Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Quickly, Ever Changing World of Agriculture

We rotated cows onto fresh pasture last week. It is sure more fun this year than last year. I feel incredibly blessed to have gotten the rainfall and the subsequent grass production. It is so much more fun to go out and see the cows belly deep or deeper in grass. Checking cows has once again become one of my favorite things to do.
Last year it was not nearly as much fun. The grass did not grow or stay ahead of the cows like we had hoped and planned on. Water had started to become an issue and to top it off the bull at my place did not want to stay home. Checking cows had gone from being one of my favorite things to do, to something I started to dread.
This year things are dramatically different. We are behind in rotating cows but it is because they are not putting a dent in it before it is time to move to the next pasture. The cows are sleek and fat and their calves are growing rapidly. To top it off, literally, the ponds are full and the creeks are running. That leaves only making sure the bull is home as the only stress this year.
This brings me rotating the cows last week. Jennifer and I pulled into the pasture with the idea of checking the herd and even moving the afore mentioned bovines if everything worked out perfectly. First things first, we needed to find the bull. Oh, to add to the drama we saw a lone, black bull making his way across the neighbor’s pasture. This put our bull radar on high alert.
 A quick run through the herd revealed all the cows, all the calves and no bull. Thinking that maybe we had just missed him among the mass of moving beef, we retraced our steps again. The second and third time through came with the same results, bull 77X was nowhere to be found. Our thoughts of moving cows and getting things done now seemed like a pipe dream and we started to think about the distasteful task of separating and returning the misplaced bovine.
The neighbor’s cows could be seen on a distant hill and we decided that I would make a scouting trip on foot to look the situation over. Jennifer decided that she would continue the search while waiting to hear from me. I departed the pickup, grumbling about the bull and wondering if his future was quarter pounders, hotdogs or jerky. Jennifer dropped me off near the fence and started back toward the herd.
I began to cross the fence and at the most critical point in that maneuver I noticed a set of ears sticking up above the grass just fifty yards away. I quickly and carefully reversed direction and made my way to the ears. Sure enough bull 77X was lying in the bottom of the terrace channel, eyes half closed, chewing his cud. He seemed blissfully unaware that a search was being conducted and future plans were being made for him.
My concerns quickly changed from finding a retrieving the bull to figuring out what might be wrong with him. Was he crippled or maybe sick? All of these thoughts crowded into my head, I really did not want to have to buy another bull at this point in the pasture season. We had had rotten luck with bulls this breeding season and this was just going to add to the misery.
However, as I approached said bull, he stood up, stretched and began to amble over to the herd, which was about seventy-five yards away. He looked back at me with a mixture of boredom, skepticism and disdain. Clearly he did not share my concern and worry about his health and well-being, instead he seemed almost grumpy about having his alone time and nap disturbed.
In the meantime, Jennifer started back to me with the pickup and the cows started to follow her. Sensing that this might be the opportunity we had been seeking to move the cows, she reversed her course and headed for the gate. Out the gate Jennifer went, a well trained herd of cows eager to be rotated to fresh grass in tow and the bull and I bringing up the rear.
In just a few minutes our evening had went from hopeful, to fearful, and finally to productive. I am happy to report that this story has a happy ending with cows on new lush pasture, a healthy bull in the right place and a mission accomplished. It is amazing just how fast things change in the wonderful world of beef production.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

What Ever It Takes

It is amazing how rain can change one’s outlook on life. Right now we are mowing some of the best brome hay we have ever baled and the grass in the pastures is really growing. It is really easy to get excited about the prospects for this upcoming harvest. Well, it would be if we hadn’t had a couple of drought years ahead of this spring. I still watch the long range forecast with great apprehension, knowing this welcome rainfall could shut off at anytime.

