Sunday, December 14, 2014

Thanks Steve!

This past week I spent a couple of days with several hundred of my closest friends at the Kansas Farm Bureau Annual Meeting. This is an event that I truly look forward to each year and this year was no different. If you walk down the halls during a break almost all of the conversations centered on crops, livestock or family, now that is my kind of crowd. Sure we had a lot of fun and rekindled old friendships but at the end of the day a lot of good work was also accomplished.
If it was not for farm organizations like Kansas Farm Bureau, some of the challenges facing agriculture would be too much for us as individual farmers and ranchers. During the two day conference we learned about and created policy for topics as far reaching as prairie chickens, water and farm data just to name a few. Increasingly our fates are in the hands of politicians, government officials and even our own customers, many of whom do not understand our business or how we go about it.
That is why it is important to become involved with any of our general farm organizations or specific commodity groups. I know it is hard to get away from the farm or ranch and take part in these meetings but it is just as important as the time spent behind the wheel of your tractor or feeding cows. Agriculture must have a seat at the table when issues directly affecting us are discussed and the only way to do that is for our organizations to be strong and the only way that happens is for each of us to become involved.
A great example of that involvement is Steve Baccus, former president of KFB, Ottawa County farmer and a great leader in the agriculture community. Steve retired as president at this meeting and was showered with accolades he richly deserved. His tenure at Kansas Farm Bureau saw our organization face some of its toughest challenges and in the end we came out tougher, stronger and better equipped to handle future challenges.
I am sure the easiest thing for Steve to do would have been to stay home, focus on his own farm and not get involved. I am glad he did not choose that path, I am not sure where we would have been without his leadership but I am thankful we did not have to find out. He has been the front man for Kansas agriculture for over a decade and served us well in that capacity. I think we would all be surprised if we knew the hours and the sacrifices he has made on behalf of the farming and ranching community.
 Personally, I am forever indebted to Steve. He trusted me with some of the most incredible leadership opportunities I have ever had but more importantly he was always there with encouragement and advice. Now when you ask Steve for advice or an opinion you need to be ready for it. It will be straightforward and honest, just as all opinions and advice should be. In any case, I am grateful that I had the chance to learn leadership from his example.
So how does Kansas Farm Bureau replace a great leader? You elect another great leader.  I have known Richard Felts longer than either of us wants to admit and I have the utmost confidence in his leadership. Just like many football coaches like to say, it is next man up. However, the success of Kansas Farm Bureau or any agricultural organization does not rest on one person and it is up to all members to be involved in its leadership.
Finally, let me stress that I believe it is imperative for all of us in the farming and ranching community to become involved in some organization. While I am a bit biased when it comes to Farm Bureau and if you want to get active in KFB I would be more than happy to help you. In the end it is more important for you to find the organization you are most comfortable with, have a passion for and roll up your sleeves and get involved. There is plenty of work to do.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Amish Popcorn, Wheat and Bad Ideas

