Wednesday, April 13, 2016

My first time calling into a radio station...

My first for today - I called a radio station (K-LOVE). They did a news bit about the annual "dirty dozen" list that is published every year, listing the produce with the most pesticide residues.

This is a prime example of fear-based marketing. The list should preface in big bold letters: None of these foods (not even the #1) pose risk to your health.

Here's just one fact to help you sleep better at night: If a CHILD ate 1,500 strawberries in ONE day (strawberries were #1 on the list), they wouldn't have any impact from residue.

Another flaw: "the list will always have twelve items on it. If farmers increased their pesticide use by a million times overnight, or if they abandoned pesticides in droves, next year's list wouldn't reflect the change in your ACTUAL risk. It would still be a dozen items long."

And a third (because I just can't stop myself): Organic farmers use pesticides too - there's a whole list approved for them to use. The difference is that they're derived from natural sources, but still toxic, nonetheless (otherwise they wouldn't kill the pests). This list does NOT account for organic pesticide residue because the USDA does not test for them. So there's no way to know at this point whether organic produce has more or less pesticide residue.

The three facts above were derived from the following two links - I encourage you to read even more:
My 40-minute drive this morning was statistically much riskier to my well being than any produce could be.

While I didn't get on the air, I hope maybe the djs will think twice before continuing to give such false information a national platform. After all, the truth will set us free. In this case, free from guilt, worry and fear.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Ben Nelson, DIY Extraordinaire

I had to stop and admire Ben's DIY abilities this week on two main projects that are going on. Also, definite props to all the guys who are part of all these "little" projects at various stages. 
  • Bathroom remodel (pictures will come later - this is just a list of my handyman's work)
    • Demolition of existing tub, wall and some of the ceiling that had water damage
    • Built new walls in a new spot for the larger whirlpool tub, including a shelf all around the tub and a three-shelf inset for shampoo bottles
    • Ran all new plumbing for the new location of the shower and bathtub faucets
    • Installed and wired inset lights and wired a new fan and the motors for the whirlpool tub
    • Installed the new tub
    • Re-vented our clothes dryer (note - this was a rabbit-trail to-do item because we discovered that was the cause of the damaged ceiling drywall)
    • Tiled the floor and tub/shower wall (what a task with SOOO many steps!)  
  • Smoking meat
    • Built a smoker with a group of guys a few years ago - yes, they built a humongous smoker - probably 7' tall and 4' sides
    • Went to Colorado and shot an elk - DIY bow hunt - packed out all the meat and cut it up himself (with Don Friemoth's help!) 
    • Got two live pigs delivered that he and his dad processed
    • Ground the meat and mixed in all the spices
    • Smoking it - eating it! 
He is really talented in a lot of things. To be honest though, he didn't know how to do 75% of the things on this list. He just learns as much as he can and then goes for it. He's very ambitious and willing to tackle new things when it comes to hands-on projects. It doesn't always go smoothly - like he had to spend probably five hours cleaning the mortar between the tiles instead of 30 minutes if he would have done it before it set. Lesson learned. 

All the hard work is always worth it in the end. Much more of a "Pinterest" project than I could ever handle! 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Who are you going to trust?!

Oh man, are things muddied up this week by Subway's announcement that they will start using meat from animals that have never been giving antibiotics. Not only that, but they are DELETING comments from people who are making reasonable statements questioning their decision.

I'm pretty sure that even the untrained eye can see what this really is - a public relations maneuver.

July 2015, huge fall out from Jared Fogel scandal. October 2015, this bandwagon decision following a few other restaurant chains. Connect the dots, and you have a case-study for entry-level marketing students.

Here's what it comes down to: who are you going to trust?

So we turn to our good friend, Google.

Including me.

I am a farm gal, but most of my experience and understanding is in dairy and crops. This topic is more about poultry and beef.

So I took to googling information just like anyone else.

Five things I found:

  1. It would take days, weeks, months, years to even come close to the collective level of understanding that the agriculture and medical community have. I am NOT in any position to understand all the ins and outs of the antibiotic use and whether there's any connection to resistance.

