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.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Fifth Generation Sustainable Beef

Recently McDonalds came out with a plan to start buying verified sustainable beef in 2016. Yes, this would be the same McDonalds that employs Ronald McDonald as a spokesperson and peddles Happy Meals to little kids. The McDonalds of plastic playgrounds, cookie cutter restaurants and cheap predictable food and they want to tell me about being sustainable.
I am the fifth generation on our farm and I would think that makes us pretty sustainable. It is my understanding that being sustainable means that you can continue on into the future. I don’t know of any farmer or rancher who operates their farm or ranch in a manner where they are only worried about getting through this year and don’t care about the future. We all want to leave our farms and ranches in better shape for the generations to follow. The term of sustainable agriculture is one that has gotten under my skin for a long time. Many times I think the term has gotten hijacked by environmentalists and others on the fringe of agriculture.
I can only really speak for myself, but I hope that I am caring for my land and my animals in a manner that will perpetuate our farm for the years to come. We all hope that five generations from now, they will look back as proudly as we do today. The greatest compliment I can think of is for whoever is farming my land years after I am gone to acknowledge that I left behind a legacy of sustainability.
So back to the matter at hand, McDonalds, is going to tell me what sustainable is. On their website they refer to concerns about the environmental impact of overgrazing grasslands. They also talk about animal welfare and the quality of life for those working in the beef supply chain. However, what got my attention the fastest was when they started talking about their greenhouse emissions. It is their contention that 70% of their greenhouse gasses came from their supply chain and 40% of those came from beef.
Let me get this right. McDonalds wants to verify that I, the beef producer, am not overgrazing my land, protecting the environment, treating my animals right and caring for others who make a living somewhere in the beef supply chain. Oh and all the while lowering my greenhouse gas emissions. OK, I work hard to preserve and improve the land I have, I care for the well-being and comfort of the animals in my care and it is my hope that all of us in the supply chain are well compensated and safe. As for the greenhouse gases, that is another topic for another day. On the surface, it looks like we want the same things.
I am always a little concerned when someone from outside of agriculture wants to get involved with how we produce food. It is a point where some of the special interest groups who are not so ag friendly could slip in and have a detrimental effect on those of us who farm and ranch. I also recognize that we are in business and the opinions of customers are important and we must do a better job of communicating with them. This may be a golden chance to show the rest of the world just how sustainable we really are.
I hope that McDonalds will take the time to find good, hard working farmers and ranchers to serve as consultants to this process. I also hope that they will take the time to look at good, credible sources to determine what sustainable really is and they are not swayed by outside interests who have hidden agendas. In other words, I hope that commons sense will prevail in this quest to certify beef as sustainable.
Maybe this exercise will verify something those of us involved in agriculture have known for a long time. The farmers and ranchers of the United States have always been on the cutting edge of technology and advanced food production methods. This has allowed us to protect the environment, our animals and everyone else associated with agriculture while feeding a growing world population and ultimately allow us to pass our farms and ranches to the next generations. Now that is sustainable in my books and something I hope to share with my great-grandchildren over a Happy Meal.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Not the Dumbest Thing I Have Ever Done (Yet)

Yesterday I saw dark clouds building off in the western sky. Something about the threat of rain when we have been so dry puts a bounce in your step. I rushed out to do chores before the rain reached our house.  In retrospect, that may not have been the smartest thing I have ever done, in fact many meteorologists would tell you rushing to do anything outside ahead of a thunderstorm is not very smart. Then again no one ever accused me of being very smart.
So I rushed out the door, encouraged by the thought of being able to enjoy my second cup of coffee while listening to the rain pitter patter on the roof of my house. It was going to be the relaxing morning. Sure I needed to get other things done and maybe relaxing with a cup of coffee was not the smartest thing I could do but it certainly wasn’t the dumbest. As it turned out it wasn’t even the dumbest thing I would do within the next hour.
