12/29/2012 7:00 AM
By Michael Short Delaware Correspondent
DOVER, De. — For two days, farmers learned how only a few small acres can be made profitable.
Local farmers gathered Dec. 12 and 13 in Dover to listen to speakers in a seminar by the USDA and the Delaware State University Cooperative Extension. The fourth annual seminar was titled, appropriately enough, “Profiting From a Few Acres.”
Farmers learned about small-scale irrigation, pastured poultry, reaching markets, cut flower farming, raising alternative livestock like turkeys and rabbits, using high tunnels, composting, kitchen incubators and enterprise budgeting.
The seminar was intended to discuss opportunities for small, beginning or socially disadvantaged farmers.
“Diversity is the key, both on the farm and in programming,” said University Ag and Natural Resources program leader John Clendaniel.
David Smith, agriculture marketing specialist with Delaware’s Department of Agriculture, said farmers should be open to innovative and different marketing options, such as roadside stands, farmers markets and school cafeterias.
Delaware farmers markets did nearly $2 million worth of business in 2012, he said.
He said that major grocery stores, including large chains, have become more approachable in terms of offering farmers a place to sell their local wares.
“There are a variety of marketing avenues,” he said. “Every shoe doesn’t fit everybody. ... Be willing to try a variety of things.
“Don’t think that you just have to sell the raw vegetables. Turn it into jam or jelly or applesauce,” he said.
Laurence Crane, vice president of education and communication for National Crop Insurance Services (NCIS), urged farmers to plan, plan and then plan some more.
Crane urged farmers to always consider costs, options and different ways to market products.
Farmers need to ask themselves where they are, where they want to be and how they will get there, he said. “You have to have a goal.”
“If you don’t know where you’re going ... you might not get there,” he said, quoting baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra. “Or maybe it was: If you don’t know where you’re going, you might wind up someplace else.”
The fourth and final question farmers should ask themselves is how they can monitor their progress and stay on track, Crane said.
“I think there’s a bright future for this type of farming (small and diversified),” said Ted Wycall, who owns Greenbranch Organic Farm in Salisbury.
He grows vegetables, pasture poultry, laying hens, acorn-fed pork and grass-fed beef. Wycall said that he has found “the business is profitable, the lifestyle is rewarding, diversity is good and proper scale is essential.”
He said pasture broilers raised in small, movable pens are proving popular with consumers. He said the same thing is true for laying hens raised in movable pens where the chickens eat fresh grass regularly, as well as pigs which he allows to forage freely in the woods on his property. That allows pigs to feast heavily on acorns.
The result in all three cases is a product with a different and better flavor, a difference that consumers will notice and pay extra for, he said. His eggs sell for $3.75 a dozen and “pasture broilers will fly off the shelves,” he said.
“It’s different from the grocery store product,” he said. “The demand for good free-range eggs is incredible.”
The taste of the pork after foraging on acorns is so good that customers actually get mad when he can’t keep enough bacon in supply, he said.
For vegetable growers, Wycall urged regular soil testing to check for trace minerals and elements, saying it can make a huge difference in productivity.
He suggested that farmers read the book “Advancing Biological Farming,” by Gary Zimmer.
In his case, magnesium and calcium needed to be brought into balance for his vegetables to really start reaching their potential.
“You don’t know what you want to apply unless you get the soil tested,” he said. “You will see the results.”