Tractor Time Episode 49: Chris Smaje on Our Peasant Farmer Future

On this episode we travel to the future — A Small Farm Future. That’s the title of a new book from farmer and social scientist Chris Smaje.

Let’s be honest — the future doesn’t look great. Our climate is changing rapidly, our soils are being depleted through industrial farming methods and deforestation, the global population is surging, our health is falling apart and despite some progress with renewable energy sources we’re still very much addicted to cheap fossil fuels.

It’s a bleak picture that Smaje paints in his new book. And while he doesn’t offer an optimistic Pollyanna vision for our future, Smaje does believe that humans can continue to thrive — if only we’re willing to radically reshape the way we think about communities and economies.

For the last 15 years, Smaje has run a small farm in Sommerset, England. Before that, he worked as a social scientist at University of Surrey and Goldsmiths College. His focus is the practice — and politics — of agroecology, and he’s written about that subject for publications such as The LandDark MountainPermaculture Magazine, Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems and the Journal of Consumer Culture. Smaje writes the Small Farm Future blog and is a featured author at He has a new book out with Chelsea Green Publishing. It’s called A Small Farm Future: Making the Case for a Society Built Around Local Economies, Self-Provisioning, Agricultural Diversity and a Shared Earth. I was really impressed by the amount of thought Smaje has put into actually working out some of the ideas we in the regenerative agriculture world take for granted.

Smaje’s book is available at the Acres U.S.A. online bookstore. Use the coupon code JANPOD, that’s J-A-N-P-O-D for 10 % off on all titles.

Regenerative Ag Marketing, Inputs and Outcomes

By Jorge Abrego
Advertising Director of Acres U.S.A.

Ag suppliers who embrace the rapid adaption of regenerative agriculture systems by an increasing number of farmers understand the value of a comprehensive or holistic approach to their marketing. Before applying tactics to make the “phone ring,” they’ve thought through what, how and why their marketing strategy will work to bring about the outcomes they’re looking for.

Like in regenerative ag, there is no “one thing” that will deliver the desired results, but rather a series of activities designed and executed within a strategic framework that yields greater outcomes than each individual activity. This rings true for most companies. But if that’s the case, then why don’t more companies apply this to their marketing?

Let’s examine why many companies fail to craft and execute a comprehensive marketing strategy. Better stated, why do they keep trying the latest and greatest one thing that promises to make the skies open up and rain business?

To begin with, they don’t start at the beginning with the end in mind. Like all successful organizations, regenerative ag suppliers must ask, answer and clarify some fundamental questions.

Why Do We Exist?

An organization’s core purpose – why it exists – needs to be idealistic. To successfully identify a company’s purpose, they must buy into the notion that they exist to make people’s lives better. Every employee at every level needs to know that at the heart of what they do lies something aspirational, and your company’s marketing should consistently communicate this in both subtle and clear ways.

How Do We Behave?

Stated differently, these are the company’s core values, Successful companies adhere to a fundamental set of principles which drives their actions both inwardly through their employees and outwardly toward their customers. Your core values should always inform and be a strategic anchor for your messaging in the marketplace.

How Will We Succeed?

A defined business strategy is at the core of a marketing strategy. Simply put, it’s a plan to succeed comprised of a collection of intentional decisions that provide the best chance to thrive and differentiate yourself from competitors. Fundamentally, your competitive positioning (Brand Strategy) must convey your unique attributes and key advantages across all your communications and media touch points to establish trust and credibility. If you’ve invested time in determining that the reason for existence and your core values are outward-oriented or customer-centric, then your marketing strategy should include them as strategic anchors.

From a marketing standpoint, crafting your messaging, creating assets and executing media campaigns (paid, earned and owned) should reflect your core purpose and your core values from the perspective of why it matters to your end users. Starting at the beginning with the end in mind means demonstrating why your product, service or new initiative solves a tangible problem from the perspective of your audience. Your solution to their problem is best communicated by focusing on pursuing their interests and objectives through information and insight. Referred to as Thought Leadership, your marketing strategy should educate your audience to approach using your solution as a piece of the holistic regenerative ag system puzzle.

The Sales and Marketing Conundrum

Another common reason why ag suppliers fall short of crafting a comprehensive marketing strategy is the conflation of sales and marketing. Organizations that understand the difference are in better position to develop and execute strategies that enables each discipline to achieve its intended objectives.

Though obviously related, sales and marketing are two different disciplines that impact distinct stages of the buyers’ journey in achieving the company’s business objectives. Metaphorically, marketing sows and sales reaps. Marketing prepares the ground (heart and mind), plants the seed (provides information) and waters the field (engages and nurtures) so that sales can harvest the greatest possible yield.

Marketing’s role is to facilitate and maximize sales volume, while the sales process should serve as a key source of customer insight and data that helps inform and continuously refine the marketing strategy. While sales closes the deal, marketing identifies the greatest number of qualified prospects and establishes the dialogue to enable fruitful sales activity that achieves revenue goals. Their symbiotic, yet specialized functions are a true representation of the principle of inputs and outcomes

Transformative Innovation

Regenerative agriculture is a movement and mindset that is transforming the way people nourish their bodies, improve the environment and conduct business. Across the entire eco-system, it has captured the imagination of growers, researchers, investors and consumers because it is universal in its impact. More than solving for soil depletion, carbon sequestration and nutrient density, regenerative ag provides a holistic approach to improving the environment, nourishing our bodies and enhancing the way we do commerce.

This transformative innovation is having a profound impact on society that is reaching the point of no-return because it seeks a loftier agenda than improved air quality, more efficient production strategies or a new business model. The fundamental purpose of this approach to food-sourcing focuses on people and their ability to thrive in an actual sustainable manner. In business as in life, success is not a purpose to pursue, but the natural outcome of pursuing the genuine interests of people.

I’m optimistic that regenerative agriculture will surge forward in transforming lives and inspiring those of us in business to pursue the interests of the people whom our offerings serve.

Learn more about advertising opportunities with Acres U.S.A. here.

Jorge Abrego is the Advertising Director for Acres U.S.A. and has 26 years of advertising agency and B2B media experience in the agriculture, energy and technology sectors.

Remembering Organic Pioneer Jack Lazor

Anne and Jack Lazor.


On November 28 we lost a giant in the organic agriculture movement with the passing of Jack Lazor at age 69, after a long illness. With his wife and partner, Anne, who survives him, Jack co-founded Butterworks Farm, the second dairy farm to gain organic certification in the state of Vermont. Jack made his mark as an organic dairy farmer, organic grain grower, grazier, pioneering farmstead yogurt maker, regenerative agriculture practitioner, writer, teacher, font of practical and historical knowledge, and beloved mentor.

