New enterprises spring from regenerative ag.
New enterprises spring from regenerative ag.
By Larry Reichenberger
The beneﬁts of regenerative agriculture can go far beyond the agronomics of water inﬁltration, nutrient cycling, weed suppression, and erosion control. Some farmers immersed in the soil health movement are also ﬁnding a lucrative marketing angle for the products they produce. The demand from consumers and manufacturers for sustainably-produced food is exploding, and farms managed to enhance soil health can beneﬁt.
Soil health ﬁgures into nearly all of the 146 products oﬀered by Jako Farm of Hutchinson, Kansas. From beef and butter to yogurt and whey, the family behind this 300-acre operation is committed to producing healthy food the old fashioned way — using no artiﬁcial or chemical inputs.
“We’re able to fulﬁll that mission statement because plants and animals raised on healthy, nutrient-rich soil create healthy, nutrient-rich food,” says the farm’s Kenneth King. “People trust us to produce the purest food possible to feed themselves and their families, and we’ve built a pretty amazing community of customers that way.”
The farm’s direct marketing eﬀorts sprang from a grass-based dairy operation in 2001. “At ﬁrst we sold mostly grass-fed butter, but that leads to a demand for raw, ﬂuid milk. Meanwhile, the children started selling fresh, pastured poultry, which complimented the dairy products. Then, as they had gone oﬀ and then returned to the farm, our product line continued to grow. Today we market grass-fed beef, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey, a variety of raw dairy items, raw honey and apple products,” adds Ken.
While the farm’s product line has increased, so has its progeny. In 2005, son Daniel returned after college to manage poultry and pork production while adding turkey and lamb. In 2015, he and wife Robyn took over the management of the farm.
“Our business took a big step when we ﬁgured out how to freeze milk,” explains Daniel. “We freeze milk during the spring and summer when its nutrient content peaks in conjunction with the quality of the grass in our pastures. This step lets us sell the highest quality milk all year, even when our cows are taking a break during the fall and winter when the quality of the grass declines.”
“Our family continues to work together to expand and diversify product lines. Regenerative agriculture keeps our input costs low and allows us to produce a quality product that our customers can’t ﬁnd in any grocery store,” says Robyn.
Those JakoPure products are listed on the farm’s website (www.JakoFarm.com). Butter sells for $18/lb., fresh milk for $7.50/gal., beef roast for $8/lb., pork chops for $12/lb., and eggs for $5/doz. “We set our prices based on the cost of production plus a modest living wage for our families. Food in the grocery store is less expensive, but it’s produced in the cheapest way possible using supplements, additives, herbicides, insecticides, and preservatives,” says Daniel.
“Nobody wants to pay $18/lb. for butter, but 90% of our customers come to us out of health concerns. They’ve done the research and know that food from animals raised with regenerative practices has a higher nutrient density, which is vital to human health,” says Robyn.
The farm boasts a list of more than 500 member families who drive an average of 45 minutes to shop in self serve fashion. “We’re more than a local supplier, but we don’t ship our products because we think it’s important to know our customers — and for them to know us,” she adds.
To that end, first-time customers schedule an appointment to get acquainted with the farm, meet the family, and learn about basic soil health concepts. That education increased last fall when 350 attended a ‘Stand Up for Soil’ open house
“We’ve decided it is time for us to bring more attention to the soil through action and advocacy,” says Ken. “The event created a space where farmers and consumers could learn more about how soil health, food quality, and human health are all connected.”
Building trust. Brown’s Ranch, near Bismarck, North Dakota, has also found success in building a direct marketing program on soil health. “Traditionally, the farmer gets just 14% of the food dollar. Call us greedy, but we want more and are getting it by using our focus on soil health to sell to end-users whenever possible,” says Gabe Brown.
Brown farms with his wife Shelly and son Paul on a 5,000acre crop and livestock farm that has been under regenerative management for nearly 30 years.
“We strive to solve problems in a natural and sustainable way. Improving the health of our soil by practicing no-till and using a diverse cropping strategy is accomplishing that goal without the use of synthetic fertilizer, fungicides, or pesticides, and only the limited use of herbicides. We believe the quality of the food produced on our farm reflects the quality of the soil on which it is grown or raised,” says Gabe.
The Browns capitalize on their soil health efforts by marketing roughly 130 products under their Nourished by Nature brand (www.nourishedbynature.us). “We offer grass-finished beef and lamb, pastured pork, free-range eggs, pastured chickens, honey and assorted produce,” says Paul, who manages Brown’s Marketing LLC, an entity separate from the ranch (www.brownsranch.us)
“Direct marketing is a way of stacking enterprises on top of what we already do — often using the waste from one operation to feed another,” explains Gabe, who provides the following examples.
Corn and other grain produced runs through a rotary cleaner and the screenings are used to produce pastured pork. “Our LLC pays the ranch $275 per head for the hogs. It costs $483.49 for processing, marketing, electricity, and fuel, but we sell $1,237 worth of retail cuts for a profit of $478.51 per head, plus the ranch clears $120. A sow raising seven pigs generates more than $4,000 profit every time she farrows.”
Grain screenings also supplement what laying hens and broilers get from cleaning up after cattle are moved to new paddocks. These pastures and cover crop fields are part of an intensive rotational grazing program. The hens use a portable eggmobile, and layers a portable pen. Both are moved almost daily.
“We gather about 600 free-range eggs a day (350 dozen/ week) from 1,000 hens and sell them all for $5/dozen. Our costs are about $1.07 per dozen, so we have a net profit of $1,375 per week. Our pastured broilers net us $17.25 per bird,” he says.
The combined ranch and retail profit from a single beef carcass are $1,627, and the combined profit from grass-finished lambs comes in at $190 per head. “We produce 84 pounds of beef, 12 pounds of lamb and 16 pounds of pork per acre, in addition to the poultry. We also sell vegetables and other produce that is typically grown as a companion crop in our cornfields,” says Gabe.
Input savings under the ranch’s regenerative system also help keep cash crops profitable. Over the last ten years, the cost of production for corn and wheat has averaged $1.41 and $1.82 per bushel, respectively.
“The opportunities are limited only by one’s imagination. Surprisingly, the easiest money we make is from honey, which is produced by the bees that are attracted to the pollinator crops in our cover crop mixes. Don’t tell me there’s no money to be made in agriculture, or that we can’t bring the next generation into the operation,” says Gabe.
A wildlife angle. A strong focus on soil health — and the cover crops and crop rotation used to foster it — is paying off in a unique way for Jorgensen Land & Cattle Partnership of Ideal, South Dakota (www.jorgensenfarms. com). “We plant cover crops after winter wheat harvest primarily for winter grazing, but have found we can also manage those acres for wildlife habitat. It has resulted in an abundance of wild pheasants and made hunting a significant source of income for the farm,” says Bryan Jorgensen.
“We focused on soil health but still generate three sources of income from an acre,” adds partner Nick Jorgensen. “We want to farm it, graze it, and reap the entertainment value. This combination promises to keep us sustainable.”
That plan led the ranch to build the Lazy J Grand Lodge in 2012 to host hunters who pay $2,100 per person for all- inclusive three day/four night packages. The 22-room lodge accommodates 42 hunters who invariably encounter one of the most memorable hunting experiences of their lives.