Will grow food for rain

Drought is something farmers and ranchers deal with from time to time, though it can vary in degree.  This year, in some parts of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas the degree is high.

Our family has a farm in SC Kansas.  We grow corn, soybeans, wheat and milo.  About half of the farm is irrigated, the other half dryland.  It can boggle the mind of some not familiar with agriculture to grasp the investment, and risk, our tenant and others like him have made in equipment, seed, inputs, etc.  just to put in a crop.  Depending on the size of the operation, it could reach millions of dollars for tractors, combines, irrigation systems, planters, trucks, grain carts, etc. etc.  That does not include hired help, fuel, and the many other expenses included in operation of a farm.  If all is perfect, can he make some money?  Yes.  But take a look at the pictures here.  That’s far from perfect.

This year, many farmers in the areas mentioned above will lose a substantial amount of investment.  Not only that, their loss will translate into less for grain handlers, trucking companies, livestock operators, local groceries, local machinery dealers, local pickup and car dealers, local charities, and the list continues.

It’s been estimated by USDA and others that nearly 20% of the nation’s workforce through processing, packaging, transportation, retail, etc. is directly tied to agriculture.  That’s why urban residents can go to the nearest grocery store and have a bountiful supply of food ready to simply put in their cart.

It’s easy to take our food, and the people who grow it, for granted.  It’s worth taking a minute, especially this year, to understand many of those dedicated farmers will not have a successful year, that their investment has literally burned up before their eyes.  While much is already lost, much more could be if the rains don’t come soon.  You see, even irrigated crops need rain, and it’s so dry in some areas, even irrigation isn’t enough.  And high prices for crops don’t do much good if you don’t have the crop to sell.  So, remember these struggling farmers and ranchers this year, and say a prayer for some rain, they really need it.

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Real agri-culture on display

I know there are good people in the world, though sometimes it seems they are harder to find.  It also seems more and more people are willing to sacrifice values, truth, and service, just to further an agenda, and talking sense to them can sometimes seem like talking to a telephone pole.

But I had that all put aside as I read a story today about ‘real’ agri-culture.  It was the story of the kind of people I grew up with, the kind who have faith, who put their neighbors ahead of themselves, who believe in serving others in their community.  People who just have an embedded culture of  true ‘good’ that most can’t comprehend. Many others out there who grew up on farms in the Midwest and other places will know what I mean.

This story is from the Salina Journal newspaper in Kansas, and chronicles a day in the life of agri-culture.  Neighbors, friends and family coming together to bring in the harvest for a community member unable to do so.  It was a special site to a man and his family, to have multiple combines, trucks, and so many people bring in his harvest in a fraction of the time he could have, even if he wasn’t recovering from neck surgery.

Want to know what else?  Cargill, you know, those horrible ‘big ag’ people, helped supply semis, the co-op dove into their ‘big ag’ profits and supplied fuel, and the local ‘Papa John’s’ Pizza donated food.

Another reason this story ‘hit home’ so much.  It’s deja vu for me.  When I was 10, my dad was thrown from a horse, and broke his knee.  He ended up with bolts and screws in his joint to hold it together.  Some remained the rest of his life.  It was wheat planting season.  He couldn’t do it.  But when the neighbors learned of his accident, we had about 20 tractors, drills and food coming in from everywhere around the community.  Our crop was planted, we all had a huge community meal to celebrate, and it was a humbling and amazing experience I will never forget.

In all the hoopla of the present-day world, and all the ‘cheap shots’ taken at agriculture these days, it was so refreshing to know, decades after a special time in my life, that the real farmers and ranchers who feed this world haven’t changed.

As the world turns, will it be fair to ag?

After a break to step back and reflect, nurse a replaced knee, and a few other things, this blog is back wondering about this world, its finances, and just where agriculture may fit in the mix.

I was able to travel to Europe a few months ago.  My nephew is stationed in Germany with the Air Force.  He is an avid traveler and expertly guided us through several countries during our stay.  The best part of the trip was that we went beyond the normal ‘tourist’ spots and included small villages, farms, small retail stops, and some other ‘off the beaten path’ areas.

