Tuesday, December 27, 2011

New Year's New Changes

Some little boys want to be baseball players when they grow up, other want to be fire fighters. I have always wanted to be a farmer. Every year for Christmas I wanted a new tractor or a new implement to pull behind those tractors. I think it is in my DNA, my father is a farmer, my grandfather was a farmer and my great-grandfather was a farmer (I suspect it goes back many, many more generations).

Everyday during the summer Dad would leave the house each morning to work in the fields. I would hook my toy tractor up to the same type of implement he had hooked up to his tractor and go off to work up my own fields. I would come back in a lunch just as dirty and happy as he was.

I have always owned livestock. It all started with rabbits when I first joined 4-H. I raised those rabbits and the money I earned from them helped be save up for one of the best days of my life. That was the day I went to my Uncle's cow sale with my Grandpa and bought the cow that started my herd.

Oh, I watched Mom and Dad struggle through the bad years and I know how fickle the weather and the markets can be. But through it all I saw the satisfaction from a life spent working hard, enjoying what you do and time spent working as a family and that money alone should not determine what you do with your life. After graduation I did the sensible thing and found a good job with a regular salary. But deep down I knew I was missing something.

I have always encouraged people to follow their dreams and recently I realized it was my turn to follow mine. It was a tough, scary decision to make, one that cost me many nights of sleep. However, starting this year I will become a full-time farmer/rancher with my father. While it is hard to leave the good people I work with and the great people I serve in Extension, it was a decision that put me at peace.

I look forward to the feeling of waking up each morning knowing that I am doing what I want to do. To me, nothing in this world can be better than being a proud producer of the food that we all need.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Counting my Christmas Blessings

Its one week from Christmas and the signs of the season are all around us. The music of the season is on the radio, the t.v. schedule is full of seasonal programs, the air is alive with the smell of evergreen and sugar cookies. Of course, we are also bombarded with the commercial angle too, with black Friday and Green Saturday. All of this hustle and bustle take away from the real reason for the season.

Christmas is when we, Christians, mark the birth of a baby who came to save us. Jesus was sent to live among us and take away our sins that is the ultimate Christmas gift. The Blessing He gave me is my most treasured gift and one that I eternally grateful for. That is why I take time every Christmas to reflect on the blessings I have been so richly given.

Today is an awesome example of the blessings in my life. This morning I went out into the bright, clean white frosty morning to feed the livestock I have been trusted with. I am incredibly blessed to be allowed to help feed the world. Producing the food and fiber we all need and the fact that I have a part in it is something I marvel at daily.

Chores were followed by a warm cup of coffee and a daily check with Dad. We discussed what needed to be done. I decided to cut some firewood with my son. There is something very satisfying about cutting the wood needed to warm your family. The feel of a fire on a frosty winter night is certainly a blessing I have been given. However, the bigger blessing is to have a profession where I can work daily with my family. Farming and ranching families are closer because of that daily interaction.

Later in the evening I sat in my house, warmed by the fire, eating beef produced by my family ranch, safe and secure in a land of incredible freedoms. My family has plenty, we are well fed, have few worries, and that is a blessing that we all share.

I encourage each of you to take time to reflect on the blessings you have been given. We have each been given individual blessings that we should be grateful for. More importantly, we have all been given the blessing of Eternal Life if we choose to receive it. For that, I am indeed, a blessed man.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Congress and the President Correct Horse Mistake

Washington D.C. does not fix it's mistakes very often, but yesterday they did. President Obama signed a bill that will allow horse slaughter again. This rectifies a mistake that allowed for the suffering of many horses over the past several years.

To those of you not associated with horses or livestock, it may seem shocking that not allowing the harvesting of animals would be cruel. Yes, many horses were underfed, neglected and abandoned because of the lack of horse slaughter facilities in the United States. Think of all the news stories over the past several years about neglect of horse owners and even horse sanctuaries.

I was never around horses until I married my wife. When we met she was training horses and she has had a love of horses all of her life. During our courtship and first years of marriage I saw her work with many, many horses. Most great animals, but also several who were not safe. I have had a 16 year crash course in equine management and that has made me an advocate for horse slaughter.

OK, before you get upset, I like horses, let me say that we currently own 4 horses and at least 1 of those horses will probably live his entire life out on our ranch. However, over the years the need for horse slaughter has become apparent to me. This can be summed up by something my wife told me early in our relationship. "Life is too short to ride a bad horse." Simply, some horses are dangerous.

In other cases, a horse may have a physical infirmity that would limit its use. In other cases, the owners of a horse may not be able to financially support the ownership of that animal. Horses are large animals, who require large spaces and large amounts of feed, i.e. they are expensive to own. In all those cases something needs to be done to insure the horse does not die from starvation or neglect.

The vocal minority who oppose horse slaughter see horses in a different light. They have blurred the line between animal and human to the point that they see no difference. While I like all 4 of the horses we own and I am attached to them, they are animals and should be viewed as such.

We treat our horses with kindness and respect, caring for their needs. However, if injury, age or illness happens to lessen their quality of life, we would look at all the options available to us. It would be a difficult choice, but the animal's quality of life must be taken into account.

If sending a horse to slaughter is not something you could do, I respect that position. It is your choice to do what you want with your animal. All that I ask is that we view animals as animals and not the same as humans. I applaud congress and the President for recognizing that an important option had been removed from the decision making process for horse owners and correcting it.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Farm Kids and the Labor Law

"There are never enough farm and ranch kids." That is a quote I often hear when talking to human resource people. It seems that if an employer finds out a potential applicant grew up in agriculture that it automatically puts them ahead of the pack. Ever wonder why that is?

From what I hear it is because of their work ethic and sense of responsibility. So why is it that farm and ranch kids have something that so many others lack? Work ethic and responsibility are two things that are honed in our kids from the very beginning.

My kids are typical of most who grow up in agriculture. Rain or shine, hot weather or cold, weekday, weekend or holiday, they get up and do their chores. Weekends are spent working on the ranch tending to the cows or sheep or other chores. They realize from an early age that our family farm is just that, a family endeavor, everyone is expected to pitch in. Agriculture involves a lot of sacrifice and hard work, but in the end, it is a very satisfying way of life. I have asked my kids if they would change places with their city friends and they always answer with a resounding NO.

Now the Department of Labor wants to change all of that. They are seeking to change the Child Labor Laws in ways that would restrict or even eliminate the opportunity for our children to take part in our way of life. The Department seems to be out of touch when it comes to modern agriculture, its business structures and production methods.

I am not going to get into the proposed changes, other than to say that it is another case of bureaucrats and government invading the lives of good, decent, hard working families. Agriculture does have its risks but we love our children and watch over them to keep them as safe as possible. We would ask that the Department of Labor respect the tradition and culture of farming and ranching. If this strikes a cord with you, I would ask that you go to http://www.dol.gov/whd/CL/AG_NPRM.htm and make a comment.

