Minnesota Farmer

Cold again, naturally

If there is one thing you can say for sure of Minnesota weather, it is that it’s unpredictable.  Late last week we had some really glorious days, it seemed as if spring was just around the corner.  This morning we woke to 11 degrees.  Not exactly planting weather.

But wait, we were not the only ones with cold weather.  This cold pushed all the way into Texas!  Spring is definitely not just around the corner.

We here in southwestern Minnesota have been lucky, we have not had snow recently like they did farther north.1150414_10152107090839426_5735119744700507959_n

There have been a few farmers in the field here planting oats and wheat, and I even heard a report of 100 acres of corn already planted.  The good thing is that the cold will not let these crops germinate.  The bad part, we have no idea how long it will take for them to come up, and corn in the ground only can wait so long if it gets wet.  But with 5 feet of snow in the grove, I’m going to wait a bit.100_2645The snow will melt, trees will bud and bloom, soon there will be flowers, but until then, I stay out of the field.

We’ve had a few years when everything worked for early planting, but it is not to be this year.  Typically we get started planting about April 23.  Last year it was more like May 1.  Still, last year we had rain and we have had little of that this spring.  We need a warm rain to melt the rest of our snow and push the frost out of the ground.  For now, we wait.


Spring pushes back
April 11, 2014, 7:57 am
Filed under: family, Farm, Ice, Minnesota, planting, seasons, snow, spring | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Winter was long and hard here on the prairies of southwestern Minnesota, but spring is now pushing back.

We’ve had a string of glorious days that  have allowed us to get outdoor activities moving along without wearing all of that insulation.  Corn was hauled into town to fill some contracts and my wood pile is now growing instead of shrinking.  Some spots in the yard are still soft so you do spend some time filling the trenches made as you move machinery.  Although area rivers and ponds have been open for some time now, we still have ice on most lakes, though it too is starting to leave the shoreline open.  Protected areas still have some snow piled up including this over 5 foot high drift in my grove. (Note the yard stick.)100_2645

Wild turkeys are on display along the river, geese are nesting and ducks are paired up in every wet spot you see.  Area gravel roads are starting to get soft as the frost goes out of the ground and makes them soft.  Yes, spring is pushing its way forward.  I even saw one of the area farmers out planting oats!

Spring also brings new life, and we were very excited to welcome our new grand-daughter into the world this week.  Gwendolyn Irene arrived on Tuesday morning.10255434_831106574130_8979663364570547513_n

Little Gwen will share her birthday with my sister’s grand-daughter, Isabel Rose.  That makes 5 great-grand-daughters for my parents, no boys yet.  Gwendolyn and her parents, Michael and Elizabeth, live in south central Nebraska so I have not yet been out to see her, but I will before Easter.

Spring is an amazing time of year.


Why I use Monsanto products

Anyone who reads posts on Genetically Modified crops knows there is a firestorm out there.  Make a good comment about GM crops and you will get a huge blow back about Monsanto and how bad they are.  Some folks just seem to hate Monsanto.  I don’t get it.

I farm in the prairie country of southwestern Minnesota where some of the best corn and soybean crops are raised.  I typically get near or above country-wide average yields for those two crops.  We live far enough away from any population center so that production of fruits and veggies for the table is something that is done only in family gardens.  What we can do is raise the corn and soybeans used to produce feed for livestock and raw materials for industry.  Those are our markets, and we grow crops for them.

There are some in our area that produce organic feedstock for livestock, but they are very few.  There are also some producers of alfalfa in our area, but that takes different machinery and more labor than I have.  I’m stuck with corn and soybeans.

UnknownWhy, if Monsanto is so evil, would I plant Monsanto products?  Because they work for me.  I’ve been using Monsanto products since long before the internet was invented.  Until I got involved in blogging five years ago, I had no idea that some of the world thought what I did was wrong.images

Well, I can tell you that using Monsanto products for the last 25 years has not been as bad as some would have you believe.  The scare tactics you see on the internet are just that, scare tactics, not the truth.

I plant mostly corn seed produced by DeKalb, a Monsanto company.  I do not have to plant Monsanto products, in fact, I also plant corn seed produced by Croplan, a Winfield company.  I could also buy seed from Pioneer, a DuPont company, or a host of independents like Wensman, Syngenta, Stine, etc.  I buy DeKalb seed because it works for me.  All of these companies produce seed using genetic engineering, and some also produce seed using older methods that are not considered GE.

It’s the same with the soybeans seed I plant, I plant seed from Asgrow, also a Monsanto company.  I have also planted soybean seed produced by many other seed companies.  In the last few years I have entered into contract to produce seed for Asgrow/Monsanto.  This gives me the opportunity to get more income from each acre of soybeans I plant.  As a seed producer I have more work to do, but I get paid well for that extra work.  Using Monsanto seed makes it easier for me to make a profit so I can feed my family and pay my bills.