Jack was a master farmer who was always learning. He came to agriculture with an immense curiosity that he sought to satisfy by reading books and talking to all the old timers, Anne said. He never stopped taking on new challenges and enjoying the stimulation of learning. For him, this was always an adventure worth pursuing. And whatever he learned, he wanted to share, because bringing others along was part of the circle of life, as he understood it.

Jack received numerous awards for his agricultural achievements. He gave many workshops and hosted frequent farm tours and field days and was a popular keynote speaker at conferences. (He spoke at the 2010 Acres U.S.A. conference.) In 2014 Jack was one of two dozen organic farming pioneers chosen for a 2014 gathering of “agrarian elders” at Esalen Institute in California. In 2019 Jack and Anne were inducted into the Vermont Agricultural Hall of Fame with a lifetime achievement award for producing organic yogurt, stewarding the land and advocating for organic agriculture.

In its tribute to Jack, the Northern Grain Growers Association beautifully summed up his contribution to the world with a perfect agricultural metaphor: “Among the many gifts Jack gave to us and the world was cultivation. Cultivation of plants and animals to provide nutritious foods. Cultivation of knowledge through his teaching at UVM and beyond. And, perhaps most importantly, cultivation of relationships – bringing together people throughout the food system to find a common path to sustainability. Jack’s work to help found the Northern Grain Growers Association is an example of this cultivation.”

“Honoring Jack Lazor,” an August 22, 2013 article by the late Enid Wonnacott in the newsletter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, captured the essence of Jack’s spirit at the launch of his new book, The Organic Grain Grower: Small-scale, Holistic Grain Production for the Home and Market Producer. At this celebration of him as a farmer-author, Jack turned the attention to his own teachers and mentors. He said that he learned so much from the people who took time to educate him along the way, and he took away an essential lesson — “generosity doesn’t cost, it pays.” Many of his mentors, as well as those he mentored, were present at this event. A farmer who transitioned to organic production because of Jack’s influence said, “I used to farm in partnership with Cargill and Monsanto, and I converted to organic production after driving around with Jack.”

Heather Darby, an agronomy professor with University of Vermont Extension, was Jack’s good friend and collaborator for 17 years. They partnered on all sorts of grain-related research, such as breeding open-pollinated corn and wheat that thrive in northern climates. “Jack and Anne opened the farm and their hearts and minds to anyone who wanted to learn,” Darby said. “This made them different.”

No account of Jack Lazor’s life would be complete without mention of “all the wonderful interns who lived with us over the years and contributed their good energy and labor to our farm and lives,” said Anne. Many of them have taken the skills and concepts that they learned at Butterworks Farm to create their own farms and homesteads. As Jack used to say, “They got the farming bug.”


Back in the mid 1970s, during a wave of back-to-the-land migration, Jack and Anne, both flatlanders raised in Massachusetts, moved to a remote, rural region of Vermont called the Northeast Kingdom. The couple started farming in 1975 with one cow, a bull calf and a flock of “used” chickens. The following year they purchased 60 rocky acres of hilltop land that they would transform over the years into the lush pastures of Butterworks Farm. When they moved there in 1978, they first had to learn to build a house while living in a pole shed — with the cow.

As is the nature of dairy farming, one cow leads to two, so they bought heifer calves to consume the milk. When the calves were weaned, Jack and Ann had to find something else to do with all the milk. “That’s when we starting peddling it to our neighbors and the local health-food store,” Anne explained. Jack, who was naturally outgoing and friendly, shone as a marketer. “He could stop someone on the street and say, “Do you want to buy my cottage cheese?” recalled Anne, who is shy in comparison.

At the start of their farmstead dairy enterprise they were ignorant of the legal requirements for dairy products. They heated their cow’s milk on the kitchen stove and incubated yogurt all over the farmhouse kitchen. For an incubator, they repurposed a wooden box made to hold firewood. They wrapped gallon jars of inoculated milk in quilts to maintain the correct temperature for the yogurt culture. They sold fluid milk in Tropicana jars and labeled their other dairy products by writing directly on the plastic tubs.

In July 1982, when Jack and Anne were building their barn, the state discovered that they were illegally selling and processing raw milk and shut down their business. Despite a helpful inspector, it took them more than two years to obtain their first dairy-processing license from the state of Vermont so they could reopen their operation. By then they were milking seven cows. They cobbled together their first creamery with secondhand equipment and “funky” fixes, like filling in the cracks in tongue-and-groove walls with putty to meet state regulations. “It wouldn’t be possible or legal to do that today,” Anne said.


Jack grew up in Somers, Connecticut, the oldest child in the family. When he was a boy, his father, a chemist in Monsanto’s plastics division, would leave him a list of the day’s garden chores. Jack would take around any extra backyard vegetables in a wagon to sell in the neighborhood.

His dad pushed Jack hard to be successful, Anne said. Jack became an Eagle Scott and a self-described “eager beaver overachiever in school.” But while Jack was ambitious in whatever he did, he was never motivated by money. Rather it was his relationships with people and his quest to achieve his dreams and bring his principles to life that drove him. “He had so many ideas, and he always had visions of doing something bigger,” explained Anne.

After more than four decades as Jack’s partner in life and work, Anne still stands in awe of his people skills and “amazing personality.”

“Somehow he always talked to people so they felt like they were his best friend,” she said. “He gave them his full attention and freely shared all his ideas and his passions. He was a good listener and counselor.” His relationships were authentic, for “Jack was as inspired by the people he inspired as they were inspired by him.”


Like so many others who are mourning his loss, Heather Darby, the agronomist, concurs. She first met Jack soon after she started working at the University of Vermont in 2003. Given her interests, someone encouraged her to meet Jack.

Heather said she had to push herself to pick up the phone, given her discomfort with cold calling people. “As I was dialing the number, I was thinking, ‘I hope I get the answering machine.’ Jack answered and it was like he was waiting for me to call. We chatted and instantly he invited me up to his farm.”

“We had this relationship that just flourished,” she said. “In almost 20 years at Extension, I can only think of one other farmer that made me feel that way. I would call him at least once a week, whether we were doing research together or not. I learned so much. He was willing to share everything and he wanted to. That was a driving force for him – to share and foster good agricultural practices and mentor interested farmers.”

Heather and Jack traveled all over to speak at conferences and for tours. They even took a bunch of organic farmers to Denmark to visit organic grain operations there, she said.


