farm

This Old Barn

There is something about America’s old barns that keep me captivated. I don’t know if it is the old architecture, the real dimension lumber, the history, or the smells but I can’t resist exploring these old landmarks dotting the landscape.

It is amazing to me to think that 100+ years ago family and friends came together to build these important buildings, some times before the farm home was even built. Hand sawn, hand nailed, and without the advantage of cranes, telehandlers, and other modern equipment.

One of my favorite barns is the old “horse barn” at the farm where my mother was raised. Not only did countless animals take shelter in that big barn but it was an intergal part of the lives of 5 generations with the 6th generation just getting old enough to show interest. It has been in the family since it was first built so many years ago. A walk through that barn is like a step into the past, built by Irish immigrants with repairs and changes made throughout the course of time to suite the needs of the current generation of farmers. Today it stands tall, with new tin on the front and sides and mostly used for storage, and as a tribute to those who worked the ground before us.

Preseverving these old barns is as important to me as teaching our kids history in school. They all have their own unique story to tell. Some of those stories are of heartbreak and tragedy and some of pure joy. Not only do I urge you to go explore an old barn if given the chance but go talk to the oldest member of the family about it. You may learn more than you ever dreamt you would.

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Case IH Robo-Tractor

As you probably are already well aware, CNH Global revealed their new autonomous tractor concept. They have been showcasing both the cabless Case IH version as well as a cabbed New Holland model. These tractors have been paraded around the country to some of the biggest farm shows around, but are these tractors really a look at our immediate future? Well here is my take.

If you are like me the announcement of the Robo-Tractor, as I like to call it, made you cringe. I just can not imagine a world where the tractors did the work with no operator. It seems to go against our agricultural legacy. However, we all should know by now that new and improved technologies emerge every day and this Robo-Tractor wasn’t exactly a huge surprise to me.

Personally, I don’t see this Robo-Tractor coming to a farm near you anytime soon. For one, this big reveal was not a new model or product announcement, it wasn’t meant to show you what will be on every dealer lot next year, this is only to show you what they are working on and what the future of farm machinery COULD look like. These autonomous tractors as well as their new slogan are nothing more than a marketing gimmick to try to boost sales for CNH.

The public’s opinion on these machines is less than optimistic based on everyone I’ve talked to and numerous articles written about it. Most farmers just aren’t ready for the day where they spend less time out of the tractor and more time in an office. Many farmers have pointed out the obvious pitfalls of such a machine, such as it not detecting a wet spot that a human operator may have been able to avoid or problems with the implements hooked behind the tractor, it does you no good if you have to drive out to the field 8 times  to fix or adjust a piece of equipment. Roadability is a big concern, in the video released by CNH they mentioned it being able to travel to the field on its own on private roads and paths. That doesn’t always work real well in some parts of the country where you are more often than not moving machinery on public roadways. There is a real concern of price. We can only speculate now, but everyone is guessing these tractors will be very, very, very expensive, higher than tractors are already.

I believe the version of the Case IH tractor they revealed will be a flop if ever released in that form. It isn’t versatile enough to be of much use to the average farm. The New Holland version they are showing however, could have some success as it still has a cab as well as a user friendly operating station like our current tractors and is meant to be easily used either driverless or with an operator. The only way I see very many of either version being sold is if big corporations buy them in an effort to reduce labor. I’m talking the farms that the owner or share holder owners don’t make any real day to day decisions but are there to manage the finances and try to collect a healthy profit for themselves. These are people that have likely never farmed or even stepped foot on the place they own.

Quite frankly, I don’t like this thing and I share the same views and opinions of many others. I believe it will cost to much, not necessarily make life or work any easier, and the cost of repairs will be horrendous. I also see almost zero benefit to the average farmer. We already have GPS guidance systems and auto-steer to help us out, what will this thing do that we can’t already do? If I own a piece of equipment I prefer a human to accompany said equipment in case there are any issues. I don’t want to be tied to my computer or smart phone any more than I already am. If I send an employee out to the field with a tractor to do some tillage I know that he/she will only call me if there is a question or issue, and other than that I know the machine is in good hands. If I send a Robo-Tractor to the field to do some tillage I have to periodically check on it with my computer, tablet, or phone thus limiting the amount of work I can get done myself. I don’t like the idea that this computerized abomination can possibly put people out of a job. I am frustrated with the fact that CNH is trying to come across as leaders of unmarked territory, when in fact there are companies already producing autonomous tractors as well as converting existing tractors to be fully autonomous. I’ll give them credit on that paint scheme though.

Do I believe the autonomous tractor will eventually make its way into every day farm life? Of course I do, but I think we are still a ways off from that happening. I think the agriculture economy will have to improve drastically before many people even consider purchasing such a machine. I also believe that the technology still has growing to do before that day arrives.

