Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Water and Food

This morning, shortly after she left for work, Jennifer called and asked me to turn the sprinkler on and water some flowers she had just planted. No problem, I watered them while I did chores. Little did I know that the new hose had a tendency to kink. Each time I worked one out, a new one would form, causing me to say really unkind things about the hose. In the end I got all of the kinks worked out and the water started pulsing through the sprinkler.
Watering our plants, washing our cars, power washing our decks, we seem to use water at the drop of a hat and without thinking about it. Water is the most important natural resource we have, without it we cannot live, yet it is the one we probably take most for granted. I simply lift of the hydrant handle (along with five minutes of unkinking the hose) and the plants are watered.
It wasn’t just watering our landscape that got me to thinking about water. The night before I had served as a panelist at the Shawnee County Farm Bureau Ladies Night, the main program was a question and answer session where the attendees could ask us anything about agriculture. We had several great discussions about a variety of different topics but one in particular stuck in my mind.
One of the ladies asked about a news story she had heard about almonds in California. I had heard the same story about how much water it took to produce one almond. I don’t remember how much water it was now but it seemed like a lot for one little nut. The story was about the drought in California and whether it was a good use of the water to grow almonds. I must admit on the surface I found myself questioning if almonds should be grown. I like almonds but were they really worth it?
I must admit that I am skeptical of anything I hear from the national media and this story was no different. I am not sure if we got the whole story, I don’t remember if an almond grower was interviewed. A couple of years ago I did take a trip to California and toured their agriculture and I remember that almond farmers were having a tough time because of the cost of irrigation and they had started moving away from almond production. Often market demand or lack of profit takes care of such problems.
In the end, I had to admit that I did not have enough expertise to answer the question. What I do know is that water usage will continue to be a growing topic of discussion as we populations grow and the demand for water continues to grow along with it. Water supply was once viewed as an unlimited resource but we now know that it is a finite one.
We humans are a funny bunch. We chose to live in places where there is little rainfall and pipe water in. We also have found that some of these places have the perfect climate to grow food. The soil is very fertile and if you can control when the water is applied, we can make ideal growing conditions almost year round. However, in either case we have to either pump water out of the ground or divert it from other places with more rainfall.
This works fine until the places with abundant rainfall have a drought or the underground water we rely on starts to run out, then we have a problem. The answers to these problems are difficult. We all require water, without it survival is not possible. That is a known, undisputable fact. We also know that we need food and the use of water to produce food also seems like a pretty logical and beneficial use. But more and more it seems as though agriculture and our water use have become a target for reduced usage.
One thing I do know is that we are really good at solving problems in agriculture. We have already figured out how to grow more food with less water. I am just as sure that we will continue those advances and that farming will see some remarkable changes because of our dilemma on how to best utilize our most important resource.
This discussion will continue and the choices will continue to get tougher. It is a problem we must face head on. I have no idea what the right answer is or even if there is a right answer. What I do know is that we must start to have these discussions. Watering our plants may not always be as easy as a lift of the hydrant handle or even unkinking a hose.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Secret of a Happy Marriage

There are times, as a man, that you must admit defeat and just appreciate the fact that you married a woman much better than you deserved. Sunday was one of those days. As my friend Greg once told me, the secret to a happy marriage is the ability to say; I am a man, therefore I am wrong and I am sorry. I think that is the best marriage advice I have ever received.
Sunday we had 4-H meeting and we needed to do chores just a little bit early. Added to that was the fact that a thunderstorm moving in rather quickly. We soon got the chores done except that there was no sign of the ewes. We have never had problems with predators with our sheep but I think that is because we lock them in the lot each night. However, given the condition of our muddy lots, I could not blame them for not wanting to voluntarily give up their freedom.
With the rain moving in and thunder becoming increasingly louder, the decision was made to shut them in after we got home from 4-H. After all they always come in at night and they most likely would be waiting on us at the gate. Like a lot of theories that sounded really good at the time, especially as the first big drops of rain began to fall.
Our 4-H meeting went smoothly and finished about the time we thought it would and that would leave plenty of time to corral the sheep (after all not much time was needed since they would be standing, waiting on us to come home and shut the gate behind them). Little did we know that the chairperson of the banner committee would call for a meeting after the regular club meeting (that chairperson being child number 2). No problem, since the sheep are creatures of habit and would be dutifully waiting on us.
Much to our chagrin there were no sheep standing in the lot when we finally arrived home. Daylight was quickly slipping behind the western horizon, but surely the ewes were not far away. Isaac went to look and I changed clothes and also ventured out. Oh and it had started to rain, so much for waiting for a drier time. As darkness quickly settled in, it became apparent that the ewes were not close by.
Remembering that I had found them across the creek and in the meadow on top of the hill earlier in the week, I turned my search in that direction. Sure enough as I emerged from the dark mass of timber between the hill and the creek I saw a distant blob of white. I called to the ewes and they came thundering to me. However, it became painfully obvious, very quickly that they were not going into the scary dark timber, no matter how badly they wanted to go home or how badly I wanted them too. One person against 50 ewes is not a winning proposition.
Wet, muddy, disgusted and frustrated I waved the white flag and started back to the house admitting defeat. Along the way I ran into Isaac, who was just as wet, maybe muddier and a whole lot more frustrated. It was not good, both of us were visualizing an all you can eat buffet for the local predator population. We slogged our way back into the house with short fuses and bad attitudes and told Jennifer about our plight.
She listened to us and quickly pulled her mud boots on heading to the barn with a determined look on her face. She turned the lights on the barn, got her dog , the best flashlight we had and told me to drive her to the top of the hill. When I asked what she was going to do and what I needed to do, she said I am going to drive the ewes in and you are going to be quiet, watch and shut the gate behind them.
Sure enough, in about fifteen minutes a streak of white rushed past me and through the gate followed by Jennifer and her trusty dog. When I asked what she did that I had not done, she simple said she turned the lights on in the barn to give the ewes something to run too, shined the beam of the flash light onto the path for them and had taken better help to herd them. She then gave me “the look”. That is when I hung my head, thanked her and acknowledged the truth, “I am male, therefore I was wrong and I am sorry.”