Saturday, November 19, 2016

Veterans and Why We Will Survive

This past week we witnessed something that is quite remarkable. Something that is unique to just a few nations and something that our United States of America has done longer and better than any other nation in the history of the world. This past election we had a dramatic shift or change in the powers and philosophy of the executive branch of our nation and we did it peacefully.

Sure, there was a lot of unpleasant rancor in the campaigns, words were heated and it was not a political season that made us particularly proud of either party. However, as the results of the election rolled in and the pundits and experts were surprised and some were shocked, things remained peaceful.

In other nations, in other parts of the world a change in power that dramatic would entail tanks in the street, violence and ultimately bloodshed. To my knowledge we had none of that. There was no call to arms, there were no riots, and ultimately, no National Guard tanks rolling down city streets. A peaceful transition of power is a rare thing in our world and in history. The United States has gotten so good at it that we do not blink an eye or give it a second thought.

Election Day was so momentous and so big that it overshadowed another holiday this past week. You could make the argument that Election Day distracted us from a holiday that should be celebrated as the reason for a peaceful day. That holiday would be Veteran’s Day. The day that we should celebrate all the brave men and women who have served our nation and protected our rights, including the right to vote.

Too often we see Veteran’s Day as just another mark on the calendar and, for many of us, just another day off. Veteran’s Day is much more than that and the peace that followed the election Tuesday is a very vivid reminder of how much Veteran’s Day should mean. We enjoy unprecedented freedoms and privileges in the United States and we owe all of it to our Veterans.

We can never repay the sacrifice of the brave citizens who stepped forward and faced enemies on foreign lands to keep us safe on our soil. They willingly gave up their comfort and security to ensure ours. Many gave the ultimate price so that we could walk in and cast our vote, knowing that we could do so in peace. Others still suffer from injuries both seen and unseen that they will carry with them the rest of their lives. Everyone who fought to protect us sacrificed a piece of themselves for each of us and our freedoms.

Those who served in times of peace should also not be forgotten. Who is to say that without a strong military we would not have faced other threats during that time. Their service should not be forgotten or minimized in any way. They also gave of their time and talents for each of us, helping to insure the security of our nation and the safety of each of us.

I fear we have become too comfortable with our safety and with our freedoms and we have forgotten the price paid for them. That is why Veteran’s Day is so important and why we should not view it as just another holiday that some of us don’t have to go to work on. We should take the time to seek out the Veterans around us and thank them for their service and sacrifice

This year more than any other is a reason to celebrate our freedoms and the strength of our great nation. We have just witnessed a rather dramatic change in our President and yet each of us woke up this morning with the certainty that we would be able to go to our jobs, go about our business and return home in peace, all because of the service and the protection of everyone who served in any branch of the military. For that we should be eternally grateful.

I know we will still see some conflict between parties in the upcoming weeks and we will experience some heartburn because of the elections. The United States will be in the world spotlight and I hope we will seize this opportunity to show the rest of the world how a peaceful transition of power should go. We should also be keenly aware of the fact that this will happen because of the solid foundation of democracy our nation is built upon.

This is a foundation that has been built and maintained by every brave soul who has every served in our military, from those in the Revolutionary War to those currently serving us in our war on terror. If it were not for their bravery and service none of this would be possible. We celebrate Election Day because of Veteran’s Day.

Old Number 87

I guess the party must be over because the cows are coming home. Get it? We partied until the cows came home. I guess it is true, my family tells me that if I must explain a joke (and I often do) it is not all that funny (and most of the time they aren’t). Bad joke or not, we have started bringing the cows home and that included old number 87.

Last Saturday we hauled cows home from one of our rented pastures and old number 87 was one of those cows. She is legendary for being hard to catch but also a pretty good mama and has raised many nice calves, so we put up with her aloofness. Compound that with the fact that she had not been that hard to catch lately and maybe we were lulled to sleep.

The day was difficult from the start. The wind had picked up and the cows did not here Dad calling them to begin with and required Jennifer and I to get behind them. The cows were strung out farther than we would have liked, but more importantly, it tipped old number 87 off that something was up. We got the cows bunched up and it seemed to be going much better right up until we got to the catch pen.

That is when old number 87 and two of her protégées veered off and made a hard left. They proceeded to go down the outside of the wing on the catch pen and taunt the other cows. Fortunately for us their calves did not follow suit and willingly walked into the pen. The gate was shut and we decided to try to walk them into the pen. This was very hard because the pen was bursting at the seams with all the “good” cows.