The Importance of Carpet Farming

If you grew up on a farm or around a farm or in a rural area you likely have fond memories of farming several thousand acres on the floors of your bedroom, kitchen, living room, hall ways, and even some custom work for a neighbor over in the bathroom. You likely had some of the newest equipment of your favorite color. There were probably times you had to beg your sister for some pasture space in her room for your newest heifers.

At times I see kids tearing across the floor combining corn or baling hay and I’d give nearly anything to be able to go back to those days when a trip with Mom or Dad to the local farm store or implement dealer meant a chance to hopefully bring home another piece of equipment for MY farm. My birthday, Christmas, and sometimes Easter usually meant I’d get at least one new addition for the farm.

Carpet farming taught me as well as other kids some very important lessons over the years. A large part of that state of the art machinery I had was purchased with my own money and I learned early the importance of saving for what I wanted and budgeting expenses accordingly. I also learned what it felt like to beg the banker (Mom and Dad) to spot me the money that I PROMISED to pay back (I wonder how many of those promises I actually made good on). I still remember the first time I learned about sales tax. I was at the Clay County Fair and though my farm was primarily green, a toy booth had a New Holland tractor and implement, I think a ripper, and for some reason I thought I needed that for an upgrade. I happily went to the check out counter and bought my newest equipment, after walking back to where I was meeting my parents I realized the change I received wasn’t correct, or so I thought. I failed to realize we had to pay sales tax, boy that was a shock.

I’m sure you all have similar memories and lessons learned from those days. We also shouldn’t forget how much fun a kid has when his/her parents, grandparents, or any adult really, gets down on the floor and plays along. Kiddos love that, especially if you let them be farm manager. You may be amazed at how much fun your having yourself, that is until you try to get up and those old knees are stiffened up.

To all my Carpet Farmers out there; Farm ON!

If You Aren’t Learning, You’re Losing

I know to most farmers the terms class, training, clinic, and seminar sound absolutely terrible. I, for one, am in the same boat. If someone approaches me about one of these learning events I usually dread it, but fact of the matter is if we aren’t actively learning we are losing. This isn’t to say that all learning comes from a class room and that all classes/clinics/trainings are created equally.

I recently attended one of Conklin’s Pro Ag 1 events. Pro Ag, for those that haven’t been to one, is a 2 day fundamentals of agronomy clinic. There, they discuss the importance of soil health, nutrient uptake of various crops, nutrient management (particularly nitrogen), importance of soil and tissue tests and how to read them, among other crop production practices and topics. Though this event is put on by a manufacturer of crop input products it is not a sales meeting. While at lunch the first day of this event, a gentleman at my table shared with me that it was refreshing to attend a corporate sponsored event that wasn’t about pushing product. I think its this pushy sales tactic used for years by many different companies that have turned us off on attending these events. I urge all farmers out there to attend a learning event or listen to a keynote speaker whether it is about crop production, livestock, or even tax planning. We just need to make sure the event we plan on attending is an event worth going to.

Now a class, clinic, or training isn’t the only way for us to learn and grow. Something as simple as talking to other farmers, even in different areas of the country can be very beneficial. Some of the best things I’ve ever learned about both crop production and raising livestock is from other farmers sharing experiences and ideas. There are many ways to connect with fellow farmers and ag. enthusiasts. Social media is a terrific way of connecting with others, my favorite is through Facebook groups.

If we don’t do all we can to learn to be more efficient, more productive, and more sustainable we will suffer. Agriculture is in a tough place right now. It is no secret that the current prices are hurting us and input costs aren’t coming down very fast. We are under constant fire from people who don’t fully understand agriculture and where food comes from. Then, on top of it all, we have government agencies striving to make our lives more difficult with new regulations. We must learn to be productive despite all thats going on, while remaining profitable and sustainable.

Support Your Local FFA

Learning to Do,
 Doing to Learn,
 Earning to Live,
 Living to Serve.

This one phrase consisting of only 12 words have stuck with me long after my FFA Career ended. As a Sophmore in high school I decided to join FFA. My only regret is not joining as a Freshman. I learned very valuable lessons in FFA throughout those 3 years that are beyond the contents of a text book. Like all good high school agriculture programs, we learned about soil science, plant health, animal science, meat and milk production, and much more. Those lessons are important for aspiring farmers and those pursuing careers in agriculture but that just barely scratches the surface of FFA. FFA taught us all about life skills that I will forever carry with me including public speaking and giving presentations, problem solving, research skills, interview skills, leadership, organization, teamwork, and servitude.

