Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ethanol is Good

I am proud to be a farmer for many reasons; one of those reasons is because the corn I grow goes into ethanol. I have used gas blended with ethanol for many years in my vehicles and have never experienced any problems with them because of my choice of fuel. I also believe one of the greatest threats to our national security is our dependence on fuel from abroad.  I truly think we need to be developing other fuel sources so we can someday move on to a renewable fuel source, I also recognize such technology is many, many years away.
That means we will be reliant on fossil fuels for the majority of our supply, so I also think it is good that we do support ethanol.  It lessens our dependence on something we cannot control and supports our farmers at the same time, to me that is a win/ win. That is why I bristled last week when I saw a report from the AP on the dangers ethanol posed to the environment. The contention was that run off and fertilizer from increased corn production had found its way into the Gulf of Mexico and was now affecting the fisheries. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big seafood fan and anything that affects the shrimp population is a problem in my mind.
Fertilizer run off is a problem, but I really don’t think the finger should be pointed at farmers growing corn for ethanol. Those of us that grow corn value fertilizer like gold (which also seems to be the standard it is priced on) and we work very hard to minimize the amount that does leave the field. Because fertilizer is valued like gold we also soil test and only apply the amounts needed. Those who are sloppy with their fertilizer and lose most of it are soon out of business.
We have also worked very diligently on soil conservation putting in terraces, waterways and buffer strips to keep run off out of our streams and rivers. The amount of sediment leaving most fields is very, very small. Conservation measures are often mandated especially when land leaves a conservation program like CRP. That was the reporter’s next point against ethanol. Too many acres of conservation lands have been plowed under and planted to corn.
We all know that the Conservation Reserve Program was very successful in removing marginal (and some not so marginal acres from production). We also all know that this program was one that suffered greatly due to budget cuts. Many acres were not accepted back into the program or if they were it was at lower rates that made farming them more attractive.
I am a big proponent of grasslands and I must admit I cringe every time I see one of these CRP fields plowed up. I am also a proponent of making a living and if those acres are more profitable as fields of corn then so be it. If your argument against ethanol is the conversion of CRP into farmland then your real problem is with where we spend the money, i.e. conservation programs versus ethanol subsidies. On a related note, any CRP acres have had conservation measures already applied to them and therefore have lessened any run off or erosion.
We can debate the subsidies on ethanol all day. However, I really do not think ethanol or the corn used to produce it should be blamed for the problems in the Gulf. If we do have a problem with fertilizer run off in the Gulf I would probably start with looking at run off in urban areas. Many times I drive through towns and housing developments and see water running down the street and into the gutters. This run off is coming off of very green and highly fertilized lawns. My guess is that they are fertilized at a much higher level than our corn fields.
I am convinced that ethanol is both good for our environment and for our national security. I do think we need to look into the problems in the Gulf and work toward finding a solution. But let’s make sure we know where the problem is. In my mind our support of ethanol comes down to choice to lessen our dependence on foreign oil and supporting our farmers. To me that is an easy choice.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Sgt. 1st Class Forrest Robertson, Hero

