Friday, December 31, 2010

Looking Forward to 2011

We are in the waning hours of 2010 so I guess I am like everyone else and looking back on the year. It was a successful year in agriculture. Did we make money? Some of us did, I suppose, but that is not how we measure success. In agriculture, the measure of success is getting to farm or ranch for another year. So for those of us who know we will get another shot at farming and ranching in 2011, 2010 was a good year.

The pressure on our family farms and ranches gets increasingly greater each year and it comes from many different directions. Government oversight continues to increase. From decreasing the necessary medicines available to us to treat our livestock to determining arbitrary measures of how good our air and water are. Many times these standards are higher than what the elements would be if humans had never arrived here. The bottom line is that the standards we are held to are determined by bureaucrats who have never set foot on our land.

However, the greatest challenge to farmers and ranchers are the special interest groups. HSUS, PETA, the Sierra Club, etc... are nothing more than fund raising machines that line the pockets of their wealthy top executives. They masquerade as organizations that care about animals or the environment but in reality they have very little need for facts, truth or the subject they claim to care about. That doesn't stop them from lobbying to pass legislation or use false accusations to change public opinion against family farmers and ranchers.

Then there is always the weather and markets that we cannot control but have a lot to say about how profitable we are. The fall out from the financial meltdown has reached agriculture and made it tougher for us to secure the funding we need. So why do we even bother if the game is seemingly stacked against us?

We farm and ranch because it is in our blood, because it is who we are. We feel the connection to our animals and our land that the bureaucrats and activists could never fathom. Farmers and ranchers toil in a relatively low paying occupation because we are proud producers of the food and fiber we all need. We are eternal optimists who know that 2011 will bring plenty of rain, good markets and a sudden epiphany of understanding to those who oppose us. So I will close with a hope that 2011 will bring you happiness and peace.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Injured Reserve

This week I had to put myself on the injured reserve list. A ruptured Achilles tendon is pretty hard to deal with on the ranch and it is even harder for the rancher to deal with. Why? When you get an excuse to not go out into the terrible weather and harsh working conditions are you disappointed? Well, it all goes back to finding that one thing that is your passion and mine is agriculture.

I worry and feel guilty that I can't help my family as they care for our animals during this difficult time. It is hard enough work when all of us are available but subtract one and it is even more arduous. The winter can be a really tough time of the year. The weather is tough The landscape is either snow and ice covered or knee deep mud or both. Physically, this time of the year is demanding.

Mentally it is also demanding. In a couple of weeks, we will start to have baby lambs and a couple of weeks after that baby calves. This calls for long hours and that often strains both body and mind to the limit. We put ourselves through this because we love what we do, it is part of us.

So I am worried about my family as they take up extra work in my absence. Like most farms and ranches we are a family operation with three generations involved. But like other farms and ranches our neighbors have stepped up and lent a helping hand. But I must say I am also very disappointed.

Yes, I am disappointed. Lambing and calving seasons make this one of my favorite times of the year. I wish I could give each one of you the experience of finding new lambs or calves and making sure they get the care they need right after birth. It is an incredible experience. I am also disappointed that I will not be able to feed or care for my livestock for an extended period.

Like most farmers and ranchers I will probably push the limit of what I can do sooner than I should. However, at least for the moment, I am determined to follow doctor's orders. When what you do is a passion you will work hard to get back to it. That is the dedication to agriculture that I share with my fellow farmers and ranchers.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My Christmas Wish List

Christmas is my favorite time of the year. It always has been, I remember as a kid impatiently waiting each year. It seemed that the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas lasted for months. Now that same period of time passes in a moment. One of the things I did each year as a kid was to make my wish list. Since then I have realized Christmas is more about giving and there is only one Christmas gift that really matters. That is why I have written a Christmas wish list of things I want each of you to find.

1. Passion for your job. As many of you know farming and ranching is my passion. I love growing the food that feeds each of you, my hope is that you find that all-consuming meaning in your work.

2. Love for your family. If there is anything coming between you and any member of your family, please take this time of the year to fix it. Life is but a fleeting moment and you may not have that chance. Never leave anything unsaid. I cannot imagine my life without my family.

3. Time for friends. I hope each of you are blessed with a wonderful collection of friends like I am. Each friend gives us a different gift and we need to remember not to be too busy to stop and take time to enjoy their gift of friendship. It takes only a moment and nothing you have to do is more important than our relationships.

4. Blessing of our birth. We are so blessed to be born in a nation of freedom, a place where opportunity is our right and we can pursue our passions. I am reminded of this each time I spend a day in the Flint Hills in my United States.

5. Cherish your spouse. I believe we each have a soul mate and once you find that person make sure they know how important they are. Make sure to let them know this each day. They are the ones that give your life meaning and fulfillment. I am nothing without my wife.

6. Celebrate Christ's Birth. Most of all, my wish for you is to truly appreciate that most important of all gifts we each have been given. God sent his only Son to earth so that each of us can be saved. It is your choice to accept and unwrap this gift. Once you do, you will appreciate the awesomeness of Christmas. Gone will be the commercialism, emptiness and the hollowness of possessions that often haunt Christmas for many people. In its place you will find joy, peace and hope.

That is my wish list for you, my friend. Christmas joy is not found in wrapping paper, lights, movies or any other material thing. Real Christmas joy is in knowing why we celebrate this day and learning to appreciate the blessing each of us have in our lives. Please, know that I pray that you will have a happy, blessed, truly meaningful Christmas.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Season of Anticipation

Christmas break starts for my family today. Yes, it means time celebrating Jesus's birth, time with family and other Christmas traditions, but it also means hard-work. While Christmas means the end of one time of anticipation, that of Christ's birth, for us it starts a new time of pending excitement. Lambing and calving season are right around the corner at our ranch.

While the impending birth of many lambs and calves is cause for excitement, it is also the cause for a whole lot of work. First, the barns must be turned into maternity wards. The area needs to be cleaned, pens built, heat lamps must be hung, water and feed pans must be readied. Equipment such as syringes, gloves, birthing aids and towels must be found and placed where they can be accessed when needed. Keeping in mind that they will often be needed in a hurry and in a time of great stress.

Next, bedding will need to be moved into a holding area where it can easily be spread out. We lamb our ewes on wheat straw we buy from our neighbors. Sometime next week we will go buy a truckload and stack it next to our lambing jugs (oh yeah, the pens we build to lamb our ewes are called jugs). Each time a ewe and her babies are moved to the lamb pen, we will clean the jug and put new, fresh straw in it.

Finally, we will go through all of the various medicines we will need for both lambing and calving. Lambs receive a supplement in the first couple of hours after birth. It will give them a boost of energy. Our calves we give two shots that help prevent life-threatening illness. We also need to make sure we have the proper medicines to treat common ailments such as pneumonia and diarrhea. We will also make sure that we have ear tags for both the lambs and the calves. The ear tag will match their mother's and allow for us to know which lamb/calf goes with which ewe/cow.

This time of new lambs/calves on our ranch is both exciting and exhausting, and it is also my favorite. However, we have learned that prior preparation makes it much easier both on the sheep and the shepard (or the cow and the rancher). Our goal is to provide the safest, healthiest environment for our lambs and calves to be born in. Like all of my fellow farmers and ranchers, the health and well-being of my animals is always first and foremost in my thoughts.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Truth About Meat

Yesterday HSUS came out with another one of their "undercover" video creations. This is a trap that they use to lure in many naive and unsuspecting people who know nothing about agriculture or modern farming practices. While they claim to be interested in the welfare of the animals, really they are just interested in the welfare of their own bank accounts.

Does it sound like I am mad? Yes, you better believe I am mad, fighting mad. What they fail to tell you is that the video they show is shot over many months (for several seconds), taken out of context and edited for peak dramatic effect. By no means, does it represent the truth about modern agriculture or the hard-working families who operate the farms producing the food.

If you want a glimpse into the truth about how pork is produced whatch this You-Tube video produced by my friend and family hog farmer Chris Chinn.

Yes, hogs grown in modern hog farms live in climate controlled barns (for all of us in winter's clutches, wouldn't a constant warm temperature be nice), they have all the advances in modern veterinary medicine to insure their health and they are fed a balanced diet formulated by PhD level nutritionists. To top that off, each hog farmer and employee must be certified in Pork Quality Assurance.

This certification insures that each person coming in contact with the hogs understands the right way to treat them. They understand how to administer medicine in a way that protects both the health of the pig and those who will later eat the meat it produces. They also understand how to handle medicines to insure that there is no cross-contamination to other swine. They understand how to move pigs in a low-stress manner and how to euthanize them ethically. Then a certification of the farm and the facilities is conducted to further guarantee compliance with industry standards that have been developed through university research. I know this because I am a certified PQA instructor.

