Otto farmer enters niche market: Jones goes to organic farming
Otto – Stanley Jones of Otto never liked using chemicals on his crops, and when he attended a presentation by Renee King, then of the Wyoming Business Council, on organic farming, he knew he had to find out more.
“I thought, I’m already doing this because I don’t like using chemical,” says Jones. “I knew if I was going to go organic, I needed to learn more about it.”
Jones, his wife Colleen and daughter attended the Midwest Organic Farming Conference in Wisconsin to learn more and found that organics were his passion.
“I really love it,” says Jones. “We got a lot of information, and it was interesting.”
Jones and his family have farmed the land outside of Otto for many years. His grandfather moved to Otto and started farming, and Jones and his brothers were raised on the land. When Jones bought the property from his father, he added more land and improved existing grazing lands by adding reservoirs.
Today all of his deeded acres are certified organic.
“I’ve been certified since 2005,” added Jones. “I don’t like being around the chemicals.”
“The idea behind organic farming is that, to be successful, you have to get your soils balanced,” explains Jones. “You have to have the food, air and water for microorganisms to survive, and they break down the organic matter to make it available for the plant.”
Jones adds that, for his crop production, there are many amendments that can be added to the soil to help build soil quality, as well as strategies, such as crop rotation, that can be used.
“I signed up with the NRCS organic program this year. We have a five-year contract to work on the soils to get them built up,” says Jones. “The problem we have here is getting the useable products trucked in. The trucking costs more than the product itself.”
He explains that amendments that have been processed aren’t as good for soils or as easy for plants to use because their chemical structures have been altered by heat.
Jones uses plow-down crops and weeds to increase the organic matter and nutrient content of his soils.
He adds, “The best thing we can do is grow plow-down crops – basically anything that is green, including clover, alfalfa and oats.”
“To me, weeds are great, because they bring up the nutrients out of the soil. I let them grow and plow them down,” says Jones. “Once the nutrients go up into the plants, it is more available to other plants and breaks down more quickly.”
“Right now I’ve been working on building organic matter in my soil. Normally around here it is at about one percent,” explains Jones. “We really need to have five or six percent organic matter to really get up and going.”
Jones also realizes the law of maximums comes into play when adding amendments to his fields, explaining that too much of some things, such as manure, can be just as bad as not enough. Too much is a more difficult problem to deal with, says Jones.
“We have to be careful,” says Jones. “We can’t just go out and throw things at the soil and expect it to work. It is important to get a consultant that knows what they are doing and work with them.”
Jones tracks the progress of his fields through soil samples and emphasizes that it is much easier to work with nature than trying to fight it.
“I still don’t have my fields balanced quite right,” comments Jones. “They need to be, and we are working at it.”
Currently Jones raises hay, alfalfa seed, barley and oats. In the past he has raised corn as well, but has moved away from corn to try other crops, including opportunities to grow organic foods for a healthy snacks company out of Cody.
“They want sunflower seeds, pumpkins seeds, garbanzo beans and things like that,” says Jones. “We are looking at other crops that we can raise here.”
Jones raises British White cattle that are also organic, claiming they are healthier animals.
“They are a polled, English breed,” explains Jones. “My cows are excellent beef and good mothers. They are a little different, but I really like them.”
“My animals have good, healthy plants to eat, so they are healthier,” says Jones. “I don’t see the disease problems a lot of others see.”
Jones mentions that he hasn’t doctored a calf or seen calf scours in a number of years.
“One of the things I have done that has probably helped my operation more than anything is moving my calving dates back into May and June,” explains Jones. “They hit the ground on grass, and the mothers are doing well. The cows have higher nutritional needs because they are starting to milk for their calves, and the grass is good enough to meet those needs.”
“I’ve found that those calves usually catch up by January to those calves born in February,” adds Jones.
“They have good feed, and they hit the ground and go.”
“I also don’t have to worry about being out there 24 hours a day so calves don’t freeze like I did when I was calving in February,” says Jones. “I don’t have any disease problems, either.”
Jones also runs a few Brown Swiss milk cows on his property.
“I want to be self-sustaining,” says Jones. “I want to raise everything I can out on the farm. The only way I can do that is through good organic practices.”
To promote organic farming, he travels to a number of conferences to do presentations. Jones also works to increase his knowledge by attending conferences across the country.
“It’s been fun and interesting,” Jones adds. “The best thing to do is try to bring in different ideas from different folks and try to adapt it to what you have going for your operation.”
Saige Albert is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.