Environmental impact of livestock production

At MISA, we prefer a nuanced discussion of the role of livestock in agriculture and the environment.
Here’s the very quick-and-dirty sketch of our thinking on this topic:
– The major water quality problems in surface waters that receive agricultural runoff are excess nitrates, excess phosphorus, fecal coliform bacteria, turbidity, and hypoxia.  All of these problems can be mitigated or even reversed by cropping systems that feature continuous living cover (CLC); which means use of cover crops in tandem with annual crops like corn and soybean; and use of perennial crops in the system.
– Carbon stored in soil is lost when tillage occurs for the planting of annual crops like corn and soybean.  No-till systems can mitigate that to some degree, but these are not fully adopted by farmers.
– Carbon dioxide can be pulled from the atmosphere by growing plants and stored as soil carbon in agricultural cropping systems that employ perennial crops.
– The most established and likely pathway for an increase in acreage of perennial crops is for those to be forage crops, and for those forage crops to be utilized by a grazing animal.  Well-managed grazing of perennial grasses and other perennial crops can produce a saleable livestock product for the farmer while simultaneously sequestering soil carbon and reducing or nearly stopping agricultural runoff into surface waters.
– Thus, if we look at the potential benefits of perennial ground cover as opposed to the annual row-cropping of corn and soybean in terms of reducing runoff; AND the benefit in soil carbon sequestration from shifting more ground from annual crops to perennial crops; AND we look at the economic reality that dictates that a farmer must have a product of value to consumers to sell; THEN, on balance, a system that includes grazing livestock under good grazing management and using perennial forage is preferable to a system that excludes livestock.  We also like cover crops for their soil health, prevention of runoff, and prevention of leaching benefits; and using cover crops as forage for grazing livestock can also speed the integration of cover crops into a farmer’s cropping system.

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Non-GMO Farming


I am having trouble locating specific information on non-GMO crop farming. I would like to locate resources that would help me evaluate and consider moving farms (including my own) into raising non-GMO field crops in Minnesota.   Are their certifications and land preparation requirements —  i.e., is it like going Organic where the land has to be free of pesticide use, etc, for so many years?  Can you use traditional fertilizers and herbicides?  Also, what about marketing and selling crops in Southwest MN including financial evaluations of switching from conventional to non-gmo crops — what impact does it have on margins and profitability?  What are crop production practices for raising non-GMO that keep it competitive — I’ve been reading about foliar feeding?


Raising non-GMO crops is not at all the same as switching to organic agriculture.  Organic agriculture requires a whole-system change that includes crop rotation with a minimum of a 3-year rotation, use of manure or green manure crops for fertility instead of synthetic fertilizers; as well as a number of other practices intended to improve soil health and reduce or eliminate the need for pesticides.  Non-GMO crops are grown in conventional agricultural systems just like their GMO counterparts — and were for decades; the first GMO corn was introduced in 1996. The main difference would be the need to adjust the weed control program and the insect control program, if needed. Weeds and insects are reasons why a longer crop rotation might make things easier. Rotating into a hay crop such as alfalfa for one or two years breaks up the life-cycles of the weeds and pests that typically plague corn and soybeans, as well as adding nitrogen and organic matter to the soil. However, the longer crop rotation is not a requirement for growing non-GMO grain.

Here’s information about a recent Iowa State University study that showed the equivalence of a 3-year and 4-year rotation with a 2-year rotation for profitability:

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Laws and regulations for road side stands


I’m wondering if you have any information regarding laws and regulations of road side stands. For instance, are there polices that forbid people living in the city to sell their homegrown produce in their drive way (like a garage sale)? Farmers (in rural settings) can usually have road side stands, but I don’t see any within the city limits; is this due to laws and regulations?


This is a Minnesota State Constitutional matter.  Article 13, Section 7 of the Constitution of the State of Minnesota:

“Sec. 7. No license required to peddle. Any person may sell or peddle the products of the farm or garden occupied and cultivated by him without obtaining a license therefor.”


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We have land we want to rent/sell to farmers

You might be interested in the Farm Transitions Toolkit that Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture and Land Stewardship Project put together a couple of years ago — it has information about tools and considerations for handing off farmland to new farmers. You might find parts of it useful even if this is a temporary rental situation:

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City zoning prohibits my agricultural activity

Obtain a copy of the city zoning ordinances and look through them to see if you can find some wiggle room that the city inspectors didn’t notice.  Typically these are set up as a matrix that have a long list of potential uses of land or building space, and then columns for “allowed,” “restricted,” “conditional,” “prohibited,” and possibly other categories.
You can find local government ordinances in the Minnesota State Law Library: Minnesota County and Municipal Ordinances Online:

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Want to purchase meat that does not support CAFOs


I do not want to support a CAFO with my meat purchases. I would like to purchase beef and chicken from a farmer in the Midwest who utilizes a mobile processing unit. Can you provide me with any resources or farms who allow their animals to live out their whole lives on the same farm?


Your question actually contains several things that have to be answered separately, so I hope you won’t mind if I give you some overview of the situation with direct farmer-to-consumer meat sales.
There’s a lot of space in between CAFOs and farmers who use mobile processing plants.  In fact, there are currently no licensed mobile processing plants that I’m aware of that operate in Minnesota. There are a handful of mobile poultry processing units that are used by farmers for on-farm processing of chickens and turkeys. The regulations are a little different for poultry; see more below.

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Seeking Train-the-Trainer Course in Food Preservation

South Dakota State University has some great online self-study materials:



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Farm Transitions: Legal Transfer of Land to Offspring

There is a Farm Transitions Toolkit that you might find helpful.  It is a general overview but contains good background information that can help you know the language and what questions to ask when you talk to lawyers, financial counselors, etc. It also contains a lot of data about costs and benefits of various land use practices that your family might consider as part of the transition.
You can interact with it online on the Land Stewardship website:
Downloadable PDF versions are here:
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Starting a cut flower business in Minnesota

1.  Fact sheet from MN Dept. of Revenue on the definition of “Agricultural Production.”  It includes floriculture.

2. Information about Schedule F.  If you want to run this as an agricultural enterprise and be able to claim the income and the expenses from the venture, you’ll need to file a Schedule F with your income taxes.  Schedule F is the farm business reporting form.

Here’s the IRS link to Schedule F and Instructions for Schedule F, plus some other links.

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