We had the good fortune of connecting with Roy Pfaltzgraff and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Roy, can you tell us more about your background and the role it’s played in shaping who you are today?
I grew up on the family farm south of Haxtun, Colorado. I helped when it was needed, but most of the work was done by my father and grandfather. As I got older, I moved up to driving the tractor and when I was lucky, and if dad and grandpa were busy, I got to drive the combine. My father was always trying different things and constantly struggled with my grandfather who’s attitude was this is the way its always been done so why change. My father raised sunflowers in 1975 and started using computerized bookkeeping in 1979. He added minimum till practices in the 1980’s and in 1999 went 100% no till. We have added GPS guidance, mapping, soil testing, auto steering and many other things. When I returned to the farm for the second time in 2016 I came back with the innovative streak firmly embedded in my mentality. This is when soil health practices and regenerative agriculture were starting to come to the forefront so it was natural for me to focus on those areas with the same innovative approach that my father had farmed with. My grandfather had passed away and my father was very supportive of these new ideas because he knew what a struggle it was to try new things.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
We are a family farm in Northeast Colorado, we operate as Pfaltzgraff Farms, LLC and sell direct to the consumer with our brands PFZ Farms and Brown Bag Birdseed. We are focusing on regenerative methods that reduce the inputs while maintaining or improving yields and quality. We have farmed with no-till methods since 1999 but we were not seeing the improvements in organic matter in the soil that I was expecting. When I returned to the farm in 2016 my father and I agreed that he would take care of the paperwork while I did the day-to-day operation of the farm. He readily agreed but didn’t realize the changes that were coming. At the time, we were raising wheat, millet and grain sorghum, we had gotten away from the sunflowers that were providing soil health benefits that were unknown at the time. We were allowing the fields to lay fallow one year out of every three and following the standard line of fertility based on old science. Something had to change. After attending the CCTA conference I was inspired to try a new crop, field peas, and bring back sunflowers. That was just the beginning of the evolution that lead to where we are today. Much of the innovation that you hear about in ag nowadays revolves around soil health and cover crops. The problem that we have with cover crops is they are to be seeded after the harvest of crops and then grazed by livestock to harvest the growth. After harvest is our hottest and driest time of the year and getting cover crops established was only successful in two or three out of five years. I liked the idea of more diversity, I like to eat different foods and I figured that the microorganisms in the soil would feel the same way. So I start adding crops to create more diversity, we added buckwheat, chickpeas, flax, einkorn, black eyed peas, pinto beans, non-GMO corn, oats and others. In addition to the new crops, we added a number of bee hives because both sunflowers and buckwheat yield better with bees. We currently have 20 hives and are the only producer of buckwheat honey in Colorado. Along the way we have found the focus on soil health has paid off, we have reduced the use of herbicides and fertilizer by more than 50%. We have also revisited the cover crop idea and have started to develop a completely new system of living mulch, we are working on establishing Dutch white clover as a perennial root. This allows us to have a living root in the soil year round both feeding the microbiology and fixing nitrogen, an additional bonus is it’s a separate feed source for our bees. There have been challenges along the way but it has helped us understand our product better and to help develop markets that we would have never imagined. Many of crops we are now raising don’t have a standard local market. When we looked to raise buckwheat we needed a market, we wanted to raise the crop for what it does for the soil but also for the honey. The problem is we didn’t know what to do with the buckwheat itself. After making many phone calls I was put in contact with a gluten free malting company that was looking for buckwheat but it needed to be gluten free. This is particularly difficult because there is always cross contamination inside of the harvesting equipment. We made the commitment to them and converted our one combine at the time to gluten free. This caused us to buy a second one to be used for gluten containing crops. We have invested in cleaning equipment to be able to provide grain that is ready for further processing. We have continued to development markets and through the process created more demand than we can provide so we have offered those opportunities to other farmers in the area. My wife asked me once what is the biggest dream that I have for the farm, my response was quick and simple. I want to sell direct to the consumer. I wanted to be able to welcome people to the farm to educate them about where their food comes from and the challenges that are overcome to bring the food to their table, With that simple conversation our journey into food packaging and production. We now sell at a couple farmers markets and now through out own webstore. I have developed a number of gluten free mixes that use millet flour. The mixes are very unique in that they use a single locally grown grain. Most gluten free products use rice flour that causes the product to dry out quickly or contains a blend of flours that cause almost as much discomfort as a gluten product. We also have a number of dry edible beans and whole wheat flour. The bees have their place in the direct sales with a couple types of honey and beeswax beauty products. We are continuing to develop products and have an extensive list that we will be releasing over the coming year.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
First, I need to say we live in a very rural area and there isn’t a lot going on. It does depend on the time of year, during the growing season there are some events here and there but most people are focused on ag so the time off waits to the fall. During the growing season there are many photography opportunities especially when the buckwheat and sunflowers start blooming. In the fall there are harvest festivals pretty much every weekend and you can sample some local fair and enjoy some small town fun.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My shoutout wouldn’t be possible without the support of my parents, Roy Jr and Kathy Pfaltzgraff. They have been there through my crazy ideas to see how farming can be different. The support of my wife, Barb Pfaltzgraff, who asked the question of what my wildest dream was. That has lead to direct marketing of our products and also encouraged me to develop delicious mixes that happen to be gluten free. Thanks also to CCTA (Colorado Conservation Tillage Association) for offering a conference that supports new ideas and connects like minded farmers that have the need to innovate to improve agriculture and our food.