Saturday, October 18, 2014

Typical Year, Average Farm??????

I have often heard other farmers and ranchers say one of the things they like about being involved in production agriculture is that no two days are ever the same. For the most part I have to say I agree with that, the challenge of the unknown is often what makes our job interesting. However, the unknown can also be quite maddening.
I have often said that there is no such thing as an average temperature, average rainfall, average snowfall, well, you get the idea. I am not sure I ever remember a year that was average. Average is the middle between the two extremes and I am quite certain we spend a good portion of our lives closer to the extremes than the average. To be honest it is kind of refreshing in a world where we try to control just about everything to know that the weather is still out of our grasp.
Harvest this year has been frustrating, to say the least. Crops have been slow to dry down and we have had to hit the pause button a couple of times. I like harvest the best when we can start and keep running without any pauses. One of the hardest things I have had to learn in agriculture is that nature has its own schedule and there is nothing you can do about it.
Often I am asked by non-farm people to give them an idea of what the typical farm year looks like. I often laugh and then give very vague answers. Yes, the typical farm year or the typical farm calendar is much like the average rainfall. Everything happens in its own time, especially fall harvest. I have explained that harvest can start in August, but that is often a bad sign. Usually that means drought and bad crops. We have also seen harvest last until November and that is usually a good sign, but it is also much more stressful.
I am not sure that anyone not associated with agriculture truly understands how much we are at the mercy of the weather. I have often heard that farmers are the only business people who don’t know how much they are going to produce or how much they will get paid for what they do produce before the business cycle starts. It takes the faith of a farmer to dive into the deep end of production agriculture.
So what good does it do us to explain all of this uncertainty to our non-ag brethren?  First, it helps to make them understand just a little better how fragile our way of life is. We have no idea when we will be faced with catastrophic weather events and we often are faced with a couple each year. Hopefully, it will help them to understand just how difficult it is to bring them the full shelves they enjoy at their local grocery store.
We also need to explain that the highs and lows in production have been greatly off set by our new technologies. Rarely do we ever see a complete crop failure but we all know it could still happen. However, thanks to technology like gmo crops we usually produce something. That alone is amazing given the unknowns we face.
The Farm Bill and most specifically crop insurance is the best reason for us to help the general public understand the uncertainty we face each year. The promise of crop insurance helps ease the fear of the unknown. Without it I suspect many of my Western Kansas friends would not have made it through their extended drought. Many would have gone out of business and then where would we be? I am not sure but it is something I do not want to think about. Food security is the cornerstone of all great societies and I like to think we are one of them and therefore protecting our food supply should be of paramount importance to us. Crop insurance and the support of it in the Farm Bill is the key to that.
They say change is the spice of life and nothing changes more than the weather. If that is the case, then I guess all of us in agriculture like our lives spicy. Although judging by the heartburn I feel each time I look at the forecast maybe bland wouldn’t be so bad. Who am I kidding? That would make things just a little too boring and boring is not what I signed up for.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Random Thoughts From a Paused Harvest

We are smack dab in the middle of harvest. Actually, we have hit the pause button on harvest because the corn we have left to pick is too green and the beans are not ready yet. There is nothing like gearing up for harvest, getting into the groove and then shutting down. It is especially aggravating when the weather is nice and bad weather is predicted in the near future. However, this again goes back to something Dad tells me over and over. There is nothing you can do about the weather (despite what Sir Paul McCartney and Al Gore think), so why worry about it.
I truly enjoy harvest (when everything goes right mechanically) for many reasons, it means the culmination of the crop year, it is exciting, and I have plenty of time to mull over the really tough questions of life. Yes, next time you see me driving down the road in one of our trucks just know that I am doing more than driving, I am solving all of the world’s problems. That ought to make you feel safer on the road.
Questions like: when God flooded the world and had Noah save pairs of animals on the Ark why did he save mosquitoes, fleas and ticks? Did he knowingly save them or were they castaways on the Ark. If so why didn’t Noah or one of his family members swat just one of them? Maybe they serve some sort of purpose, but for the life of me I cannot think of what that might be. Another on my long list of questions I am going to ask when I get to heaven.
How does the extra value meal I bought this year go up significantly in price while the corn I am hauling is only worth about half as much as it was last year? It just doesn’t seem right. Oh I know beef prices are still sky high and trending higher. I just made the mistake of figuring out that this year’s quarter pounder extra value meal for Dad and I cost about three to four dollars more and the load of grain is worth about……. oh never mind it is too depressing. Don’t get me wrong, I am counting my blessings that we have grain to haul in, no matter how cheap it is.
Our trucks only go so fast, especially loaded. It is amazing how much more you notice and appreciate things you see along the road when hauling grain to town. I wonder how much more we would enjoy life and how much happier we would be if we just took life a little slower. What if we slowed down driving from here to there, what if we took our time walking from place to place, I bet we would have a deeper appreciation for all that is around us. On a side note, each of you who have had to slow down and follow me into town, I was just doing you a favor and helping you get more out of life.
Why can’t we call a time out in real life? When things are coming at you too fast or when nothing seems to be going right, wouldn’t it be nice to call a time out to settle down and think things out. On a related note why do small children fight nap time? I would give anything for someone to order me to put down my carpet square and take a nap each afternoon. Youth truly is wasted on the young.
Finally, why do we waste so much time worrying about how other people do their jobs and so little time worrying about our own? Don’t believe me; listen to any number of sports or political call in shows. Everyone has an idea of how things ought to be done and most of the callers are making those calls from their job. Often I think I am very fortunate to only have one of the three trucks with a working radio (the lone exception being Saturdays when K-State is playing). We need to do our job, enjoy sports as entertainment and practice our right to vote.
Those are just a few of the very random thoughts that go through my little beanie brain during harvest. I rather enjoy the quiet time to contemplate the problems around me and reflect upon the answers. Well, I do that in between driving defensively, watching the gauges, listening for funny noises and watching the road. So pardon me if I forget to wave, there is a lot going on in the cab of that truck.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Is It Warm in Here Paul?