My local FFA Chapter, Okoboji FFA, does a great job of giving back to the community. The community supports the chapter throughout the year by partaking in various fundraising events including fruit sales, an antique tractor ride, donations for an annual auction, the chapter pumpkin patch, and more. Okoboji FFA then uses those funds to purchase equipment or materials for the shop, and send students to district, state, and national events. Every year the chapter strives to give back to the community by donating fruit to the elderly, trash pickup on a stretch of Highway 71, present a series of Farm Safety demonstrations to elementary students, educate non-farming folks about agriculture, and many more projects and events.

FFA is more than just showing livestock at the local fair and working on tractors. I encourage you to support your local FFA Chapter. We all need to be thinking of the future of agriculture, especially when so many of our practices seem to be under attack by the mis-informed. I urge you all to go out to the next event you see that your local chapter is hosting. If you can and wish to, donate to either your local chapter, or to the National FFA Organization. The next time you see students sporting the National Blue and Corn Gold remember that FFA is much bigger than livestock and corduroy.

3 MUST HAVE Apps for Farmers

It seem’s like everywhere we look we are being told about a new app. Everyone has an app that they want you to download. There are apps to edit pictures, to find dates, to order pizza, and even apps that allows kids to hide things from their parents. This article highlights 3 apps you may not have heard off yet, but I feel would be very beneficial to every grower.

Scout Pro
Scout Pro was founded in May 2011 by 3 Iowa State University Graduates. A great feature of this app is that there is two varieties of it. One for growers and one for consultants. The grower app is used for crop scouting as well as weed, insect, and disorder identification. You can use this app either offline or with a cellular data plan. Scout Pro also features a map draw function. The Grower’s report is easily saved and even shared with advisors, consultants, employees, or business partners. The consultant  app  has a database of weeds, insects, disorders and diseases for corn, wheat, and soybeans. The app contains geo-referenced points to help better track issues, too. A consultant can capture and share photos of the field that goes right into the scouting reports, and the reports are also easily shareable. Overall Scout Pro is definitely an app I recommend to growers I work with as well as other consultants. The ease of organization as well as share ability makes this a must have app. This is especially useful for pulling up reports that are years old. You can learn more at scoutpro.org.

TractorPal
TractorPal is something nearly everyone can use, but is especially useful for the everyday farmer. TractorPal is a mobile app that keeps maintenance and inventory records of machinery and vehicles at your fingertips at all times. No more trying to keep track of past receipts or trying to decipher bad handwriting on paper smudged with oil and grease. TractorPal works great for all machinery on the farm including implements and attachments, cars, trucks, ATV’s, tractors, and more. This app allows you to enter serial numbers, purchase price, purchase location, original miles/hours, make, model, and year of the vehicle or equipment. You can even ad photos to each individual log. This app allows you to access part numbers which can be especially beneficial when standing at the parts store counter. If selling a piece of equipment and a potential seller wants maintenance history it can be emailed in no time. The $9.99 app includes an unlimited amount of equipment and reports and can be backed up onto the Cloud. The really neat thing about TractorPal is it can be customized for dealerships and businesses to include their logo and phone number and given to customers similar to hats and t-shirts. Learn more at tractorpal.com

Growers Edge
Growers Edge is a neat app that provides users with a plethora of information. This information includes:

  • Local Cash Bids
  • Corn and Soybean Prices
  • Best Cash Bid (within 100 mile radius, adjusted for trucking & storage costs)
  • Markets & Market Commentary
  • Pinpointed Weather right to your fields
  • Ag News
  • Profit Manager

I love the idea that growers can just open this app on their phone, get a quick look at the local cash bids, and who has the best bid in the area. This app is also especially handy for looking at weather conditions at specific field locations which is great when deciding weather or not to head out with the sprayer. Learn more at growers-edge.com.

Do you have any apps you would recommend?

GMO or NON-GMO? That’s the real question.

It seems every few years there is a new trend or buzzword that floats around that really grabs the public’s attention. Lately it seems this on going argument of GMO vs. Non-GMO has been one of those trends. The last few years this ongoing debate has really been gaining steam. Internet and social media has been the main contributor in the momentum this topic has gained, but it is time we all take a good hard look at what all this really means. This article in no way is meant to sway the reader to think one way or the other on the topic but rather is an attempt to get some open-minded discussion on the topic.

At the end of the day many of you have already decided whether or not you are in favor or are against GMO crops and nothing I say is likely to change your opinion. It is no secret that I am not against GMO crops, however, up until now I have tried to remain as uninvolved in the debate as possible. I am not out to start arguments, get in Facebook fights, start name calling, etc. Unfortunately my un-involvement came to an end fairly quickly when an Anti-GMO individual decided to bring the fight to me on my personal Google+ account. A little background information for you, I recently posted a picture on Google Plus of 2 ears of corn taken from a field near my hometown in Northwest Iowa. One ear was taken from a plant that had been treated with Conklin’s Amplify seed treatment at planting time, the other ear was taken from a plant that had not been treated, same soil, same hybrid, same everything except the Amplify. I posted the picture to demonstrate the advantages of using Amplify and market my business.