That is why I get so upset when I see HSUS or another one of the anti-animal agriculture groups take shots at farming and ranching. These people are highly paid, political activists who don't care about you or the animals. The only thing they care about is the money they make. Take time to learn the truth, meet the men and women who work on the farms, dedicated to the production of food and the caring of animals. Then and only then will you know the complete truth about where your food comes from.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Winter Chores

Winter has arrived on the ranch and that means work. It doesn't mean more work because each season brings a different kind of task. I guess that is what I like about being in agriculture. It changes with the seasons and the work is never quite the same. Just about the time you get tired of doing something the season changes and the daily tasks change.

Winter brings its own set of chores and tasks. One of those chores is feeding the cows and ewes. This means knowing the nutritional value of the hay and grain I plan to feed. I need to know the energy, protein, feed value, etc... so I can develop a ration that will provide the proper nutrition for that animal given their biological needs. This takes both education and experience to blend the available feed ingredients in the right amount.

After the ration is formulated it must be fed to the cattle or sheep so that even the meekest most timid animal gets the amount they need. I unroll hay for my cows. I take an 1100 pound round bale of hay and unroll it in the pasture using hydraulic arms on my pickup bed. This spreads the hay out allowing the cows to have space. I provide plenty of bunk space for my ewes allowing them enough space to each eat the grain they require.

Feeding the animals does not just mean dumping it and leaving. I take the time to observe each animal and make sure they are not injured or sick. If one of the animals would happen to be in need of care, I would consult with our Vet and get it the necessary treatment. The health of my animals is of the utmost concern to me. I utilize the best in modern veterinary medicine, administered in a manner consistent with prescribed quality assurance programs and in the approved dose. Any animal treated will be monitored closely until they are fully healthy.

Winter chores are about being caretakers of our animals. Most of the day is spent looking after their needs. Like most of my fellow ranchers I enjoy working with animals and view it as my life's work. Winter work is not easy on the ranch, but it is just one opportunity for my fellow ranchers and myself to display our passion for animals and ulitimately for feeding the world through our hard work.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Shepards and Faith

Today I thought about shepards. It was the children's Christmas program at our church and they told the story of Christmas as only children can. I love Christmas and I love the Christmas story. The story and the nativity are an important part of the season and there is one part that continually speaks to me and that is the shepard's role.

Maybe it is because I feel a connection with them, fellow ranchers. I have often wondered why God chose the shepards as the first he told about the earthly birth of his son. I can only imagine the scene. I would imagine the shepards were worried about the health and well-being of their sheep, thinking about the next pasture they were going to graze. Then all of the sudden, a bright light and angels were upon them.

But why did God chose them first? I think it is because most of us in agriculture understand that there is a God. We serve God as a care-taker here on earth. Each day we work in a world God created for us. We plant seeds and watch them grow into plants and eventually harvest them for food. We help animals come into this world, we feed them, watch them grow and eventually become the meat that provides us with protein. We do not know why plants and animals grow, why the sun shines or why rain is provided for us. We accept God's gifts and care for them.

Maybe it is because in agriculture we operate on faith. We know that God will provide for us. He will provide the rain, nutrients and sunshine to make our crops and livestock grow. That faith might be why he told the shepards first. I suppose that the shepards would accept the news of our Savior's birth on faith and not question that news. They accepted it, rejoiced in it and went to see the baby Jesus.

I am a proud producer of the food we all eat and a humble caretaker of all that has been trusted to me. I look upon the shepards in the nativity with awe and admiration, they represented agriculture in that most Holy of all events, for that I am grateful. I will go into this Christmas season with the faith borne in Christ and nourished in agriculture. For that I am thankful.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Face of Modern Agriculture

This past week I read a couple of articles that blasted "big corporate" agriculture. It really hit a nerve with me. I guess a lot of it had to with the events of the past week. You see this past week I went to the funeral of a man I really admired.

Don started his journey in agriculture with six sows and a boar. He built that into one of the largest agriculture operations in our county. Yes, it is one of those "corporate" farms so heavily criticized by those who don't really understand and he was the President of that corporation. But Don was truly a great man and I really think those who rail against "corporate" agriculture should know more about his life.

First and foremost, Don was a family man. He married his high school sweetheart and they remained sweethearts for over 50 years (they celebrated that milestone this summer). The fact that he was completely devoted to her was obvious to anyone who knew them.

Then there was his children and grandchildren. All three of his kids are involved in their "corporate" farm. Yes, I guess that would make it a family "corporate" farm. I am confident that one of his greatest sources of pride was the fact that his kids farmed and ranched with him. All three are accomplished, confident professionals playing critical roles in the family business. Most importantly they shared his passion of agriculture. The grandkids were his pride and joy. The slide show at the funeral was mainly pictures of him with them. To spend time with Don was to learn more about what the grandkids were doing.

Final bit of information you should know about Don was his community involvement. He served as a state legislator, school board member and a long time member of the conservation district board of directors. That is right, the president of a "corporate" farm serving on the county conservation district board. Don took great pride in conserving the natural resources on his acres and protecting the environment.

Yes, he was a great man, a pillar in the community and most importantly a family man and yes the president of a "corporate" farm. That is why it upsets me when I hear the media, activists and others use the term corporate farm in a negative sense. The corporate farms I know of are family farms, good neighbors and most importantly, integral parts in the feeding of the world. That is why when I think of modern, corporate agriculture, I think good thoughts and see Don's face.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Thoughts

Thanksgiving is a holiday that comes once a year, but thanksgiving is something we should do each and every day. I am sitting here in the quiet of my office on this eve of Thanksgiving and it is easy to think of all the things that I have to be thankful for. We are so incredibly blessed to live in this country with our rights and freedoms.

Here in the Flint Hills it is easy to be thankful for all that God has created. I am so blessed to know where my food comes from and to be part of the patchwork fabric of farmers and ranchers who produce that food. Each morning I am allowed to breath the fresh, clean air of the land and look across the native grass prairie and remember why I love this land. I am so thankful of the animals I tend to and the crops I grow. Thankful of the food produced, the wholesome nutrition it provides and ultimately the security that food gives us.

I am thankful that I have the freedom to chose my own path, to pray in my own church and the opportunities each of us have because of where we live. I am thankful for those who gave up so much so I could live safely and comfortably. I am also ever mindful and thankful for those who are insuring that safety and comfort even now and risking their own lives.

I am grateful for a country where we have an abundance of food on our store shelves. I am so thankful for the technology at my fingertips both in my professional and personal lives. Those advances help maintain our place as the most developed country in the world. I am thankful of the infrastructure that allows us to easily travel and the commerce it encourages.

Free speech and the ability to express my thoughts without worry is another thing I am thankful for. We live in a country were we can disagree and not worry about the consequences. I am thankful to live in a country where I have the right and the ability to get involved in the government. I can vote without worry and have a say in the laws ruling our land.

All of these freedoms are because of the agricultural foundation of our country. Without food and fiber a nation cannot advance and prosper. It is no coincidence that our day of Thanksgiving is centered around a feast. Our forefathers could not have developed this great nation if they had constantly worried about hunger.

As we sit down to our meal tomorrow I would suggest the following. Let us be in prayer for those who sacrificed and are sacrificing their lives and well-being for our freedom and ours safety. Let us be grateful for those who pioneered the advances in technology that allowed us to prosper. Finally, let us be thankful for the abundant food and agriculture that forms the foundation of our nation and the security it provides.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thankful for Agriculture

Agriculture has always been at the heart of Thanksgiving and this year should be no different. However, the circumstances are very much different than the first Thanksgiving. We are so fortunate and so blessed to live in a nation so blessed with an abundance of food and fiber.

The first Pilgrims celebrated Thanksgiving because of the hardship and hunger they had survived during the first year. Few of us know true hunger and that is an incredible blessing. We live in a nation of grocery stores with full shelves and a restaurant around every corner. Food is such a common place that we have TV channels dedicated to food.

Think about it, we are so well-fed that we can chose to buy food that is organic or meat that is grass fed or free range. In developing countries those are not choices but realities. It is our modern technology that allows other farmers and ranchers to produce the sheer quantity of food needed to fill those store shelves and menus. The secret to our country's success is the security of knowing we will have enough food and that it will be affordable.

Our farmers and ranchers are always meeting the challenge of producing enough food to feed a growing population. I am so thankful that I have a choice of safe, nutritious food to select from for my Thanksgiving meal. I do not think that we fully comprehend or appreciate the blessing we enjoy in this great nation. We have an agricultural system capable of producing the food we need without us ever having to worry about our next meal.

