Minnesota Farmer


Odd man in
August 28, 2016, 5:02 pm
Filed under: Ag education, agriculture | Tags: ,

It’s often a wonder to me how I ended up being a blogger/writer.  I’m not really all that good at writing.  This is the kid who got his only “F” in school in English Composition.  What do I know about writing?

I’m also the odd person here in blogger land.  I’m a 63 year old man in an area mostly populated by 20 and 30 something women.  I don’t exactly fit in.  Yet, I keep writing.

I’m here to tell my story.  It’s going to be tempered by years of boots on the ground here in agriculture.  My story will have a few grey hairs and maybe some mold on it, but it is a perspective that needs to be told.  Most guys my age in farming are afraid of putting themselves down on a screen.  Yet here I go, boldly daring.

I’ve also had some encouragement along the way.  There have been those who have spoken well of what I have to say.  I am amazed at those who actually read what I write.  So here’s a big Thank You to those who have encouraged me and asked me questions.  I’ll keep leaving my thoughts here for you to read as long as I can get these fingers to put the words down.



My how we’ve changed
August 20, 2016, 8:41 am
Filed under: Farm

It’s class reunion time for our Windom Schools Class of ’71, my how we’ve changed.  Forty-five years ago 123 students left Windom Schools for the last time as students.  Since then we’ve been everywhere.

I had a bit of fun catching up with classmates last night and we’ll meet again tonight. We’re all older, wiser and sounding like our parents, Shocking! This morning I went digging around and found our old yearbook, tucked away in the back of a shelf behind more used items. In it I found news letters from the 5th and 10th class reunions, my we’ve been everywhere and now we are all settling down to contemplate retirement, what changes.

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Our class was the first to graduate from the “new” high school and last to attend classes as seniors from the old building. (we moved in April of 1971.)  There is so much history in that move.

We went out and made history in many ways after that.  Some stayed in Windom, others left and never looked back.  Some stayed for a while, others worked elsewhere and now are back again.  Our class is now scattered across the globe and we’ve traveled most of this world of ours.  Those who attended this years gathering live on both coasts of the U.S. and many places in-between.  We’ve done important jobs in so many places and passed on our small town views and work ethic to our children.

Not all of our class will be able to attend.  A few class members have died along the way and some are fighting disease or injury.  Some members just live too far away to be here with no other reason to come back.  There are also those who just are not interested.  Still, we’ll enjoy our time with those who attend.

So here’s to the class of ’71!  Your time is not yet over, so live it up.  We still have history to write and memories to make.  Enjoy the ride!



From thin air
August 8, 2016, 6:07 am
Filed under: Ag education, Ag promotion, Animal care, Farm, farm animals, food, Wildlife

I’ve been seeing, and perhaps you have too, these posts about animal free meat put out by groups like PETA and others.  They are promoting a product that is grown without killing animals.  Their contention is that even organic labels do not go far enough and we need to produce our meat proteins in the lab, not on the farm.

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But lab meat is not all that great for the environment.  Lab meat must be “exercised” to grow, that takes electricity, which requires fossil fuels.  Animals have all kinds of built in immunities to disease, lab meat needs antibiotics to keep it clean.  There are waste products associated with the production of lab meat that must be disposed of.  The most confusing part for me however is just where do they think this meat will come from, thin air?

You need a food source of some kind to make this meat.  It takes sugars and amino acids to grow this stuff.  Where will they come from?  Right now land that will grow food for people is already in production.  If we must produce sugars and other products for a factory to produce meat, it is going to take land that is currently not tilled to make the raw materials, land that is currently in pasture or forest.  We’re going to have to clear forests and cultivate land that should never be worked to produce meat in a factory that can be produced so easily by just letting the cows eat that grass.

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Oh yes, the cows are eating that grass right now despite the talk you get from PETA about animals housed in filth, our beef is grass fed for most of it’s life.  It is only in the “finishing” stage, when the fat needed to make a burger or steak juicy that cows go in to confined feeding, and even then most of what they eat is whole plant based, not grain (corn, barley or wheat) based, and that filth is removed quickly to be used as nutrients for growing more grass and grain.