Jack became interested in grain growing early on. According to Darby, all the grains were really interesting to Jack. The challenge of doing something new was particularly compelling for him. In his eyes, refining his ability to successfully grow organic grain probably constituted of the greatest adventure of his life and became his passion.

The initial impetus to grow grain involved a desire to be self-reliant, she said. Jack and Anne wanted to feed themselves and to produce grain for flour for their bread and grain for their cows.

The grain operation that he created was one of a kind in Vermont, Darby said. He pressed sunflower oil, made corn meal, and grew oats, barley, soybeans and flax.

In 2010 Jack got a contract with Chelsea Green Publishing to write a book about growing organic grain. At the time, he had no experience using a computer. Nonetheless, The Organic Grain Grower: Small-Scale, Holistic Grain Production for the Home and Market Producer was released to wide acclaim in 2013. Four days before the first book signing, Jack was hospitalized with kidney failure, a complication of prostate cancer.

With home dialysis five days a week, he regained much of his strength and created a college course on organic grain production that he taught for three years at the University of Vermont. “He loved teaching the students,” Darby said. “He was really trying to support people who were interested in agriculture.”

Until the end of his life, Jack continued to have dreams. One of his ideas was to go 100 percent grass-fed, with the goal of marketing Butterworks Farm yogurt for its carbon-sequestration value.

He also dreamed of transforming the farm into a cooperative, gaining his inspiration from a student in his college course on organic grain growing who wrote about creating a cooperative dairy farm in her final exam. But in the end, after hiring a general manager to look after the business, Jack and Anne envisioned the farm continuing to thrive with its value-added dairy business, and with the hard work and in-depth knowledge of daughter Christine Lazor and son-in-law Collin Mahoney and a committed crew of employees. It had taken them 13 years to work out how to let go of their management roles. (The Lazors had sold their development rights to the Vermont Land Trust 20 years earlier. By then, their farm comprised close to 500 acres of fields and forest.)

By the early 2000s, Butterworks Farm had become a $1.2 million business. But the recession that began in 2008 dealt them a blow that was compounded by increasing competition from other farmstead organic yogurt makers (several of whom the Lazors had mentored) and from corporate imitators that gave the impression of being family farmers. In 2008 they contracted with Grafton Village Cheese to turn their extra milk into aged cheddar cheese. This served as a way to put their milk in the bank, Anne explained.

While their business has shrunk – today the creamery counts four employees – Jack and Anne have been able to sustain it and adapt to the market for more than 30 years. Currently the farm produces 5,000 quarts of whole milk and nonfat yogurt, 1,000 pints of cultured buttermilk, 300 pints of kefir and up to 700 pints of heavy cream weekly.


Doug Flack, a grass farmer pioneer in his own right, respected his friend Jack on many levels. He noted that Jack never proselytized, but rather led by example. Jack’s integrity though seemed to have most impressed Doug. Despite a passion for growing grain, upon discovering that the grain-growing soils were not gaining organic matter while his pasture soils were improving, Jack was very upfront and public about this outcome, Doug explained. Jack revealed in an article that, after 40 years of plowing and cultivating fields to grow organic crops, the soil organic matter “barely broke 2 percent,” while his permanent grasslands tested out at 8 to 9 percent organic matter. This discovery prompted Jack’s conversion to a reduced tillage, biologically based agricultural system. As Doug explained, “It squashed his dream of grain farming and being able to grow the grain for his cows, and he decided that his cows were going to be grain free.”

Jack discussed his decision to transition Butterworks’ Jersey herd to grass-only production in a 2016 article. His enthusiastic embrace of the challenges it entailed and his eagerness to take others along on the journey were emblematic of who Jack was. In 2016, he wrote:

“Our primary goal in farming is to take more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and, through photosynthesis, lock it up in the Earth’s crust as humus and organic matter. Higher carbon levels in the soil are the number one weapon that we as humans have to reduce and eliminate the effects of a changing climate. We are excited to be trying something challenging and new. Our farming practices were already focused on mineralization and soil health, which has built a vibrant farm organism. Our switch to 100 percent grass fed dairying is taking us to new levels. It is incredibly hard work, but so much fun, and what we are learning we want to share with others in the process.”

As Jack grew older, his friends watched his passion for the earth and the care of the land become more and more motivating for him. By then, decades of experience had demonstrated how much healthy soil mattered. Reflecting on his roots in agriculture at the 2014 Esalen gathering of agrarian elders, Jack observed, “We went out of our way to give everything to the earth, and the earth gives back to us,” according to the New York Times article on the event.

“Jack’s legacy lives on in farmers and consumers and policy makers,” said Darby “He contributed so much in all kinds of ways to shape agriculture in Vermont.” Although he was a great innovator, as well as a pioneer at value-adding at the farm level, it may be that his generosity — “always being there with the doors open” — will have the most lasting influence.

Donations in honor of Jack Lazor can be made through the Northern Grain Growers Association (NGGA). The donations will be presented to Chief Don Stevens and the Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe in May 2021 at the celebration of life for Jack. The mailing address is NGGA, Attn: Heather Darby, 278 So. Main Street, Suite 2, St. Albans, VT 05478. Donations can also be made directly to Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe in support of its food security and sovereignty programs. A link to their food program, with a donate button at the bottom, can be accessed at

Tracy Frisch lives in upstate New York.

Precision Equipment is Key to Organic Weed Control

Sponsored by Man@Machine

Harrowing has long been a critical strategy for preventing weeds from choking out a crop.  Thousands of years ago, humans first used tree branches to harrow their fields.  They understood that removing weeds when they are small would save a lot of effort and lost production compared to waiting until later to deal with the weeds.  While the principle has not changed, the equipment has seen tremendous technological advancements. 

Matt Miller, an organic corn, soybean, and oat farmer from Bristow, Iowa, has made it a priority to have the best weed control technology on his farm.  He is one of many Treffler harrow owners across North America. 

Matt Miller with his son Henry at MOSES. Photo Credit: Jos Pelgröm 2020

Before Matt had built his farm up enough to provide an income for his family, he worked as a USDA Organic Farm Inspector.  “I saw a lot of different approaches to weed control,” he says.  “Some were trying ‘No-Till’ with smashed cover crops and hoping their crop would outgrow the weeds.  Some were trying to figure out how to ‘farm like Grandpa did’ and found their 40+ year old cultivation equipment buried in the back of a neighbor’s shed.  Others went the route of adopting the latest technology in weed management and mainly looked to Europe for that equipment.” 