This is when the trouble began. Right off the bat there was a gentleman asking if it was GMO or Non-GMO corn. I responded stating that as he may already know that many of the corn acres planted for production agriculture in the US is what is commonly called GMO. He continued to go off into a tirade against Monsanto, attacked my business and myself personally, and wouldn’t let the facts get in the way of his beliefs. He accused me of selling seed that would “ruin the world,” when in fact I do not sell seed or have anything to do with any product related to GMO’s. No product that I offer changes the genetic make-up of any organism.

As I mentioned in the previous paragraph and have often observed, many of the people involved in the Anti-GMO campaign don’t let facts hinder their beliefs. I believe much of this comes from the passion they have for the topic, but do they really know much about these GMO’s that they love to hate so much? I recently watched a video clip on youtube titled “What’s a GMO?” by Jimmy Kimmel Live. This 4 minute video proves the fact that many people against GMO’s:
1. Don’t know why they are against GMO’s and
2. Don’t even know what GMO stands for

Now, I know this video was created strictly for entertainment purposes but I suspect if I went and did the same thing right now my results would be very similar. So what is a GMO? GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. Did you know that diabetics around the world are using GMO produced insulin? This practice has taken place since the late 1970’s and there is absolutely zero evidence of any harm, nothing proved dangerous in the last 40 years of study, and not one of the millions of diabetics who are using it have had a single issue with GMO produced insulin. However many of the anti-GMO community would insist it is bad for you based solely on the fact that it didn’t come from “natural” sources. Did you know that hairless cats are considered a GMO? We have also used genetic engineering technology to enhance cattle to be more resistant to the deadly mad-cow disease.There are even some that consider many dog breeds to be GMO animals due to the genetic engineering that took place many many years ago to produce a certain breed of dog with the trait they were after.

The agriculture industry as well as the world sure would be vastly different without GMO crops. We likely wouldn’t be able to get high enough yields necessary to keep our farms from going under. Most farmers would probably have to have a 2nd source of income to feed their families. We wouldn’t have glyphosate (commonly known as Roundup) resistant crops. Many of our crops would succumb to disease and insect infestation. It would be even harder to feed the 7+ billion people on this planet. Food that we enjoy everyday would cost much more due to the increased cost of production. I’m not blindly saying there is no negative consequences to raising GMO crops as there are some environmental concerns that need to be studied more. We have more common weeds that are developing a resistance to glyphosate herbicides, however there are multiple causes to glyphosate resistance that I may write an article solely on later. We have noticed a decrease in Monarch butterflies as well as bees, and many believe that is due to the fact of increased pesticide use. Some also say that insects we are targeting are becoming resistant to common pesticides. I haven’t seen enough research to say with 100% certainty that GMO crops are linked to these or any other environmental concerns but is something that we, in agriculture, need to keep an open mind and watchful eye for.

I just read this morning that Hershey’s is making a move towards “simpler ingredients” due to the pressure from anti-GMO organizations. Hershey’s isn’t alone in caving to these organizations though, companies like Chipotle, General Mills, Chick-fil-a, and Panera, to name a few, have also made changes in an effort to keep such organizations off their backs. It saddens me to see such drastic measures taken by corporations to appease the few and with no substantial scientific evidence to show any dangers of eating foods made from GMO crops. The fact is the vast majority of the public is not against GMOs. Oregon and California both have had failed campaigns pushing for labeling of GMOs on food. Ballot initiatives across the country to require GMO labeling have also failed, further proving that it is a minority of people concerned about GMO safety.

If you are for GMOs or whole heartedly against them I respect your opinion. The minute you start any name calling, mud slinging, personal attacks on people and businesses that don’t agree with your point of view, all respect is lost. I for one support GMO crop production because in my eyes it is the only way the family farms in this country are going to be able to survive, the only way we are going to continue to produce enough food to feed the 7 billion people of this world, and the only way we can continue to produce food that is affordable to so many people. If you don’t agree with me that is perfectly fine, you have the right to your opinion after all. If you don’t want to eat foods that may contain ingredients from GMO crops, then by all means please don’t eat them and find sources of food that fit your beliefs. Some people simply can’t afford organic or natural food but if you can and thats what you want go for it. I see no reason to argue, fight and name call, no reason to require special labeling, no reason for protest or boycott. If you don’t like it then don’t eat it!