—or Small Plot Intensive farming. This type of market gardening grows on small plots of land either private or community-based, focusing on succession planting and intensive cropping systems. Thy have several guides, and they are not free of charge unfortunately, but they are nominally priced. Below is a link to the official SPIN web site:

You may have heard of the Inuvik Community Greenhouse that was converted from an old hockey arena. The greenhouse, which receives funding from the territorial and federal governments, aboriginal groups and businesses, is also a community-development project that plays host to school groups, workshops and even tourists. Their website describes this operation in more detail:

Also developing community gardens are a great way to beautify the town and localize food production. The American Community Gardening Association has a wealth of information and models for you to work from. Their web site is:



Permalink What information can you give me on organic sunflower production?


Answer: I am pleased to provide you with information on organic sunflower production.

Sunflowers are a summer annual crop that can be managed similar to other summer grain crops. Organic sunflowers are grown for cut flower production and for seed. The seed is used in bird feed, for sunflower oil, and the meal for livestock feed. The links listed below lead to production information for sunflower though not necessarily organic sunflower production. There is little information available on organic sunflower production, so adjustments to the management systems recommended must be made to fit in a certified organic operation. Please visit the ATTRA website for information on organic certification and regulations.


North Carolina State University. 2005. Organic Field Crop Production and Marketing in North Carolina. “Alternative Grain Crops: Sunflower Seed.”

Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives. No Date. Sunflower Production & Management.

University of Wisconsin-Extension and the University of Minnesota. 1990. Alternative Field Crops Manual: Sunflowers.

National Sunflower Association

Kansas State University. 2005. High Plains Sunflower Production Handbook.

Schmidt, Walter H. 1995. Single Crop Sunflower Production. Ohio State University Extension. AGF-107-95. 3 p.

Warrick, Billy E. No date. Sunflower Production Guide. Texas Cooperative Extension. 16 p.



Permalink What information can you give me on using ethanol by-products for livestock feed?


Answer: I am pleased to provide you with information on using ethanol co-products as livestock feed.

Co-Products of the Dry Milling Industry (1)

Corn is about two-thirds starch, which is converted to ethanol and carbon dioxide during a distilling and fermentation process. The remaining nutrients in corn, such as protein, fat, minerals and vitamins, are concentrated in three different ways and end up as distillers grains or condensed distillers solubles. Distillers grains are a co-product of the dry mill process used to make ethanol from corn. Corn distillers grains contain the remaining nutrients after the corn starch is fermented to alcohol. Wet distillers grains are higher in protein and energy than corn gluten feed because gluten and oil remain in distillers grains. Dried distillers grains and dried distillers grains with solubles are marketed widely around the world as a feed commodity.

Corn distillers dried grains (DDG) is obtained after the removal of ethyl alcohol by distillation from the yeast fermentation of a grain or a grain mixture by separating the resultant coarse grain faction of the whole stillage and drying it by methods employed in the grain distilling industry.

Corn distillers dried grains/solubles (DDGS) are recovered in the distillery and contain all the nutrients from the incoming corn minus the starch. Thus, the DDGS has at least threefold the nutrients as the incoming grain. Since the stillage is recycled, the ratio of these more valuable amino acid types continues to increase so that eventually they represent approximately 16% of the final DDGS's amino acid content. No other feed ingredient results from such a great percentage of microbial products and their back stocking. DDGS typically analyzes at 27% protein, 11% fat and 9% fiber.

Corn condensed distillers solubles (CDS) is a term generally used to refer to the evaporated co-products of the grain fermentation industry. Most of the CDS is added to the dried grains, but some is available as a liquid feed ingredient. On a dry matter basis CDS typically is 29% protein, 9% fat and 4% fiber. The solubles are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, including phosphorus and potassium. CDS can be dried to 5% moisture and marketed, but generally the dry matter content is between 25-50%.

Wet distillers grains (WDG) can be sold as livestock feed or dried into distillers grains (DDG). If syrup is added to wet distillers grains and dried, the resulting product is referred to as distillers dried gains with solubles (DDGS).

Co-Products of the Wet Milling Industry

Wet-milling (view wet milling process chart) produces four major co-products for the feed industry from the isolated steep water, bran, germ meal and gluten. Together these co-products represent about 25%-30% of the corn processed.

