Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Planter Stops for No Cat

Planting season is going full steam ahead right now and nothing, I mean nothing, gets in the way of progress when it comes to planting. Oh I have known that for most of my life but every once in a while you have a moment that drives a point home.  Last week was one of those moments.
So there I was driving down the highway right away, on an ATV with the recently, tragically departed gray tomcat on the back. At that moment I both worried that passing motorists would see me and wonder why I had a dead cat riding shotgun and just how the aforementioned feline had become deceased. My need to keep the planter in the field probably had clouded my better judgment.
Please, don’t get the wrong idea, I had nothing to do with the tragic end that they gray tomcat came to, I just happened to find the body. Maybe I need to tell the story from the start. The day started sunny and warm, soybean planting was progressing nicely. Dad and I paused briefly to eat lunch and our conversation included the failing health of the gray tomcat (in retrospect that does seem to be very unusual lunch discussion). Based on his symptoms we both came to the conclusion that he just did not “seem right “ (I am sure that is a medical term).
Now we will fast forward to late afternoon. I had brought seed to Dad and while I was loading seed he noticed that one of the depth wheels on the planter was missing. We conducted a quick search but did not find the wheel in the thick covering of corn residue. The planter seemed to be working OK without it, but it needed to be found.  We decided that he would finish the field and I would go back to his house, get his ATV and conduct a search for the missing part.
I rushed back to the house and made my way to the machine shed where the ATV was parked. That was where I found the gray tomcat. He had indeed had not “seemed right” a medical diagnosis that now proved to be fatal. He had died what appeared to be a peaceful, yet unattended death under the ATV. I did not have time to grieve, ponder the untimely death or dispose of the body. After all, Dad, the planter and the progress of the 2013 soybean crop depended on me.
Not knowing what to do I placed the earthly remains of the gray tomcat on the back rack of the ATV and sped off down the road toward the field. When I entered the field, Dad stopped the tractor to help direct the search and rescue mission for the missing part. I saw him cast a puzzled look at my cargo and I broke the news about his cat to him. Like most farmers he kept a stiff upper lip and told me where I might look. That search took me right along the highway.
So there I was along the highway, on an ATV, dead cat in tow. The tragic events of the day had to be pushed aside, the show had to go on. However, all of this made me feel a bit self conscious and that is why I turned around to check on my cargo. It was gone, apparently the rough nature of the field was not conducive to a short funeral procession.
My search and rescue for the part had now become a search and rescue for both a depth wheel and a dead cat. This mission would prove to be both a success and a failure. I did locate the recently deceased cat a short distance from where I entered the field. The body was then properly disposed of before the search for the depth wheel was continued. The search for the depth wheel was a failure. I looked for it and Dad joined in after finishing the field but to no avail. We were sidelined for the rest of the day.
The next morning the depth wheel was replaced and soybean planting was resumed. The gray tomcat was not replaced and that position on the farm is open. A search for a replacement will be conducted at some point, but applicants need not to apply at this time. After all, it will have to be after the soybeans are planted.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Hardest Spring Ever (at least this year)

