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.