Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Iowa Food & Family Project

Lindsey from Iowa Food and Family Project interveiwed me a couple of weeks ago.  Here are the fruits of her labor. 

Spring has sprung at the Shirbrouns

Planting season is quickly approaching and Suzanne Shirbroun of Farmersburg (Clayton County) has a lot on her mind. From finalizing plans for the upcoming growing season to growing their business to plan for the future, the Shirbrouns have no shortage of ‘things to do.’
Suzanne Shirbroun is a CommonGround volunteer and recently visited with Iowa Food & Family Project about her farming family and passion for growing food.

Food & Family: Your farm is certainly a family affair. Tell us about it.
Suzanne: My husband, Joe, and I have three sons – Tom, 16, Andrey 14, and Nate 9. We believe in doing chores as a family so our children learn responsibility. The boys have a couple of chicken flocks - egg laying and meat. They also have a couple of beef cows and steers. The boys buy the steers when they weigh about 550 pounds and then sell the steers when they are around 1,300 pounds. The money the kids earn (that's if they even make money after expenses!) goes into their college funds. I was able to finance my college education with the money I earned raising cattle. Tom and Andrey help out planting and harvesting crops. They do some tillage in the spring and fall, run the auger cart tractor in the fall during harvest and help out when we do yield checks for our Pioneer seed customers in the fall.
Joe and I have our farming operation, a Pioneer Hi-Bred seed dealership and a precision agronomy business.

Food & Family: Farming is a dangerous occupation. How does that impact you as a parent?
Suzanne: The farm is a wonderful place to raise children but it can also be a dangerous place. For this reason our children are taught to respect farm equipment and animals. Since Nate is only nine, he does not run any farm machinery but he does get to help out with cleaning the cattle feedlot and chicken coups!

Food & Family: Water quality is very important and receives a lot of attention. What steps are you taking to protect the environment?
Suzanne: Soil conservation is my dad's passion. I tease him that in a former life he must have been a soil conservation engineer. We implement several conservation techniques on our farm. We use terraces to hold soil in place and slow down water flow. At last count we had over 42 miles of terraces on the land we farm. We use A-frame, broad base and grass back terraces. We also use waterways to control water flow as well as conservation tillage practices. We do not use tillage when planting soybeans into standing corn stalks. Corn planted into soybeans stubble is no tilled as well. For our corn-on-corn acres, we use conservation tillage (at least 30 percent residue) or minimum tillage (at least 60 percent residue). The Conservation Reserve Program is another conservation tool in our toolkit.

Food & Family: How has farming changed since you returned to the farm?
Suzanne: We moved back to Iowa and had our first crop in 1999. I believe that one of the biggest changes is that the market outlets for our products has shifted. China has become a more reliable customer. As China's middle class grows, so does the desire for protein, specifically meat. Thus, Iowa farmers will sell more corn, soybean and meat to China.

Food & Family: Is it difficult to get started farming today?
Suzanne: Very difficult. My parents invited us back to the farm in 1999. We share equipment and labor with them. By doing this and also having the seed dealership we have been able to become the sixth generation on our family farm.

Food & Family: You mentioned you have a precision agronomy business. What does that mean?
Suzanne: Data management is becoming a really big deal. We have farms that have been grid soil sampled since 1993. We have been running a yield monitor with GPS since 1999. We have lots of data and now technology is to the point where we can layer all of the different data samples and analyze what is working and what can be improved upon.
From what we have experienced on our own farm and also from working with our seed customers, we have started a precision agronomy business to help farmers manage their grain farming data as well as analyze and interpret this data. The amount of information flowing at a farmer today is amazing and sometimes another set of eyes can help to interpret this data.

Food & Family: You believe it’s important to share your farm story. What message would you like our readers to remember?
Suzanne: While farming has changed a great deal since my great grandfather farmed this land, I want people to know that the underlying principles of farming have remained. Iowa’s farmers are working hard to provide a safe and economical product for you to purchase at the grocery store. We understand that a large portion of today’s population isn’t familiar with today’s agriculture and we invite you to ask questions and come visit us and see for yourself!


No comments:

Post a Comment