Friday, December 26, 2014

Horse, you were a good tractor

Last Monday was a dark day for our farm. We are in a time of mourning and wearing black. OK before I go too far overboard, I am not mourning a person, or even a living thing. No, at about 12:30 on Monday afternoon, my tractor died. It was a quick and merciful death, a quick autopsy revealed a fist sized hole in the side of the engine. It was a shock none-the-less.
My tractor was a 1978 IHC 886. It was one of the first major purchases Jennifer and I made for our farm. Dad bought it on an auction for me. It served us well over the last 15 years. The old machine had mowed almost all of our hay, drilled nearly all of our wheat and faithfully started, even on the coldest of mornings during the winter to feed cows. When we bought it Jennifer had wanted another horse and she had forever been christened it with the name Horse. Horse was a good tractor.
I know, it was just a tractor and a worn out, old one to boot. So why am I so upset by its loss. Well, for one it was a financial loss. However, thirty-six year old tractors do not represent a great financial loss. It’s not like it can’t be replaced. Implement dealer lots are filled with ragged, rusted, over-the-hill tractors and the salesmen are eager to pawn them off on the next sucker, I mean customer.
No, Horse represented much more than a worn out piece of equipment. I have always been fond of 886 International tractors, I know they have their design flaws and they are far from classic tractors but I guess I am not much of a classic and my design has flaws too. It is much more than an appreciation for engineering and toughness. I learned to drive a tractor with an 886 and some of my earliest best memories were 886 inspired.
When I was 7 or 8 Mom and Dad bought a new 886 tractor. It was one of the few pieces of equipment they ever bought new and it made a huge impression on me. The day Dad went to the dealership to buy his tractor I went along and bought my own new, International tractor (of course it was a much smaller scale with plastic wheels). I remember the day the tractor arrived and just how shiny and big it was. I thought it was just about the neatest thing ever.
As I got older, the tractor seemed to get smaller. It went from being our biggest workhorse tractor to the tractor we mowed hay with and did other smaller odd jobs. It also became the tractor Dad put me on to learn how to drive. I knew it was not a big tractor but it sure felt that way to a kid who was eager to drive. Then one day, I really can’t recall what year, Dad’s 886 met with a traumatic part failure and it too passed on to the great barnyard in the sky.
I maintained my appreciation for 886 International tractors. Jennifer and I moved back, bought our place and started farming and soon I was looking for a tractor. Thanksgiving weekend 1999 we found a farm sale with an 886 International tractor, low hours and in great shape. It was our year to go to the in-laws for Thanksgiving so Dad went to the auction for me and came home with Horse.
Like I mentioned earlier, Jennifer took awhile to warm up to Horse but when she did she really warmed up to Horse. OK, the truth is she almost burned Horse up that first winter. I guess it wasn’t her fault, a bare wire shorted out and filled the cab with smoke, nearly ending Horse’s life early. I think over the years she also gained an appreciation for the red and white fixture in our shed, though I doubt she would admit it.
I spent many hours in the well worn seat and I appreciated most of them. Sure there was a certain level of frustration once in a while. Monday was no different, I had just had some minor repairs done and was roading Horse from Dad’s house to mine for the winter feeding season when the tragic failure happened. Maybe we will fix it, but I doubt it is worth it. Eventually I will end my period of mourning and pick myself up and go tractor shopping but for now there is an empty place in my shed and in my heart, R.I.P Horse, you were a good one.