So as many of us sit down to a great meal with so much food we need to think of the hardships those who celebrated the first Thanksgiving went through. We need to be thankful of the great fabric of agriculture that covers this nation. We need to be thankful for the technology that allows our farmers and ranchers to produce more food on fewer acres. Farmers and ranchers are truly the foundation of all that we have to be thankful for.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Passion, Pride and Food

I wish you could have spent the day with me. Today was the first day of the Kansas Farm Bureau Annual Meeting. Farmers and ranchers gathered for this two day meeting to decide the course of the largest agriculture organization in the state, and something I look forward to each year. It really helps me to remember why I am so proud to be involved in the feeding of the world.

If you could have spent the day you would come away feeling better about the food you eat and the environment we all share. You would hear conversations centered around learning more about farming and ranching practices that will both allow us to produce more food while preserving the world around us. You would realize that we are utilizing the latest tools and techniques, our vocation is truly based in science. The technology utilized in agriculture is truly amazing.

However, I think what would reassure even the greatest critic would be the passion and love for agriculture that you would hear in those conversations. You would hear a love for the land. Not just a passing attraction but a deep felt passion that is at the core of every farmer and rancher that I know. We talk about the land, animals and crops with a reverence reserved for the very essence of who we are.

It is that passion for our vocation that should offer you the greatest insight and comfort about the food you eat and the land we all share. Too often we are portrayed by anti-agriculture groups as greedy with no regard for the world around us when nothing could be farther from the truth. No matter the crops grown, livestock raised, small or large farm or ranch, organic or not we all share a love for plants, animals and land.

The land we live on is the very fabric of our families and has been for generations. The livestock and crops we raise are our lifeblood and command our respect. That is what I wish I could share with you, the passion, love and dedication that fills the hallways of our annual gathering and is shared by all of my fellow farmers and ranchers.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Humbled by Veteran's Sacrifice

Today is Veteran's Day, an official national holiday. On the surface it meant no mail, the banks were closed and I had the day off of work. However the day is much more than just a day off. I must admit when it comes to Veteran's Day I have a twinge of guilt and a feeling inadequacy. I start to think of all that Veterans have done for me and the freedoms that I enjoy and I am very humbled.

Each time I think of our service men and women putting themselves in harms way I realize they are far braver than I am. They sacrifice themselves for the freedoms that we all enjoy. Each time I write or say anything, many brave soldiers laid their lives on the line (or gave the ultimate sacrifice) for my right to do so. When I worship in the church of my choice without fear of being persecuted, I have those very heroes to thank.

Each spring when I watch a new calf or plant crops, I realize that because of the bravery of the soldiers in our military. I can work in the vocation of my choosing. I live in the greatest nation, the very nation that drives the economy of the world, the nation that feeds the world and the most advanced in the world. I live here in security and comfort because our Veterans sacrificed their lives and well-being on my behalf.

On this day I marvel at the bravery of those who willingly put themselves into battle. I wonder if I could do this and I am thankful that because of their courage I never had to make that decision. I cannot express my gratitude for what they have done for me and for those serving now are doing to protect our very way of life.

Words can never express, gratitude can never repay and anything I write is very inadequate for what our Veterans and Active Military have done for all of us. Anything I do is because of what they did and all I do, pales in comparison to their service to our great nation. All I can do is simply say Thank You and let them know that I am forever grateful for what they have given me.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sunday Morning Blessing

I don't know what it is about Sunday morning chores, but it seems they always remind me of how lucky I am to be involved in agriculture and to live in the Flint Hills. Often they are a reminder that religious experiences are not only reserved for churches. This morning was no exception.

The morning dawned crystal clear, chilly but not uncomfortable and the wind that was fierce yesterday was under control. The sky was that brilliant blue you see in the Flint Hills in the fall. The light wind rustled the leaves in the yard and the air smelled clean and fresh.

I fed the animals. They are settled into the pens that they will spend the winter in. There is something comfortable in knowing that you are prepared for the on-coming winter. The sheep and cattle in the barnyard were fed quickly, allowing me a quick moment to enjoy them being content. I looked up into the hills surrounding the house at the trees with their orange and yellow leaves mixed into the golden native grass.

My last choir was to feed the cows. I pulled into the pasture to unroll a bale and they eagerly ran to the pickup. They surrounded the truck as I unrolled the bale and quickly started eating at the ribbon of hay left in the wake. I paused for a second and watched a flock of turkeys hurry off the meadow, anxiously looking back at me and my bovine followers. On the far hill four deer meandered along the trail heading back from a night on the neighbor's corn field.

Right then and there I was again reminded that I am blessed to live in the Flint Hills and farm and ranch. That is why I spend all my free-time and weekends working the land and growing food. This is also why I constantly try to protect the land around me and treat my animals with the care and respect they need. I realize that I am here by the Grace of God and mornings like this morning serve as a reminder of my blessing.

Monday, November 1, 2010

My Neighbor and My Vote

A couple of weeks ago one of our neighbors passed away. He was over 90 years old at the time of his passing and truly was one of the "Greatest Generation". I grew up admiring him as a youth but by admiration only grew as I became an adult. That was when I really learned about what kind of man and patriot my neighbor was.

As a child he survived the Great Depression combined with the Dust Bowl. I cannot imagine the sacrifice and suffering that growing up the 20s and 30s must have meant. After that came World War II and he served our country, protecting our freedoms and enduring even more danger and hardship. Finally he came home, worked, saved and scrimped until he and his wife could buy a farm where they would raise their family. He loved agriculture, working the land and wanted no more than to go out and work his land each day.

What causes me to remember him today was his deep love for his country. I remember until just recently he marched with the American Legion as part of the color guard at nearly every parade. I also remember that he flew an American Flag every day in front of his home. He was proud to have served his country and even prouder to be a citizen of the United States. That love for this great nation is why I remember him on the eve of election day.

I am sure each of us knows a Lyle, and I hope everyone had a chance to really get to know someone like Lyle. He knew what true sacrifice for freedom and country meant and I know that he never took them for granted. I would also guess that he never took for granted the right he preserved for all of us to cast a ballot in a free election to determine the direction of the United States.

So as tomorrow rolls around, think back to someone you know from the "Greatest Generation" and think of everything they did to preserve your right to vote tomorrow. While you are at it, make sure you become informed about the candidates. I am not endorsing one party or the other, you were given the freedom to choose who you vote for, exercise that freedom too. I promise you that tomorrow I will proudly cast my ballot and just as proudly wear the sticker in memory of my neighbor, Lyle.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

More Trust and Less Regulation

Yesterday I drove through my little corner of the Flinthills and observed Fall in all her glory. The sun shone bright in the clean, blue sky and the earthy colors of the trees cascaded up and down the valleys. The open native grass pastures were covered in a golden brown sea. I took just a second to pause and remember why I love my little part of the world.

My family has called the Flint Hills home for five generations and our roots run deep. I am no different than most of my counterparts in agriculture. I truly love the land and it is part of who I am. This moment of reflection also caused me to return to a deep-seated concern that has been growing daily.

More and more each day this corner of the world that I love so much is coming under more and more regulation by people who are thousands of miles away. While most of them are well-meaning (although many have under-lying more sinister motives), I truly believe that they do not understand the situation and they will do more harm than good. They do not know the land like the farmers and ranchers who live on it.

Each day agriculture becomes more regulated. These regulations are meant to preserve the natural resources around us, but in many cases they do just the opposite. They are imposed on us by bureaucrats and activists hundreds of miles away and take away the ability of the farmer and rancher to do what is best for their land and make a living for their family. Advances in technology have allowed us to do a better job of preserving the world around us. I know this is not what is portrayed by various media outlets and governmental organizations, but it is the truth.

My family has been on the same land for over 100 years and we strive to preserve the land for another 100 years. We would never do anything to harm the land, water, animals or our neighbors. We simply utilize the resources entrusted to us feed the world and to preserve our way of life. The bottom line is that farmers and ranchers produce more food, while preserving and even improving the land, air and water around us.

However, each day we are faced with unrealistic benchmarks sought after by so-called environmental groups and imposed upon us by government agencies with a political agendas. Yes, air quality is affected by agricultural activities such as dust from field work and burning of native range. However, these events are part of natural life cycles and are very small when compared to the smog manufactured in more populated areas. Herbicides critical to modern farming and soil saving technology are falsely vilified by groups using biased research data.

