Archives for category: Agriculture


Today brings an element of relief and happiness – Harvest 2013 has come to a close! We finished harvesting the last of our corn last night. All harvest seasons bring challenges and this one was no exception, complete with weather delays, machinery breakdowns and other assorted distractions. The end of harvest is a big thing to farmers, probably similar to how accountants feel when April 15 rolls around.

To the farmers still at it: I wish you a safe and successful harvest. For us, there’s time to briefly savor the moment, catch our breath, and get back to work. Next up: fall tillage.

Interested in learning who else is participating in the 30 days blog challenge or the five things Holly Spangler will be talking about this month? Head over to Prairie Farmer to find out!

I have lots of framed artwork on my walls. It’s been pointed out to me that nearly all of it is farm related. It was not a conscious decision, but it seems that art has to include a barn, a cow, or both to make the cut here. I thought I’d share some of my favorites today.

Artist: Sue Skowronski

Artist: Sue Skowronski

The print above is by a local artist, Sue Skowronski. I really admire her work and wish I could afford to have more! I got this one several years ago at a silent auction fundraiser at the Illinois Farm Bureau annual meeting. “Hey, it’s a fundraiser, for a good cause”; always my justification for spending a little more than I should. In my opinion Sue gets cows “right”. Plenty of artists try and fail, I think it’s the angularity of the head.

Artist: Kurt Kamholz

Artist: Kurt Kamholz

The painting above is by another local artist, Kurt Kamholz. I bought this one at a fundraiser for The Land Conservancy of McHenry County a couple of years ago. Love the colors and technique.

Antique print

Antique print

The print above is an antique, by an unknown artist, picked up somewhere in my travels. It was inexpensive, in a cheap gold frame, but I love it nonetheless. I have many older prints like this all over the house.


Here’s another antique; this one is actually an advertising piece in glass with a gold tone chain around it. It’s not on a wall but sitting in a plate holder type thing on top of an old oak secretary. I think it’s beautiful, and different.

So there’s a sampling of the farm art that’s all over my house. Did I mention that I also collect cow creamers? There are a couple hundred of those around too. A little excessive? You bet!

Interested in learning who else is participating in the 30 days blog challenge or the five things Holly Spangler will be talking about this month? Head over to Prairie Farmer to find out!


This photo shows how harvest was handled on our farm in the late 1970’s. I, for one, am thankful for the improvements in technology that have made the task easier and more efficient. The photo is also a representation of early efforts to educate non-farm kids about agriculture. The children in the foreground are part of a class (kindergarten?) that came out of their classroom to visit the adjoining field and learn a little about the crops grown in their neighborhood and the harvest process.

This field, adjacent to the Greenwood School, is part of the original farm that has been in my husband’s family since the 1840’s. We’re still farming here and still using the Case 1370 tractor fairly often. It was just a few years old (and Gary’s pride and joy) when the photo was taken. The Gleaner combine is long gone – we’re using a John Deere machine these days. Many of our family members are involved with Farm Bureau and try to contribute to that organizations ag education programs whenever possible. It’s more important now than it was back then as the number of people removed from the farm continues to grow.

Another great program offered by Illinois Farm Bureau is called Illinois Farm Families. “Field moms” get the opportunity to tour farms, meet the people growing our food, and get answers to their questions. If you, or any Chicago-area moms you may know want to learn more about food and farming, I’d encourage you or them to become a Field Mom. Find more info and an application here. The deadline to apply is December 15.

Interested in learning who else is participating in the 30 days blog challenge or the five things Holly Spangler will be talking about this month? Head over to Prairie Farmer to find out!

I saw a statistic that said agriculture employs more than 21 million American workers (this number is 15% of the total U.S. workforce) – this includes the people who produce, process, sell and trade our food and fiber.  Of these, there are 3.3 million farmers;  those who work on a daily basis tending crops and livestock.  But of that number there are only a little over 300,000 women farmers.  That’s a little discouraging to me.  The good news is that there has been an increase of 29% since 2002.  I’d attribute this to the fact that technology has improved to the point where physical labor, while still very important, is not as essential as it once was in our industry.

