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.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Haunted Hayrack for Farmers

Halloween is this week.  I have to admit that Halloween has lost most of its luster at our house. My kids are teenagers so they are not going out and trick-or-treating (or they better not be) and therefore Dad does not have any candy buckets to raid. The only candy I get now is what we buy just in case we have a trick-or-treater (as if I need any candy). That is OK because this year looks like just another day of harvest for Halloween anyway.
Halloween always makes me think of the old Peanuts cartoon where Linus is looking for the perfect pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin. He sure would have a dilemma around our neck of the woods, we now have several patches that he would have to drive out to and take a look at. You might say we have a proliferation of pumpkin patches (although you wouldn’t say it very fast). I think pumpkin patches and agri-tourism are great but I also think maybe they are missing a golden opportunity.
One morning while driving over to check cows I had a brilliant idea (that doesn’t happen very often so you better pay attention). What this country needs is a haunted hayrack ride for farmers and ranchers. We Ag producers are a jumpy bunch and scaring us would not be hard to do. Just think back to what makes you jump, cringe or want to hide and we can combine all of those into one spectacularly spooky hayrack ride.
The ride would start off with driving over a hill and seeing that your cows were out in the neighbor’s corn field. This not only scares the stuffing out of any cattleman but also incorporates a corn maze without all of the hassle of planning an entrance, exit or cutting trails. Just bale off of the wagon and follow a twisted wreckage of corn stalks.
Next stop would be a combine in a field of soybeans, the bin would be full and the engine would mysteriously die. In the background you would see flashes of lightening and hear claps of thunder. No matter what you do the combine will not restart and rain begins to spray the crowd.
If that is not terrifying enough, the hayrack would move on to a brushy pasture, in the distance you can see a cow. You get closer and closer and realize that something is not right and that is when you notice the problem. There they are two, tiny hooves pointing up and to the back.  Just as you see the problem, the cow throws her head up in the air and disappears in the brush.
The ride continues and as you travel around a bend in the road you see a perfectly clean field of milo, suddenly everything goes dark and when the light comes back on weeds have covered up every sign of a crop (or the milo could be lying on the ground, you take your pick). The lights go out again and when they come back on you see sheep out in the field happily eating the heads of grain, blissfully unaware of the mayhem ingesting all that grain will cause for their owner.
Just as the ride reaches its farthest point, a place where there is no cell phone reception, the tractor pulling the hayrack starts to make a terrible racket, smoke billows out from the engine and the tractor dies. As you get off of the wagon to look at the tractor a mechanic runs out of the shadows, hands you a bill worth more than the tractor, tells you he will be back on Thursday and runs off into the night.
You walk back to the start of the ride, carrying a baby calf you found, through a snow storm with howling winds. As you approach the safety of the homestead you will be rushed by a crowd of salesmen, survey takers, politicians, out of state hunters and neighbor kids selling magazines. Then as you finally break free of that crowd you will notice the flat tire on your pickup. That is when you pass out from fear.
It is a great idea and it will scare the socks off of even the bravest farmer or rancher. Well, it was a great idea until I remembered two things. First, any self respecting farmer or rancher is too tight to pay for something they get for free each day. Second, no one will ever show up because even if they had decided to come, a real life disaster probably made it so they couldn’t get away.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

In an 80's Time Warp

I think I have hit a time warp and been transported back in time. How do I know? Well, the Royals look like one of the best teams in baseball and are playing baseball well into October. That alone should be enough proof but there is more evidence. Corn and gas are both below $3.00. Maybe all those shows on TV Land are not reruns. Excuse me for a minute while I go check to see if I still have my high school diploma.
I don’t know if being transported back into the 80s would be all bad either. Think about it. None of us would have our smart phones. We might actually communicate face to face. No more firing off an e-mail or even worse a text. If you want to tell someone something, you would have to either physically travel to where they are or at least pick up a land line telephone and call them. I bet it would cut down on the number of angry outbursts and misunderstanding.
No cell phones would mean less distracted driving and better planning. No more worrying about having reception because there is none. I have often wondered if being in constant contact with everyone is a good thing. No more interruptions during meetings or people answering their phones during a movie. The world would be a much more courteous place.
Going back in time would also not have the internet and I am almost positive that would be a good thing. Sure I would miss not having all that information at my fingertips. However, it would also be much harder to spread misinformation.  Before the internet we didn’t seem to have so many “experts” and we worried about our business instead of getting involved in everyone else’s.  Thanks to the internet we can find any supposed fact or research to promote any idea we can think of, regardless of the truth.
That also harkens back to a time with no social media. How did we communicate or keep up on old friends? Oh yeah, we actually visited them or at least called them on the phone. OK, so keeping up with old acquaintances via social media is not so bad but there are plenty of other things that aren’t so good. It would also be much harder to spread gossip, lies and rumors. Campaigns would require more thought and be much less anonymous. Maybe candidates would run on their stands on issues and not who can smear who with the most dirt, maybe we would actually try to be more informed on the issues as voters too.
Wow, do I sound like Archie Bunker as I sit here in my easy chair and pontificate about how good the old days were. Maybe I have reached the point of being an old codger. I do miss the days of less instant communication, more face to face interaction and a lot less connectivity. I am sure the world was not a better place back then; we just thought it was because we didn’t know any better.
Much like the genie we can’t put it back into the box. This is the world we live in and it is only going to get smaller in the future. We must learn how to live in it because disappearing into the wilderness and becoming a hermit really isn’t an option for most of us. I am not sure how we promote less reliance on electronics and more interaction with fellow humans.  We need to feel more comfortable with community and relationships than anonymity and invisibility.
I have heard that our addiction to technology and specifically our smart phones is akin to substance addictions and I have no doubt (based on personal experience) that to be an accurate assessment. I know it will be painful but we need to shut down the electronic devices look someone in the eye and start an actual conversation. Then we will regain the enjoyment of human, face-to-face interaction.
So pardon me while I turn off my computer, put down my smart phone, and turn off the TV. I will fire up the old am radio, listen to Denny Mathew and the static call a Royals playoff game and pretend that it is the early 80s again. I just hope I didn’t forget to do any homework.

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.