Become a do-it-yourself master


(Farm and Dairy editor Susan Crowell contributed to this story.)

LONDON, Ohio — Farm Science Review is always packed full of do-it-yourself workshops and how-to seminars. It provides a real education for anyone looking to set out on his own in the world of wildlife or small farming.

At the Review, you’ll find experts on everything from growing blueberries to raising pastured poultry. Here, Farm and Dairy has complied a bit of advice from those authorities, so here’s how to…

Prune fruit trees

Pruning is essential for tree strength and fruit production, according to Jim True, a Gibson County (Ind.) Purdue Extension educator.

Apple trees need pruned annually. You need to remove any limb that’s growing up, down or back toward the middle of the tree. The strongest branches grow at 90-degree angles, so those are the ones you want to keep. But keep in mind that two limbs can’t occupy the same space, so be selective about what stays and what goes. Finally, cut your limbs to outside buds to make the shoots grow out rather than up.

“If you can follow these basic principles, you can prune your trees,” True said.

The same pruning techniques apply to pear trees, but you’ll want to put spacers between the limbs on young trees in order to get the proper angles.

For blackberries, prune long growth runners and side branches. You’ll also need to get rid of the previous year’s dead growth canes in late winter or early spring.

For blueberries, prune by removing the older middle shoots, but remember that it’s OK to leave the bushes thick.

If you’ve got grapes, prune the previous year’s shoots until they have three to five nodes each. That’s 50 shoots per 8-foot vine. This will help balance fruit production and vine growth.

Start a winery

The first thing you need to do is homework.

Donniella Winchell, executive director of the Ohio Wine Producers Association, recommends visiting lots of established wineries, becoming familiar with the local Extension office and getting advice from local grape and wine organizations. If you intend to plant grapes, you also need to identify a site for that.

Next, create a business plan that covers things like cost analysis, cash flow and key employees. You’ll also need to develop a marketing plan, which will help you focus on how to sell your product.

Winchell said it’s a good idea to start the legal process early. It can take six to eight months (or longer) to get the proper permits for making and selling wine.

Once you’re ready to start thinking about the wine itself, remember that the most important aspect is quality. A good way to get experience in making a high-quality product is to volunteer for an internship at an existing winery.

Once you start, keep your wine selection simple. It’s better to have a few varieties of good wine rather than a large variety of mediocre product.

Form a direct farm marketing group

Hancock Harvest Council in central Indiana is a new direct marketing group that’s working to overcome the barriers that separate farmers and consumers. It’s a producer organization, although non-voting membership is open to local residents.

The council started in 2004 with a few people and a broad focus. A year later, the group went through a change in personnel and progress slowed.

Then in 2006 and 2007, interest in local food surged and the council found its footing. The group defined its focus and received an $18,000 grant from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program. It also partnered with the Hancock County Purdue Cooperative Extension Service.

Through that grant, Hancock Harvest Council reached some important milestones in 2007, according to Roy Ballard, Hancock County Extension educator. The organization put out its first farmers’ market guide and developed a Buy Fresh Buy Local campaign with help from the National Food Routes Network.

By partnering with the network, Hancock Harvest Council got help with product branding, securing an online domain name and creating standardized advertising graphics.

The council works with schools, farmers’ markets, retailers, community supported agriculture groups and restaurants to create local direct markets for its members.

Evaluate a wind energy production contract

If you’re talking to a wind energy development company about installing a wind turbine on your property, do NOT start your negotiation with this question: How much?

Instead, said Lynn Hamilton, an ag economist at Michigan State University and California Polytechnic State University, the more important question is: What is the length of the contract?

You may not think that’s negotiable, but it is. If a company tells you they need the right to the land for 50 years, “that’s baloney,” Hamilton said. Shoot instead for a contract that’s renewable or renegotiated after 25 years.

And be careful before accepting a flat payment per year, she added, unless language is included to index that payment to a rate of inflation.

Contracts are typically either for leases (occupation) or easements (rights of use). Regardless, Hamilton said, most contract points are similar: duration of the contract (a certain number of years, or even a permanent transfer of rights), landowner compensation payments, each party’s liability, and transfer of the contract to third parties. Of course, a host of other issues must also be resolved in negotiations, like who’s responsible for taking down a turbine or how quickly repairs are to be made.

The bottom line, Hamilton emphasized, is that every landowner should have his attorney look at the contract before signing.

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