SA Newsletter Feb 2001

Sustainable Agriculture Newsletter

Sustainable Agriculture Newsletter Header

Sustainable Agriculture Newsletters Archive

College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences
Volume 9, Issue 2 – February 2001

Do you have a story you would like featured in the Sustainable Agriculture newsletter? Send your submission to and we’ll consider adding it to an upcoming newsletter.

Red River Valley farmers use many strategies to cope with financial stress

Postponing machinery purchases was the most frequent financial adjustment Red River Valley farmers used from 1994-98 to cope with the area’s economic and production shocks.

Other adjustments included reducing family living and other nonfarm expenses, reducing operating expenses by hiring custom operators and investing in off-farm value-added ventures, according to a newly released University of Minnesota study by economists Glenn Pederson and William Lazarus.

The study is based on questionnaires mailed to 400 crop farmers in northwestern Minnesota and northeastern North Dakota in February 1999. Responses were received from 185 farmers, a 46 percent response rate. In addition, farmers in the study volunteered their farm business record information.

“We tried to identify strategies that Red River Valley farmers have used to improve farm survival by analyzing farm business records and farmer survey data,” Pederson says. “The current financial stress of Red River Valley farmers is basically an income problem, but it has its roots in several aspects of the farm business, including production, marketing and financing.”

    Other study highlights:
  • Off-farm employment opportunities are a significant factor in improving farm survival in the Red River Valley region.
  • Over half of the farmers had re-negotiated their land rental agreement during 1994-98. In addition, 20 percent of the farmers had gone through a loan reamortization, a debt deferral or a general financial restructuring and about 20 percent had received an emergency loan at one time during the period.
  • Many farmers said they typically sell grain without a contract (wait until after harvest to price their grain). About 49 percent of the 1998 grain crop was marketed without a contract.
  • The level of financial and production management skills was a factor in determining which Valley farmers experienced less variability in financial performance. The level of management skills was also a factor in determining which farmers experienced greater uncertainty about the sustainability of their farm businesses.

Financial support was provided by the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA) at the University of Minnesota. The study, “Farm Sustainability and Survival in Minnesota’s Red River Valley,” is available at Pederson may be reached at (612) 625-7028, or

New publication helps you take control of hog production system

A new 84-page guide to help you explore alternatives for hog production is now available through the University of Minnesota Extension Service.

Titled “Hogs Your Way,” it was developed to assist farmers considering adding or changing a hog production system. It covers options for keeping your operation profitable and environmentally friendly, regardless of size. There are profiles on large- and small-scale hog farmers who are successfully using Swedish deep-straw farrowing, pasture farrowing, hoop house finishing or confinement farrowing and finishing.

There’s also a list of programs, organizations, and other sources of additional information. This publication was developed jointly by the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture at the College of Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Sciences, and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Energy and Sustainable Agriculture Program, in cooperation with the University of Minnesota Extension Service.

It’s available for $5 plus sales tax and shipping charges from the University of Minnesota Extension Service Distribution Center, (800) 876-8636, or Ask for item number 7641. Call the MISA office, (800) 909-6472, for more information.

Hog producers sought for U of M study on toxoplasmosis

Hog producers with open-air facilities such as hoop structures, pasture systems or Cargill units are needed for a University of Minnesota study that has major significance for human health.

College of Veterinary Medicine researchers at the U of M are studying the “Toxoplasma gondii” parasite. Pregnant women, people with the HIV virus or those undergoing chemotherapy are particularly vulnerable to the parasite, says Wayne Martin, coordinator of the Alternative Swine Production Systems program at the U of M Toxoplasmosis in food animals has the potential for transmission to humans by consumption of inadequately cooked meat, and the subsequent risk of prenatal infections.

Toxoplasmosis may cause stillbirths, abortions, early infant mortality, blindness and crippling in children. About 30 to 40 percent of U.S. adults have the antibody to the parasite, but very few have symptoms since the immune system usually keeps the parasite from causing illness.

There are three primary ways of transmission to humans: Pregnant women when first infected can pass the infection to the baby; humans can accidentally swallow material from soil or other surfaces contaminated with infected cat feces; or they can eat raw or partially cooked meat (pork, lamb or venison) containing tissue cysts.

Surveys have shown that non-clinical infections with “T. gondii” are widespread in U.S. pigs, with estimates of three percent of market pigs and 18 percent of breeding stock with positive serum samples. The parasitic infection persists in pigs despite good quality management procedures.

Among food animals, pigs are the major source of human infection. Hogs can become infected by eating feed contaminated by cats, or by eating other infected hosts such as dead rodents in hog pens.

Cats are the main host problem since all developmental stages of “T. gondii” occur in them, but not in other species. Cats can only spread toxoplasma in their feces for a few weeks after they are first infected (generally by eating an infected rodent or bird).

For more information or to participate in the study, contact Wayne Martin at (877) 258-4647, Your participation is confidential.

Report says there are too many antibiotics in U.S. farm animals

Around 70 percent of all antibiotics made in the United States end up in chickens, pigs and cows, risking a high tolerance level that would render them useless in humans, a group of researchers said in a report.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) stressed in a recent report that some 11,200 tons of antibiotics are fed each year to perfectly healthy farm animals as a health precaution—an amount 50 percent greater than the livestock industry’s estimate for all animal uses.

