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By Staff | Dec 19, 2014

A long time ago an old sage told me that as everyone accumulates years and mileage each single year represents a smaller percentage of your cumulative life and experiences, thus years go by faster and each event tends to blend in with others.

Soon we will be singing “Auld Lang Syne,” reminiscing about the events of the past year and wondering what 2015 will bring.

Who knows what excitement is in store for each of us, who we will meet, or what event will leave an indelible mark on us or on our psyche?

Hopefully, everyone will be able to celebrate a few days as Christmas approaches and spends time with family and friends.

Remember that the true meaning of the holiday and oly day is the celebration of someone’s birth over in Jerusalem.

Tobacco anyone?

Typically when one mentions tobacc,o several different thoughts come to mind, none of which are typically met with a growing industry.

That is why an article that was in the Farm News two weeks ago was interesting to the group of grower organized by Ron Mortensen a few years ago around the Fort Dodge area that devoted several summers to the green leafy crops.

In our case, the variety we grew was of the non-nicotine type that was grown under contract for the Liggett and Myers Tobacco Co. to be used in its smoking cessation cigarette, which seems like an oxymoron. Even sinners can be redeemed. But that is only part of the story.

What was intended was that we knew that tobacco, with its high protein content, was a key plant in the future of plant-based pharmaceuticals. There were many companies interested in both greenhouse and field-grown tobacco with the latter being planned for states where no commercial acres of the crop were normally grown.

Included were medicines for things like cancer, possibly cystic fibrosis treatment and a host of other illnesses. At the time there was a company called Large Scale Biologics headquartered in Vacaville with a greenhouse complex in Owensboro where commercial production of cancer medicine was being produced.

The program had gotten far enough that a commercial plant had been planned for central Iowa which would have put Iowa farmers on the forefront of a new industry. The dollar value of the crop was in the mid- to high-seven figures, which would have beat commodity crops by a wide margin.

In the end we found out that raising an acre of two or three was extremely hard, sweaty work and bugs were an omnipresent force to do battle with. Going out every morning and picking off the 3-inch long caterpillars before they stripped an entire plant was a daily chore.

In the end, tobacco growers in other states replaced our acres, and the building’s architecture and financing plans fell apart when the money got sucked into one of the major buildings in downtown Des Moines.

Soil quality

2015 had been designated as the year of the soil. So there was only one way to kick off the celebration.

This was by learning more about soil science.

A few weeks ago I was invited to attend a regenerative soil conference out east. It seemed mostly a crowd of people that had to be global warming enthusiasts that had converted to climate change disciples.

So rather than acting like Clint Eastwood knocking heads and opinions, I just went, watched and visited. Instead of just worrying about things, they actually recognized that what went on in the soil was highly important to feeding people, livestock and industries.

The talks were 75 percent constructive in dealing with growing cover crops, utilizing crop residue in a decent manner, retaining rainfall close to where it fell, and utilizing bovines in a way that they help save the planet instead of being viewed as destructors of the earth.

There were many people including hard core cow/calf men who had introduced grazing cattle to semi-arid, or desert, country and within a few years had found that the cattle had helped bring life back to the soil and rivers.

Fields that were barren and nonproductive once again bloomed with native plants and grasslands recovered.

I hate to say it, but they showed mono-cropped fields that had been degraded that improved greatly once they held well-managed cattle that were mob grazed.

This included quite a few countries on several different continents. The role of carbon in the soil as a carbon dioxide sink and as a home for microbial life was discussed.

All in all it was one where there were smart minds determined to help fix problems in different parts of the globe.

Topping that off was a second conference where again ag science professionals gathered to hear talks about different crops and cropping practices.

Minerals and microbes that converted those microbes into plant-usable forms were the focus of many of the companies’ booths, as well as the speakers.

One I wanted to hear again was Gabe Brown, a North Dakota farmer and rancher, best known for rebuilding the soil organic matter on his 5,000 acres back up to the 8.5 percent it had been years ago.

He found at that level his soil acted as a spongy blanket and capable of soaking up 8 inches of rain per hour. He found that he benefitted most from his cover crops when he had six to 12 different crop species, as it gave his root zone the chance to host a wide range of soil microbes and critters that helped his soils produce both good crops and livestock.


In addition to fish being raised in Iowa, there will also be barns retrofitted or built new for raising shrimp.

I attended the Technology Innovation Seminar in Marshall, Minnesota, recently to hear what their biochemist team was developing in the line of livestock and plant nutritional products

The role of the company is to put their knowledge to work developing feed products more digestible or aided in digestion for hogs, cattle, sheep, dairy, and poultry animals.

They figured if they could increase the digestibility of feed products by 5 to 25 percent it had value to livestock managers nationwide and then some. That plan worked and now they have started to build their plant and agronomy profile in a division called Agnition.

They had a speaker from Texas A & M’s experiment station, working on growing shrimp in somewhat the same fashion as has been done with the Webster City sea bass.

They like warmer water and require a diet that includes different probiotics to ward off diseases that cause problems with Indonesian producers. He has developed stacked, shallow-water runs, placed in rows inside buildings capable of producing 1 million pounds per acre per year. At a value of $10 per pound and a feed conversion of 1 pound of shrimp per 1.1 pounds of feed, he said the economics were good.

From the market research his team said the U.S. consumed $8 billion worth of shrimp a year with 80 percent of it being imported. He believed that with his patented system and attention to the shrimp diets and health it would be a perfect fit for the Midwest producers.

Shrimp like a diet of 35 percent protein as from soybeans. He thinks the specialty soybean varieties may be a perfect match. Getting the shrimp and fish business going in Iowa, along with the needed processing plants would take away the worry about eating Gulf of Mexico products, plus develop two new industries that would have ready markets, with young producers waiting for their chance to make their mark in agriculture.

Bob Streit is an independent crop consultant and columnist for Farm News. He can be reached at (515) 709-0143.

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