Thursday, May 28, 2015

My Graduation Advice

This past weekend was graduation weekend and we attended a couple of our local school’s ceremonies. Commencement always makes me nostalgic and this year was even more so. Maybe it is the fact that I am coming to grips with the idea of being middle aged or it is more likely due to the imminent possibility that I will have a graduating senior next year. In any case, I found myself lost in thoughts about life and what I have learned in the last twenty some years.
One of the things that go along with being an Extension Agent and working with the 4-H program for many years was attending all those graduations. While I was often sad about losing my best leaders I was also excited to see what my 4-Hers would go on to accomplish. I started thinking about what I wish someone would have told me at graduation. I admit that I would love to have the opportunity to speak at a graduation and I would love to impart advice to graduates. 
The first thing I would tell any graduate (or anyone for that matter) is to set your sights high and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. OK so maybe professional sports are out of the reach for most of us at an early age, but pretty much anything else is still in play. Too often I think we listen to others around us who don’t really know us and let them guide our lives. Goals should be high, not easily attainable and no one should ever dictate them to you.
Pick a profession because it is your passion and never because of the salary. We can all think of people we know who truly love their jobs. They live, breath and eat what they do and we all love to be around them. If you are passionate about what you do the benefits of that passion will come to you. It may or may not be money but it will bring happiness and that is more important than money.
Nothing is ever as bad as it might seem. My greatest lessons have come from my lowest points. Learn from what happened, resolve to correct any mistakes, dust yourself off and move on. I am absolutely convinced that my greatest achievements have come as a direct result from my worst failures. No matter how dark things may look it will get better, which is the beauty of life.
Enjoy each phase of your life and never spend your life looking ahead or behind. Many people tell you that high school is the best time of your life. I have to admit it was pretty good but college was good, being a single adult in the working world was good, having a young family was pretty awesome. Each part of your life is good, enjoy the here and now and don’t wish your life away.
Never miss a chance to spend time with the people who are important to you. Nothing is guaranteed and the relationships we have with friends and family are the most important things we can have. I would rather be a poor man with many friends and a close family than a rich man all alone. Your goals and ambitions are important but don’t let them overshadow your relationships.
Never pass up a chance to stop, take a moment and relax. Enjoy the little things in life. Work hard, be driven but every once in a while allow yourself to slow down. Life goes by at such a rush that we all need time to take a moment when we have a chance and sit in silence and listen to the world around us. Personally, I don’t think there is anything better than a cup of coffee before the rest of the world starts moving each morning.
Finally, the best advice I ever got was to have fun. Dana Belshe was my mentor agent when I started in Extension and he gave me this advice about being an agent and I think it applies to life pretty well.  The people around you will have as much fun as you let yourself have. It worked at the most stressful times when I was an agent, camp and fair, and it works in life too. Often those around us mirror our attitude.
OK, so I know you didn’t ask for my dream commencement address but you got it anyway. I just think it is good for all of us, no matter what phase of life we are in, to take a moment and think about life. In a way we are all graduating from something each year.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Victories Aren't Always Won

Being a parent isn’t easy and being a parent of a teenager is something akin to being a climber on Mount Everest. It’s difficult, dangerous and often you need more oxygen but once in a while you just have to sit back and enjoy the view and wonder how you got there. Most often your teens frustrate you but just when you think there is no hope they blindside you with something really good.
Last year Ike set his sights on becoming a District FFA officer. The district banquet was marked on our calendar and the goal of becoming an officer started to take shape. Often it was the topic of conversation at the dinner table or long car rides (the only time teens seem to be able to have conversations with their parents.). It was something he very much wanted and a goal I saw him focus on like nothing I have ever seen him do before.
He spent many hours painstakingly filling out the application and had me look it over. After it was submitted he began to work on his speech with the help of his advisor and student teacher. Soon the elections became the focus of most of his time and energy. Many hours were spent going over his speech and practicing it. By the day of the elections I think I could have given his speech without notecards. When the day finally came he was as ready and, more importantly, as organized for it anything I have ever seen him do. He had really thrown himself into the elections, we were all very excited.
The day came and he, his advisor and a fellow chapter officer also running for district officer left after lunch for the interviews and eventually the banquet and the elections. Jennifer and I left later that afternoon to attend the banquet, on the drive to Sabetha his speech kept running through my mind. I even thought if he lost his place I could shout out the next word, although I was sure that would be frowned upon.
One of the hardest things I have ever had to do as a parent was wait. It is hard to wait for your child to show their animal at the fair, it is hard to wait for their next at bat at a ballgame and it is hard to wait for results of a contest. Finally I couldn’t take the waiting anymore and I sent a text to his advisor. The responding text was not what I wanted to see. He had not made the slate and would not get to give his highly polished speech, needless to say Jennifer and I were very disappointed for him and we wondered how he was doing.
Cautiously I sent a text to his advisor asking how he was doing. The answer came back that he was taking it very well, disappointed but taking it well. Soon, Jennifer got a text from Ike saying he had not made the slate. She sent a message back and asked how he was doing. His reply was that he was OK and disappointed but there was no point in being down about it. Life would go on.
I have often said you can tell more about the character of a person when things don’t go well and when they are disappointed. Ike met us at the door, he was cheerful and once again said while he was disappointed he would be fine and he would focus on his next goal, a state degree. I must say I was awfully proud of him as I watched him interact with his friends from his chapter and from other schools. He was cheerful, encouraging and upbeat; Jennifer and I knew the amount of work and effort he had put into this endeavor and he had every right to be upset, pouty and sulk.
That was one of those moments as a parent when you think, maybe, just maybe we got something right. Just like the mountain climber on Everest it was time to sit on the cliff, let our legs dangle over the side and enjoy the view. After all the much dreaded and highly anticipated senior year is right ahead of us and the climb looks to be straight up. But for right now the view is awesome. Now where is that oxygen.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Success of a Failure!