Chris & Hannah

Chris & Hannah

Personally, I know many women who are just as involved in the day-to-day operation of their farm as their male counterparts are.  There are so many roles to fill on the farm; driver, purchaser, laborer, bookkeeper, mechanic, marketer, etc.  It takes different skill sets and abilities to cover all the bases.  Some women are doing everything that their male counterparts are undertaking on the farm, while others are taking on the traditional female tasks like record keeping or payroll.  Me?  I like being CFO and handling the office duties, love working with cattle, but am not crazy about doing field work or running machinery.  I will if needed, but it’s just not my thing.  I’m not mechanically inclined, in fact you could say I’m mechanically declined.

Someone who can do it all (run machinery, tackle the book work, and handle the livestock) is my niece, Hannah.  She’s in her 20’s and farms with her fiance, Chris.  Hannah raises calves in addition to raising two of the most adorable children ever.  She’s a fantastic mom and is giving her kids a great country upbringing.  When Hannah was younger she worked for us.  She can run any piece of our machinery and has a terrific cattle sense.   When I need her, she’s always willing to help out at the Farmers Market.  She’s also absolutely beautiful, super smart, ambitious, and can always make me laugh.  Did I mention that she was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes when she was just 9 years old?  Yep, and I’ve never heard her complain about it.  In my opinion, she’s one of the best of the 300,000.  Hopefully, as that number grows we’ll see more like Hannah.

Hannah, cleaned up.

Hannah, cleaned up.

Interested in learning who else is participating in the 30 days blog-a-thon or the five things Holly Spangler will be talking about this month? Head over to Prairie Farmer to find out!


There’s rain in the forecast for tonight and into tomorrow.  So, it’s all hands on deck today to get as much done as possible before we’re forced to once again shut down.  This means I’ll be preparing a few additional lunches since there are extra people helping with harvest today.  If we’re able to go late,  it might be a 2-sandwich day.

Lunch prep is part of my job and I have to admit that I don’t dislike it.  I don’t get crazy and deliver piping hot lunches to the field like some overachieving farmwives – I’ve tried that using styrofoam covered containers and it just never works out. Too messy and is never as hot as it should be since something always comes up on the way to the field. So, it’s just a sack lunch here.

I’ve gotten efficient at it and use the assembly line method on my kitchen counter. I do try to put a nice sack lunch together and put some thought into it.  It’s a piece of fresh fruit, a couple of snack items like string cheese, crackers or granola bars (for later in the day), some kind of dessert like a couple of cookies or a brownie, a bag of chips, and of course a sandwich.  And the sandwich, being the keystone of the lunch, must be on fresh bread with plenty of meat piled on and include cheese, onions and lettuce.  I’ll add pickles on occasion but I find that if a sandwich containing pickles is not eaten fairly quickly it can make the sandwich kind of soggy.  I vary the kind of bread (rye, whole wheat, sourdough and Italian make a rotation), meat (usually beef, turkey, or ham), cheese (cheddar, swiss, pepper jack, or munster).  The chips can be Doritos, Fritos, Cheetos, Barbeque, Cheddar, or Classic Potato Chips. I even like to switch up the condiments; my mustard collection is extensive (dijon, honey, stone-ground, spicy, classic yellow, etc.), although I always use Hellman’s mayo – never Miracle Whip.  Each sandwich also gets a light shake of Nature’s Season, an all purpose seasoning.  The sandwiches get wrapped in Saran Wrap, not a plastic bag, since the bags are usually too small for the thick sandwiches.  If I use the larger bags, the sandwich will slip around some and may fall apart. 

Okay, after writing this out it does seem a little anal, but I like to give the guys something decent to look forward to.  I greatly appreciate the hard work that they do and the long hours that are required during harvest season.  It’s the least I can do.

Interested in learning who else is participating in the 30 days blog-a-thon or the five things Holly Spangler will be talking about this month? Head over to Prairie Farmer to find out!

A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to be invited to a picnic at the home of good friends who are also farmers. The guests of honor were 3 generations of an Amish family from Wisconsin, with whom my neighbors had become friendly. It was an interesting experience for me to be around these folks from a different culture. I have Mennonite ancestors on my mother’s side of the family and have always been curious about this way of life. Since the Amish folks are farmers, we had plenty of common ground and it was easy to keep the conversation going.

