Tag: Whole-Farm Approach

What is Integrated Pest Management?
The Farm

What is Integrated Pest Management?

What is Integrated Pest Management?Integrated pest management (IPM) is a difficult concept to define because of its complexity. The idea is to use multiple tactics, both proactive and reactive, to keep crop damage below the economic injury level (EIL).


Proactive Tactics

Much of IPM focuses on preventing pests from becoming a major problem in the first place:

  • Keeping growing conditions sanitary.
  • Attracting beneficial insects.
  • Promoting a healthy soil.
  • Removing pest habitats.
  • Tilling and rotating crops to disrupt the life cycle of pests.
  • Raising plants adapted to the climate and resistant to pests.
  • Altering planting dates to avoid times when infestation is likely.
  • Putting physical pest barriers around vulnerable crops.

The next key feature of IPM involves monitoring plants closely to assess current pest levels and types. The producer may use sticky traps or sweep nets to catch insects to count and identify. He may also observe the plants themselves to check for damage. Monitoring goes hand in hand with keeping good records, not just of pests, but of soil and weather conditions, and other factors that may affect plant health.


Reactive Tactics

If pest numbers climb above acceptable levels, the producer will use his knowledge of the pest’s species, life cycle, and current population to choose a control strategy. The general idea is to use the least toxic control method first.

Control methods vary widely:

  • Hand picking.
  • Vacuuming.
  • Introduction of predators.
  • Introduction of diseases fatal to the pest species.
  • Introduction of sterile male pests to disrupt the breeding cycle.
  • Insect growth regulators.
  • Both chemical and biorational (natural) pesticides.

Many IPM programs also use similar monitoring and control methods to keep weeds and crop diseases in check.



The main advantage of IPM is that it tends to fit well with the whole-farm approach, working with nature to avoid major infestations. On the other hand, it does require the producer to spend considerable time monitoring plants, keeping records, and researching insect pests.

Of course, there are many variations on IPM, but a well-constructed IPM program will always have these three principles in place:

  1. A combination of pest-prevention techniques.
  2. A system of plant monitoring and record keeping.
  3. A control strategy that seeks to use the least toxic method possible.


Helpful Resources

Biointensive Integrated Pest Management
A free introduction to the theory behind IPM.

A Whole-Farm Approach to Managing Pests
This bulletin presents many creative solutions and success stories. Good way to get started thinking proactively.

Integrated Pest Management for Greenhouse Crops
This free guide is a little more practical than the ones above. Although written with greenhouse crops in view, it can also give you an idea of how IPM can work in other areas of farming.

The Farm Journal
Our own series on keeping records.

The Family Garden JournalThe Family Garden Journal
Our own tool for keeping garden records. Includes plenty of room for observations, as well as reference pages ready for your personal notes on plant varieties, insect pests, beneficial insects, and plant diseases. Read more.

Insects in Kansas
Handy book from K-State that can help with pest identification. Read our full review.

What is Sustainable Agriculture?
The Farm

What is Sustainable Agriculture?

What is Sustainable Agriculture?It may seem simple to define sustainable agriculture, but ask two people what it is, and you’ll probably get two different answers.  Many of the various perspectives have similarities, but each approaches the subject from a slightly different angle.  Here are three of the most common viewpoints.


Environmental Focus

One common view is that sustainable agriculture is about using farming practices that protect the environment.  This type of approach often focuses on:

  • Avoiding the use of potentially harmful chemicals.
  • Raising livestock humanely.
  • Creating diverse habitats for wildlife.
  • Conserving natural resources such as fuel, soil, and water.

Sustainability in an environment-focused system comes from keeping nature’s many cycles unbroken.


Community Focus

A second approach to sustainable agriculture stems from concern over the decline of small communities in recent years.  As people move out of rural areas, towns die.  Therefore, some sustainable producers take their role in community health very seriously.  They seek to keep their small towns alive by:

  • Supporting local businesses.
  • Drawing potential customers to the community.
  • Providing employment in their area.


