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Yesterday the Bizarre Foods program on the Travel Channel showed the world how LivingGreens was a revolutionary feeding system for pigs. Andrew Zimmern, host of the Bizarre Foods program, spent almost half of the his Iowa episode showing how Carl Blake of Rustik Farms has brought to market the highest quality pork in the nation. Zimmern interviewed All Season Greens president David Oberst to learn how LivingGreens provides the optimal diet for Rustik Rooster’s pigs. Here is a link to a segment http://www.travelchannel.com/video/iowas-edible-green-mats
Tune in to the Travel Channel on February 25th to see All Season Greens President, David Oberst, on Bizarre Foods with Host, Andrew Zimmern on a hog farm in Iowa.
We now have a blog! Discuss important topics with us at allseasongreens.blogspot.com
Tune in to the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods show on February 25th, 2013 to see the president of our company and our hydroponic growing chamber in action on a hog farm!
See our Testimonials page to see the new testimonial from a horse farm in Oklahoma.
Dake grows plenty of feed despite drought
Missouri dairyman pleased with his six hydroponic chambers
By Ron Johnson
NORWOOD. Mo. – It’s been dry in south-central Missouri. But dairyman Rick Dake doesn’t worry much about lack of rain these days.
That’s because his 100-cow farm near Norwood, in Wright County, no longer depends on rain to grow its crops. Instead, Dake Farms sprouts seeds in six hydroponic chambers and feeds the resulting sprouts and greens to its cattle.
“I do not buy any feed now. I started with this last June (2011), out of necessity, because feed prices went up,” Dake said.
He considered buying more land, but decided that was not a viable option.
“Land has gone up to about $2,000 an acre here,” he said. “It used to be $500 to $800 an acre. I just couldn’t justify buying more land at $2,000 an acre with grain and milk prices where they are.”
While searching for an alternative to adding land to produce feed on his 150-acre farm that’s on top of the Ozark Mountains, he discovered this hydroponic system. Dake saw a unit, brought it home to his farm, and ended up with six.
Each growing chamber starts out as a semi trailer. Then, a company called All Season Greens adds insulation, a second set of doors, heat, grow lights and a watering system. The lights, heat and water are controlled by a computer.
A chamber is 22 feet long, 8.5 feet wide and 10.5 feet high. Inside are six rows of trays. Seeds are placed in the trays, to sprout. After six days in the climate-controlled conditions, a tray is full of young, succulent plants, five to six inches tall. It’s these plants that Dake feeds his cattle.
Alternatively, he can sprout seeds for just three days. Those sprouts provide more dry matter and come in at about 81 percent digestible energy and 16 to 18 percent protein.
Six days is about the longest the young plants get by in their trays. By that time they’ve used most all the energy that was in the seeds, so they’d need added nutrients to grow any more.
Once a tray is empty, it’s rotated to a back row for reseeding. Meanwhile, trays with seeds already growing are moved closer to the front.
Many kinds of seeds can be sprouted and grown in the chambers. Dake prefers barley as a base.
“Barley seems to have the best nutritional value, as far as protein and energy,” Dake said.
He has also sprouted wheat, but the young plants contain more protein and less energy than barley. Dake has also tried rye, corn, and yellow peas.
Dake uses ordinary, untreated seed – about 7.5 pounds of seed per tray. He figures 50 pounds of seed will produce 1,000 pounds of greens.
Besides seed, another expense is electricity. Dake said that runs $2 per day, per chamber, or $12 a day for his farm.
The chambers can sit outside, but Dake has his in an old hay barn that has been insulated. They’re on a floor that’s heated by water from an outdoor wood-burning furnace.
As the old saying goes, the proof is in the pudding – or, in this case, in the bulk tank.
A year ago, when he began experimenting with sprouts and greens, Dake used four cows as an experimental group. He fed them these greens, along with vitamins and minerals.
That quartet of cows did very well, Dake said. “They gave just a little bit less milk than when I was feeding a lot of grain, but my feed costs are so much less. It was the most profitable summer I’d ever had, so I just continued to expand on that.”
The greens and sprouts are fed by hauling them about 50 feet to a wooden bunk feeder. Dake’s cows dig right into the feed, which resembles a green mat made of young plants.
This growing system takes maybe an hour of labor a day, per chamber, not counting the feeding. Dake often hires a few high school boys to clean equipment and reseed.
At $60,000 per chamber, it’s not an inexpensive way to farm. But, he said, “Each unit will produce 180 tons of feed. With typical farm production, it would take about 100 acres to produce an equal amount of feed.”
Besides not having to buy more land, Dake cut out a lot of machinery and fuel costs. Plus, he was able to sell some tractors, since he no longer needed them.
Slightly lower milk production aside, Dake said, “I’ve made more money per cow, per day, than I ever have.” He added that he expects a chamber to pay for itself in 24 to 30 months.
He has also seen fewer health problems in his cattle, but he’s not ready to give all the credit to the new ration. He said his cows did not come down with even one case of mastitis. Instead, he said the dry conditions likely played a role.
Dake became so interested in this version of hydroponics that he bought one percent of All Season Greens.
“It’s a meaningless number,” he said. “But to me, as a farmer, I want to know all about the business, from one end to the other. What does it all cost? What improvements can we make? I wanted to have a voice in that end of it.”
Dake is working on a way reuse the water from his hydroponic farming. Collectively, his six chambers use about 1,200 gallons of water a day. “Since we’re in a drought, we don’t want to feel like we’re wasting water,” he said. For now, the used water flows into a tank for his cattle to drink.
These hydroponic chambers might not work well on every dairy farm, Dake acknowledged. At around 500 cows or so, the labor required might become an insurmountable obstacle.
