Minnesota Farmer


Not this year!
April 22, 2018, 1:53 pm
Filed under: agriculture, cold, Corn, Farm, farm life, Minnesota, planting, Trees, weather, winter

April 15 was the first day crop insurance covered newly planted corn here in Southwestern Minnesota.  Has anyone here started planting corn yet?  Not this year!  This year we had just received 7 inches of snow on April 14.  In years past some of my neighbors would have planted some of their corn before April 15, not this year!

April 22 is the first day that the University of Minnesota recommends planting corn here in Southwestern Minnesota.  Will we be planting corn on Monday?  Not this year!

This year we still have snow in the fields.

This year a field like this where the snow is mostly melted is hard to find in my neighborhood.

This year a field tree line has a lot of snow on the down wind side where snow piled up when the north winds blew the snow around.

This year groves of trees have 4 feet or more of snow piled up in them which will melt into the fields for a long time yet.

So when do I hope to start planting corn?  Who knows.  It will not be this month.  My hope is to start planting by the normal last day of planting on May 10.  If I have to wait to plant corn after May 20 we’ll have to change the varieties of corn I plant.  This year may yet go down in the books as the latest I have planted corn, but I do not know the answer to when I will start planting yet, all I can say is not yet.



Minnesota Shrimp

On Monday, I attended our local Corn and Soybean growers meeting.  The guest speaker was from a company called Tru-Shrimp.  The goal of Tru-Shrimp is to help the U.S. grow more of the shrimp currently eaten here.  Currently 80% of the shrimp eaten in the U.S. is grown overseas in lagoons and bays near the ocean.  Because of a variety of problems, these shrimp production areas can have a mortality rate of over 60%, a number that no U.S. farmer would allow in their flocks and herds.

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Tru_Shrimp has developed an indoor pond system for shrimp production in Balaton, MN. Thats about as far away from salt water as you can get in the lower 48.  This pond system is set to be put into full scale production in an indoor ocean near Luverne, MN in about a year.  The plan is to eventually have 12 of these large scale shrimp production sites in the area.

Now why would the corn and soybean growers be interested in shrimp production?  The food source for the shrimp will be locally sourced corn and soybeans.  In ocean side shrimp farms the shrimp are fed fish meal.  Taking fish and fish by-products for shrimp production may be part of the reason for the 60% mortality rate.  Using corn and soybeans in a totally enclosed system where water is filtered and reused has gotten the mortality rate to nearer 10%, a truly ground breaking shift.

So keep your eyes open for Tru-Shrimp.  Once those Minnesota shrimp farms are up and running you’ll be able to buy and eat some really fresh shrimp, all brought to you by folks here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and your Minnesota Corn and Soybean Growers.

 



American Farm Bureau Federation’s 99th Annual Convention

This past week I was able to attend the American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) 99th Annual Convention & IDEAg Trade Show. Part of the reason I go is to participate in educational workshops that help me to expand leadership skills and impact policy discussions. There is the opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of leaders in agriculture and witness keynote speakers in the general sessions. I get to explore the IDEAg Trade Show floor to gain a stronger industry network, learn about innovative technologies, and enjoy TED-style talks on the Cultivation Center stage.

An annual meeting gives you the opportunity to interact with others in agriculture and share your stories of the rural life. There were plenty of opportunities to tour the Nashville area and experience things only available in Music City.  I also met up with a few friends from across the country that I only see at a major event like this.

Since the Convention was held in Nashville we were lucky to get Reba McEntire as our Monday keynote speaker, but we also heard from Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duval plus others.

Sessions I was able to go to included ones on Membership Recruitment, Talking to Consumers, Animal Activism and Religion, Crop Markets, Crop Insurance, Farm Policy, Retirement, and Dicamba.

The last official event of the General Session was an address by President Trump.  It has been 25 years since a president has addressed the AFBF, they are always invited, but few take the time.  Policy development sessions were scheduled for Tuesday, but not being a delegate we did no stay for that.

Next years 100th AFBF meeting is in New Orleans, a place I have yet to visit.  I’m seriously considering making the trip.

 



Kwazamokuhle

The Kwazamokuhle Diaconal Centre is home base for us when we visit the Ondini Circuit.  It is a cluster of buildings and land near Loskop.  As is the case with so many lutheran centers, this area also includes the Phangweni congregation (The largest we know of in the circuit) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa, a cemetery and a school.  Also in this complex is a home and school for handicapped children.