Condensed corn fermented extractives or corn steep liquor is a high-energy liquid feed ingredient. The protein value analyzes at 25% on a 50% solids basis. This product is sometimes combined with the corn gluten feed or may be sold as a pellet binder and is a source of B-vitamins and minerals.

Corn germ meal is golden-yellow and is mainly gluten, the high-protein portion of the corn kernel. Corn gluten meal typically analyzes at 20% protein, 2% fat and 9.5% fiber. It has an amino acid balance that makes it valuable in poultry and swine rations. It is also used as a carrier of liquid feed nutrients.

Corn gluten feed is an intermediate protein product that is rich in highly digestible fiber. It may or may not contain the condensed corn extractives. This product is sold as wet or dry. The bran and condensed extractives (sometimes germ meal) are combined and dried in a rotary dryer. The dried corn gluten feed is made into pellets to facilitate handling. It analyzes typically as 21% protein, 2.5% fat and 8% fiber. Wet corn gluten feed (45% dry matter) is similarly combined but not dried. It is a perishable product in 6-10 days and must be fed or stored in an anaerobic environment. These feeds are widely used in complete feeds for dairy and beef cattle, poultry, swine and pets.

Corn gluten meal is a high-protein concentrate typically supplied at 60% protein, 2.5% fat and 1% fiber. It is a valuable source of methionine. Corn gluten meal also has a level of xanthophylls, which offers the poultry feed formulators an efficient yellow pigmenting ingredient. Corn gluten meal also is excellent cattle feed providing a high level of rumen bypass protein.

If you are interested in feeding recommendations, see the feeding recommendations library.


(1) Iowa Corn Promotion Board & Iowa Corn Growers Association.
5505 NW 88th Street #100
Johnston, Iowa 50131



Permalink What information can you give me on non-chemical weed control for pastures?


Answer: I am pleased to provide you with information on non-chemical pasture weed control.

Ecological Weed Management in Pastures

It is important to remember that in agriculture we are dealing with a very complex biological system that operates in a particular ecological balance. Each region of the country, indeed each watershed and field might behave in very different ways because of differences in soil type and depth, indigenous plant cover, cropping systems, temperature, and water availability, not to mention field cropping history. By developing a cropping system or perennial pasture that utilizes nature’s own defenses and achieves ecological balance, a sustainable, pest-limited crop can be grown.

Do You Really Have a Weed Problem?
In a highly complex, biologically diverse pasture, the very concept of weed infestation looses meaning. Many plants that are considered pasture weeds are highly palatable and nutritious during the vegetative stage. Take, for instance, dandelion and plantain. Both are numerous in many pastures, and producers can spend thousands of dollars spraying them with 2,4-D to try to kill them. They are, however, valuable plants that occupy different root zones, and so deliver nutrients from different soil depths. They are also very nutritious and palatable when young. These and many other “weeds” can be a valuable contribution to sustainable pastures. Even our so-called “noxious weeds” like knapweed and kochia can be grazed by sheep, goats, or cattle if just a little management oversight is applied. Weeds are basically a result of soil disturbance and human interference in nature, and if you think about it, without crop production, there would be no weeds. Weeds are merely plants that occupy space that humans do not want them to occupy. And we have many very good reasons for not wanting them to occupy certain spaces. In agriculture we have become very accustomed to applying pesticides to fields in order to eliminate unwanted plants and establish a favorable environment for the kinds of plants we choose to be there. But if we can look at our crop production and pasture systems as just that, “systems,” and begin to understand how plants and animals and humans interact on a given landscape, weeds will become much less of a problem. By managing croplands and pastures according to nature's principles we can significantly reduce weed problems.

How Weeds Get Started? Weeds enter an ecosystem only if they have been invited. In fact, many high producing pastures would succumb to weed infestations if management declined due to the presence of millions of seeds lying there, just waiting for the opportune moment to germinate and grow. A pasture that is managed to have high plant diversity, to remain vegetative for most of the growing season, and allowed adequate time for regrowth from a grazing event is better prepared to fight off germinating weed seeds. Even our most invasive species, when a seedling, cannot compete with the substantial, highly developed root system of a mature, leafy grass plant.