Family-Business Focus

A final definition of sustainable agriculture focuses more on the farmer and his family.  Proponents of this view feel that farmers should be able to make a profit on what they sell and enjoy the fruit of their toil.  But this is not all.  A key feature of this angle of sustainable agriculture is its emphasis on ensuring that the next generation will have an incentive to carry on with the farm.  The goals of this approach are:

  • Improving the margin of farm-based businesses.
  • Providing an enjoyable lifestyle for the whole family.
  • Employing any family members who want to work on the farm.


The Whole-Farm Approach

Many successful sustainable farms have chosen to combine all three perspectives into a more rounded view of sustainable agriculture.  They recognize their farm as a whole, and they treat it that way.

One of the best things about approaching sustainable agriculture in this manner is that it gives the producer a chance to think for himself, to pick and choose the practices that line up with his beliefs and create a unique enterprise.  There are as many different ways to farm as there are farmers.  Why should we all approach things the same way?

By creating a farm that fulfills his life purpose, the farmer will able to find deep satisfaction in his work, knowing that he is on the path his Creator laid out for him.  This will ensure that his work is eternally valuable, thus achieving the ultimate in sustainability.  Because that life purpose is guaranteed to include service to others, the farmer will also have a profound impact for the better on both his family and his community.  Furthermore, because he is called to be a good steward of his possessions, he will manage the environment wisely, but without magnifying it beyond its proper perspective.

What more could we ask?  This type of sustainable farm is something we all could benefit from.  Let’s do it!


Helpful Resources

Found: God’s WillFound: God's Will
Finding your life purpose is easier than you think!  Read our full review.

“Doing the Lord’s Work in the Lord’s Way”
Any type of work can be God’s work.  What you do in life isn’t nearly as important as how and why you do it.

Building a Sustainable Business
The tools in this highly recommended guide to building a business plan emphasize all aspects of sustainable farming.  Don’t start a business without it!  Read our full review.

What is Management-Intensive Grazing?
The Farm

What is Management-Intensive Grazing?

What is Management-Intensive Grazing?Management-intensive grazing (MiG) is difficult to define because of its flexibility. Simply put, MiG is a systems approach to keeping grazing animals of all kinds. It starts with goals (environmental, economic, and lifestyle) and progresses to a grazing plan that takes your unique circumstances into account.

MiG has much to offer those who keep grazing animals. Benefits include:

  • Reduction in feed costs.
  • Desired animal performance.
  • Pasture sustainability.
  • Adaptability to changing conditions.
  • Complete control of the grazing system.

MiG is often confused with rotational grazing. While rotating paddocks is indeed a key piece of the equation, MiG includes so much more. Rotations are simply a tool to reach the goals set by the grazier. Other important tools used in MiG are rest periods, stocking density, and forage stockpiling. Another key feature of the system is the way livestock nutritional needs are matched to the growth patterns of the available forages.

The general idea is to provide the livestock with enough forage in each paddock to meet their nutritional needs without damaging the plants’ ability to quickly recover and grow back. The animals are typically moved to a fresh paddock daily, sometimes more often, sometimes less often depending on their specific needs. Once they are removed from a paddock, the forage is allowed to rest and replenish itself. No animals are allowed to return to the old paddock until this has been fully accomplished.

Of course, this is just the beginning. MiG is an inexhaustible subject, and even the experts are still learning. Management-intensive grazing is one of those things that can only be mastered through experience. However, it can be adapted to all environments, and is designed to meet a wide variety of goals. MiG is a good fit for those pursuing a whole-farm approach.


Helpful Resources

Intensive Grazing: An Introductory Homestudy Course
An excellent hands-on crash course on the basics of MiG. Includes concise information, a field exercise, and more.

Salad Bar BeefSalad Bar Beef
Highly recommended book by Joel Salatin. Although Salatin does not use the term “management-intensive grazing,” the section titled “Harvesting the Salad Bar” presents the basic philosophies behind MiG in a very understandable manner. Read our full review.

Grazing System Design
A summary of how to put MiG to work from the University of Georgia.

Grazing Systems Planning Guide
Not about MiG specifically, but includes more information that will answer some of your questions on setting up a practical system from start to finish.