I also hesitate to discuss rainfall because so many of my friends in other places south and west of me are still mired in drought conditions. They have endured several more years of it and the situation is becoming even more desperate. Just this week a good friend of mine from New Mexico posted online that he and his father had a conversation about the financial toll. He stated that his father said that he did not have any more money to put into saving the ranch. My friend said that he did not have any more money either, but would figure something out.
He went on to say that he debated posting this but thought it was important to show everyone the level of dedication and passion he and his fellow producers shared. I want to share the following quote from that post. “Bottom line, I will (save the ranch). Because those of us in ag will do WHAT EVER IT TAKES to hold on. We will do whatever it takes to feed the world. You may not agree with our "methods" (organic/non organic) but you DANG sure should never question our motive!!!” I read those words and lay awake in bed that night, thinking about my friend, his family and his ranch.
My friend is a good man; he is hard working and God fearing. He, his father and every generation before them have put gallons of blood, sweat and tears into building what they have. They have endured hard times before and come out stronger on the other side, and if I were a betting man I would say that is what they will do this time around also. But this is one of the most serious threats they have faced with no end in sight. It is a very real possibility that the drought may outlast them and generations of work will be gone. My heart aches for my friend and his family.
Many people outside of agriculture might wonder, why not leave it? Cash in, find a more stable income, get weekends and holidays off, a guaranteed retirement, and most of all less stress. The answer is a simple one and one that few people outside of the fraternity of farmers and ranchers understand. Our farms and ranches are more than a business, they are more than an investment and they are more than land, buildings, machinery and livestock. 
I have never seen my friend’s ranch. We met through Farm Bureau and spent many evenings after meetings talking about our places. While I have never been to his ranch I can picture it because of the stories he has told me. His passion and love of the land he calls home come through the minute you meet him. In that aspect he is no different than any other farmer or rancher I have ever met. Our passion, vocation and heritage are all rolled into one.
I cannot imagine what he is going through. I am the fifth generation on our farm; I know I feel a sense of responsibility to the generations who came before me and an obligation to the generations to come. I know my friend feels the same about his ranch. This is what I wish  those who question the motives of farmers and ranchers could meet my friend. I do not think they can comprehend the level of personal investment each of us have in what we do. Each of us feels a sense of pride about who we are and what we do.
All I can do is pray that the weather patterns will change and my friend will get the rain he needs so desperately. Offer a shoulder to lean on an ear to talk to.  I can also make sure that his story is told and his passion for agriculture is shared. While I am not sure when it will rain again in New Mexico, I am sure my friend will still be there to see the ranch green up.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Let the Kid's Play

Leave it to adults to mess up a good, fun kid’s activity. What activity am I talking about? Take your pick; sports, livestock shows, music competitions; I have even seen it in peddle pull contests. We adults go way beyond coaching, supporting and chaperoning and take over. We have to get involved and take all of the fun out of it.
We treat each game like it is the final game of the World Series and we view our kids as the next Michael Jordan. Often adults stand to the side of a youth event and argue and complain about either the coaching, the umpiring or, in the worst cases, the other youth. Instead of doing what we should and that is being encouraging, supportive, responsible adults encouraging the kids and enjoying the moment. Please don’t think I am absolving myself of any of this, I am as guilty as anyone of being that overzealous parent.
I have seen all of this from three unique perspectives, as paid staff/a volunteer coach, as an official/judge and an involved (and at times over involved) parent. My wish for everyone is that they could see the world of youth activities from each of these vantage points. I promise it will change the way you view youth activities. Let me share with you some observations I have made.
 Youth become involved in activities for one of three reasons; 1) they enjoy the activity, 2) their friends are involved in the activity, and 3) we parents push them to become involved in said activity. I hope if your kids stay involved in anything it is a combination of the first two reasons and not the third. It is OK to push your kids to try different sports and activities, but we parents must recognize that our kids may not have the same talents and interests as we do. It is hard to admit that something we enjoy just may not be something our kids like.
Sports are a recreational activity; recreational activities are something we do for fun. Please don’t take the fun out of sports. One thing I have told my kids is that when a sport ceases to be fun, it needs to cease. I am all for learning how to play the game, learning the fundamentals and finer points and most of all to have an appreciation for the sport, all o f this makes the game more enjoyable. As parents and coaches we need to make sure it is still fun.
Kids look to their parents and coaches as role models and they will follow our lead. I know, this is not exactly an earth shattering observation but it is one we need to be reminded of. Our ethics and sportsmanship directly influence the youth around us. We need to promote the idea of honesty and fair play above all else. This has even greater implications in the livestock show ring where our actions and our children’s actions can directly influence our livelihoods.
The idea of being a good teammate and team first has eroded through the years. I suppose we can thank professional athletics for this. The focus on the super star and winning above loyalty has made their way down into youth sports. There needs to be a level of dedication to the team and to the team’s success above one’s personal achievement. We seem to value a me first, look at me, take care of yourself at all costs mindset. It seems to me that we lose a lot when there is no loyalty to a team or teammates.
Finally, there is far more good in youth sports and activities than bad. I look back at my experiences in sports, 4-H and FFA fondly. I learned a lot in those activities that have benefited me as an adult. I hope when my children are adults they will look back at their involvement the same way. I also know that I enjoy watching my children participate far more than I enjoyed my own participation. There lies the danger.
We must take a long, hard look at ourselves in the mirror and ask if we are doing all of this for the right reason and in the right way. If we falter in any way with our answer then we must take a step back. Finally, please remember, as a responsible adult, to put the focus on positive development and keep fun as a focus in all youth events at all times. If we do that, true success will follow.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