I hurriedly fed each pen of sheep, grained the horses and fed the dogs. All of this went very smoothly and soon I was done, well, almost. As I grained and fed I noticed that nearly every water tank needed filled. Part of my normal morning routine is to top off each tank, however, usually everything is OK if I can’t. This morning was different, the extreme heat had made all the critters drink a lot of water and every tank needed to be filled. I trudged back to the hydrant and that is when I started hearing the thunder.
I filled up the first couple of tanks and the thunder sounded like it was getting closer. Sure enough, it was and soon I started to watch the lightening streak across the not-nearly-far-enough sky. So there, there I was holding a water hose, leaning on a metal fence, filling a metal water tank with lightening way too close. It still was not the dumbest thing I would do that day or even that hour.
I was on the last tank, thinking about my soon to be relaxing morning when I spotted some movement on the road, west of my house. Cows, and not just any cows but my cows, the very cows that were supposed to be a mile down the road. I shut the water off, jumped in the truck and started to herd them back down the road in the direction they had just come from. All the while, the thunderstorm was bearing down on me. It started to sprinkle and the lightening got ever so much closer. However, it still was not the dumbest thing I was going to do that morning.
Soon I got the cows turned around and they slowly, begrudgingly meandered back to their assigned pasture. Mostly I could follow in the pickup but every once in a while, usually on top of a hill, one old cow would need some extra attention and I would have to get out and personally nudge her along. Finally we got back to the pasture and I let them back in. I was now soaked from standing in the rain and walking through the tall grass along the edge of the road. Did mention it was still lightening?
A quick check of the fence along the road and I knew how they had escaped. Someone had driven through the electric fence and taken a tour of my pasture. I do not know why they did or what their intentions were but I am fairly certain what I would have done if I had found them and it would have been intentional. In any case, the fence needed to be fixed or I would be herding cows later that day also.
There I was soaked to the bone, fixing an electric fence, in a thunderstorm, on top of a hill with lightening flashing all around and that, friends, was the dumbest thing I did that day and had done for a long time. Funny, how you recognize the danger after it passes. But I did recognize it and that is why this morning as I walked out the door and I heard the thunder crack, I turned back around and poured that second cup of coffee. This morning if the cows come down the road, I guess I will just have to put more coffee on and invite them in but they are going to have to wait until the storm is over.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Problem with Politics

Jennifer and I have been discussing ways to cut our monthly expenses and one of the first things that come up is the cable television. I must admit that I often bristle when the mention comes up, but lately I have been giving it more thought. Yes, watching the news on TV is still depressing and maybe worse than it has ever been and the prime time programs often shock me and do not represent the kind of morals and lifestyles that I want to watch. If it were not for watching sports and the weather I would probably have gotten rid of it a long time ago.
Recently I have gotten closer and closer to pulling the plug. Why now you ask? It has everything to do with this being an election year. I know, November is a couple of months off and it is only going to get worse. I also know that each candidate needs to get their message out but do all campaign ads have to be so negative?  It seems like we cannot watch TV for even a few minutes without being bombarded with negative campaign ads.
I am not one of those people who could care less about the elections. Quite the contrary, I find the election process fascinating and I take my right to vote very, very seriously. However, I despise the one ups-man-ship of gotcha ads. The worst of all the ads are the ads paid for by special interest political action committees. Nothing seems to be off limits to these groups and the “facts” they portray are often very skewed or slanted to their agenda.
OK, before any of you affiliated with either of the two major parties start to gloat, I am pointing the finger at both parties equally. Let’s be frank and honest, we are all at fault for allowing the election process to travel down this road. It is increasingly harder and harder to get our attention; we have become a society of sound bites and sensationalism. Very few of us take the time to sit down and analyze each candidate’s position on areas we consider important.
I know it is a cycle that each campaign falls into and often because of the PACs the candidate has little or no control over the ads. I also know it is much easier to criticize your opponent than it is to develop and defend ideas and positions. In the rare instance when a candidate does have a plan or takes a stand, they are immediately attacked from all angles because of it. Negative ads catch our attention and we often let them sway our opinions and that has got to stop.
