Q: Tell us a little bit about your farm and family history.
A: Estling Farms Inc. is located on the South Shore of Lake of the Woods, just a few miles from Manitoba. It comprises 3,700 acres with another 3,000 acres of custom farmed land spread across 50 miles. In the last 30 years we have harvested 20+ species of grains, grasses, and broadleaf crops. Currently we grow a wide variety of crops, and typically harvest 6-10 species each year. We've had certified organic production but the majority of the farm is conventional. Harvest typically begins the first week of July and finishes in mid-end of October (cool season turf grasses, native grasses, radish seed and other cover crop seed production, along with wheat, and soybeans).
Cattle left the farm in November of 2004, marking the first time since 1938 that animals weren't around. There just isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done. When we look at worker safety, 1,500 lbs animals during calving (they can be very protective of young) were too much of a risk, for too little of a reward.
Q: Your farm has been involved in research with the University of Minnesota for six decades! Can you tell us more about that?
A: My grandpa, uncles and dad had been involved for years with the U of M, Northwest Minnesota, and crop protection companies in trials of grasses and small grains production. Our isolation/ northern climate, and lake effect/ microclimate proved to have many challenges that much of Minnesota's corn and bean production didn't deal with. Those challenges came with opportunity in specialty crop production, specifically Kentucky Bluegrass and perennial ryegrass seed production which the U of M and their team have been instrumental with research.
Q: What made you decide to grow Kernza®?
A: Perennials have played a big part in our crop production. Kentucky bluegrass acres have been on a decline and I was looking for another opportunity. Younger people have not put the same attention into their home lawns as the older generations. I thought Kernza could help fill the void.
Q: What is the biggest Kernza challenge? What is the biggest opportunity?
A: By far the biggest challenge is market access and pricing. If we, as farmers, as concerned citizens, as taxpayers are going to see the benefit of perennial agriculture it needs to be on a larger scale. Someone needs to be willing to pay for the ecosystems services. We've grown Kernza since 2014 and with this year's harvest, have harvested 446 acres of Kernza. I've heard so much hype, but frankly very few are willing to put their money where their mouth is. Most people and companies talk about sustainability but it's merely a marketing agenda.
Q: Have you tried baking / cooking/ brewing with it? Any favorite dishes?
A: I'm not a cook or a brewer and I'm not picky. I have never had a bad beer, just some that I like more than others:) I did like the Bang and Patagonia beers. I've eaten at Birchwood cafe and liked the varying items they've made with Kernza.
Q: Do you see any climate change impacts on your farm and if so how are you addressing them?
A: We see change every day, week, month, year in agriculture, so to what degree is caused by climate change is hard to quantify on a farm level. We experienced flash floods in the early 2000's and saw the devastation of water erosion. As farmers, I think, we all are aware of challenges we face, our livelihood depends on the weather. We haven't changed anything specifically because in the last few years people have started using buzz words. Our farm didn't start using variable rate fertilizer and seed, water management, perennial crops, long rotations, no-till, winter annual, cover crops to address climate change. We implemented these things years ago to stay profitable and they made sense for our operation.
Q: Like a lot of farmers, you have an off-farm business. Tell us about that.
A: I have a crop consulting business called Northern Agronomy & Precision Services, LLC in Roosevelt MN. We work with growers on technology based approaches to optimize crop production. It involves crop scouting, land surveying and water management, soil sampling, variable rate fertilizer mapping and application, yield map processing, aerial and drone imagery analysis.
Q: What would you like the PPGC to accomplish in the next few years?
I hope PPGC can move the production at a reasonable price for growers on a yearly time table, with payments within a year of production.