Friday, April 30, 2010

Count Your Blessings

Here in the United States we are incredibly blessed. We have the freedom to believe anything we want, most of us earn enough money to be comfortable and we do not go hungry. Lately it seems to me that this good life we live has made us not appreciate these blessings. Especially the blessing of food security. Events this week made me even more aware of this.

A list serve I am a member of touted this bus tour coming to Kansas City, a crusade to end hunger and promote "sustainable ag". This grabbed my attention even more when I noticed this bus tour was sponsored by the Presbyterian Hunger Relief Fund. Did I mention I am a member of the Presbyterian Church?

So being one of the "frozen chosen" I went to the suggested web site. My church had a web site promoting Meatless Monday and talking about the horrors of large farms and modern cropping practices. My own church was promoting regional foods and organic production on a site dedicated to ending hunger.

I have nothing against regional foods, organic production or sustainable ag but running down modern agriculture is not the way we are going to produce enough food to feed the world. Buying local foods is a great option, for those who can afford it and who are lucky enough to live close to production areas. However, that is not the case for everyone.

The reality is that many people are sucked in by groups with other agendas who promote the idea that the food in your grocery store is not healthy. They continue this idea by telling you farmers and ranchers do not care about the environment, their animals and ultimately, you as a fellow human being. Groups like HSUS, the Sierra Club, PETA and the Environmental Working Group all fund huge budgets and make their top employees rich by promoting this self-serving propaganda.

The truth is that, we as farmers and ranchers care very deeply about the world around us. We take extreme measures to protect our environment and provide for the comfort of our livestock.
We take great pride in utilizing the modern production methods available to us to produce the food needed for our growing world population. We do this while upholding the traditions and values that have built our farms and ranches.

Agriculture is one of the bed rock foundation pieces that give us the freedom to spend our time and resources on things other than food. That is a blessing not available to most of the people in the world. Please take the time to become better acquainted with the men and women who spend their lives producing that very food and fiber. Then you will truly understand the blessing of our safe, abundant, nutritious food supply.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day in the Flint Hills

Today is Earth Day and as a proud producer of the food America eats I will be celebrating it tonight with a hearty beef dinner. I like to think of my fellow beef producers and myself as the original green movement (no pun intended, but it does make a pretty good one).

Earlier this week, we were burning pastures and it made me think about how farmers and ranchers are the original environmentalists. I was sitting on the highest hill on my ranch watching the fire slowly burn up against the fire line and burn itself out. All I could see from my vantage point was miles and miles of prairie.

Several of my fellow ranchers were also burning with tendrils of smoke here and there and an orangish-blue sunset set it all off. Acres and acres of well-managed, native, tallgrass prairie weaving through the gentle hills. The same native, tall-grass prairie that will scrub the CO2 out of the air. The same Flint Hills grass that stops the precious top-soil from eroding. Cared for by my fellow producers utilizing fire to stop invasive species from taking it over. Maintained by proper grazing methods and a close eye for detail. All of this to preserve it for future generations of ranchers.

I could see the farm-land mixed in intermittently. Most of this farm ground is terraced to reduce erosion. New farming practices like no-till and round-up ready genetically modified soybeans and corn have allowed producers to increase the production of much needed food while at the same time preserving and even building up the top soil. Producers are even using fewer chemicals than they were just a few years ago and that combined with less water running off of the land has led to healthier streams and rivers.

So contrary to what you have heard through the media, read in books or have seen on other blogs and web pages, those of us in agriculture take pride in the soil, water and wildlife around us. We do everything in our power to protect and even improve the world around us. We are tied to our land through several generations and have aspirations of several more generations to continue producing America's food and fiber. That, my friends, is why I plan to enjoy some good, environmentally friendly beef in honor of Earth Day and our environmentally conscientious farmers and ranchers, I invite you to join me.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Support Your Local Animal Shelter

Tonight I am sitting here petting our 14 year old Blue Heeler. I must admit it I am a dog person. I can't think of all the dogs I have had in my life, but they have all made an impression and many memories. I would guess many of you would agree with me that pets are an important part of our lives and add to them greatly.

That is why I support my local animal shelter. Our local shelter does great work on a shoestring budget. That is why I am concerned when I see ads on the television for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) on t.v. These ads pull at your heart-strings showing forgotten and neglected animals of all kinds. They would lead you to believe that the hard-earned money you send them goes directly to save those poor forgotten animals.

That is simply not the truth. Only 0.47% goes to local shelters. Yes, less than half of a percent of the money HSUS collects goes to support local animal shelters. Yet they continue to collect money through misleading ads and even through their very misleading name. Many people (and many celebrities, I suspect) fall victim to this sham each year, and give HSUS their support. HSUS actually takes money away from our invaluable local animal shelters through their deception.