Techniques for Dealing with Problem Weeds in Pastures. Keeping weeds out of a pasture is much easier than trying to get rid of a bad infestation. Some management practices to consider for keeping pastures weed-free include:

• Terminate Low Producing, Weedy Fields
• Rotate Perennial Pastures with Annuals
• Integrate a High Density Rotational Grazing System
• Multi-Species Grazing

The afore-mentioned methods, used singly or in combination, can easily be incorporated into a pasture management system, setting up a situation in which weeds find it hard to get ground. When pasture stands such as alfalfa get too old, they often begin to decline and allow other plants to take over. Many times the grass component of the field will increase as alfalfa decreases, but in instances of low fertility or drought, annual weeds can take advantage of the open niche and become established. Terminating and reseeding the fields is sometimes then recommended. For some pastures that are terminated, you might consider planting them to winter wheat, or oats and winter peas for a season. These are in themselves valuable forage crops, and they help to break pest cycles while building soil all the while.

High density grazing plans also diminish weed invasion by reducing grazing selectivity. As an animal begins to consume all the plants in a given area, no one plant is favored. This gives grass an advantage. Grass, because of the lowered position of its growing point when vegetative, is more tolerant of leaf removal than broadleaf plants, which often elevate their growing points much earlier in the season. Very intensive systems can even favor grass over legume growth, so careful attention should be paid to the legume component of intensively grazed paddocks. Reseeding by frost-seeding, feeding seed to cattle, or broadcasting in the fall can be an effective way to maintain legumes in these systems.

Multi-species grazing refers to the practice of utilizing different livestock species to
(1) diversify farm income, (2) utilize pastures of different ecological types on the farm, and (3) manipulate the plant community to meet the production goals of the farm.
Cattle, sheep, and goats evolved eating different plant types. Cattle typically consume, in order of preference, grasses, forbs, and shrubs; whereas sheep will consume forbs, grasses, and shrubs and goats will seek shrubs, forbs, and grasses.

Sheep have been effectively utilized on western native ranges to control invasive species such as spotted knapweed and leafy spurge. Cattle that are grazing in conventional rotations often remain on western ranges for weeks at a time during the summer, and are moved when a set stubble height of key grass species like bluebunch wheatgrass or rough fescue is attained. When cattle, being primarily grass-eaters, remain in a pasture for long periods of time, they tend to exhibit grazing selectivity and choose vegetative grasses and young forbs over knapweed and other noxious weeds. Ranchers who have allowed a band of 800 or more sheep to graze for several days before or immediately after the cattle have seen significant knapweed usage by the sheep, with minimal grass utilization. Applying pressure with diversified livestock to knapweed, other forbs, and grasses in equal amounts will increase range biodiversity significantly over time. Sheep can be used as an alternative enterprise by taking value from wool, lambs, or by contract grazing on other parcels to control noxious weeds. Goats have a similar utility in areas with shrub infestation, and have been successfully used to control kudzu, English ivy, scotchbroom, and Chinese tallowtree in many parts of the country.

Last of all, know your pastures. Make it a point to understand the soil types and how they change with the aspect and slope of the land. Obtain some reference guides (Extension is a great place to find these) that will assist you in identifying the plants on your farm or ranch. The more you know about what your pastures will produce, the better position you will be in to make appropriate management decisions.

Remember – the principle concern in managing unwanted pasture plants is to
(1) encourage forage growth over weed growth through selection of appropriate livestock species and proper timing of grazing, (2) ensure adequate soil fertility through nutrient cycling, species diversity, and incorporation of legumes, and (3) rotate fields, even perennial fields, every now and then to break weed cycles. Perennial pastures can be rotated with cereals, summer annuals, or even vegetables to interrupt weed and problem insects.

Rotational Grazing and Paddock Size

Consider developing a rotational grazing system to take full advantage of the benefits of nutrient cycling as well as the ecological balance that comes from the relationships between pastures and grazing animals. High density stocking for short periods helps to build soil organic matter and develops highly productive, resilient pastures. For more information see ATTRA’s Rotational Grazing and Paddock Design, Fencing, and Water Systems for Controlled Grazing. Also available is Jim Gerrish’s Management-intensive Grazing: The Grassroots of Grass Farming, available from Green Park Press.

