European feed representatives visit Shore grain operations

Staff Writer

HARTLY, Del. (Oct. 14, 2014) — Six representatives of the European feed manufacturing industry visited farms on the Delmarva Peninsula Oct. 6.
The first stop was the farm of Robert Thompson and his sons, Aaron and Jonathan, in Hartly, Del.
The visitors — two from Germany, two from the Netherlands, one from Spain and one from the United Kingdom — would continue on to the farm of Steve Moore in Sudlersville, Md., where he was harvesting corn, before going on to Washington, D.C.
From there they would fly to Iowa.
The purpose of the mission, explained Brent Babb of U.S. Soybean Export Council in a pre-visit teleconference, was to show the visitors common conservation practices and to convince them U.S. farming is “sustainable.”
The concept of sustainability is very strong in the feed industry, Babb said. The European Feed Manufacturers’ Federation, or FEFAC, has declared that 100 percent of its soybean needs, as of 2015, must come through “certified sustainable practices.”
The Europeans import 30 million tons of soybeans per year, with about 5 to 6 million tons coming from the United States. Much of the soybean demand is met with imports from South America, and Europeans are concerned about rain forests there.
“They haven’t formally accepted our practices as equivalent,” Babb said. Europeans are accustomed to audits and compliance checks that take two days. “We stress that our system is so strong we don’t need a two-day farm visit to go through every piece of paper” in order to ensure compliance, Babb said.
One-on-one conversation at picnic tables also helped paint the picture of U.S. agricultural practices. Robert and Jonathan Thompson sat with Anton Einberger of Munich, Germany, and State Conservationist Kasey Taylor of USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service. Jonathan explained their operation had switched to minimal till in the late 1990s and two years ago, started strip tilling acres. He added they inject liquid fertilizer that is custom blended according to their needs by Willard Agri-Service.
Robert said Willard gathers data from all its customers into a “community” of information with which each farm can compare its results with that of neighboring farms, collectively, without identifying the others.
Robert added that while test plots are good, and he has done them for decades, the information from Willard includes thousands of acres in the pool, “so we see what works. It’s better than a test plot,” he said. They are able to compare time of planting, seed brands, minor elements and other factors.
“We try hard to do a good job, and we’re not the only ones,” Jonathan said.
The Thompsons till 1,200 acres and have three chicken houses with a capacity of 118,000 birds, producing four or five flocks a year.
Einberger said soybeans are only a minor crop in his country. His region produces wheat, barley, oats, corn, potatoes and sugar beets. Cattle also are grazed in the fields and crops are grown for biogas.
“And hops for beer?” Jonathan asked, recalling Einberger had left Octoberfest celebrations to come to America.
“Ours used to be the largest region in Europe for hops,” Einberger replied. “We were the most famous region in Germany.”
A hay ride across the farm carried the visitors to the manure shed where District Conservationist Tom Wiltbank described technical and financial assistance available to landowners for things, such as the shed in which they were standing. He said poultry manure is a great resource and soil amendment.
Aaron said the farm has scales to weigh the amount of manure spread on the farm and a light bar so they know exactly how much is applied.
“Good science tells me that water that enters an agricultural district comes out cleaner on the other end,” Aaron said.
One of the visitors from Spain said the perception in Europe is that Americans don’t do conservation practices until forced to do so by regulations. They think farmers live in the city and only occasionally visit their farm.
Jonathan assured him that is was not the case and added a lot of misperceptions abroad might come from the corporate structure used by farmers as a vehicle to hand the estate down to the next generation.
“There’s a negative connotation that these corporations are big business structures. There are very few corporate farms in the United States that way. Even huge corporations here are family-owned, feet on the ground, hands in the dirt.
“There’s no portion of the population that is more aware of the environment than farmers. Our family has been here since the 1900s. If we didn’t take care of the environment, we wouldn’t be here that long, and our kids would not stay long.”