Last week I was in a local farm supply store, they had the usual displays at the end of the aisle trying to get unsuspecting customers to buy stuff they really don’t need. One of those displays was for Amish popcorn which made me wonder why Amish popcorn would be superior to regular, old generic popcorn. Then I saw something else that made me scratch my head even more, microwave Amish popcorn. Really, the Amish have microwaves?
Soon after I made this discovery I had another friend send me an article he had found on the internet. This “article” was from a person purporting to be the “healthy home economist”. I must say that I have no idea if she really is a home economist or even healthy but I do know that what she alleged in her blog post was completely false and really bad information. It did prove just how little most people really know about food or how it is produced.
This so-called expert started off by claiming that she knew people who had problems with wheat and had traveled to Europe and dined on wheat products without any ailments. This made her wonder why the difference could be between the two continents and their wheat. She quickly ruled out gluten or hybridization of wheat. Good, I thought at least she is not fanning the flames of those two fires. Then she unveiled her theory of why people suffer the myriad of ailments increasingly blamed on wheat.
She settled upon glyphosate herbicides like Round-up. I was surprised to learn that, according to the healthy home economist,”conventional wheat farmers” (her words not mine) often sprayed their wheat with glyphosate to kill the wheat plants to aid with harvest. This surprised me since I am one of those “conventional wheat farmers” and I have never put this practice to use or seen any of my neighboring “conventional wheat farmers” utilize it either, even though she said it was common.
OK, so I have heard of farmers using an herbicide to kill weeds in wheat as a last ditch effort to rescue a crop due to weather or herbicide failure but that is exceedingly rare. Maybe this is a practice in other types of wheat but not here in the Wheat State. An expert was quoted saying that the wheat was sprayed 7 to 10 days before harvest and this made the wheat plant release more seed (I have a degree in agronomy but I must have missed that course). She went on to say that farmers then combined the wheat with glyphosate residue in the kernels.
A nice little antidote about Monsanto salesmen drinking Round-up to prove its non-toxicity was included. Again, this is a practice I have never witnessed. She went on to reference a little known study that said while Round-up was not immediately toxic that it disrupted enzymes (which it does in plants so it surely does the same in humans) and caused ailments currently attributed to gluten intolerance. Wow, now if that is not the mother of all inferences I don’t know what is.
I could go on and on about how poor the science was behind this and even go into greater lengths about how this is not a common practice, but that is not my point. This blog made the rounds and probably is still bouncing around and it carries about as much credibility as Amish popcorn. The sad state of affairs is that many of our customers out there really do not have any idea where their food comes from or how it is produced and they are prime targets for bad information. This is extremely frustrating and even maddening. You feel like the little Dutch boy plugging holes in the dikes. You stop one rumor and another one pops up in its place. What do we do?
I know I sound like a broken record but as farmers and ranchers we need to keep telling our story. We need to share the science and technology that goes into producing the food, but that is not enough. We also need to let our consumers get to know us and build that level of trust. We do produce their food in a manner that is safe for them and the environment, despite what the “experts” might say.
Some of this is just funny like my Amish popcorn, gluten-free steak, grass-fed pork or non-gmo Cheerios. But is does go to prove just how gullible we are when it comes to what we eat and buzz words and fads that spring up from our lack of knowledge. Now pardon me as I try to figure out just how the Amish microwave I bought on aisle 3 works.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Appreciating Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is this week! Wow, that does not seem possible, but I guess with the whirlwind pace of this fall anything is possible. I always marvel at the perfect timing of Thanksgiving for those of us in agriculture. It is right after harvest and gives us a time to stop and reflect on the many blessings in our lives. I guess I should not be surprised, this nation was agricultural at heart at the time when Thanksgiving started, and it’s too bad we seem to have forgotten that over the years.
I guess that goes right along with the current trends in society when it comes to Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving used to be a day for just that, thanks giving. Not too long ago nearly every business, save a few restaurants, were closed. It was a foregone conclusion that on Thanksgiving you would spend the day with your family and nothing else. It was a day of family, giving thanks for all that you had and a feast. Somehow we seem to be losing all of that.
Black Friday started creeping into our vocabulary; stores started opening earlier and earlier on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Soon midnight on Friday wasn’t good enough and stores opened on our national holiday. We shouldn’t be surprised; our society seems to value over indulgence and a me-first attitude over family and appreciation for what we have. A great deal of this societal change can probably be attributed to not being tied as closely to agriculture.
Most of us in production agriculture have finished harvest. We are nearing the end of the year and starting to look at the year financially. Most of us are compiling that information for our accountants and we have a good idea of our income for the year. In the past we would have taken account of full haylofts, grain bins and livestock pens in preparation for the upcoming winter. In any case, the idea is the same, this is the time of the year that we can see what a year’s worth of hard labor has brought us.
I think it is much easier to be thankful when the bulk of your income comes in once a year.  Hope starts in the late winter and spring when calving and lambing start and carries through planting season. Then we watch as the crops and livestock grow. Finally comes fall with harvest and weaning and a constant workload. Then, about Thanksgiving, fall work is complete and all of the harvest is laid out before us. Even in the poorest of years it is easy to be Thankful for all God has blessed us with.
Being a part of agriculture I know the sweat and sacrifice it took to bring the food to the table on Thanksgiving and I know it is a small reminder of how blessed I am throughout the year. I live in a country where, for most of us, food is not an issue, we have a safe home filled with many conveniences and we are safe to go about our daily lives. We are free to do what we want and worship where we want. We should want desire nothing more and we should find it easy to spend a whole day giving thanks.
However, I think many of us are too far away from agriculture and harvest that we have lost perspective on just how blessed we really are. Our paychecks show up in the bank every two weeks, we really have anything we want and we have never gone without any of the basic necessities of life. That is why we worry more about shopping and bargains than being thankful for what we already have and spending time with our families.
Am I saying that all of the Christmas Shopping hype, Black Friday and even the Thanksgiving Day store openings are a bad thing, maybe? That is another topic for another day. My point is that we all need to stop, look around and give thanks for all of the many blessings we have in our daily lives. We need to be thankful for the family we spend the day with and not worry about any outside distractions. Each of us have been blessed far beyond what we deserve. That is why, on this Thanksgiving, I am eternally thankful.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

