Sunday, February 3, 2019

Presidential Presence

I live a blessed life. I readily admit that many good things happen to me despite what I do and not because of it. I guess the moto of my life should be: “I would rather be lucky than good.” I have truly been blessed to have had several experiences that I never thought I would get a chance to do. One of those was to be in close proximity to the President of the United States. Not only have I gotten the chance to be in the audience with the President once, but I have had the opportunity three times in the last twelve months.
I must admit that the experience is cool and quite frankly makes most other experiences seem trivial. Yes, I know the current President is polarizing. In many cases you either think he is the best President we have had in a long time or the worst. Honestly, I am not sure where I fall in the spectrum and that is not important. Simply being near the leader of our great nation is an experience I wish everyone could have, no matter what your political beliefs or the political leanings of that particular President.
The first time I was in the President’s presence was last January in Nashville at the American Farm Bureau Annual Meeting. Jennifer and I waited in line for several hours just to be in the audience when he addressed the conference. I was about a hundred yards from him and at the time I thought it was a once in a lifetime experience. Boy was I wrong.
Then this December I was given the great honor and privilege of being one of the farmers and ranchers that the President invited to stand behind him as he signed the 2018 Farm Bill. It was a whirlwind trip and one that seemed very surreal. I was contacted on Tuesday, on the plane Wednesday and a few feet behind the President when he signed the Farm Bill on Thursday. I was able to shake his hand and even had the chance to make small talk with the Vice President before the signing.
It was one of the most incredible days of my life and one that really did not seem real. I went through security and was whisked away to do some interviews with reporters on the lawn of the White House. While I was waiting for my turn Vice President Pence and several members of congress walked by, introduced themselves and shook my hand. After that I was taken to the press room in the Eisenhower Building and those of us lucky enough to be invited on the stage were lined up behind the desk where the Farm Bill was to be signed.
The room filled up and it again was a surreal feeling to be in a room with members of the House, Senate and White House, people I see every night on the news. After a wait that seemed like hours the President, Vice President and Secretary of Agriculture came to the podium. I am not exactly sure what was said because I was trying to wrap my head around the idea that I was there, at that very moment. It did not seem real. This I promise you, I will never forget that day and the experience as long as I live.
Then this January I was once again in the audience as the President addressed the 100th Annual Meeting of the American Farm Bureau. I can assure you that even though these three chances happened within a little over a year, the excitement does not wear off. This farm boy from Kansas doubted that he would ever be that close to the President.
Following each experience and especially the Farm Bill signing I have been asked about my feelings. Many people want to know what it was like and others let me know their feelings about the current President, good and bad. What were my feelings and what was my take away from the experience?
First, I am truly humbled and grateful for each experience, again I never thought I would be able to do anything like that. I can tell you without a doubt that it was something I wish everyone of you could do. I would also tell you if you get the chance, do it. No matter how you feel about the President holding the office at the time, go. It was not necessarily the man I was honoring but the office he held.
The individual holding the office of President of the United States is human and because of that they are flawed, even the great ones. However, the office is the most powerful in the world and has been bought and paid for by the sacrifices of all of those who have defended our great nation and because of that it should be honored. I cannot fully describe the feeling of being there, but I will tell you it is like no other and if I am lucky enough to have the opportunity again, you better believe I will take it.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Failure to Prepare