My Christmas Wish

I did it again. Each year I say that I am going to clear my calendar out between Thanksgiving and Christmas and just enjoy the season. I make plans to savor every moment and live life a little slower. Then reality hits and this time for reflection, worship and family becomes one of the most hectic times of the year with a packed calendar. I get caught up in all that is going on and soon I blink and look at the calendar and it is the week of Christmas.
I think Christmas is my favorite holiday of the year. It is the day we remember Jesus’ birth and that alone should make it one of our favorite days. Too often I think we lose sight of that and it is minimized in this time of political correctness. If you view Christmas as just another holiday and a reason to buy presents then that is your right and your perspective. However, to me, the day has a much deeper religious meaning and that is my right to celebrate Christmas.
I enjoy many other things about the Christmas Season. I must admit I really enjoy Christmas music. Yes, this is the only time of the year when you might catch my radio not being tuned to talk radio. I have heard many people Bah Humbug the all Christmas music stations. Not me, as soon as Thanksgiving is over (but not before) my radio dial is tuned to one of those stations and I will be singing along as I feed the cows (that might be why they go off of feed this time of the year).
I also enjoy all of the Christmas decorations and lights. Although I must admit that I do not like putting them up or taking them down. If it were not for my wife, I would be one of those people who would leave the lights up year round. I enjoy driving around and looking at the lights others have put up and one of our family traditions is to drive through the Christmas lights in Lemon Park in Pratt. If you have never been there, it is worth the drive.
Another one of my favorite things this time of the year is to either get up early or stay up after everyone else has gone to bed and admire the Christmas tree. I like to turn the lights on, get a hot cup of coffee and just sit and bask in the glow of the lights. There is something soothing about it. I do miss the smell of a live cedar tree and that would add to the experience, but allergies and the fear of a dried out tree necessitate a fake tree.
Of course there is always the food. You probably never would have guessed by looking at me that I enjoy food (a little more white in my beard and I could be Santa Claus). From the candies and cookies to the great meals hosted by friends and family, I just can’t help myself and often I add pounds to the memories from Christmas past.
However, the one thing that makes Christmas the best is being around friends and family. Each year right before or right after Christmas, I sit in my chair, with the Christmas tree lights on and read all of our Christmas cards at once. I really enjoy hearing from friends and reading about their lives. I know many make fun of Christmas letter, but I truly enjoy them.
Christmas cards and letters are great but they are not as good as seeing friends and family in person. When we gather during the holidays and visit, I often wonder why we do not get together more often. I know it is because we all lead such hectic lives with full calendars and I suppose it is a little sad that we need special occasions to find time to be with friends and family. That being said don’t sweat it and enjoy each moment during this Christmas season spent with those closest to you.
I know the clock is rapidly winding down on this Christmas season and I am sitting next to the tree, cup of coffee in hand as I write this column. My Christmas wish for you is that you take a moment to relax, reflect and remember what is most important to you during this busy time. Remember it isn’t about presents, shopping or anything commercial. Christmas is a time of worship, family and memories. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Thanks Steve!

This past week I spent a couple of days with several hundred of my closest friends at the Kansas Farm Bureau Annual Meeting. This is an event that I truly look forward to each year and this year was no different. If you walk down the halls during a break almost all of the conversations centered on crops, livestock or family, now that is my kind of crowd. Sure we had a lot of fun and rekindled old friendships but at the end of the day a lot of good work was also accomplished.
If it was not for farm organizations like Kansas Farm Bureau, some of the challenges facing agriculture would be too much for us as individual farmers and ranchers. During the two day conference we learned about and created policy for topics as far reaching as prairie chickens, water and farm data just to name a few. Increasingly our fates are in the hands of politicians, government officials and even our own customers, many of whom do not understand our business or how we go about it.
That is why it is important to become involved with any of our general farm organizations or specific commodity groups. I know it is hard to get away from the farm or ranch and take part in these meetings but it is just as important as the time spent behind the wheel of your tractor or feeding cows. Agriculture must have a seat at the table when issues directly affecting us are discussed and the only way to do that is for our organizations to be strong and the only way that happens is for each of us to become involved.
A great example of that involvement is Steve Baccus, former president of KFB, Ottawa County farmer and a great leader in the agriculture community. Steve retired as president at this meeting and was showered with accolades he richly deserved. His tenure at Kansas Farm Bureau saw our organization face some of its toughest challenges and in the end we came out tougher, stronger and better equipped to handle future challenges.
I am sure the easiest thing for Steve to do would have been to stay home, focus on his own farm and not get involved. I am glad he did not choose that path, I am not sure where we would have been without his leadership but I am thankful we did not have to find out. He has been the front man for Kansas agriculture for over a decade and served us well in that capacity. I think we would all be surprised if we knew the hours and the sacrifices he has made on behalf of the farming and ranching community.
 Personally, I am forever indebted to Steve. He trusted me with some of the most incredible leadership opportunities I have ever had but more importantly he was always there with encouragement and advice. Now when you ask Steve for advice or an opinion you need to be ready for it. It will be straightforward and honest, just as all opinions and advice should be. In any case, I am grateful that I had the chance to learn leadership from his example.
So how does Kansas Farm Bureau replace a great leader? You elect another great leader.  I have known Richard Felts longer than either of us wants to admit and I have the utmost confidence in his leadership. Just like many football coaches like to say, it is next man up. However, the success of Kansas Farm Bureau or any agricultural organization does not rest on one person and it is up to all members to be involved in its leadership.
Finally, let me stress that I believe it is imperative for all of us in the farming and ranching community to become involved in some organization. While I am a bit biased when it comes to Farm Bureau and if you want to get active in KFB I would be more than happy to help you. In the end it is more important for you to find the organization you are most comfortable with, have a passion for and roll up your sleeves and get involved. There is plenty of work to do.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Amish Popcorn, Wheat and Bad Ideas