One thing was clear.  Europe is broke.  If it weren’t for Germany, though it has its own problems, the EU would be folded now.  With Greece, Spain, Italy and others in dire financial shape, the future is more than uncertain.  People there are worried.  But interestingly, not just about the EU, but also the U.S.  In talking with people there, their fear is that the U.S. is trying to be like them.  Their advice?  Don’t do it, you can’t afford it!  A wonderful lady we spoke to who owned a small shop in Lucerne, Switzerland was the most blunt.  Switzerland is not part of the EU, and they still have the Swiss franc as currency, but she had plenty to say about the EU and its Euro currency.  “Some people don’t understand there is no money!  They expect the government to create it!  You can’t keep taxing entrepreneurial people and companies, they create the jobs.  More taxes, fewer jobs.  Workers want more, more, more.  Well there is no more, too much has been given already.  Everybody must take less.”

Sound familiar?  The same conversations are happening here in the U.S.  So what do you do?  Some want to tax the wealthy.  Well, according to my Switzerland friend, that’s a job killing action.  Some want to cut deeply into government spending.  Sounds good, and must be done, but how far do you go?  The trouble is our Congress is looking for any easy way out.  At the top of the list is agriculture.

We can expect that direct payments are probably gone.  Other payments may be, especially to farmers who ‘make too much.’  The problem is many in Congress are looking at gross income rather than net, and also don’t understand the finances of agriculture at all.  A farmer can make a half million dollars pretty easily, but when it takes nearly that much (or more) to make that money, or the experience of a crop loss devastates cash flow, it’s easy to see there isn’t much left when the dust settles.  Let’s keep in mind everybody eats, and protecting an agricultural ‘safety net’ is important.

Should farm programs and payments be looked at?  Yes.  Should farmers have to be part of the cuts in government spending? Yes.  But, should they only bear a fair portion of the cuts, just like everyone else?  Absolutely yes.  Congress needs the courage to tackle all spending, not just ‘easy targets.’  Agriculture, and the jobs it creates (nearly 20% of the workforce) deserves at least that.  We’ll see how it goes.

Bringing generations together to tell ag’s story

Whew, I’ve been traveling some lately, busy (aren’t we all) and have really neglected the blog.  Sorry about that.  But a recent event is certainly worth sharing, and a real feel-good story for agriculture.

Kansas Farm Bureau annually takes a group of county presidents to Washington, D.C. to give them a dose of relationship building, education, and even a little sightseeing opportunity in our nation’s capital.  Usually a group of KFB board members goes along.  They not only participate in the events, but also help guide the presidents in their own districts around D.C.

One individual this year did something new.  In past years, many presidents and others have brought their children along to give them the experience of D.C., but this year one board member took the next step.  He brought his parents, a child and their spouse, and grandchildren.  Four generations together to meet lawmakers, build relationships, and tell the story of their multigenerational farm and why the industry needs sensible, thought-out actions by lawmakers.  It was to say the least a unique way to clearly show, in one multigenerational voice, the ‘faces’ of agriculture.

This effort was valuable, not only to the lawmakers, but to the other farmers and ranchers attending, because it helped to show the importance of telling the agriculture story.  Oh, and it’s a pretty neat way to bring a family together too!

Ag life: Growing up caring

I came across this picture the other day, shot by farm parents of their daughter.  It was a classic of how I grew up, how kids in agriculture grow up.  It’s about caring.  This girl wanted to be with her calf, making sure it was OK.  I remember the many, many nights as I was growing up we would check our cattle throughout the winter and bring in cold calves to the shed to dry off, keep warm, and take back to their moms the next morning.  We might have to bottle feed them.  We’d rub and massage them to get them warm, and we’d stay with them as long as needed.  Sometimes, we might even fall asleep with them.

The image you see here is the standard of the way I, and my neighbor kids, grew up.  It was about taking care of and respecting our animals.  This is agriculture.

It’s tragedy, not politics

I hesitated for a long time debating with myself whether to write this, but as time went on, writing it won, so here is a ‘get it off my chest’ blog about the atrocity that is the shameless political use of the terrible tragedy that occurred in Arizona involving Dem. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.  I’ll go through some points, then have a comment on something curiously missing from the debate.

Now is probably the time to say that while I would rate myself much more conservative than anything else, I have no personal or professional allegience to Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, or any other conservative commentator or politician, and certainly do not always agree with their views, though sometimes I do.

As soon as the shooting occurred, a host of hypocrites who apparently cared little about the victims, and more about not wasting a good tragedy, started blaming everyone from Sarah Palin, to any other conservative for prompting the action.  They also clearly wanted to imply that it is only conservatives that voice such things.  It was nuts, and thankfully, most of the nation has said so, but here are just a couple of thoughts:

Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, nor any other conservative made this deranged nut in Arizona do this.  Got it?  He had threatened a host of people in the past, having nothing to do with politics.  This guy acted on his own.