The truth is that HSUS is a radical animal rights organization bent on destroying animal agriculture, removing meat from your dinner plate and depriving us of wholesome entertainment such as rodeos and circuses. They use money and influence to impose their unpopular opinions even though the majority opposes their extreme views. Their budget last year was somewhere around 99 million dollars. Want more proof of how shady they are? Recently their status as a charity was down-graded because of the fund-raising techniques they utilize.

In short, if you send them money thinking it will help the stray cats and dogs in your local shelter, you are sadly mistaken. The money goes to promote the destruction of anything related to animal agriculture, medical research involving animals and sports involving animals. I hope that everyone reading this will support your local farmers and ranchers and the local animal shelters by donating money directly to the shelters themselves and not to HSUS.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Fire, Flint Hills and the EPA

Tonight as we came home the Flint Hills were ablaze with fire. Nothing to worry about this is a springtime ritual that has been going on since God created the prairie. It used to be started by lightening but now fire is one of the most important tools of a Flint Hills rancher. However, that could be in jeopardy due to a short-sighted approach by our friends at the EPA.

For those of you who regularly read this blog, you know I don't often make political statements, well until tonight. The Obama administration has many questionable appointments, judgment calls and alliances when it comes to agriculture. Ties that very well could hurt our ability to produce the food and fiber the world needs. Their short-sighted approach to pasture burning is one.

As I stated earlier, fire is necessary to maintain the tall grass prairie of the Flint Hills. Without fire, our fragile eco-system will transform into shrubs and eventually a forest. The use of fire keeps the trees and brush confined to areas along creeks. Without fire, we would be forced to use expensive chemical weed and brush control to maintain our native prairie grass. This does not even mention the economic benefit to burning pasture. It has been proven that ranchers gain $35 to $4o per animal on burned versus unburned pasture. In these days of razor thin profit margins, that is huge when it comes to being able to stay on the ranch. However, economic benefits are not what I am focusing on tonight. It is the maintenance and preservation of our last tall grass prairie.

Because of three instances, three days, in the last 6 years, of air quality in Kansas City and Wichita reaching what EPA calls an unacceptable level, our ability to burn the native tall grass prairie may be restricted. The EPA is focusing on this very rare occurrence, which may improve air quality in the short run on a very few days and ultimately cause greater long term danger.

The majority of the Flint Hills are burned in the middle part of April. This was not decided by random chance but has been proven by research conducted by our land grant universities to provide the greatest benefit to the prairie. The fire does many things. It removes the dead litter allowing the soil to warm faster and the grass to grow faster. The grass that is generated is more palatable to the cattle. Think of it this way. Do you prefer asparagus that is fresh andtender or the shoots that have been on the store shelves and are woody and stringy. Cattle are no different. In addition, woody, invasive plants cannot tolerate fire and are more easily controlled through the use of prescribed burning. Finally, the removal of the fuel load lessens the chance of catastrophic wild fires. Ask the people in California or Montana if that is important.

As you can see, fire is absolutely necessary for the survival of our last vestige of tall grass prairie. How do I know, well my master's degree is in agronomy with an emphasis in range management, I grew up in the Flint Hills and I am passionate about making sure this fragile prairie and my equally fragile ranch are here for my grandkids. So you need to decide who do you trust, a bureaucrat who has a hidden agenda, or the rancher, who has roots several generations deep and a love of the prairie. If you are on my side, please contact your congressional delegation and tell them you support ranchers and their ability to use fire in the Flint Hills.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

This Was a Good Day

What a great day! Easter, is a day of re-birth, a day of cleansing and a day to celebrate the most awesome blessing and gift we could ever receive. Jennifer and I have made our Easter center around church for our family. This Easter was no different.

The morning started early with chores in the dark. The air had that fresh clean smell of spring and the barnyard just seemed to be alive with new life. We all pitched in and chores were done in record time and we had just enough time left to get ready for sunrise service.

The next few hours were a whirlwind of sunrise service, church breakfast, Sunday School and Easter Sunday service. There is just something about Easter, the message of new life, bright Easter clothing and a total sense of renewal. I am always humbled by the reminder of the sacrifice Jesus made for us, so that we may have Eternal Life. My faith coupled with the new life I see in the spring bring me closer to my God each Easter.

This afternoon was spent enjoying an Easter dinner with my family, my father and my sister and her family. The cousins played ball and hunted for Easter eggs while the adults watched. My niece is two and there is just something about the discovery of Easter at that age that is incredibly fun to watch.

The day was topped off by returning home and working with the kids 4-H steers. This long, cold, wet, muddy winter has made it hard to work with the steers and we are behind in training them to lead. The kids were able to halter and lead the steers and hand feed them, a real accomplishment considering where we were prior to this weekend.

Finally, I fed the calves, horses and cows hay. I placed the final bale in the feeder and just took a minute to watch the cows eat while the new calves bounced and played in the fading sunlight. The hills were beginning to green up and the late day light had a golden tinge to it. That is when I realized how lucky and blessed I am to live in the Flinthills and experience God's handiwork each spring. Each year at this time I thank God for allowing me to spend my life working the land and tending my animals. That is a good day.