    Here's a comparison this is not meant to be offensive at all, but is something I think a lot of us can relate to. It's like childless people who claim wisdom in parenting decisions and methods. I'm a cattle-less, bird-less person who is humble enough to admit that I don't know how they should raise their animals.

    If you are interested in getting a basic introduction to this topic, there are a lot of blog posts available about the topic. Also, many farmers and ranchers and veterinarians would welcome the opportunity to share and answer questions. People love to talk about their passion and share it with others. You just have to take the time to ask openly and kindly.
  2. These sorts of announcements paint it as an "us" versus "them" topic, but that isn't the case. It's a round table, not a rectangle one. We are all in this together - all wanting healthy food that is readily available at affordable prices to nourish our bodies and souls.
  3. Nothing in this world is perfect. However, I will put my odds on the agriculture community - including ALL sizes and styles. It's a community that has salt-of-the-earth people throughout. Not perfect (nothing is), but the highest integrity steering them.
  4. Marketing is a powerful tool. As the receivers of marketing, it's up to us to filter the marketing tactics with a strong mind. I was just talking to someone recently about how one of the highest-used marketing methods is fear-based. I know I've been victim to fear-based marketing messages at times. Be on guard.
  5. I trust God with all of it. With my own personal health and food decisions, that He is steering our food producers and that everyone around the table will be patient and understanding of one another. Matthew 6:25-34

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Highlights of soybean harvest 2015

For all you farmers out there, our total farm average looks like 56 bushels/acre, which is pretty consistent with what we've been getting the past few years. Some fields went as high as 65 and the low end was 45. The couple fields on the low end seemed to have a lot of white mold.

Now that we got that out of the way, here are a few highlights of soybean harvest 2015:

1. It went fast! 540 acres harvested in about seven days.

The guys have sort of a running discussion every year of whether they prefer to harvest beans or corn. From my perspective, I like beans better because of how quick it can be. Also, beans can only be harvested during a certain time of the day, so it makes for more reasonable hours. They take on moisture from the air, so they become "tough" for the combine to handle after dark and need to dry out in the morning. Similar to mowing lawn - the grass just doesn't cut nicely unless it's dried out. Of course there's still maintenance that needs to be done every day, so they're still really long days. Just not like corn where you literally could keep going day and night until it rains.

2. No major breakdowns.

With so much equipment (two combines, three grain trucks, auger to fill the bin) and it's all running for a LOT of hours, there's bound to be things that wear out and break. The question is always the scale of the breakdowns. There weren't any major ones during soybean harvest, so the guys were able to press on every day.

This picture is what Ben found when he emptied his rock trap the last day - a deer antler! That's a rare find! The rock trap is REALLY important when combining soybeans. The bean pods are all the way up the stem of the plant, so you need the combine to cut it off as close to the ground as possible so you don't miss any beans. That creates a potential for rocks to come into the machine. If a rock went past the rock trap, the whole machine would basically become scrap metal because of how much damage it would do. Yikes! 

3. Fall in Wisconsin. Need I say more?

It's been a gorgeous week to spend out in a field! The girls and I didn't get out there all that much during soybean harvest, but the times we did was a lot of fun. I got to run the weigh wagon that we were borrowing to get accurate results of our tests. Molly (2 years old) confirmed that she is still freaked out of the loud noises from the equipment. However, she LOVED playing in the pile of beans that was accidentally spilled. With a crop farm, there aren't as many tasks that the whole family is involved in, so we take advantage of the fieldwork that is conducive to us tagging along. We're glad that we still have corn harvest to look forward to so we can spend even more time out there.

