Filed under: Ag education, Farm, fertilizer, food, organic | Tags: Agriculture education, environment, farm, Food, organic, organic farming, sustainable farming
There is a big push by some in the food industry telling people that they need to be raising the food we eat sustainably. So what is sustainable? Do small organic farmers fit? How about large organic farms? Can you be sustainable and raise your crops conventionally using herbicides, non-organic fertilizer, insecticides and/or fungicides? Many have tried to tell me that only organic food is sustainable, is it. Some have tried to raise crops organically and had to sell their farms since they could not earn enough income.
I was just reading a post from One Hundred Meals called “Supporting our Farming Habit” <http://onehundredmeals.com/2013/02/17/meal-seven-supporting-our-farming-habit/> where Grant was writing about organic farmers who’s businesses were failing. So if you produce food organically and you fail are you still a sustainable farm? There are many farmers who raise their crops in a non-organic manner who’s farms fail, where they not sustainable?
The truth is that the way you farm does not make your farm sustainable. A farm is sustainable if it can earn enough to cover expenses. There are organic farms and non-organic farms that are sustainable, they earn their owners enough to pay the bills and a living wage.
I understand the idealism of those who profess to be organic only proponents. They truly feel that there is only one way to farm, but to do so, they must be willing to pay more for their food, in some cases a lot more.
My parents and grand parents were raised on organic farms. In those days it was not known as organic, it was just the way you farmed. When my grandparents were born farm folks earned barely enough to feed their families. When my parents were born, a farmer supported maybe two families. When I was born a farm family could feed bout 20 people. All of this was done with hard manual labor, very little machinery, the only fertilizer used was produced on the farm, no herbicides, no insecticides, no fungicides. More than half of a city persons income would go to paying for food. In those days people died young, living without the medicines we take for granted and could not travel far from home. So much has changed since then.
Many of the practices that are called unsustainable today are those practices that allowed our children to get city jobs. They are the reason that one farm family today supports 155 off farm consumers. Yes, some farmers still struggle to earn enough to pay the bills, but their places are being taken by those who can sustain farm income in a manner that pays the bills. I do not believe that because a farmer does not grow his crops a certain way he is unsustainable. The consumer will tell him by either buying, or not buying his produce if he is sustainable or not.
So here it is, if you want to eat only organic food, do not buy it because you think it is sustainable, but because you think it tastes better, if it does. Those still left on the farm are doing their best to supply you with the foods you want. Support them, and be willing to pay the prices they ask for their labor. Organic farming is not sustainable unless you do.
Filed under: fertilizer, history, make a difference, Politics, safety | Tags: culture of violence, gun control, gun violence, guns, history, politics, safety, violence
Again another senseless shooting. Again innocents die. Again the press and many anti-gun people talk about the culture of violence we live in, but do we? A culture of violence is one in which it is, or seems to be, right to be violent, is that what we have here?
I would have to say that here in the “Western Nations” we do not. We here look at ourselves and wring our hands and talk of all the gun violence, but we are safer here from gun violence than many other countries. If you want gun violence look to northern Mexico, the Middle East or parts of central Africa, there you have gun violence.
In most western nations we have police and a rule of law that is lacking in much of the rest of the world. Many think that because we still have people being killed with guns we must do more to ban guns, and yet violence will still find a way.
I myself have been bullied and treated violently, yet there was no gun involved. Every day we have adults and children treated violently, yet without guns. There are many more ways to die besides with a gun. For most of human history there were no guns, and yet people died at the hands of other people. Getting rid of guns will not stop the violence. If there were no guns people will still find ways to kill large amounts of people. Just look at the huge number who died when a few people took over three airplanes with box cutters, or the number who died when a fertilizer bomb went off in Oklahoma City.
We humans have not yet removed ourselves that far ancestors who had to use violence just to survive. There still are bad people out there who must be controlled, and because of that we still need people willing to use controlled violence to protect us. I bless the soldier and police force that has taken on that job.
