The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Corn, Soybean, Wheat and Alfalfa

Corn, Soybean, Wheat and Alfalfa

From the Farmer's Tractor

May 25, 2009

Debbie Borg and her husband Kerry farm 1,000+ acres of corn, soybean, wheat and alfalfa on their farm in Allen, Nebraska. They also background beef cattle. The Borg family has been producing food for five generations. Debbie is the current President of the Nebraska Soybean Association.

How long have you been doing this?

My husband and I have been married 14 years and he’s been farming on the original place for 27 years. 

How would you define food sustainability?

Sustainability seems to be the hottest topic these days, and from my prospective being sustainable on the farm means doing things that allow me to be farming next year – more importantly me being able to pass the farm on to the next generation. We have to do things that’ll keep the farm sustainable and a real working farm for years to come.

What steps do you take towards sustainability?

Our operation is called no till production, which means no tillage. That means we don’t use any type of tillage on our operation – no plow and no disk. The biggest advantage to no till production is we’re reducing the soil erosion and we are conserving water. We are dry land farmers – that means we rely on Mother Nature to water our crops. By using the no till production system we conserve moisture in the soil profile. 

How have your business practices changed over the last 10 years?

The type of seed that we’re planting has changed. Biotech advances in both corn and soybeans has allowed us to reduce the amount of pesticide or chemical application on our farm.  

Do you use locally produced products to maintain your farm?

We purchase all of our inputs locally. We background cattle which means we purchase cattle weighing about 500 pounds and we feed them till about 900 pounds. Most of the inputs used to feed the cattle are raised on our farm. In turn, we take the by products of manure and put it back on our fields. We are also close by an egg laying operation, and use their by product to fertilize our fields. Having that ability to make a full circle with what we’re doing is a tremendous opportunity and makes us more sustainable. 

Do you produce biofuel products?

I grow corn and soybeans which produces two types of biofuel, ethanol and bio diesel. There are some great benefits in both of those things. They’re renewable, first of all, and we can grow them every year all over the U.S. When we grow soybeans we end up with two products, the soybean meal and the soybean oil – and in order to have a sustainable biofuel industry we also have to have a sustainable livestock industry because we can’t have one without the other. It’s a very good fit to be able to feed and fuel our needs.

Can you tell us more about the balance between producing food and producing fuel?

The American farmer has been tremendously successful. We have risen to the demand when everybody in the country said we can’t do it. If you look at history the American farmer has always produced enough. There have been times when we thought we might be a little bit short, but it’s amazing the American farmer has been able to meet the demand every year. If you look at the new technology that is coming down the pipeline I don’t doubt at all that we can continue to raise enough food and fuel to meet the needs of our growing world.  

What should or can the consumer do to help the sustainability process?

I think consumers just need to ask more questions, but they need to be asking questions at every level of the food chain. It concerns me that there’s so much information available today. On one hand it’s good, but on the other hand not all the information is accurate. I think that consumers need to do homework and find farmers that they can talk to, to find out what we’re doing on our farms and how we’re raising our products. I believe we’re the best source of information to tell the real story of what we’re doing.  

How can we best help educate the consumer?

I think telling the story from the farmer. There are a lot of people who think that the food starts at the grocery store, and that’s the very end of the line in the food chain. They need to learn where their food came from, how it’s grown, where it’s grown and the production practices that are used. 

Debbie Borg 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 her story that is scheduled to air Winter 2009.