Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Water and Food



This morning, shortly after she left for work, Jennifer called and asked me to turn the sprinkler on and water some flowers she had just planted. No problem, I watered them while I did chores. Little did I know that the new hose had a tendency to kink. Each time I worked one out, a new one would form, causing me to say really unkind things about the hose. In the end I got all of the kinks worked out and the water started pulsing through the sprinkler.
Watering our plants, washing our cars, power washing our decks, we seem to use water at the drop of a hat and without thinking about it. Water is the most important natural resource we have, without it we cannot live, yet it is the one we probably take most for granted. I simply lift of the hydrant handle (along with five minutes of unkinking the hose) and the plants are watered.
It wasn’t just watering our landscape that got me to thinking about water. The night before I had served as a panelist at the Shawnee County Farm Bureau Ladies Night, the main program was a question and answer session where the attendees could ask us anything about agriculture. We had several great discussions about a variety of different topics but one in particular stuck in my mind.
One of the ladies asked about a news story she had heard about almonds in California. I had heard the same story about how much water it took to produce one almond. I don’t remember how much water it was now but it seemed like a lot for one little nut. The story was about the drought in California and whether it was a good use of the water to grow almonds. I must admit on the surface I found myself questioning if almonds should be grown. I like almonds but were they really worth it?
I must admit that I am skeptical of anything I hear from the national media and this story was no different. I am not sure if we got the whole story, I don’t remember if an almond grower was interviewed. A couple of years ago I did take a trip to California and toured their agriculture and I remember that almond farmers were having a tough time because of the cost of irrigation and they had started moving away from almond production. Often market demand or lack of profit takes care of such problems.
In the end, I had to admit that I did not have enough expertise to answer the question. What I do know is that water usage will continue to be a growing topic of discussion as we populations grow and the demand for water continues to grow along with it. Water supply was once viewed as an unlimited resource but we now know that it is a finite one.
We humans are a funny bunch. We chose to live in places where there is little rainfall and pipe water in. We also have found that some of these places have the perfect climate to grow food. The soil is very fertile and if you can control when the water is applied, we can make ideal growing conditions almost year round. However, in either case we have to either pump water out of the ground or divert it from other places with more rainfall.
This works fine until the places with abundant rainfall have a drought or the underground water we rely on starts to run out, then we have a problem. The answers to these problems are difficult. We all require water, without it survival is not possible. That is a known, undisputable fact. We also know that we need food and the use of water to produce food also seems like a pretty logical and beneficial use. But more and more it seems as though agriculture and our water use have become a target for reduced usage.
One thing I do know is that we are really good at solving problems in agriculture. We have already figured out how to grow more food with less water. I am just as sure that we will continue those advances and that farming will see some remarkable changes because of our dilemma on how to best utilize our most important resource.
This discussion will continue and the choices will continue to get tougher. It is a problem we must face head on. I have no idea what the right answer is or even if there is a right answer. What I do know is that we must start to have these discussions. Watering our plants may not always be as easy as a lift of the hydrant handle or even unkinking a hose.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Secret of a Happy Marriage



There are times, as a man, that you must admit defeat and just appreciate the fact that you married a woman much better than you deserved. Sunday was one of those days. As my friend Greg once told me, the secret to a happy marriage is the ability to say; I am a man, therefore I am wrong and I am sorry. I think that is the best marriage advice I have ever received.
Sunday we had 4-H meeting and we needed to do chores just a little bit early. Added to that was the fact that a thunderstorm moving in rather quickly. We soon got the chores done except that there was no sign of the ewes. We have never had problems with predators with our sheep but I think that is because we lock them in the lot each night. However, given the condition of our muddy lots, I could not blame them for not wanting to voluntarily give up their freedom.
With the rain moving in and thunder becoming increasingly louder, the decision was made to shut them in after we got home from 4-H. After all they always come in at night and they most likely would be waiting on us at the gate. Like a lot of theories that sounded really good at the time, especially as the first big drops of rain began to fall.
Our 4-H meeting went smoothly and finished about the time we thought it would and that would leave plenty of time to corral the sheep (after all not much time was needed since they would be standing, waiting on us to come home and shut the gate behind them). Little did we know that the chairperson of the banner committee would call for a meeting after the regular club meeting (that chairperson being child number 2). No problem, since the sheep are creatures of habit and would be dutifully waiting on us.
Much to our chagrin there were no sheep standing in the lot when we finally arrived home. Daylight was quickly slipping behind the western horizon, but surely the ewes were not far away. Isaac went to look and I changed clothes and also ventured out. Oh and it had started to rain, so much for waiting for a drier time. As darkness quickly settled in, it became apparent that the ewes were not close by.
Remembering that I had found them across the creek and in the meadow on top of the hill earlier in the week, I turned my search in that direction. Sure enough as I emerged from the dark mass of timber between the hill and the creek I saw a distant blob of white. I called to the ewes and they came thundering to me. However, it became painfully obvious, very quickly that they were not going into the scary dark timber, no matter how badly they wanted to go home or how badly I wanted them too. One person against 50 ewes is not a winning proposition.
Wet, muddy, disgusted and frustrated I waved the white flag and started back to the house admitting defeat. Along the way I ran into Isaac, who was just as wet, maybe muddier and a whole lot more frustrated. It was not good, both of us were visualizing an all you can eat buffet for the local predator population. We slogged our way back into the house with short fuses and bad attitudes and told Jennifer about our plight.
She listened to us and quickly pulled her mud boots on heading to the barn with a determined look on her face. She turned the lights on the barn, got her dog , the best flashlight we had and told me to drive her to the top of the hill. When I asked what she was going to do and what I needed to do, she said I am going to drive the ewes in and you are going to be quiet, watch and shut the gate behind them.
Sure enough, in about fifteen minutes a streak of white rushed past me and through the gate followed by Jennifer and her trusty dog. When I asked what she did that I had not done, she simple said she turned the lights on in the barn to give the ewes something to run too, shined the beam of the flash light onto the path for them and had taken better help to herd them. She then gave me “the look”. That is when I hung my head, thanked her and acknowledged the truth, “I am male, therefore I was wrong and I am sorry.”