I am not sure if they listen to the wishes of the people affected by proposed regulations, but we need to make our voices heard. I know, without a doubt, I am a better person for growing up on a farm and learning the benefits of working hard and responsibility. Simply stated, that is the life I want for my kids and I do not want some bureaucrat in D.C. telling me they know what is best for my family.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Pride in a Job Well Done

Last Friday we sold our calves at the local auction. It is one of the most exciting and scary times of the year. A whole year of work boils down to just a few minutes. Dad, Ike and I watched with pride as our calves came in. The old rancher next to me leaned over and asked if they were our calves. I told him yes and he said "that's a nice looking bunch of calves". For those of you who don't do "rancher speak", that is about as good a compliment as you can get.

These were the calves that my family and I spent many cold mornings and evenings checking, tagging and caring for. We worked long hard days preparing the pastures in the spring, burning the old grass and fixing fence. Then came a hard week of running them through the chute and giving them their vaccinations.

Summer came and we went out many mornings and evenings when it was cool to check them. We filled the mineral feeders, baled hay and moved the cows and calves to new pastures. When the rains came we spent many miserable hot afternoons fixing flood gaps. Finally, came the fall gathering, hauling them from summer pasture and ultimately hauling them to the salebarn.

All of that led to the moment when the calves came into the sale ring. The auctioneer really worked the buyers, and they responded. All of this gave me a great sense of accomplishment. At that moment I think I was as proud as I have ever been to be a rancher and doing my part to provide my customers with healthy, wholesome beef.

That is why it so upsetting to me when groups such as HSUS and PETA attack our way of life. Have the very activists who spend their entire lives trying to tear apart what generations have built, ever experienced the sense of pride, accomplishment and hard work that I was at that moment. The short answer is I doubt it.

I think if they had spent the hours working in the biting cold or the extreme heat they might have a change of heart. If they had ever gotten dirt under their nails, grit in their teeth or mud on their boots, they would feel differently. If they had truly ever put the care and comfort of animals in their care ahead of their own well-being, they would have a change of heart. There is something about raising your own food and feeding others that brings meaning to life.

At that moment, I realized that the hard work of the past year, the hard work of my parents, grandparents and the three generations before them counted for something. The hours caring for my cattle and the time spent caring for the prairie was time well spent. At that moment I was truly proud to be a producer of the food we all eat.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

My Message to the White House

Today I have the honor of meeting with USDA Deputy Secretary Merrigan. This is part of the White House Round-table Agribusiness discussion. I am sure some of the discussion will focus on rural job creation. However, I suspect some of the discussion will focus on the locally grown food movement.

I must say I fully embrace and participate in marketing locally grown foods. My family markets a portion of our beef and lamb each year locally. I truly believe I am providing my customers with a high quality product and I enjoy developing a relationship with the consumers I help feed.

To my fellow producers participating in selling produce and meat locally I applaud your efforts. We are cultivating relationships with consumers and providing them the freshest, highest quality food possible. For those of you buying locally produced food, I applaud you for choosing to buy from local producers and going the extra mile to do so. It requires more effort than going to the local grocery store.

However, I also recognize the need for large scale, modern production farming and ranching. Let me share the facts with you. World population will be 9.6 billion people by 2050. Our agricultural production must increase by 70 to 100% in that same time period to produce enough food and fiber to meet the demand. Currently, we are expected to increase ag production by 40% during this time period.

For those of you challenged by mathematics that means an increase of 30 to 60% beyond our current expectations. So we either need to find more farm and ranch lands or become much more productive on the land we currently have in production. Since the current trend is for us to lose farm and ranch land annually, we must rely on increased efficiency and production. That means biotechnology is of utmost importance.

The Utopian view of each community relying on locally produced foods is not a realistic world view. Relying on locally produced foods would result in higher food costs and reduced food supplies. The meat I produce is both higher in quality and higher priced than that sold in grocery stores. It has to be higher priced because it costs me more to produce beef on a small scale than it does for our modern feedlots. Out of necessity (i.e. I need to make a living), my beef is priced out of the range of some potential customers.

Often locally produced foods also mean organic and without the benefit of biotechnology (not always, but that is the underlying current). Without modern fertilizer and chemicals our most efficient, environmentally sound farming and ranching practices cannot be utilized. If you chose to buy organically produced food, I do not have a problem with that, it is your choice. However, you also need to realize that we cannot meet our growing need for food and the need for environmentally sound practices without modern agricultural practices.

Modern practices such as no-till farming have allowed us to produce more grain, with fewer inputs (i.e. petroleum) while doing a better job of saving soil and protecting our water. The bottom line is that if we are to attain our production goals and maintain our environment we need these practices and we need to continue to refine them and develop new technologies.

Rural job creation (and for that matter job creation period) must first be rooted in a secure foundation of adequate nutrition. As farmers and ranchers we must be able to utilize the technology available to us without excessive government regulation (the subject for another day) to reach our full professional potential and feed our growing world population.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Weekend, My Way

Last Saturday we were in the middle of soybean harvest and I was behind the wheel of our grain trucks hauling this year's crop to the elevator. It was the first Saturday in October and that also meant it was Oztoberfest in my hometown. It was also a K-State home football game. So, I had to deal with lots of traffic, detours and crowds.

The day dawned with a beautiful, clear blue sky, temperatures were perfect and it seemed like nearly everyone was going somewhere. The day presented many challenges and headaches for those of us trying to get the grain to town. The day also gave me an interesting perspective on myself and my fellow farmers.

Through out the day, I thought about the crowd I saw milling around at the Oztoberfest. I thought about the people enjoying a day off. I thought about the freedom of taking a day off and not having any worries on the weekend. Part of me was a little jealous.

Later in the day, I dealt with the increase in traffic due to the football game. I listened to the pre-game show (in the one truck that had a radio). I imagined the tailgating that was going on in the parking lot. I thought about the smells, the sounds and the buzz. I really enjoy football games and I must admit I was even more jealous.

But then as the afternoon went on, I realized I was exactly where I wanted to be. It was a beautiful day, the harvest was going smoothly and yields were better than expected. It came to me that I had reached the point in my life were I enjoyed driving that grain truck and harvesting with Dad more than footabll.

If I had slept in that morning and went to Oztoberfest I would have felt like I was missing out on something. If I had gone to the game, I might have enjoyed myself but there would have been this nagging, feeling that I had somewhere more important to be. I would guess that my fellow brothers and sisters in agriculture would second those feelings.

I think these feelings are in our very being, probably part of our DNA and something we can't do anything about. Being out in the field is where we feel we need to be, and the reality is we are drawn there irregardless of what else is going on.