4. I get to analyze!

I'm such a nerd. I enjoy creating spreadsheets to analyze data. We had two soybean tests this year. One was just a plot to test different types of seed. We haven't done one in several years, so it was a good exercise to compare the options side-by-side. This is especially important while margins are tight right now to make sure we are maximizing our profit potential. The other test was to compare different planting methods and see if we want to invest in a new planter. It would be nice to take more time in the slower winter months to do these sorts of things, but the seed companies give the best discounts if you order early because it helps them plan and assess their inventory. Once again, it's important to take advantage of this to maximize profit potential with tight margins. We have to balance the rush of earlier purchases with the need to still analyze the information to make good decisions. (more information about the tests to compare planting methods will come in a later post...)

They finished beans on Saturday, spent Sunday afternoon and all day Monday getting equipment switched over to corn. It was supposed to rain last night into today. I asked Ben what he thought of the possible rain day. He responded that he is excited to put all the tools away. Excited to put the tools away?! I had to make sure my jaw wasn't hanging open. He generally thrives in a state of disarray... Things must really be bad if he is looking forward to cleaning of any sort!

Alas, clear skies this morning so they are picking corn. Putting tools away will have to wait!

Monday, June 22, 2015

My farmer dad...

My younger sister Kayla asked to write a guest post for Father’s Day. The middle sister of three, she’s the only one of us no longer involved directly in production agriculture. Still, she fondly remembers our upbringing on the farm and the values that our dad instilled.

If asked to describe my father in one word, the answer would be simple: “farmer.” Of course he’s a multi-dimensional man who could be described in many ways, but his title as a farmer is so much more than an occupation; it’s a title that encompasses his worldview, character and relationships. In fact, as his daughter, I would be hard-pressed to separate our relationship from the farm. Nearly all of my memories of our interactions have been framed by his role as a farmer.

As a young child, I rode along in the tractor and talked his ear off in an effort to keep him alert. As I grew older, those conversations continued during milking. He listened to my hopes and dreams and encouraged me that I could do anything I put my mind to.

Beyond conversation, though, he molded my character most through his example. In good years, I watched him fill silos, bags and hay mows to the brim to save for worse times.  During downtimes, I learned about the trials of running a business, but also learned to stay the course and trust in God. He taught us to ‘make hay when the sun shines’ and to embrace rainy days to catch up on sleep. Even after eighty hour work weeks, he could always make time to pull a stranger out of the ditch or plow a neighbor’s driveway.

Life on the farm wasn’t always smooth. I’ll be the first to admit that I often resented the work. When my siblings and I made mistakes, oftentimes the lines were blurred between employees being reprimanded and children being disciplined. Although Dad was a hard task-master, he also showed compassion against the backdrop of the farm. I vividly recall running off to the pig pen to cry after being scolded for some petty offense. As we watched the young piglets rooting through fresh straw, he apologized for hurting my feelings showed me mercy.

By modern standards, Dad was (and is) a workaholic. He was such a perfectionist that it pained him to allow hired-help to run things while he was away. A family vacation was usually followed by a drop in milk production. Watching us show animals at the county fair meant leaving dry hay lay in the field. Honestly, it was understandable that he didn’t want to entrust his farm to anyone else. Yet if it was for his children, he made the sacrifice.

As I’ve grown to be an adult myself with a career and two young kids to feed, those nostalgic memories have grown into deep respect. I am grateful that I have an on-going connection with my farmer dad, through which I can better understand the many complexities that play into the decisions and techniques that are used on farms. I have grown even more proud of the responsibility he shows through how he cares for his animals and land. And I am immensely grateful that my two kids get to be there regularly to be part of that same upbringing.  

Friday, May 8, 2015

"Playing it by ear." - a tribute to my mom

Me, my mom and my sister. Photo was taken while we were celebrating Mom's 50th birthday in Nov. 2014.
Mother's Day - it's an emotional day for many. What joy to celebrate the women who gave us life and then did their best to equip us to live it.

This is also a day when some people are filled with longing for their mothers/children who've passed away or the longing to be a mom, some struggle with estranged relationships with their mothers/kids, some are overwhelmed with the physical and emotional exhaustion of motherhood, etc. etc. No mom is perfect - cut your mom a break, and cut yourself a break. If you're harboring any struggle with bitterness or shame, let this be a day for God's grace to wash that away.

