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Having a Profitable Farm Year, Rain or Shine

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PHOTO:  Some Iowa farmers warn they may not survive this year's drought, but there are methods to minimize damage.
PHOTO: Some Iowa farmers warn they may not survive this year's drought, but there are methods to minimize damage.
September 5, 2012

DES MOINES, Iowa - Some Iowa farmers warn they may not survive this year's drought, and others will have to rely on federal crop insurance as a fall-back.

Not so for one Boone County farmer.

Dick Thompson says he doesn't have crop insurance and never has. Instead, he depends on old-fashioned diversity to improve soil quality and spread out his financial risk.

"We went back to a five-year rotation of corn, beans, corn, oats and hay; and we have a cow herd, and we have sows that farrow pigs."

If one crop doesn't do well, says Thompson, co-founder of Practical Farmers of Iowa, perhaps another will make up the difference.

The livestock provides not only income but manure to fertilize the soil, Thompson says, explaining that the manure helps hold water, which assists during drought conditions. He won't know for a while what this year's yields will be, but says this practice paid off in another drought year.

"In 1988, our bean yields were 17 bushels over county average, our corn yields were 27 bushels over county average - so, I rest my case."

Thompson says his practices may be considered old-fashioned by some, but they've been backed up by research in Iowa State University field plots.

So, why don't more farmers adopt Thompson's methods? He thinks it's because they are labor-intensive, although he points out that these methods also allow other generations to return to the farm.

Richard Alan, Public News Service - IA