Sunday, April 13, 2014

Winter is Gone!!!......I Hope.



Spring has sprung!!! I am not sure how you feel about it, but I couldn’t be happier. I really like all kinds of weather, I guess that is why I live in Kansas, but this winter really had gotten to me. There is something to be said about the first snowfall of the year, but this year there was even more to be said about the last snowfall of the year. Good riddance! I am so glad that warmer weather, greener landscapes and spring are here and the many advantage spring brings.
First off, it is absolutely amazing how much quicker chores go when it is warmer. I am much quicker to get out the door when I don’t have to put on two or three layers of clothes. No more searching for two dry gloves or zipping up those coveralls. Not to mention the fact that I am much more eager to go out the door.  No more staring out the window, wondering just how cold that first slap of wind will be. Nothing beats the warmth of a spring breeze.
Then there are the chores themselves. I am not sure why chopping ice takes so long, but it does.  Then there is the actual filling of the tanks. Making sure the hose doesn’t freeze and draining it after you are done. As an added bonus, there is no more worrying about whether the hydrant has frozen during the night either.
Another aspect of spring chores that saves a great deal of time is not needing to wear gloves. I don’t know about you, but it seems like I am always taking my gloves off to take care of something. It is almost impossible to open a feed sack, take a hose off the hydrant, fill a syringe with medicine, get anything out of a pocket…… well, you get the idea. Gloves seem to occupy a great deal of my time during the winter between finding a correct pair (notice I didn’t say matched, I am happy with just a left and a right handed glove), taking them off and putting them on. I do not miss wearing gloves in the spring.
Warming the pick-up and/or tractor up each morning is another step in the winter ritual I will not miss. It all begins with that sense of worry and dread we all have as we walk out to start them. Will they or won’t they start, will I have a good day or not. Then after much coaxing, pleading and persuading they do start and you either wait for the defroster to melt the frost or scrape it. Usually I scrape, mainly because I have not planned far enough ahead to allow the defroster to work. Then there are those extra special mornings you throw snow and ice into the mix. Yes, I am not going to miss that.
Driving with the windows down is one of my favorite parts of spring. I am not much of an air conditioner person. I prefer to drive with my windows down, radio up loud, wind in my face and take in all the great freshness of spring. Sure the first time you do that, it can be rough. A winters worth of dust, hay, feed and other “stuff” must blow around the cab and settle into its warm weather hiding place. However, it is a small price to pay to get rid of the funky winter smells that have lingered in the cab all calving season.
Those are just a small sampling of the great things I enjoy as winter transitions to spring. Other bonuses of spring include baseball on the radio, longer evenings and less rush to get everything done before dark, grilling on the deck, opening the windows in the house and spring rain showers. Yes, right now it doesn’t get much better than spring.
A couple of weeks of mud and a few trips to the basement because of storm warnings will temper my excitement about the spring season. The constant howling wind will wear me down. Couple this with mounting frustration and growing anxiety about keeping cows behind their winter pasture fence as they are enticed by the quickly growing, green grass and it will make me anxious to get them to summer pasture and out of my hair. Yes, I admit I am fickle about the weather and often my favorite season is the next one. Change is always good especially when it comes to weather, I like variety. I guess that is why I live in Kansas.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Life's Little Reminders



It was one of those weeks when I seem to have scheduled too much. I am not sure why I do this, I know that each week has seven days, each day has twenty-four hours and each hour has sixty minutes. Even with this knowledge and a firm grasp of math, I seem to over schedule myself almost every day. In fact, I feel like I run from one thing to the next without, life is too busy.
Tuesday was no exception. We are still getting a few calves and Tuesday we added two to this year’s count. At this point Dad and I have the calf working down pretty good, but it still takes a little while to work each calf. Time was of the essence too, the horse shoer was going to be at my house at 9:00 that morning to trim the horse’s hooves. Then I needed to travel to Wamego for a noon board meeting. I had set myself up for a tight morning time-wise.