The worst feeling in the world is that feeling of being overwhelmed with everything that needs to be done and not knowing where to start. Yeah, you guessed it, I am at that very point right now. In a couple of days, I will leave for five days and I am leaving Jennifer with a bunch of chores and many very pregnant ewes. I have all these great ideas of how to make things easier for her while I am gone and chores that need to be done before I leave, the list is long and daunting.
I have often said that the hardest part of leaving is the week before you go, and the hardest part of any journey is while the mailbox is still in your rearview mirror. So many details to attend to and all those loose ends to tie up. It seems like the harder I go the farther I get behind. Then there are those quiet moments, usually when I should be asleep, that I think of more things to add to the growing list. It’s a good thing I don’t have to get my blood pressure checked.
I know that Jennifer is a better hand than I am and that we are generally in better shape when she is in charge, especially during lambing season. The main problem is that what makes sense to me doesn’t necessarily make sense to her. Little things like where I keep the fencing pliers and the extra insulators for the electric fence. How often to rotate and charge the batteries on the electric fences, or the better question might be why we don’t have more solar fencers.
Then there are the logistics of everything. Did I get enough feed to get her through the time I am gone? Again, I am not sure why I am so worried about such questions because Jennifer has proven time and time again that she is more capable than I am. In any case, my goal is to make her time doing chores solo as stress free as I can. Try as I might, usually I do not do such a great job.
I can plan and scheme all I want but the sad truth is that the wheels will come off something while I am gone. I am not sure any calamity will top the time I was in Washington D.C. and the cows decided to get out in the middle of the night, into the timber when it was really cold. Both kids were relatively young and in car seats. Jennifer called me while chasing cows, in the cold, dark night through the timber. It is probably a miracle I ever got to go anywhere after that.
It is a good thing I married above my talent level and that I have such a great wife. I am also lucky that she tolerates me, secretly I think she enjoys trying to solve my problems and straighten out my messes while I am gone. Deep down I think she relishes the challenge, and she would be disappointed if I had everything in order. I didn’t say it was a good theory, but it makes me feel better and I am sticking to it.
I am not sure how I will ever repay her for allowing me to be gone and do my thing while she is home putting out fires and cleaning up messes. I would say I would buy her something nice while I am gone but over the past twenty-three years, I have topped myself time and time again at being the worst gift giver ever.
For the next three days I will be checking and rechecking my ever-growing list of chores and tasks that need to be done before I leave. It seems like I add more things than I eliminate. Do I have enough medicine, syringes and needles? More importantly will Jennifer be able to find them when she needs them? All good questions and the answer are, probably not. This will spawn one of those awkward phone calls where I do my best to explain where something is in terms only, I can understand. Something like, “the penicillin is next to the vaccine that needs to be thrown out. No, not the empty bottle, the full one is next to the empty egg carton and on the shelf below the two eggs. No, I don’t know why I didn’t put the two eggs in the carton but that is where it is at.”
I guess the bottom line is that it is a good thing I married someone better than me who is tolerant enough to but up with me and stubborn enough not to give up. I am sure that I will have a whole lot I will have to make up for when I get back and that will probably last until the next time I must be gone. At which time I will once again be scrambling to get things ready. There is a special place in heaven for farm wives.

Wrong Place, Wrong Time

You know how you are at the wrong place at the wrong time occasionally? It happens to me all the time but this time it was not me who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was part of the story, but I was not the person.
Like all good stories this one starts off with us working sheep. We needed to give the ewes their pre-lambing vaccines and wormer. As always, the day was not going as planned. We did not get started in the morning like I wanted to, and I was not very organized. Why my family is upset every time we go to do something because I don’t have my ducks in a row is beyond me. Either they have faith that I will change my habits, or they have not realized that it is a terminal condition.
I had all the vaccine (although not nearly enough) I just did not have my syringes in working order. I am not sure why; the simple answer is that I had two good ones and did not think about needing a third. We have no shortage of syringes, only a shortage of working, non-leaking syringes. The chalk markers we use so no ewe gets two rounds of shots, that was on me. I thought I knew where they were, but I had not physically located them. Never mind I had four extra hours because my help did not show up before noon. In the end, I did have the paint markers and I did find them, however, the search set us back an hour.
When we had finally located all the necessary equipment, got everything in working order and had organized our process it was time to catch the ewes. We had no fewer than three ideas from the four of us on how that should go. Tatum being the smart one and staying neutral like Switzerland. My idea on how it should get was quickly voted down by a count of 3 to 1. The other two ideas were debated and finally a plan was decided upon.
To say that things did not go smoothly in the beginning is a bit of an understatement. Honestly, the working plan was not a bad one and later proved to work with some efficiency. But it did not start off on the right foot. Most of the failure was due to a problem with the facilities and that was quickly pointed out to the person in charge of the management of those very facilities. It was also pointed out that the person was grumpy and not much fun to work with. I probably did not take the criticism with the love and support that I am sure it was intended.
The mood of the crew could be summed up as a little edgy and more than a bit tense. I am quite sure that we had gone past civil discussion, right past raised voices to all out yelling. I also admit that most of it was from my hair trigger, all I wanted was to get this task done and I would finally be semi-caught up. In my head this task took a couple of hours in the morning, leaving the afternoon to cross other items off my to-do list.
That was when we bent the needle. Bending a needle when vaccinating is not an uncommon occurrence and usually not something to be alarmed about. As I said, things had gotten a bit tense. The needle was bent, and it was going to take a pair of pliers to remove it. Normally we have pliers in the box with the spare needles and such. Not today. Being senior management and therefore lowest on the chain of command it was decided by a 3 to 1 vote that I would go get the pliers. As I walked up toward a son of a friend, came walking to me.
He had hunted on our land before and is always welcome to hunt a but my caveat is that you stop and ask every time. That was what he was doing, but at the wrong time. He asked if he could hunt on my alfalfa field, which would have been fine, except I have no alfalfa field. After a series of short questions and answers it was determined to be a neighbor’s field. He asked where the neighbor lived. I am not proud of my answer, but I said, “in his house” and walked off leaving him in stunned silence.
After that the sheep working went better and we eventually finished. In a day or two the rest of my family even started talking to me again. Before we had even finished the weight of what I had done to that poor young man set in and I felt bad. That evening I made the call of shame and apologized for my terse answers and all was good. While I am not proud of what I did, I took a bit of solace knowing that it is not always me who is in the wrong place at the wrong time. At least that is what I told myself in my head.