Three different times we walked them right up to the gate only to have them separate at the last minute. Then they would turn and calmly walk between us stopping just a few yards away from the pen. We changed tactics and Dad got a flake of hay out and coaxed the cows in with the hay in his hand. Once again the cows got tantalizingly close only to split and walk away when Dad ran out of hay.

We decided to set up a new temporary catch pen on the other side of the pen. Dad once again lured the cows in with another flake of hay (at this point I was sure they were just holding out for more alfalfa). The “good” cows in the pen stared out jealously as the “outlaws” munched on the sweet rewards of civil disobedience. This time Dad got the two rookie cows in the pen only to have old number 87 turn at the last minute and flee to the open range. The gate was shut leaving only old number 87 on the lamb (I wonder if cows hate us using that term).

We decided to ignore her and haul a few loads home. During this time, she never went more than 100 yards away and always seemed interested in the pen. While Dad and I hauled a load in, Jennifer worked her up to the pen with the pickup. Twice old number 87 went into the pen easily only to turn and walk out at Jennifer tried to get out of the pickup and beat her to the gate. It was soon decided that when we caught her she would be next appearing at a McDonalds near you not as old number 87 but as a number 3 on the Extra Value Menu.

We hauled the next to last load and returned just in time to see Jennifer working old number 87 into the pen (old number 87 maybe stubborn but she had met her match in Jennifer). When I came to a stop I just happened to be near the gate and with surprising speed and stealth I blocked the hole before old number 87 knew what was happening (or more likely she gave herself up).

She was caught just in time to go out on the last load. Upon reflection, we realized this was the very thing she did every time. She never ran off, was never wild and always let herself get caught right before the last load. In other words, she did not stand in a crowded pen, got to move around and by the time we caught her, had eaten most of a bale of alfalfa. She did have a nice heifer calf, a good candidate for being a replacement (we have 3 of 4 of her daughters in the herd, none of which are hard to catch). There was the distinct possibility that she was smarter than the average cow (or rancher) and why cull her when her only crime was being brilliant. We were not going to need to catch her again until next spring.

The Harvest Winner

This harvest has been a difficult one. We can’t seem to get going and put in full days. Some of that is due to the weather. It seems like we have had some uncommonly heavy dew in the morning and more than our share of rain. We haven’t been able to start very early most mornings and it seems like we only get to harvest four or five days in a row before the next rain. Throw that in with the usual breakdowns and it has been very trying.

We have not had very many breakdowns and they have not been very severe, until this week. However, I am reminded of the old Bobby Bare song, “The Winner”. I am sure some of you have not heard the song and this reference will be lost on you but most of you will know what I mean. The breakdowns we have had this year all could have been worse and I suppose we are lucky and you might even call us a winner.

For example, during corn harvest I was unloading when the gentleman in line behind me came up and brought to my attention that my inside dual was flat. I was in the process of unloading and only about three blocks from a place that I could get the tire fixed at (or replaced). It could have been far worse or more difficult if it had happened earlier and I had been on the road into town. So, we bought a couple of new tires, spent more money than the load of corn was worth and felt like we were winners.

We had to wait on the tires to come in but it rained and we had time to wait. I took the check for the tires in with the last load of corn we picked before the thunderstorm. When I got back into the truck to drive home it wouldn’t start. Luckily they replaced starters there too. It could have been much worse, we finished up right ahead of the thunderstorm that had dumped over three inches of rain on us. The starter had worked I had gotten it in the shed, later it worked and I got the load to town. Then it decided not to work in front of the garage. I guess that made me the winner.

Later, when we had finished corn harvest and moved on to soybeans we were harvesting the field next to Dad’s house. Rain was predicted for that night and it did rain. Dad finished cutting for the night, unloaded and the combine died and refused to start. We could pull the truck into the shed and saved a significant number of bushels of soybeans from getting wet. The combine was in the yard and easy for the mechanic to get too. Once again I guess that made us the winner.

The final proof of our winning was this past week. It was hot, still and the soybeans were unbelievably dirty. While unloading, Dad smelled smoke. Luckily he was right next to a farmstead, a hydrant with a working hose hooked up to it. We washed the combine down, thought the fire was out and thought we were lucky because we could not find any damage. The next morning, we came back to service the combine and immediately smelled smoke and burned rubber. Not a good sign.