Yes, I know at least we vote. I saw the statistics from the primary and the vote count was pitiful and that is a real shame. We should view the election process much like if we were hiring employees, because that is really what we are doing. We are hiring the people we are going to trust to run our government.  Just think about what you would do if you were hiring and the person wanting the job brought you a resume’ not filled with their accomplishments and qualifications but with negative information about the other people who were interviewing.
This is what I want to see from all candidates for all elected positions. First, I want to know why you are running for the office.  What was the reason you put yourself on the ballot? What are your core beliefs and values and give examples.  What qualifications, education and/ or talents do you have that you think make you a good candidate for this position? Finally, what would you like to see accomplished and what is your plan for the future? Those are answers I would like to see.
I know that is too much too expect and too much of an idealistic view. Why is that? Politics and campaigns are that way because we do not demand anything different. That is also why our current government is bogged down in finger pointing and partisan politics. The saddest thing is that this will not change until more of us get involved, ask for more information from our candidates takes the time to analyze that information and ultimately vote based upon the information. I believe in our great nation and I believe that we can and we will rise above all of this. However, it will take each of us making that conscious effort to do so.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The End Game

Recently after a speaking engagement I was asked a simple question. What is the end game for those who oppose modern agriculture? I have spent a good portion of my life advocating for agriculture, telling our story and trying to dispel some of the misinformation dogging modern food and fiber production. All the while, I never put a lot of thought into why anyone would try to tear apart the very farms and ranches trying to produce the food the world desperately needs.
I formulated an answer and I know it was the best I could do at the time but it was not nearly adequate. Since then I have had many hours of dashboard time to put a more thoughtful response together. What is the end game of those who would oppose modern agriculture? Ultimately I am not exactly sure. One thing I am sure of is that is not a simple or an easy answer.
Most of the people opposing modern agriculture probably have the best of intentions. They are our friends and neighbors responding to misinformation that is readily available. We can go into the ills and the evils of social media, the internet and instant information, but we will save that for another day. This misinformation can transform the most well-meaning person into an “expert” very rapidly. They really don’t have any training on the topic or understand the science but have latched on to rumors, myths or outright lies that seem to be propagated on the internet. They proceed to spread this misinformation to their friends much like a virus in an elementary school.
So what is their end game? Really I think they are just concerned and worried about their health, their family’s health and the environment around them. This concern is heightened and whipped into frenzy by so called, mostly self-proclaimed “experts” who really have no better grasp on the truth than the people reading or listening to them. They have a theory or an idea and they utilize whatever means available to them to share it with anyone willing to listen.
What is the end game for these “experts”? In many cases it is money. They are selling a diet, a book, have a TV show or trying to make money off of their unproven theories. Others probably are in it for the notoriety and fame. They like having people hold them up as experts and live for the attention. In either case they really don’t care what damage they do or who they hurt as long as they fulfill their need for money and fame. But where do they get their information and ideas?
We can all name a few of the large organizations who pose the biggest threat to agriculture. It is these organizations that I struggle with and especially in the context of the question. What exactly is the end game for these massive anti-agriculture groups? I believe some of their end game is exactly the same as those who peddle their ideas and knowledge. The people at the very top of these organizations are quite wealthy and famous, I am sure they are motivated by that to a certain extent.
But I fear that their motivation and their ultimate desired ending goes well beyond fame and fortune.
They want to change our world in ways that many of us cannot imagine and I hope cannot tolerate. Anyone should be able to recognize that without modern agriculture and the advances in technology that we cannot even begin to feed a growing world population and the implications of not being able to feed everyone is scary.
I am not entirely sure of what the desired end game is for the really hard core anti-agriculture activists, I am not sure I want to understand. What I do understand is my goal and the goals of my fellow farmers, ranchers and agriculturalists. We are driven by the need to produce the food and fiber needed by our ever-growing world population to survive. We desire to produce a healthy, wholesome, abundant food supply while protecting our valuable natural resources. Yes, we farm and ranch to make a living, but I truly think most of us are spurred on by the basic need for what we do.
I also am sure that if we take just a little time to share our love and our passion for what we do and mix it in with the science and facts of why we do what we do. We will win over much of the opposition. What is their end game? I am not sure, but I know my ultimate end game is to be a proud producer of the food we all need.