That level of dedication is shared by everyone who puts the food on your table. What we do is more than an occupation, it is our way of life. So next weekend when you see a farmer or rancher going about their business, don't feel sorry for them. Just know that they are exactly where they want to be.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Need for Rural Roots

Tonight I am sitting in the pickup watching my son’s football practice. Let me set the scene. We go to a rural school and the football field is set with a soybean field on one side and a corn field on the other. There is a Catholic Church in the background and the smell of alfalfa hangs in the air. If I close my eyes I hear the sounds of practice and the whistles of the coaches. Is this heaven, no its Kansas but in my eyes this is about as close as it gets.

This Midwestern scene is a great place for me to just relax and let the sights and the sounds take me away from the problems we all face. This is a long way from the partisan politics and fighting in D.C. This place seems light years away from the threat of a recession and the financial gloom that hangs over us now.

Sometimes I wonder if those elected officials have forgotten what it is all about. I wonder if they have forgotten (or never even gotten the chance) to spend a crisp fall evening watching football in the middle of rural America. Maybe they have never experienced the smell of fall with the roar of a combine in the background.

It makes me wonder if this is just a game for them much like the football practice directly in front of me. Do they believe in what they are fighting for or is it just another way to get re-elected. This country was built with rural America as its base. The corn and soybean fields I see are the foundation that keeps this country running.

In rural America, we understand the idea of civil discourse. We love to debate issues and ideas; we know how to disagree without being disagreeable. We understand that the greatness of this nation is because opposing views help strengthen our positions. Sure we have principles that we stand on and from those we do not back down. However, we also understand that you cannot have everything your way and that compromise is also necessary.

I think it is no coincidence that many of our great statesmen have come from rural areas and agriculture backgrounds. They understood the idea that hard work, compromise and sacrifice were needed to arrive at a good solution. They were grounded in their principles and in reality. It is that sense of farm and ranch values that we really need from our policy makers not the bickering, self-promotion we are getting now.

Do I have a solution? Other than the idea of sending them all out to spend a week (or longer) on the farm, I do not. However, as I watch the young men on the football field I do see hope for the future as they pull each other up off the ground, pat their teammates on the back and go back to work. I am confident in our ability to regain our composure and right the ship. I am also betting that leadership will come from someone with rural roots.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Hunger is the Real Danger

I should know better than to watch the "popular" media or see even the smallest of portions of one of "those" talk shows because quite often what I see makes me very angry and upset. Too often those programs bring out the latest and "greatest" experts who want to tell us how to be healthier. Their idea of healthy often includes bashing our agricultural infrastructure.

Yes, I said agricultural infrastructure. Much like the system of roads, canals, ports and airports we all depend on for transportation, we have a tremendous network of farms and ranches who fuel our nation. These farms and ranches are operated by dedicated, hard-working men and women, who spend their entire lifetimes producing the food and fiber we all depend on.

That is why I have such a hard time and get so annoyed when I hear so called "experts" talk about all the health issues caused by modern agriculture. The first and foremost food issue that kills more every year, worldwide is hunger, not heart disease or cancer, but hunger. That is the very issue farmers and ranchers are trying to take care of.

We utilize the latest advancements in science to produce the maximum amount of food on dwindling acres. As urban encroachment eats more acres of farm ground and range land we must do more with less. The world's population is growing at a rate higher than our current increases in food production. I am confident that advances in technology will help us overcome that gap. However, there are those who sit in judgement proclaiming the necessary scientific advancements as bad, with no scientific data to back up their claims.

Folks, the health problems most of us suffer from are not because of the farmer or rancher, they are because of our lifestyle choices. We eat far too much and exercise far too little and that has nothing to do with farmers, ranchers, or any of the businesses who support us. Those choices start and end at us. I agree that we eat too much fast food and too many processed and packaged foods, but again, that is not the farmer's fault.

Instead of being thankful that we can overeat and smart enough not to, we blame modern agriculture. The truth is that our modern advancements have allowed us to produce more with less and have significantly reduced our impact on the environment. The American farmer and rancher should be applauded for the food they produce and the lives they save.

As for the safety of that food, I feed my family the same food you feed yours. I would never produce any food that was not healthy or wholesome. Like many of you, I do not make good nutritional choices, but that has nothing to do with the food I produce. The bottom line is that we need every advance science can come up with, because hunger is a far greater concern and we are doing all we can to take care of that problem.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A New York Experience

A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of attending a leadership class in New York City. Yes, the Big Apple, and let me tell you it was a real culture shock for this farm boy. It was a unique experience that I will never forget and it drove home one point for certain. I am a farm boy for sure and I need wide open spaces.

One of our exercises for this class was to take the subway from our hotel in Newark, New Jersey to a predetermined point in New York. This was to simulate commuting into the city each morning. After accomplishing our assigned task we all assembled back at the meeting room for a debriefing.

This was an agriculture leadership class, so my fellow classmates had similar backgrounds to mine.The debriefing was very spirited with all of us having very strong feelings about the experience. Those feelings could be summed up as claustrophobia, anxiety, hurried, crushed, and just a general feeling of close quarters and being boxed in.

Many commented (I being one of those) about how they could never live in a place like this and could not understand why people would chose to do so. We laughed and joked about the experience, more than once suggesting that we were lucky to live in wide open spaces.

The session came to a close and I flew out of the Newark airport and settled into the long flight home. Soon I became aware of the young couple sitting next to me. I am not sure where their ultimate destination was but I am relatively sure it was not Kansas City. How do I know this?

As we approached Kansas City, they both craned their necks and looked out the window. If you have not flown into Kansas City, I need to set the stage for you. Kansas City's airport is located in a relatively rural edge of the metropolis. The runways extend into cow pastures and fields.

I listened in amusement as the young couple went on and on about how they must be flying into the great frontier. This place was surely something from Green Acres complete with Uncle Jed, Jethro and Elly Mae also. They laughed and made jokes about how primitive things must be in Kansas City and just could not understand why people would want to live in such a backwater place.

Suddenly I got it, I had similar feelings about New York City and all because it was somewhere foreign to me. It was surroundings that I was not familiar with and a place that stretched my comfort zone. So were either of us wrong? No. Were we a bit hypocritical and condescending? Of course.

With that I realized the problem we have in agriculture (and most likely in many other areas) is a lack of understanding for people and areas that are different than our home. We need to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of the people who live in those areas and then maybe we can understand their love for that part of the world and conversely if they had an understanding of our part of the worl.

That is why, as farmers and ranchers, we need to open our homes up to those who have never set foot in a rural area. We need to show them why we love our open spaces, quiet nights, starry skies and distant horizons. That understanding should foster trust and understanding and then we should be able to find some middle ground. Shoot, we might even find that we aren't really all that different.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Meet me at the Fair

It is county fair season here in Kansas. If you have never been to a small county fair, you need to go. Its a part of our small town, rural America that will remind you of why our country is so great. A county fair is a place where you can let your kids be kids, have a vision of what Norman Rockwell saw. A place where we celebrate everything that is at the heart of our great nation.

