Minnesota Farmer

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Plain spoken

Farmers are still some of the most trusted people in our country, maybe in part because we know how to speak about our work in terms that everyone can understand.  More and more we on the farm are having to deal with science that is not understandable to those off the farm.  Some of the problems we have communicating modern farms was brought home to me when I read an article in Time Magazine about translating science.  We on the farm need to remember to translate our farms into plain language that all can understand.

Everyone loves the old style farmyard.  Dogs, cats, baby animals, they all have an attraction for those of all ages.  Yet unless you really live the farm life, it is so hard for people off the farm to understand having thousands of one type of animal.  Anyone who has thousands of chicks just cannot be a farmer some think. 13-boy-watching-chicks

Farm machinery is fascinating to folks of all ages.  The chance to be in and control those huge pieces of machinery is really exciting.  People can understand the small farmer who does all of his own work on a few hundred acres.  What they have trouble understanding is how a family farm could extend to 10,000 acres or more and still be a family farm.  All of those computers and modern science things are hard for the general public to put on a family farm.


The recent bankruptcy proceedings of Broadacre Farms Inc., a Saskatchewan based Mega-Farm now has many talking of the unsustainability of large farms.  How can these large farms be right?  The truth is usually more difficult to understand than most would like to believe.

In farming as in few other occupations there are so many roads to success.  In the end good management will win out.  Can you make the most of what you have to earn a living for those who depend on your farm.  If you are not the best, do you deserve to continue farming?

We have just come through some of the best years in agriculture I have ever seen.  Yet some types of agriculture have had hard times.  It is a fact of life that nature is a harsh mistress.  Farmers not only deal with local conditions, but world markets that can move market prices in ways we do not understand.  We also deal with government regulators that seem determined to frustrate our every attempt to provide food for our families.  Farms of all sizes will fail, large, medium and small.  There is no one best for the world.

Please, if you have not been on a farm, do not try to tell farmers how they must farm.  Each farm is different, each region of the world is different, yet we all deal with trying to feed our families.

So here I’ve gone again, starting off in one direction and ending up in another.  In the whole though, I am trying to be plain spoken about what we on the farm deal with.  It is my hope that this will help you understand me and my fellow farmers better.  And please, if you have a question about farms, ask a farmer.  We’ll tell you about farm life as we see it and as we are living with it.

Young McDonald

Many in our country complain about the large farms and, to them, questionable technology that is used on today’s farms.  The truth is that we no longer live in “Old McDonald’s” world.  In an effort to produce more food using fewer inputs, Old McDonald and his son have adopted the technology that makes the rest of the world run.  So instead of Old McDonald, I offer you here the words to a new farm song,  Young McDonald.

Young McDonald farms with his dad, E I E I O.

And on their farm they use a lot of technology, E I E I O

With at smart phone here and a computer there, here and iPad, there some GMO’S, everywhere there’s new technology,

Young McDonald farms with his dad, E I E I O.


Young McDonald farms with his dad, E I E I O.

And on their farm they have lots of computers, E I E I O

Figuring rate of gain here and days to market there, watch the weather, watch the market, computers are helping everywhere,

Young McDonald farms with his dad, E I E I O.


Young McDonald farms with his dad, E I E I O.

And on their farm they have some smart phones, E I E I O

With a hash tag here and a photo there, call the seeds man, call the feed man, and what’s the latest on the weather forecast,

Young McDonald farms with his dad, E I E I O.


Young McDonald farms with his dad, E I E I O.

And on their farm they have some GPS’s, E I E I O

With a turn left here and a turn right here, keep that planter moving straight and increasing efficiency of that tractor,

Young McDonald farms with his dad, E I E I O.


Young McDonald farms with his dad, E I E I O.

That new technology is helping them everywhere, E I E I O

With use less fuel here and use less herbicide there, they’re producing more with less on their farm everywhere,

Young McDonald farms with his dad, E I E I O.