I do not mean to go on a rant, but the natural beauty I saw yesterday reminded me of how great farmers and ranchers are in protecting the environment around them. My friends and neighbors work in the fields, pastures and timbers each and every day. They are rooted in the land know how to preserve and improve it better than those who do not live here. What I am saying is we need to entrust the farmers and ranches with the land that is their lifeblood. They are the true environmentalists.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Miracle of Agriculture

What is a miracle? That was the topic of my Sunday school class yesterday. The definition we all came up with was an unexplained happening created by God. We discussed various miracles and decided that miracles are very personal things. What is a miracle to you might not be seen as such by someone else. As the discussion progressed my thoughts went to agriculture.

Modern agriculture is the biggest miracle I know of. It is overwhelming to think that I produce enough for myself and over 150 other souls. That is a number that has grow exponentially over the past years. From genetically modified crops, to modern fertilzers and chemicals to modern vetrinary medicines, have all allowed me to produce more food for a growing world population. All of advances in modern technology can only be described as a miracle or a gift from God.

Increasingly I have heard the anti-agriculture groups and those who take shots at modern agriculture say that we are playing God by developing and utilizing modern technology. I have a little different take on that thought. I truly believe that God is the one giving us the ability to unlock the secrets of his creation to help us produce more food with our limited agricultural lands.

Think about it. At the root of every scientific advance is the unexplained miracle of life that God gives us. We can do unbelievable things when in comes to genetically modifying plants to increase their production of food, but we cannot create life in its most basic form. God is the one who allows us to make the modifications.

Then there is the issue of the wonderful medicines we have available to us to treat our livestock. Misinformed individuals would have you believe they are a risk to our health. That is just not true. The truth is that through the advances in modern veterinary medicine, God has allowed us the miracle of producing animals that grow faster with less stress, are healthier and ultimately produce safer more wholesome food because of the medicines He has given us.

All of this does not even get into the most basic of miracles such as the timing of the temperature changes, rainfall and sunlight. Miracles like plants being able to produce their own food with sunlight and nutrients. Everything in agriculture is a miracle.

Speaking personally that is why I farm and ranch. I love being on the front row of a daily miracle. God has chosen me to help produce enough food for the ever growing population of the world. He has allowed me to produce more food, with fewer inputs and provide it at a reasonable price. That allows me to provide you with the miracle of a safe, wholesome, nutritious and most importantly abundant food supply.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Healthy from My Ranch to Your Plate

The calendar and the trees tell me it is fall and that means one thing to a cattle rancher. It is weaning time. This is the time of the year when the calves born this spring have grown and matured to the point that they no-longer need their mother's milk. They are eating grass and can easily function on their own.

However, we, ranchers, realize that weaning can be stressful on the calves and cows and do all that we can to minimize this stress. Quite a bit of research has been done on this subject and weaning methods have been developed to reduce the stress on the calves and the cows. The most common method is called fence-line weaning. The cows are placed on one side of the fence and the calves on the other side. This allows the calf to get used to being on it's own while still having nose to nose contact with the cow.

I assure you that a good fence is a must in this method and can require repeated separating of the calves and cows. However, after a couple of days the calves and cows gradually settle down and can be separated to more distant pens.

Why do we go through these measures? The biggest reason is to lessen the stress on the calves and cows. This ultimately improves the calves immune system and reduces the chances that the calves will require treatment for illnesses later. We really care about the animals we spend our lives raising. Kind of a different story than you here from the so called watch-groups who would have you believe all beef animals are constantly medicated.

The truth is that as a beef producer, I want to reduce or even eliminate the use of anti-biotics on my ranch. I want my cattle to be healthy, stress-free and grow to their full potential. They cannot do this if they are stressed and/or sick. Extension and industry researchers are constantly looking for ways to produce beef stress-free thus reducing the number of animals requiring treatment.

Let me also assure you that the few we treat on our farm are safe for consumption. We follow all withdrawal periods to insure the medicine is out of their system before they end up on your dinner table. We feed our families the same meat you feed your family. It is our mission to care for our animals from birth until they reach your freezer to provide wholesome, healthy, safe food. That is why I will spend my day preparing fences and pens to provide my calves a low stress weaning experience.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Farmers and Optimism

Want a little insight into the ever optimistic mind of a farmer? Today, even before we know how this year will end financially, Dad and I ordered seed for next year. Yes, the soybeans are still in the field, we don't know how well they will yield or what price we will get for them. Yet, we have already ordered seed for next year.

Farmers and ranchers have to be the most optimistic people I know. Isn't that who you want in charge of producing the food you eat? Oh sure some of us are gruff and may seem pessimistic on the outside but inside we are optimists to the core. Think about it.

We plant our crop, milk our cows, watch over the calves, etc..... without ever knowing whether we will make money. We contend with things out of our control like the weather and never once, seriously, consider quitting. It never even enters our mind.

During the bad years we are already planning for next year because it has to get better. Raising food is what we do, it is who we are and we cannot picture ourselves doing anything else. Hence, the eternal optimism. I guess that is the kind of person it takes to be in farming and ranching, to not know what your income is going to be in any one year but knowing without a doubt what you will be doing.

So with any luck tomorrow we will start combining soybeans, already secure in the fact that the planning for next year has started. That is why you can feel secure in the knowledge that the food you depend on will be there next year and the years after. Because, just like the land we live on, those of us who farm and ranch aren't going anywhere.

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Life Dedicated to Producing Food

The news came as a jolt this morning, hitting our farming community hard. One of our own was killed last night in a tractor accident. Farming and ranching are very dangerous occupations, ranking right behind coal mining but it is different when you can put a name and face with the statistic.

Fred worked for our local COOP and applied herbicide and fertilizer for many of us. In fact, in many cases, farmers asked for Fred when ordering herbicide and pesticide. He truly was one of the best when it came to his occupation. He took great pride in doing his job well and single-handily kept business for his employer. You knew when Fred was in your field the job would be done right.

I always marveled how Fred could remember where every field is, how many acres were in it and who owned them. We have some very small fields and he always remember each one. What's more he always remembered who I was. Let me tell you, my operation is very small and not very memorable but Fred made me feel like I was one of the big operators. I always appreciated that and I always enjoyed talking to him. Fred was one of the many people I rely on and probably one that I should have gotten to know better.

Fred's death hit me pretty hard, because in a lot of ways I could identify with him. Like me, Fred loved agriculture enough that he spent his entire life working in agriculture, then he went home and farmed. He worked many long days taking care of other farmers before coming home and working on his own farm. Long, hard days at work often turned into long, hard nights of work back home in his own fields.

I don't know anything about the accident but I would guess that the long hours had something to do with the accident. Farming is dangerous enough but when you have fewer hours to work, often times in the dark and after a full work day, it is even more dangerous. We will never know and that is not what we should focus on.

The focus should be on a man who dedicated his entire life to feeding us. He took pride in his "day job" and was recognized as one of the best by those in the business. Then he spent his time away from his full-time job pursuing what I suspect was his real passion, farming. He, like many who bring you the food on your table, viewed farming and ranching as a way of life and not a part-time hobby. It is something that is a part of men like Fred and lives down in their bones. So as you sit down to supper tonight, take a moment to think of Fred and his life dedicated to producing the food you are about to eat.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Harvest Paradise

Last week we were in the middle of corn harvest and my job is to drive the truck into town with the grain. I wish you all could join me for harvest because there is something about the rush, hard-work, and sweat that make me feel more alive. It makes me love the life I have chosen and the place I live even more. I had this epiphany as I took the first load of the day in one morning.

That morning I started down the highway into town with a mug of coffee on the dash and my arm out the open window. The air was cool enough to be refreshing and warm enough to be pleasant. I drove down the road enjoying the crisp wind in my face and the fresh, heavy smell of fields and pastures. I watched as neighbor's fueled and serviced their equipment, waving at all of them along the way.

The great thing about our grain trucks are that they move at a slower pace than normal traffic. It is amazing how much you notice when you drive 15 to 20 miles an hour slower. You see cattle grazing on native range, kids waiting on the school bus and deer meandering through the fields.

Then I made the last turn into town. My hometown in one of those great small towns with a main street that is still very much alive. Early that morning I saw people heading to work with mugs of coffee, as with many of our Midwestern small towns they had time to stop and talk on their way to work. I wish you could all see my hometown come to life like I did that morning.

My destination was the local coop elevator (this is where we store and sell our grain). Greetings were exchanged with the employees and fellow farmers. The truck and the grain on it was weighed and the moisture of the grain was tested. I sat in line to dump my load of grain.watching other loads dump and slowly dissolve into the unloading pit. Then it was my turn to unload, weigh the empty truck and head to the field for another load.

