Monday, April 29, 2013

Just Say No to Snow in May!

Isaac had his first baseball game a couple of weeks ago. I knew it would be a little chilly so I wore my heavier windbreaker. That was a bad idea. As the evening drug on, the wind picked up and the temperature dropped. Soon I was shivering and several of us parents were discussing breaking up some of the bleachers and starting a bon fire to provide some warmth. However, we all decided one of the best things about spring sports is that the weather does get better later in the season.
A week ago Tatum had a track meet. The temperature was in the forties, learning from my experience I broke out one of my winter coats and brought a pair of gloves. I felt a little silly, after all it was well into April and the calendar said it was officially spring. It wasn’t very long before someone pointed out the flakes of snow in the air. Discussion centered on the fact that normally we would be more worried about sunburn than hypothermia, but surely the track meet next week would be better.
Then this week I watched the weather forecast as I prepared to go out the door to Tatum’s next track meet. Temperatures in the forties with a stiff North wind and wind chill in the low thirties. I dug out my heavy winter coat, a pair of heavy gloves and a stocking cap. It wasn’t enough. Several of us parents discussed the new ice age as we huddled behind the South wall of the concessions stand. It seemed more like football season than track, since each week the weather got progressively colder.
Being cold during my kid’s sporting events is only annoying. A few minutes in the car and a tall cup of coffee remedy the problem quickly. I suspect that my writing about it in this week’s column will most likely solve the problem. By the time you read this temperature will probably be in the eighties and we will be searching for short sleeved shirts. I look forward to that change, we need it.
I will continue to go to the kids games, no matter the temperature, but we really need it to warm up. Ground temperature is nowhere near warm enough to plant corn and the grass is not growing. At least the cold weather has brought us a little moisture. I cling to the hope that maybe the colder than normal temperatures and increased rainfall mean we have broken free of the drought and heat of last year.
I know at some point this cool, wet weather will change and soon I will be complaining about the heat and praying for rain. Please also note that I am not, I repeat not, complaining about the rain. It will taken inches of rain and a lot of mud before I grow weary of precipitation. I am, however, tired of being cold. I know the beauty of Kansas is that if I wait a day it will all change. Well, I am waiting.
Isaac has a baseball game Thursday and I notice that the weatherman is calling for cold temperatures and even a chance of snow. Snow at a baseball game  that will be a new experience. I have already broken out my heaviest coat, heaviest gloves and stocking cap. Where do I go from there?
I guess I will follow the lead of some of my fellow parents and start wearing my bibs. It is a drastic measure and one that I had hoped I wouldn’t have to take. I have not yet washed my bibs and the evidence of calving season is still quite prevalent. I am also just as sure that they really don’t smell all that good, kind of a cross between wet sheep, cow manure and after-birth. Wearing them in public is something I am not real excited about but desperate times call for desperate measures.
So if you happen to be at one of my kid’s sporting events in the next couple of weeks and it does not warm up, I should be pretty easy to spot, and I might be even easier to smell .In any case, I will be the parent standing all by myself downwind of the crowd. Let’s just hope for warmer weather because the alternative is not anything any of us want.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

MooGruder, Spradling, Chambers and a Moooving Violation!