Each summer I have the honor and privilege of judging beef, sheep and swine shows at a number of fairs. For those of you who may not be familiar with 4-H and FFA, let me set the stage. Youth who participate in these projects have spent many months of hard working preparing their livestock for the fair.

In the case of the beef project, the young person probably started sometime in December with a small calf. They worked with this calf teaching it to lead with a halter, feeding, watering and caring for every need the animal may have. They do this everyday, winter, spring and summer. Mornings before they go to school, evenings after ball games, and everyday no matter the weather.

The kids involved in the sheep and swine projects may start them a little later in the year (usually around spring) but they require no less care on a daily basis. My point is that the animal projects (and all the youth projects) require a vast amount of time in preparation before the fair. The project you see at the fair is a culmination of a year and lots of time and effort for their owners.

Stop at a county fair and watch the show, better yet get there early and watch the youth prepare for the show. You will see that the owners have a great amount of pride in the animals they have raised. You will also see a lot of camaraderie among competitors. Even though they are competing each will take time to help the other (we could all learn a lot from them) and by doing so will forge friendships that will last for many years to come.

In a day and age when the work ethic and drive of our youth is questioned, it is refreshing to see what 4-H and FFA does for the youth involved. The participants are learning real-world skills, making networking connections they will keep all their lives and learning to be responsible. Unlike sports you will see youth taking part in activities that they will some day go "pro" in. You will be seeing the next generation of farmers and ranchers who will be feeding you.

So plan that trip to your local county fair, walk through the barns, listen and watch what is going on around. I will promise that you will come away feeling better about the next generation. We would all be a lot better off if we spent a few days at the fair, I know I will be.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Weather Worries

This past week has seen record breaking heat for us. I am not going to lie, watching the weather is the most frustrating part of farming and ranching. It is the one thing that we have absolutely no control over and it is the one thing that affects our livelihood more than all other factors. My wise old Father continually tells me that worrying about the weather won't do anything but give me ulcers.

I know he is right, but that doesn't keep me from watching as many different weather forecasts as possible and stewing over each rain chance. Even then it is not always about rain. Right now we are in a period of extreme heat, this comes right as the corn is tasseling. Heat hurts the pollination of the corn and therefore reduces our yields. Even the irrigated corn is hurting because, no amount of water can cool off the plant.

New technology is on the horizon that will help eliminate this problem or at least lessen its effects. This will allow for a steadier income for us, as farmers, and a more stable food supply for everyone else. That is why it is hard for me to understand why non-ag people oppose new ag technology. But that is a topic for another blog.

As farmers, we watch as cool temperatures stunt our crops and too much rain drown them out in the spring. My fellow farmers watch as rivers rise and flood their land. Then we stand by helplessly as drought and heat take their toll or wind and hail level the crops all together. Sure we have crop insurance, but in many cases it only covers our fixed costs and those fixed costs do not include our living expenses.

So am I wanting your sympathy. No, this is the career path I chose and I knew the unpredictable weather was part of the deal. Rather I share this with you so that you understand that no matter how good we are at planting and caring for the crop, or how shrewd we are at marketing the crop there is much that is out of our control.

I also share this with you because even with all of the heart break of losing a crop to drought or flood, to heat or hail, I wouldn't want to live any other way. I take pride in the land I live on and the crop I grow. Even with one eye on the horizon and one on the radar screen and my fingers crossed hoping for rain and cooler temps. I am still a proud producer of the food we all need.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Firecrackers, the 4th and Wheat Harvest

Each holiday has a distinct memory for me or something that triggers memories of that holiday. When it comes to the 4th of July, wheat harvest is the trigger of those memories. There is something special about wheat harvest that is distinctly American. I think the reason the United States has become the greatest nation is because of the fact we can provide all the food and fiber we need. Because of the bounty of food our nation produces, we have the freedom from hunger to be innovative and grow our industry. Nothing symbolizes this bounty as much as bread and the wheat used to make it.

My first memories of wheat harvest were of taking supper to Dad in the field. The warm, clean smell of wheat straw, homemade sandwiches and the prickly feel of the wheat stubble. I was (and still am) mesmerized by the sight of combines eating their way through the golden fields. Then, if I played my cards right, Dad would take me into town with the truck and its load of wheat.

For a country kid a trip to town is very special. It was a chance to see other people and I think to feel like a big shot, riding in that big grain truck. Since wheat harvest is usually around the 4th, we would pass several fireworks stands and I would stare longingly (I think Dad noticed).

We would finally get to the elevator and I can remember being so proud to be with Dad and again thinking we were big stuff. Then after we dumped our grain into the unloading pit, we would pull back across the scales. Then if we were really lucky,we would get an ice cold soda. Usually the end of harvest came about the 4th. I can remember one harvest, Dad stopped at the fireworks stand and allowed me to get some fireworks.

We hoped to be done with harvest by the 4th so we could go into our town's 4th celebration. My hometown does the 4th of July like no other place. If harvest was not done, we couldn't go, but that didn't happen very often. The fireworks were a fitting celebration to the end of harvest and our nation's birthday.

Now as I am the one driving that grain truck into the elevator and driving past the fireworks stands I still find myself getting that feeling of anticipation about the upcoming celebration. We now drive the grain down mainstreet and I get to see the decorations dedicated to the 4th and that only helps to build the excitement. So having completed wheat harvest a couple of days ago, I will continue the tradition of taking my family to the parade and fireworks, I don't know who is more excited.

Tonight I will drive into town, past the golden fields of harvested wheat to my hometown for a patriotic celebration of the birth of our great nation. Wheat harvest and the 4th are and will be forever intertwined into one. I cannot imagine a more fitting way to celebrate our great nation and all the blessing we have been given as Americans.

Friday, June 24, 2011

4-H is Good for Society

Recently an article was written questioning if 4-H livestock projects desensitize youth to violence since the animals they raise are eventually harvested for meat. I can answer this question on all levels because I am a 4-H alumni, 4-H parent and an Extension Agent . The short answer to the question is no, 4-H livestock projects do not desensitize youth to violence. It does provide many other benefits.

As an alumni of the 4-H livestock projects I can tell you without a doubt that I believe in the sanctity of life. I take the dignity of all living beings into account in all that I do. All of the animals that I have had the privilege of caring for over all my years of livestock production (including my 4-H years) were treated with the utmost care. I also understood from the very beginning why we raise animals for food. Each 4-Her begins the project understanding that the animal they are caring for will eventually become food.

This does not lead to cruelty or insensitivity but rather an understanding of the circle of life. I would even argue that 4-Hers in the animal projects have a better understanding of sensitivity than those who have not had that experience. They understand taking care of a living being, making sure it has all its needs met and that it is comfortable. However, they understand that there is a basic and inherent difference between animals and humans.

Our world was designed to give humans dominion over all other living things. They were put on earth for our use, i.e. food and fiber. They are also dependent on our care and that is where the life lessons of 4-H animal projects are.