Further inspection showed a smoldering fire deep inside the combine. Quite a surprise to us because Dad had come back after dark and checked the combine out and had found nothing. Using the hose that was already laid out we quickly put the fire out, but the combine had sustained some damage and we could not move it. However, the night had been still and no wind had gotten in to fan the flames and the combine, most likely, is repairable and still in one relatively uncharred piece. I guess that makes us the winner.

So, in a harvest that has taken several weeks longer than it should have, I have not been stranded along the road, we have not had any grain get wet on the truck or the combine, the combine has not broken down or burned up in the field and we have not had to call the fire department. Sure, we still have too many acres to harvest and a combine in the shop but all in all it could be worse.

Just like the punch drunk, broken, crippled up hulk of a man in the Bobby Bare song, we have come out much better than we might have otherwise, all be it at a heavy price. I guess in the end that makes us the winner.

No to Dannon

I am officially not eating Dannon Yogurt or Oikos Greek Yogurt. Did you even eat yogurt before this you ask? Yes, occasionally (once or twice a year). Why the need for this boycott would be the next logical question. I am boycotting Dannon because they put profit ahead of logic and sound science.

It seems as though Dannon has put forth a pledge of “transparency” to their customers. As a part of this pledge they have committed to not using any GMO products or any milk from cows fed GMO products in their yogurt. They are doing all of this under the guise of sustainable agriculture. This is one of the most misleading and ludicrous statements I have ever seen.

This statement is so false that Dannon has issued a second statement, in response to a stern letter from ag groups, stating that they know GMO crops are safe and sustainable but they are bowing to consumer pressure. On that note, I really doubt that most consumers really care. I suspect that the “consumers” they have heard from are really anti-GMO activists and I doubt if they account for even a percent of Dannon or Oikos consumers. They are loud and vocal and seem to have Dannon’s ear.

What really gets my blood boiling is the idea that farming with GMO crops is not sustainable ag. I would argue with you that farming with GMO crops is the very definition of sustainable agriculture. We utilize GMO crops on our farm and our ultimate goal is to be sustainable. GMO crops have allowed us to become completely no-till and stay that way for the past several years. It is one of the best changes (and one of the most sustainably minded changes) we have ever made.

GMO crops have allowed farmers to use fewer inputs and produce more food. It is no secret that in 2014 we used 51 million fewer acres of farmland to produce more the same amount of food. That is equivalent to all the farm ground in Missouri and Iowa. I find it incredible that GMO crops have allowed us to increase production by that much.

We all know that GMO crops also allow us to use less fuel, fertilizer and pesticides. Because of GMO advances I cannot remember the last time we sprayed an insecticide on our crops. We are conserving more soil while keeping a great deal of the sediment out of our rivers, lakes and reservoirs. GMO crops help keep our air cleaner with less wind erosion. All of this while producing more food and higher quality grains on fewer acres. That, my friends, is the very definition of sustainable ag in my mind.

Does that mean farmers who chose to be organic or non-GMO are not sustainable? No, I truly believe that all farmers strive to be sustainable no matter what production method they use. I do not know of a single farmer who does not worry about the future and hopes to hand down a farm to the next generation that is better than when they started. Each generation of farmers have passed along lands that were more healthy and productive than the past generation and I do not see that ever ending, no matter what a yogurt company might say.

One could make the argument that they are just doing what their customers want. I still believe that the vast majority are happy with the product and the vocal critics are a very, very small minority. I also truly believe that if they spent as much time trying to help educate their customers about how sustainable agriculture really is and how GMO crops do this while not posing any kind of a threat to consumers or the environment they would not have to make this pledge.

Instead it is more trendy and easier to market this pledge of “transparency” even though they know it is not the truth. This lazy marketing is something that will harm all of agriculture and we must make our voices heard. It is important that we contact Dannon and let them know how much of a mistake this is. Of course we can also let them know through the cash register too.

It is also important to remember that a great deal of the responsibility about educating the public still falls to each of us as ag producers. We need to let all of our friends and family know just how important GMO crops are to the long term sustainability of agriculture. Because in the end, all agriculture strives to be sustainable and to preserve and protect our environment all while continuing to produce more and better food and yes, that even includes yogurt.

The Best Laid Plans of Farmers

The best laid plans, well we know what often happens to those plans. Each day I walk out the door with an idea of what I am going to do that day. I am not sure why I try to have a plan, very seldom does my day ever go as planned. Often I walk back through the door at night, shaking my head and wondering just what happened to the day. Today was one of those days, and we aren’t even to noon yet.