Livestock (cows, sheep, goats) grazing environmentally sensitive lands is what the vast majority of the meat eaten in this world is based off of.  The bison of North America and the huge herds of African grazers helped develop the grasses that they can make into meat.  Our domesticated animals are just picking up where they left off.

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The difference is that man has helped make his grazing animals much more efficient than the vast herds ever were.  Modern animal husbandry is producing more meat on less grass and grain than the wild herds ever could.  Today in the U.S. there are fewer grazers on the land than there were in the wild days of human expansion, yet they produce many times more meat.  Careful management of pasture land has great environmental advantages over just letting the herd go.

Man protects his livestock from predation and disease.  Man shelters them from the sun and cold.  Waste products are spread on the land to grow more food for the animals.  It all becomes much more efficient than the smaller farms and ranches ever could be and the environment and those who enjoy a bit of steak or hamburger at a low price are the winners.



Water issues

I spent this last Wednesday at FarmFest near Redwood Falls, Minnesota.  As always, there were lots of displays and things for sale, but I always take time for some of the forums on current issues.  IMG_0674The 1:15 session was titled “Buffers, WOTUS* and other Water Quality Issues.”  Now when you get farmers talking water, you get all kinds of concern.  We are always talking about how little or how much water we have.  Water is life for both our crops and our livestock.  Water is a big deal on the farm.  Now if you add in government control of our water, you are likely to get fireworks. (*Waters of the United States, it refers to a bill that could increase government control of water way beyond what is reasonable.)

The forum brought together nine speakers from various backgrounds, mainly commodity and farm group leaders, plus the local legislator (who wrote the “Buffer” bill) and an assistant to the state secretary of Agriculture.  So here are a few nuggets of wisdom and some comments on water issues from the forum.

“We all want water quality, we just want someone else to pay for it.”  Now isn’t that the truth.  But who should pay for it.  Well it boils down to blaming the least vocal, least politically connected voices, lately that seems to be farmers.

“Currently in Minnesota about 80% of the waters that need a buffer already have one.”  That was a revelation.  When the governor started pushing for buffers along all the waters in Minnesota you would have thought we had a real problem, but most of the job is already done.  But the next one really did open my eyes.

“In many cases, waters that do not have a buffer, need something other than a buffer to protect water quality.”  Now isn’t that interesting.  So again we have politicians pushing for something that is only needed in a small number of cases and they end up creating a big fuss when the job is almost already done.

“There are no waters in the state of Minnesota that are clean enough to drink risk free, and have most like never have been.”  Now I’ve been canoeing in the “pristine” waters of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, and I know that even there  you deal with fish, mammal and bird poop in the water and the bacteria they have that can cause distress in humans.  That is a remote area, in areas more densely populated and warmer that density of potential problems increases.  Waters that contain fish, entertain birds and have swimming and wading mammals, amphibians and reptiles will always contain risks for disease transmission, this is not new.

Groups that regulate farmers seem to be seeking out ways that they can push for multi-million dollar fines for doing activities that are not even in their rules to control.  Normal farming activities that are up to date and environmentally friendly to most are being levied with suits to see if the regulation will stick.  If farmers cave in, it becomes law.  “They want to face individual farmers, not farm groups.  If we contact our farm group we can combat these illegal taking of farm activities.”  As a group we can face up to those who wish to push the law too far.  The courts have been on our side, but one farmer cannot afford all of the costs of lawyers, that is where your commodity or farm group can help.  Do not suffer alone.

Now the comments turn more hopeful.

“The changes in U.S. Agriculture since the passing of the Clean Water Act in 1972 have allowed agriculture to have a smaller environmental footprint.”  Farmers get all kinds of bad press when they get bigger and increase the density of their endeavors, but the truth is once we get bigger we get more concerned about controlling all of the possible elements on the farm.  Two issues from our own farm.

1) When we raised pigs outdoors, pens were not designed to control manure runoff.  It was spread on fields at anytime of year with no concern for whether it may end up in a stream or lake.  Now every bit of manure is controlled and used as the precious resource it is.