My New Years Resolutions

Its hard to believe but 2018 is already in the rearview mirror. It was for the most part a difficult year with weather calamities, trade woes and never-ending challenges but it is now history and we survived it. I am pretty sure that it will be one of those years we talk about for many years to come and one that I don’t mind ushering out the door. Good or bad it did seem to fly by and a speed at which I find alarming. Its funny how each year goes by more quickly than the last.
In any case, 2018 is now in the history books and 2019 is a blank clean slate. The trade issues have not been fully resolved and the weather is continuing its manic mood swings, but I think I share the same outlook as many of you and that is one of optimism. Sure, things in the world of agriculture are not rosy and pretty but the sense of hope that each of us approach the new year with is what keeps us going.
I have many hopes for a better 2019, at some point we all know the ag economy will turn around and the promise of better days seems to be on the horizon. The weather is a complete unknown but last year was so extreme that it makes me thing that this year will be closer to normal, whatever that is. As I told Dad when we finished harvest in December, I hope this is one of those years I tell my grandkids about. The weather in 2019 must be better.
I have not done New Year’s Resolutions in many years, I always say that my New Year’s Resolution is to not make a resolution. However, this year and in hope of making a clean slate I think some goals are in order.  First, I resolve to be more patient. My patience has always been my Achilles heel, too many things to do and not enough time for things to not go right. I will work at having more patience with everything in my life be it animal or mechanical and especially with my family. I would guess they fully expect this one to be history on January 2nd.
My health is my second resolution. I have not always been the most diligent when it comes to taking care of myself, I don’t even have a doctor. My excuse is that I don’t have time to get a check-up, eating right is something I will do tomorrow, and those aches and pains will go away on their own. I don’t have time to be sick. When you write it down, that all seems kind of silly and alarmingly dumb. I resolve to take better care of myself and to get acquainted with a new doctor. I would guess that my family won’t have a lot of faith in me on this resolution also, but they will give me until the end of January.
Third, I will try to say no a little more often. Those of you who know me, know this will be the one that is the hardest to do. I don’t know what is wrong with me, I commit to too many things and struggle to get them all done. It is time that I focus on the priorities in my life and let some things go. I would guess my family will give me until January 3rd maybe the 4th on this one.
So, in review, I resolve to be more patient, healthier and prioritize my time. Nothing too lofty here, they should be a snap to achieve. After all, how hard could it be for me to get my life in order. The reality is that just like everyone else, life will set in and I will lose my patience with man, machine or beast and probably all three soon after the New Year starts. I will come up with all kinds of excuses to go off my diet and run out of time to go to the doctor. I am also sure that my phone will ring shortly after the first and someone will ask me to help with something and without thinking I will agree to help.
The truth about New Year’s Resolutions are that they are goals and things we need to do better. They shouldn’t be easy, and we should always be a work in process. Failure one day or one time should not be a reason to abandon them but a reminder to work harder. Of course, like making those resolutions saying we will stick with them is easy now and very difficult later.
I hope you will go into 2019 with the resolve to make your life better, that you will see the good in everything and appreciate the blessings around you. I hope your year is successful and profitable but most importantly I hope you are surrounded by family and friends. 2018 is history and 2019 is our hope, and my hope is for a great year for each of you.

