AMES — Earl Hafner, of Panora, has been chosen as the recipient of the 2018 Practical Farmers of Iowa Sustainable Agriculture Achievement award.
Hafner farms with his son, Jeff, at Early Morning Harvest and Hafner Inc., a 2,000-acre diversified farm that includes certified organic row crops and grass-fed cattle, hogs, small grains, vegetables and tilapia raised in an aquaponics greenhouse; egg production; honey; flours milled on-site; and value-added products made from their cereal grains, according to a PFI news release.
While the Hafners use cover crops and extended rotations to help build soil health — and they don’t use any synthetic chemicals — the diversity of enterprises on the farm is a reflection of Hafner’s belief farm sustainability must encompass not just land stewardship, but economic resilience as well.
“Sustainable means you survive through all conditions,” he said. “The farm has to pay its way, whether you’re paying 18 percent interest like we did in the ’80s, or you have $3 corn. The farm has to sustain itself and the family.”
Hafner said that mentality — and the kind of diversified farm that was a natural extension of it — was common when he was growing up on the farm in the 1940s and ’50s.
“In the ’40s and ’50s when you talked about sustainability, it meant the farmer’s ability to observe his soil, his crops and his livestock in order to have a healthy farm, because he did not have all this modern technology,” he said.
“It was also a matter of commonality between farms. Back then, there was a farm every quarter-section, every half-section. There were a lot of farmers to trade ideas with — much like Practical Farmers of Iowa does — that helped farms to survive, and observation was key to everybody’s survival.”
In 2011, Earl and Jeff Hafner opened Early Morning Harvest, which added the aquaponics greenhouse, chickens and on-farm milling to their suite of commercial enterprises. These ventures had started as personal hobbies.
Jeff had returned from his second tour in Iraq, where he studied aquaponics and agriculture. Meanwhile, Earl Hafner had been making his own breakfast cereal and was inspired by the possibility of turning cereal grains — which the Hafners already raised — into homemade flour.
Now, Early Morning Harvest flours and value-added products can be found in stores across Iowa.
“Earl is an innovator and has done many diverse agricultural projects,” said Donna Prizgintas, a PFI member from Ames who nominated Hafner for the award. “He just has a frog in every pocket — and is one of the nicest men I know.”