Grasses of KansasGrasses of Kansas
Need to know how to manage the forage in your pasture? Our guide to grasses includes some pointers.

Building a Sustainable Business
The Business

Free eBook: Building a Sustainable Business

Building a Sustainable BusinessAre you considering making the jump and turning that farming hobby of yours into a real business?  Do you already have a farm business and are considering expansion, new options in your operations, or maybe passing the enterprise along to the next generation?  If so, you might want to map out your ideas in a written business plan so that you have a clear picture of what you want to accomplish and how you want to accomplish it.

And before you write that business plan, you might want to consult Building a Sustainable Business: A Guide to Developing a Business Plan for Farms and Rural Businesses.

This outstanding resource was originally created by the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, but they quickly realized that their guide was valuable all across the country and made it available to everyone.  Here it is—a business-planning resource unlike any other.

Building a Sustainable Business breaks the planning process into five steps, or tasks:

  1. Identify values.  What’s important to you?
  2. Assess your farm history and current situation.  What have you got?
  3. Develop a vision, a mission statement, and goals.  Where do you want to go?
  4. Create and evaluate a strategic plan.  What routes can you take to get to where you want to go?
  5. Present, implement, and monitor your business plan.  Which route will you take and how will you check your progress along the way?

The more involved planning tasks are further broken into easy-to-manage steps involving marketing, operations, human resources, and finances.

Does it sound complicated?  Maybe not as much as you think.  To help you collect all of the information you need to write a sound business plan, each task is accompanied by handy worksheets ranging from the standard balance sheet to questions about your vision for your business.

Furthermore, Building a Sustainable Business is extremely flexible.  It starts by asking you why you are writing a business plan so that you can focus on the areas of primary importance to your unique situation and create a plan that is actually useful to you.

Building a Sustainable Business is highly recommended for anyone starting or modifying a farm or other rural business.  Even if you don’t need a business plan to obtain funding for your enterprise, you can still benefit from walking through the thought process explained in this book.

Best of all, it’s available for free download as a PDF!


Looking at the Bigger Picture
The Farm

Looking at the Bigger Picture

Looking at the Bigger PictureIn nature, everything is part of everything else.  Cycles and systems are all inextricably linked together to form a whole environment.  Microscopic organisms are just as important in their place as larger living creatures.  The solar cycle and the water cycle interact, and both plants and animals are necessary to the food chain.

The rest of life is no different.  Our hours and days and weeks and years are bound together by an inextricable web of events, circumstances, and relationships.  Remove one piece, and suddenly the whole puzzle falls apart.

Should it come as a surprise, then, that many of those who succeed in the country lifestyle tend to view their farms as a whole?  If we change one aspect of what we do, we change the entire picture.  What we do to the soil, for example, affects the nutrients available to our gardens, which in turn affects the size and quality of the harvest, which in turn affects our diet for the rest of the year, which in turn affects our health.  And if we sell some of our vegetables, we will still further increase the impact of what originally started with the soil, because the effects of our actions will spread to each and every one of our customers.

Nothing takes place in a vacuum.  Whatever we do to a part will affect the whole.  Every decision we make will have an impact, not just on this one corner of this one property, but on our whole lives from that moment on.  It will affect every single person around us, too, whether directly or indirectly—family, customers, friends, acquaintances, guests.  It will even affect our relationship with God.  Makes you stop to think, doesn’t it?

Neglect of this principle is a big part of what’s wrong with the status quo today.  How many of us:

  • Consider long-term impacts?
  • Wonder about unintended consequences?
  • Stop to ask what caused the problem in the first place?

Veterinarians treat symptoms instead of the underlying diseases, farmers pour chemicals on their crops instead of trying to heal the land, livestock owners rely on drugs instead of working to eliminate the need for routine medication, and so on.

Of course, a caveat we should keep in mind when analyzing the bigger picture is that our finite minds cannot grasp it all.  There will always be something out of focus, something left out.  But there is grace in nature, as in all other areas of life.  If this concept of the bigger picture colors our approach, encouraging us to pull in loose ends and consider the consequences of our actions, our decisions will be much more sound.