Do I long for a day when there is no more violence in this world, Yes I do. Do I expect to see it in my lifetime, no, nor perhaps even in the lifetime of my grandchildren. Despite what we want to believe, violence is written into our DNA. It is well controlled by only a few, much of the rest of the people in the world are only a split second from doing something violent. Most likely that violence will be to protect someone they love, but it is there.
So please, act for and promote peace and non-violent activities. Just do not expect laws controlling guns to stop violence.
Filed under: Animal care, Farm, farm animals, fertilizer, food safety | Tags: animals, farm, food safety, old barn, pigs
When we stopped raising pigs about 10 years ago we did not expect our old barns to be used again. They were not really old, about 20 years old for the newest and 60 years old for the oldest, they were just too small for most people to use. Then Tony came by to talk to us.
Tony was in college and wanted to raise pigs. He wanted to rent our small barns. The grower/finisher barn at my place needed a bit of work, but Tony rebuilt it, added some new equipment and moved some pigs in. Then he talked to my dad about the old gestation barn. That needed little work to become a grower/finisher, so that too became a space for more pigs for Tony to use.
It is now six years later and Tony needed to make some changes in his operation. He was looking for somewhere to put a 2000 head grower/finisher barn and needed more nursery space. We thought it over, crunched some figures and became partners with Tony on a whole new scope, and we are back in the pig business again.
Currently there is a new barn being built-in my dads field that will house 2000 pigs. We supplied the money to build it, Tony is supplying the pigs and the management and rents the barn from us, and, we get 120 acres of organic fertilizer a year out of the barn.
The old gestation/farrowing/nursery barn is being remodeled to become a nursery barn for Tony’s operation. So here are some of the changes.
A transition area has been added to the old gestation barn to make moving pigs into and out of the barn easier.
The main walk-in door has been moved from the left side of the farrowing barn to the center. The office will stay on the right side of the entry area, but the rest of the entry has been redesigned.
When entering the area where the pigs are, you now must go through a shower. This is to remove any chance of disease movement between barns. Out side clothing will remain outside. All clothing used in the barn will stay in the barn until it is removed to be washed.
Walls between the three old nursery rooms have been removed. We used the rooms separately because we did not raise as many pigs. Tony gets his pigs in groups of 1000 and needs more space.
The old farrowing crates have been removed and new floors, fence and ventilation added in the old farrowing rooms.
Equipment appropriate for little pigs has been added to the old gestation barn.
Piglets will come into the barn after weaning at about 16 to 20 pounds. They will move to the grower/finisher at about 45 pounds. By the time they reach 250 to 280 pounds, in about 5 to 6 months, they are ready to go to slaughter and become bacon, pork chops, sausage and ham. Lots of good eating!
It’s good to see a young farmer making a go of it. We need some more young folks on the farm to replace us older ones as we retire.
Gestation barn. Where female pigs are held after breeding.
Farrowing barn. Where baby pigs are born and spend their time with the sow before weaning.
Sow. Female pig after farrowing.
Gilt. Female pig that has never given birth to piglets.
Grower/finisher barn. Where pigs are raised until sold for slaughter.
Filed under: Ag education, Corn, Farm, fertilizer, food, genetic modification, GMO, Minnesota, nitrogen, science, Soybeans, weather | Tags: Agriculture education, Corn, farm, Minnesota, nitrogen fertilizers, science, Soybeans, weather, Weed control
As much as some would like to stuff it back in, the GMO genie is out of the bottle. The use of genetic modifications in sciences of all kinds will continue to come. Medical breakthroughs will help us to lengthen life. Our food plants will grow faster, use less fertilizer and water. Our food will grow faster on less feed. Our companion animals will live longer and be more helpful. All because of genetic modifications that are either now being developed or will be in the future.
My specific focus, on the crops raised here in Southwestern Minnesota, will also see some changes. Here are some I’ll especially be looking forward to;
- Drought tolerance and efficient water usage will increase.