This past week the topic of climate change has been in the news quite a bit. The U.N. hosted a one day summit on climate change in New York drawing large crowds of protestors.  An estimated” 400,000 people represented labor unions, church groups and schools. Our President spoke to the U.N. on the subject. It seems everyone has climate change on their minds, or at least that is what the media would have you believe.
Right smack dab in the middle of all of this chatter about climate change was Sir Paul McCartney. It seems this former Beatle is promoting “Meat Free Mondays” as a way to lower green house emissions, curb climate change and eventually save the world. Now I never was much of a Beatles fan so it is easy for me to view this as just another miss-guided celebrity trying to garner as much publicity using the cause of the day.
Sure Paul has recruited the likes of Twiggy and Woody Harrelson. Now I don’t know about you but a cause that features an aging member of a boy band, a super model and a convicted drug user, who rose to fame playing one of the dumbest characters ever, just screams legitimacy. Unless I am confused I do not see any of this band of characters with any scientific background or special knowledge in the area of climate change or livestock production. Let alone any of them having expertise in both areas.
It is scary to think about how many people will go to Mr. McCartney’s U-Tube page and watch this slick video that is very much propaganda and take it as the truth. It proclaims that too many livestock are warming up the earth and melting the polar ice caps. It happily proclaims Meat Free Monday as a Fun Day, all the while mixing in happy little, smiling cartoon livestock. It is a catchy little tune without much substance and devoid of any truth.
So what, who listens to celebrities and who watches U-Tube videos? Apparently the Dripping Springs School District in Houston has implemented Meat Free Mondays in three of its elementary schools. Students can still have meat for lunches on Monday, but only if they bring their lunch from home. School officials said the program will promote healthy eating and environmental conscientious thinking. The official also said that benefits of growing vegetables over raising livestock include less greenhouse gases.
The idea behind Meat Free Monday is that livestock contribute large amounts greenhouse gases and if we lower our consumption of meat we will therefore put less greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and lessen climate change. All of this is based on very flawed research that has been taken out of context to prove the activists point of view. But it is not all about climate change or environmental awareness either.
The animal rights groups are at work here also. They are working behind the scenes to scare people into becoming vegetarians with the threat of climate change. Groups like HSUS and PETA are quick to jump on the environmental awareness bandwagon to promote their own causes. Worst of all, campaigns like McCartney’s and the Dripping Springs school district are slick and aimed at unsuspecting children and young adults.
What can we do as livestock producers? We need to take every opportunity to tell the story of agriculture. We need to let all consumers know that the meat we raise is the best way to utilize our precious environmental resources. America’s farmers and ranchers are the original environmentalists and we would never do anything to jeopardize the water, air or soil around us. We need to tell this to anyone who will listen utilizing any method available. I truly believe that most consumers trust farmers and ranchers more than celebrities.
Then and only then, we will start to neutralize the sensationalized, glamorized, hyped up propaganda pushed by special interest groups using celebrities to push their agendas. I don’t know about you but I must say I heartily disagree with Sir Paul McCartney; a Meat Free Monday is not a fun day. However, when it comes to rising global temperatures I do have a good idea where all the hot air is coming from.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Gerald Schmidt, Great Cattleman, Even Better Man