Once Matt had acquired a basic set of weed control equipment for his own farm, his next move was to acquire the precision technologies.  The first leap in this phase of his operation was purchasing a new tractor with an integrated autosteer system capable of sub-inch accuracy.  Planting and cultivating with the GPS minimized problems with point rows at the edge of the field.  The precisely spaced and straight rows of corn and soybeans allowed for faster cultivating, and a better job covering the weeds and not the crop.  With the tractor able to drive itself down the rows, Matt could focus on making sure the cultivator was doing the best job possible. 

Two years ago Matt replaced his long tine harrow that had coil springs with a Treffler precision harrow equipped with the patented spring and cable tine tension adjustment system.  “Long tine harrows aren’t found on every organic farm in my region,” explains Matt, “but I don’t know what I would do without one.”  A good tine harrow removes weeds that grow within the crop row.  They are more aggressive than a rotary hoe, and effective at removing small seeded broadleaves and grasses that emerge at shallow depths.  The long tines allow it to be used in growing crops unlike the traditional spiked-tooth harrow. 

“I could do a pretty good job with my old harrow, but it was a very stressful tool to use,” Matt explains.  “I always worried about being too aggressive with it and damaging my crop or being too gentle with it and not adequately removing the weeds.  It was not fun at all to use.  When you need to do something that isn’t fun, there’s tendency to procrastinate, and that can cost you big when it comes to organic weed control.  My new Treffler tine harrow is absolutely fascinating to watch work, and that makes me look forward to every chance I have to take it to the field and kill weeds.”  

Before purchasing, Matt thoroughly researched various brands of tine harrows on the market.  The spring and cable tension system of the Treffler allows for the pressure on the tines to be adjusted just right to remove the most weeds while not damaging the crop.  Nearly all fields have some variation in soils and weed pressure.  The tine pressure is able to be adjusted on the fly to compensate for varying field conditions by using the tractor’s hydraulic system.  The harrows with the coil tine not only flex back and forth, but also side to side.  When they flex side to side, there will be gaps in the weed control, especially if two adjacent tines hook on each other.  Real problems occur then.  Since the Treffer tine harrow does not utilize the coil spring design, the tines do not flex side to side, and leave no gaps.

After two years of use, Matt says he is satisfied with the decision to get the Treffler for use in his organic corn and soybeans.  “Better weed control has saved me thousands of dollars in hand weeding expense and has led to higher yields,” he says.  “This definitely is not your grandpa’s harrow.”

Roller/Crimper to the Rescue of No-Till of Grain Systems

A Roller/Crimper in action in an organic no-till grain system.

By Jeff Moyer

The following is an excerpt from Jeff Moyer’s new book, Roller/Crimper No-Till: Advancing No-Till Agriculture — Crops, Soil & Equipment.

For decades, Rick Clark’s ancestors were, admittedly, some of the worst soil destructors in Warren County, Indiana.
But Clark knows the power of change. A fifth-generation farmer growing corn and soybeans, he made the decision to choose a new path and pursue organic no-till management. Now he is one of the most vocal advocates for organic no-till grain farming in the country.

Today, Clark Land and Cattle is approaching 750 certified organic acres, is 100 percent GMO-free, and terminates its cover crops with a roller/crimper. Much of Clark’s grain crops go to feed dairy cattle whose milk is used for Dannon yogurt.

Clark speaks to farmer groups across the country about his organic no-till journey. He makes sure to end all his speeches with the same sentiment:

“If you’re not uncomfortable with what you’re doing, then you are not trying hard enough to change.”

Making the Change

Farmers throughout the United States are facing that need for change as consumers increasingly seek organic products and weather becomes more unpredictable. Moving to an organic no-till system, specifically one that implements the roller crimper, is becoming a popular decision for many farmers.

“I was wrestling with farming and how I wanted to farm, because we’re small farmers and I wanted to go organic,” said Levi Lyle, one such farmer in Keota, Iowa, who felt that need for change in his family’s operation.

He needed to convince his father that going organic would be in their farm’s best interest and decided to become an organic inspector himself to gather knowledge firsthand.

“I learned what farmers were doing and where their struggles were, and I saw them really struggling on the soybean side of things,” said Lyle. “I thought, you know, this roller/crimper thing is worth looking into further.”

Having read about the roller/crimper a decade earlier, Lyle decided now was the time to pursue no-till on 60 acres of certified organic crop land.

Influenced by the research of both Rodale Institute and Dr. Erin Silva of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, both Rick Clark and Levi Lyle have improved the soil health on their farms through use of the roller/crimper.

Implementation Strategies

While their equipment is the same, Clark’s and Lyle’s methods vary slightly, each with specific benefits. Clark plants green into his cover crop, usually a cereal rye or a diverse mix of his own creation.

This system allows Clark to plant his soybeans into cereal rye around the last week of April. By the time the rye has reached maturity and can be roller/crimped in June, the soybeans have already reached growth stage V2 and will continue to grow once the cover is terminated.

By allowing the cover crop to remain in the soil alive as long as possible, Clark believes his cash crops reap multiple benefits.

“We’ve created a mulch that’s suppressing weeds. We are feeding the microbes and we’ve put an armor on the soil,” Clark explained. “We are protecting the soil from sunlight, from evaporation … and conserving every ounce of water that gets into our profile.”

Lyle, on the other hand, uses a one-pass system where the roller/crimper and the planter are both attached to his tractor. This cuts down on labor and soil compaction as he plants his soybeans into a rye cover crop.

While some farmers may shy away from the roller/crimper due to timing restrictions on cover crop termination, Lyle has found that with changing weather patterns, timing can actually be a benefit.

“This year [2019], there were no soybeans planted during the month of May because May was so wet,” he described. By the time conventional farmers were able to plant their soybeans, Lyle was ahead of the game.

“We could get in sooner because the rye was already there,” he said. “So, on the first of June we went in and were planting our roller/crimped soybeans before any other farmers in our county. That felt kind of cool.”

Finding Profitability

The ability to compete with conventional systems is tied up with the question of yields and profitability, a consideration that weighed heavily on Lyle. In the end, he’s been pleasantly surprised with the results of roller crimping his soybeans.

“We’re seeing improved profits. Farmers are making three, sometimes four herbicide passes, and they still have weeds in that field,” he said. “I’ve been very happy with the amount of cost I’m saving by roller/crimping instead of using herbicide passes.”

“We’re not losing any yields on our soybeans,” Lyle explained. “We’re still getting between 50 and 60 bushels of soybeans an acre.”

