AJ had graduated with an agribusiness degree from Iowa State University and was assuming responsibilities of the home farm when the two met at a local watering hole. At the time, his parents, Kelly and Rebecca, were involved in a farming enterprise in Bahia, a northeastern state of Brazil. They’ve since returned to Iowa and are important cogs in helping on the farm, along with two, full-time hired employees.
Married in 2007, Kellie put her own Iowa State University degrees in agronomy and forestry, to work before farming full-time. She worked as an agronomist with The Maschhoffs, creating manure management plans for nearly eight years. She worked another two years as the watershed coordinator for the Boone River Watershed Nutrient Management Initiative Project. Both jobs provided valuable training for working in the farm business, she said.
The couple is the fourth generation to operate this century farm. The flat farmland represents another topographic region known as the Des Moines Lobe — the last area of the Iowa to be invaded by icy glaciers.
Love may have brought her to Webster County, but it is love for these rich soils and the legacy they represent that has the couple weaving conservation efforts into the fabric of the farm. The Blairs had confidence cover crops could help with soil health benefits but combining them with cows is where they start to really pay off, they figured.
Taking silage from the corn crop allows an earlier window for cover crop seeding. In the fall, cows graze on corn stalks and rotational graze cover crops. In the spring, the regrowth of the cereal rye can be baled before no-tilling soybeans. Monitoring tile lines has proven cover crops are doing their job reducing nitrate and phosphorus loads.
By keeping the ground covered and producing year-round, and utilizing manure from the livestock operations, the couple have put together a system that has allowed them to expand on available acres. “Farming is a slow build business. Land is expensive and renting is competitive, which keeps expansion slow,” Blair noted.
“Feeding hogs allowed AJ to come back to the farm. We added cattle to expand another profit opportunity,” she said, noting the need to look each farming enterprise as an income stream and each farming partner as an income producer.
The tweaks to their farming system have been measured, but consistent, as they attempt to balance the agronomics with each new practice. Crop rotations now include hay and small grains such as oats, which is marketed to make oat milk and then, the straw baled for use with cattle. They no-till all soybeans and are actively working to move their current strip-till system in corn to no-till.
BEEF BUSINESS EXPANDS
In 2010, Blair Farm built a mono slope fat cattle finishing barn with an eye toward cattle rate of gain and fertilizer efficiencies. At each end of the barn, a surrounded concrete pad holds manure from the facility and contains potential runoff. Manure nutrient composition tests and regular soil tests from land where it is applied become valuable data to make fertilizer applications.
In 2013, they expanded the operation by adding a cow-calf component to bring more of their own calves into the feedlot with a longer-term goal of selling direct. Angus cows crossed with Simmental and some Charolais is all aimed at putting quality beef on the plate.
“The value in letting the consumer see everything about the calf from the time it was born is pretty exciting,” she said.
“We had always imagined doing direct sales and I’m not sure what we were waiting for. Apparently, we were waiting for a pandemic because that forced our hand,” she said.
Finding locker appointments turned out to be more challenging than finding consumers in the COVID-19 climate. But Blair said sales out of the gate have been strong and “seeing our brand on that package has been satisfying.”
Juggling starts in earnest this week as calving starts. Delivering and working with baby calves is her favorite job on the farm. The corn is planted and there are few soybeans left to put in the ground. It’s been dry, but enough rain has fallen in recent days to calm concerns for now. Rain also allows her a few moments to get caught up on record keeping in the office, one of her least favored chores.
“Having a variety of things that we all do is one of the best things about being a farmer. I really love that,” she said.
And, while she doesn’t see her life as exciting, talking about what farmers do is critical, Blair said. “If we don’t tell our story, who will?”
To see more about Blair Farm, go to: https://blairfarmllc.com/…
To meet Ryan Wieck, the other farmer DTN is profiling this season for our View From the Cab series, go to: https://www.dtnpf.com/…
Pamela Smith can be reached at email@example.com
Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN
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