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Ag Hall of Fame, Vacation Worthy



Last week I had a meeting at the Agriculture Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs. There are many places that fascinate me and this is one of them. I am not sure how many times I have been to the Hall of Fame, several over the past twenty years or so and I never fail to see something new and this time was no exception. The Hall of Fame has a new director, new direction and new life and it is something everyone should go see.
Of course my favorite part is all of the old farm equipment on display. I jokingly told those around me that it was like going into our machine shed and there may have been some truth to that. Like any farmer the old implements, tractors and combines of the past catch my attention and I try to think about what it must have been like to use them. My conclusion is that farming now is pretty cushy compared to back then.
I started my tractor driving career on an open tractor, but I was raking hay and that hardly compares with plowing, disking or planting. I just barely remember Dad combining with an old Massey combine with no cab. I don’t really remember the combine, just Mom’s strict orders for us to stay out of Dad’s way when he got home and to give him a clear path to the shower. I also remember not recognizing the dusty, greasy guy who hastily made his way to the shower.
I could and have spent a great deal of time studying the old equipment and reading the signs in front of their display. Yes, I am that person in a museum. I read everything and if you want to get through one in a hurry, I am not the person you want to go with.  Rushing through the Hall of Fame with me is not an option. If you have any background in agriculture and any knowledge of equipment this section will hold you for quite a while.
The Hall’s newest exhibit and one of the biggest feathers in their cap is a sculpture donated by Bayer. It was made for the Farm Progress Show and is constructed entirely of recycled materials. I must say that the pop bottle corn is really eye catching. I am not usually one for art but this display alone is worth going to see. More importantly it also marks a partnership with Bayer that will lead to even greater things.
The Hall of Fame also has a number of old structures like an old railroad depot, blacksmith shop and school that are neat to walk through and get a feel of what it must have been like a hundred years ago. The building I found most interesting was the old farm house and outbuildings. It is set up just like a turn of the century farm and offers an experience of farm life from that era to school kids.
Speaking of kids, that is what I think is the most exciting and holds the most promise for the Ag Hall of Fame. They have been working on various projects involving children from nearby schools. They have also forged a partnership with Kansas State Research and Extension Master Gardeners to start a gardening project. This is exciting because it involves urban youth who get a glimpse and taste of agriculture and what it is like to grow food. That is where the Hall of Fame can have its biggest impact.
This project also has a display garden complete with more signs to side track those of us who are into such things. They have also added a bee keeping exhibit that is really buzzing (sorry, I just couldn’t help myself). If you want to see something really odd and cool ask the staff to show you the plow in a tree. Yes, a plow in a tree. It is my understanding that the plow somehow had grown into the tree and was suspended twelve feed off of the ground before the tree died. It is worth the extra effort to see.
I know we are all looking for quick easy trips this summer and the Hall of Fame is just that. It is also relatively cheap, well unless you include it with a trip to the Legends Mall just a couple of miles to the East and then it might be a rather expensive trip. In any case, the Agriculture Hall of Fame is one of the best kept secrets in our neck of the woods and I highly recommend exiting I-70 to take a look.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Rain, I Am Not Going to Complain