I don’t know what it is, maybe it is age, or maybe things do get harder each year (blame it on climate change, the sequestration, partisan politics or the designated hitter) especially in the spring. This year I was more relieved than ever to get the cows out to grass. The rain was very welcome and the ponds and grass look far better than I thought they would at this point. It will take me at least a year to complain about rain and moisture, but this was a hard couple of weeks.  
That is why I lingered and watched for just a little while as the last couple of cows stepped off of the trailer and stuck their heads straight down into the grass. To be honest, I think they were just as relieved as I was. Very few things in this world are as satisfying, to me, as soaking up the warm sunshine on a spring day and watching the cows graze new grass.
The other thing I find relaxing this time of the year is to get back to our working facility and just enjoy the silence. Just an hour or so ago, this same location was a bustling place with cows and calves. It was so loud that phone calls were either missed because we didn’t hear the ring or intentionally missed because we couldn’t have heard anything anyway. Now it is just complete silence, except for maybe the birds chirping or the wind rustling.
I enjoy that first morning after the cows go to grass realizing that there is no hay to feed or cows to worry about getting out (well not for a while at least). Sure there is the picking up, putting up and cleaning up that goes along with being done working cattle, but even that seems to be at a slower more relaxing pace. Well, most years.
This year was a little different because we still had to finish planting corn. That was another product of the wet, cool April. Again, I am not going to complain about cool springs and especially wet weather. But it did give us a greater sense of urgency to try to get closer to being “caught up”. That too passed, a couple of good days and we had the rest of the corn in the ground and life was good.
It is funny how each year is different but somehow things are really the same each year. We stress about getting the cows to grass, and it seems that each year has some sort of obstacle we have to overcome. Maybe it is running short of hay or it is the weather, but there is always a sense of urgency both in the days leading up to working cows and the days we actually haul them to summer grass. Yet, each year the cows end up on pasture despite the challenges.
Planting crops is no different. Each year has its problems. It might be too much rain (that would be nice), too little rain, the temperature isn’t right or any one of a million other things that can and do go wrong. Again, we worry and stress over them, and in the end, the crop gets planted each year. It would seem that the worrying did nothing but occupy the hours we could have been sleeping and gray our hair even more.
Why do we worry? I am not at all sure; I guess it is just what we do. What I do know is that as I watch the cows stick their heads into the grass and munch away or as I look down the freshly planted rows of corn, it was all worth it. This time of the year reminds me of how lucky I am. I live in the best place on earth doing a job that I find satisfying. Life does not get any better.
But that moment is fleeting as reality again sets in. The soybeans need planted and it is supposed to rain for the next three days. A quick check of the weather shows that the rain chances have decreased. What if the rain knocks us out of the field for a few more days? Or worse yet, what if it doesn’t rain anymore this year?  So much to worry about and so little time.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Perception is a Two Way Street

This past week I attended a professional conference for my job as the Executive Director for the Wamego Community Foundation and the Kansas Rural Communities Foundation. It was a great conference and I learned a lot, but it did stretch my comfort zone just a bit. It was not so much the information I learned that stretched me, but some of the people I met.
One day at lunch I found myself seated across from a lady from California who proclaimed herself a vegetarian. I braced myself for an uncomfortable conversation and meal. One interesting thing I did learn from her was that apparently salmon is a vegetable, because she did admit to eating it occasionally. So there I sat, across from a vegetarian from California, my ag advocacy training was going to be put to the test.
One of the other people at the table asked her about her choice to be a vegetarian was it for health reasons or something more moral. Her answer shocked me; it certainly was not what I expected. She stated that she had nothing against eating meat or the people who raised it, she just like vegetables and fruits. She went on to say that she was an avid gardener with a large garden and hated to see anything go to waste. Apparently the garden produced enough food to meet most of her needs and she had grown accustom to not eating meat.
As lunch went along we all continued to make small talk and eventually the conversation turned my way. I explained that I was a part-time Executive Director and my full-time job was as a rancher in the Flint Hills of Kansas. I explained that I was the fifth generation in my family to farm and ranch and that some of our farm had been in our family since the 1800’s. While my colleague for California did not ask any questions about my agricultural pursuits, she also did not seem upset by them. This was a far cry from what I thought would happen.
Later on during the conference I met another “aggie” who was very relieved to find someone else from rural America. However, she was very concerned that among the attendees of this conference on fund raising were representatives from the Humane Society. I too was concerned and again put my ag advocacy cap on and decided to learn more.
The representatives from the Humane Society turned out to be representatives from the Kansas Humane Society in Wichita. This was a major relief, the Kansas Humane Society in Wichita is a cat and dog shelter, their mission is to reduce the number of homeless cats and dogs. In fact, in their mission statement they assert that they are in no way associated with or funded by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). They are fulfilling the needed work with pets that many falsely associate with HSUS.
I did not see my fellow agricultural enthusiast to let her know that the Humane Society representatives present were actually the good guys. Both of these encounters got me to thinking. I truly believe in being an advocate for agriculture and telling our story whenever possible and telling it to everyone. However, there are times that we must also take a step back, not be defensive and listen.
Too often I think we have this idea that all of society is out to get us; we look for opposition at every turn. It is true that the anti-agriculture and especially the anti-animal agriculture movements are growing (or at least getting louder), but many people are at least accepting if not supportive of farmers and ranchers. That is why we need to not get defensive, go on the offensive too soon and stay positive with our message.
Did I have a positive effect on the vegetarian from California? I don’t know, but I would like to think I did. I hope that she went back home with the thought that Flint Hills Ranchers are nice people. Were the Humane Society of Kansas people supporters of animal agriculture? I don’t know, but I do know that confronting them like they were against us would have had a negative effect. I do know that they serve a needed role in Wichita and seem to be doing good things to help curb the pet population.
We need to make sure that we continue to tell our story about how much we care for the land, how we go the extra mile to produce safe food and to let everyone know the pride we take in what we do. However, we must also take an extra second to find out where the person sitting across from us is coming from. Communication is truly a two way street.