Comparable yields, mixed with a reduction in input costs, leads to an overall increase in profitability on Lyle’s farm.
The same can be said for Clark’s operation — though yields are not his main concern.

“I know you’ve got to have yields to make a return on investment calculation,” Clark conceded. “But we have driven our input costs down so low that our break-even numbers are ridiculously low on corn and soybeans. So we can withstand a lot.”

“It’s not about who can raise the most corn,” he stated. “It’s about building soil health and maximizing the return on investment.”

Challenges & Opportunities

That commitment to continuously improving the soil keeps Clark moving forward every day. Clark wants to keep pushing the boundary of organic no-till to make soil health the number one consideration in his operation.

Clark is working hard to diversify his cover crop mix, explaining that even cover crops can fall into monoculture. While every soybean crop comes after cereal rye, Clark doesn’t think that cereal rye should be the only thing in the field.

He experiments with mixing in other cover crops with the rye like radish, sorghum-sudangrass, and oats for winter kill, as well as something like clover, hairy vetch, and peas that will be suppressed by the cereal rye in the spring.

Despite the nitrogen-fixing benefits he knows this mix will provide, Clark knows that he’s operating on logistical trial and error.

“My biggest challenge with the crimper,” he said, “is being able to terminate all this diverse complex cocktail next spring.”

While Clark is pushing the envelope, Lyle has become the unofficial spokesman for the classic one-pass roller/crimper system. After being featured for his experience with the roller/crimper in an article by the Natural Resource Conservation Service, Lyle said he’s received calls from all over the country from farmers asking how to use the tool in their operations.

“Guys have called from Nebraska wanting to roller/crimp their wheat and plant sorghum. I’ve had calls from Texas from people wanting to roller/crimp to plant hemp, and a lot of farmers are interested in roller/crimping just to reduce the first pass of herbicides,” he said.

Lyle also loans out his roller/crimpers to neighboring farmers in Iowa, with operators coming from as far as five hours away to borrow the equipment.

“I’ve been impressed to see the amount of different systems that the roller/crimper is working in,” Lyle said.

One such new system is wildlife food plots. Lyle explained that many managers of food plots are not farmers and don’t have the same resources.

“They’re not comfortable having a bunch of herbicides in storage,” said Lyle. The roller/crimper helps these operators maintain weed control and healthy yields without requiring chemical intervention.

Looking Forward

Lyle is excited about continuing to help other farmers find cost savings with the roller/crimper, as well as growing his own operation.

He’s interested in studying soil health and its potential to sequester carbon, which he considers a new farm commodity that should be bought and traded between farmers to improve the condition of the planet.

While he may end all his speeches with his call for farmers to push themselves, what he really wants them to take away from his talks is how passionately he loves this work.

“My very last thing I say is, I’m proud to be a farmer, but I’m more proud of the way I farm,” he said. “Regenerative stewardship. That’s what I call it. It’s all about soil health.”

Jeff Moyer is the CEO of Rodale Institute.

Tractor Time Episode 48: Doug Fine, American Hemp Farmer

On this episode — the return of Doug Fine. Operating out the Funky Butte Ranch in southern New Mexico, Doug is a hemp farmer by day, journalist by night, entrepreneurial dynamo 24/7. His writing has appeared in places like Washington Post, Wired and Outside Magazine. He’s traveled all over the world, including to places like Burma, Rwanda, Laos, Guatemala and Tajikistan. He’s given TED Talks. He’s appeared on late-night talk shows. And he’s written several books, including Not Really An Alaskan Mountain Man, Farewell My Subaru, Too High To Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution, and Hemp Bound: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Next Agricultural Revolution. His latest book, American Hemp Farmer, is a follow-up to Hemp Bound and it celebrates the men and women who are blazing a path in the regenerative, farmer-driven hemp industry. Doug also recently put out a brand new online course on growing and marketing regenerative hemp. For more on that, visit

This is Doug’s second time on the podcast and we’re grateful to have him back. This interview was recorded last year and it’s our first podcast of 2021. Doug’s a perfect guest to kick off a new season. He’s enthusiastic, he’s optimistic. He has a big vision for the future of regenerative hemp … and he’s in the trenches doing the work to bring it into reality.

Go buy Doug’s new book at the bookstore. Use the coupon code JANPOD for 10 % off on America Hemp Farmer and all other titles. And, if you’re interested in growing hemp yourself, Doug’s new course is a great place to start. Visit to sign up.

Connect Soil Health and Hemp

Join Acres USA for our 2nd annual Advancing Hemp event on May 20, 2021. This virtual event is designed to prepare farmers for successful hemp production through practical, applicable advice from industry-leading experts and growers. Learn more here.

Organic Corn Variety Immune to GMO Contamination

By Jill Henderson

Corn has been a staple in the human diet since the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica began domesticating the wild grass for its sweet kernels some 10,000 years ago. Subsequent cultures encountering the crop quickly adopted its cultivation and use, including early Europeans exploring the New World. Fast-forward to modern times and corn is not only an integral part of American culture but an essential global commodity that steadily ranks among the top five agricultural products in the world.

Of course, corn isn’t grown just for food and feed anymore. Its use as an integral component of modern biofuels has driven cultivation into overdrive, with American farmers leading production worldwide. According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), U.S. farmers planted 91.7 million acres of corn in 2019, which is 3 percent more than in 2018 and significantly more than soybeans, the second-largest crop grown in the country. The USDA likens the total known acreage cultivated to corn as “69 million football fields” worth – the majority of which are seeded with genetically modified varieties. For organic, ecological and biodynamic farmers whose livelihoods depend on open-pollinated and organic feed and seed, these numbers are nothing less than a nightmare.

The Botany of Corn

The incredible diversity found in a simple grass, known to modern botanists as Zea mays, has been slowly and painstakingly developed over the last 10,000 years. Today there are five basic corn genotypes, which are determined by their heritable genes. These include dent, flour, sweet, flint and popcorn, which is essentially a specialized type of flint corn. Each of these types is prized for one of three primary characteristics of the kernel, including texture, sweetness and color.

Traditional breeding begins with one or more corn varieties and involves careful selection of desired traits such as plant form, kernel color, hardiness, time to maturity and disease and insect resistance, among others. Stable varietals are maintained using techniques such as hand-pollination, single variety planting, distance isolation, and physical barriers. Most varieties, both present and past, were created using intentional cross-breeding, while others were just the lucky results of accidental cross-pollination in the field that ultimately led to stable and useful varieties.