While chatting, it dawned on me that the people I interact with at the local farmers market a couple of times each week probably look at me similar to how I was viewing the Amish. My customers at the market have very little, if any, experience with agriculture. Fewer than 2% of Americans are involved in farming, and as our county specifically is rapidly becoming urbanized (although agriculture is still the number one industry here), the vast majority of residents have no knowledge or understanding of modern-day farming. Most are two or three generations removed from agriculture, just as I am that many generations removed from my Mennonite roots.

In fact, there have been times when, after seeing a sign at my booth promoting the Facebook page for my farm, I’ve been asked in an incredulous tone if we really have internet service on the farm. Some people are frankly amazed that a farmer is actually using a computer. I’ve received similar comments at the market when people notice that I’m using a smart phone. They’re surprised that a farmer is using modern technology. I have to explain that those of us farming are leading lives that aren’t too terribly different from theirs. We’re not Amish; we’re just part of that small number of people who make our living growing food, fuel sources, and fiber. We shop at the same stores, our kids attend the same schools, and we go to the same churches. I let them know that many in farming are very involved in their communities. We’re on school boards, church councils, coach sports teams, volunteer with service organizations, and are active in local politics, etc. Our jobs in agriculture frequently require long hours, so we may have less time to spend on recreational activities, but many of us still have hobbies we enjoy, just like the non-farm folks. Some of our pastimes are traditional, such as baking, canning, quilting, wood working and gardening. Although other farmers I know enjoy spending time flying airplanes, riding motorcycles, fishing, taking spin and yoga classes, and have hobbies like genealogy and photography. It should be easy to find the common ground.

Non-farmers may be surprised at how much technology is actually used these days on the farm. Not only do we have smart phones but we constantly use apps to keep an eye on the weather and to track the market prices of the commodities that we produce. There are also apps that can monitor irrigation systems or grain bins and dryers remotely. During harvest season while the farmer may be running the combine in a field many miles away from home, he or she can be keeping track of the temperature and moisture in specific grain bins via the phone.

Those of us who raise livestock have also benefitted from new technology. For example, there are now monitors that can recognize each individual dairy cow, record her body temperature, and track her activity and milk production. The farmer is notified by text of any indicators out of the ordinary, leading to greater efficiency and improved animal care. Air flow monitors in barns are now also common, again enriching animal comfort and care. Many farmers also use video surveillance to help watch livestock, as well as machinery and fuel tanks. A motion sensor triggers a text or phone call.

It’s now common to see GPS receivers on farm equipment. GPS allows, for example, a combine to collect location data. The yield monitor in the cab then records moisture and yield data that are used to prepare specific reports and maps. This information makes it possible for farmers to use less fertilizer and chemicals, as they are now only applied where and when needed. We are able to create “management zones” and take soil and tissue samples according to a GPS grid. The samples are tested in a lab and the results are used in conjunction with soil type and yields maps to give us great insight into the fertility of our fields. Precision fertilizer application was especially important this year, following the drought of 2012. There were areas where fertilizer in the ground was not utilized last year, for example on the tops of hills. This year we only applied fertilizer to the specific areas that had higher yielding corn last year, thanks to the information provided by the maps. Sprayers now use “swath control” which can turn off the boom to avoid over-spraying.

On planters, GPS allows “auto-steer” to collect data along a path and keeps the planter straight. Information regarding seed population, how well the planter is singulating the seed, and down pressure are all immediately available to the farmer in the cab while planting. He or she can make adjustments for different soil types to plant seed more efficiently. Another new technology “row clutch”, helps avoid over-seeding by turning off individual planter boxes in odd shaped or triangular fields. The seed is only planted where needed.

There is exciting new technology being introduced in agriculture all the time. And it’s not just for the larger farmers. Our farm is considered just average size and it’s readily available to us. If you’re curious about farmers, our lives and what’s happening on our farms, it’s easy to get more information. Many of us are active on Facebook and Twitter, and there are lots of blogs to follow. You’ll find a list of farmer bloggers at You don’t have to wait to be invited to a picnic!

Got milk?

Got milk?

