Why I put myself out there…

It was brought to my attention recently that perhaps I don’t spend nearly enough time explaining to people why it is that I’m involved so passionately about advocating for agriculture. It does seem to take a lot of time away from other things that I should be doing.

Yet, without someone willing to stand up and speak out about those issues that I hold nearest and dearest to my heart, where would we be? Could someone else do it? Sure. In fact, I know that there are people all over the area that could be doing what I’m doing. And I would love to see them become more active.

My question is: Will they? Will you?

And if not, then I need to keep moving forward, until those of us that are willing to show our operations, willing to answer those questions, willing to explain why we do what we do are much higher in numbers and much louder in volume.

It’s a simple case of mathematics. Those actively involved in agriculture are way lower in numbers than those that are not. Which means that laws that are passed, advertising that is created and articles that are written are disconnected from the one place that everyone should be connected to…our food.

It’s not easy to put yourself out there, to “open your barn doors,” so to speak. It’s not easy to let people in and open yourself to questions and observations. Yet it’s necessary. We are no longer in a society that is alright with the answer, “I know what I am doing.” They want to see, they want to understand, they want to know that what they are putting on the table is okay.

Let's celebrate food...and food choices. For the first step is being able to provide.

Let’s celebrate food…and food choices. For the first step is being able to provide.

 

And it is. No matter how you raise your crops, what type of operation you have. The United States has one of the safest and most abundant food supplies in the world. Yet those that are responsible for providing that staple are the ones quietest about what they are doing and how they are doing it.

We can’t sit back and watch as the world is shaped around us. We have to be actively involved. And it’s not for our benefit.

I have four young boys. And I have hopes and dreams that perhaps one day, if I am lucky, and if our world is lucky, one of them will want to be involved in agriculture. It’s up to me to make sure that their future is secure.

And I cannot do that by sitting quietly by while other people are out there trying to explain how I’m not doing my job right.

Farms are ever-changing operations. They are not the farms from yesterday, and we’re not yet a farm of tomorrow. But we’re doing the best that we can and we’re doing it, not for ourselves, but for the future.

I put myself out there for them.

The future of our farm...the future of your food...lies here.

The future of our farm…the future of your food…lies here.

 

But I’m here to answer questions from you.

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The definition of disaster

Earlier this week, I posted about the devastation that hit to the west of us. So many farmers and ranchers lost so much in the blink of an eye. People were quick to share photos and stories of heartbreak, but the questions started pouring in.

So I’m going to attempt to answer a few, from this farmer’s point of view. Please remember, these are my thoughts and reasons, but I’m hoping to give just a bit of insight.

1) It’s the Dakotas, why aren’t we ready for a blizzard?

Well, it’s pretty simple. Look at the calendar. It was the first week of October. And although snow is always a possibility, just about any month, the early snow falls are usually fast, wet and disappear. It was predicted to snow, but not even the most cynical of weatherman predicted it would hit that fast, that hard and bring with it the winds that were present.

There were 26 named winter storms across the country last year, according to The Weather Channel. There were many, many storms that hit our area throughout the winter. We don’t usually name them, and they don’t usually impact our lives too much. This was unexpected and beyond our realm of normal.

2) Why weren’t the cattle cared for?

This is plain not true. These cattle were being cared for…in just the way that many ranchers care for their cattle. A few weeks ago, I explained that our cattle spend a majority of their time at pasture. Which is just where most of these cattle were, out to pasture.

Our cattle spend the summer, and part of fall, on grass.

Our cattle spend the summer, and part of fall, on grass.

You see, in my case, our pasture is located about 15 miles from our farm. The land is hilly, rolling and wouldn’t be suited for farming. Yet it makes the perfect pasture. If a storm were to hit suddenly, and packing the punch that this one did, there is no way I could drive to the pasture, have them loaded up and brought home, and do so safely, in anything less than a day.

This is how we get our cattle to and from our pasture. It takes about a day to bring them all home, or take them all to pasture.

This is how we get our cattle to and from our pasture. It takes about a day to bring them all home, or take them all to pasture.

This is what our pasture looks like. Not quite as hilly as the area where the storm hit, but you can get an idea of what it would be like.

This is what our pasture looks like. Not quite as hilly as the area where the storm hit, but you can get an idea of what it would be like.

3) OK, I get it, it was a freak storm, the cattle were on grass…but why did they die?

Good question. And it’s simple science. The storm hit fast, the snow was heavy, many suffocated under the weight of the snow, or ended up disoriented and wandered into a more dangerous area. (Below you’ll find a video I did a few years ago, when I went out to check cows after a blizzard…you can see how they gather.)