The Centre was at one time a mission outpost of the Lutheran Church.  It is obvious that it was once quite an operation, today it is but a shadow of its old self.  Cattle and goats roam freely on church land outside the fence, and dogs have drug used diapers out of the garbage pit.

When Apartheid ended the missionaries who ran the center were asked to leave.  They left a huge leadership vacuum that has still not been filled.  On top of it all, no one really knows how much land the church owns here.  Despite it all, they are trying hard to make a go of it.

When we were there this August the gardens sat mostly bare.  There had not been enough rain to keep the garden going, and the hookup to the reservoir that was meant to irrigate the gardens had been drawing too much water off so they had been asked to stop.  Three and a half years of drought have put a strain on all water supplies.  That being said the place was busy.

Ladies are still working making communion wafers and shipping them all over the world.  Seamstresses still are making robes and stoles for the pastors, and bead work and basketry are being done in the workshops and in homes.  These items are for sale on the premises.

The rooms all over the compound are being rented out.  Some small storage areas have been converted to rooms for single African men.  Small houses are available for families to live in.  A library and study rooms for school children occupies most of one building.  Pastor Nkosi is staying in the guest house while his house is being built, two German girls who volunteer at the School for Handicapped children are in the guest house apartment, and then there are the ten of us.

Lazarus, the old Massey tractor was started and a few jobs were done with it, but a leaky fuel pump kept us from working it too hard.

An old tractor powered hammer mill was checked out and deemed ready to make corn meal flour.

The pork project, which was only a dream 3 years ago, is now up and running in the old hog barns.  There are also pigs at the school, and Mxolisi has been hired to manage that project.  He still has a lot to learn, but we must think back to how our grandfathers raised pigs to understand the level they are at.

Pastor Nkosi is hoping to resurrect a chicken rearing operation that was started and then abandoned after a wind storm damaged the buildings.  Because the operation was not guarded, some of the equipment has disappeared, but the bones of the operation are still there.

A new enterprise is in the building stage.  Just west of the centre’s compound a Community Centre and Rental Rondavels are being built.  For now there are just four rondavels, but more are possible if these work out.

There are plans a brewing, and deeds being done to help keep the activities of the circuit going.  The people of the Ondini Circuit are not standing still, they are trying, and we wish them the best.



Minnesota farmers visit South African farm

One of the requests we had made on a previous visit was to spend time with a farmer from South Africa.  Some of it is curiosity on our part on how agriculture is done in a larger scale, and the other reason is to get a baseline for what agriculture could be in the Ondini Circuit.

Understand, that this is dryland/irrigated farming on a scale not familiar to us here in southwestern Minnesota.  Everywhere we travel in South Africa agriculture is so different.  Timber, sugar cane and pineapple are foreign to us.  Corn, cattle, hogs, soybeans, barley, wheat and oats we understand.

Our South African farmer host also farms on a different scale than we do.  While many in our area farm with only family labor, he has a considerable labor force employed.  He, his daughter and son-in-law make up the management team.  They have 9 full-time employees and 6 part-time employees.  The operation produces white corn, soybeans for seed, black oats for cover crop, pasture and hay, wheat, pumpkins and squash for seed, and cattle to make use of land which can not otherwise be farmed.

Our host grew up speaking German, his daughters married English speakers, and his grandchildren speak Zulu with their friends and in school.  Most of his employees are native Zulu speakers.

Keeping employees is one of his hardest tasks.  To keep good employees he pays them above normal wages and builds a house for them in town.  Employee loyalty is rewarded by advancement as space opens up or need requires.

The 8 row, row crop planter he had in the shed has all of the latest attachments for no-til planting, fertilizing and spraying under GPS guidance.  While the size of planter was small by our standards, the availability of labor to keep that planter on the move made it just right for his farm.

The nearly new John Deere tractor in his shed complemented the other smaller and older tractors that populated the farm.

The John Deere combine and sprayer also looked familiar to us.

The truck configuration was different to what we use.  We saw very few hopper bottom trucks in our travels, but double trailer and straight truck with a trailer combinations, with steel rather than aluminum frames were everywhere.  Road conditions and local road laws are the most likely reason for this difference.