We now have three bucket calves, MooGruder, Spradling, and our latest addition Chambers. The bucket calves are Tatum’s department and yes, she is a K-State fan. Normally bucket calves are a sign of failure but this year all three were twins, so I guess they were bonus calves. Well, bonus calves until you go to pay for milk replacer.
MooGruder was our first bucket calf this year and was quickly followed by Spradling. After Spradling plans were made for either Chambers (if it was a heifer calf) or Angel (if it was a bull calf) and we really hoped there would be no Gibson or Southwell. However, a month came and went and no third calf was added to this year’s lineup. Last week, the first two went to once a day feedings and the chores became simpler, more than once we wished, aloud, for no more bucket calves. Then came the call.
Dad called me early Thursday morning last week with news of another set of twins.” Oh great” or something like that was my reaction. Dad and I went out to tag the calves and decide which one would be bucket calf number three. Usually the cow makes the choice for us, but this cow refused to choose. After a quick conference, we decided to leave both calves in place and go on with our plans for the day.
That evening we returned to the twins. One would stay with the cow and one would become either Chambers or Angel. Maybe the cow would have made up her mind. No luck, she would not cooperate, so we decided to take the heifer calf. I slipped out of the pick and quickly nabbed the calf, who will be here after named Chambers. OK, so she was sleeping and I just walked up and picked her up.
I put Chambers on the floor board of the pick-up under my feet and we proceeded to check the rest of the cows. She laid there very docile looking at me with big, wide eyes, never once offering to cause any problems. Dad and I returned to his house, transferred Chambers over to the pick-up I was driving and discussed strategy. Normally, we transport bucket calves together, with one of us driving and one restraining the calf. However, we both agreed that this calf seemed unusually quiet and since I was going home for the day, there really was no reason to waste fuel with a return trip.
It just so happened that this was also a day that the 4-H steers needed more feed. We buy feed in bulk for our replacement heifers and have it delivered to Dad’s farmstead. A couple of times each week I bag up feed and haul it back home and this was one of those days. We decided that a bag of feed strategically placed beside the four wheel drive shifter would provide a barrier for Chambers. With that I loaded my feed and placed Chambers on the passenger side floor board and loaded two big round bales on the bale bed. I felt pretty good about my ability to multi-task; after all I was hauling feed, hay and a calf home all at the same time. I was saving at least one trip between my place and Dad’s.
Feeling smug I pulled out of Dad’s and was soon on the highway. That smug feeling soon was replaced when I heard the pitter patter of little split hooves on the console next to me. Chambers had decided that laying down was no longer acceptable and had decided to stand up. Not only did she decide to stand up but she also decided to climb up into the passenger’s seat to have a better look at the world that was passing her by. So there I was driving down the highway, one hand holding up a bag of feed, a calf standing next to me and two bales on the back making the drive challenging.
I decided to quell any temptation of an escape by rolling up my window. I could only imagine what the accident report would look like if Chambers had decided to dive out my window and into oncoming traffic. Still I must have been a sight, just about everyone I met stared at me but that didn’t occur to me until I met the Sherriff’s deputy. I released my grip on the feed sack to wave at him and I swear I saw his brake lights come on at least twice. That was about the time the feed sack fell over.
Now I know that you are all waiting on me to finish the story. Did I go into the ditch? Did I get a ticket? No, actually the rest of the trip was pretty uneventful, just a rancher and his calf riding along. Chambers is doing well and soon will meet MooGruder and Spradling. In the meantime I can only think of what was going through the deputy’s mind as we met. I bet he wanted to pull me over and issue……. Now don’t get ahead of me……… a moooving violation.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Tale of Caution

Last week I had the privilege of going to Southern California on the Kansas Farm Bureau Farm Family Trip. I have to admit that it was very nice to get on the plane when it was blowing snow and twenty-nine degrees and step off the plane to seventy-five and palm trees. I can certainly see why people migrate to warmer climates for the winter. The warm sunshine felt exceedingly good.
We were treated to a tour of California agriculture by our very gracious fellow farmers. It never ceases to amaze me how despite differences in crops all farmers and ranchers are very similar. I promise you I will never take another strawberry, avocado, leaf of lettuce, raspberry or any one of the more than one hundred crops grown around Los Angeles for granted. I got to see some of my very favorite foods in their most basic forms.
I marveled at the determination and ingenuity of the farmers we met. More than anywhere I had ever been they had to reinvent themselves and their farming operations every few years. I came away believing more than ever that farming in a way of life, because the farmers we met were still farming because they loved what they were doing. The stories I heard both gave me hope and a warning to heed.
First the warning, California farmers and ranchers face an overwhelming amount of public scrutiny. Everything they do is being watched by hundreds, if not thousands of eyes. Many, if not most, of the observers have no knowledge of agriculture and no shortage of opinions. All of these observations and opinions lead to regulations. The regulations and oversight provided by the bureaucrats in charge of them can be quite smothering.
Every drop of water, pesticide, piece of equipment, employee and plant is heavily scrutinized. Fields and facilities are regularly inspected, records are audited and red tape is regularly and liberally applied. All of this attention accepted and recognized as just part of the cost of doing business and staying in the line of work they love. Even though the price they pay for complying with this over regulation is staggering.
Then there is the problem of urban sprawl and the competition for acres. The cost of land is astronomical and along with it land rent. The encroachment of people into agriculture lands also mean that work has to be done differently and much more attention must be spent on public relations. Issues of dust, traffic, zoning and crop theft must be addressed daily.
Get the picture, California farmers and ranchers are pressured by government oversight and regulations. They are squeezed by population growth and burdened by the high cost of doing business. All of that and we have not even touched the labor issue. That will be saved for another day, but I promise I came away with a whole new take on that topic. Even with all of this I saw hope for the future.
Each of the farmers we visited spoke to us with the passion and conviction that all agriculture producers share. They love the life they have chosen and each had hope that the next generation would also be able to farm. They had a belief in the future of agriculture, even given the immense challenges they faced. They had adapted by finding higher valued crops, fine tuning their production practices and learning the importance of working and educating their neighbors.
The farmers and ranchers of California did what all of us will do in the future. We will look for new ways to produce the food America and the world need. They utilized the technology at hand and produce more food with fewer acres and less inputs. They are some of the most flexible and innovative people I have ever met. However, there is one area I think we need to learn from.
We must continue to share what we do with the public. Education must be our top priority. It is no longer enough to assume that everyone supports agriculture and we can continue to conduct business like we always have because of that trust. All of us in agriculture must stick up for ourselves, work on providing truthful, factual information and tell our story.
I enjoyed my visit to sunny Southern California, but I probably enjoyed coming home to the Flint Hills of Kansas even more. One thing I have always known, but this trip brought even closer to home. As farmers and ranchers, we all have challenges. Each region and its crops have their own set of challenges, but in the end we wouldn’t trade our farms or ranches for anything else in this world.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Frankendeer and GMOs

