Kansas Farmers Union hosts Republic County Niche Farm Tours

5 08 2011

By Lauren DeMott-Clary

 

SCANDIA—As the local food market has become more popular, it has given several producers in Republic County the opportunity to sell vegetables and fruit to Kansas grocery stores.

In July, Kansas Farmers Union hosted tours on three of these producers’ farms. The tour also looked at a Republic County cattleman’s rotational grazing operation.

The first stop was Warren Sutton’s farm, where he spoke about growing green beans.

“Green beans aren’t that much different from soybeans,” Sutton said.

Sutton chose green beans because of the summer harvest time, which allows him to utilize high school kids as his labor force to pick and sort the beans. It also ends before his pumpkin harvest.

“I’m glad to be able to hire local kids,” Sutton said. “There aren’t many jobs for kids around here.”

Sutton plants during the first of May and harvests after the Forth of July. The harvest window is about three days, so he plants six different times to spread harvest out. On average, Sutton gets one hundred 30 pound boxes per acre.

“It [growing vegetables] has been a lot of trial and error and I emphasize error,” Sutton said. “Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work the first time.”

Sutton said marketing his green beans has been “really fun for me.”

His primary markets are grocery stores and roadside markets. Sutton transports his green beans directly to grocery stores. Each week he makes two trips to Hutchinson and two trips to Manhattan.

For those thinking about growing vegetables, Sutton says to “get your ducks in a row before you start.”

The next stop was at Chris and Christi Janssen’s hoop houses where they grow tomatoes and lettuce and then to his field with okra, sweet corn, eggplant and chili peppers.

“We’re learning from our mistakes and learning what not to do,” Chris said.

Each spring/summer Janssen has about 2,000 tomato plants in his two 30×100 ft hoop houses in Scandia. The hoop houses cost the Janssens $13,000 each.

“If everything goes well, you should be able to pay back the building cost in a year,” Chris said.

The Janssens take their tomatoes to area farmers markets, as far away as Hastings. They also take the sweet corn to the markets. The okra and eggplant is sold wholesale.

In September, they will take the tomato plants out, water for 24 hours (to get the salt out) and then in October they will plant spinach, salad greens and lettuce.

His tomato labor force is their children and some of their friends. Although, they hire workers to hand pick the okra.

The group had lunch in Scandia, where Kansas Horticulture Specialist Cary Rivard spoke about hoop houses.

“Don’t grow anything inside the house if you can’t grow it outside,” Rivard said. “Grow what will make you the most money.”

Dan Kuhn’s fields were the next stop after lunch. He grows 30 different kinds of speciality pumpkins, watermelons, zucchini, yellow squash, cantaloupe and cucumbers.

The majority of Kuhn’s sales are through grocery stores in Wichita, Kansas City and Tulsa. He also ships to states across the country. The Depot Market in Courtland accounts for only 2 percent of his total sales.

The last stop of the day was a tour of Dale Strickler’s rotational grazing operation. At the first field, Strickler explained that it had been planted into corn for many years.

After years of irrigation, the soil was in very poor condition and was eroding. At that point, he decided he wanted a diverse rotation so that he could save the soil for his children.

“Now I’m trying to avoid petroleum and iron products. And invest in things that grow in value (genetics and animals),” Strickler said.

Strickler rotates his cropland between Bruiser sorgham-sudan, rye and ryegrass and Tillage radish, forage soybeans, and oats and hairy vetch. The pastures are mixes of canarygrass, alfalfa and gamagrass (and the occasional pigweed, although Strickler said it’s “pretty good grazing”).

The main thing to watch, Strickler said, is to not let the cattle get hungry, because “that’s when you run into bloat problems.”

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