A rotational grazing management plan need not be complex. It merely has to direct the grazing animal to eat when and where you want them to in order to keep the plants in their growing (vegetative) stage. The basic principles of rotational grazing management include:

1. proper timing of grazing (corresponding to plant physiological stage)
2. proper intensity of grazing (duration on the pasture)
3. residue or plant height after grazing

In order to efficiently utilize the dry matter available a rotational grazing system should be implemented. Rotational grazing allows for more effective forage utilization by increasing herd size on smaller paddocks, thereby decreasing grazing selectivity and giving the farmer more control on what and when the livestock eat.

It is important to allow the pasture plants to get to sufficient height prior to turning the cattle onto the pasture. By waiting until the grass is 5 to 10 inches high, depending on species, the roots have become well developed and the plants can handle defoliation. Grazing intensity, or duration, can be taken care of by designing a suitable rotational grazing system. Rotational grazing, as the name implies, involves moving the cattle periodically from pasture or paddock to paddock. For instance, a good rule of thumb is to split a pasture into 10 or more paddocks with electric wire or electric tape, and stock each paddock heavily for a short amount of time. By doing this you are forcing the cattle to eat all that’s there, including weedy plants they might otherwise not eat. However, before the animals eat the plants to the ground, you move them to the next pasture. This takes into account the third principle. It’s important to leave several inches of grass to allow adequate leaf area for subsequent regrowth. Depending on the species, you will need to leave from 2 to 6 inches of plant stubble at moving time. An 11-paddock rotational grazing system that allows animals to graze each pasture for 3 days will give each paddock 30 days of rest. Most grasses will need 15 to 50 days of rest between grazing events to allow adequate regrowth, depending on season, moisture, and plant type.

Overgrazing. It is important to remember that overgrazing is not really a function of how many animals are on a pasture, but how long they remain there. In grazing management, time is the most important factor to consider in establishing a sustainable grazing system. Continuous grazing allows livestock to selectively graze the most palatable plants over and over. The problem with this isn’t necessarily in the selective grazing, but in the fact that the grazed plant does not get the time to regrow before it is grazed again. New growth is more palatable and contains more nutrients than older growth, so animals will come back for a second and third bite as long as they are in the pasture. A grazing system should allow the animal to be in the pasture long enough to take only that first bite. Frequent movement from pasture to pasture is a way to ensure that all plants have ample time to re-grow after grazing. In addition, for pastures with adequate water during the growing season, a very high stock density encourages animals to graze the pasture more uniformly than if the pasture was lightly stocked. In this situation the “weedy” species are being grazed at the same intensity as the “good” species.

Managing for Drought. Drought is a natural ecosystem process. The concept of an “average” or “normal” precipitation or temperature is a fabrication that humans use to try to understand complex systems and attempt to predict behaviors and outcomes. Whether in a humid zone or an arid environment, a producer will experience relative wet and dry years. Dealing with the dry years is a real challenge to livestock operations that rely on water to grow the plants and recharge the aquifers and streams that feed the animals. Having a drought plan is a very important component of a well-thought out farm or ranch management plan.

A drought-management option that deserves serious consideration is for a producer to maintain cow numbers at 75 percent of carrying capacity for “normal” years, and utilize the extra forage in wet years for high value animals such as stockers. In dry years the pastures will be better able to accommodate current cow numbers. Another option is to slow down rotations during dry years, thereby allowing more paddock or pasture rest time. This option can be effective especially when the herd is split between different pastures to minimize the impact on drought stressed plants.



Permalink What information can you give me about applying for the Renewable Energy Systems and Energy Efficiency Improvements Program?



The website has very good information on the Renewable Energy Systems and Energy Efficiency Improvements Program. It is often called the Section 9006 Program and has been renamed the Renewable Energy Assistance Program (REAP) in the new Farm Bill.

Also very helpful is the state of Iowa's website for this program:

The main USDA website is

ATTRA's Farm Bill Section 9006 informational paper (PDF/67KB) includes links to:

-A simplified grant application template (for projects < $200,000).

-A full grant application template (for projects >$200,000).

-The technical worksheets

-Technical report guidelines for both small and large solar projects (including solar water-heating)


To be eligible as an agricultural producer, you must be directly engaged in agricultural production and derive at least 50% of your gross income from agricultural operations.

To be eligible as a rural small business, you must meet the size standards at

Loan guarantees are also available for up to 50% of eligible project costs. You can apply for both a grant and a loan.

The full application process (projects >$200,000) is MUCH more complicated, and requires a feasibility study.



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