The same is true for the crop protection products I use.  I could use Roundup, a Monsanto product, on my crops that are tolerant to glyphosate, but I use glyphosate produced by another company in competition with Monsanto.  I am not forced to use their product.

Glyphosate was a very good weed killer when it was first introduced.  It was safer than many other weed killers we could use and much more flexible in timing of application, so we used a lot of it for a while.  The introduction of glyphosate resistant crops actually reduced the amount of weed killer we had to use.  But, like any other good thing, overuse lead to resistant weeds.  Now we have new options that have been developed since glyphosate, and many of the old options from before glyphosate, to help keep weeds down.

gm-crops-online-D-1The use of GM crops in the last few years has risen, not because we are being forced to use them by an evil Monsanto, but because they work.  GM crops are being used in many countries that once mistrusted them.  New things take time to get accepted.  As time has gone on their benefit has been proven to more and more people.  I and farmers like me use these products because we have bills to pay and families to feed.  With the variable returns to our investment, and the potential of losing our crops if we use lesser products, we have to use the very best tools available to us.  The new GM technologies have been good for us, and as long as it remains good, we will continue to use them.

GMO’s in Spain?

I keep hearing those bashing Genetically Modified crops all the time.  It is a source of pride for them that Europe has banned GMO’s.  Whoops, that is not so.  Consider this from Spain.

Planting the Four Billionth Acre of Biotech Crops in the World

APR 03, 2014

By Jose Luis Romeo: Monte Odina, Spain

As I begin to plant my own crops this week, I know that somewhere in the northern hemisphere this month, a farmer will put a seed in the ground—and the world will have its 4-billionth acre of genetically modified crops.
 Perhaps it will happen in my country of Spain, which is Europe’s leader in GM farming. We can only guess at the location of this milestone achievement, let alone the farmer who will reach it. Yet we know for certain that the great moment will come about halfway through this month.
 Truth about Trade & Technology, a non-profit group based in the United States, has tracked the world’s biotech-crop acreage for years. It posts its findings in the upper right-hand corner of its website (www.truthabouttrade.org) with a special counter that constantly updates, using official reports and independent research.
 How big is 4 billion acres? It’s an area so vast that Spain could fit into it almost 32 times. It’s more than one and a half times as large as all of Europe. It’s nearly as big as South America.
 That’s a lot of acreage.
 There’s a lesson in all of this: GM crops are good for farmers, good for consumers, and good for the environment.
 Farmers like me choose to plant GM crops because they work. We have found them safer and easier to use. They also produce more food than so-called conventional crops.
 With 4 billion acres of cumulative biotech acres now planted globally, of course, we may want to reconsider the definition of “conventional.”
 Although GM crops may be common, they are anything but ordinary. They are extraordinary plants that allow the worlds farmers to grow more food on less land.
 That’s why I started to grow GM corn. Where I live—in the Ebro Valley of northern Spain, right beside the Pyrenees—we have a serious problem with the European corn borer. This pest drills into corn stalks, making them weak and barely able to stand. When the wind blows, it knocks down the corn. And the wind can blow so hard here that we have a special name for it: “the cierzo.”
 When corn lies on the ground, of course, it is impossible to harvest.
 GM corn, however, carries a natural resistance to the corn borer and we don’t have to spray our fields with insecticide. The bugs leave it alone. So when the cierzo strikes, our corn stands tall.  Best of all, we are obtaining better yields.
 Biotechnology lets me raise two crops per year. Right now, I’m planting barley and peas. I’ll harvest them in June and then replant my fields with corn, without tillage. Corn that starts in June doesn’t have as much time to grow, so its stalks are thinner and more vulnerable to corn borers and high winds.
 When I plant crops that are genetically modified, however, they grow strong and we can harvest two crops rather than just one. We’re doing more with less. Food is more affordable. So biotechnology contributes to the spread of sustainable agriculture—environmentally and economically sustainable agriculture.
 My only regret about biotechnology is that we don’t have more of it. Although we grow corn that can defeat the corn borer, the European Union won’t let us have access to varieties of biotechnology that would help our crops to beat other threats, including weeds, rootworm, and drought.
 In much of the western hemisphere—the United States, Canada, Brazil, and Argentina—farmers take these characteristics for granted. They grow GM crops every day, and they’re a big part of the reason why biotechnology has just hit the 4-billion mark.
 Unfortunately, Europe continues to resist biotechnology the way my corn resists corn borers.
 In time, I think the EU will change its ways. We currently import a good deal of our food, and much of it comes from GM crops. I do not believe Europe can continue to import food forever, if we are going to continue to be rich countries. We must increase our food production and Europe’s farmers must have access to GM technology to achieve this goal.
 I’m hopeful that by the time a farmer plants the 5-billionth acre of GM crops, probably within the next three years, Europeans will have opened their minds to the potential of these amazing plants and will allow us to catch up with the rest of the world.
Jose Luis Romeo, a fourth generation family farmer, grows peas, barley, corn and wine grapes in northern Spain, near the Pyrenees.  Jose is a member of the TATT Global Farmer Network (www.truthabouttrade.org).
Truth is, Europe, and the rest of the world are slowly embracing GM crops.  Yes, they were more reluctant to use and raise GM crops, but they have been moving steadily forward.