- Use of fertilizers will decrease as plants become more efficient.
- Plants will be breed to take their nitrogen from the air eliminating the need for nitrogen fertilizers that are currently produced by the oil industry.
- More plants will be developed for specific industries with corn varieties specific for feed stocks in industry and livestock feed, and changes in the oil and meal content of soybeans.
- Disease tolerant varieties of crops will be developed quicker as new crop diseases and insect pests develop or move to new areas.
- More crops will be developed that contain needed vitamins and minerals so that those in countries facing vitamin and mineral deficiencies will live a healthier life.
These are just a few of the discoveries we have to look forward to. The future advantages of genetic modification far outweigh the potential problems. It is going to be an exciting future.
Filed under: Corn, Farm, fertilizer, Minnesota, planting, rain, Soybeans, weather, Wildlife, wind | Tags: Corn, coyote, farm, ground squirrels, mice, Minnesota, nature, rain, red fox, Soybeans, weather, wind
Between the rain and the wind it has been hard to get any field work done. This is prime season for taking care of weeds and last minute fertilizing in corn and soon will be in soybeans here in Minnesota. After 12 inches of rain in May, we were left with soggy fields and not many days left to get field work done. A few more rain showers here in June and then some very windy days have further delayed weed control.
Most weed control chemicals used in our area need to be sprayed on in a water mix. I usually put on about 12 gallons of water per acre to spread the herbicide. In windy conditions, winds over 15 mph, it is hard to put the herbicide mixture where you want it. So, windy days mean no weed control. We have been able to spread some fertilizer and haul last years corn crop into town, that along with planting the last of the soybeans have kept us very busy.
In the process of making those trips across the field you get to assess the soil conditions and weed pressure, you also get to check out what wildlife is out in the field. Usually I will be seeing mice and ground squirrels along with the birds that are looking for a free meal of a disturbed insect or worm, sometimes a hawk will swoop in for a meal. Holes dug into the field that are bigger than that needed for a mouse are sometimes found on hilltops that are not too rocky. I always wonder what is digging and living in those holes. Last week I got to see one of the residents as she peeked out to watch me.
The red fox is a bit rare in our area. There are always a few around, but the coyotes will track them down and kill them. Fewer fox, mean more coyotes, more fox, mean fewer coyotes. The problem is that they both are depending on those mice and ground squirrels as their main menu item. Yes, they will take a rabbit or a pheasant if given the chance, and a coyote will take a deer if there is an injured one around, and a sure sign you have coyotes in the area is if your cats are all missing. Fox and coyotes are in direct competition.
I’ve seen fox on my farm every few years. I know they must be around, but usually they are secretive creatures who are seldom seen. Usually if you are to see them it is when they have pups to feed and are spending extra hours out hunting. I consider them a welcome guest on my farm. Anything that eats mice and ground squirrels is my friend.
Filed under: Ag education, Corn, Farm, fertilizer, planting, rain, spring, tillage, weather | Tags: Agriculture education, Corn, corn planters, corn rows, farm, machines, Planting, rain, spring, weather, Weed control
After the dry fall and winter we are finally getting some rain, and it could not come at a better time, most of our corn is now planted. This morning found half an inch of water in the gauge to add to the 2.5 inches of rain we had earlier in the month. Things are really looking good for corn planting.
I had commented to our pastor on Sunday that if the weather held the dust would be flying on Tuesday. By Tuesday morning the corn planters were indeed rolling, and a few ambitious pieces of tillage equipment had made it to the field on Monday. The ground was so dry after winter that it takes a lot of rain to make it too wet to work the fields. So, when it got dry enough, the planting started.
This has been my primary view from Tuesday to Friday, looking down the hood of the tractor to keep the planter centered on the marker. I have not yet embraced the computer assisted steering that draws information from space to keep me gong straight. My planter is not big enough to make the switch, and will probably never be. I just do not have enough acres. Still there is a pride in the straight line of corn rows after planting.