This was my day as I repeated this 8 more times. The final load I marveled at the sunset as I drove back. The air was returning to the refreshing chill of earlier that morning, the heavy cool air intensified the earthy, clean smell of the countryside. The cattle and deer had returned to their feeding in the pastures and fields. The sun was setting in an awesome display of oranges, reds and yellows back grounded by the soft blue of the sky.

That is why I love what I do, and why agriculture is a way of life more than an occupation. I just wanted to share my experience on this perfect day during harvest, I wish I could have had you in the seat next to me. This experience is shared by all of my fellow farmers and ranchers as we bring you the food you eat, the fiber you wear and the fuel that powers your car.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Waiting Impatiently for Fall Harvest

I spent this morning helping Dad get the combine ready, we thought today might be the day we tried testing picking some corn. However, it was soon determined that we could not get everything ready in time to get a good start, so maybe tomorrow. It is probably OK that we waited because I can remember very few years when the crops were actually ready the first day we tried them. The moisture content of grain must be at an acceptable level or lower so it can be stored without spoiling.

I guess it is easy to be too anxious when your whole year's work (not to mention your paycheck)is riding on a few weeks work that can be ruined by one bad storm or a prolonged period of wet weather. Farming can be maddening when you get up each morning and look at a crop that is ready or close to being ready to harvest.

I guess that is why we usually jump the gun and try to harvest before the crop is ready each year. We know that the next hail storm or wind storm can wipe out a once promising crop in just a minute or two. Just as devastating would be a prolonged period of wet weather that could ruin the quality of the crop making it worth less money or even destroying it.

Sure there is crop insurance but crop insurance only pays enough to cover most of our expenses (notice I said most). In agriculture, farmers and ranchers pay themselves last and that is what we live off of for the next year. We pay for the seed, fertilizer, herbicide, equipment, rent, interest and all the other expenses first and if there is anything left over that is our paycheck. No wonder we are chomping at the bit to get into the field.

However, as with many things, the timing of harvest is out of our hands. The grain must dry down to a level at which it can be stored and the fields must be dry enough to hold up our equipment. So the only thing we can do in the weeks leading up to harvest is to prepare our equipment for the rigors of harvest and pray for a window of good weather.

The forecast for next week calls for rain off and on for three or four days. That gives us a window of three to four days (we need at least three weeks) to get as much out as we can. Hopefully tomorrow will dawn a good day, the grain will be dry and we will be able to start our fall harvest. If not we will anxiously have one eye on the fields and one eye on the weather forecast.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Agriculture and the Next Generation

When you were a teen, how much did you know about your parent's occupation or the family business? My guess is unless you grew up in agriculture the answer would be not much. Agriculture is different from many other businesses or occupations because of the family involvement.

The children of farmers and ranchers are indoctrinated in agriculture at an early age. Often the conversation around the dinner table (yes, most of us still gather around the dinner table) centers around the family business. Most of us started working side-by-side with our parents and grandparents at an early age. By the time we were in our teens we knew much about the family business and the day-to-day operations. That was made very clear to me this weekend.

I had the honor of coaching the 4-H Livestock Sweepstakes team from our county this weekend. The livestock sweepstakes is a series of four contests that test the knowledge of 4-Hers as it pertains to the production of livestock and meat. The youth that participated in these contests demonstrated a knowledge of the business that most adult workers don't have in their respective occupations.

The 4-Hers taking part in this competition identified equipment used in various phases of livestock production. They performed complicated calculations used on a daily basis by farmers and ranchers. Participants were tested on their understanding of biological processes, anatomy, nutrition and economics that pertain to the production of the meat on your dinner table. They also had to be able to articulate their understanding orally. In short, they demonstrated an understanding of the business that takes many other occupations years to learn.

I wish you could have attended this competition with me and I am sure you would have been equally impressed. Not only did the 4-Hers compete in this highly technical series of contests but they also modeled professionalism, courtesy and ethics during them. You would have seen an impressive group of young professionals who were articulate, well-dressed and professional.

I guess I am bragging about our farm and ranch kids but I do so to give you more insight into our lives. Farming and ranching on any level (from the smallest truck farm to the largest corporate farm) is a family affair and all generations are involved at a level most other businesses cannot understand and only dream of. In any case, rest assured that the next generation of farmers and ranchers are already on the job and they are incredible.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Controlling the Uncontrolable

This week has been kind of frustrating. Actually the past three weeks have been pretty frustrating. 100 degree temperatures and no rain tend to make life frustrating to a farmer. But as my Dad says, "there is nothing you can do about the weather so why worry about it".

Waiting,hoping and watching the weather are a big part of agriculture. This year the crops got off to a slow start because of all the rain and cool temperatures. Now, just a couple of months later they are rapidly maturing because of hot temps and dry conditions. Why is this a problem. Soybeans are indeterminate meaning that they will keep blooming, adding pods and ultimately more soybeans as long as they have good growing conditions and moisture.

More beans mean more bushels to sell and more money. The soybeans we sell are our paycheck for the year (after we take out our expenses) and the money we have to live on and plant a crop for the next year. So a short growing season means a smaller paycheck for the farmer. in agriculture we live on a very small margine. Do you see my stress here?

Despite the fact that we have done everything right by planting on time, controlling weeds and utilizing the best management practices our yields are hurt by something we cannot control, weather. But there is hope for those of us in growing regions that can become arid and it is in the form of new technology.

New technology in soybeans? Yes, the seed companies (you know like the dreaded Monsanto) are coming out with drought resistant soybeans and corn. These varieties will yield more with less water, thus insuring a more secure food supply. Did you hear me. Monsanto is working on crops that will make our farmers more productive and increase the food supply. Doesn't sound like an evil empire to me and gmo crops that will save lives by growing more food. The fact is that we need modern technology to produce a growing population on fewer acres of farmland.

I can tell you that I think anything that will make me sleep better in July and August and spend less time on the Weather Channel website is a blessing. I say keep up the good work Monsanto and keep that new technology coming. In the meantime I will try to listen to my Dad and not worry about things I cannot control.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Food, the Farmer Isn't the Problem

Today, I engaged in a friendly conversation with a couple of friends about the safety of the food we eat. More specifically we were discussing the hormones used in the production of livestock for meat and whether they had anything to do with the early onset of puberty in girls. Now I am not a scientist by any means but I do think I have a good grasp on this subject.

Let me first say that the food we raise on our farms is safe, the medicines we use and the feeds we give our animals have been tested and proven safe. The herbicides and fertilizers we use to grow the abundant food supply we all enjoy have bee tested and retested. We also adhere to strict withdrawal times to doubly insure that the food you serve on your dinner table is the safest in the world.

So if the food is safe coming off the farm, why is there a problem. Honestly, I think it is more of a lifestyle problem than a food problem. We all live such hectic lives that we rush from one thing to the next. We rely on processed foods and order from the drive through instead of going home and preparing food from the basic ingredients. We choose food based on the ease of preparation and not on nutrition.

This hectic lifestyle also leaves us without time to exercise. If we can't prepare food, we sure aren't going for a walk. The problem isn't with our food, it is with our schedule. It is a mixed blessing to have the awesome agriculture foundation that we have. The hardworking men and women on our farms produce so much food that most of us actually are suffering from eating too much of it.

The majority of this world don't have worry about whether their food is safe, they spend most of their time worrying about having enough. I am not sure, but my guess is that starvation kills far more than all other food related problems combined. That is why, we in agriculture, need to utilize all of the technology we can to feed our ever growing world population.

I am not sure what the answer is but this I do know. Your food is safe when it leaves my farm. I suspect that if we all took the time to properly wash and prepare our food from its raw ingredients many of the health concerns in our nation would be a thing of the past. Mix in a less stressful, less hectic lifestyle and more exercise and we would all be a lot healthier. Come to think of it that would make us more like the farmers and ranchers who raise our food.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Room for All the Food on the Table

It seems lately that we are constantly bombarded with the message to buy our food local, buy organic, unhealthy food should be taxed and that modern agriculture is somehow the enemy. I truly believe most of this is a product of agriculture's success. How is that? Well, most of us don't have to worry about having enough food. In short, the fact that our bellies are full make it easier for us to fall prey to sensationalized media reports and propaganda provided by anti-agriculture groups.

Let me also say that I am totally in favor of the local food movement. I think it is great that more people are aware of where food comes from and the hard working men and women who grow it. Our ranch has began marketing our beef directly to consumers and it has been a very rewarding experience.