Just to preserve a little balance, check out this diatribe from a Democrat who said a GOP governor should be shot. Still think this is a one-sided political discourse?  There are plenty more examples out there.

Also, the ignorant hypocrites who say they want more political ‘tone-down’ can be directly attributed to the host of death threats that Sarah Palin, Limbaugh, and other Tea Party members are now receiving.  Which side of their mouths would they like to speak from next?

Then come the gun control extremists.  Again, not wanting to waste a tragedy.  Well let’s look a little deeper into the Arizona situation.

This sheriff  Dupnik, (or is it Dipstick?) not only showed his political side, but just may be have been covering his own rear end.  It seems after some investigation that Dupnik knew Jared Loughner.  Loughner had been making death threats by phone to many people in Pima County including staff of Pima Community College, radio personalities and local bloggers. When the Pima County Sheriff’s Office was informed, his deputies assured the victims that he was being well managed by the mental health system. It was also suggested that further pressing of charges would be unnecessary and probably cause more problems than it solved.  One source said it may have been because Loughner had a relative working at the sheriff’s office.  I have no idea.

I do have an idea of the end result.  If the sheriff had arrested Loughner, and pursued charges, including felonies, Loughner would never have been able to purchase the gun he used in the killings.  Should the sheriff be held accountable?   The sheriff was well aware of the political discourse, and apparently felt Loughner wasn’t a threat.  How did he become a threat after the fact?

Do we want to tone down the political rhetoric?  Then let’s have the decency and ownership to say it needs to happen from all corners.  But let’s also note that rhetoric or not, and though it would be very beneficial to have a more reasonable discourse, nobody caused this madman in Arizona to perpetrate these terrible acts, and anybody trying to score political points at the expense of the lives of those lost and injured, should have their values checked.  It is amazing the blinders that can be placed on agenda-driven issues.

Oh, that item curiously missing from all the political exchange?  Thankfully, it appears Rep. Giffords is improving.  Funny you have to hear that from general sources, not the idiots trying to score political points.  I have no doubt I probably don’t share many of Rep. Giffords political views, though I may be surprised.  But I do pray for her complete recovery.  And I also pray for the victims who did not survive and their families.  Another tragedy has been that apparently a few (not all) of the victims, have joined the chorus of trying to blame someone other than Loughner for their pain.  I hope they wake up soon.

There is a bottom line here.  We are people, let’s start acting like it.

Would a thankful heart improve discussion?

I don’t know about you, but I always get a little philosophical at the end of the year.  It’s a time to take another look at priorities, the worthiness of verbal battles, and respect for others.

I’ve had the discussions this season about Christmas.  I’m not an X-mas guy, whether it can be justified or not, I think people need to see CHRIST in Christmas.  In spite of all the hoopla, He is still the reason for the season.  I’ve also had some good ag discussions this year via social media.  Most were very respectful, and fun, but once in a while things got a little overboard on both sides.  I regret that, and one of my New Year’s Resolutions is to be more patient with people, even when it seems it may not be worth it.

I’ve heard stories from others that after some discussions, some people have stopped following them.  I’ve thought about unfollowing some, but I haven’t, and it turned out I was glad I didn’t.  I’ve seen through those follows stories of scooped snow for neighbors, donating business profits to charities, and other ‘good’ things.  This from people I sometimes wasn’t sure moved beyond our ag discussions and their ‘point of view.’  I hope they’ve seen I’m not so bad either, and that we just need to be a little more accepting of each other.  As the saying goes, especially in agriculture, we need to hang together, or we truly could hang separately.  As I said before, the vast majority of discussion with those who may not always think like me have been great, and I hope to engage more in 2011, for both of our benefit.

Here’s another reason I want to be thankful, and put more into perspective.  I have a cousin who is very ill.  He has brain cancer, cancer in his eye, and a very rough, unchartered road ahead of him.  I have other friends and acquaintances who are fighting various illnesses, from cancer to early aged Alzheimers, to severely broken bones from accidents.  I know I’m getting older, but they are all too young for this.  Their Christmas season was spent in chemotherapy and radiation, putting sleeves and pins in their bodies to hold their bones together, and in the realization that the normal things in life, including amazing memories, may be lost.

And so, our family has taken some time to be thankful for our health, for God’s provision, and for the promise of a new year.  Our discussions about agriculture are very important, and I won’t deny there is plenty of disagreement out there.  However, we all have reason to be thankful, and to work to have thoughtful, respectful discussion.