I should have probably aborted the trip before it ever started. Traveling the end of April when I should have been getting cows out to grass probably set me up for failure. However, my wonderful, talented wife and wise, hard-working father (I am still trying to make amends) were there to carry on without me (and probably more capably). My flight departed at 4:45 from Kansas City, we had time to work the cows and calves at my house through that morning, or so we thought.
All I needed to do was to leave the house at noon; if we started right away it would be a piece of cake. Well, it was a piece of something all right, but it wasn’t cake. Actually things weren’t going too bad. The cows didn’t want to come in too bad but we eventually got them. My new idea on how to run them through the chute didn’t work too hot either, however, we fell into a rhythm and things were moving along.
Things were moving along right up until the cow pushed her way through the head catch and lodged her hips in the gate. After about 45 minutes of mechanic work we finally unbolted most of the head catch and freed the cow. This was all just in time to watch the cows in the cull pen go over the gate and mingle with the rest of the herd. Needless to say it was after noon when I got into the house and took a much needed shower (there was no way I would have been allowed on the plane without one).
I am not a fast driver, but that day I was. I stood for fifteen minutes waiting on a shuttle bus from the parking lot (on the return trip, three buses would be lined up at my stop); it was going to be a miracle if I made my flight. I am happy to report that due to some very helpful people on my shuttle I walked onto my 4:45 flight at about 4:44 still putting my belt through the belt loops. I had made it.
My trip was to Louisville (Kentucky not Kansas) and I was quickly reminded that it was Derby week right away. My Uber driver (for those of you who don’t know, Uber is like a cab, only better) told me all about how Oaks Day was like a holiday and that no school or business would be open tomorrow. I asked about getting a cab or Uber the next day. He assured me it would be no problem. The next morning I waited 45 minutes for a cab driver to pick me up, paid an outrageous fee, only to have him drop me off in the wrong place. That is when I contacted the next Uber driver.
He picked me up after the meeting I was going to had already started. I was frazzled and annoyed. He made small talk with me and found out I was a farmer from Kansas. He told me he was a personal trainer when he wasn’t an Uber driver. Then he asked me if I grew GMO crops. My first thought was, oh great, travel difficulties now this. I prepared myself for a debate on the health and safety of foods made with GMO crops.
I explained to him the benefits of GMO crops; how they helped us grow more food, with fewer inputs and less impact on the environment. I also explained that no credible research had ever proven that there was any kind of risk associated with them at all. That is when he cut me off and told me that he had done his own research and came to the same conclusion and that he told this to all of the people he was a personal trainer for. I asked him if he had any kind of a farm background and he did not. My day was made and my trip was no longer a failure.
Maybe, just maybe people are starting to see through all of the noise and misinformation. This Uber driver/ personal trainer from Louisville, Kentucky gave me hope that all of the hard work we are doing in putting forth solid information and telling our story might just be working. Now the rest of my trip did not go any better. My meeting did not go real well, I waited for my flight in the Louisville airport for five hours and I had a middle seat on the flight home but somehow it all seemed worth it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Farmer, GMO Grower and Environmentalist