I Voted for SFC Robertson

I voted this morning and I was proud and honored to do so. I know this was a very long and contentious campaign and I was just as tired of the ads and phone calls as anyone. I do not like what our society has degenerated campaigns and elections into. Although I suspect this is what people have said in every election cycle our United States of America have gone through. That still doesn’t mean I like it.
I was thoroughly disgusted with all the candidates and really questioning why we go through with this whole process. Then I was reminded. November 3, 2013 is a date that will remain stamped in my memory as long as I am alive. It is the day SFC. Forrest Robertson was killed in action in Afghanistan. He was the first person I had ever met in person who was killed in the line of duty and it has made a lasting impression on me.
Without a doubt SFC. Robertson is a hero. He served multiple deployments overseas doing a job most of us could not and protecting all of us. He sacrificed himself so that we could be safe and free. I know his family and I have seen the pain and the pride they have felt in the past year. Pain because this incredible man, husband, father and son were taken from them but also pride in knowing that he died a hero, protecting us and inspiring his men.
Monday night, I sat watching the attack ads, answering the phone calls and throwing away the political fliers, fed up with the whole process. I just wanted to lock the door, shut off the TV and disconnect the phone and forget about the whole election process. Then I saw the reminders about Monday being the one year anniversary of SFC. Robertson’s death in Facebook posts from his mother-in-law. Sunday those emotions had come to the surface in Sunday school class, one I attend with his mother-in-law and wife, and suddenly I got it.
Voting is something that is bigger than negative campaigning, much more important than the silliness all of these candidates have stooped too and certainly worth any inconvenience I may have suffered because of any of them. We often see people in other countries turn out to vote in spite of violence and danger, yet we take our right to vote for granted. We can vote in safety because of the sacrifice and heroism of men and women like SFC. Forrest Robertson. Never take that for granted.
At that moment I decided to dedicate my vote this year and my vote in every upcoming election cycle to Forrest. He can never again cast a vote so it is important that each and every one of us do so in his honor. Will I vote the way he would have?  I have no way of knowing, but that is not important. What is important is that we realize the sacrifices that have been made for us and not let them go by the wayside. Exercise your freedoms and your rights and protect them because they came at a great cost.
I will walk into the voting booth this year solemnly knowing the high cost that was paid to afford me the right to cast my ballot. I will cast my vote with the memory of SFC. Forrest Robertson.  Without his sacrifices and the sacrifices of the many, many heroes before and after him it is a vote that might not have gotten cast. This is the first time I have ever voted and truly had some understanding of the magnitude of what I am doing. I am forever humbled and vow to never take that right lightly.
The fact that Veteran’s Day is this week is also not lost on me and I hope that each of you will take the time to honor our fallen heroes like SFC. Robertson and those who are still with us. Each of them made a sacrifice and many still carry the cost of that sacrifice. We enjoy our rights and freedoms because of those sacrifices. Freedom is something I hope each of us hold in the highest regard and never let anything or anyone diminish it. It is our duty to SFC. Forrest Robertson.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

No Mailers, Ads or Calls. Post-Election Now What?

This is the week we have all dreamed of for about six months now. The elections are over and most of us could not be more relieved. Well, I guess unless you are a printing service, voice over actor, U.S. Postal executive, TV ad salesman or political pundit. I don’t know about you but I have never been so happy to get less mail and watch toilet paper commercials in my life.
It seems like each election cycle the ads get less and less civil. Elections now have become more about finding dirt on your opponent or telling us about how bad his or her decisions are and not about where you stand on the issues or what you will do if elected. Let me stop right now to let you know that I am not pointing the finger at any one candidate because all of them are guilty. Interest in civic duty and elections are at an all time low and many people are turned off by candidate’s actions. I suspect it is a reflection of our society in general but it in any case it is unacceptable. 
Can we break this downward spiral of nastiness and mudslinging? It all starts with us as voters; it is our responsibility to push for more accountability from elected officials and candidates alike. We are the ones who have said we don’t have time for anything more than 30 second sound bites and slick flyers. Reading and investigating where candidates stand take too much of the time we don’t have. That, my friends, needs to change.
Becoming informed voters is one of our greatest civic duties and, in fact, it may be the most important.  We need to start following our elected officials actions whether they are in D.C., Topeka or our county seat. It may be hard to know where they stand on issues during a campaign but it should be much clearer when they are on the job. If their stands on issues are not clear then you may have your answer for the next election.
If their stand is different than yours take time to correspond with them and find out why. Tell them your view point and back it up. If they choose to differ then you have every reason to look for another candidate who more closely follows your viewpoint. Don’t just confine this to one issue either; make sure you look at their whole body of work. Are they working to represent the values and ideas of the majority of the voters in your area?
I know this is all Civics 101 and we learned it back in grade school. Somehow I think we have all forgotten what we were taught. Remember how excited you were the first time you got to vote? OK, maybe everyone is not the political nerd I am, but our right to vote is one of the most important rights we have. Are we valuing it and treating it with the same reverence we should? Are our candidates treating us with the same respect and reverence they should? In either case I suspect the answer is no and we need to go back to elementary school civics to change it.
That is why this short period between elections (and it is getting shorter all the time) is so critical. We need to make sure our elected officials know we are watching and that we care. If we don’t agree with them we need to start looking for a candidate who best matches our values and beliefs and work to get them elected. That is when we can demand more from the campaigns of our candidates.
As informed, educated citizens who have been part of the process year round, we can demand more information and less negative ads. We can find out where our candidates stand and have civil debates among ourselves about the direction our great nation should be headed. Our candidates could debate each other talking about the issues while we listen thoughtfully. That would be a far cry from the sharp attacks on each other, while the crowd yells down the other side, that we saw in debates this year.
I know a certain amount of this has happened in every election since Washington but I am sure it is getting worse each election cycle. That is why I am asking, really pleading, with each of you as fellow voters and citizens to ask for a change, demand better. Then maybe an election year won’t be something we dread with relief coming the first Wednesday in November.