The above picture is from later in the week when we got to some of the corn on corn ground. For several years now we have been in a corn-corn-soybean rotation on most of our acres, one rental farm has been in a corn-soybean rotation. The market has been paying better for corn than for soybeans, and I need to respond to the financial cues of the market.
When we grow crops, the left over plant material in the fall needs to be kept in place so it can break down and help feed the next years crop. Until the advent of modern machines farmers would try to bury as much of the “trash” as possible. We have learned that the ”trash” is needed to help hold the soil by reducing wind and water erosion. Keeping it on the top also helps to slow weed growth and moisture evaporation. Fields such as I planted this week were considered sloppy farming only 20 years ago. Now I look at the rough surface with all of its clumps of crop residue as a sign of long-term health.
This is how our fields look after I plant corn into last years soybean stubble. This is strip till. Last fall, fertilizer was injected into the ground in narrow strips under where I planned to plant corn. This keeps a maximum amount of cover on the soil, while providing the corn plant all that it needs close by. The soybean residue helps to control wind and water erosion and holds what moisture we have. This can really help in a dry year.
This is a side view of how our planter is set up. When we drive through the field, fingers on the “trash whippers” push plant material, small rocks and clumps of dirt to the side to help make a good seed bed, then the disk openers make a slot in the soil for the seed to fall into. The larger wheels under the planter help to control the depth of planting. We want the seed deep enough to reach moisture, but not too deep so it cannot get out. Finally the smaller wheels in the back pack the dirt tight around the seed to promote good soil to seed contact so the seed will germinate.
The larger yellow bin holds the corn seed we are planting. This planter uses a vacuum meter system to make sure that seeds are delivered one at a time and in the right number. The smaller yellow bins at the back could be used for insecticide or herbicide, but are just used to hold parts and tools. The white tank that you can see part of at the top of the picture is for fertilizer. We do not use these in strip till, but do use them in more conventional tillage. They help to get a small bit of fertilizer right where the corn plant needs it to get a good start.
This little loop of metal, most likely a bit of metal from an antique piece of farm equipment, caused a lot of trouble. Somehow it got caught on the disk openers and stopped them from turning. I had left about a half a mile of seed sitting on the surface in that row before I discovered it. It is amazing how one little piece of material can ruin a lot of work.
This is an old monitor system, but it does all we need it to do. The computer takes information from each row on the planter and speed traveled cues from space to tell me how many seeds per acre I am planting in each row. If there is trouble, a beep from the monitor will alert me to check on it. With the price of seed corn, we try to use each seed to its maximum. Tools like this monitor help to make planting less stressful.
Our planter still uses a mechanical marker. The disk leaves a slot in the soil for me to follow on the next pass. Those with larger planters have gone to GPS systems that use technology created by our military to find your position on the globe as guidance systems. The technology is still evolving, but is getting better each year.
It’s hard to tell that this field has been planted, and that is the way I like it. If you look across the road you can see the next field I will plant. It has not been worked yet to level off the surface from last falls tillage. Both fields still have plenty of “trash” on them.
Now I will be waiting for the next few dry days so I can finish corn planting. With only 80 acres left to plant I should be able to finish that in an afternoon. So far I feel that our planting is right on time. Those who planted corn earlier have not gained on me, since cold weather has kept their corn from emerging. The addition of about 3 inches of rain will give our seeds a good start. The conditions are looking a lot better than they did only a month ago. It has all the beginnings of a good growing year.
Filed under: Ag education, Ag promotion, Animal care, family, Farm, farm animals, fertilizer, food, food safety, genetic modification, GMO, organic, P & E, planting, Politicians, rain, tillage, Tractors, weather | Tags: Agriculture education, children, family, farm, Food, machines, plants, repairs, science, weather
Farming, like any other profession has its own lingo, and much of America does not understand it.