Friday, May 10, 2013

3 Myths You Should Never Fall For When It Comes To Food

I should know better, by now you would think stuff like this wouldn’t get to me. Well, I was wrong. Last week I noticed a couple of my friends had posted a link to an article on Facebook. The article was titled “14 Foods You Should Never Eat”. I knew it would get my hackles up, but I read it anyway. No matter how mad misinformation makes me, it is important to know what is being said.
Most of the misinformation in this article came from the same tired, unsubstantiated rumors and falsehoods put forward by anti-agriculture groups and hacks interested in selling books and making TV appearances. Strong language, yes, but if you mislead the public and cause hysteria, you should be put in your place. So what were some of these myths that set me off?
One of the” things we should all know” is how dangerous nonorganic strawberries are. Robert Kenner, director of Food Inc. (and don’t even get me started on that piece of fiction), cited seeing workers in haz mat suits spraying strawberries as the reason to go organic. He also referred to analysis preformed by the Environmental Working Group (another anti-ag group with agendas), stating that 13 different pesticides had been found on nonorganic strawberries.
First, let me say that recently I had an opportunity to visit several strawberry farms, one organic and three nonorganic. I would feed my family strawberries from any of these farms. The growing of strawberries is a highly regulated business (the nonorganic producers are more regulated than organic producers) and I assure you all withdrawal times are adhered to, nonorganic strawberries are just as healthy and safe to eat as organic strawberries. The berries you buy in the grocery store are safe if you do one simple thing and that goes for organic or nonorganic. Wash them thoroughly before you eat them, period.  
The next “thing we should know about our food” was that today’s wheat was different from wheat in the past. That is complete rubbish. The article quoted Dr. William Davis, the author of the “Wheat Belly” (another “expert hawking another book). He said that wheat had been genetically manipulated and was nothing like the wheat from the 60’s and 70’s. In his “expert” opinion he stated that you could not change wheat and not have an effect on the people who consume it.
Yes, wheat yields have improved significantly in the past 40 and 50 years and that is a good thing. We are facing an ever growing world population and we must increase our production to stave of starvation for millions and millions of people. We achieve these increases in production through selective breeding programs, crossing certain lines of wheat with other lines of wheat. This allows us to select for hardier wheat, wheat with more protein and other desirable characteristics. However, at the end of the day, it is still wheat and you are consuming wheat identical to wheat consumed in the 60’s and 70’s.
The final “thing we should know about our food” that I am going to address is that industrial produced hamburgers are dangerous. For this little nugget the article quoted Michael Pollan, the author of several misleading and alarmist books (again which have made him very wealthy). Mr. Pollan said that cattle are raised in filthy conditions, pumped full of growth hormones and fed genetically modified grains. Therefore they have to be dangerous and grass-fed beef is healthier and safer.
Again, this is complete rubbish and misinformation. There is absolutely no credible research that genetically modified crops (and that is another one of the points I would like to address but can’t because I don’t have space) cause any health concerns either now or in the future. The beef you consume is raised in modern facilities utilizing the best in modern animal husbandry practices. The growth promotants they are given are tested and approved, given in proper dosages and withdrawal times are strictly adhered to. The beef you buy in the store is just as safe as the grass-fed beef Mr. Pollan was promoting. I will note that all beef and all meat must be handled, prepared and cooked properly to insure safety.
Yes, this article did make me mad. The “experts” they quoted were the same ones often seen making the rounds on talk shows causing hysteria, spreading myths and making money. We must make sure we are vigilant in standing up to these quacks and debunking the misinformation they are spreading. We all know we produce the safest, most wholesome food in the world, but it is also our job to make sure everyone else knows it too.