However, I think locally raised foods provide a better product but not necessarily a healthier one. The vegetables and meat you can purchase in your local grocery store are every bit as healthy as those in the farmers market. My hope is that (at least in our case) I am providing a higher quality product. Along with that higher quality comes a higher price tag. That is where I often have a disagreement with the hardcore local foodies.

Many in this great nation struggle each day to provide the basics, including food. They rely on the lower prices afforded to them because of the productivity of all of our farms and ranches. While the quality in terms of taste of the food may be a little less than the produce in farmer's markets, the nutrition is just the same. They simply cannot afford to pay the premiums those of us directly marketing our produce need to charge. We need both large agriculture and producers like myself to provide a product acceptable to all consumers.

I have also seen an article in the past week saying that researchers have found no difference in the safety of organic and non-organic produce. Again I am fully behind anyone who chooses to eat organic produce and pay the premium needed to produce it. It is a choice that some cannot afford and the science is just not there to say that organic is healthier or safer than conventionally produced food.

Finally, more and more politicians want to pay for their spending problem by taxing "unhealthy" foods. First, I think it only masks the problem of politicians spending money they don't have. Second, how we eat is a personal choice and if you choose to eat unhealthy foods and risk your health, then so be it. I don't think you are making a very good choice, but I don't think parachuting is a good choice either and I don't think it should be taxed. Teach people how to prepare fresh foods and rely less on pre-packaged and most of the nutrition problem will solve itself.

The bottom line is that we are incredibly blessed to live in a nation where we have such an abundant food supply that we can cast a critical eye toward it. Many people in this world are only worried about how to get their next meal. However, those of us who are fortunate enough to make a comfortable living should not impose our own views on those who have fewer choices. There is enough room in the food market for the conventional, local foodies and the organic to peacefully co-exist. Well, as long as we aren't taxed to death.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cows, Instinct not Logic

This evening we will be rotating cows to a new pasture. Hopefully the cows will cooperate and things will move along easily. That is not always the case, even though we are moving them to better pasture. Our logic tells us that they should want to move because there will be more to eat, but there in lies the problem with applying human logic to animals.

Come to think of it, applying any logic to an animals is a critical error in thinking. This is an error that many who do not spend time around animals make. Animals (and yes, this includes your dog or cat) act upon instinct and not logic. Their brains are pre-programmed to re-act in a certain way given a certain trigger. Their actions are based on finding comfort, safety, food or reproducing, period, nothing more, nothing less.

Often I think that line is blurred because of the movies put out by movie production companies like Disney such as "Bambi", "Lady and the Tramp" or even "Charlotte's Web". These movies give human emotions and thoughts to animals. This opens the door for the anti-animal agriculture groups to pray upon the naive emotions of those who don't understand animal behavior. They put themselves in that animal's place, applying their human thought process to a given situation.

Those animals were put on earth for our use. We are the ones with logic and emotion, we are human and that sets us apart from the animals. As much as we want our pets to be able to communicate on a deeper level, they or any other animal cannot.

Does this mean we can treat animals any way we want. Absolutely not, because we have been given dominion over them we must take care of their needs and make them as healthy and comfortable as possible. On our ranch we utilize low-stress cattle handling methods, rotational grazing and a solid vaccination and health plan to make sure our cows are well-cared for.

So tonight, I will use my knowledge of cattle and their instincts with my logic to help move them to better pastures in a low-stress manner. And until the cattle tell me different I will continue to do that as I work to provide you with the best beef in the world.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Antibiotics, Katie and the Truth

This week CBS aired a piece on their evening news about antibiotic use on farms and ranches. Katie seemed very proud of herself for exposing the alleged abuse of antibiotics on livestock farms and ranches and the possibility of congress regulating their use. I viewed the piece and I am here to tell you that it is biased and very one-sided.

The truth is that there has never been a documented case of antibiotic resistance directly traced back to the use of these very necessary medicines in food animals. The use of antibiotics have allowed those of us in agriculture to greatly reduce disease and illness in our livestock. This allows us to produce a healthier, faster growing animal thus resulting in a safe, abundant, affordable source of protein for our families and neighbors.

In my short career in agriculture I have seen great improvements in the medicine available to farmers and ranchers. They allow us to use smaller doses, treat animals sooner and cure their illnesses faster. Just as advancements in human medicine have allowed us to lead healthier lives, advancements in veterinary medicine have allowed us to provide our animals a healthier life.

The assertions that antibiotics are abused and used in excess is just not true. We only use what is necessary just because we know the more antibiotics are used the less effective they become when we really need them. There is absolutely no proof that this transcends species, but we know we need to reserve their use for when we really need them. You could say prudent use gives us more bang for our buck, which leads to the next reason they are not over used in agriculture. Profit margins in farming and ranching are very thin. If you think antibiotics are expensive for your children try buying them without insurance. A small bottle of antibiotic for my cattle will often cost more than $100. We simply do not use them if we don't have to.

I ask you to contact your congressional delegation and tell them that agriculture needs full access to modern antibiotics. I feel that it is my responsibility to do everything in my power to keep my animals healthy and to provide them with the best care modern veterinary medicine affords them. Remember, we feed the same meat to our families that you feed to your family. We would never, ever do anything to jeopardize that safety, no matter what Katie might say.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Farmers and Ranchers, Ultimate Environmentalists

Yesterday I had the unique opportunity to take part in a survey administered by two K-State geography students. This survey was gauging how those of us in agriculture viewed climate and the environment around us. As I answered I realized those of us in agriculture go to great lengths to protect our environment. Here is what I shared with them.

Farmers and ranchers have always been keenly aware of the land, water and air around them and we have always tried to protect those valuable assets. But in the past ten years we have come to an even greater understanding of how to protect and improve the world around us. Improvements in technology (yes, the same technology the radical fringes would try to use against us) have allowed us to preserve more of the soil, water and air we all depend on.

Advances such as genetically modified crops have allowed us to use better herbicides allowing for less invasive weed control methods. Many of us now use herbicides such as Round-up to control weeds rather than mechanically cultivating the ground. Mechanical cultivation tills the soil allowing for erosion due to the wind and water. By not tilling up the land we are also keeping more of the organic matter on the soil surface. This not only helps hold the critical top soil in place but also helps with the overall fertility of the soil.

No-till farming practices coupled with soil conservation methods such as terraces and water-ways help to insure that we will never see another Dust Bowl. Not only protecting our soil but our air quality too. Our farmland is not only healthier but more productive than it ever has been and we are striving to improve it everyday.

I also noted that we have improved our native range. Many ranchers are utilizing methods such as rotational grazing to improve the health of our native warm-season grasses. We have a better understanding of the growth patterns of our grasses and we can tailor grazing programs, prescribed burning of those native ranges and herbicides to keep them growing vigorously and free of invasive brush. Our tall grass native prairie in the Flint Hills is a very fragile ecosystem and must be maintained with regular burning and grazing. Our ranchers have an intimate understanding of the ecosystem and work tirelessly to maintain and improve it for our future generations.

The final part of the survey was about climate change. The students looked at me with furrowed brows when I told them I thought it was fairly egotistical of us to think we could change the earth's climate. Personally I believe everything runs in cycles and we must work with those cycles. However, I am also equally sure that as farmers and ranchers we are doing everything we can to both protect and improve the environment around us.

I am not sure what they thought of my answers. They were very polite and told me they would share the results of the survey with me this fall. What I am sure of is that as I answered their questions, I once again reaffirmed my belief that those of us in agriculture are the ultimate environmentalists. After all we are the stewards of the land who rely on the air, soil and water around us to make a living off of the land and we are the same stewards of the land dedicated to protect it for future generations.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Reasons for the 4th

No matter the headlines in the news or what the political analysists might say, the 4th of July is a time for us to celebrate the greatness of the United States. I love the 4th of July and I love Sunday, so it makes sense that the 4th on a Sunday is a great day. Today has reminded me of all the reasons that make this day (and our nation) so special. It all started this morning.

The drive through the Flint Hills cloaked in all its green glory, the fertile farmland and the green grassy native range. I was reminded of bountiful food supply, the freedom from hunger and solid foundation of the agriculture in the great land. I worshipped in my church, ever mindful of the freedom to worship where I want and the many blessings God has given our nation. We should never forget that this country was settled in a quest for religious freedom and founded in a belief in God.

I then settled in for a BBQ dinner, celebrating the bounty of the land. We are so lucky to live in a land of plenty, with full shelves in multiple grocery stores. The abundance gives the majority the ability to focus on something other than producing food. My 4th would not be complete without the parade and fireworks so well done by my hometown.