It is easy to watch the news and get lulled into thinking that it is a long way away and doesn’t involve our world. We see pictures and footage from the wars and somehow it does not seem real. We hear about the casualties of war, we see their pictures, we hear their names and yet it all seems so distant and surreal. Sure I guess I had thought about soldiers losing their lives fighting our war against terrorism but it had never hit close to home, until Sunday.
A northeast Kansas man was killed Sunday in Afghanistan when his patrol came under fire. That man was Sgt 1st Class Forrest W. Robertson of Westmoreland. I had met Forrest a couple of times but I did not know him as well as I should have. Forrest was a true patriot and he made the ultimate sacrifice for each and every one of us, please never, ever loses sight of that. Sgt. Robertson died protecting us; we are safer each day because of what he did.
It hit hard when I heard the news. His parents are neighbors and friends. Each Sunday I sit in the same church with his mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law and each Sunday we prayed for his safety. I saw his three daughters when they came to visit Grandma and Great-Grandma. I know his wife Marcie and I know she bravely kept life as normal as she could at home when he was deployed. Sgt. Robertson was not just a name on a page or a picture on the news; he was someone I had shaken hands with.
We all wonder how brave we are. We would like to think we would sacrifice ourselves for our fellow man, but most of us are never really sure. Forrest volunteered to protect us; he served five deployments and was just days away from coming home. Sgt 1st Class Robertson not only risked his life for our safety but he continued put himself in harm’s way to protect us with his bravery.  We are safe because of brave men and women like him,
 A source I checked said that there had been 2,192 American fatalities in Afghanistan since the war started. That was a number I never truly understood until now. Each of them has a name, a face and a family. I am sure each death had an equal impact in their home community and most importantly the circle of family and friends around that soldier. We must remember and cherish each of them and honor their memories.
Sgt. 1st Class Robertson joins a long line of patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our great nation, they are the true heroes. We must remember that they gave of themselves and made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can enjoy the freedoms and the safety that we often take for granted. I promise you that I will never again take my freedom or my safety for granted.
I am humbled by men like Forrest. I can only hope that we will surround his wife, daughters and the rest of his family with comfort, prayers and help. He gave his all for us and the least we can do is to take care of them for him. We owe him and them a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid and it is up to us to try.
It seems only fitting that Veteran’s Day is coming up. I know that I will never look at the day in the same way again. I have always been grateful to those who served, especially those who served in a time of war. I cannot imagine the horrors they saw and the sacrifices they made. I would hope I could do that, but unlike them, I do not know. If you are one who served, or if one of your family was killed serving our country, words cannot express my thanks.
I thought I knew what the price of freedom was; now I know for sure what the price is. I am forever grateful for those who paid that price for me. I promise each morning I will step out my door, knowing that I am free because of brave men and women like Sgt 1st Class Forrest W. Robertson. God bless you Sgt Robertson.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Humility and Civility, Where Art Thou?

I have been wondering what has happened to society. It seems everyone is upset with something or someone, it seems like there is drama and controversy surrounding all facets of our lives. It seems like we cannot get away from upheaval and disharmony; it has seeped into schools, churches, sports teams, and most obviously our government. Did you ever wonder what was causing all of this uneasiness?
I have had a lot of windshield time this past month and it has given me time to think about all of this. I admit that I am as prone to being caught up in negative, whining as anyone so what I have to say is aimed as much or more at me as it is anyone else. I truly believe that the root of most of our discord in society is due to two things. First is the “me first” and “I have to get mine” attitude that almost all of us have succumbed to.
Increasingly it seems to me that we are becoming a nation of no matter what I have to do or say, I am going to get what I think I am entitled to. The idea of I don’t care who I have to run over or run down to get my way and to have things the way I want them seems to be the norm. Majority rule seems to be a thing of the past. It will either be the way we want it or we will throw a monkey wrench into the process and bring it to a halt. Need an example just look at congress.
OK, congress was an easy target, let’s think about this in our daily lives. Too often we think we have been wronged by someone and the only thing that will make it better is for them to either give in to us and do it our way or pay with their job. We have all heard it, said it, or thought it. My kid didn’t get to play enough, the coach is to blame, they have to go. The sermon made me uncomfortable, the pastor is out to get me.  Or even, I ordered onion rings and not fries, I want to see a manager, someone is going to pay for this.
We fail to see the bigger picture. Maybe the coach is trying to make your child better. That sermon that made you uncomfortable, might just be something you needed to hear. Are fries instead of onion rings really that big of a deal? Your server may have other things on their mind, they might have just made a mistake. Either way I would guess you have been guilty of making mistakes at work too. Show some compassion for those around you, put yourself in their shoes and realize that in some cases the thing you want has to go by the wayside for the greater good of those around you.
This brings me to my second thought about society. Where has the civility gone? Why have we become so confrontational. Not only does it have to be my way, I have to tell you about it in an abrasive, in-your -face manner. Often our first course of action is to pound our fist and loudly state our point of view. We want everyone to know we have been wronged.
Let’s go back to our fries instead of onion rings example. How many times have we been in that restaurant and heard the obnoxious customer (because we would never be that person)? What has become of kindly asking your server about the mistake, with a soft voice and an understanding smile.  My guess is that, in most cases, the problem would be solved and lessons would be learned and our lives as well as the lives of those around us would be more pleasant. Of course this is a pretty simple example, but I am sure it applies in many more complex scenarios also (see congress).
While I have done much thinking on these matters, I have yet to come up with much of a solution. Should manners and civility be taught in school? Probably, but I am sure some parent would have to go to the school board to complain. Should it be talked about from the pulpit? Most definitely, but there again the pastor would probably ruffle some feathers and we can’t have that, after all, Jesus didn’t ruffle anyone’s feathers.
Actually, the only solution I came up with is a simple one and it starts at a more personal level with that mixed up order at the fast food restaurant. I often tell my children that the only person you control is yourself. You have a choice each day of how you will treat the people around you. Maybe if we all made more of an effort to put others first and conduct ourselves with civility it would spread through society. It’s worth a try.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