The UCS report said the level of antibiotics administered to farm animals was eight times higher than that used in human medicine—1,300 tons a year. Health authorities have already warned of the danger of such widespread use of antibiotics, stressing that it makes disease-causing bacteria more resistant to medical treatment.

“The meat industry’s share of the antibiotic-resistance problem has been ignored for too long,” said UCS member Margaret Mellon in the report. “Antibiotics are a precious resource and should be used in animals only when necessary,” she added.

The use of antibiotics in farm animals has grown from 7,200 tons in the 1980s to the current 11,200 tons, the UCS said. “The excessive use of antibiotics by the livestock industry is sobering,” said Charles Benbrook, an independent economist and co-author of the report. “Feeding antibiotics to animals from birth to slaughter may modestly improve meat industry profits, but it puts everyone’s health at risk,” he added.

For more information, contact David Wallinga at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), (612) 870-0453, (Article source: Agence France Presse, Jan. 9, 2001)

SARE producer grant proposals due March 30

The North Central Region for USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program has allocated $350,000 for the 2001 producer grant program. Upper limits are $5,000 for individual farmers and ranchers, and $15,000 for groups of three or more independent and separate operations.

You’re encouraged to apply whether you’re just beginning the transition to a more sustainable operation, or have already incorporated some sustainable practices and wish to implement more changes. But you need to get started now—the final deadline for applications is March 30, 2001

Producers are invited to submit proposals that test, evaluate and adapt sustainable agriculture practices for their operations. Examples include conducting learning circles, educational events, field days or demonstrations and developing new technologies or modifying equipment. Applicants must identify specific problems and potential solutions.

During the first nine years of the program, 333 grants were awarded to producers studying topics such as rotational grazing, livestock systems, crop production systems, urban and rural waste management, weed control, alternative uses for CRP land, biological weed and pest control, organic farming, marketing, quality of life, water quality and soil conservation.

For more information, go to the SARE website at, or call (402) 472-0809.

Wes Jackson to speak at SFA annual conference Feb. 24

Wes Jackson will be the keynote speaker at the 10th annual statewide conference of the Sustainable Farming Association (SFA) of Minnesota Feb. 24, 2001 at St. John’s University in Collegeville. Jackson has authored several books and is president of the Land Institute, founded in 1976.

The conference topic is “Building Healthy Communities: Soils, Plants, Animals, People and Economics.” Registration is from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., followed by Jackson’s keynote address.

In the afternoon there will be four breakout sessions where farmer and researcher teams discuss components of healthy communities. Teams and topics are:

  • John Fisher-Merritt, operator of the Food Farm in Duluth, with nutritionist Barbara Adams on human health and its interrelationship with soil, crops and livestock.
  • Farmers Ralph Lentz, beef grazier from Lake City, and Art Thicke, dairy grazier from La Crescent, with DNR biologist Larry Gates on connections between grazing animals and healthy streams and aquatic life.
  • U of M researcher Christopher Iremonger with Jeff Riesgraf, organic dairy farmer from Jordon, on the impact of sustainable farming systems on water quality.
  • Economic consultant Gigi DiGiacomo with Dave Minar, dairy grazier from New Prague, on sharing financial monitoring information; and with Dan Struxness, grazier from Appleton and Tim Radermacher, farm business management instructor from Montevideo, on benefits of financial monitoring and planning.

For more information, contact DeEtta Bilek, (218) 445-5475,

Calendar of events, 2001

Feb. 8-9 Minnesota Organic Conference, St. Cloud Civic Center. Call Doug or Janet Gunnink, (507) 237-5162,

Feb. 10 Annual meeting, South Central Chapter, SFA of Minnesota, First Baptist Church in Clarks Grove. Program starts at 9:30 a.m. featuring Dick and Sharon Thompson; afternoon trade show. Call (507) 256-4876.

Feb. 23 The Practice of Restoring Native Ecosystems, Bunker Hills Regional Park, Andover, Minn. Sponsors include the National Arbor Day Foundation. Call (888) 448-7337, or check the Internet at

Feb. 24 Annual Statewide conference, SFA of Minnesota, St. John’s University, Collegeville. Morning keynote speaker is Wes Jackson, president of The Land Institute. Contact DeEtta Bilek, (218) 445-5475,, or see The Land website under events at (Detailed article above)

March 15-17 Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference, LaCrosse, Wis. Call (608) 734-3349.

March 15 & 29. Commercial Fruit Processing Workshops, Wadena, 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on both dates. Call Mike Demchik, (218) 894-5196,

About this newsletter…

For the past year we’ve been funded by the Minnesota Extension Service and the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA) with support from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

We’re always looking for story ideas. Send them to the editor: Jack Sperbeck, 405 Coffey Hall, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108, (612) 625-1794. E-mail: Other editorial board members: Helene Murray (612) 625-0220,; Tom Wegner (612) 374-8400,; and Bill Wilcke (612) 625-8205,

Our mission statement: To help bring people together to influence the future of agriculture and rural communities to achieve socially, environmentally and economically sustainable farms and communities.

The University of Minnesota is committed to the policy that all persons shall have equal access to its programs, facilities, and employment without regard to race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, disability, public assistance status, veteran status, or sexual orientation.