Are you a member of Practical Farmers of Iowa? When you join PFI, you become part of a network of innovative farmers and supporters who share their knowledge freely and believe in sustainable solutions to agricultural challenges.
Mark Peterson is the PFI board president. He and wife Melanie own and operate Bent Gate Farms, raising corn, soybeans and small grains near Stanton in southwest Iowa. “I’m a member of Practical Farmers because I love the sense of community,” he says, “regardless of what kind of farm a PFI member has, they are willing to share their farming experiences that help me to make decisions on my farm that are economically and environmentally sound.”
While sharing production knowledge through on-farm trials and field days is important, building that sense of community is at the heart of what PFI does. As farm numbers have declined over the last few decades, neighbors have become farther apart. Sometimes you have to travel a bit farther for that close-knit community that we value as Iowans. At PFI, we truly are growing more than crops; we grow the friendships, families and communities farmers need to thrive.
Cover up: Don’t farm naked
Peterson says aside from getting to interact with and learn from all different types of farmers, the most important change he’s made in his operation has been the addition of cover crops. “All farmers would like to improve their farms for various reasons,” he notes, “and by the farm-to-farm sharing of research Practical Farmers does, these members are able to improve on their own farming techniques.”
He adds, “I realized with our current farming practices at that time, we were allowing too many of our resources to wash away with the major rain events that seem to be more common all the time.” Today, T-shirts with the “Don’t Farm Naked” slogan promoting cover crops are popular at PFI field days.
Peterson has learned a lot from other farmers through field days, conference sessions and research reports on how he can use cover crops on his farm. “I plant cover crops so we can keep our soil and nutrients on our farm where they belong, and don’t send them to the Gulf of Mexico.” You can find lots of resources, the results of on-farm trials, articles, webinars, fact sheets, recommendations and more at practicalfarmers.org/cover-crops.
They are practical things like this that you learn from being a member. And even if you don’t grow row crops, or you’re interested in trying a different farming enterprise, there are lots of members sharing their time and knowledge to help you get started.
Support for diversifying
Ann Franzenburg owns and operates Pheasant Run Farm with her husband, Eric, near Van Horne in eastern Iowa. In addition to raising corn and soybeans, they have a diversified operation that raises fruit, vegetables and cut flowers. “It doesn’t matter what your farm operation is like, I like the fact we can all work on what’s best for our farm and still have friendly conversations even if we have differing opinions on how to be profitable.”
She adds, “I belong to several farming organizations, and PFI is the only farming organization that truly listens to what its members are curious about.” One of her favorite Practical Farmers activities is the Cooperators’ Meeting in December. PFI members conducting on-farm research get together to discuss their results from the year and plan for the next year. “The staff gives us the structure to do that, and the knowledge and expertise to interpret the data we collect on our farms.”
Why should you join? “It’s a great way to meet people from a wide variety of backgrounds,” says Franzenburg. Meeting these people with different ideas can show you that you can do things differently on your farm and succeed. “On our farm, we do a lot of weird things, and sometimes you feel like you’re the lone voice crying in the wilderness,” she says, “but then you get together with people at a PFI social or the annual conference and you feel like, ‘yeah, these are my people, I am home.’”
Practical Farmers is a member-based organization and farmer-led. As a member, you get to determine the direction of the organization. Visit practicalfarmers.org/join to become a member today.
PFI membership benefits
Practical Farmers of Iowa offers a number of membership benefits:
• subscription to The Practical Farmer, a quarterly newsletter filled with informative articles on a range of ag topics, member profiles, research reports, notices of events and development opportunities, book reviews, and more
• access to lively, members-only email discussion groups, where you can pose questions and share information with other members
• discount to PFI’s well-attended, information-packed annual conference each January
• option to participate in the Cooperators’ Program and receive support from PFI to design and execute an on-farm research project
• eligibility for special PFI programs, such as a Savings Incentive Program and Labor4Learning Program (These programs help beginning farmers get access to capital and skills they need to get started farming.)
• opportunities to find new markets for your farm products
• funding or cost assistance to attend certain non-PFI events (In 2014, PFI held over 200 events. Those included on-farm research trials, online webinars, on-farm field days, annual conference sessions, a beginning farmer retreat, several in-depth workshops and much more.)
• opportunity to network with experienced farmers who sincerely want to help you succeed
• being part of a strong 30-year-old organization that believes farmers are the top priority in agriculture
Options for membership
A membership costs $50 per year for individuals. A farm or household membership cost $60 per year, where all household family members and farm employees can join under one membership for just $60 annually.
For a student in an ag-related course of study, it’s only $20 to join. Joining PFI creates an opportunity for young people to connect with a network of farmers, especially if they’re at Iowa State University in Ames, where the PFI office is located.
And lifetime members pay $1,000 and never have to worry about renewal or missing information from PFI again.
Ohde writes for Practical Farmers of Iowa in Ames.