I am annoyed; no I am down-right mad. This week I got my Outdoor Life in the mail. This is normally a happy occurrence, I spend a couple of hours gleaning important hunting and fishing tips. It is the only magazine I read purely for entertainment. I have had a subscription to this magazine since I was a teenager. However, I found one article anything but entertaining.
The article that set me off was pondering the idea that deer were somehow mutating into “frankendeer” because they consume gmo crops. The idea was that because the genes in the crops were changed and the deer ate the genetically modified crops they would become genetically modified themselves. The author speculated that maybe those gmo crops were not safe for our consumption either.
He did seek out a couple of experts on the subject and both stated that there was absolutely no evidence that gmo crops posed any risk to anyone’s or anything’s health. In fact one of the experts went on to say that wild animals like deer and turkeys were actually good proof that gmo crops posed no risk. He stated that crops like corn and soybeans make up a great deal of their diet and the majority of those crops are gmo. Many generations of deer and turkeys have consumed gmo crops without altering their genetics.
I also saw a couple of posts on Facebook and Twitter this week purporting that somehow Monsanto was bypassing USDA and FDA testing. Because of this the posts proclaimed that dangerous products in the form of gmo crops were being rushed to the market. Readers were urged to take action and call their congressional representatives to stop Monsanto from taking alleged shortcuts.
I am not upset with my friends who posted the links. They are well-meaning people who have been given bad information and only want to make sure that their family eats healthy foods. I am mad at the anti-agriculture groups who are putting out misinformation and scaring consumers. I am not sure of their motivation but I would guess that the donations they request have something to do with it.
I have visited Monsanto’s campus and I can tell you without a doubt in my mind that the gmo seeds we plant pose no health risk. They have gone many, many years of rigorous testing. The gmo crops we plant are the result of a long arduous process and represent many years of hard work by a legion of scientists and plant breeders. The safety of gmo crops to both the consumer and the environment is not taken lightly by those who developed this technology. I know this because I have met them.
The most maddening, to me, is the complete disregard by those who lobby against gmo crops for the need to feed the world’s population. The fact is that the world’s population is growing at such a rate that our only hope of feeding them is to continue to develop technology like gmo crops. As farmers we are continually squeezed as more and more farmland is developed. We must do more with less. Starvation is a very real risk in many parts of this world.
So we are confronted with anti-gmo rhetoric in all we do. It seeps into our entertainment and many well-meaning people are swept up by the false information and sensationalized nonsense. What should we do as Ag producers?
We need to make sure that we tell the people around us just how important gmo crops are to us. They allow us to produce more food, all the while using fewer resources and protecting the environment. Do we need to use this technology wisely? Absolutely, we need to make sure that we do not overuse or abuse it. We need to work toward an integrated weed management plan that will protect our ability to use this important tool.
GMO crops are one of the most important technological breakthroughs for agriculture, or the world for that matter. It is a win-win technology that will help us produce the food and fiber the world needs. I don’t know much, but I do know one thing without a doubt. Because Monsanto developed gmo crops, I can be a proud producer of the food we all need and I will tell everyone I know.