As a 4-H parent I have seen my kids learn to care for their animals. From the very beginning they knew the purpose of the animals they were raising. They realized that the healthy meat on our dinner table was one of those animals that we raised with care and sensitivity. They are learning the importance of hard work by getting up each morning early and taking care of those animals first thing every morning be it summer break, a holiday or a weekend.

As an Extension Agent in charge of 4-H animal projects for the past 18 years, I can tell you without a doubt that every youth who has come through that same program have went on to be very productive, successful members of society with a great sensitivity for those around them. In all my years, I have never heard, read or seen any evidence that 4-H livestock projects desensitize youth, period.

So the answer to the question of whether 4-H livestock projects desensitize youth is an unequivocal no. I wish more youth had the opportunity to care for livestock. Then society would better understand the amount of time, effort and care livestock producers put into the meat on your dinner plate. I also believe that they would have a greater appreciation for all living things around them and the purpose of those animals. What the world needs is more involvement in 4-H, not less.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Faith of My Father

Today is Father's Day and our Pastor asked me to be a part of a tribute to Father's by determining what award my Father should get. This assignment was especially tough for me, I have the privilege of working side-by-side with my Father each day. I guess that is one of the things that drew me into farming. My Father is my beacon in life and serves as my role model even (and probably more so) as I age.

It was hard for me to decide on one area but I kept coming back to one thing. My Father is a man of faith like no other person I know. I suppose being a person of Faith is inherent in all of us who are involved in agriculture. After all we plant seeds each season not knowing whether it will rain or be dry, if it will be too hot or too cold or even what price we will get for those crops. Each time I worry or stew about the weather he reminds me that there isn't much I can do about it.

However, Dad's Faith transcends his professional career. He has faced each challenge in life with a rock solid Faith in God. Each trial he has been given has been greeted with the acknowledgement that God is in control. He has been the source of strength and courage for our family through each crisis. Spend time with Dad and you will realize the comfort and strength that comes with his unyielding Faith.

That Faith is put into action in our Church life also. Whether having the Faith to help guide a building project or admonishing his son about the church budget. Constantly he reminds me that a church budget is an act of Faith and not an exact science. Now I am grateful that he is sharing that faith with the youth in our church. I know his grandchildren and others are more than happy to learn from him, in spite of his humble misgivings.

Its funny how our Father's go from a hero-like status when we are children to the status of someone who is out of touch when we are teens back to a revered source of wisdom as we become adults. I am so glad that as I became an adult that I had the blessing of working with my Father.

On this Father's Day I am so thankful for the example he sets for me each day and that I am blessed enough to spend time with him each of those days and learn from him. I will strive each day to set the same type of example that I have been given by the Faith of my Father.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Rain and Uncertainty

For much of this spring we have been in an extended dry spell. That allowed us to get our work done quickly but it did inspire quite a bit of apprehension among my fellow farmers and ranchers. The weather report on the 10 o'clock news became more and more vital and more and more disappointing each night. However, that worry about dry weather quickly disappeared and was replaced by a new worry.

Over the last week we have received enough rain to bring us back to normal or a little above. Just yesterday and last night we received about 5 inches of rain. This led to a lot of flooding and damage to our crops and the flood gaps across our streams and ditches. It also means lots of expenses from replanting and repairs. But that is all part of the cost of doing business.

I jokingly tell people that the middle between the two extremes is where our averages come from. The weather is both one of the best and the worst things about farming and ranching.
My wise old Father tells me that it does no good to worry about the weather and the older I get the more I understand.

The apprehension of missing rains and watching crops wither quickly turns to relief with the first rainfall. However, it also quickly returns to apprehension as the rain continues to fall. Even though we know there is nothing we can do, I would guess many of my fellow farmers and ranchers pace and watch like I do.

So why be a part of a business where the best plans can be thwarted by something you can't control? I guess it all comes back to the fact that farming and ranching are more than a business. None of us farm and ranch to get rich, we chose this profession because it is in our blood, it is part of us. We suffer through the lows and revel in the highs because feeding the world is our passion. Along with that the uncertainty that the weather brings is just part of the core of who we are.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Bittersweet Mother's Day

Today in our church, my son read a letter to his mother for Mother's Day. I could not have been prouder of him for writing it or my wife for inspiring him. I am blessed to have married such a great woman and a good mother to my two children. However, Mother's Day is just a little bittersweet for me.

My mother passed away over five years ago and I miss her dearly everyday. However, Mother's Day makes me pause and think about her just a little more. My mother was an amazing woman and I am so proud to be her son. If she were still alive I would have taken her out for lunch and given her a card, instead I reflected on all she gave me.

My mother gave me an appreciation of living a principled life. Mom was guided by her faith. Faith in God was the compass that guided her, that was the guiding principle that she instilled in my sister and I. Not only did she make sure her children knew God but she passed it on to many others through teaching Sunday School and living her life as an example.

Appreciating the blessings in my life was another gift I received from my Mother. She was an incredibly thoughtful, educated woman who knew what she wanted from life. My mother appreciated the simple things in life and I believe she lived a more fulfilled life because of that appreciation. Mom knew true happiness was not things and money, but rather the simpler things like relationships with those around you and living a God centered, principled life.

I could go on for many more paragraphs and pages about the things Mom gave me. However, I will finish for now by saying that she blessed me with the guidance to know how to live my life, the confidence to live my life that way and the ability to appreciate the everyday blessings that make my life so incredibly rich.

I live my life each day trying to be the person she was. I know that if I can be just a fraction of the great role model she was, I will have been a success. Mother's Day is a day to pamper the Mothers in our lives and lavish them with gifts, but the real gift is the day we, as children, realize the gifts we were given on Mother's Day. Thanks Mom.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sausage or Meat?

Last week I had the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. Let me first say that I love going to our nation's capital. I find our political process very fascinating, although to many it is much like making sausage. You like the end product but many don't care to watch the making of it.

However, my limit is about four days in the Beltway. The whole time I am there, I feel like part of me is missing. What was missing became obvious to me as I pulled into my driveway late Wednesday night. I missed the open spaces, the smell of the open prairie, the sound of my animals, and the bright sparkling sky above me. D.C., while breath-taking and hypnotizing, seems harsh and man-made. It mesmerizes me, but I must say in the end it lacks the depth and soul of the heartland I call home.

I missed the people who surround me each day. Obviously, I missed the love and support of my family but I also missed the men and women I am blessed to be around each day. I enjoy the networking and connecting required to lobby but those meetings lack the depth of relationships those of us in the Midwest are used to. The norm to us are deep friendships that are cultivated over many years and deep rooted.

I suppose that is the nature of the beast in the Beltway. After all, most of the people who are involved in politics are from somewhere else. They make their way to our nation's capital to provide governance but it is not home. I guess that lack of roots is what I was missing and maybe that is what is missing in our government.