Trimming the horse’s hooves involves a lot more than meets the eye. It involves Wayne trimming and filing the hooves to perfection while he and I solve the world’s problems. The topics of our conversations usually range anywhere from tractors, hay and livestock to social media and world problems. I am not sure if the horses enjoy their pedicures but I sure enjoy the discussion. Tuesday was no different, but it did involve a deadline for me.
Shortly after we got started and during the discussion of how hard this past winter had been, we both heard the rumble of an approaching helicopter. I live fairly close to Fort Riley and passing helicopters are not uncommon but I am still fascinated by them and often stop what I am doing to look up at them. This day was no exception; however, as it approached I could tell something was different. It was coming in much faster and much lower than normal.
Then just over the trees I saw the red and white of a Lifestar helicopter. It was low enough I could make out the identification numbers and letters. As it passed over, I made the comment that we needed to check our pulses, make sure we were upright and breathing because if we were, we were having a better day than the person that needed Lifestar. We both chuckled at my off hand statement and went about our work (OK Wayne went about his work and I kept watching). Soon the horses were trimmed and I was off to my meeting.
Early that afternoon I heard about the accident. I am not sure if Dad told me about it, if I heard about it on the radio or if I read it on my phone. The Lifestar helicopter had been sent to a tower collapse just two miles north of my house. Unfortunately two of the workers involved in the accident had died. The news really changed my outlook on the day.
I would guess that the men killed in the accident had started their day off much like mine. Probably a long list of things to do and not nearly enough time to do them. I can only guess how many other concerns they might have had when they arrived at work. It was probably just like most days on the job and they would have had no way to know what was going to happen in just a few moments. Working on towers is a dangerous job, so the idea of an accident is probably not far out of their minds. In many ways farming and ranching is a lot like that.
The news of the accident sure made me take stock in what I was doing. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the two workers in the accident, I cannot imagine what they are going through. Many questions popped into my mind. Was I spending my day and my time wisely, was I really paying attention to what was important? Was all the rushing, being busy and filling every minute of my day really how I wanted to spend my life?
We are all really good at being busy, but are we good at being happy? It’s a lot to think about and I am not sure of the answer.  All I know for sure is that every day we spend on this earth is a gift. No matter how bad the day is, it is a gift. How are you spending that gift is the real problem that we each need to solve. Are we just filling our calendars or are we really living our lives? I’ll let you answer that one.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Real Cost of Food



I am a news junkie; I can’t seem to get enough of the local or national news. Often I listen to it on the radio, watch it on TV, read the newspaper and look at different sites on-line. There are no two ways about it; I am addicted to the news. This is an odd addiction because often what I hear, read and see on the news makes me upset and that very thing happened this week.
Just about every news outlet I tuned into had a story about the rising cost of food. It seems due to drought, the cost of food is projected to rise by 3.5%. Now like many of you, I do not have any extra money to spend so any increase in my cost of living is unwelcome. However, one thing I was unhappy about was that this increase was not put into perspective.
As Americans we spend less of our annual income on food than anywhere else in the world. I found a publication from Washington State University stating that we spend only 6.8% of our annual income on food. Compare that with other countries such as the Ukraine (they have been in the news here lately); Ukrainians spend over 40% of their annual income on food. I don’t know exactly what 3.5% of 6.8% is but I know it isn’t much.
It seems funny to me that fuel cost can go up 10 to 20 % easily in a couple of months, yet we rarely see any news outlet report on that. I would guess that most of my monthly utility bills have all increased by over 3.5% in the past year. Was the increase unwarranted or excessive? I am not sure but the point is that there does not seem to be any reporting over these price increases. Why is that?
Well, for one thing we have done such a good job of producing the most affordable, reliable and wholesome food supply that we have spoiled our consumers. Think about it we are used to walking into just about any grocery store and making a choice between anyone of a dozen different choices for any grocery item. Choices like conventional or organic, name brand or store brand, you name it we have a choice. Often the price differential is not even that great, we are way too used to have affordable, abundant food at our finger tips.