I’ve been waiting for the township plow to go by and open my road.  It’s not as if I am stuck at home.  I was out moving snow before the sun came up.  I had removed snow for three farm sites and a hog barn site before 9:30.  We’re waiting for a feed delivery, and there are pigs to load for market.  The job had to be done early.

The thing is that the state plows may be out, but township plows that have to remove snow from all of those rural gravel roads are having a tougher time of it every time it snow, and they have limited resources.  images-2Every time you push snow off a road with that wing you just make a higher snow fence for the wind to drift snow into.  Soon the road looks like this.images

I do help them out when I can.  I always push the snow back in the ditch much further than they do to keep my corner open.  I had to open the road to get out to the hog barn this morning.  If you live on a farm in snow country and you have livestock you need to be able to move lots of snow.  Keeping the animals from freezing can be an all night job.

Check out what has been happening on the Larson Hereford farm in the midst of the blizzard.

1506638_611640032239843_587503158_n“Please forgive my need to vent. Feel free to let Chipotle know your thoughts on their latest attack on modern agriculture.

To the marketing team and Steve Ells,
My name is Fred Larson. I represent the fourth generation of my family to continue to raise livestock (beef cattle) on our farm. It’s 3:40 am. Let me recap my last twelve hours. After preparing all day long for an oncoming winter storm/blizzard, at 5:00 pm my 75 year old father, 13 yr. old neighbor boy and I assisted a cow having difficulty giving birth. The process took an hour and resulted in a thriving calf and a happy mother cow. We then went on to finish our evening chores, making sure all our animals were fed and cared for and weathering the early part of the storm. At 9:00 pm, I took our four wheel drive tractor out (the roads were impassable by pickup truck by now) to check on the cows for any signs of calving in the middle of the storm. Luckily, there were none. At 1:30 am, I, once again went out with the tractor, for another check. First I had to shovel the deep snow away from the shed door, just to get it open and get the tractor out. After making the rounds and checking on the well-being of our animals, I rebedded them (spreading straw out for them to lay on) because the previous day’s bedding was now covered by 8” of wet snow. That brings me to 3:20 am, when I returned to the warmth of our house.
My family and I do this because we love it. It’s our pride & joy, our way of living and yes, our source of income. At one point, while driving the tractor from one pasture to the next, in the darkness, deep snow and driving winds, I wondered how some “twenty-something year old” with a degree in marketing has the temerity to question my integrity. Who are you to call into question my judgement on the use of scientifically tested antibiotics and my right to use the latest in proven technology to benefit my animals well-being and grow the crops that feed them. “Farmed and Dangerous” may be a funny, little throw away line to you, but to me and others who practice modern agriculture and animal husbandry, it is extremely offensive. All this artificial controversy generated by your company is being used to scare people into buying a few more burritos from your corporation. I wouldn’t trade my job for yours for a million dollars, even on a night like this! How’s that for integrity?”

This is what farmers do.


Always right!

I’ve been accused of always thinking that my way is the only way.  I’ve been told that I can speak on any subject with passion and conviction in my voice.  Those of you who have done this are probably out there reading this now and smiling in understanding.  Well, I can tell you that I am not always right, just ask my bride.  On those subjects that I know, I believe I am right.  I’ve had 60 years to learn and have been active in many things in those 60 years.  I am still learning and upgrading my understanding of the world around me.images

To have the confidence to write and talk to others you have to have passion for your subject.  To me that means that I have researched options and come to a conclusion that is right for me.  I am always open to have my assumptions corrected.  I’ve been on both sides of some very controversial subjects and may change my mind again if the facts prove me wrong.  The thing is I try to let facts form my opinions, not other people’s opinions.

imagesI believe that there are some subjects that I know better than most do, and on those subjects, I will stand up for what I believe.

So go ahead, ask me questions about agriculture.  I know and understand my part of agriculture and have talked to those in other parts.  I am passionate about getting the right information out about agriculture.