Those of us in agriculture understand having roots and being from "somewhere". We have a deep tie to our surroundings, our land, our community and a love and passion for them. While we may visit other places, there is a hole that will always seem hollow in us, until we return to our ranch and our community.

My wish for those, who are firmly entrenched in the District, is to come to my little corner of the Flint Hills. To meet the hard-working men and women who live in my hometown and then they will understand what they are missing. I get the sense that they are missing something deep inside their core. I guess what I am saying is that while sausage may be fine once in a while, meat and potatoes are what sustain us.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Counting My Chickens Before They Hatch

Right now I have 11 dozen eggs in 11 different incubators in 11 different classrooms and I am excited to be a poultry producer. Each year I teach chick embryology to second graders in Pottawatomie County, and it is truly one of the things i enjoy most about my job. Oh sure it has its highs and lows. One year we hatched nearly all of the eggs and the next we only hatched 1 or 2 out of 120.

OK, I can hear the questions already. Why would a known beef producer be so eager to teach young children about chickens and even like it? Well folks, even though we compete for space in the meat counter and compete for your dollars at the check-out counter, it is all animal agriculture.

One of my passions in life is to talk to kids about agriculture. I love being part of the great system of farms and ranches that feed our great nation and I want everyone (especially kids) to know all about it. I love sharing the basics of our business, the science of what we do and how that all relates to the food we all eat.

I start this project by talking to the kids about the embryo's development. I show them and tell them about how the chicks develop each day. Then after two weeks I take a candler into the classroom and we candle the eggs. As I said earlier, sometimes this can be a really disappointing part of the unit. When this happens we talk about how this relates to both agriculture and real life.

During this unit I talk to the kids about the purpose of the chickens they are hatching and ultimately what will happen to them. I tell the teachers ahead of the unit that I will be taking the chicks home to my farm. The kids know that the hens will be kept for egg production and the roosters will be harvested for meat.

Most of the time this leads to an interesting discussion with the kids. However, I truly believe it is important for the kids to understand production agriculture and know where their food comes from. I hope as my years in Extension go on that I can at least make a difference one classroom at a time. I hope that each of those kids leave knowing where their food comes from, how it is raised and why we raise certain animals.

Then maybe they will relay the information to their parents, neighbors and friends. This kind of education used to be part of every child's upbringing through interaction with parents, grandparents or aunts and uncles on the farm. Now as generations are grow up far removed from the farm, it is our duty as farmers, ranchers and those involved in agriculture to make sure this basic knowledge of agriculture is in place. That, friends, is why I am counting my chickens even before they hatch.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Its Easy Being Green

Everywhere I go today I see green, that is probably because it is St. Patty's Day. However, as a farmer/ rancher I see green everyday. This week is Kansas Ag Week and each day had a theme, today's theme is Agriculture and Conserving Natural Resources.

I maintain that farmers and ranchers started the original green movement. Agriculture does more to preserve and improve the air, soil and water than any other business I know of. Sure big lobbying groups like the Sierra Club and the Environmental Working Group would say otherwise but they will say anything to get your donation. The real truth of the matter is that farmers and ranchers work hard to protect the environment.

Soil conservation has long been a focus in agriculture. Farmers started using terraces, water ways and other conservation practices almost 100 years ago. Today soil conservation has evolved into no-till farming and the immense technology behind this practice. The soil loss off of a field with conservation structures, farmed no-till is very minimal and very close to that of the native prairie. As farmers we realize that the soil is our lifeblood and we need to keep it in place.

Water quality is another area that farmers and ranchers are deeply committed to. Our creeks, rivers and ponds may be cleaner in some instances than they were before the plains were settled. Buffer strips, sedimentation basins, pond exclusions and fencing off of waterways have improved water quality and safety exponentially. Farming practices such as no-till have lowered the use of herbicides, new plant genetics have reduced the need for insecticides and better soil testing has led to more targeted and efficient application of fertilizers. This all results in less run off and cleaner, healthier creeks, rivers and ponds.

Air quality has become a hot button issue and our very own Flint Hills ranchers are working to make the air quality in places like Wichita and Kansas City better. The new Flint Hills Smoke Management plan will help reduce the amount of smoke drifting over our urban neighbors from our beneficial prescribed burns. This is a voluntary plan, implemented because we want to be good neighbors. Other practices like no-till have reduced the dust in the air and the amount of wind erosion. Modern swine, poultry, dairy and beef production systems greatly reduce the odors they give off and help to improve the quality of life for their neighbors also.

I am the proud producer of the food and fiber we all need, but this day has made me aware of something else also. Because of the great advances in technology and the dedication of my fellow farmers and ranchers, I can also say that I am a proud environmentalist dedicated to preserving the natural resources from which I make my living.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Shining Example

April is nearing and in the Flint Hills that means burning season is near. The burning of native tallgrass prairie is necessary to keep it healthy and thriving. Without fire, the prairie will transition into brush and eventually into forest. It is the continued use of fire that has kept our Flint Hills a prairie. Last spring that seemed to be threatened by the EPA and air quality in Kansas City and Wichita.

I must admit, I am like many of my fellow farmers and ranchers, and I am skeptical of the EPA. "I am from the government and I am here to help" are words that raise the hair on our necks. That was how I feared it would be when I heard that the EPA was looking into Flint Hills burning and heightened levels of ozone in Kansas City and Wichita. However, at least in this instance and at least for now, I was wrong.

It is also easy for those of us affected by this to look at our city neighbors as bad people. After all it is their cars, their businesses and their cities that are the base of the ozone problem. However, that view is also very short-sighted. The reality is that our city neighbors are our customers and ultimately our partners in paying taxes and growing our economy.

What happened may be a model for solving future problems. A very diverse group of individuals representing agriculture, government, business, cities and special interest groups came together to formulate a plan to manage the smoke in the Flint Hills.

The plan is voluntary and asks producers to look at where their smoke is going to go when deciding when to burn. Our burns are called prescribed burns. Much like the prescription your doctor would give you, we decide when to burn by what we want to accomplish with that burn.

K-State research proves that burning around April 15 will add an additional 23 pounds to feeder cattle grazed in the Flint Hills, thus lowering the amount of grain needed. Other research promotes burning later in April to control woody invasive species (remember I told you that the tallgrass prairie would revert to brush without fire), lowering our need for chemical and preserving the last tallgrass prairie. Some burns are utilized to promote the growth of forbs for wildlife habitat. There are many different reasons to burn and many different times (within about a 6 week window) utilized to accomplish different outcomes.