I just got off the phone with a gal doing a survey on farming practices who was having a great deal of trouble with her farm english. It was very hard to understand what she wanted to ask because she was murdering words left and right. You had to listen carefully and try to interpret what she wanted to say. I hated to ask her to repeat any of her questions because her pronunciation of words did not get any better. To be fair she did not sound like she grew up speaking another language, she just could not pronounce these words because they were strange to her. Kind of like trying to pronounce those strange names you find in the Bible.
Really, it is no wonder that folks with no connection to the farm do not understand us. We deal daily with names like FSA, SCS, CAFU, EPA, USDA and PCA. We go to places like the Commodity Classic and Farm Equipment shows. Farmers deal in dollar amounts that would make the head of the average person spin. We fertilize, apply pesticides, insecticides and fungicides, we deal with too much rain and not enough rain, and all so we can pay off our loan at the bank and feed our family.
Farmers talk of tractors and combines, rippers, chisels and disks, they discuss spraying and cultivating. We speak of organic, minimum till, no till, plows and erosion. Farmers know horse power, breeding schedules, days on feed, days to maturity, bushels per acre, chemical rates and livestock nutrition. Livestock producers know about sires and dams, sows and boars, rams and ewes, gilts, colts, geldings, barrows, chicks, hens and toms. Farmers deal with politicians, activists, genetically modified crops, inbreds, pure breeds and hybrid vigor. Farmers can fix many of our machines with duct tape or a welding torch, can rewire delicate electronics, and some even understand computers. No machine on the farm is complete without a well supplied tool box, and no pocket without a pliers, knife or a few odd screws. We on the farm live a complex life that our city cousins would like to understand, but have not lived, and so they can only marvel at our differences.
We hide ourselves behind jargon and numbers. What you really need to know is that farmers care about what happens on the farm. We raise our families here. We drink the water and breathe the air. We depend on the soil to feed us and our family for many generations to come. Farmers and their farms come in many sizes, but we all care deeply about what we are doing. We are here on the land because we cannot think of anything more important to do with our lives.
Despite all of the strange words we use, we are just like you, trying to build a good life for our families. So if you do not understand us, ask. We want you to know. We are not trying to hide things from you. You, our customer, are important to us also.
Filed under: Ag education, Ag promotion, Animal care, Farm, farm animals, Farm Bureau, fertilizer, Minnesota, P & E, rain, wind | Tags: Agriculture education, farm, Farm Bureau, Minnesota, minnesota farm bureau, rain, wind
At our last Minnesota Farm Bureau Promotion and Education conference we had a variety of speakers, but one had a quote from a friend that stuck. She was talking about how she was always so nervous when she started to talk to groups and how the butterflies in her stomach were really bothering her. She mentioned this to another, more experienced, speaker and the response was “Butterflies mean you care.”
I remember well some of my butterfly episodes in my early years. They were so strong that it made it hard for me to even consider stepping up in front of people. What may have finally gotten the butterflies under control was my first time on stage in a community play. That day I got to pretend I was someone else. It was not me on stage, but the character I portrayed.
The butterfly day that hit me hardest was when I was asked to give a short explanation on the words of Christ from the cross. I was asked to speak on “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?” I only remember a bit of what I said that day, but I do remember this, when I was done I could hardly see because of the emotion I had dredged up. I felt what it meant to be forsaken. I hope my audience did too.
We in agriculture have for many years been ignored. We were the left behind, those who could not cut it in the “real” world. The feeling was that those who farmed were a bit stupid to stay in a job where you worked so hard for so little. For many of us that could not be further from the truth.
I have lived and seen the caring attitude of those who are on the farm. Yes, some of our ways at times may seem a bit callous, but if you get to know us you will know we do really care, and our outside attitude is to, at times, hide the tears.
I have cried over many pets in my life, and vowed to never have a dog on my farm, because I could not stand the thought of what I would feel if they died on the busy highway that runs so near to our house. We do have cats however, I try not to get too close to them, but still they can hurt you. We lost two half grown kittens this last week to accidents, one was to me very tragic and senseless.
