Minnesota Farmer


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.



Hoffenital

Health and wellness issues are a prime reason for these trips we make.  A major part of this project is the promotion of gardens.  Queen of the gardens and the largest success story is the garden at Hoffenital parish.

Hoffenital parish church has a school nearby, something very common in the area.  The uncommon part here is the orphanage and the 13 gogos (grandmothers) who run it.  These ladies have started a garden project to help support themselves and the orphans that has become a shining example of what could be.

One of our earliest groups to make the trip to the Ondini helped them along by installing a pump and pipes from a nearby creek to the garden.  When the sprinkler system was turned on, the ladies were dancing in the garden for it meant they no longer had to carry water.

Since then the ladies have expanded the garden to the point that they can not only support themselves and the children, but are also paying back by supporting the Zamani Garden Project (an Ondini Circuit, Shetek Conference joint project) that got them going.  Now they are taking another step up by expanding the garden.

Now a garden in this area needs fencing since many goats and cattle roam freely in the area.  The animals are owned by someone and carry the brands of those owners, but are basically let out to fend for themselves.

The Hoffenital garden was recently granted money to add new fencing, the sod had been turned over by a small tractor and plow, and we were there to help plant about 100 pounds of seed potatoes.

Now the sod could have used a few passes with a disk as far as we farmers were concerned, but it was planting day and plant we would.  Trenches were cut by hand with the traditional African hoe which works well for the job, a bit of fertilizer was placed in the trench, potatoes were placed in next and it was covered.  A bit of water from a leaky hose was sprinkled over the top and we were done.

I have no doubt that the ladies will have this part of the garden in shape eventually.  Labor is cheap, and they have plenty of people looking for work in these rural areas.  Members of the congregation volunteer their time to help keep the gardens going, and the parish pastor is likely to bring gifts of garden produce when she makes home visits.

The pastor has her own garden at her parsonage across the valley.  Some pastors can support themselves with diligent and energetic use of the garden.  It is part of the way they are showing members of their parish what can be done in a garden plot.

Since it rarely freezes here, produce can be grown year round.  Cooler season crops like potatoes, carrots and cabbage in the winter and corn, edible beans and squash in the summer.  The key here is access to water and fences.

We are proud to be supporting this project with our labor and money.  This is something that can really make a difference in this area of Africa.

Next, we make a visit tot he Weenen Game reserve.



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.



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.

 



Friday at the Fair

Friday, Wife and I spent the day at the Great Minnesota Get Together, the Minnesota State Fair.

We waited to leave for the fair until after the morning bus route, so it was almost noon before we found a parking spot and got onto the grounds.  We had done more pre trip research than we usually do so we had some definite stops in mind.  Since it was almost noon, we headed for what is reported to be the best walleye on the grounds at Giggles Campfire Grill on the north end of Cooper Street.  Wife went for the walleye sandwich, and I had the Walleye Stuffed Mushrooms, Delish!

walleye_stuffed_mushrooms

The lumberjack show was on next door so we kept an eye on the action as we savored that wonderful walleye. I also sampled on of their Maple Bacon beers.  Not bad if you like beer you can chew.  This one came with a chunk of bacon in it.

In past years we have spent most of our time on the north east side viewing the exhibits in the buildings along Cosgrove Street.  This year we elected to head for the west side and found ourselves in the West End Market.  The market is a newer area of the grounds with quirky little shops and the best, and newest, restrooms on the grounds.  We had fun browsing and even buying an item or two.  These shops are more open air than the ones found inside the buildings and were more on the hand made side.

We had never been in to see the butter carving so we headed off to the Dairy Barn.  Unfortunately the butter carving was not in progress at the time but we got to see where it is done and the pictures of all the Princess Kay of the Milky Way candidates.

Wife had her sights set on some international foods so we were off to the south eastern side of the grounds and the International Bazzar.

Once we had checked the area out it was off to the Tonic Sol-Fa concert at the Band Shell.  Tonic Sol-Fa are Minnesota boys who have made it big in the a-ccapella scene.  We’ve been fans since way back when and are unsure how long they will be around.  What once was 5 are now down to 3 singers.  They still put on a good show.

The time was upon us to head off to work.  The folks at the Minnesota Farm Bureau had paid for our tickets to get into the fair so we had better be ready.  I just had time for one more beer and a pork chop on a stick, wife opted for something more exotic at the wine booth down the street and went to visit the KARE11 studio on the fair grounds, then it was time to go to work.

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We got our new tee shirts on and said goodbye to those on the previous shift.  Working at the fair is always interesting.  I always enjoy interacting with those who stop by the booth.  We had a visitor from Australia stop by this year looking for ways we promote agriculture so she could take them home with her.  I especially like interacting with kids of all ages.  Getting them interested in where their food comes from is a very important job.

The Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF) State Fair exhibit continues the tradition of providing fun for all ages. This year’s garden theme is a fresh Pico de Gallo recipe. Those stopping by the MFBF building receive the recipe and see the Minnesota crops that are used to make it.

The Minnesota State Fair tradition continues with the Minnesota Farmers CARE theme. Since more than half of Minnesotans have never met a farmer, MFBF has created an opportunity for the public to ask farmers questions at the fair. Minnesota farmers will be volunteering all 12 days of the State Fair at the MFBF building where fairgoers can meet farmers who are raising and growing their food.  I always enjoy the questions people ask at the fair.  Some are very easy, but some are hard to answer.  If you have questions about your food, here is where to get them answered by those who grow your food.

Adults and children can all learn something new about Minnesota agriculture. MFBF will have drawings for children’s books, including The Beeman, and a rain barrel. Walk away with a free thermal lunch bag or ice cream scoop by learning four new facts about agriculture and talk to a Minnesota farmer.

The MFBF State Fair building is located at 1305 Underwood Street, directly across from the Food Building and behind the giant slide.

Nine p.m. and the building closes.  It’s time to go find our car and head off to bed.  If we missed you at the fair this year, we hope you can make it next year.  It’s always fun at the Minesota State Fair.