The Rush Before Christmas

All I wanted for Christmas is to be caught up. I know in the world of farming and ranching that is an impossible task. I just wanted to be at a point where I didn’t feel hopelessly behind. In short, I wanted to be able to enjoy Christmas and not be like Thanksgiving where I was eating and running out the door to get as much time as I could in the combine. My number one wish was for harvest to be done by Christmas.
I am happy to report that the never-ending harvest of 2018 is in the books. For those of you who are still harvesting you have my sympathies and I feel a little guilty writing that I am done. I have to say that in my relatively short span of experience that this was the most difficult and frustrating harvest of my lifetime. We finished Saturday and I told Jennifer that I hoped this would be the harvest we tell the grandkids and great grandkids about. For years they will hear me talk about the harvest of eighteen when we were in the field nearly up to Christmas. They will probably look at me the way I looked at Dad when he remembered a corn harvest that went into February. I guess it could be worse.
We slogged through the last of the soybeans a few acres at a time. Getting out as early as I could to cut while the ground was still firm and frozen. That lasted until about mid-morning. I know many of you have suggested that I could have cut at night. That works fine if you have lights. Cutting in the dark in our fields would not be a great idea.
It came down to Saturday I had the last four acres to cut. I know, you are thinking, “why didn’t he cut them the day before?” Trust me when I say there was a very definite time when you quit or got stuck. In any case, I had four acres left but Saturday was also the day I had finally scheduled the vet to come preg check the cows. I also know that preg checking was one of those things that should have been done in October or November. However, due to the rain and not being able to get the cows out on stalks, it had to wait until the middle of December.
That left a tough dilemma. How was I going to finish cutting the last four acres of beans, put the finishing touches on the electric fences and preg check the cows all at the same time. That was when I once again learned how well I had married and that I had raised a capable cow hand. Jennifer and Isaac assured me that they could get the preg checking, sorting and hauling done with the help already had coming. In fact, they seemed to think they might be better off without me. I hate to admit it, but they are probably right.
The finish to harvest went off without a hitch. Unless you count me hitting a corner post with the header and bending up a shield a hitch. I may have been a bit distracted. We took the bent shield off and finished the patch in no time flat. Next, I hurriedly worked to get fencers working and fence up before the cows started coming. My crew was amazingly efficient, and the loads of cows started before I had the finishing touches up. Fortunately, I did get all the gates closed and all the holes plugged.
In a perfect world we would have had the electric fences up soon enough the deer could get used to them. We would have also hauled cows out a little earlier in the day, so they would have had a full three or four hours of daylight to walk the perimeter and see the fence. Usually the illusion of an electric fence is all my old cows need. If they get shocked by the first fence that usually keeps them in for a while at least.
Like I said, in a perfect world and this fall was anything but perfect. I guess you could say it was the perfect storm maybe. The last load of cows came with the last little bit of daylight, I was a bit nervous to say the least. That night I made a couple of laps to check and thankfully found no cows out of place. In fact, the next morning I found the cows just a few yards from where they were turned out, happily grazing. I guess they were as relieved as I was.
I am not sure I have ever been so happy to have harvest done and the cows on stalks. The only thing I can compare it to is getting a nasty thorn out of your thumb. The relief offsets the memory of the pain it caused earlier, to say I was relieved would be an understatement. Christmas will be the best this year, I can finally enjoy the season. Best of all, I don’t care what I get because I have had the best present of all early.

O' Christmas Tree

One of my favorite parts of Christmas is our Christmas tree. I guess in the hustle and bustle of the season it gives me a place to get away from the hurry. I enjoy sitting in front of it with a cup of coffee just relaxing, reflecting and taking in the lights. I enjoy almost everything about the Christmas Season and the tree is right up there at the top.
I remember as a kid that we would go out in the pasture and cut a cedar tree. Usually Dad had scouted several and would take us on a tour to pick out just the right one. It must have been fairly crowded in the pickup cab, there were four of us, but I don’t remember being cramped. Usually we would have to cut down two or three before we found just the right one, I am pretty sure it was one way to get rid of a few more cedar trees.
I remember the smell of the tree and to this day the smell of cedar brings back good memories of Christmas past. A time when I lived for the anticipation of what might show up under the tree while we were away at Christmas Eve Services (if you grow up the son of dairy farmers you do things differently).  Later, after my sister and I left home, Mom started a new tradition and used a fern as a Christmas Tree. I love my Mother dearly but that was one thing that was not an improvement.
When Jennifer and I started our life together we started new traditions and one of those was our Christmas tree. We tried cedar trees for a couple of years and I must say that my eye for size and space is not very good. The tree often required multiple trimmings. Then as the kids got older and busier and we started doing a better job of cedar tree control, we moved on to an artificial tree. I miss the cedar tree smell but not the mess, I think they make candles that can take the place.
Our tree reflects our lives, it is a Hodge podge of our interests and the places we have been. I guess the predominant theme would be western, but we have ornaments of varying origins and themes. Most of them come with a story and a good memory. Decorating the tree has always been a family activity, or it was until this year and the empty nest. Although it wasn’t the same without the kids around, it did take on a new twist.
Without the kids around to voice their opinions about where ornaments should go and what was the most important, Mom and Dad got to exert their opinions. Yes, the homemade ornaments from church and school found a new place in the front of the tree and were not relegated to the back and out of sight anymore. Right there front and center are the notes written in grade school penmanship and best of all are the school pictures with toothless grins and the pony tails glued onto the ornaments. That will teach them for not showing up.
Our tree skirt is one Jennifer made from denim and it has our brand front and center. While I really like our tree skirt it is not my favorite part of the tree. Instead of garland our tree has something more suited to our lifestyle and certainly more available. Our tree is circled by several rounds of rusty, or should I say vintage, barbwire. It might not have been the most kid friendly, although I can’t ever remember a problem and you probably ought to have your tetanus shot updated before you decorate the tree. Jennifer also made a cross for the top of our tree out of the same vintage barbwire. I think it looks kind of cool and it works good for hanging those heavy ornaments. I say if it is good enough for our pasture fences, it is good enough for our tree.
It is not secret that I am a pretty sentimental guy and Christmas has a way of really bringing it out in me. Nearly everything on our tree has a memory and that is a good thing. Christmas is about the birth of our Savior, but it is also about family, memories and good trips down memory lane. It’s those times in front of the tree when I think of Christmas past and the good memories of being a kid, of my mother and times at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. I also think of the great Christmas memories when our kids were young and excited about the season. We all need a dose of little kid Christmas excitement.
I bet I am not alone in my memories and love for our Christmas Tree. I hope you will take some quiet time this Christmas Season to reflect and enjoy the memories hanging from the branches. Christmas is about family, memories and joy. At least in my world that is pretty much all summed up in lights and barbwire in my living room.