Land does not sit idle in this area of South Africa.  When one crop is harvested, the planter is already in the field to plant the next.  Irrigated oats keeps cattle graze in peak condition although they do have to add some dried hay to keep the cattle on green grass from getting diarrhea.

Irrigation water for this farm comes from reservoirs sourced in the Drakensberg Mountains.  Our host farmer serves on the local water board to help manage that crucial water.

Corn stalks are also used to graze stock cattle when available.

During the summer, when all of the irrigated land is planted to other crops, native grass pastures are used to keep the cattle growing. A feed lot is also on the farm, but it is presently only used for part of the year.  That is one place he hopes to make more use of.  Right now he only has cattle in the feed lot to meet the Christmas market when local prices are highest.

Most of the cattle he has on hand have bells on them.  Although all cattle must be branded to prove ownership, there is the potential for theft.  The bells are to help the night guards keep track of cattle movements.

One of our South African church hosts was along for the trip, and was very impressed with all of the science that was needed to farm.  That one fact is something that few who do not live on the farm understand.  If we are to raise food for the world we must use every bit of science at our disposal.  Margins on the farm are razor-thin, to make a profit so we can feed our families and pay our employees is not easy in today’s price environment.  That fact is true in South Africa as well as Minnesota.



Back to South Africa

On Wednesday, August 2, 2017, ten members of churches in the Shetek Conference of the ELCA left for the Ondini Circuit in the Kwa-Zulu Natal of South Africa.  This group from Southwestern Minnesota included 5 farmers, a nurse, a food service worker, a pastor and two young men just headed off to college.  For 4 of us this was a return trip, for the rest it was a new adventure.

Roughly, the Ondini Circuit includes the area from Estcourt, Muden and Weenen in the southeast to Bethlehem and Reitz in the northwest.  It goes from the foothills of the Drakensberg mountains and up into the mountains.  The area is rough.  Valleys and level areas are separated by sharp hills in the southeast and buttes and mesas in the northwest.  The best farmland is controlled by descendents of white settlers, but many areas with good potential still exist in the native, black settled areas.

Most homes in this area have access to clean water, but in some cases it may be a barrel that is filled by a water truck.  Homes vary from those with every convenience we here in the U.S. expect to a steel or concrete walled structure with a steel roof.  If you have a job, you have a decent home, if you do not, the living is rough.

Temperatures in the area rarely fall below freezing so homes are easy to heat with a small fire or heater in the winter.  Summer temperatures are hot, but not unbearably so, the nighttime cooling easily counters the daytime heat.

This is dry country.  What rain they get makes it easy to grow crops in the spring and summer, but this land can support year around agriculture, irrigation is needed to get a really dependable crop, and the area has had a three-year run of drought.  Runoff from the Drakensberg mountains fills reservoirs, but not all water is impounded like it could be.  Some of the water is destined for drier cities to the north and is not accessible for local use.

Our trip was mainly to visit the black churches of the Ondini circuit, to talk about health and wellness issues, pastoral support and ways to provide other support to the many who live here on government support.  It is an important task that local churches have taken on, but they need help. Most expertise to run mission outposts was removed when the post Apartheid government and churches took power.  It is to one of these old mission outposts that we were bound.

More posts are coming on our trip to the Ondini.  Stay tuned.



Maturing or dying
September 8, 2016, 9:18 am
Filed under: Ag education, agriculture, Corn, Fall, Farm, harvest, Minnesota, rain, weather | Tags: , , ,

It’s been a wet year in our part of Minnesota.  We have never been short of moisture at any time this year, in fact most of the year we have been wet.  The rains come and do not turn off.  Getting field work done has been hard.  Now as the fall harvest is nearing, corn farmers are wondering is my corn maturing,img_0705

or dying?img_0706

Every year as harvest nears a host of rots and diseases move into our corn stalks to start the breakdown of dying corn plants.  Sometime they move in too soon and the corn dies before it matures.  Then you have a mess like in the second picture above.  Modern corn varieties are less susceptible to many of those diseases and rots, but when too much water kills off the corn before it matures, the rot takes over.

In about a month we will be into harvest.  If too much of our corn is down and rotting, we will have reduced yields and difficult harvest conditions.  Then we will know the answer to our question, is that corn crop maturing or dying?



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.



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.