Crazy Comments

Having a blog has been very interesting for me, but sometimes the comments that you get are just laugh out loud ridiculous.  Mostly those crazy comments fall in to the robo response area where it seems that random words have been tacked together.  Sometimes it seems as if the commenter is a non-english speaker, doing their best to make themselves understood, but those are mostly harmless, and I delete them.  Others are alarming.

As a farmer I have a very good understanding of the way I farm.  I also try to listen and learn about the ways that others farm.  Farming and ranching is so site specific.  What works for one may not work for the neighbor down the road and rarely works for someone 100 miles away.  This is not a one size fits all occupation.  So when someone tries to put all farmers and ranchers into the same round hole it is usual that the square peg does not fit.529984_495798610485209_1247879837_n

I’ve learned a lot from those who farm differently from me.  Once in a while I still make crazy comments, but they come less often with age.  There are some however who may never learn.  They have certain ideas in their head, and all others are wrong.  Usually these zealots fall into the hater column.  They need to feel superior to all others and they think their narrow world view is the only one.  Usually their information comes from popular press, internet searches or TV “information” shows that are more “shock” than truth.  The really depressing views are those that come from food companies.

Food companies are under a lot of pressure from “interest” groups of all kinds.  There are humane organizations and vegan groups promoting everything from “better” ways to handle livestock to those who want livestock farming completely eliminated.  There are also those who distrust modern science, those who think that any advancement beyond “traditional” farming (Whatever that is.) is immoral, un-healthy or will kill off the human population.  There are the envious, who just cannot stand it that someone is successful, and they are not.  Sometimes these food companies will make statements to appease these groups without really understanding the unintended consequences of their statements.

We live in a complex world.  There are no simple solutions.  Those making the crazy comments seem to expect a simple answer to a very complex question.  It is disheartening when those making the crazy comments expect you to change to fit their world view.

Every generation of farmers has learned from the last.  We know what works best for our situation.  It may not fit the world view of those who do not farm, but if you pay us well enough, we will change to fit the market.  Plowing with a pencil is so much different from being in the field making a living off of the land.  Please stop making those crazy comments and come out and learn what the reality is on the farm.Unknown


Label Magic?

A few weeks ago General Mills announced that their Cheerios would now be GMO free.  I knew that the main ingredients in Cheerios was oats, and that there were no GMO oat varieties, so what did General Mills do to make Cheerios GMO free.images

According to the Cheerios website, the only changes made in Cheerios was to source non-GMO corn starch and cane sugar.  Original Cheerios has always prided itself in having only a few grams of sugar, and corn starch is not a major part of Cheerios either, so what is the big deal?  Really, not much, but here is the rest of the story.images-2There have been other changes in Cheerios that they are not talking about.  The new non-GMO Cheerios now come in a smaller box, and some of the vitamins that were there are now gone.  The Farmer’s Daughter blog highlighted those changes in a way that says it better than I could, I invite you to check it out.  One of the main changes, is that it is hard to source non-GMO vitamins anymore, and the last producer of those non-GMO vitamins has closed.  You need GMO’s to make the added nutrition.

So here it is, your new Cheerios may be GMO free, but they will have less nutrition and more fat, all in a smaller box that still costs you the same.  I don’t see the value in that tradeoff.


Where does your food dollar go?
March 26, 2014, 8:34 am
Filed under: Ag education, Farm, food | Tags: , , , ,

Those of us in the farm community know that we get very little of the consumers food dollar.  It varies from commodity to commodity, but here is one of many graphics that helps to answer that question.dollarchart1These are overall averages and do change from food to food and season to season.  The more processed, the less goes to the farmer, and the less processed the more goes to the farmer.  If you eat at home, more of your food dollar goes to the farm than if you eat in a restaurant.

For most items in your grocery cart travel some distance to get to you.  Right now most of the fruit and fresh veggies on our grocery shelves is from South America.  If you want fresh fruit in the winter it has to come from somewhere warm.  This is why winter produce costs more.  Still this is a more efficient way to get fresh produce than any other way we know of.  The best food will always flow to where it can get the best prices.


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