I had my day scheduled precisely. I needed to get two lambs to the locker to be processed, they needed to be there by seven that morning. I would get up early, do my chores, load the lambs and be back between 8:00 and 8:30. I even had breakfast planned, had located my favorite travel mug to put coffee in, after that I would write my column, drive into town for a lunch meeting and spend the rest of the day running a few errands.

Breakfast, chores and my coffee went along just as I had planned. I caught the two lambs without any problem and loaded them on the trailer. OK, so not everything had gone as planned. When I hooked up the trailer and connected the lights, the ground wire came out of the light connection. I backed the trailer up and fixed the connection under the yard light. I only lost about ten minutes to that bump in the road.

I pulled into the locker plant at 7:20, I am still not real sure where the other ten minutes went but my plan was still intact somewhat. I backed up to the unloading area and noticed a very angry cow. She was next in line just ahead of my lambs and she was not happy about it. I think most of her surliness probably was there before she arrived at the plant and much of it may have been a life-long, and now, terminal condition.

The cow did not want to cooperate and seemed to not care that she was holding up the line. It took some time, all hands on deck and ingenuity to finally get the line moving again. I don’t know what happened to bring that cow to that point but I certainly agree with the management decision made to get her here.

I unloaded my lambs now 45 minutes behind my schedule. No worry, I did have quite a bit of slack in the schedule so the day was not lost. That was when the phone rang. It was Dad and we had a cow out, how far away was I? Too far really, but we could make it work. I would run home, drop the trailer off, grab fencing supplies and my computer. I would write my column after attending to the cow.

I was now starting to worry about my plan. Most of my slack time was eaten up and the noon deadline was looming large. I did not panic. This should be easy, put the cow in, fix the fence and write my column. After all, this was going to give me the idea and inspiration I needed. I pulled up to the pasture and old number 56 was standing in the road. Dad positioned the pickup behind her and I got out to walk her up the road. She did not want to go.

She was not wild or mean, just stubborn and had a sense of where she thought she should be. Her plan for her day and my plan did not match up. By the time we got to the top of the hill and the gate I had nearly decided old number 56 would look better as a number 3 on the extra value menu at McDonalds.

The fence had to be fixed. That should be hard, it was probably a water gap or a tree on the fence and most likely close to where she was located. We fixed a couple of spots but that glaringly obvious spot was not to be found. This also meant we had to walk the entire fence. Quickly the hope for a fast solution disappeared and what was going to be a small bite out of my schedule soon turned into a huge chunk.  It was now 11:15 and I was not yet started on the writing project that was to be started at 8:30 or 9:00 at the latest and due by 12:00.

A quick email was sent off and the lunch meeting was moved to 1:00. I fired up my computer and soon learned that my column was already written, I just had to type it up. Suddenly I had made up time and my schedule wasn’t so shot. But, of course, the day is still only half done and I had a plan for the rest of it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Debatable Politics

Thankfully last Monday I was at a meeting and was not subjected to the presidential debate on television. I did get to see the highlights (or maybe lowlights) of the debate for days following it as the pundits went over ever insult and accusation in minute, excruciating detail. As I watched the debate I had the same thought I have had all election season. Are these candidates really the best we can do?

The answer, sadly enough, is I am not sure, but these are the only two choices at this time. Please understand that if either one of these candidates are the one you chose and backed, good for you. Just because I disapprove of the candidates does not mean they are terrible choices. We live in a democracy and the winner is the one who can draw the majority of the support from those who exercise their right to vote.

However, as I watched the news clips of the debate and as I watch the news coming out of each of the campaigns it is apparent that both candidates are deeply flawed. I know, probably all of our presidential candidates over the years have been deeply flawed individuals, but I have never noticed it to the extent I am noticing it this year. Maybe I am older and more cynical but I think more likely something has happened in our society and our political system to surface candidates willing to say or do anything to get elected.

What has happened to us? I wish I had the answer, then we might be able to work toward fixing the problem. I am sure there is someone out there who does have a better handle on the situation and more of an answer than I do, we need to find that person. This election magnifies the need for a change in the mindset of all of us as United States citizens.

Am I saying there are no good, normal people involved in government. Absolutely not, I have the opportunity and privilege to interact with many elected officials at all levels and there are many, many good people who are there for the right reason and try to do the right thing. However, I am worried that we are making it more difficult for those who are civically minded to become involved.

I do think the tide can be changed but it is going to take an effort from all of us to do it. We do still live in a democracy and I do believe that a majority of the people can affect change. Here is the catch, we actually have to get involved and work to make those changes. We can’t sit back and watch the news and lament about how bad things are, real change takes hard work. We have to roll up our sleeves and dig in.