Here is a news flash, even with a 3.5% increase in food costs; we still have the most affordable food supply anywhere in the world. Don’t get me wrong, I am concerned. I recognize that there are many who struggle to pay for their food and we must pay attention to them. Most of us can easily absorb a 3.5% increase even if it means one less movie night each year, but for those who can’t we should provide them some help.
I also fear that supply problems and the corresponding price increases caused by droughts will cause some damage to our demand for our products. First and foremost would be the commodity nearest and dearest to my heart, beef. Because of our historically low cow numbers and short supply of beef, the cost of beef in the grocery store is climbing and I fear that in the long term it will scare consumers away. This will not be because the majority cannot afford beef; it will be because there are more affordable options.
While it is frustrating that a small increase in the price of food can bring headlines in the news, I can see some positive in all of this. First, it does focus the general public on how important our food supply is. I think many of us do not fully realize this because we have never been faced with a shortage of food. The general public just assumes that the grocery store shelves will be full and the prices will be low. The production of food is one of the most important and the most overlooked part of our national security.
Finally, it gives those of us in agriculture the opportunity to educate our consumers about what we do and why it matter to them. I would bet that most of us are far more aware of the importance of irrigation waters in California than we were just a couple of months ago. It should help with the decisions in times of drought between green lawns, swimming pools and crops. We need to have an educated consumer because whether we know it or not we are all big fans of the safe, abundant and affordable food supply this great nation produces.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Banquets, FFA and the Future



I love a good banquet. Well, that revelation should not be earth shaking to anyone who knows me. Yes, I do like to eat and often more than I should, but this observation is not about food at all. Last night I attended the Rock Creek High School FFA Banquet. I guess I need to add a little bit of a disclaimer here.  My son is a member of the Rock Creek FFA so I am a little biased, but this spring the same scenario will play out in schools all across Kansas and the United States.
I feel like many times I write about things that are threatening the future of agriculture, obstacles in our way and people who work to erode our way of life. The FFA Banquet I attended last night was certainly the opposite of that. I saw hope for the future of agriculture in the enthusiasm of the members. I got the feeling that they see unlimited potential in a career in agriculture and that is refreshing.
I was in awe of the way the FFA members in my son’s chapter presented themselves. They spoke with confidence and presented themselves with a presence at the podium we don’t often see in young adults outside of FFA. As the awards for their Supervised Agricultural Experience or SAE were presented I was impressed with the amount of work each had done to earn the award. This was all in addition to the official dress. In an era when almost every day is casual Friday, it is nice to see the formal look of official FFA dress.
Of course the cornerstone to any great FFA program is the Advisor. Again I am sure I am a little biased but I am very grateful for everything Mr. Holiday does. With my background in Extension and 4-H work I like to think I have a better understanding than most about what it is like to work with youth on a daily basis and I am in awe of his dedication to his job. The late nights and early mornings he takes on are not just part of the job; they are a choice he makes because he believes in what he does. I also know that the hard work and dedication he displays on a daily basis is typical of many FFA Advisors I know. It is truly a job that those of us in agriculture should hold in the highest regard.
My wish is that those at the highest levels of education could attend FFA Banquets or better yet spend time in the classrooms or at FFA events. Many times the vocational agriculture program is one of the first cuts during hard times. Based on my experience and observations I would argue that vocational agriculture should be a priority and it should be second only to the core curriculum. Sure FFA members gain knowledge about agriculture but they also gain far more.
The FFA members I know learn how to speak in public with confidence, to conduct themselves with an air of professionalism and learn to lead in a multitude of different ways. FFA members learn how to set themselves apart, that is why many of our local, state and even national leaders are FFA alumni. If there ever was a flagship program of how education should operate and the kinds of results it should produce, vocational agriculture is it.
We need make sure vocational agriculture is valued both at the school district level and at the state and national levels. As budgets tighten and tough decisions are made, vocational agriculture should never be one of the items on the list to be cut, it is far too valuable.  In many ways the future of agriculture depends on the future of vocational agriculture in our schools.