2) Newer machines have allowed us to control crop chemicals in ways we never could before.  Now we can control our crop chemicals down to the fraction of an ounce.  This means using only enough, never too much of that expensive crop input.

“Water quality is improving in Minnesota, but as more obvious point sources of pollution are eliminated (factories and city sewage systems) the search for the next point of pollution goes to more and more diffused sources.”  In other words, we have already done the large part of cleaning up our act, if anti-pollution groups are to keep their funding they must find more places to put the blame that may not amount to much in the overall picture.

“Farm groups are being asked ‘Are we sustainable.’  Well, yes we are.  We have over 40 years of work on being sustainable.  We are not yet done on improving on our sustainability.  We now produce more food on less acres and with fewer animals than 50 years ago.”   We have less waste and fewer inputs for more yield than at anytime in my life, that means we are doing something right.

At times when we talk water issues and government policy, it seems as if everything is hopeless.  There are too few of us and we are so small.  Still if we band together, our voice can still be heard.  The courts have been good to us, if we get a chance to make our case.  Alone we are helpless, together we can protect this precious way of life that provides food for so much of the world.

 



Way beyond knee high
July 6, 2016, 7:48 pm
Filed under: agriculture, Corn, Farm, history, Minnesota, rain, weather

There was a time when corn that was knee high by the 4th of July was a goal to shoot for.  No more.

Today (July 6, 2016) I was out in the field and found our tallest corn already at 10 feet and still growing.  It’s even starting to show a few tastles which has only happened this early two other times in my life.

Alas, not all of our corn is this tall.  Spots that are sandy are starting to show the lack of rain and are still quite short.  Areas that were too wet at planting are also still short and not quite the deep green of the rest of the field.  Still, it’s looking beautiful out there.



There was a time
April 24, 2016, 6:47 am
Filed under: Farm

There was a time when we really needed the equipment we now have, but changes in the farm make much of it way to big.

I’ll soon be 63, my dad is 86.  In our younger years we had half of our income coming from pork production.  We had a birth to market plan the kept us busy year round.  As our bodies aged we got out of feeding those pigs, and being pushed around by and run into by those animals.  It was taking a toll on our bodies.  Think being hit by a 200+ pound line-backer in the knees every day.

The farmland we work has also been reduced.  We now farm 64% of the land we used to.  One farm was sold, and the other was rented at a rate that I just could no longer justify.  So here we sit with all this machinery and less work to do.  True, my dad at 86 is doing less of the work around here, but even if I was to do all the work alone we have way more machinery than we really need.

So now to the reason for this posting.  It will take me just three or four days to get all of my corn planted this year and another three days to plant the soybeans.  Yes, they will be long days, but I still will get up in the morning and drive a school bus route before going off to plant.  So if I seem a little laid back about planting season, I have a reason, It just does not take as long for me to get my crop in the ground as it used to.



Bus wounded, turkey missing
November 18, 2015, 9:40 am
Filed under: birds, bus, Farm, School bus, Wildlife

The area along the Des Moines river on County 14 is an area I know well.  It is an area teeming in wildlife.  Deer, pheasant, turkey, fox and coyote have all been seen as my bus rolls down that streach of county gravel.  I saw my first wild turkey there.  I hit my first deer on that streach of gravel.  Tuesday, the encounter was a bit closer than I wanted.  My bus windshield took a direct hit by a wild turkey.

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There were still 6 students on the bus when the turkeys flew in front of the bus.  The students of course, were excited.  Me?  I’d just about had a turkey come through the front window into my lap, I was a bit unnerved.

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My lap was full of glass, and there was no way I could continue taking the kids home.  We had a big problem!

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Lucky for us we were only half a mile from where our bus company manager lived.  I got to his place and the students and I were picked up by a bus from another route.  Everyone was safe, I only had one minor cut, the turkey could not be found.

This morning the students who had been on the bus were celebrities.  They were showing the pictures on their iPads and  recounting the whole experience.  I’m just glad no one was hurt except the turkey.




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