That is where the problem is. Too many of us (myself included) are too busy in keeping up with our everyday lives to add another thing to the list. We work hard only to come home to evenings of even more activities. In short, most of us suffer from self-induced exhaustion. We do not have time to be involved with government at any level.

I completely understand, I feel the same way myself. It seems easy to ignore what is going on in our government. It is easy to forget until it effects your everyday life and then we wake up. Then we do what we are doing now and wonder out loud how we got to this place. I don’t know about you but this is a place I don’t want to be.

Does this mean that all is lost and we are in a hopeless situation? The answer is a resounding no. We still live in the greatest nation on earth with more freedoms and opportunities than anywhere else in the world. Maintaining those freedoms and opportunities takes work and they cannot be neglected, part of the cost of living in a democracy is being involved at some level.

What do we do for the rest of this election cycle? Take the time to watch the debates, learn more about the candidates and vote for the one that best matches your viewpoints. I know this may be painful and we must also be thinking about the next election cycle and make sure that we surface and support the best candidates. We cannot sit idly by and let it play out on its own.

It is time for all of us to take ownership of our government and exercise the right we have been given to have a say in the direction we are going. I believe that we do have the best form of governance ever created and that we will right the ship. I also believe it is high time that each of us roll our sleeves up and get involved. I know it won’t be easy but it is the right thing to do.

A Watched Crop Never Harvests

There are many ways people describe things happening slowly. We have all heard that waiting for something is like watching paint dry, grass to grow or water to boil. Expressions like; “a watched pot will never boil” describe how hard it is to wait for something. I have a new one to add to that, “it’s like watching the corn get dry enough to harvest” or “a watched field never dries down”.

I admit that I get a little anxious this time of the year as I watch the crops mature. Surely I am not the only one, in fact, I would bet this is a common malady amongst those of us who have a cropping affliction. Probably every road past a maturing corn field has a couple of ruts worn into the road from the farmer driving past once a (or even twice) day.

This time honored ritual of worrying the moisture out of the corn usually starts as soon as the pollination process is done. Soon we start pulling ears to see how they filled out, then we start watching as the kernels dent, the black line starts to appear and finally the leaves start to die. All of this is watched like it would not happen if we were not there to watch it.

The worst part of the wait is the final stretch as we watch the last of the green leaves turn brown. That is when the telltale signs start to appear. Are the ears turned down? Have the tops broken out of the plant? The ruts deepen along the fields as we look for the signs, any signs that harvest is almost here. I am pretty sure farmers this time of the year are worse than a five-year-old at five o’clock Christmas morning.

That brings us to where we are now. Harvest has been delayed by all of the rain we have received the past couple of weeks and that makes the waiting even worse. I stand by my statement that I will never complain about rain because as soon as you do, it will go away. However, a little dry weather right now and for the next 45 days or so would be greatly appreciated.  In any case, the rain and associated humidity have not helped in the drying down of the corn crop.

The combine and trucks sit serviced and ready to pounce, but only when the time is right. Yesterday we took the first of what will be many coffee cans of corn to town. I joke every year that we are going to bring the crop to town, one coffee can at a time. This annual ritual starts the same way every year.

The first sample is hand shelled off of three or four carefully selected ears. As Dad and I shell them, he usually predicts the moisture by how it shells off the ear and how spongy the cob is. Most of the time we would not really have to take the grain in because he has accurately predicted that it is too wet. Next is the sample we cut with the combine and Dad again accurately predicts it is too wet by sticking his hand in the sample.

Finally, several days to a week after the first hand shelled sample, we nervously cut the first full load and take it to town. Often it is right on the border of acceptable and the following loads are nervously filled with a hand on the phone to stop the combine at a moment’s notice. That will be especially true this year with the below sea level prices and the fact that even the smallest of discounts will eat a rather large portion out of the final check.

It’s funny how this happens each year and we know it is going to happen each year and no matter how hard we try to be patient we can’t be. I guess there is too much riding on the crop and it is better than Christmas presents once you get to be an adult. Much like Christmas presents to a five-year-old, some of the fields are like getting that bb gun and some are like getting a package of underwear. It is exciting and you do want to get the work done before anything can happen to the crop. I am not sure whether it is the air coming off of the truck driving by the field or the fact the corn plants know they are being watched that causes it to dry down. Whether you are in grade school or a grizzled veteran farmer, waiting is hard. Now, is you will excuse me, I have some drive by crop watching to do.