Corn is a monoecious plant, meaning it has both male and female flowers on every plant. The tassels are the male flowers, complete with elongated stamens and conspicuous pollen-producing anthers dangling from every thread. The silks that emerge from the ears are the external portion of the female flowers, which encompass the entire ear. Each ear shoot contains an inflorescence of flowers made up of many ovules from which elongated styles known as silks grow. Eventually, the silks protrude from the tip of the ear shoot and, when pollinated, mature into a single kernel of corn. Although multiple grains of pollen may land on a single strand of silk and germinate, only one will make it to the ovule in the race to pass on its genes to the following generation.

Because corn is a natural out-crosser, its pollen is designed to drift long distances, pollinating as many other corn plants as possible. This mechanism ensures a wide range of natural diversity within the gene pool and the survival of the species in the wild. This indiscriminate pollination, evident in all plants with wind-borne pollen, is why corn is sometimes referred to as a “promiscuous pollinator.” For farmers trying to grow corn of a single stable variety for seed or market, this kind of indiscriminate behavior in the field can wreak havoc on a season’s worth of work.

Same But Different

For ten thousand years, corn was bred using simple mechanical techniques to keep each unique variety pure and stable. Open-pollinated (OP) and heirloom seeds (which are just very old OP varieties) are the results of cross-pollination between genetically similar parents, whether in the field or through hand-pollination. OP seeds will come true to variety year after year if no cross-contamination from other varieties occurs during the growing season.

Hybrids, on the other hand, are a little more complicated. In the wild, a hybrid can occur naturally when two varieties cross-pollinate. But modern hybrids are the result of intentional cross-pollination between two highly inbred parents. In the trade, one inbred is used only for its pollen and is referred to as the “male” plant, while the other is used only for generating seed and is referred to as the “female” plant. Breeding hybrids like these involves meticulous pollination procedures every time the crop is grown for seed. Seed saved from first-generation hybrid crops will not come true to type ever again without matching the cross exactly – and this is often a trade secret of the breeder. Although some growers shun hybrids because their seed can’t be saved, hybrids are productive, disease resistant and can be produced organically.

Unlike hybridization, which is a relatively natural process of cross-pollination, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are unarguably a wholly unnatural method of creating living organisms that have had the natural genetic structure of their DNA permanently and artificially altered. Most people aren’t aware that there are two classifications of GMOs. The first is referred to simply as a GMO and is designated as such by having an “artificially altered genome” or having been “altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating or natural recombination.” The second has had a gene or DNA sequence from an entirely different species (including plant, animal, insect, bacteria, fungi, virus or human) inserted into a variety of different tissues within the host. These are commonly referred to as transgenic organisms, but many prefer the acronym GMTO (genetically modified transgenic organisms) to make their origins as clear as possible. Transgenic organisms are always GMOs but not all GMOs are transgenic.

Of course, GM and GMTO corn looks like any other corn on the outside and has much of the same physiological functions on the inside, which means it can and does pass its modified transgenes on to non-GMO corn through simple cross-pollination. In some cases, GMO crops are more promiscuous out-crossers than their non-GMO counterparts, which means they can be more aggressive pollinators in every respect.

Controlling Contamination

Anyone who has ever grown certified organic seed stock knows that controlling the pollination process in corn is not only essential; it is a major undertaking. This is particularly true when growing OP corn in regions where the predominant varieties are GMOs. Many seed sellers admit that it is incredibly difficult to find uncontaminated seed, and many breeders have thrown in the towel, frustrated with their inability to create enough barriers and distance between the two to keep their corn pure.

In a 2013 article on the Seed Savers Exchange website, assistant curator Tor Janson and communications coordinator Steve Carlson discussed the ramifications of GMO intrusion in their trial of an heirloom blue corn. Their planting was at least a half mile from neighboring GMO cornfields and further buffered by extensive physical barriers that included elevation changes and woodlots – all traditional forms of isolation. Yet, when the corn ripened, they immediately spotted signs of contamination in the ripened kernels.

“From a population of over 200 plants, we found a few scattered off-type kernels on six different ears. This genetic contamination represents less than 0.1% of the population in this generation, but if those off-type kernels were planted in the next generation, those plants, with 50% GMO genetics, would introduce a far greater level of GMO contamination to the population.

“For the purposes of non-GMO food labeling, the level of contamination we experienced is acceptable. But for the purposes of saving seed, any GMO contamination is unacceptable because the contamination will increase exponentially in each successive generation.”

GMO patent-protected corn not only presents a legal threat to organic growers and seed breeders, but a historic and economic threat as well.

Breeding That Blocks GMOs

Ever since the advent of technology that allowed the creation of GMO crops without any legal protection or recourse to contamination, breeders have been searching for a way to thwart the cross-contamination of organic and OP corn. One plant breeder and researcher who has been at the forefront of this effort for more than 20 years is Dr. Frank Kutka. His extensive curriculum vitae includes a B.S. in biology from the University of Wisconsin College, an M.S. in animal ecology from Iowa State University and a Ph.D. in plant breeding from Cornell University. Dr. Kutka has held several prestigious positions during his career, including assistant director and SARE Coordinator for the Dakotas at North Dakota State University Dickinson Research Extension Center. He is currently a faculty member at the College of Menominee Nation Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center, where he is developing a sustainable agriculture degree program and breeding pollen-blocking corn during the summer.

Dr. Kutka’s early work breeding pollen-blocking corn began in 2001 as a grad student at Cornell. His worked included an interesting genetic trait known as gametophytic cross incompatibility, which is naturally found in popcorn and teosinte (Zea mays parviglumis), an ancient relative of modern-day corn. First discovered in the early 1900s and used extensively to breed new popcorn varieties in the ’50s and white corn varieties in the ’70s, the trait known as Ga1S was known to inhibit the germination and growth rate of unrelated pollen in plants that carried the gene.

In 2004, after years of intensive breeding, Kutka introduced a variety of pollen-blocking corn that he named “Organic Ready” as a jab at Monsanto’s Roundup Ready brand. But Kutka was not the only breeder working with Ga1 pollen-blocking traits. Hoegemeyer Hybrids founder Dr. Tom Hoegemeyer, from the University of Nebraska, had already developed a line of hybrid pollen-blocking corn in the 1990s called PuraMaize. His hybrid was eventually patented and offered to the public through Iowa-based Blue River Organic Seed in 2011.

At the time, there was an effort to prevent Hoegemeyer from patenting a gametophytic cross incompatibility trait that had been known and freely used to breed corn since the 1900s. In the end, Hoegemeyer, Blue River, and their partners won the debate, claiming that their pollen-blocking line was not the result of just one genetic trait, but a gene-system consisting of multiple traits. PuraMaize is one of the most popular commercial choices for hybrid organic yellow corn on the market today.