There are many other subjects related to agriculture like the genetically modified plants that we use, or herbicides, insecticides, these all I am sure I know better than those not in agriculture.  If you are going to make a comment that I do not believe in, I am going to call you on it. I have confidence in my facts, we’ll have to see if your facts are just as strong.  I’ve some really crazy facts in my brain that may shake your world, so go ahead and challenge me, but be ready with facts, not opinions.Unknown


Beef prices increasing

Many of you have recently been at the grocery store considering the rising price of beef and wondering why it is happening.  I thought you might be interested in this commentary out of Kansas State.

“Overall beef demand strength has surprised analysts, playing a key role in current cattle prices throughout the industry. Over the next few months, beef supplies are expected to continue their decline leading to higher retail beef prices as long as retail demand is constant or improving.

“The lower available supplies by definition means that per capita beef consumption will decline. It is important to recognize this consumption reduction will not be uniform across households, the amount of beef that shoppers will buy will vary by income and the overall value individual households place on beef offerings.

Beef price increases are linked to fewer cattle on U.S. farms and ranches. The size of the U.S. cow herd has been down for several years – first because beef production was not profitable – and the past three years, because drought reduced forage and feed supplies, forcing producers to sell off their herds. Fewer cattle translated into less beef, which helped spur the higher prices.”

Glynn Tonsor, livestock marketing specialist with K-State Research and Extension

Beef production is a long-term commitment.  It takes a producer years to produce the animals that bring you steak and hamburger.  Here’s the timeline.fig18

From the birth of a heifer (young female) calf to the time she can have her first calf is two years.  She can have a calf every year for her productive life, but many cows (a female after she has her first calf) will only have a few calves, so they must be replaced frequently.  To increase a cattle herd to supply more beef takes many years.  In the initial build up phase, heifers will be held out of the beef supply further decreasing the amount of beef available.  Then as the beef supply increases, the price for beef decreases until it is no longer profitable to produce beef.  The sell off of breeding and potential breeding animals pushes the price of beef further down.

To further complicate matters, high beef prices lead to fewer people buying beef, thereby cutting demand.  When beef prices decrease demand increases.  The cycle can drive a beef producer crazy.  Then throw in droughts, blizzards and disease and it’s a wonder that anyone wants to be a beef producer.  Still, when you love cattle, you do anything you can to stay in the business.

Being in livestock production is a tough business, and it will not make you a lot of money on average.  Those that do it, are in it for the love of being with animals, and you have to admit, cattle are a whole lot more fun that hogs or poultry.


Farm size matters

I’ve heard it, and I’m sure many others of my farm blog friends have also, the statement “I have nothing against farmers like you, it’s the big farms…”  Little do they realize that many of the comments said about “industrial agriculture” or a number of other titles include smaller farmers too.

Today over 95% of the farms in the U.S. are family owned.  Some of those family owned farms are quite large, and others are smaller.  Some family farms are one person working day to day, and others may employ a large number of workers either seasonally or full time.  They are still family owned.  We all want to use the best technology we can afford.  We all care for the earth.  Some of us use insecticides, fungicides and herbicides that are labelled organic, others do not.  I know of some very small operations that use some really big equipment, and other larger farms that make do with older, smaller equipment.

Farming methods have changed to the point that one person can farm an increasingly larger amount of land or animals.  Modern machinery has removed much of the physical labor and made management more and more important.  Farmers have to be ever more tech savvy, and it is the younger generation that is leading the way.  More tech leads to larger farms and less physical work that makes their job more like the job that their city cousins have.

Families are still the backbone of agriculture.  Farmers raise their families on the land, and teach good work habits.  Farm kids still follow dad and mom or grandpa and grandma around and learn by watching and doing.  There are less kids on the farm, because there is less need for families of all sizes to work the land.  Kids are teaching the new technology of today to the older generation and helping old and young do a better job providing food for all.