“But for (smaller) family farms, I think these hydroponic chambers are perfect,” he said. “I would certainly rather have them than an additional piece of land – especially this year. Additional land really wouldn’t make us any money this year.”
Dake said the initial price tag of a hydroponic chamber might dissuade some farmers from trying one. However, he added, “I know they’re $60,000 apiece, but that’s not a big number compared to a tractor, plow and combine.”
The more days that slip past without bringing rain, the happier the farmer is with his hydroponic setup.
He said, “This summer has been the worst we’ve ever had, and the hottest and driest summer in 50 years. For once in my life, I look smarter than I am, because I looked into this (type of farming) last year and was in the right spot. It’s kind of a lifesaver to not have to worry about rain.”
For more information about the hydroponic chambers Dake uses, go to: allseasongreens.com. Dake invites interested farmers to telephone him at 417-257-5578 .
In nearly six decades of running a dairy in central California, Mary Cameron made a name for herself in a male-dominated industry: She led several dairy organizations and was honored as Outstanding Dairy Producer of the Year.
But the 82-year-old Cameron — who still drives a tractor and supervises her Hanford dairy — is on the brink of losing her life’s work. She can no longer pay the bills. Her bank has classified her loan as distressed. And she can’t afford enough feed for her 900 milking cows and 1,000 heifers.
“I have been in this business for 57 years and I have never been in financial trouble like I am right now,” said Cameron, who runs the Atsma-Cameron Dairy with her two sons. “I’m on the verge of bankruptcy. It’s horrible and inexcusable.”
Cameron is not alone. Across California, the nation’s largest dairy state, dozens of dairy operators large and small have filed for bankruptcy in recent months and many teeter on the edge of insolvency. Others have sold their herds or sent them to slaughter and given up on the business.
Experts say California dairymen face a double whammy: exorbitant feed costs and lower milk prices. The Midwest drought has led to corn and soybean costs increasing by more than 50 percent this summer, stressing dairymen from Wisconsin and Minnesota to Missouri. But in California, milk prices have also lagged behind those in the rest of the nation, exacerbating the crisis.
And while milk revenues in California have soared to
over $7.5 billion in 2011, making milk the top agricultural commodity, higher revenues mean little, famers say, because it costs so much more to produce the milk.
“I don’t think there’s a milk producer in the state who is profitable right now,” said Michael Marsh, CEO of Western United Dairymen.
Since 2008, California has lost nearly 300 dairies, with 1,668 remaining as of January, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture. There are no official estimates on how many dairies have shuttered in 2012 — but interviews with dairymen and experts indicate several hundred dairies could be in danger of going under.
“It’s been like a floodgate,” said Riley Walter, a Fresno-based agricultural bankruptcy lawyer who has worked on 58 cases of dairies in financial trouble this past year — from bankruptcies, to liquidations, to operations taken over by receivers.
“Recently, I had two men over 60 years old who broke down and sobbed in court,” Walter said. “You would be surprised how much these men care about their cows.”
At the Overland Stock Yard in Hanford, owner Peter Belezzuoli said he sees two to three dairymen selling their entire herd every month, compared to about four per year before the crisis. More cows are being sold for slaughter, he said. And the value of dairy cattle has plummeted by as much as 50 percent in the past five years.
“It’s no different than the housing industry, where people lost all the equity,” he said. “People have the same cow, but now it doesn’t have the same value.”
Economists say milk and feed prices always fluctuate — but it’s the margin between the two that counts, and how far apart the thin years are.
Only three years ago, falling milk prices forced many dairymen to go under. The current crisis, dairymen say, came too quickly. Many still have unpaid loans, have exhausted their equity, and can’t get new loans.
For Cameron, who grew up washing barns and feeding cows, costs of production vastly surpass revenues. She’s losing $40,000 every month, she said.
Her parents emigrated from Holland in the 1920’s and started a dairy in California’s Central Valley. After college, Cameron followed in their footsteps: Her office wall is filled with awards and news articles touting her successful dairy career.
Today, Cameron owes $7.5 million to her banks and creditors, and has run out of cash for feed. To make ends meet, she has sold cows for beef and fed her herd less grain — but that means milk production is down and so is revenue.
Cameron recently saw a bankruptcy lawyer and may have to sell her entire herd and dairy.
“It just makes me sad,” Cameron said. “This is a world I love, this is my life.”
For her woes, Cameron blames state officials’ decision to keep milk prices lower than those in other states.
California has had its own milk pricing system for dairy since the 1930’s, separate from that operated by the federal government in other states. The California Department of Food and Agriculture sets minimum prices that must be paid to farmers in the state for five classes of milk.
In recent years, California’s prices tended to be lower than in other states. In 2011 and 2012, California’s price for milk used to make cheese was frequently $2 or more lower per hundredweight of milk than in the rest of the nation.
CDFA spokesman Steve Lyle said the reason for lower prices is that milk supply exceeds demand in California.
The glut forces California producers to sell much of their milk to makers of products such as cheese, which pays much less than selling milk for drinking. And since much of the milk is sold out of state, the price farmers receive is lower to reflect higher transportation costs.
Several dairy organizations filed suit in August, alleging that CDFA failed to follow the law when it refused to increase the minimum price of milk sold for cheese to bring it in line with prices around the country.
Economists say the market itself will lift prices: as more dairymen go out of business, fewer cows will produce less milk, which in turn will lead prices to go up.
For Cameron, higher prices would mean she could keep her dairy. When she dies, she wants her children to scatter her ashes in the corrals.
“That’s where I belong,” she said, “…that’s where I’ve been all my life.”
By GOSIA WOZNIACKA/Associated Press