Snow accumulates and builds in drifts, much like sand dunes. And when the wind is blowing like it did, it creates very dangerous drifts. If the cattle gathered in an area that was protected from the wind, they may have ended up buried.

You would think that a building would provide protection from snow, but it can actually collect more snow than an open area.

You would think that a building would provide protection from snow, but it can actually collect more snow than an open area.

Here’s the one thought I would like for you to take away from all of this: We deal with these types of storms every year. It had nothing to do with lack of care or not knowing how to handle the weather…it had everything to do with timing. The fact that we handle hundreds of winter storms without a loss every year speaks volumes to the care that we provide our animals.

The ranches and farms that were impacted by this storm need our support and resources to get them back on their feet. We can all help out and do our part.

As I sit at my computer, typing this post and considering the challenges that face those to the west of me…all while in a severe thunderstorm watch, I can’t help but shake my head at the irony of it all.

A blizzard last week? Potential for tornadoes this week? Perhaps this government shutdown is even getting to Mother Nature? (Sarcasm…that’s sarcasm.)

I can tell you that the farm and ranch community will rally around and do what they can to help each other out. But the fact is, we may lose a few farms and ranches…and when our numbers drop, the effect is felt throughout the country.

The storm may have hit a small area, but we will all feel it.

 

 

Why I don’t care about Chipotle ads…kinda

My world has been abuzz lately regarding the latest ploy by Chipotle to make people afraid of their plates…and frankly, it’s getting old.

Perhaps I should clarify a bit. 1) Yes, I do care that Chipotle is blatantly misleading and borderline immoral in their advertising schemes. 2) Yes, I would love to see their businesses eerily empty and their storage rooms filled with happy, warm, fuzzy, free-range, antibiotic-free chickies slowly rotting away. 3) I know they do not care, nor will they ever care, about what I think.

Now that I have that out of the way, let’s talk business.

It’s Chipotle’s job to gain business. All I ask is that they use truth and perhaps a few morals. Since they appear to be incapable of that, then it is our job as agriculturalists and agvocates to make sure that our friends and family know the truth, and are aware of the businesses lack of morals.

That’s all we can hope for, and if we accomplish that much, then we can call it a good day.

Yet so many more strive to change the world with a mighty swipe of their writing swords…or is it a blogging bludgeon…alright, now I’m digressing.

My point? We aim so high to fix the problem, that we miss out on communicating with those that we can really educate and influence. And although we can be successful occasionally doing just that, I prefer the easy victories.

The neighbors that aren’t on Facebook, the lady in the pew next to me on Sundays that talks about her weekly trips to town, the teacher at school who shares educational articles or the long-distance friend that has questions about something she’s read.

No, our efforts do not always have to be grand. But our responses must be true and heart-felt. And if you work on your inner circles, you’ll find your circles naturally growing…and before you know it, people will ask you to respond to a national ad campaign that has little to do with food and a lot to do with expensive marketing.

Congratulations, Chipotle, you’ve put together an amazing package. It’s wrapped up in lies, deceit and fear, and you’ve made one mistake. You’ve given myself, and a whole army of people like me, ammunition and a platform.

So while Chipotle is off spending millions on an ad campaign that insists people be afraid of their plates, I’ll keep working to show people just where their plates are filled. And since I will not change their policies, I will continue to use it as the opportunity that has been presented.

Funny enough, when I shoot a video on my farm, I don’t have to resort to animation and scary music to explain how we grow our crops or raise our animals….maybe Chipotle should spend more time talking about how they make their food, instead of how I raise it. But if they would like to bring out a crew, I can show them our cattle in the pastures. Or the alfalfa and corn that we’ve been growing and caring for all summer, just so that the cattle have food this winter.

Truth in advertising? I don’t think so.

Animal care – it’s what we do…an update

Last spring I wrote about a little calf on our farm that we found had a broken jaw. In some cases, it may have been considered a lost cause, but our vets are pretty special, and most farmers that I know would do anything to alleviate pain and suffering in an animal.

This is what “Darrel” looked like when he was in the process of being fixed (read the original story here):

broken jaw fixed on calf

The calf is still sedated, but the jaw is now aligned and secured to heal. Notice the feeding tube, so that proper nutrition can be maintained.

And I’m happy to say that this is “Darrel” now:

And this is the calf a few months later!

And this is the calf a few months later!

Injured calf on the mend

Even with a broken jaw, this calf was able to continue to get the nutrition it needed.

So why share such a story? Well, it seems so many times we hear the evils of farms and ranches that raise animals for food…and most of the times those stories are exaggerated, fabricated or taken out of complete context. But it doesn’t change the fact that our farm and farms just like ours do the best that we can, for each and every animal that we raise.