Monsoon season is upon us. Yes, it is wet. The first topic of conversation with anyone is about how much it has rained in the past couple of weeks. Honestly, I am not sure. Each day seems like the movie Groundhog Day because every morning I walk outside and dump between a half inch and an inch of rain out of the gauge. I have forgotten the total, and it probably wouldn’t matter because I can’t count that high anyway.
The next topic, especially from my non-farming friends is if I am tired of the rain yet. My immediate answer is a resounding no. I am a long way from complaining about the rain. Sure all of my soybean seed is safely tucked away in the shed and the brome grass is getting more mature by the day. Things are going to be really busy when it does dry out, but I am not going to complain.
 I am tire of the mud. Just this morning I walked out into the pasture to retrieve the kids 4-H steers. That is a story in and of itself, but we will leave that for another time. Each step brought the squish of fully saturated soil and suction against my rubber boot. Oh by the way, I also discovered a hole in my left boot, there is nothing worse than wet socks. However, I refuse to complain about the recent rains.
I have moved the animals in the lots several times and built temporary fences just to give them dry places to lie down. Still the lots are nearly deeper than my knee boots, yes, the same knee boots with a leaky left sole. I believe the animals are even more tired of the mud than I am. Still you will hear no complaints about the rain from me.
Each morning I clean wet feed out of the lamb feeders. There is nothing that burns me more than wasting feed and cleaning wet feed out of feeders has to be one of the worst jobs on the place. Each night I lay in bed and my knees ache from walking through the mud (it has to be from the mud, it can’t be because I put too much strain on them). Even then, I will not complain about the mud or the rain that made it.
OK, so you get my point, I will not complain about rain. Sure I might whine about it, but I will not complain. My theory is if we complain too much, it will cause it not to rain again for a very long time and we will all complain about how dry it is. I will not be responsible for scaring the rain off. It is easier to try to figure out what to do with too much rain than not enough.
I also have problems complaining about the rain when many of my Western Kansas friends have so desperately needed rain for the last several years. It is good to see them getting some of this precipitation and I will not do anything to jinx them. Maybe they can grow the crops they so desperately need.
After all there are few things better than going to sleep with raindrops falling on the roof and the smell of rain coming through the window on a light breeze. Right now I am enjoying the croaking of the frogs and the babbling of the creek right outside my window. The pastures and trees have never been greener. It is all very relaxing.
We need all the relaxation we can get because we know just how busy it will be when it does finally dry out. Any of us who have lived in Kansas for any amount of time know that the next drought is just a few days away and that will lead to a flurry of pent up work that needs to be done. Then we will all be wishing for a rainy day to rest up.
Most of all I am reminded at times like this of something Dad is always telling me. There is no reason to worry about the weather because there is nothing you can do about it. That won’t keep me from grumbling when water seeps through that left boot or whining when my knees hurt at night. But it will make me appreciate the rain and not complain about it. Well that is for now anyway.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

My Graduation Advice



This past weekend was graduation weekend and we attended a couple of our local school’s ceremonies. Commencement always makes me nostalgic and this year was even more so. Maybe it is the fact that I am coming to grips with the idea of being middle aged or it is more likely due to the imminent possibility that I will have a graduating senior next year. In any case, I found myself lost in thoughts about life and what I have learned in the last twenty some years.
One of the things that go along with being an Extension Agent and working with the 4-H program for many years was attending all those graduations. While I was often sad about losing my best leaders I was also excited to see what my 4-Hers would go on to accomplish. I started thinking about what I wish someone would have told me at graduation. I admit that I would love to have the opportunity to speak at a graduation and I would love to impart advice to graduates. 
The first thing I would tell any graduate (or anyone for that matter) is to set your sights high and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. OK so maybe professional sports are out of the reach for most of us at an early age, but pretty much anything else is still in play. Too often I think we listen to others around us who don’t really know us and let them guide our lives. Goals should be high, not easily attainable and no one should ever dictate them to you.
Pick a profession because it is your passion and never because of the salary. We can all think of people we know who truly love their jobs. They live, breath and eat what they do and we all love to be around them. If you are passionate about what you do the benefits of that passion will come to you. It may or may not be money but it will bring happiness and that is more important than money.
Nothing is ever as bad as it might seem. My greatest lessons have come from my lowest points. Learn from what happened, resolve to correct any mistakes, dust yourself off and move on. I am absolutely convinced that my greatest achievements have come as a direct result from my worst failures. No matter how dark things may look it will get better, which is the beauty of life.
Enjoy each phase of your life and never spend your life looking ahead or behind. Many people tell you that high school is the best time of your life. I have to admit it was pretty good but college was good, being a single adult in the working world was good, having a young family was pretty awesome. Each part of your life is good, enjoy the here and now and don’t wish your life away.
Never miss a chance to spend time with the people who are important to you. Nothing is guaranteed and the relationships we have with friends and family are the most important things we can have. I would rather be a poor man with many friends and a close family than a rich man all alone. Your goals and ambitions are important but don’t let them overshadow your relationships.
Never pass up a chance to stop, take a moment and relax. Enjoy the little things in life. Work hard, be driven but every once in a while allow yourself to slow down. Life goes by at such a rush that we all need time to take a moment when we have a chance and sit in silence and listen to the world around us. Personally, I don’t think there is anything better than a cup of coffee before the rest of the world starts moving each morning.
Finally, the best advice I ever got was to have fun. Dana Belshe was my mentor agent when I started in Extension and he gave me this advice about being an agent and I think it applies to life pretty well.  The people around you will have as much fun as you let yourself have. It worked at the most stressful times when I was an agent, camp and fair, and it works in life too. Often those around us mirror our attitude.
OK, so I know you didn’t ask for my dream commencement address but you got it anyway. I just think it is good for all of us, no matter what phase of life we are in, to take a moment and think about life. In a way we are all graduating from something each year.