Blue River boasts that while pollen from GMO, gene-edited and CRISPR corn might germinate on the silks of PuraMaize, if its own pollen is present it will grow faster and fertilize the ovule before the competition. The company touts that PuraMaize produces corn with GMO contamination levels that fall well below the European standard of one-tenth of one percent, while competing favorably with standard hybrid and GMO varieties for production and disease resistance. In terms of helping organic farmers produce a clean, marketable organic crop, there is no doubt that their system works.

The Next Row to Hoe

Over the last two decades, Kutka’s breeding projects have continued to focus on the Ga1S trait from South American popcorn as well as the Ga2S and Tcb1s traits from teosinte to create new pollen-blocking corn varieties that would be free for other breeders and farmers to use without the restraints and expense of patents. He wants farmers to know that many of these new varieties are referred to as “synthetics” by breeders. This, he says, simply refers to open-pollinated or hybrid varieties that have been intensively bred using multiple lines of pure inbred corn.

In a recent article he wrote for Broadcaster Press, Kutka said, “… many pollen blockers suffer from drawbacks – including complicated genetics – that have challenged breeding and marketability efforts.” Despite those challenges, he and many breeders have found much success over the years, creating both open-pollinated and hybrid varieties of popcorn, sweet corn and a wide array of specialty corn – all of which have pollen-blocking traits.

Although PuraMaize is still the most visible and widely used pollen-blocking “synthetic” on the market today, Kutka said that many varieties based on their genetics are available commercially. He also points out that a number of breeders are currently close to releasing several new Ga1 hybrids. These researchers include Walter Goldstein, founder of the Mandaamin Institute (, whose mission is to “use ancient varieties of grain to enhance the quality and sustainability of modern corn crops,” and Dr. Major Goodman, of North Carolina State University, who is working on new sources of gametophytic incompatibility from the tropics.  Kutka says he is currently adapting one of Goodman’s strains for the northern states and that he’s always happy to send a few seeds from his various breeding projects to breeders to use in their own projects. A few of his “populations” are currently in the commercial arena through Sand Hill Preservation Center in Iowa and Green Haven Open Pollinated Corn Group in New York. He said that his newest Ga1 pollen-blocking synthetic OP variety, Organic Rebellion, is currently available through Albert Lea Seed.

The next row that farmers hoe in terms of preventing GMO contamination in corn almost certainly must include the unique genetic gametophytic traits that allow corn to resist GMO pollination. These traits have been in existence longer than the advent of genetic modification, and yet here we are, still limited to only a few viable options for blocking GMO contamination. Like any good invention, it is the consumer that drives production. And nothing incentivizes innovation more generously than monetary support. The more farmers want and buy these seeds, the more breeders can focus on creating new and interesting varieties faster. The result for organic farmers is the ability to increase their bottom dollar while still retaining their integrity as eco-farmers.

Jill Henderson is an artist, author and organic gardener. She is editor of Show Me Oz (, a weekly blog featuring articles on gardening, seed saving, nature ecology, wild edible and medicinal plants and culinary herbs. She has written three books: The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, A Journey of Seasons: A Year in the Ozarks High Country and The Garden Seed Saving Guide.

Potato Growers Go to Great Lengths to Ensure Pristine Seed

Amy Gerritsen removes a full pallet box of Wood Prairie Farm’s seed potatoes from the Juko harvester.

By Lauren Krizansky

Cleanliness is the certified seed potato grower’s eternal burden and the mantra of the century old production system.

Certified seed potatoes are not the same as true potato seed. The latter are the berries collected from the potato plant. Seedlings germinated from true potato seed are genetically unique and will produce tubers with different characteristics than the parent plant.

Vegetatively propagated certified seed potatoes are tubers grown for planting that an agency inspects for authenticity and disease. These tubers are started in tissue culture from disease-free plants. Mini tubers are the seed potatoes grown out from these plants in a traditional or hydroponic greenhouse, producing a crop pure in genetics and health. This seed is then grown out for several years before it is sold for final production. As the tuber is reproduced through the generations, environment imposes pressure on the seed to maintain its integrity.

Keeping the seed potato’s wholeness intact is necessary because, ultimately, dirty seed results in substantial table stock and seed production loses. Certification along with breeding programs are the backbone of the seed potato industry. These resources identify and respond to industry needs to keep potato production viable and progressing.

No shortcuts

A seed potato grower does everything possible to keep disease off of the farm, and understanding disease and the role of certification is part of the management plan.

Vegetative propagation increases the chance of disease spreading from one generation to the next. Every year, seed potatoes are exposed to soil and air borne pathogens, and insect vectors. These factors can potentially acquire numerous bacterial, fungal or viral pathogens that cause disease. The disease will accumulate in the seed potatoes, resulting in a disease carry over during the subsequent growing season.

The certification system has a steady track record of identifying disease and, in some instances, eradicating the problem. For example, Leaf Roll, a virus, is no longer a threat in many potato-growing regions because of diligent management and decisions that did include multi-season insecticide applications that killed the infected aphid spreading the disease.

“The perfect seed has zero bacteria and zero virus,” explained Colorado Potato Certification Service Manager Dr. Andrew Hauser. “Beyond that, zero pests and zero diseases.”

Certification services conduct summer inspections and post-harvest testing to manage disease. Their findings can knock a seed lot out of the market, which impacts the availability of that seed in the future. The agencies make their annual findings available to the consumer through public reports and documents like the North American Health Certificate.

“The health certificate tells you how much disease, how many problems you are buying,” Hauser said. “My job is to show that there is a quality seed potato crop available. There are a lot of shortcuts that can be made. Seed certification service can choose shortcuts or do our best to make sure those shortcuts do not happen.”

Clean from the start

Certified seed potato rules and regulations are determined state by state. Some states, like Colorado and Montana, enforce programs through their land grant universities while Maine’s program operates under the umbrella of the state’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. In 1914, Wisconsin was the first state to implement certified potato seed guidelines. Maine was the second, establishing certification services one year later. Seventeen states including Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Alaska would eventually follow. Today, although the programs are not necessarily harmonious, they do more or less follow the same disease management guidelines. The first guideline: begin with seed that is clean and, when possible, bred for disease resistance. 

“Farmers should source certified seed and pay attention to the grower’s opinion,” said Wood Prairie Farm’s Jim Gerritsen, a 40-year veteran seed potato grower in Bridgewater, Maine. “It cuts down risk. It’s like a working farm dog. Pure versus a crossbreed. With the purebred, you will understand the qualities. With the crossbred, there is an unknown, an uncertainty.”