Working at the farmers market twice a week selling beef raised on our farm, I sometimes hear negative comments pertaining to the care of livestock or the operation of larger farms. More than once someone has tossed out a casual question regarding the care of animals on our farm, or said to me, or “it’s great that you’re doing this on a small scale, you know those large farmers are abusing their animals”. I have to wonder what they think happens when a farm reaches a certain size. Do otherwise sensitive, caring individuals suddenly turn into cruel abusers when the number of animal units reaches 200, 500, 1000? Is everything automatically acceptable if it’s done small scale? I don’t believe that there is a “magic number”. I believe that those of us raising livestock for our livelihood have the best interest of the animals in our care in mind at all times. Sure, there have been a couple of well-publicized cases of abuse, we’ve all seen the videos. Of course there are a few idiots in any profession – there are bad people who are doctors, accountants, clergymen, teachers – you name it. However, you cannot paint everyone with the same brush. You wouldn’t say that all teachers are awful because of a few bad apples, and the same should not be done to farmers.  It was always my goal to have 365 cows in my herd. I’m not even 20% of the way there, and most likely won’t ever get there. My operation is the size that it is due to the limited amount of pasture and facilities on our farm. If I ever do reach my goal, would I automatically begin being abusive to my cattle?

Since I’ve been raising beef for a couple of decades, I happen to know many others doing the same thing, locally and in different parts of the country. Some of them just have a couple of cows or may raise a steer or two just for their own families. Others have large, modern operations or have many hundreds of cows in their herds, supporting multiple generations of farm families. The men and women farming or ranching on a larger scale are just like me, only working in a different setting.  Since I’ve been to these places and know these people, I can honestly say that there is no

"Beauty" - negligent mother or practical realist?

“Beauty” – negligent mother or practical realist?

difference in the level of dedication or quality of care provided at either end of the spectrum. Regardless of size, it’s a 24/7 job requiring attention to detail, knowledge, and devotion. I might go as far as to say that the level of professionalism is even greater when the number is animals is increased. Those farmers face greater risks and have more on the line. Often there are people on the larger farms whose sole responsibility is the health and comfort of the animals. Wouldn’t it would make sense that the animals on the larger farms are just as well cared for as those on small operations, if not more?
Here’s an example of why it bothers me when people ask me if I abuse my animals: About 2 ½ weeks ago, one of my favorite cows (#89, known as “Beauty”) gave birth to twins, one male and the other female. She cleaned both of them up nicely but soon thereafter she decided to abandon the female calf. On occasion, cows that have twins will abandon the weaker or less robust of the two. The mother cow may feel that she can’t adequately protect both from predators, that she doesn’t have enough milk to raise two, or something may be physically wrong with the one she leaves behind. I’m not exactly sure what prompted her decision, but it is noticeable that the female calf has an irregular vulva. It’s nothing that will affect the calf’s quality of life, but it is still an abnormality. Within the species, many female

Sleeping in her calf hutch

Sleeping in her calf hutch

twins born with a male twin will have reproductive issues and are often sterile.

The female twin immediately became my responsibility when the cow walked away with her bull calf. I gave her some colostrum (a commercial version of the cow’s first milk containing the antibodies that the calf needs to survive) from a bottle, then ran out to the feed store to buy a bag of milk replacer (powdered milk that we reconstitute with warm water) for the calf. After that first feeding, for the next week and a half, the little heifer refused to drink from a bottle or pail, so we had to feed her two or three times a day using a feeding tube. This is a fairly difficult and time consuming process, having to thread the proper length of small flexible plastic tubing past the sharp teeth, down her throat and into her stomach all while she’s moving around. The esophagus is very close to the trachea leading to the lungs, so it’s imperative that the plastic tube goes down the right way. If we make a mistake and put liquid into the lungs, the calf will die immediately. After a couple of days of constant attention, the heifer was still weak, not thriving, and not responding to any of our attempts to get her going (such as adding electrolytes or probiotics to her milk), so we called in our veterinarian. Dr. Morrissey examined her, administered medication, and left some for us to give her three times a day. We spent several more days hovering and following the doctor’s orders. Finally, last Sunday she regained her ability to

Mid-day meal

Mid-day meal

suck and began to drink from a bottle. For a week now she’s been doing much better, drinking milk three times a day, drinking some water from a bucket, and nibbling on a tiny bit of grain. She’s filling out and her coat is shiny. She has her own space, a “calf hutch” outside near the barn where she can go to be safe and dry, but she can also go into the barnyard and out to the pasture to be with the other calves and cows whenever she wants to. It’s great to see her doing well, she recognizes me now as her food source and comes running when she sees me with the bottle.

