SPALDING, Neb. — Many wondered why Jerry Glaser was quitting his job as a diesel mechanic to begin farming during the Farm Crisis years of the 1980s. Today Glaser and his wife, Cindy, give credit to the benefits they have seen transforming into an organic farm as affirmation they made the right decision.

“When I began farming, I started asking myself why the soils were lumpy and hard. I started studying why it was that way,” Jerry began. “At that time, we were using an excessive amount of anhydrous ammonia and lots of pounds of atrazine. In order to fix the problems in the soil, we needed to get our soils balanced and rotate crops as well as stop the use of products that harm soil biology. Our research found that this is what organic farmers were doing to maintain production.”

The Glasers said it takes three years of using no synthetic fertilizers and chemicals to be certified organic. During those three years, crops must be sold on a conventional market.

“What we felt was the best way to transition during those three years was to plant the fields to grass and legumes to raise value-added, grass-fed beef,” Jerry explained. “The livestock deposit the nutrients back in the soil and the grass builds organic matter and increases the biology in the soil. Then you are ready to plant the organic crops.

“The inputs we use to build topsoil are calcium, soft-rock, phosphate, gypsum, compost teas, hydrolyzed fish, aged manure, molasses and sugar as well as microbial products. When we have manure and bedding, we make a pile with it to break it down. Then we will mix the minerals still lacking (according to soil tests) with it to spread back on the fields. By doing this, we are feeding the microbes that will supply the proper nutrients for the plants by making the minerals available that are locked up in the soil. This ultimately helps balance everything out. The goal is to be able to have our soils regenerate, so we do not need so many outside inputs. Livestock is very important to achieve this.”

The Glasers have delved into organic and grass-finished beef as well as several organic crops including popcorn, food grade corn, food grade soybeans and recently they planted something new — black beans and peas.

“Black beans have a June planting date which allows more utilization of the cover crop,” Jerry noted. “Weed control is easier to control with the later planting date because you get the weeds out of their usual growing cycle. And, it allows a cover crop to be planted for the livestock.”

At the 2018 Preferred Popcorn Grower’s Meeting held in Central City, Neb., the Glasers were honored as the Organic Growers of the Year.

“Popcorn works very well for us as it is a shorter season crop and not so aggressive,” Cindy said. “We can get a good stand of cover crops inter-seeded into it. We do not have to replace those nutrients removed from the field. The cattle utilize all the stalks as more nutrients remain in the residue. The popcorn will not pollinate with neighbors’ fields that are planted with GMO crops.”

The Glasers reiterated that a strong rotation program is key to being successful in an organic operation. Their rotation includes planting five to six grasses and three to four legumes.

“The cattle graze on crop residue that also has cover crops of turnips, radishes, rye, vetch and a mix of oats, barley, wheat and peas,” Cindy explained. “At last cultivation, we inter-seed a cover crop into the corn crops to keep something growing all the time to feed the microbes and cattle in the winter months. If there is not a cover crop planted that does not over-winter, we will plant a cover crop mix as soon as possible in the spring. The goal is to get as much growth before the cash crop is planted.”

She explained that their beef is all sold as organic grass-finished. In order to get the gains to produce a high-quality, grass-finished beef in the winter months, they require good quality feed.

“We raise most of our feed with cover crops and a grass legume mix as part of the rotation with our irrigated crops,” Cindy continued. “We use a silage bale wrapper to get the quality, palatability and nutrient-dense feed with no waste to have a feed as close to grazing as we can get. The reason it works is that we can harvest at the best time when there is excessive feed available in summer months. We are improving on stockpiling and growing cover crops that will extend the grazing season and still get gains.”

Jerry has also developed a rotational system, cross-fencing and water system that has increased the number of pairs they can run. The couple said with the high property taxes this has been a good financial move as well as helped improve erosion and plant diversity.

Cindy said the couple believes the organic option in this nation will continue to be viable and grow in the future.

“The price is two to three times higher than conventional,” she said. “The demand is increasing every year. To meet demands in the United States, imports are coming in and are not always organic. We need to produce it here and know through our strict, third-party verification that it is truly organic.”

Kerry Hoffschneider can be reached at kerry.hoffschneider@midwestmessenger.com.