The plan is voluntary for producers, so it doesn't restrict the time of the year that they can burn. It simply asks for them to consider other elements such as upper atmosphere mixing height, wind direction, and wind speed when deciding what day to burn. New Internet tools have been developed to help with these decisions. K-State, the National Weather Services, KDHE and various farm groups such as KLA and Kansas Farm Bureau have combined efforts to aid in education and implementation of this plan. It is truly a group effort

Now it is our time, as farmers and ranchers, to put this team effort into place and make a difference in the air quality for our city neighbors while still preserving our absolutely necessary management practice of prescribed burning. This is also a shining example of the partnership and communication that we, as farmers and ranchers, must have to ultimately forge a bond and an understanding with our customers.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Wednesday is Wear Green for Ag Day

It's March and I am looking through my closet for green. No, its not what you think. I am not putting on the green for St. Patty's Day. Rather I am putting on my green for the 2nd Annual Wear Green in Support of Ag Day. My friend Barrett Smith came up with this great idea last year. I encourage you to wear green also and here is why.

Those of us living in the United States have the incredible blessing of living in a nation with the safest, most wholesome, most abundant food supply in the world. We live in a nation with a system of farms and ranches that produce more food than we consume. We live in a nation where one farmer feeds themselves and 159 others. We truly feed the world.

The network of farmers and ranchers who produce the food and fiber we all need, do so in a manner that is both safe and sustainable. We protect the environment, the soil we live on is preserved, our air is cleaner and the water is purer than ever. This is all because we employ the most technologically advanced methods to produce the nourishment we all need while protecting the world around us.

I will wear green to honor my fellow farmers and ranchers, many whom are four and five generations on the same piece of land and most of whom are family farms and ranches. The men and women who produce your food do so out of a love of what they do. I promise you they do not farm and ranch to get rich. We chose our career paths because it is our calling.

That is why I am asking you to wear green this Wednesday. I am also asking you to pass this on to all of your friends, it would be my wish that everyone I see on Wednesday would be wearing green. After all I am a proud producer of the food we all eat.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The View from My Office

This morning was one of those mornings that reminds me of why I do what I do. Let me share the "view from my desk". The mornings are starting have that twinge of spring. I am not sure if it is the moisture in the air or the slightly warmer temperatures but it is obvious changes are on the way. It just feels like spring in the air.

We are deep in the heart of lambing and calving. There is nothing I love more than to go out early in the morning and watch the lambs and calves. Chores take on the added excitement of finding newborn lambs or calves. It seems as though there are more birds singing and the sounds of spring are in the air.

When the barn doors are opened into the outdoor pens the lambs buck and run and it is one of my favorite things to watch. Ewes are momentarily distracted by the feed being dumped into the feed bunk, but are quickly back to looking for their lambs. Each ewe has a distinctive noise they make to find their lambs. By the end of lambing season, I can almost tell which ewe is looking for her lamb by the sound.

The calves are much the same. During calving, I often unroll bales. When I do this the calves will also run and buck as the bale unrolls. Like the ewes the cows are easily distracted by the hay and soon go looking for their calves.

All of this activity is framed in the heavy, damp, earthy air of spring, soon the hills will start to show tinges of green and the trees will start to bud. I am not sure how to explain it but watching the new calves and the lambs gives one a sense of well-being, you know winter is near its end and spring is coming.

This is all infused with the sunshine coming up over the hills and touching the whole panorama. That is the scene I wish I could share with each of you. It is a scene that makes you feel good about the world we live in and one that makes you feel good about our farmers and and ranchers.

Farmers and ranchers live this scene every morning and that is why we work so hard to preserve it. We work to protect the environment around us and the animals we raise. This scene and experience is one that I never get tired of and one that I want my children and my grandchildren to experience. That, my friends, is why I love what I do.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Food Checkout Week

Events this past week have underscored just how important food is. The unrest in much of Africa stems from high food prices. Just this week a study came out indicating that we must increase our food production by 40 times. While oil seems to drive the world economy, food is far more critical. I promise that the men and women who have dedicated their lives to their farms and ranches will meet the challenge.

We, in the United States, are so blessed to have the agricultural infrastructure that provides the food and fiber that we all need to survive. Our farmers and ranchers utilize the technology advances available to them to feed themselves and 129 other people.

Not only do we provide the food and fiber needed by those 129 other people but we do it in a sustainable, environmentally friendly manner. The advances in agronomy and animal science have allowed us to use fewer resources to produce more food. All the while protecting the soil we walk on, the water we drink and the air we breath.

That is why we celebrate Food Checkout Week. We have the safest, most wholesome, most affordable food in the world. I think we take this for granted. Only in the United States would we have groups that are critical of the family farmers and ranchers who grow their food. In most of the world they are grateful to those who produce their food.

Some of the blame falls on the shoulders of my fellow farmers and ranchers. We are very good at producing the food that fuels our nation, but we are not very good at sharing why we do what we do. That is why we make our way to grocery stores during this week. Chances are that Farm Bureau will be in your local grocery store.

We will be there handing out information about agriculture and more importantly talking to each of you. We will be sharing our love of agriculture, the world around us and our pride in feeding our fellow man. I would encourage you to take time to stop and visit, I promise you will come away feeling good about the food in your cart.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day for a Ranch Wife

Today is Valentine's Day, to many wives it is a day to sleep in and to be pampered. However, to many farm and ranch wives, like my wonderful wife, it is another day during calving and lambing season. To make matters worse this year, she and the kids are on their own yet, while I am still healing up.

So let's take a look at Jennifer's Valentines Day. The alarm went off at 5:30 just like any other morning. Just like every morning for the past three weeks Jennifer put on chore clothes, two pairs of sock, her trusty bib overalls, well-worn hoodies (2) and gloves and went out the door.

Soon she was back in the house with a very sick little lamb. One of the first lambs born this year had suddenly gotten very sick in the night. Jennifer desperately tried to feed it, we doctored it with the best medicine we had but unfortunately, we could not save the lamb. It was a very discouraging start to Valentine's Day.

Despite the bitter disappointment, the rest of the chores needed to be done. Our daughter had done the bulk of the chores (oh yeah, number 1 son had to be at school early this morning so he didn't help with chores either) but we had a calf at our place to work and Dad had two more down at his place.

So at 9:30 on Valentine's day (a day with no school for the elementary kids) Jennifer finally finished chores. The rest of the day was spent at work and a meeting, before returning home to do more chores. The day did get a little better with a new set of twins and a single. But that also meant that two ewes with lambs needed moved out and the lambing barn needed cleaned. Not exactly the relaxing, romantic Valentine's Day she deserved. Jennifer was left hoping she could get some rest in between the 8:00 and 10:00 lamb check.

I would guess this Valentine's Day scenerio could be echoed by many hard-working farm and ranch wives. I can't speak for any other operation, but on our ranch Jennifer is a full partner (and this winter probably more of a sole proprietor). I also cannot speak for other farm and ranch husbands but in my case I definitely married above my level, I owe her a debt that can never be repaid. The candy, roses and card are a weak attempt at showing my gratitude for all she does, especially this long winter.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Oprah You Just Don't Get It

I just finished watching the Oprah show where Oprah and much of her staff went vegan for 7 days. While I find veganism puzzling I also acknowledge that it is a lifestyle choice, this is a free country and everyone should have the right to live as they chose. However, I do take exception to something Kathy Freston, self proclaimed veganist, said.