GMO Crops Make Me Tired

I am tired, so tired I can barely move or think. But don’t worry, I know exactly what is causing my tiredness. It is because of gmo crops. Yes, gmo crops are making me tired, specifically the gmo crops I grow. I am sure that gmo corn and soybeans are making me very tired. On top of being tired, nearly every joint in my body aches and my back hurts.
OK, before you start sending me gmo free recipes and places to buy gmo free foods, I should, in the words of the late, great Paul Harvey, tell you the rest of the story. My gmo crops are making me tired because we have been blessed with a good crop this year and harvest has worn on much longer than the previous, poor harvests. Earlier this evening I thought I saw the light at the end of the harvest tunnel, then I realized it was just Dad and the combine coming in to dump more grain on the truck.
Our corn received good, timely rains and favorable temperatures at the right time and we are harvesting some of the best corn we have ever grown. The soybeans are even more of a testament to gmo advances. They did not have such favorable growing conditions and still produced an above average crop. They enjoyed the same cool, wet weather the corn did, but at the most critical times for them to be blooming, setting pods on and filling those pods, the weather turned very, very hot.
That is why it is so puzzling to me when I read things like a recent column in the New York Times (and why wouldn’t we go to the New York Times for our opinions on agriculture) on gmo crops. The author asserted that anyone who would grow gmo crops was just a shill for industrial agriculture. The writer went on to promote an agriculture system with very small farms growing a great diversity of non-gmo crops. The theory being that this type of agriculture would more easily feed a growing world population while better protecting both our food supply and environment.
This theory couldn’t be any more wrong. The truth of the matter is that we need gmo crops to feed our growing world population. In fact, we need improvements in technology to meet the growing demand for food. Basically the idea was that we would be better off if we reverted back to the agriculture of yesteryear. We cannot go backwards and expect to meet the growing demand.
The columnist also shared his thought that farmers who use gmo crops just mindlessly dump the seed into our planters. According to this “expert” we are just lemmings and do what is easy and will make us the most money. We are creating a wasteland and putting our food supply in jeopardy.  He also shared the opinion that we were creating a monoculture and putting our environment in peril.
As I sat in my truck, dusty, dirty and tired, I wondered how he missed the boat so badly. Obviously he had never spent time on any kind of a farm. Otherwise he would have known the amount of work that goes into each crop, not matter what kind of cropping system you use. We spend hours looking over the genetic traits of the seed we buy and we match them to the fields they will be planted in. Many hours are spent scouting the fields identifying pests and weeds. As far as the greed accusation, last I checked my bank account I was not getting rich.
This would be yet another example of someone who does not have to worry about where their next meal is coming from and someone who does not have to worry about how they will pay for their food. I suspect he is someone with good intentions and bad information. I am almost sure he probably has never set foot on a farm or spent time with anyone who is a proponent of gmo crops. His ideas are formed in theory and not fact.
The scary thing is that this writer represents many of our customers. They do not understand gmo crops and therefore gmo crops must be unhealthy and bad for the environment. We all know that this is not true, and we must work to get the truth and the facts out. On second thought maybe it isn’t my gmo crops that are making me tired, it must be the gmo critics.