Corn and Soybeans
From the Farmer's Tractor
July 26, 2009
How did you get to be a corn farmer?
I’ve farmed all my life and I live in a house my great grandfather built. Farming is really what I was meant to do. I never had any thoughts of being in any other business.
How would you define food sustainability?
I think sustainability is a really broad topic that’s trying to be defined by many people in many ways. Most farmers feel that they’re doing things in a sustainable manner and I think they are. To me, it’s growing a crop year to year and improving the way you grow crops with fewer inputs. Every farmer looks forward knowing that if he doesn’t take care of his soil and do things in the right manner he won’t have a productive farm in the future.
How have your business practices changed in the past 10 years?
Equipment has changed to where the farmers can adapt easier. But the biggest revolution that I see right now is in seeds. You can buy a small seed for an amount of money that’s manageable and you can increase your profits tremendously just by buying that seed. A good seed could have five times the yield. Also, our soil is in much better condition today then it was 10 years ago because of the no till aspects of farming that we now do. We are growing more productive crops and putting more organic matter back in the soil.
What steps are you taking toward conservation?
We’ve always looked at growing a crop better every year. We started no tilling our farm in the early 80’s when most people didn’t. We buy better equipment to do a better job, we use less fertilizer, we buy the best seed possible to get the most yield out of our inputs, we prevent spoilage. We get the most out of every acre that we plant.
What are the biggest challenges you face?
Productivity is a concern and fertilizer cost, because it’s expensive this year. Cost of production is probably the biggest thing on our minds right now.
What do you think overall about biofuels?
Biofuels have been very good for agriculture as a whole because it gave us a new demand area for our crop. If you look at livestock, their methods are becoming more efficient and they’re not using as much corn and soybeans as they used to. Also, humans aren’t eating as much as they used to. We needed another area because we had extra high yields due to new seed and production methods. Biofuels gave us the new demand area for our crops that added to our net income. As far as what it did for our personal farm, it gave us a whole new way to look at what we were raising.
How can we help educate the consumer?
It’s really hard to get to the consumer and make it stick. I think there’s a big game from the consumer to the farmer, and consumers have concerns that there are corporate farms out there doing things in unhealthy and unsustainable ways, and that’s not true. Consumers should be thinking about how much more they will be willing to pay for food if the demand is too high to maintain sustainable growing practices. We have a fairly large farm, but it’s a family farm. Most farmers will do the right thing for the right reason – and that’s the most important thing to me.
Ken McCauley will be just one of the many farmers featured in our upcoming Public Television special, Phil Lempert’s Food Sense, now in production. This interview is an excerpt from his story that is scheduled to air Winter 2009.