I tell this story to bring up an example of care and concern that farmers show their animals every day.  When something goes wrong (and there are very few days without some kind of surprise) we know that there will be extra time involved, constant worry and concern, and often added expenses. Some may say that it’s only done in the interest of making a profit. It’s definitely not – in the case I just described the cost of the vet visit alone has removed any chance of profit from this animal. Why we do it is because we care.  If we didn’t like working with animals, we certainly wouldn’t be in this line of work.  In this case, I don’t know any farmer who would have done it differently – large scale or small.

I’m a livestock producer. I’m getting used to frequent attacks by animal rights and other anti-agriculture groups. I still cringe each time they strike, and I fight back however and whenever it’s appropriate, but I have to admit it’s getting easier to respond. They keep spewing the same myths, regurgitating the same falsehoods, so my replies are ready, no research required. I’ve got experience, passion, facts, and good, solid science on my side.

However, I have to say that twice last week I was caught off guard. First of all, there was the USDA newsletter promoting “Meatless Mondays”. I had really never anticipated an attack from the department responsible for promoting all facets of agriculture. But I got on the phone and called my reps in Washington, helped to rattle some cages. Quickly, there was a retraction from USDA.

Then again, on Saturday morning I was thrown another curveball. At about 4:30 I was listening to WGN radio out of Chicago. Like many midwestern farmers, I have WGN on a lot, they give frequent weather and market updates. I was anticipating the “Morning Show” with popular ag broadcasters Orion Samuelson and Max Armstrong that airs at 5:00 AM on Saturdays. I always tune in for that and listen while I’m getting ready for the farmers market. What I was hearing at 4:30 was apparently a taped broadcast of a Bill Leff show from earlier this month. Bill’s the overnight host, a former comic who seems like kind of a goof-ball. I don’t listen to him much, but when I do it’s usually a pleasant enough show. Bill was interviewing Lily Raff McCaulou, a woman living in Oregon who had written a book about hunting, “Call of the Mild: Learning to Hunt My Own Dinner“. She’s a journalist, an urbanite who also has background in the TV and movie industry and moved from New York City west to Oregon. She apparently fell in love with the outdoors, took up hunting and has now written a book extolling the virtues of the hobby.

Ms. McCaulou explained how she feels closer to nature and a part of the ecosystem when hunting. Fine, I thought, I’m not a hunter myself, but I have nothing against those who choose to do so. As long as it’s done legally, with the proper licenses, and safety precautions in mind, of course. Problem was, she didn’t stop there. The author went on to state that hunting is ethical, as opposed to farming and ranching, which is not. That’s what initially got my attention. It was another first; a hunter opposing production agriculture. She stated that hunting casts a “light environmental footprint” but farming causes erosion, and “all kinds of pollution”. Hmmm, similar to the typical animal rights message, but with a new spin. She also went on some about how hunted animals are free to move around and live good lives, unlike farm animals, and the general “misery of factory farming”. This was where Bill Leff chimed in with his thoughts about how livestock is “inhumanely treated”. Up until that point, I was hoping that Bill might wake up and question the legitimacy of some of these erroneous statements, but he was much too busy setting himself up for pithy one-liners.

I wasn’t expecting to hear HSUS/PETA-style fictitious nonsense from a hunter. Hunting is OK; why blast agriculture? Her talk of the negative “environmental issues associated with farming” wasn’t only aimed at livestock producers, she made sure to include “farms growing vegetables or greens”. When she stated that it is hunters who are a “part of the food chain” with a vested interest in animals, and they are the ones who understand that a life was actually taken to supply them with food, I’ll admit I got mad. Farmers and ranchers know this, too. In fact, I believe that we respect this fact more than anyone else. This is not our hobby, not a way to spend the occasional weekend, it’s our livelihood! We care for our animals each and every day, and are grateful for what they provide us. If all of the hunted animals in the woods become ill or die, the hunter can simply go home without filling his or her tag, and stop off at the grocery store for food on the way. If the animals in a farmer or rancher’s care become ill or die, the farmer or rancher’s family and employees go hungry. And eventually, the grocery store shelves become bare.

