Liz Sarno, Linwood, Nebraska – 23rd of June 2015

Liz farms with her partner Larry in the rolling hills of Nebraska.

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Liz is an organic farmer and farms Devon cows and goats in the very windy and usually dry hills around Abie, Nebraska. Her partner Larry is a small grains farmer from just down the road and he is also organic. Liz used to work in the local extension office running their organic program but now works only on the farm.

In the morning we went to see Larry’s organic crops. Larry farms his crops in strips and now grows wheat and soya beans

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The idea of the strips is to get the edge effects that has been talked about before and also to encourage pollinators. The strips are then rotated every year

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Larry had just been cultivating his soya beans. Below is what they look like before cultivating

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Larry does not do any weed control in his wheat and it is remarkably clean. He does not need to use any artificial N or even organic N to achieve good yields. He has interseeded his wheat with clover. He will also plant a cover crop if possible and has been for 25 years.

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They have been trialling a few things and the first is a flame weeder. They have teamed up with a NASA engineer and have come up with the below weeder which is quick and efficient.

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Liz tells me that Larry is into Heavy Metal, he basically loves his equipment and tillage. She has been getting him to try new methods and he has reduced his tillage by 50%. One of the things they have been trying is roller crimping triticale then planting in soya beans. They have a trial plot where they are testing different varieties of triticale and also different killing dates.

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They are also testing the effects on soil moisture which can be low in this dry environment

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One things I noticed on their farms were that there was lots of noise from insects and birds and other wildlife. Their farm was buzzing. The next thing Larry showed me was shocking. The creek below has eroded so much that now it is about 15m deep

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Larry’s grandmother used to cross this creek in a horse and cart. So in a hundred years they have lost all that soil. This is quite a brittle environment and the soil erosion in the area is horrific. Below is a field of corn which is tilled and has no residue or contour waterways and so when it rains the soil just washes off

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This field is so badly eroded that the sprayer can no longer cross the gulley in the middle of the field as it is too deep. The soil management in some parts of America that I have seen is truly appalling. Their needs to be some drastic action as they are losing soil at a terrible rate.

In the afternoon we looked around Liz’s farm and her livestock. Liz breeds Red Devon cattle which are a breed that nearly disappeared from America. She has got semen before from NZ but can not import from the UK due to Foot and Mouth, that was 15 years ago!

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They were some beautiful cattle and have never been fed grain. She also keeps goats on the farm. She used to have pastured poultry but not anymore. Liz has just put up a new hoop barn.

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The idea of the barn is to give shelter to the forage bales and also some shelter to the animals if the winter gets bad. Normally the cows would stay outside.

Later in the afternoon we went to visit Doug at Branched Oak Farm, http://www.branchedoakfarm.com Doug does organic Jersey dairy and makes cheeses, cream and sells milk also. They are just about to open a restaurant too in Lincoln. He also had young interns on the farm who were starting their own enterprises. It was a small farm but there was lots going on and Doug must be the most relaxed, contented person I have ever met.

After this visit we went back to Liz’s and I got packed and drove here to Brookings South Dakota, a short 4 1/2 hour drive. Many thanks to Liz and Larry for their hospitality. They were two very passionate people about their farm and farming and had so many more ideas of what new things to try on their farm. I really enjoyed the day and evening with them. Hopefully I might see them in England if they come again

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