Ready for Spring

It's finally starting to feel like spring; soon farmers will be out frost seeding red clover and planting oats! We are eager for the longer days and the start to the season.

This newsletter features a brief overview of PFI's continued oat variety trials, a highlight of Smithfield's work to engage their grain supply chain, an interesting overview on the 4Rs and the importance of staying within the MRTN and reminders of upcoming touch points with all of you. Enjoy!

- Carol Healy & Elizabeth Reaves, Sustainable Food Lab 


Iowa Oat Variety Trials Research Going Strong
Because of growing interest and expanding oat markets crop improvements, organizations in traditional small grain producing areas are collaborating with Iowa to make sure Iowa farmers have access to varietal information. The long term goal is to help farmers improve the profitability of oat production in the state. PFI and Iowa State University along with Albert Lea Seed, Grain Millers, Welter Seed and Honey Co., and General Mills, are conducting variety trials in Iowa. See the 2018 oat variety trial research report published by PFI summarizing the results of 16 oat variety screenings.

General Mills also recently announced a commitment to advance regenerative agriculture practices on one million acres of farmland by 2030, including cover crops, no-till and diverse rotations. We found this infographic about why soil matters particularly compelling.
Check out the first episode of PFI's new "Rotationally Raised" podcast - Small Grains: A Revival

Smithfield Exceeds its Grain Sustainability Goal 

In February, Smithfield Foods announced that it has successfully engaged 80% of its directly sourced grain supply in conservation agriculture. Over 560,000 acres were engaged in practices that reduce fertilizer loss and improve soil health, including fertilizer optimization, cover crops and crop rotation with small grains. This case study, published by EDF,  provides detailed information about Smithfield’s efforts to improve grain farmers’ fertilizer management practices and soil health, as well as the company’s other sustainability initiatives. It also details how the program generated value for the company. 

As part of the program, EDF, Smithfield and partners, including
PFI, secured two NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) awards for on-the-ground support in North Carolina and Iowa. The objective of the RCPP is to supplement existing conservation agriculture investments with federal cost-share funding for farmers. The North Carolina project has been ongoing for two years and the Iowa engagement kicks off this year. In North Carolina, where corn is in short supply, wheat is commonly used as an alternative feed grain. This is less the case in the Midwest, where corn is in abundant supply. PFI is no stranger to the benefits of feeding small grains, like wheat, to pigs. Check out the "In the News" Section below for a blog on this very topic by PFI's own, Celize Christy, featuring Smithfield's Chief of Science and Technology.

Congratulations, Smithfield! We look forward to working with you in Iowa!


Join us and connect with the broader small grains team! Contact Elizabeth or Carol for more information.

Small Grains Webinar: What We Are Learning From 3 Years of Data
  • What: Join PFI and SFL to review 3-years of Small Grain data from Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. We will compare outputs from the FPC, CFT, RSET Tool, share partial enterprise budgets, and summarize lessons learned and farmer perspectives. 
  • When: April 4, 2-3pm EST

Supply Chain Partner Quarterly Call
  • What: Check-in call with our corporate partners. Our vision for these calls is to build a community within this group where we are actively learning together, bringing challenges as they pertain to this body of work and facilitating a discussion format. PFI will share what the science says about nutrition and efficiency of feeding small grains and grazing cover crops, as well as farm economics and sustainability benefits. We will then open it up to discussion.
  • When: April 9, 11-12pm EST

Staying within Maximum Return To Nitrogen (MRTN)

The most important aspect of the 4Rs is "Rate" 

Chris Jones at The University of Iowa published a blog about the importance of Right Rate compared to the other 4R interventions - Right Place, Right Time, and Right Source. Staying within the recommended Maximum Return to Nitrogen rate (MRTN) offers a 9% N improvement, which can be considered a small gain relative to the other “Rs.” However,
MRTN decreases N loss while the other Rs may sometimes increase N loss. It is also important to consider that while the 4Rs are important best management practices, the N improvements can be significantly less than other in-field practices such as cover crops, diversified rotations, and reduced / no tillage. This complex dynamic is important for each of us to recognize, as supporters and enablers of farmers to make practice change.  Read more here and let us know if you have any questions!

Downsizing Fertilizer Bills with a Summer Cover Crop

Two cost share farmers shared their experiences planting cover crops on a recent PFI farmer shared learning call. The guests, Jeremy Gustafson who farms near Boone, IA and Daryl DeGroot who farms and has a dairy herd near Hull, IA (pictured above) planted cover crop mixes in 2017. Both discuss how they used the cost share funding to try out this system and how they accounted for the nitrogen that the cover crop generated in order to reduce nitrogen application to corn in 2018, saving money on fertilizer costs. Alisha Bower, our PFI partner, summarizes the learning call in this blog
Hear Elizabeth talk about rotations on SARE's "Our Farms, Our Future" podcast
In the News.....

Small Grains, Large Gains: Feeding Wheat to Pigs


Wheat can be used as the sole cereal grain in grow-finish pig diets. While wheat is an expensive feed grain in cash grain markets in the Corn Belt, it can have a beneficial role in an integrated crop-livestock system when fed on or near the farm.

Pigs fed wheat-based diets can grow as efficiently – and with similar meat quality – as pigs fed corn-based diets when energy and amino acids are balanced. In addition, farmers who feed wheat can save on feed costs because wheat’s high nutritional content lessens the need to feed ingredients such as synthetic lysine and phosphorous.

In the U.S., several classes of wheat are available, including: hard red, winter hard, hard red spring, soft red winter, hard white, soft white and durum. In the Corn Belt, hard red winter wheat and soft red winter wheat are best suited for both grain production and livestock feed purposes...Keep Reading.

Surefire Way to
Sustain Your Farm


These days, U.S. corn and soybean farmers are beating the pants off past yields. In 2018, the average national 52.1-bushel-per-acre soybean yield shattered previous yield records. Ditto for 2018 corn yields, which USDA tallied at a record average of 178.9 bushels per acre. 

For now, anyway. Some see some cracks in the system that threaten long-term productivity and sustainability.

“Growing corn and soybeans is a simplified and convenient system,” says Jonathan Lundgren, an agroecologist and CEO of Blue Dasher Farms, Estelline, South Dakota. “But it’s backfiring.”

Keep Reading to hear how North and South Dakota farmers are exploring diversified rotations, cover crops and other soil health building practices as well as the recognition of General Mills, Grain Millers and PFI collaboration on oat varietal improvement trials.

Visit Small Grains in the Corn Belt for information & resources 

Special thanks to our funders:
NRCS, Walton Family Foundation & McKnight Foundation

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