The flags at the beginning of the parade remind me of the sacrifices of those who helped found this nation. Many of our founding fathers lost their lives, many more lost loved ones in our fight for independence and others lost all their possessions. All to insure our freedoms in this great country. The veterans marching in the parade remind me of the sacrifices of our armed forces. From those who gave their lives to insure the freedom of all men in the Civil War, those who served in the World Wars protecting from tyranny, those who fought the horrors of Vietnam and the brave soldiers who are now fighting those who would destroy our way of life.

Every parade has horses, they remind us of our rich heritage and were the mode of transportation that settled our country. The cars in the parade remind me of the industrial power of this great nation. The rest of the world look to us for leadership in the realm of technology and business. Older citizens along the route remind us of the generations that built this land The children remind me that we have a great hope for the future. Even the politicians walking the parade route are a sign of our great democracy. In many parts of the world political discussion are not a two sided affair.

The grand finale of my hometown 4th of July celebration is the fireworks. Each year I am struck by the beauty and the colors of the display. I am also aware of the fact that we can watch the display, safe in the knowledge that it is only a display. In many parts of the world loud explosions are a thing of fear and not a sign of joy.

That is why I love the 4th of July, it is a time for celebrating where we came from and where we are going in the future. No matter our disagreements or problems we must remember why this nation has thrived. We are incredibly blessed to live in a nation where we are guaranteed our freedoms and we are free to pursue our happiness. That is why I love the 4th of July.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

A Different Take on the Weather

Like many people in this area I am anxiously watching the radar this morning, wondering when the thunder storms will move in. I suspect my reason for radar watching is different from my non-ag friends. We have been haying all week and are hoping to bale the 30 acres we have mowed down before it gets wet.

I would also suspect that unlike most of my friends I welcome the rain. This rain is forecast for the 4th of July and many are worried about it ruining their celebrations. Don't get me wrong, we have plans to watch the festivities and fireworks, but even still I welcome the rain. To those of us in agriculture it is a matter of our annual income.

Farmers and ranchers understand that a rain during the summer is a rare thing and often determines our success or failure for a whole year. A well-timed rain in July and August can greatly increase the yields for our corn and soybeans and often the increase in yield means the difference between profit and loss. That profit is the income that we live on for the upcoming year.

Often it is also the only way many of us will stop working to take in the festivities. I can remember as a kid hoping for rain so Dad could go with us to watch the fireworks. In agriculture, it doesn't matter if it is a holiday or not, the work has to be done. We rest when it rains.

So, while I understand why the weatherman may talk about a disappointing 4th with all the rain, I beg to disagree. While I will be disappointed if the fireworks are rained out, that disappointment will be greatly tempered by the realization that an inch of rain in early July can make or break our year. So here is to hoping it rains on our crop fields and somehow misses all the celebrations out there.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Anything but Lazy Days of Summer

The lazy, hazy days of summer. Well, that is not quite true at our house this summer. It may be hazy but summer, for my kids, is anything but lazy. In fact, my kids will tell you that going back to school seems like a vacation.

Now before you call child services on me, let me explain that they chose to be this busy, and I am proud of them because of that choice. You see while summer means sleeping in for some of their classmates, at our house, summer means 4-H livestock projects and early morning chores before it gets hot.

My kids realize that their animals would rather eat in the cool morning hours. Yes, I am sure that they would rather be asleep themselves but they have learned that farmers and ranchers put the needs of their livestock ahead of their own comfort. The rest of the morning routine includes washing, exercising, and watering their animals before they (the kids) ever eat breakfast. The rest of the day is spent checking on those same animals at regular intervals to make sure they have water and are staying cool.

That is why I have to chuckle every time I hear another parent complain about their kids spending the whole summer sleeping in and playing video games. I guess it also makes me proud to know that my kids (who are no different than any other farm kid I know) realize that as farmers and ranchers we always put our animals first. Now don't get me wrong, my kids are far from perfect and I am not bragging. However, I wish that every child could have that same responsibility of caring for livestock, I really think it would change our society.

My kids also have no illusions about the purpose of those same animals. They realize that their livestock's main purpose is to provide a safe, wholesome source of protein. But they also realize that while those animals are in their care, the safety, comfort and health of those animals are their number one concern. So as your alarm goes off at 7:00, rest assured that some 4-Her has been out caring for their livestock during these busy, hazy days of summer.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"Rich" Farmers

In the period of just a few minutes this afternoon I got two calls from my Dad. The first wast to tell me that the creek was most definitely flooding out some of our crops. The second was to tell me that the big truck we haul grain (the same grain we would have raised on those flooded acres) to the elevator in needed a new rear end and it would cost as much as we had paid for the truck. That folks is the joys of farming and ranching and why I get my hackles up when I hear about those "rich" farmers.

I have relegated myself to being able to accept that I can do nothing about the weather. The same rain that makes my crops grow is the same rain that makes the creeks flood. Dealing with weather is just part of this job, there is nothing I can do about it, but that makes it no less frustrating. Hard work and more importantly, my paycheck, can be gone in just a matter of minutes.

The equipment repairs, herbicide costs, fuel costs and other bills are also just part of the cost of doing business. Farming and ranching may look like a lucrative business at first blush but it is a high capital, low return enterprise. Quite frankly it defies many of the principles I studied in economics.

As farmers and ranchers we cannot control the cost of our inputs (fuel, fertilizer, herbicides, etc..), we have huge fixed costs (land payments, machinery costs, taxes, etc..) and we have no control over the price we receive for our production (grain and livestock are commodities and driven by supply and demand). All of this would leave even the most daring of entrepreneurs to question our sanity.

Why do we farm and ranch if we have no control over our costs, prices and at best have a slim profit margin. Well, I cannot speak for anyone but myself, but I do it out of a love for the land, my heritage and my chosen way of life. If I were worried about becoming rich I would pick another profession. I choose to farm because I take great pride in continuing on my family farm, in feeding the world and a love for living close to the land. So yes, I guess I am a "rich" farmer but not in terms of money, but in terms of fulfillment. Much like this storm there will always be sunshine after the dark clouds.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

My Deep Rural Roots

Most people in this world work a job that is merely an occupation and live in a place out of necessity but that is not the case for those of us in agriculture. Our chosen vocation is a way of life that happens to provide us with a living wage. I was reminded of this over the weekend.

My family and I traveled to the Flint Hills Rodeo in Strong City. This town is nestled in the middle of the Flint Hills and steeped in the tradition of ranching. Not only is it an opportunity for the hardworking families on the nearby ranches to relax, it is an chance for those outside of the Flint Hills to get a taste of the tradition and heritage that drives many of us.

The announcer talked about the rich heritage of ranching in the Flint Hills, with the green native hillsides serving as a backdrop. He talked about how many of us had worked the same land for generations and it struck me that he might have hit upon something the rest of the population is missing.

Those of us farming and ranching are probably living on the land that our families have lived on for several generations. I am the fifth generation on our family farm and it is very hard for me to fathom not having my roots planted in my families land. We have worked that patch of ground for over 100 years and we know every inch, every corner and every hilltop. We have no greater wish than to protect that land and heritage and make it available for the next generation.

The rest of the population merely moves from one location to another following one job to the next. They never get to put down roots and are not tied to any particular place. That leads to a loss of community, no ties among families in those communities and no pride of being from "somewhere". I find that really sad and wonder if that is not the root of many of our problems.

I wish that those of you who live where you are out of necessity and not out of pride or love for your home and community could experience our small, rural towns. Spend time with us on our family farms, see our love of the land and for our heritage. I wish you could spend time in our communities and experience our celebrations. If we all had the opportunity to love the place we live in, the land we live on and the people we live with, I think we would all be more understanding of others around us. Maybe, that would lead to more people understanding that farmers and ranchers try hard to protect that heritage and the land that is so much a part of who we are.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

We Care About Our Livestock

I work with livestock because I like working with animals. I enjoy taking care of them in all conditions and would never intentionally harm an animal. The care and well-being of my livestock is first and foremost in my thoughts at all times. The safety, comfort and health of my animals on my ranch come first, period.

I make this statement because recently an undercover video of animal abuse on a dairy farm has surfaced. I do not know how long it took to get the several minutes of footage, the circumstances it was shot in or how it was obtained. What I do know is that kind of treatment is not acceptable anytime or anyplace.

Every occupation has its bad people and that is exactly what you see in the video. Let me assure you that 99.9999% of all producers are good, decent people who respect the animals they spend their life raising. I don't know how many thousands of producers that Mercy for Animals had to go to and how many years they spent looking for someone like this but the abuse documented in this video is certainly extreme and unacceptable. It breaks my heart to watch it.