In addition to disease, the absence of variety mix also determines clean seed. Variety mix is identified during multiple summer inspections. If it is present, it is remedied through roguing, a practice that requires walking the fields with a sharp eye and physically removing the unwanted plants.

Cleanliness on a seed potato operation rounds out with constant sanitization and disinfestation of handling, planting and harvesting equipment as well as storages, which certification services also inspect. This is primarily to manage bacterial diseases. Virus and fungal diseases are mainly present in the field.

“Sometimes growers take the risk and plant contaminated seed,” Hauser said. “Most often cleaning that seed up through virus management is challenging and not economic.”

A viral battlefield

Maine’s North Woods nearly envelope Gerritsen’s farm, which is the last of the cultivated lands on his road, six miles from the Canadian border. The woods provide him with isolation from other potato farms and his fields are positioned to the east, preventing the threat of disease laden winds. He chose to plant his seed in a place with an environmental advantage against disease, but it does not grant him immunity.

Potato Virus Y is at home in most growing environments.  It finds its way into the wet and humid fields of the northeast and the arid, desert fields of the west. It’s not all the same strain and it doesn’t express in the same ways or at the same time, but every potato field can credit the annual virus spread to aphids.

The USDA defines PVY as a monopartite, single stranded RNA virus that infects mainly Solanaceous plants. In potatoes, it causes a mosaic pattern in the leaves of infected plant. This mosaic expresses as a green and yellow variation, but can also be expressed as a roughness in the leaves, yet most strains do not affect tuber quality. The virus has become predictable in its unpredictability and it is determining what potato varieties can survive in different environments under the most dynamic Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plans.

Every summer, Hauser walks seed potato fields with his band of inspectors under the hot, high desert sun. Most of the lots he inspects are woven between commercial and highly PVY susceptible Norkotah Russet crops. He witnesses many virus management techniques with a great appreciation for the growers’ determination to produce a quality seed potato crop in a place where overexposure to the virus is the norm.

“You have to manage for PVY,” Hauser said. “If you want a seed industry in a place like the San Luis Valley, you have to. Even if you are a commercial grower.”

In a place like Montana, commercial production is scarce, creating an advantage for its seed potato growers.

“Montana has the luxury of being an almost exclusively ‘seed potato’ state,” said Montana Seed Potato Certification director Nina Zidack. “We do not have a significant amount of commercial potato production in Montana which allows us to grow seed potatoes in relative isolation.”

Similar to Gerritsen and his secluded farm in the woods, Montana growers know their isolation does not make them immune to threats.

“Our growers still manage diseases by growing early generation seed potatoes,” Zidack said. “The grow as far away from other seed potatoes as possible, with some farms growing their seed plots in counties that have no history of seed potato production.”

IPM and other considerations

When PVY is present, it does effect yields negatively. Hauser explained in a typical Norkotah Russet crop, 450 hundred weight per acre is considered a good yield. If there is 25-30 percent PVY present in that field, he said, it might drop the yield to 375 or 400 hundred weight, which is not considered terrible.

“This is still an acceptable yield,” he said. “That is the problem. You don’t know that you have that potential. The blame for the acceptable yield is the weather or water or something else, something less provable.”

What Hauser is able to prove, however, is that IPM works. He said insecticides, timing, roguing, oils, and biological practices all have shown to lessen PVY spread in one way or another in the high desert growing environment and elsewhere.

Growers, he said, are applying insecticides like pyrethroids and neonicotinoids in furrow at planting and throughout the season via chemigation systems to kill aphids.

“Neonics are more effective compared to pyrethroids, which excite the aphids and send them hopping from plant to plant,” Hauser said. “The neonics kill more instantly. Overall, the insecticides are not too effective.”

Roguing is a valuable tool for removing plants expressing mosaic symptoms from the field, but it is time and labor intensive depending on varieties and planted acreage.

Planting and vine desiccation timing can shorten the window of vulnerability to infection, which is a serious factor in some organic seed potato production.

“The longer the seed is alive, the more opportunity aphids have to come in and spread the disease,” Hauser said.

Without organic vine desiccant available, organic growers usually either have to wait for a deep frost to kill potato vines or use equipment to beat the vines to encourage skin set. In recent years, a former organic seed potato grower lost an entire operation because of mechanical PVY spread, proving how devastating the virus is when management is neglected.

Bringing additional life in the form of flowers to a seed potato field, however, did reveal that managing the amount of PVY aphids carry is an effective IPM tool. Several seasons ago, Colorado State University supported Hauser in a research project where he planted a diverse flowering border crop around seed potatoes. He found that with the border crop, the spread of PVY was reduced. Since PVY only lives in the aphid for a few hours, it is able to clean its stylus in non-host plants, like the flowers in Hauser’s mix. If the pest enters the seed potato field with a clean stylus, it will not spread PVY unless it feeds off of an infected plant within the field.

The border crop also provided an environment for predatory insects to feed and reproduce. Hauser said he attributed the mitigated PVY spread to the predatory insects the border crop attracted and the alternative food source it provided for all the insects.

Mineral oils are gaining popularity across the industry to battle the virus, and they are especially effective when the grower plants clean seed, Hauser said. It is considered an organic, proactive approach that inhibits the aphid from inserting its stylus. The downside is the expense. The oils cost around $15 an acre and are applied every 5 to 7 days. The management tool also requires significant labor hours and applicator passes.

Gerritsen has found success with mineral oils. This year, he complemented the tactic with a foliar spray that encourages the plant’s natural defense system. Since he is an organic grower, he is working with two certification systems that, for him, have yet to conflict with one another. He said he has found support through both systems to produce a healthy, quality crop, unlike the grower who interpreted organic management as no management at all.

“I abide in the faith, the understanding that the system is right and that there has to be an organic method we can deploy,” Gerritsen said. “I’m not interested in poison, and there have been no restraints. The goal is to grow healthy plants that make healthy tubers.”

Regardless of the management method or certifying agency, quality seed potatoes are available because of the people who understand that the potato is an essential crop and believe in the future of agriculture. Without the checks, the balances, the dedication and the progress, the potato might not grow or even taste like they do today. Farmers, certifiers, breeders, chefs and those who only eat the final product all benefit from the system put in place generations ago to feed many generations to come.

Lauren Krizansky is an agricultural journeywoman. She loves, lives and works with her partner, Brendon Rockey, on Rockey Farms in Center, Colorado.