The caring extends beyond animals in our care, it extends also to the land. I remember well the gullies that used to form after a rain storm in some of our fields. Soil moving off of the farm due to wind or water erosion really bothered me. I can say with pride that the changes we have made in our farming practices have nearly eliminated erosion due to wind and water. It is something I want to continue to improve.
When I think of some of the things that we used to do 50 years ago, it makes me very upset. Back then we did not understand what we were doing. Some of the early years of pesticide, herbicide and fertilizer use were indeed wild. Todays farmer is trained in the use of farm chemicals and gets tested on a regular schedule to make sure the rules are followed. No fertilizer or chemical is spread on the land without an understanding of what is needed. We do soil tests and hire consultants so we can get the most out of every input we use while doing no harm.
We live on the land, we want our children to live on the land, we would knowingly do nothing to harm the land we live on. Those who knowingly do harm to the animals or land in their care are not people we need in farming. We do care about what we are doing. The butterflies are there.
Filed under: Ag education, Corn, Farm, fertilizer, food, genetic modification, GMO, Minnesota | Tags: Agriculture education, Corn, farm, harvest, Minnesota
Some would say that Minnesota, especially southern Minnesota, is made to grow corn. Most years we grow more corn per acre than all but the top producing states. Of course, Iowa is tops producing 2.334 billion bushels of corn, but you can raise corn in all of Iowa. Minnesota comes in 4th place with 1.224 billion bushels of corn, most of that grown in the southern half of the state.
What really impresses me is how much more corn we raise in Minnesota on each acre these years than in the past. Take a look at this.
- 2011 160 Bu/Acre
- 2001 130 Bu/Acre
- 1991 120 Bu/Acre
- 1981 110 Bu/Acre
- 1971 83 Bu/Acre
- 1961 65 Bu/Acre
That is really an impressive increase in yield per acre in my lifetime. Some of the early years of yield increase were due to the introduction of hybrid seeds and modern fertilizers, which dramatically increased yields over open pollinated corn. The increase in the last ten years has been due to the revolution in genetic engineering.
The amazing thing about these increases is that many of the advances in the last thirty years have been done with less fertilizer, pesticide and insecticide than we used before the 1980′s. With the help of university and private researchers the U.S. farmer has also cut erosion, pollution, machinery cost and labor cost per bushel in the same time period. The farmer of today has learned to produce with so much less waste. We have had to, to be able to feed so many in the world today.
A greater challenge is ahead of us. As our world population increases, we are going to have to get more efficient yet. Very few thought we could produce as much as we do now in the 1970′s, I expect we will be up to the challenge fifty years from now.
Filed under: Farm, fertilizer, science, tillage | Tags: diesel, farm, no-till, strip till, tillage
For many years now I have been cutting back on tillage. My reasons go back to the things I learned way back in the 1970′s when I was in college. In the years of cheap fuel, the reduce tillage mantra was largely ignored. Fuel was cheep and previous practice was easy to continue. Now as fuel prices, especially for diesel fuel, increase, all farmers need to step back and consider if all of that tillage is needed. Below is an article gleaned from Purdue University.
Consider the Costs before Tilling
By Lisa Schluttenhofer, Purdue University
“Full tillage and subsequent soil loss can quickly lead to negative implications for your land’s long-term productivity,” Vyn said.
In the comments on this article was a comment that seemed to equate less tillage with more use of chemicals. I have found the opposite to be true. We are now using fewer chemicals to control weeds than we did before we reduced tillage. Back when fuel and chemicals were cheep we would spray a field just to keep down the weeds. Now with rising fuel prices, and the cost of chemicals that are derived from or use a lot of energy to produce, we are taking a closer look at if we really do need that extra pass. If you want to make a profit when margins are thin, you have to keep all of your costs down.