The point of this whole rant is that before you go “labeling” a farm as “industrial,” you need to check it out.  I’m betting you will find a loving, caring family at the head of it, a family just like yours.  We may use the most modern science to produce your organic vegetables, or use old machinery  and methods to produce a variety of food you buy in the store, but we all are doing our best at a difficult, complex and highly regulated job.


The wind doth blow

My wife left this morning to help prepare for our daughter’s baby shower that will be held at our son’s house, at this moment it looks like I will not be able to make it.  We now have near blizzard conditions.

When you live on the northern prairie you have to be ready for some nasty winter weather, and we have it today.  Strong winds out of the south are driving snow across the ground and making travel difficult.

Farm sites here in southwestern Minnesota, as in most of the prairie states, are set up for north winter winds, not southern ones.  We plant trees and set up snow fences to slow the wind and blowing snow.  Many livestock buildings are made with an open south side to let warm winter winds in and keep the cold northern winds out.  South winds also tend to make snow pile up in areas we are not ready for it.  When we get strong winds like this, it is harder to keep ourselves and our animals warm.100_2535

Technically what we have here today is a “ground blizzard.”  There is no snow in the air, the temperatures are above zero and rising, we only have wind.  The south winds will bring temperatures that will approach 30 F but the wild chill will make it feel like 20 F.

That is expected to change tonight.  Winds will be shifting to the north and the temperatures will drop.  By Sunday night the temperatures will be nearing -30 F, a temperature we have not seen for several years.  Conditions will approach what is labeled a “severe blizzard.”  Luckily we will not have any snow.  Adding new snow to the north winds and falling temperatures of tomorrow would make things really bad.  Now we will just sit and watch the snow blow first to the north and then to the south.

We can still see about a quarter of a mile, and the roads are still mostly clear.  In fact the cars and trucks seem to not be noticing the weather at all yet as they speed down the highway.  Daytime travel will still continue, but as night falls it will be more difficult to see where you are going.  Perhaps then the traffic will slow down.

So now I wait.  The winds will go down and then I can start moving snow.  Although Sunday will be cold, the winds will be much quieter.  Then we will dig out and enjoy winter while we wait for the next blow.  This is the prairie after all and the winds have a long empty space to build up some speed.  Isn’t life on the prairie great!


Baby, It’s cold out there!

Today I awoke to -17 degrees fahrenheit with only a little of that prairie wind blowing.  The forecast is for it to warm up to about 22 tomorrow and then the really cold temps will roll in.  Winter in Minnesota can be brutal.

Now is the time I’m glad I’m no longer in livestock production.  I remember those cold mornings out there on the open tractor feeding cattle.  Thawing out waterers and battling ice were never any fun.  Neither was dealing with hogs who were thirsty or hungry with a -40 F windchill freezing your fingers.  Dealing with livestock in the cold was not easy on me or the animals.images-2When the snow would pile up we also had to move snow to keep the animals inside the fence.  Usually that included loading it on a spreader and hauling it to the field since it was liberally filled with manure.  Yes, taking care of cold stock is not easy.imagesCold stock also got sick easier, and never grew as well as they did in warmer weather.  Now compare the pictures of the snow-covered livestock with this one of pigs in a modern barn.100_1883Where do you think we should be raising our animals?  Isn’t warm and dry better than cold and wet?

The thought of animals grazing peacefully on a springtime pasture is what drives people who are against modern livestock production.  They think that all animals should be raised that way.  The problem is that spring is only a small part of the year.

Those raising stock out-of-doors battle the weather most of the year.  There is the cold and snow of winter, the wet dirt and rains of spring, the heat of summer and the dry of fall.  Every season has its challenges and when weather changes livestock can get sick.  Our livestock are much less likely to need medication when raised in a climate controlled barn than out-of-doors.  These are the reasons I am happy to see animals moved inside.

Today I am glad that I no longer have chores to do outside.  The cold winter days spent taking care of stock are now behind me and I can choose to stay inside or go out and do a few chores that do not involve working with frozen feed or water.  I can be inside where it is warm, and those raising our livestock in a warm barn are happy today too.