I consider myself an environmentalist. I know the image of an environmentalist is not good, especially in farm and ranch country. Ideas of tree hugging, shaggy haired, sandal wearing hippy types are probably the first thing that comes to mind. Maybe it’s the suit and tie urbanites who joined the cause because it was the trendy thing to do. Maybe, just maybe the first thing that should come to mind when the word environmentalist is mentioned should be those of us farming and ranching.
The idea that I am an environmentalist comes to me several times each year. Last week I proudly thought of myself as an environmentalist as we planted corn. Yes, it was Round-up Ready, triple stacked, genetically engineered corn that some other would-be environmentalists might consider harmful to our environment. However, in my mind they are wrong.
The Round-up Ready, triple stack corn seed I planted last week very much helps me protect the precious environment around me. Genetically engineered corn allows me to not till my soil. Over the past six years that Dad and I have been planting no-till our soil has began to build itself back to the same texture and properties that it before it was first plowed. I have seen an increase in the amount of earth worms and organic matter on the surface of my fields.
I have seen the erosion of top soil in my fields decrease dramatically to nearly nothing. Water is slowed by the residue of past years crops and does not run off at nearly the rate it used too. This also allows me to catch more of the rainfall for my crops. It also means less runoff going into our creeks, rivers and reservoirs. I am sure all of you know about the problems our reservoirs have with runoff and silt. This also lessens the nutrient loads being delivered to our lakes and makes them healthier. While I am at it, I want to commend those who have but buffer strips in, that is taking environmentalism to the next level.
No-till also allows me to make far fewer passes over our fields. This decreases the amount of fuel we use. Last time I checked decreasing the amount of fossil fuels used was one of the things environmentalists lobbied for. Because of our genetically engineered crops we are not just talking about using less fossil fuel, we are doing it. If you are one of my fellow producers using cover crops to lessen their need for fertilizers and improve soil. This is just another example of farmers going to the next level of environmentalism.
Oh yeah, part of that triple stack is resistance to insects. Corn borer and many other pests used to require farmers to spray insecticides. This protection afforded to us through the genetic engineering has drastically reduced the amount of insecticides sprayed on corn fields and in many cases has eliminated them all together. I am certainly not opposed to using insecticides but I am also more than happy not to use them.
Yes, I am sure that planting my genetically engineered corn and soybeans makes me an environmentalist. I am also sure that some of the card-carrying, dues-paying environmentalists would disagree with me. Fine we can have a discussion about genetically engineered crops. I will match your unproven theories with my observations and results. I know my soil, the plants and animals around my fields and I know the environment is better today because of the technology I am using on my farm.
I also have the satisfaction of knowing that the genetically engineered crops I am growing allow me to produce more food with less of an impact on the environment. We must continue to increase food production while coming under more and more scrutiny when it comes to the natural resources entrusted to us. I am not sure how we do that without GMO crops.
So yes, I do proudly consider myself an environmentalist. Don’t worry I won’t be hugging any trees; I am far too allergic to poison ivy for that. But I will continue to plant genetically modified or genetically engineered crops (whatever you prefer to call them) because I care about the soil, water and air around me and that makes me an environmentalist.

Regulated to Starvation

Three years ago, Jennifer, the kids and I had the opportunity to travel to California with Kansas Farm Bureau. The trip was to Southern California and it was a chance to go somewhere much warmer than Kansas. While in California we toured many different farms and learned about where some of our produce comes from, but I learned much more than how the strawberries, avocados and lettuce got to my grocery store shelves. I saw what could be the future of agriculture in Kansas and it was not a good thing.
So why go back to a trip I took three years ago? This week, in response to a prolonged drought, the governor of California proposed further water cuts including agriculture. For those of you who might not be familiar with California, the largest vegetable and fruit producing areas are very dry places and rely on water coming out of the mountains for irrigation. Many of the producers have already cut back drastically and further cutbacks in water allocation would be devastating.
The decrease in water allocation had already had a great impact on almond growers. Many have had to find other crops because of the loss of irrigation and it has had an impact on us at the grocery store. Have you tried to buy almonds lately? Be ready for some sticker shock if you have not. This comes on top of some of the most intrusive and burdensome rules, regulations and government oversight imaginable. I am not sure how or why farmers and ranchers in California put up with it all.
Actually I do understand why. It is in our DNA to persevere no matter how difficult the challenge, but I fear that the burden California agriculture community is under will become too great and crush many of my fellow farmers. I have not toured East Coast operations but I suspect the same could be said for them also. I also fear that mentality and mindset will continue to travel into our heartland from the coasts.
Farmers in California have had to deal with restrictions on pesticides, herbicides, dust, labor and immigration, all issues that they have learned to adapt. However, water is a different kind of issue altogether and one that is much more difficult to find solutions for. The ever growing urban population demands more and more of the limited water resource. Couple that with environmental groups insisting on protecting endangered and threatened species and those growing food are squeezed in the middle.
What will happen in California? I am not sure, I hope common sense will prevail and farmers will be protected. After all we all have to eat and the fruits and vegetables produced by Southern California farmers are critical to a balanced, healthy diet. I also know that water is the most precious and limited resource we have. I think we have been spoiled and lulled into thinking it was an unlimited resource when that is not the truth. The answer has to be somewhere in a balance of the demands. Household water usage is important, but I believe more water can and must be conserved. I also think that agriculture should take a serious, hard look at how they use water. I can tell you that farmers in California have worked very hard at stretching or limiting their water usage and are incredibly efficient.
The water crisis brings home something that we have been doing here in Kansas with the 50 Year Water Vision. I have had the privilege to serve on the Goal Setting Committee for the Kansas River Basin and we have taken a pro-active approach to have a vision of what we want our water situation to be in 2065. It was hard and only time will tell if we came up with the right goals, but the important thing was we had the discussion. I also know that our task was not as difficult as those looking water in Western Kansas.
The message I want to drive home with all of this, is that we need to be visionary and look at what may face us in the future. We have a daunting task in agriculture; we must grow more food than we have ever produced, with fewer resources while under more scrutiny. That will take more forethought and planning and we must adapt to change. However, in the face of what could be an impending dark cloud I see a glimpse of sun. Farmers and ranchers have never failed to rise up to a challenge and meet it and I don’t see any reason for that to stop now.