Agriculture Banding Together

I don’t know about any of you, but this fall has been one of the most trying seasons of my farming career. It seems like the weather has been against us at every turn. First it was too dry to get the crop to grow, too hot for the corn and this fall it has been too wet and too snowy to get it harvested. Then we have the markets, they were soft and that was before the trade war and tariffs. I must admit, I have been down lately. Every time I have tried to get off the mat something else comes along and knocks me right back down. I also know from talking to many of you that I am not alone.
This past week I attended the Annual Meeting of the Kansas Farm Bureau. It is my chosen organization, the one that I give my time too and the place I focus much of my attention on. Is Farm Bureau better than any of the other ag organizations out there? I think so but that is not the point of my thoughts this week and I am not looking for an argument. I hope that you are involved in the ag or commodity group that you feel best fits you and your beliefs and that you get involved in it. In any case, this week was our Annual Meeting and it was the start of our 100th anniversary celebration.
With all that is going on with my farm, I was a little down when I arrived at the meeting. Soon I ran into many friends and we compared notes about how hard this fall harvest season has been. I am not sure why it made me feel better that I was not alone in my tough fall, but it did make me feel better. Too many times I think we feel so isolated by the very nature of our business, often we are a one or two man show and it is easy to get blinders on.
The words of encouragement from my friends from around the state helped quite a bit. The kind thoughts reminded me that I am not alone and there are pulling for me. Then we started the general sessions and I was reminded of why I am in agriculture by many of the speakers. I guess it helps to hear that what we are doing is important and that people do appreciate the long hard hours we put in each day.
Maybe it was the 100th anniversary celebration that helped too. It was a good reminder that Kansas Farm Bureau was born out of times just like we faced this fall. It was started by farmers and ranchers who looked to band together to make the world of production agriculture better. A group of professionals who saw the value in working together to make agriculture better and more secure. Sure, things are tough now, but we have weathered storms stronger than this one and come out the other side stronger and more resilient.
This was made clear to me as I watched a workshop put on by Dr. Allen Featherstone, Professor of Agriculture Economics at Kansas State University. Is the economic climate rosy, probably not, but the dark clouds on the horizon are breaking up and there may be some light at the end of the economic tunnel. While this has been a trying period, we have seen worse times and survived. I have no doubt we will make it through this storm too.
I left the day feeling much better. I don’t know much in this world, but I know the weather in Kansas will change and I need to be patient. The one thing we can’t give up is our hope and eye on the future and I have my friends to thank for that. Its funny how just when things look the darkest and times are tough how the encouragement of others in the same boat can help the most.
I guess that is why I think involvement in any of our general agriculture or commodity organizations is so important. We are such a small portion of the general population that often no one else around us understands what we do. If we are to survive, we will come together as an agriculture community to help support each other through times like this. Alone we cannot achieve as much as we can all together. That is why I am involved in Kansas Farm Bureau.
When I return home, I will have a renewed vision and excitement for the challenges farming brings me. The work will get done and the future will hold more opportunity. I can see that now with a little help from my friends. My thoughts for you are that it is much tougher to make it through hard times alone. Find a place you feel comfortable, an organization that stands for the same principals you do and get involved. I promise you will get more out of it in the long run than you put in.