Minnesota Farmer


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.

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Snows on the prairie
December 17, 2016, 1:07 pm
Filed under: cold, Farm, farm life, weather, wind, winter | Tags: , ,

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Snows on the prairie

 

Over the ground lays a mantel of white, for the winds of the prairie are still,

But folk here all know that the long winds will blow, and that snow will move to where winds will.

That lovely, still snow tomorrow will lie, in drifts that are hard near and far,

So look well my friends at this still, shimmering snow, that tomorrow will bury your car.

 

When cold winds do moan and tree branches groan the new fallen snow will take flight,

Snow again takes to the air, to move here and there, to places revealed by morning light.

Then snow sculptures will form, in strange shapes smooth and worn, in places away from winds might.

New wonders will be revealed, and my soul will be healed, by the wonders shown forth at the death of the night.

 

Soon I’ll venture forth, away from fires warmth, to see what’s revealed with morning’s birth,

Small creatures will join me, from tunnel and tall tree, their tracks, they shall add to my mirth,

But I’ll not tarry too long, for the wind it is strong, and I do know what my life is worth,

I’ll come back to my chair, my book it is there, and the fire, it will warm me in the hearth.

 

A poem inspired by a walk in last nights fresh snow.



Harvest complete
October 21, 2016, 6:11 pm
Filed under: children, Corn, Fall, family, Farm, farm life, grandchildren, machines, Soybeans | Tags:

img_0013There it sits all quiet.  The machinery that was busy for the last few weeks is silent.

img_0009The dryer that was so busy and noisy is now silent.  The bins are full and the clean up has begun.  Harvest is over.

It was a good harvest.  Corn yields were at least 10% over last years record crop, soybeans yielded 25% over last years record crop.  It was a very good year.

img_0014As usual we had granddaughters and friends over to help with the harvest.  Everyone loves being in the big machines at harvest.

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We also had their help when we harvest the pumpkins from the garden, What a haul!

Hope your harvest season went well!  Now for cleanup and tillage, then we start getting ready for next year.



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.

 



No time for birthdays
June 12, 2015, 5:51 am
Filed under: birthdays, Farm, farm life, weather | Tags: , , ,

A farmers life is dependent on outside forces.  Weather being chief among them.  My long suffering wife, who grew up in the city, knows this.  She has come to accept that you do not schedule things of importance without checking on weather reports.

A key time in a couples life are anniversaries.  Our 36th one was typical.  The weather was great, I had weeds that needed to be killed.  We spent our anniversary apart.  That’s the way things go on the farm.

The weather does allow for some serendipity.  Those rainy days may mean an unexpected day doing things we both enjoy when no one could have predicted them.  You have to be flexible and ready to do the unexpected.  A wet period this spring allowed me to get some projects done for our daughter and family during what should have been planting season.  I got to build, she got to paint, we were both happy.  Planting was going to wait anyway.

So yes, today is my birthday, what is on the agenda for today?  The weather only knows.  That’s life on the farm.