The only person I can speak for is me, but I would never, under any circumstances abuse one of my animals. While I know that the purpose of the livestock I raise is ultimately for food, I also believe that their health, comfort and safety is my number one job. The livestock I own depend on my care for their every need. I strive each and every day to make their time with me as comfortable and stress-free as possible.

I hope you will take the video at its face value. It is one or two bad people doing bad things and it certainly does not represent the vast majority of the hardworking men and women who work on family livestock farms. This is another reminder that we as farmers and ranchers need to reach out to our customers. I promise as you get to know us personally, you will realize that we care about our animals and treat them with dignity and respect.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Soybeans and Memorial Day

Memorial Day Weekend, the unofficial start of the summer season. Let the grilling, camping and summer fun start. Well, not yet. We have been working hard to get the soybeans planted this weekend. Farming is one profession where weekends and holidays aren't on the calendar.

I posted this on Facebook yesterday and one of my friends reminded me that I willingly give up my weekends and my holidays because I love what I am doing. He was exactly right and that reminder made me think today. I am incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to pursue the life I love on the land I love. Land that my ancestors made the long, dangerous trip to homestead and that my family has called home for over 100 years.

I also thought about the men and women who had made sacrifices to allow me to live on this land and work it. That is the true purpose of Memorial Day, to remember the ones who have passed on and especially those who have served in our defense and given the ultimate sacrifice. We all need to remember that the very freedoms and blessings that we have in our lives are due to the sacrifice and bravery of those who protect those very freedoms.

So as I look at the cattle grazing on the green, Flint Hills grass in the cool, wet, thunder-storm cooled evening, I am humbled to think that all of this was due to the dedication of our brave men and women serving in our armed forces both past and present. So as you go about your Memorial Day activities (work or play) stop to remember those who made your choices possible.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Cows are Just Cows

This morning I was leaving for work early (which happens very rarely) when I came across two cows munching happily along the side of the road. This suddenly made me grumpy. One, yes, I was going to be late. However, more importantly, I had just rotated the cows onto fresh grass and they had un-rotated themselves back onto the grass that had been grazed.

At first this made no sense to me because it seemed only logical that the cows should be happy with their new grass. Then I realized, it seemed logical to me because I operate with human logic. You see cows are animals (what a revelation, but stay with me) and they act upon instinct, not logic. That is a very big distinction and one that is hard to make if you have not been around farm animals and watch a lot of Disney movies.

Movies such as Babe, Charlotte's Web, Bambi or any of the other myriad of movies that give animals human emotions and logic have blurred our understanding of animal behavior. It is easy for us to project human thought and logic onto our pets. Then it is another short leap to project those ideas onto farm animals. Folks, I have spent my entire life around animals and I think I have a pretty good grip on their behaviors and they are all driven by instinct.

Animals are driven by the instinct to eat, reproduce and stay safe, period. They do not look to us as friends or family, but simply as the source of their food and the keeper of their shelter. They are not happy to see us (the feed bucket maybe, but not us personally) and they do not love us. I am sorry if this bursts your image of your pet but they simply are animals who act on instinct. We, humans, are the ones who give them our human emotions.

Having said this, it does not mean that I treat my animals with any less dignity. I understand through my study of animal behavior how to use those very behaviors to cause them less stress. I know that they need a balanced diet and work to provide them with the right amount of feed, mixed to provide them proper nutrition. When I inter-act with them, I understand their stresses and try to minimize those stresses. However, I also understand that they are animals and may react instinctively without regard to my health, safety or convienence. I also understand that my animals have a purpose and that purpose is to be food for my family and my neighbors.

The bottom line in all of this is that farmers and ranchers understand that their animals are just that, animals, devoid of human emotion and logic. We understand their behaviors, instincts and tendencies and utilize them to provide for their needs and reduce their stress. I would invite you to spend time with a farmer or rancher and get an understanding of animal behavior and dispel the myths of Disney.

Monday, May 17, 2010

In Defense of Monsanto

Let me throw this disclaimer out right off the bat. I do not work for Monsanto, I do not own stock in Monsanto and I really don't have any interest in Monsanto. Having said that I am writing this blog, as a farmer, in support of Monsanto.

Too often I see things written about the big, bad bully called Monsanto. Yes, they are the multi-national corporation that developed Round-up Ready soybeans and corn. For those of you not involved in agriculture, Round-up Ready soybeans and corn were a major technological break through in agriculture. Monsanto developed a gene in corn and soybeans that allowed us to spray the chemical Round-up on those crops without killing them. Round-up is a herbicide that attacks green plant material. Yes, it is the same herbicide you spray on the cracks in your sidewalk.

This advancement allowed us to adopt environmentally friendly farming practices like no-till and has drastically reduced soil loss and fuel use on farms. It has also allowed us to use fewer herbicides on our crops. In short, Round-up technology allows us to grow more food, with less fertilizer, fewer chemicals and less fuel. All-the-while preserving our land in an environmentally friendly manner.

Sounds great doesn't it. Well, there are many "environmental"groups that would muddy the waters and spread false information. They point toward Monsanto's patent on this technology and theorize that they are trying to monopolize the market on the very seed we use to grow your food. That is just not true. Yes, Monsanto is a for profit company and last time I checked this was the United States and we believed in the free market. Monsanto developed this technology and spent millions doing so, they have the right to make money. We farmers have the right not to buy their seed and I suspect in the near future we will have the right to buy the next, better innovation in farming technology. Do you think anyone will feel sorry for Monsanto?

As far as the idea they are cornering the market on seed. I want someone to prove it to me. No, I don't mean in shadowy Internet terms, I mean in real life, solid source terms. It's a conspiracy theory meant to cast doubt over modern farming practices.

Finally, the same shadowy, conspiracy theorists will claim that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) like Round-up Ready products will cause health problems in the future. First, what doesn't cause health problems and second, prove it. I have not seen one shred of credible evidence of any health risk from this technology.

So, I applaud Monsanto and their innovation. They have allowed me to grow more food and save the environment. If you want to go back to farming with heirloom vegetables and organic practices, then more power to you. It is a free country (for now) and we can all run our business as we see fit. Which is all I am really asking for. So if you don't mind I will continue to grow my Round-up Ready soybeans and corn and be a proud producer of the food we all eat.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Chipotle and Sustainable, Ethical Agriculture

I am a big fan of Mexican food, but there is one Mexican restaurant than I am not a big fan of, Chipotle Mexican Grill. Recently they publicly came out backing HSUS, while that bit of news pushed me over the top, it was not the only problem I have with this establishment.

On their website they tout that they serve "Food with Integrity" if that were so they would be aligning themselves with the very farmers and ranchers who raise that food and not a group of questionable ethics, financial practices and agendas like HSUS.

In another portion of their website they claim to use ingredients grown sustainably, naturally and with respect for the animals, environment and farmers who produce them. I whole-heartedly agree with most of that. However, I think the fine people of Chipotle need to spend some time with us out here in the fields and pastures.

Almost every farmer and rancher I know strives to be sustainable and has the utmost respect for their livestock, land and environment. Most of us have roots several generations deep in the land we live on and we are constantly looking to technology and research to give us new methods of being both more sustainable and environmentally friendly. According to the American Farm Bureau we produce 272% more food than we did in 1950 with only 98% of the inputs. The bottom line is those who run Chipotle and even those who eat at Chipotle need to get a balanced view of agriculture that is not influenced by propaganda put forth by groups such as HSUS.

As for the natural part of that statement, I do have a problem with that. By natural, they mean without anti-biotics. While many of the animals I produce have never had anti-biotics of any kind, I want to reserve the right to give them medicine if necessary. I cannot speak for my fellow farmers and ranchers, but I know many of them operate their farms and ranches in this manner. I only use anti-biotics when absolutely necessary, only at the dose prescribed by my veterinarian and I strictly follow the withdrawal time. The meat I produce from those animals is safe and I do feed it to my family. In my opinion, it is far more ethical to treat my animals if they need it than to let them suffer with an ailment. Again I would like the people at Chipotle and their customers to spend some time with me on my ranch and then they might understand the importance of modern veterinary medicines.

This all comes back to my farmers and ranchers opening our farms and ranches and taking the time to share what we do with the consumers of the food we produce. It also takes the consumer and the business owner listening with an open mind and not one influenced by anti-agriculture groups, I cannot stress enough that farmers and ranchers care about the world we live in, the animals we rely on and the people we live with. I hope you will join me in letting Chipotle know that they have aligned themselves with an organization bent on destroying the very farmers and ranchers they claim to respect.