Ms. McCaulou threw a few jabs at bird watchers and hikers too, saying that they, in addition to farmers, don’t contribute to conservation. Her view is that hunters pay for conservation because they purchase licenses and tags, and ammo has extra taxes associated with it. I would have to argue that farmers are land owners who pay property taxes which are used to fund conservation programs. Aside from that, there is no one with a more vested interest in land conservation than the farmer or rancher. We are stewards of the land and practice conservation every day. It is a responsibility that we take very seriously. The survival of our businesses and way of life depend on it.

And to you Bill Leff, I would suggest that you need to spend some time with your colleagues, Orion and Max. Or better yet, hop a train or drive an hour and a half west to where I am. I’d be happy to take you to visit farms where you can see what’s really happening out here.

Whether it comes from animal rights activists, the USDA, or hunters, it’s time we farmers speak up for ourselves and stop the spread of this fiction. Before it’s too late.

Did anyone happen to catch The View on ABC yesterday morning? I don’t tune in regularly but had the TV on in the background as I was puttering around the kitchen. Rachael Ray was a guest, there to promote her new cookbook that features burger recipes.

 As a beef producer who enjoys preparing beef for my family, that caught my attention so I sat down briefly to watch her segment expecting to perhaps pick up a new idea or two. I did not expect to be confronted with misinformation regarding beef; its production and preparation to be exact. As Rachael Ray displayed samples of finished product from her new book, the ladies tasted and commented. One of them remarked that some of the ground beef was red or pink and wondered if it was safe to eat. Rachael Ray replied that it’s fine if it’s “grass fed” or “organic”. The truth is that all ground beef must be cooked to reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees F in order to kill bacteria. The color of the hamburger is irrelevant. Bacteria are everywhere in our environment. Whether the beef is raised using conventional or organic production methods has absolutely nothing to do with the safety of the hamburger. Whether the beef is fed grass, hay, corn, soybean meal, or Krispy Kreme donuts also has nothing to do with the safety of the hamburger. Whether the beef is processed in a large facility, local butcher shop, or at home the same rules apply.

 She also went on to state that the beef “scares” in the media recently were all due to “mass produced” beef and that if you know your producer and where your beef comes from you are guaranteed a safe product. Again, not true. She also stated that beef is OK to consume “once in awhile”. In reality, recent studies have shown that beef can be, in fact, eaten every day as part of a healthy diet. There are 29 cuts of beef that meet nutritional guidelines for “lean”, each with less than 10 g of total fat per 3 oz. serving. In addition, there is 7 times more vitamin B12, 6 times more zinc, and 3 times more iron in beef than the same size skinless chicken breast.  You can find more info on the benefits of beef here:

What troubles me is that Rachael Ray, who has built an empire from food preparation, is not aware of basic food safety or nutrition information. I am bothered when celebrities attempt to influence or lecture us common folk about topics that they are so obviously not experts. However, she wasn’t attempting to give her input on the political scene or give an economics lesson, she was speaking on a topic on which she should be well-versed. The public should have a reasonable expectation of accuracy on this topic from her. In reality, Rachael Ray is a popular and very influential celebrity with her own television show and magazine, but she is terribly misinformed. Also bothersome to me is that not one of the ladies on the set with her thought to question what she was stating. I wonder how many people watching yesterday took what she said as gospel. What she said was irresponsible as well as dangerous. I’ve written her about this. Let’s see if she will correct it….

This blog post may come off as more of a rant than anything else. I’ll admit it; I’m irritated.  I am getting older; maybe the increased crabbiness comes with age.  Whatever the reason, it seems that more and more often farmers like myself, at least in my area, are asked to provide folks with a place to perform their recreational activities.  We’ve got lots of snowmobilers, 4 wheel drive and ATV enthusiasts, and remote controlled aircraft buffs out here.