Including a small calf with a broken jaw.

Sometimes it doesn’t turn out like the fairytale we wish, sometimes the cause is lost before you even begin the fight, but as we weigh the benefits and the risks, the pros and the cons, we all have one thing in common: we want to eliminate needless suffering.

Sometimes that takes a round or two of antibiotics, sometimes it takes a call to the veterinarian and a surgery…and sometimes it means letting go and making sure that the animal is put to rest as quickly as possible.

But I will admit, I like the happy endings a lot better.

Embracing the science behind cropping technology

As I mentioned previously, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to St. Louis last week to meet a few people that I admire greatly. Today, I’m going to tell you about Mark Lynas, a former anti-GMO activist, and the information that he shared at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. (Check out the whole presentation here!)

I was lucky enough to be in the audience to hear Mark Lynas give a presentation in St. Louis last week. The opportunity was an amazing one indeed!

I was lucky enough to be in the audience to hear Mark Lynas give a presentation in St. Louis last week. The opportunity was an amazing one indeed!

Mr. Lynas started out with a humble statement that it was hard for him to believe that an apology could make someone skyrocket to fame. Yet, he sincerely was sorry for the destruction and set-backs he may have caused by standing in the way of authentic scientific research by destroying biotech-research sites.

He wasn’t proud of what he had done…but what troubled him the most was the fact that he was so willing to buy into what the other activist groups were selling. It was concerning to realize that he would ignore the science behind biotechnology.

Science. The facts are there, but how long will it take until we believe them?

Science. The facts are there, but how long will it take until we believe them?

Lynas grew up determined to see a more equal world. Poverty is a terrible thing to witness, an even more terrible thing to stare in the face. Trust me, once you’ve lived with hunger…true hunger…you’ll never forget that feeling. Ever. And I do have to agree with him that we have seen great progress in our time in the reduction of poverty across the globe. Yet, I do believe we can all agree that we have a lot more work to do.

As Lynas said during his presentation, “I knew how everyone else should live their lives.”

Isn’t that the truth? Isn’t it so much easier to determine what everyone else should be doing? And how difficult is it to admit that our preconceived notions may be incorrect? That what we’ve determined to be our “truth,” may be anything but?

Lynas now works mainly behind the scenes, to help in the battle for food security. He knows that scientists need to start standing up and speaking for themselves. We cannot continue to dismiss science or destroy tests before the research is completed.

Does that mean that we should jump into biotechnology and genetically modified crops without hesitation or questions? Definitely not. Caution is always prudent, and surely mistakes will be made along the way, but we cannot keep looking back, we need to move forward to provide for our growing population.

Using technology can help ease hunger around the world.

Using technology can help ease hunger around the world.

“Being anti-science is being anti-humanitarianism.”

 

So where does this leave us? Do people have the right to know what’s in their food?

Of course. Questions will always be present, and people who make purchases have the right to determine what they want to buy. But as Lynas remarked, “On the other hand, we can’t stamp a skull and crossbones on every label.” And those at the market shelves should be well-aware that places such as Whole Foods are making a great living by thriving on the fear surrounding GMO foods. In fact, it’s one of the most successful marketing ploys today.

Overall, the few hours that I was able to meet Mark Lynas and take in his presentation will go down as one of the most memorable mornings of my life (right after the birth’s of my four boys!).

How do I sum up my whole experience? Well, I believe that I can quote Lynas directly on this one:

“You don’t stop learning when you leave school.”

Amen.

I know that not all of my readers agree with me on the biotechnology issue, and that’s quite all right by me. But please, if you choose to leave a comment, keep it positive and offer solutions, not just blame the establishment for your lot in life and threaten my farm or family. In the near future, I will tackle the religious side to the biotechnology argument. And it may or may not surprise you! Thanks for reading, and come back soon!

Is our farm “green”?

Recently I’ve had an influx of new followers on Twitter. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, and my smart phone, I was able to be notified right away.

At first, I didn’t think much of it, but then I noticed that one had added me to a list. The list was titled “green bloggers.”

Come again?

My first response was, “Boy, are they going to be disappointed.” But then, with encouragement from some social media friends, I realized it was an amazing opportunity. How could I pass it up?

You see, “green” is another one of those terms that has been hijacked. It is defined so differently by so many, and yet, those that it means the most to (farmers), use it the least.

In fact, I was first offended to be called “green.” To me, it meant that I was more concerned about how my food got to my plate, instead of just being grateful that I could put anything there to begin with.

To me, it meant that I thought more about how creation began, and less about how it would continue to exist.

To me, it meant that I was willing to believe that God could use science to create cures for diseases and ailments, but He couldn’t possibly use science to prevent starvation and hunger for so many of His people.