We Need GMOs

Quite often the evening national news makes me grumpy, many evenings I avoid watching it. Instead I prefer to watch the local news; my blood pressure remains much lower that way. However, this past weekend I watched a news story on a local station that got my blood boiling (boiling blood is not good for blood pressure).
The story was about protests over genetically modified organisms, specifically crops, and along with them Monsanto. This event was part of a national effort; I am not sure what triggered this misguided rage directed toward crops and a successful company. What I do know is that this movement is driven by anti-agriculture groups with agendas, bad information and outright lies. That makes me mad.
The reporter was covering a protest in Wichita, camera shots showed signs vilifying the evil Monsanto and their dangerous engineered crops. One of the protesters was interviewed. He was a scraggily looking activist type. He spouted off the usual anti-gmo rhetoric about health problems and damage to the ecosystem theorized to be ahead for us in the future. All in all though, he looked fairly healthy and well fed.
I suppose it is easy to protest a successful corporation who helps farmers produce more food, on fewer acres, with fewer inputs and protect our soil, air and water, if you are well fed and healthy. It is easier to find misinformation and propaganda on the internet if you do not have to spend most of your day either working for enough money to pay for your food or foraging for what you need.
Monsanto makes for an easy target; they are a faceless, huge corporation. We live in a day and age when corporations are thought to be evil empires. More and more I see us (little guys) versus them (large corporations). The theory being, if they are successful and make money they must be doing something shady. I do not work for Monsanto, all I know is that every Monsanto employee I have met are good, hardworking people and Monsanto’s products help me be more productive. Most of all I support their right to be successful and make money that is what this country is built on.
We must dramatically improve and increase our food output in the coming years to meet the demands of a growing world population. This increase in production can only happen if we adopt new technology and farming practices. Those new practices and products are developed in two different ways. One being through university and public research and with a lack of funding this area is getting squeezed pretty hard. The other method is private companies, like Monsanto, developing technology, like gmo crops. Both routes are very important and necessary to those of us in production agriculture.
So back to the protestors, I watched the interview on TV. and read some of the articles on-line. All of them were the same unsubstantiated research, theories, sensational stories, misguided propaganda that has been thrown at the public time after time. I guess if you throw it at the wall long enough some of it will stick, whether it is true or not. I challenge anyone to provide a peer reviewed, credible source, one without a hidden agenda stating that gmo crops are dangerous.
There has never, ever been any evidence or findings that find gmo crops to pose any kind of a risk, especially to our health. I do know that hunger, malnutrition and starvation are very real threats, faced by many each day. I feel that it is my responsibility as a farmer to do what I can and to use the technology available to me to produce as much food as I can. I also feel that it is my duty to increase this production in a way that maintains and improves the land, air and water I rely on for my livelihood.
I realize that the protestors have the right to free speech and I support that right. I only wish that instead of taking the easy route of simply covering the protests, the reporter would have sought out credible experts on modern agricultural practices and gotten both sides of the story.
I guess that is what each of us in agriculture must do. We need to explain the need for gmo crops, talk about their safety and the good they do for the environment. We need to be able to educate the public about the benefits modern technology and what it allows us to do. We need to tell the truth about agriculture and counter the well-fed protestors.