Many who participate in these hobbies feel that they have the right to be on our property, or other private land at any time.  A few of them go through the motions of asking for permission but get angry or sulk and refuse to understand the reasons for our refusal to allow them on the property.  The biggest reason to keep strangers off of private land is of course, the liability issue.  If anyone should be hurt, I’m at risk.  But then, most don’t bother to ask permission.  Don’t get me wrong; outdoor activities are great, we farmers enjoy hobbies, too. I’ve spent my fair share of time on a snowmobile.  But when the activities result in damage to property or crops, sorry, I’m no longer supportive.

A couple of summers ago we had a group of RC airplane guys crash a toy plane into a soybean field.  They lost sight of their toy, entered the field to look for it and destroyed a few acres of beautiful nearly knee-high beans in the process.  The men were each using a large wooden walking stick that they would beat the bean plants aside with to try to find the plane.  A neighbor called me when she saw what was going on. I got there, blew a gasket, and yelled at the guys to get out of the field before they did any more damage.  They refused, saying that their plane was worth over a thousand dollars.  I replied that the value of the crop they’d ruined was undoubtedly more.  I ended up having to call the police, who pulled the guys out of the field before they found what they were looking for.  The sheriff’s deputy chastised them saying that he’d never seen such a lack of respect for personal property.

It got worse; we soon got a letter from the ringleader’s attorney.  Since he hadn’t found his toy and we wouldn’t allow him back into the field to continue searching, we were threatened with having charges pressed against us for “holding his personal property hostage”.  I actually had to meet this guy on a regular schedule so that he could search the field for an hour at a time under my supervision.  He never located his plane, and we were never properly compensated for our crop or time.

Sadly, almost every farmer in our county can tell you tales of trespassing and crop damage.  Operators of hot air balloons are some of the worst offenders (tons of stories there; I’ll save that rant for a different day).  It probably doesn’t help that there are fewer and fewer livestock operations these days.  It used to be that all farms with livestock were properly fenced out of necessity.  As the animals left, fences that were costly and time consuming to maintain were removed. I’m afraid that there is a tremendous lack of respect for what we do.  In our area, 4 wheel drive trucks and ATVs drive through fields routinely.  I was once able to track down one of the offenders, a male in his late teens.  I tried to be agreeable and not get the police involved.  I met with his parents at their home and was given only excuses, no apology or offer of compensation.  I was actually asked, “Where is he supposed to drive his truck?”  My jaw hit the floor.  I wanted to ask if it would be OK for me to drive my tractor through their lawn.  Kind of scary what parents are teaching their kids.

On another occasion I was told by an adult that he “didn’t think that anyone owned the property.”  It should be simple; if YOU don’t own it, stay out of there. Winter wheat crops which are planted in the fall, are at risk during the winter months.  A wheat field can look like a lawn at this time.  It’s easily damaged and often is by snowmobilers, especially those who will ride when there’s little or no base.  We’ve had acres of wheat destroyed and fields turned into mud tracks.  We’ve also had snowmobilers ride through our fence along the road.  They don’t bother to stop and let you know what’s happened, to compensate for or help with repairs, or to advise you that you’re minutes away from having to chase your herd of cattle down the road.  Snowmobile clubs in our area go to a lot of trouble to set up trails, gotta wonder why aren’t they used.  There are lots of farms for sale, go buy your own.

I’m not sure why folks fail to understand that what we’re doing in our fields is not play, it’s not our hobby or pastime. The farm is my workspace, just as the office, shop, factory, etc. is to those who work in town.  Those crops growing in the fields allow us to make a living, pay our bills and support our families.  Farming is our profession.  Agriculture is a strong, viable industry.  But like many industries these days, farmers are facing smaller margins for what they produce.  Those destroyed or damaged acres can make a big difference in the bottom line.  And no, minor vandalism is not covered by crop insurance.

This disrespectful behavior is especially insulting in the county where we live.  The McHenry Conservation District has nearly 25,000 acres of open space. They provide 32 sites for public recreation, and miles and miles of beautifully maintained trails. The District has been well funded by taxpayers for forty years. Go play with your toys there.  Another option would be to find a new hobby.  If you don’t personally have the physical space in which to perform your leisure activity, it’s time to take up something else.  If I lived in the middle of a desert I wouldn’t choose surfing as my pastime.  Bottom line: It’s not my job to provide you a place to play in my workspace.