Friday, May 3, 2013

What I Know

There are events in the news that you cannot turn your eyes away from and last week was certainly one of those times. Between the bombing in Boston and the explosion in Texas I watched the news with a heavy heart, some fear and, in the case of the Boston bombings, disgust. Both of these tragedies grabbed my attention and my thoughts. The most prevailing thought I had was “why do things like this happen”.
The more I thought about why these horrific events happened the more I realized I did not know. The people killed in Boston Marathon were all innocent, the MIT policeman was doing his job and in Texas the firemen rushed in without a moment’s thought about their safety. In times like this I get comfort from thinking about the things I do know versus the questions that are unanswerable.
So here is what I know. I know that 99.99% of all of my fellow humans are good and decent. They simply want to live their lives, spend time with their friends and families and do what makes them happy. I truly believe that no matter our ethnicity, education, economic status, occupation or age; most of us are the same at our core.
I also know that people who are good at their core can do very bad things. I know that temptation and evil are all around us. We are all tempted, but fortunately most of us never give in to that temptation, why good people do bad deeds and why bad things happen to good people are two questions I do not even try to answer.
I know that the only religion I really know is Christianity, but I know enough about the other main stream religions to know that none of them preach hate and violence. I know that anyone who teaches hate and violence as part of their religion is not practicing that religion. The one thing I know for sure is that my faith tells me to love my neighbor and that is the farthest thing from hate and violence.
I also know that in the coming weeks and months we will analyze both of these events to death, we will listen to experts give their opinions. In the end we will not really know why either of these events happened. Oh sure, we might know how they happened, the timelines and the logistics but we will not truly understand why they happened.
However, I know that we will rise up from these events, more determined and with a new inspiration to make the world a better place. I marveled at the crowds in Boston singing the National Anthem and the show of support that came from every direction.
 Just this morning I saw an interview with the man who found the second terror suspect. His boat had been destroyed in the shootout and capture of the suspect. From what I understand that boat was his pride and joy. I have seen the efforts to raise money to buy him a new boat and the reporter asked him about the efforts.
His response was that he wanted the money to go to the victims of the bombing, many who had lost limbs. After all, he said, I just lost a boat. That is the core goodness that 99.99% of all of us possess. In times of crisis or need we are more worried about the other person than ourselves. There were many other similar stories of people coming to the rescue of the injured without a second thought of their own safety.
I know there will be stories like this that come out of the explosion in Texas. I am also sure that the town will pull itself up and rebuild with the help of many caring people. I do worry that the dramatic events in Boston have overshadowed what happened in Texas. However, I know that good people are doing what they can and will continue to care for those affected.
Finally, after all of the tragedy we all saw I know that we will come together and we will be stronger because of these events. I know these events will make us more vigilant and determined. Most of all, I know we are blessed beyond comprehension to live in this great nation, have the opportunities we all share and the freedoms we all cherish. That is what I know and that is why I focus on the known instead of the unknown.