But none of that is true.

Being green is an awareness, not an action. It can be, but doesn’t have to be. Being green is making decisions knowing that you’re doing what’s best for the next generation, based on what you know and your experiences. Being green is as personal as religion. Yet, being green is NOT a religion.

A lot of times farmers shout from the rooftops, that they are the original environmentalists. And although that is true, it doesn’t do us much good to keep reminding people…instead, let’s show them.

Actions speak louder than words. So let our actions speak for us.

Is our equipment larger than decades ago? Yes, but that means fewer trips down the field, less fuel and greater time savings. Do our fields have company signs on them? Sure, but it’s more for our information than anything else. That way, farmers know which brand, which variety worked best for the conditions that year. Kind of like labeling your garden rows.

ultrasound technology in calving

Technology can be very useful in farming, including ultrasounding for calving!

The biggest question? Is technology worth it? My simple answer is yes. Unequivocally. Technology allows us the opportunity to use state-of-the-art tools and equipment to use less fuel, less chemicals and be more aware of our impact on future generations.

But the best part of it all? The ability to choose. You can choose what does/does not work for your farm, your family, your table, your health. And that’s the most important advancement of all.

I no longer will fear the label of being “green.” Instead, I will embrace it. And perhaps, before long, my grass will be, too.

How does our farm decide what to plant?

I’m tackling a few farming basics on my blog these next few weeks, for a variety of reasons: 1) spring still hasn’t showed up, delaying my ability to be outside and getting some of these very same things done, 2) search terms leading people to my blog are letting me know that there are a lot of these types of questions out there, and 3) I just so happen to have recorded some radio spots that answered these questions.

I decided to tackle our planting decisions as the first in this series. Why? Because with the late spring, our decisions may be changing rapidly. But in order for you to understand the process, I’ll start at the beginning and walk you through it all.

The next year’s season begins as we’re taking the crop off. (Actually, the plans are in the works for years before, but harvest kicks off the next planting cycle.) Boss Man has a general idea of what he would like to plant, where he plans on planting it, and what the soil conditions will need to be like in order to be successful.

combine, harvest

EJ, watching his Dad and Grandfather harvest a crop a few years ago. We have since upgraded from the Massey combines to green machines!

Shortly after the crop is off the field, our crop consultant performs soil tests to see where our soil stands, as far as nutrient needs and potential for the next spring. That’s how we find out what amenities we may need to apply, for example nitrogen, phosphorous, etc. It’s pretty scientific, but we can rely on the expertise of those around us. Kind of like taking kids to the doctor to see what’s wrong, but instead of our kids, it’s our soil we test.

Many times seed companies have discounts or incentives that make it worthwhile to purchase your seed early. That way they know what types of seed may be in demand the next year, etc., and they can better prepare for the coming spring as well.

Now, let me be clear with one thing. Although different companies may offer incentives, the decision lies solely with our farm.

I know that some believe that seed companies bully farmers or push them into making different decisions, but I have yet to encounter anything of the sort. In fact, most of the seed representatives in our area are local farmers themselves.

farm freebies

Freebies, such as the hat on Boss Man’s head, may seem like great perks…but they don’t play a role in the decisions we make.

On our farm, we diversify. We buy a variety of seed from a variety of places, and make decisions for the next year based on how the crop performed and the availability at the time that we order.

But that’s also all done in pencil…meaning it may change.

Take, for example, this spring. Here it is, the end of April. And we still have snow on the ground. The weather isn’t much above freezing. It doesn’t appear as if field work will happen any time soon. Before too long, some of the crop decisions that were made last fall, may end up being changed.

late spring in ND

A recent storm dumped an extra 20 inches of snow on us. It’ll be a few days before we can even think about planting anything!

Why is that?

Different crops are planted at different times, ensuring that they have a long enough growing season to fully mature before harvest. It’s similar to planning a garden. You know you can plant peas throughout the season. They grow fast and mature quickly. Yet, tomatoes are more finicky about their care and need more time to produce fruit.

corn plant

We do what we can to make sure our crops have the best change to produce a great crop!

The same is true for crops. Corn and wheat are planted earlier in the year. They need more time to mature. Soybeans can be planted later in the season. They grow more quickly and can perform very well with a later plant date. The same is true for all of the crops that farms grow. Each one is different, and the current conditions may change a farmer’s whole plan for the year.

So the next time you hear that one company or another controls a farmer’s decision on what they plant, you can let people know that you know that’s not true. The ultimate decision lies with the farm.

Well, actually, it’s a much higher power than that, but the farmer is the one whose name is on the dotted line.