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Small farm profit system.

Small acreage operations are not uncommon in Germany. Making them efficient is not so common. When Dietmar Ranft started farming his father's 18-acre place near Claubnitz, Germany, he developed some innovative ways to maximize profit.

Diversification is the foundation of his cropping operation, which includes corn, winter wheat, canola, and hay. His main garden crops are potatoes, turnips, berries, and assorted vegetables.

Crop rotation has become a proven way to boost crop yields on the Ranft farm. Rotating grass crops, such as corn and wheat with brassicas, such as canola, reduces disease and insect pressure by interrupting pests' life cycles. Winter wheat and canola are cash crops and both are fall-seeded. However, wheat produces straw as well as grain and has an earlier, shorter growing season. With good growing conditions, wheat can be combined in July in time to double-crop by seeding fall forage grasses. This year, Dietmar's crop rotation is devoted primarily to winter wheat.

"I decided to take advantage of wheat prices, which are at record high levels because of a world-wide shortage," he explained. "Marketing decisions based on profit potential are important for small farmers too."

Ranft chooses full-season corn hybrids (for his area of northeastern Germany) to get the most grain and forage from every acre. He doesn't need premium-priced hybrids with extensive insect resistance because of crop rotations' natural pest resistance. He harvests the crop as whole-plant corn silage to feed his livestock.

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Ranft matches his livestock numbers to the farm's feed and forage production as well as the labor pool. Dietmar's wife, Suzanne, and teenage son, Klemens, are involved in various aspects of the farming operation. His father and mother, Werner and Isolda, who also live in the farm's two-story farm home, contribute experience and advice. This family farm cooperation is important when Dietmar is busy with his construction job.

Three Charolais cows provide milk, meat, and calves for the Ranft family. Fish, which are grown in a 10' x 12' pond, add diversity and income to the livestock program. A small laying flock provides eggs for the household, and meat for the table. Depending on demand, the Ranfts raise rabbits, which are consumed at home or sold locally. Two sows and their litters supply income and food for the small farm system.

Ranft and a local veterinarian usually butcher one steer and one hog on the farm every year. They process everything but the squeal, including the pig's feet, a delicacy in German restaurants.

Animal manure and minimal amounts of commercial fertilizer keep the farm's fields producing good yields. Manure is collected from the barn and other outbuildings that surround a walled, cobblestone barnyard. Routine soil tests help avoid over-and under-fertilization.

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Honeybees are the wild card in the Ranft farm's profit-oriented livestock operation. The beehives are kept on a covered trailer. It can be moved to various areas of the farm so the bees can feed on and pollinate legume and orchard crops. Suzann, and Isolda use honey extensively for cooking and baking. The rest is sold locally.

Like many other small producers in Saxony, the Ranfts sell surplus farm produce at local farmer's markets. Tourists and commuters boost seasonal demand for locally grown produce, especially if it's organically grown. The Ranfts, who consider home-grown produce tasty and costefficient, always fill their family's needs first. For example, potatoes, turnips, beets, and other produce are stored in a well-insulated cellar beneath the barn.

Dietmar holds down inventory expenses by hiring a neighbor to combine grain and chop silage. He bought an 80-horsepower Belarus tractor, which is used for primary tillage. His three-bottom moldboard plow is a "roll-over" model, which eliminates "dead furrows" and reduces soil erosion. He harvests hay with a gathering rig that picks up hay out of a windrow and pushed it into a forage wagon. Loose hay is stored in the barn, eliminating the need for baling.

Dietmar and Klemens do most of the farm's machine and building maintenance. They rely on the farm's balanced crop and livestock enterprises to provide cash flow.

"Besides produce, we often sell feeder pigs, a call grain, or hay nearly year-round," Dietmar says. "It's like having an extra paycheck to keep up our home in the country. That's the biggest bonus of all."

REX GOGERTY

IOWA
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Title Annotation:Homesteading in Germany
Author:Gogerty, Rex
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Geographic Code:4EUGE
Date:Sep 1, 2008
Words:715
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