Special virtual hug to all farm moms, because there's a good chance you're a "spring widow" on Mother's Day, and the emotions of that hit even harder coupled with the exhaustion of planting season setting in.

The past five years of Mother's Day have meant all kinds of emotions for me. They've been my first times to celebrate that I'm a mother. This new experience and perspective has exposed the reality of all the gratitude and apologies I owe to my mom. They've also shown me the reality of this role - 24/7, sacrificial and full of non-monetary rewards. (That list is so similar to farming - 24/7, sacrificial and full of non-monetary rewards. But this post isn't really about farming...)

There are so many things I now learn from my mom's example as a farm wife. Respecting her husband, supporting his calling, being involved in his calling but with her limits and boundaries for her own sanity and self-fulfillment. The last two weeks, I've embraced something from her that I never thought I would..."playing it by ear."

I don't know if I've ever heard anyone else say that phrase like my mom. In fact, I'm not sure of whether it's a common phrase or if it's just common within our family. (In case it's just us, it means that we won't set a plan for what or when we'll do something, we'll just see what happens when the time comes.) I must have heard her say it thousands of times growing up, and I always thought she was just anti-scheduling and anti-commitment.

I, on the other hand, like to have a plan and stick to it. It drove me crazy that we never set our plans. Not only because I wanted to know what was coming and plan for it, but also because I thought we seemed rude, uncaring, unprofessional.

Now I get it. Don't set the plans because then no one will be as upset when they change. When your life revolves around things like the weather and breakdowns, plans are bound to change at a moment's notice.

It's hard to truly appreciate someone until you "walk in their shoes." That is the case when you have your own kids, and only then do you truly realize what your parents did for you. I'm so grateful to be a farm wife and have this unique opportunity to appreciate what my mom did (does) as a farm wife. I continually ask her questions and seek her advice from the perspective of this role.

So what will I be doing on Mother's Day? We'll play it by ear... :)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Economic Sustainability

Other posts in the sustainability video series:
  1. Sustainability - Defining it
  2. Environmental Sustainability

Transcript of the video audio (in other words, here's the text version of everything I said in the video)
When it comes to economic sustainability for the farm, the first thing that comes to mind is the financial risk we take every year. We commit all the expenses for the crop months before any tractors even hit the fields in the spring. And then it’s obviously months later until we see how the yields are going to do. And then it’s months even after that until we make the final sale of the crop because we have on-site storage. So that’s an average of around 18 months from hwen we spend the first penny and then months later when we receive the final penny for the crop.

And in between the expense and the profit side of things, there are some big variables that play into the profitability. One obviously is the weather – that’s a huge one – as well as different pests and diseases that are damaging crops potentially. And then the markets – seeing how the actual sale price is doing and the fluctuations in that will obviously affect profitability.

So there’s different business models for every farm. The way our farm is structured and we’re able to maintain profitability is to have a low cost-of-production. That really helps so that whenever we’re putting in a crop, we try to keep our expenses as low as possible. So even if we do have a drought like 2012 or if the market has a downturn like it does right now, we can still be profitable through those years.

What that looks like on our farm when it comes to low cost-of-production, you can mostly see that with the equipment we use. All of the equipment on our farm is decades old. Even when we get a “new” piece of equipment, it’s still very old. And then the guys spend all winter doing all the maintenance and repairs themselves for the equipment. They’re very talented that way. They’re very mechanical. My father-in-law also went to college for mechanical engineering so they even do some major modifications to equipment that will save them from having to buy that equipment or buy the modification. It saves them a lot of money that way, and that obviously helps the budgeting aspect of what we do.

It might be easier for me though if they had the nice, new tractors that are easier to drive. Instead we have these tractors that all have their own tricks to them, so it makes it tricky for me. But in the end, I guess it’s best for the farm.

And we joke around a lot that there’s no need for us to ever go to a casino because we’re gambling enough every day as it is here on the farm.

So, that’s economic sustainability for us here on the farm.

Thank you.