Archives for category: Grain Crops

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It’s another cold, frosty morning so I thought It would be good to post a photo from a warmer, sunnier time this past summer. We’re also recovering from corn harvest here (while many friends and neighbors are still working to finish up), the harvest season dragging on because of the cold and rainy weather, so I’m ready to look at something other than corn. We haven’t seen much blue sky lately either, so here ya go.

This is one of our wheat fields – I took the photo in early June. This crop was harvested in late July. Next spring it will be planted to corn. We have 3 main crops here; corn, soybeans, and wheat. Corn and beans are planted in the Spring and harvested in the Fall, however, the variety of wheat that we grow here is Soft Red Winter Wheat; it’s planted in the Fall and harvested in Summer. Many of the fields that were planted to soybeans this year now have wheat growing there. Right now the wheat is short and green, the fields almost resemble a lawn.

Rotating the crops is just one way that we take care of the land. Everything is a cycle here. I know the cold weather has only just begun, but I’m already looking forward to Spring, and the warmer part of that cycle!

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!

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Plowing

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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!

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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!

Amish
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.

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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.

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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 http://www.causematters.com/ag-resources/farm-ranch-blogs. You don’t have to wait to be invited to a picnic!

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.

Seems like everywhere I turn I’m hearing and seeing an increasing amount of inaccurate, negative information about agriculture.  Whether it’s in newspapers, on TV or online, or even during face to face conversations, suddenly it’s fashionable to bash modern ag.

Animal agriculture is taking the majority of the hits these days.  The proliferation of these falsehoods and myths is damaging, and frankly irritates me to no end.  Because of this, and since we livestock producers are so few in number these days (especially in my part of the world), I’ve decided to join the “agvocacy” cause by starting this blog.  Agvocacy is a newly coined word for advocating for agriculture.  It’s time we farmers and ranchers started speaking up for ourselves.  Our detractors are well organized and mightily funded and are not being fair or truthful.  In the past we attempted to “take the high road” by simply ignoring negative or false comments put out there.  We thought that by avoiding controversy the erroneous message would grow old and hopefully fade away quickly.  We now see that such a routine has failed miserably.

With this new blog I’m going to try to tell the real story of farming, from my perspective and of my own operation, and that of some of my friends involved in production agriculture who might do things a little differently, too.  I hope that my non-farm friends and neighbors, and perhaps some curious consumers out there might gain a little insight into modern food production.  I also hope that this might become a place to begin a conversation or have some questions answered.  I love to talk ag, so please feel free to contact me any time.  I’m by no means an expert on every subject, but I do have lots of contacts and resources in the ag community.  Please check back with me often, I’ll be sharing my story here regularly.