Gerald Schmidt was a good man. Really nothing else needs to be said. Gerald was also a man of few words and he would probably agree. Even though in his usual awe shucks, humbleness he might be a little embarrassed at the attention. But as I go on for a much longer and wordier tribute, he would also probably smile and say that was par for the course with me.
Last week Jennifer and I attended the memorial service for Gerald Schmidt at the Freeport Presbyterian Church. As I soaked in the wonderful service, I had many memories and thoughts of Gerald go through my head. Most of all I marveled at how someone who I had the privilege of being around for such a relatively short time could have had such a big impact on my life.
In November of 1995 Jennifer and I got married and we moved to Harper County where I was the Extension Ag Agent. Jennifer worked as a horse trainer before we got married and her old boss told her to look Gerald up when we got settled in. At first she did some day work for him but soon Gerald asked her to be his herdsman. Little did I know that her job would change me so profoundly.
Gerald Schmidt was like few men I had ever met. Without a doubt he was one of the most humble, hardest working, most unassuming people you could ever meet. He treated human and animal alike, with kind actions and deep respect. He had a calm, quiet demeanor that drew you in and made you feel good. Gerald made sure that the new, green County Agent attended all the right events and I looked forward to going to them with him.
The first thing most people noticed about Gerald was his honesty and integrity. Gerald had some of the best Angus cattle I have ever been around, but his sale catalogs were legendary and the descriptions of his cattle were one of a kind. I remember one bull in particular. Gerald described his best attributes very well, but at the end of the description he mentioned that if your fences were not very good you probably did not want this bull. I have never seen statements like that in any other sale catalog anywhere else, but Gerald did not want anyone thinking he was anything but straight forward and honest. We sure could use more people like that in this world.
I live each day trying to emulate that same honesty and integrity. However, the one lesson from Gerald that had the biggest impact on my life was the way he treated his livestock. Gerald treated his animals with a quiet respect and was always calm when handling them. I must admit that I am a bit of a hot head and very impatient when it comes to animals, so I marveled at how Gerald worked cattle. I was also impressed with how gentle his stock was and then the light went off in my head.
Livestock are a reflection of how they are treated. Treat them with gentleness and they will seldom get worked up. Then came my biggest revelation, be patient, quiet and move calmly and you will get done so much faster than “ramming and jamming”. The only stories I ever heard of Gerald showing any displeasure was when it came to someone mishandling his cattle. Hitting one of Gerald’s cows was not something you wanted to do.
He used the same approach when it came to dealing with people too. He drew others in because they knew they would be treated with kindness and respect. Gerald Schmidt was a man others wanted to be around because he made them feel good. You couldn’t spend a day around him without feeling better about yourself. That is a very rare quality.
There are very few days I do not think of Gerald, particularly when I am working with my cattle. I am absolutely convinced that the world would be a much better place if we had more people like Gerald in it. I just hope that I live my life each day with at least a small portion of the integrity, honesty, humbleness, humility and respect that Gerald showed each person and animal he came into contact with each day. In the end I must say I am a much better person for knowing Gerald and for that I am very grateful.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Testing a Farmer's Patience

Is there anything better than a cool fall morning? Well, OK, maybe the first real warm morning in the spring. I have to say that I really enjoy fall, it is one of my four favorite seasons of the year. Did I hear a groan? Yes, I admit it, I like all four seasons equally, and I guess that is why I live in Kansas where we have four definite seasons (and sometimes all in the same day).
While I like all four seasons equally, I also must come clean that I especially enjoy the transition from summer to fall. Some of us were just not made for hot weather and the cool temperatures of the fall are a welcome relief. You can always put more clothes on but there are only so many layers of clothing you can take off. I am living proof of that.
In any case, it must be fall. Jennifer, the kids and I have spent our weekend at the Kansas State Fair, football and volleyball season are in full swing and the harvest anticipation has started to build. There is nothing like the build up to fall harvest to test the patience of a farmer. I truly think waiting on Christmas morning as a kid was training for waiting on the crops to dry down.
This year is no different; harvest can’t get here fast enough. Last month it looked like corn harvest was going to be early, we were going to be picking corn in early September for sure. It was hot, dry and the corn was maturing at a rapid pace. Then it started raining. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the rain and I am not complaining, maybe whining a little, but not complaining. The moisture certainly slowed the drying down of our corn.
This past week I did notice some fields being picked and while I still saw some green in our corn, I couldn’t help myself and I picked some ears and hand shelled a sample.  I knew it was an exercise in futility but I persevered anyway. The ears were still standing upright and it took a good yank to separate them from the stalk. Dad quickly told me that the corn was way too wet as we hand shelled it off of the cob. However, I continued on because an inquiring mind has to know.
Off to town I drove with a coffee can sized sample of corn next to me on the front seat. The anticipation of harvest steadily building as I got nearer to the elevator, it was Christmas morning all over again. I walked through the door with my sample and presented it proudly to Joanne, the branch manager. She quickly looked at my sample and pronounced it too wet. By now I was relatively sure that 1) my corn was not ready and 2) I was not the first one to bring in a sample.
Sure enough the sample tested 19.3%; harvest was just going to have to wait. I was having flashbacks to being a kid and waking up at midnight Christmas Eve. I was going to have to wait but it wasn’t going to be easy. Joanne handed my sample back to me and told me to come back in a couple more weeks. We both chuckled when she said it; knowing full well that I would probably be back in with another sample in a few more days.
While those of us involved in farming are among some of the most patient people, waiting for harvest is not easy. I also know when the grain is finally dry enough and harvest hits full bore, we will wonder why we were so anxious for it to start. That is of little consolation right now and each time I drive by one of our fields I look a little harder to see some hint that harvest is getting closer. More ears hanging down, more brown leaves, anything that heralds the onset of harvest.
Well, I guess that means corn harvest will have to wait. Maybe I should take a look at the soybeans. Even better maybe I should take a sample of the soybeans in. I better get started because it sure is hard to shell out those green pods. After all, harvest season has started and I am hauling the crop to town one coffee can at a time.