Last week I was in a local farm supply store, they had the usual displays at the end of the aisle trying to get unsuspecting customers to buy stuff they really don’t need. One of those displays was for Amish popcorn which made me wonder why Amish popcorn would be superior to regular, old generic popcorn. Then I saw something else that made me scratch my head even more, microwave Amish popcorn. Really, the Amish have microwaves?
Soon after I made this discovery I had another friend send me an article he had found on the internet. This “article” was from a person purporting to be the “healthy home economist”. I must say that I have no idea if she really is a home economist or even healthy but I do know that what she alleged in her blog post was completely false and really bad information. It did prove just how little most people really know about food or how it is produced.
This so-called expert started off by claiming that she knew people who had problems with wheat and had traveled to Europe and dined on wheat products without any ailments. This made her wonder why the difference could be between the two continents and their wheat. She quickly ruled out gluten or hybridization of wheat. Good, I thought at least she is not fanning the flames of those two fires. Then she unveiled her theory of why people suffer the myriad of ailments increasingly blamed on wheat.
She settled upon glyphosate herbicides like Round-up. I was surprised to learn that, according to the healthy home economist,”conventional wheat farmers” (her words not mine) often sprayed their wheat with glyphosate to kill the wheat plants to aid with harvest. This surprised me since I am one of those “conventional wheat farmers” and I have never put this practice to use or seen any of my neighboring “conventional wheat farmers” utilize it either, even though she said it was common.
OK, so I have heard of farmers using an herbicide to kill weeds in wheat as a last ditch effort to rescue a crop due to weather or herbicide failure but that is exceedingly rare. Maybe this is a practice in other types of wheat but not here in the Wheat State. An expert was quoted saying that the wheat was sprayed 7 to 10 days before harvest and this made the wheat plant release more seed (I have a degree in agronomy but I must have missed that course). She went on to say that farmers then combined the wheat with glyphosate residue in the kernels.
A nice little antidote about Monsanto salesmen drinking Round-up to prove its non-toxicity was included. Again, this is a practice I have never witnessed. She went on to reference a little known study that said while Round-up was not immediately toxic that it disrupted enzymes (which it does in plants so it surely does the same in humans) and caused ailments currently attributed to gluten intolerance. Wow, now if that is not the mother of all inferences I don’t know what is.
I could go on and on about how poor the science was behind this and even go into greater lengths about how this is not a common practice, but that is not my point. This blog made the rounds and probably is still bouncing around and it carries about as much credibility as Amish popcorn. The sad state of affairs is that many of our customers out there really do not have any idea where their food comes from or how it is produced and they are prime targets for bad information. This is extremely frustrating and even maddening. You feel like the little Dutch boy plugging holes in the dikes. You stop one rumor and another one pops up in its place. What do we do?
I know I sound like a broken record but as farmers and ranchers we need to keep telling our story. We need to share the science and technology that goes into producing the food, but that is not enough. We also need to let our consumers get to know us and build that level of trust. We do produce their food in a manner that is safe for them and the environment, despite what the “experts” might say.
Some of this is just funny like my Amish popcorn, gluten-free steak, grass-fed pork or non-gmo Cheerios. But is does go to prove just how gullible we are when it comes to what we eat and buzz words and fads that spring up from our lack of knowledge. Now pardon me as I try to figure out just how the Amish microwave I bought on aisle 3 works.