I keep thinking back to the NCAA advertisement that will be shown during the basketball tournament this time of the year. It shows many athletes and they all talk about how they are going to go pro in something other than the sport they are playing. FFA is different and we need to keep this in mind as we look at our FFA program. A large number of the kids in your FFA program will go “pro” in a field related to agriculture and that is a good thing.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Bad Burrito, the TV Series



These days success is all about diversifying, so I have decided to take up another enterprise. I have decided to write my own TV series. After watching some of the stuff on TV I decided there can’t be too much to it and it doesn’t have to have much for content. All you have to do is have an idea and the farther it is from real life, all that much better. Shoot, if the networks don’t pick up your idea, you can finance it yourself, put it out on the inter-net and promote it to death.
So, without further ado, here is my idea.  The show will be called “Bad Burritos” and it will be a tale of corporate greed. The show will be set in the corporate office for a chain of restaurants. The chain will be called Chip-Ole’ and they will specialize in quasi Tex-Mex. The first episode will set the series and will start out in the board room as the CEO and the rest of the management team are discussing their declining sales.
The management team acknowledges that the world of Tex-Mex is very crowded. They need something that will set them apart and bring their restaurants more attention. Suddenly, the CEO jumps up from his chair like a bolt of lightning; he has a brilliant idea that will make their sales go up without the need to improve their food. They will position themselves as the eating place with a “social conscience”.
The second in command chimes in,” let’s proclaim our food healthier and more wholesome because we only use anti-biotic, hormone free meat and somehow make everyone believe it is much better for the environment. We will divert the public’s attention from our food and blame the farmers and ranchers for producing a dangerous product. We will start a crusade to change the way farmers and ranchers do their jobs.”
Suddenly a junior vice president at the end of the mahogany table speaks up, “Do you really think the public will go for us singling out hardworking farmers and ranchers? My uncle farms and he is one of the most consciences people I know. I don’t think he would do anything to hurt us.”
“Good point”, says the CEO, “We will target only the larger farms and ranches and say we support only small family farms. We will make the farms and ranches that chose to incorporate seem like they only want to make money no matter what. The public doesn’t like big corporations and we will play on their fear.”
“But boss aren’t we a large corporation? Won’t we be cutting our own throats? My uncle’s farm is a corporation but it is just him and my two cousins, are we going to say they are evil?” says the same junior vice president very meekly.
“I think we should put out misleading information, twist a few unpublished studies to say what we want them too and hire a couple of “experts” to back up our claims.” Says the marketing director, “Maybe we can dress our CEO up in a cardigan sweater and make the public think he is just the guy next door. We will make our campaign glitzy and glamorous. We will use humor and cartoons, but remember to keep it short, it’s not like we have facts to back us up. Keep it short and entertaining, they won’t know what hit them.”
The same junior vice president offers one last thought, “But it seems at best that we are slanting the truth to support our claims and really we are making things up just to sell our food. We are tearing down good hardworking people just to sell more burritos. How are we going to sleep at night?”
“Well, young man, I intend to sleep very well on my silk sheets at my weekend house in Miami.” Sneers the CEO, “But you are starting to get the idea. We don’t have to tell the truth, we are just selling burritos not the truth. Oh sure if we do actually change the way food is raised, we might add to a growing world hunger problem but who cares, we will be rich!”
In the back of the room, Annie (the management team hired Annie, the owner of a local diner, to cater their board meetings) is secretly taping the conversations and will release it to the internet.  When those tapes hit the airways the management team of Chip-Ole’ must launch a public relations campaign to reclaim their “good name” while changing public opinion.
I must say, I think my idea for a TV show would be very intriguing. We can have a humorous look at the world of corporate greed, where CEOs say anything to make a buck. I know, it is farfetched and probably will never be picked up. After all what does a farmer know about running a corporate restaurant chain?