Natalina Sents, a recent Iowa State graduate in ag business, has been crisscrossing the country as part of a yearlong project sharing farmers’ stories on a blog, whyifarm.com. The project, funded by Beck’s Hybrids seed company of Indiana, has brought Sents to the World Ag Expo.
Sents is a presenter at the expo and is scouting for farmers to interview. She’s posted 68 stories on the blog so far and plans to do several more in California.
She says she’s learned much about farmers, their lives and their families. While many are humble and proud, they also have deep feelings about what they do.
“I have talked to some very strong men, whose families have not seen them cry for a very long time, if ever,” she said. “They get emotional when you ask them what it means to have their children work next to them on the same soil.”
Sents is hoping the public watches the videos and reads the blogs to gain a better understanding of farmers.
“Farmers are motivated by something bigger than themselves, whether it’s carrying on the family legacy, their connection to the environment, or wanting to make a contribution to the world,” Sents said. “No one has ever told me they want to farm because it will make them rich and famous.”
Sents will wrap up the blog project in May, but plans to continue telling farmers’ stories on her own.
Pitching Chinese dairy equipment
When it comes to attracting dairy farmers, there is no better place than the World Ag Expo. Centered in Tulare County, the nation’s most productive milk producer in the nation, the expo is the place to show off the newest dairy equipment and technology.
“This is why we travel from China to show the U.S. dairy companies what our company has to offer,” said Linda Gong, key account manager for Terrui, a Shanghai-based maker of dairy equipment.
The company provides a wide range of equipment from foot baths for dairy cows to a new system for drinking water. Unlike conventional open troughs, Terrui sells an enclosed trough that circulates water so the cows are always drinking fresh water.
Gong said the system has been adopted by many Chinese dairy farmers, whose numbers are growing. She said the Chinese consumer is increasingly buying high-quality milk products. And a growing Chinese dairy industry is trying to keep up with demand.
“We have dairies that have 100 to 200 cows to as big as 10,000 cows,” Gong said. “And they are also looking for the latest technology to help them be more efficient and save water.”
Gong said this is the third year the company has exhibited at the expo and has been pleased with the results.
“Our main market is in China, but we are doing more and more exporting,” she said.
Keeping the soil healthy
Not every tool or technology seen at the World Ag Expo reflects what happens above the ground. Sometimes it’s what’s in the dirt that matters most. Farmers and scientists have been taking a renewed interest in how to maintain healthy soil. And several vendors at the expo had tools and equipment to help farmers do that.
One of the trends in farming these days is to reduce the amount of tilling a farmer does. The idea is that the less the soil is disrupted, the greater the possibility for healthy organisms to thrive in the dirt. A healthier soil promotes stronger root growth and can hold water better, saving both water and chemical fertilizers.
At California Ag Solutions in Madera, the company has created a piece of tilling equipment for corn silage that only digs up one-third of the surface it covers, leaving the rest of the ground alone.
“We have seen farmers reduce their water use by 20 percent while also improving their tonnage and quality of silage,” said Cary Crum, a crop consultant for California Ag Solutions.
That matters, Crum said, because higher-quality silage is easier for cows to digest, allowing the cow to produce more milk.
“What we like to say is that everything is connected, from the soil to the milk tank,” Crum said.
Also helping to improve the soil are the makers of a compost tea. Growing Solutions, based in Eugene, Ore., has a proprietary system that produces a liquid fertilizer, known as Syntrophy, by steeping a specially blended compost material. The company sells brewing systems for everyone from the home gardener to the commercial grower.
“The idea is to add microorganisms and nutrient value back into the soil,” said Susan Kelly Mitchell, director of client services for Growing Solutions.
Mitchell said an increasing number of growers, both organic and conventional, have begun adopting programs to create a more beneficial environment for helpful microorganisms.
“What we are looking for is to create a system in the soil where everything is working together,” Mitchell said.
A healthy plant is better able to resist pests and disease, allowing the grower to apply fewer farm chemicals, she said.