In this episode Cargil allowed a segment to be taped for the show from one of their plants. If you can find it I encourage you to watch it. Their employees did a wonderful job of explaining the harvest process and the measures they take. However, the veganist said she was troubled by the video because she was more evolved and had more compassion for the animals. That is where I really took offense.

You see this all happened during one of the worst winter storms in many, many years. Most of the hardworking farmers and ranchers who were taken to task by this lady could not watch the show. Why you ask? They were out in bitter cold conditions making sure their livestock was properly cared for. They were risking their own health and well-being to check on the welfare of those animals and to provide them with feed and water. Just exactly who is lacking compassion?

Meanwhile, Miss Freston was in a studio warm and comfortable taking shots at my friends and neighbors. Make no bones about it, what Miss Freston and Oprah did today is an insult to the very people who feed you. From the farmers and ranchers who raise the crops and livestock, to the hardworking men and women who work for Cargil, Tyson and others. They are the ones I count as friends not Freston or Oprah.

The show can be summed up the best by the reporter who visited the Cargil plant. Her comment was that she planned to continue to eat beef and now she knew better where it came from. That is all those of us in agriculture ask. Please become educated, not by false experts like Kelly Freston, but by those of us who live, breath and are agriculture producers. Then and only then you can make an educated choice about what you eat.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Ruffling my Fur

As many of you know, recently I have had the opportunity to spend many hours watching daytime TV. This has been an interesting study into why many people develop the beliefs they have. You see, daytime TV is littered with many programs featuring celebrities with lots of opinions and little in the way of facts.

I suspect many of these celebrities have good intentions but fall prey to the need for higher ratings and more sensational topics. This makes them easy targets for animal rights and environmental groups who rely more on emotions than facts.

Earlier I saw Rachel Ray promote cage-free, organic eggs as more healthy. She did not have any facts to back up her assertion. How do I know? Because there is no scientific proof that cage-free or organic are healthier than commercially produced.

Then today I watched "The Talk". Sharon Osborne interviewed an actress (who I did not recognize), the discussion quickly turned from her new movie to her ad campaign for PETA. The actress said she decided to become a spokesperson for PETA because of a documentary about fur. She claimed that animals were skinned alive and she related this to her dog. Sharon then asserted that most fur collars come from dog and cat fur.

This sheds a lot of light on typical PETA propaganda. First, they reach people who's only contact with animals are pets. Animals raised for food or for fiber are different from pets. The animals are well cared for but they are raised for the purpose of food or clothing. When the proper time comes they are ethically harvested for items we need. It is not cruel, but rather the cycle of life.

Second, Sharon stated something that was more sensational than true. I have never seen anything would indicate what she said was true. In fact, my guess (yes it is my opinion) most of that fur is faux, fake, man-made. PETA and their mouth pieces are never hindered by the truth or facts. They will say anything that will make their point, sway more people and ultimately raise more funds for their own use.

My daytime TV watching may have cost me some brain cells and several points on my IQ but it did make me realize that those of us in agriculture need to get out and tell our story. Too many actors look for "causes" and are hooked by slick characters from fund raising groups like PETA and HSUS. We need to reach them and at least educate them about the truth.

The truth is that we are incredibly lucky to have the safest, most abundant food supply in the entire world. We have an amazing network of farmers and ranchers who work tirelessly to produce food and fiber in an environmentally sustainable manner. Without the agriculture backbone of our nation we would not have actors, celebrities or daytime TV.

What is the answer to this dilemma. Each time something outrageous about agriculture is presented, we need to be ready and willing to answer it. We also need to go the extra step and try to reach people before our opponents do. If you are one who is watching daytime TV, I ask that you contact me or one of my fellow farmers and ranchers to learn the truth about animals, the environment and your food. The truth will set you free and free is much different than what PETA and HSUS have in mind.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Response to Rachel Ray

This is a segment on food myths Rachel does on her show. At first I appreciated this segment because she pointed out that the color of an egg made no difference. However, she went on to recommend only buying organic, cage-free eggs. While I have no problem with them, to insinuate that they are somehow healthier and better did not sit well with me. The following is my response.


I am a proud farmer and rancher so I was very disappointed to read your comments about organic, cage-free eggs being better. I do agree that fresh eggs are better tasting, however, the eggs you can buy in your grocery store are just as safe and nutritious.

Organic eggs are no more nutritious or healthy than conventionally produced eggs. Eggs are USDA inspected and the feeds ingredients are also closely regulated. The key to safety when consuming eggs is to properly handle and cook them. There are no credible research trials that prove that organic eggs are healthier.

As far as, the cage free tag. Many years of animal science research has went into the much maligned laying cages. To understand them and why they are much better for the hen, you must understand chicken behavior. The term pecking order is not something that is just made up. Chickens determine a level of hierarchy by fighting. The weakest are forced away from feed, picked on and eventually killed. If they are cage-free there is little the farmer can do to protect the hen. By placing them in cages they hens all receive the same, balance diet and are protected from more dominate hens. This is a far more ethical approach to producing eggs.

I am not a poultry farmer, but I do know many who are. They are good, hard-working men and women. Many are family farmers who have been working the same land for generations. All I ask is that you try to do some research and visit a modern poultry farm. Then you can form a fair, unbiased opinion.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Response to Article from Men's Health

The following is my response to an article published in the men's health section and posted on the Fox News website. Please read and respond. The article is inaccurate and unfair.


I am a fifth generation rancher in the Flinthills of Kansas and I am also one of the small producers that the article speaks of. However, I feel the need to stand up and say that the article is both misleading and inaccurate and the facts must be set straight. The meat in the grocer case is both safe and nutritious. Most importantly it is affordably priced for all consumers.

I direct market a significant number of the beef cattle I produce locally. The beef I market is a premium product priced at a premium level. My customers are middle to upper class and can afford my product. However, many cannot and that is why we need larger farms producing a more affordable product.

The safety of meat is also questioned in this article. That is absolutely false. E-coli can simply be avoided through proper handling and cooking of meat. Consumers who properly handle meat making sure to clean utensils after each step in the cooking process and who cook their meat to the proper internal temperature are protected from e-coli. The truth is that e-coli were much more prevalent 80 years ago when production practices were more closely aligned to the ones supported by the article.

The truth of the matter is that there is a need both for locally raised, premium foods and for the products produced on a larger scale for distribution in larger stores. Small farms simply cannot produce enough food for the ever growing, ever more urban population.

We are incredibly blessed in this nation to have a safe and abundant food supply. Farmers and ranchers produce more food , cheaper, with fewer inputs in a more environmentally friendly manner, each year. The need for nutrition in this country has led to the creation of the greatest most efficient agriculture system in the entire world. All I ask is that the readers of this article take the time to get to know the great men and women who produce the food and fiber we all need. Do that and they will have a greater appreciation and trust in our shared food supply