5 Reasons To Love a Farmer

It’s Valentine’s Day so while it is not the only day to express my love for my Farmer, it’s a good day to remind others why it’s great to have a Farmer for a valentine. I’ll admit, being married to a farmer is never easy, but there are so many great parts of being a farm wife, living the farm life and waking up with a farmer each morning.

1. They are care takers: Before we had kids, my husband was already taking care of babies, animals and living things all around our farm. I appreciated his willingness to stay up all night with a newborn calf or slosh through mud to help a mother cow that was having trouble giving birth. He showed me early and often he knew how to care for others.

2. They drive big tractors: While the appeal of a tractor has diminished slightly over the years, the idea that my husband gets to command big trucks, huge tractors and even bigger combines is always something worth bragging about. The best part is they all come with buddy seats so there is always room for me to hitch a ride (and maybe even enjoy a date night in the field).

3. They don’t have an 8-5 gig: I always say my husband is flexible but not always available. He doesn’t report to an office and doesn’t punch a time clock which means he can get away from the farm when he needs or wants. It’s not always that simple but if there is something I want him to join me for or need him to attend to, there’s no asking the boss for vacation time.

4. They can fix anything: My husband may not be as skilled in the “fixin” department as others but he usually has the tool, trick or duct tape to jimmy rig about anything you need. The one thing he can’t do – patch the holes in his jeans or replace the buttons on his shirts. I’m guessing sewing is one skill he won’t be picking up anytime soon.

5. They have big hearts: The last but certainly not least reason I love being married to a farmer is their big hearts, kind souls and Midwest manners that make them gentleman and all around great guys. Most of my husband’s farmer friends are great husbands and fathers as well. Farmers grew up learning the value of hard work and aren’t afraid to pitch in when it’s needed. Farmers are some of the best people you’ll get a chance to meet – as long as you don’t mind a little mud on their shoes.

Want to reach more about life with a farmer hubs, check out some of these great blogs by fellow farm wives:

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/jenny-dewey-rohrich/15-real-reasons-to-date-a_b_4688680.html

https://wfbf.com/blogs/nothing-like-a-farmers-love/

https://www.gracegardenandhomestead.com/how-to-love-a-farmer/

2017: Adventure Awaits

derek-at-silos

As 2016 came to a close, I found myself at my computer several times, attempting to summarize and reflect on the year that was. It was quite a year for the Sawyer family – kicked off with the birth of our second son, Owen, on Jan. 5 and accentuated with tough times on the farm, a second degree for me, two big trips for the hubs and the start of pre-school for our oldest son, Evan.

It was a whirlwind of a year and one I will never forget because it taught me just how much our family can manage and endure. From an early-rising baby to an always-on toddler and a husband who works way too many hours, it was a year of learning and growing.

But 2017 is here and with it comes a host of new opportunities and adventures. On Tuesday I will officially start in my new position as District Director for Congressman-elect Dr. Roger Marshall. I believe in what he stands for and his desire to represent our district, put constituents’ needs first and be a voice for agriculture in Washington D.C. I will remain in the district, acting as the eyes and ears of the Congressman and his D.C. staff. It’s an honor and privilege to have this opportunity and I look forward to the many great Kansans I will have the opportunity to meet and get to know.

Unfortunately, hubs will endure the lions share of the challenges as grain and cattle prices continue to lag. Crop prices sank in 2016 but record yields allowed many farms, including ours, to make it. If the rains don’t come and yields fall, 2017 could be disastrous for many in the farming community. To add insult to injury, many necessary inputs continue to rise, meaning our costs will again outpace our revenues. We have invested in the various crop insurance and farm management programs available to us but nothing replaces strong exports, rising commodity prices and continued demand for our products. (See chart below for illustration of farm income.)

screen-shot-2016-12-11-at-3-04-26-pm

Owen will continue to grow, change and learn each day. Evan will continue with pre-school, moving to a pre-K program in the fall. We’ll figure out a new normal with my new job and Derek’s continued demand of the farm, Farm Bureau and other organizations he’s involved with.

We all look forward to a happy, successful and productive 2017. It won’t be without headaches, heartache and hard times but we’ll endure and continue farming, laughing and growing.

Cheers to 2017 and happy new year to all!

#WheatHarvest16: What Is a Bushel?

Most wheat harvests take about a week. It’s a long, intense week that starts mid-morning and runs well past sundown for five to six days in a row, but it doesn’t stop, take breaks or run on for weeks at a time.  But #WheatHarvest16 has been a very different type of harvest. This year the combines have stopped and started more times than I can count. We’ve endured at least three different rain delays and have been slowed by mud spots and wet wheat. Wanting to get the grain in the bins, anytime the sun is shining my farmer is in the combine, finding a dry field to cut.

Sunrise over wheat

Wheat prices are also dismal this year. Wheat prices are averaging almost $2.00 less per bushel this year when compared to 2015 prices. For an average field of 80 acres, that’s averaging 65 bushel an acre (that’s being very conservative) that comes up to $10,400 less in revenue from the sale of the grain when compared to a year ago. As wheat harvest trudges on, wheat prices continue to drop. Not good news for farmers who use the payout from wheat harvest to pay land notes, purchase seed for the next crop or purchase new equipment. The only bright spot is the record-breaking yields, some farmers reporting harvest 100 bushels an acre. While everyone isn’t seeing triple-digit wheat, nearly everyone is cutting high-yield fields.

What is a bushel of wheat?

A bushel of wheat is the way in which we measure the amount of wheat in a field. The term comes from the days when wheat and other crops were harvested by hand and a bushel was the amount one could fit into a bushel basket. We still use the term today but the measurement of a bushel is much different.

A bushel of wheat weighs approximately 60 lbs. So when a truck loaded with wheat arrives at the elevator, it is weighed on large, in-ground scales. The wheat is then dumped into the storage facility and the truck is weighed again – this time without the grain. The difference in the two weights is the assumed weight of the grain. That total is divided by 60 to determine the number of bushels dumped.

Farmers can calculated the total yield – and average, per-acre yield – of a field by adding up the weight of the wheat dumped from that field. As trucks leave the coop facilities they are given tickets with the time and total pounds dumped, those tickets allow the farmer to both remember and later formally record the total pounds of wheat delivered to the elevators.

Learn more fun wheat facts at: http://www.wheatworld.org/wheat-info/fast-facts/

The guys were in the field all day Saturday (no, farmers do not take weekends off) and were ready to start cutting after church Sunday. But the rain moved through, again. By mid-afternoon Monday things were dry enough to start up again. Everyone is hoping that this is the last week for #WheatHarvest16 – but with more rain in the forecast, this may carry into yet another week. Stay tuned!

Saturday Menu

Lunch: Beef soft tacos; Rice; Chocolate chip cookies

Supper: Cheeseburger sliders; French fries; Peanut butter cookies

Monday Menu

Lunch: Ham and cheese pockets; Chips; Cookies

Supper: Roast beef sandwiches on pretzel buns; Creamed corn; Fruit tarts

Looking Ahead to 2013

During my morning run, as snowflakes hit my face, it dawned on me that 2012 was coming to a close – today! I used my run to not only enjoy the snowfall but also ponder the year that was. Derek and I have had a wonderful 2012, full of many accomplishments and success stories. We’ve also had our share of bad news and hard times. But all of that is now in the past as I sit down to ponder 2013, I think of all the excitement and possibilities the next 365 days will bring.

I talked Derek into donating 5 minutes of his time to helping me outline some resolutions for our family and our farm. Derek immediately reminded me that he’s not a fan of resolutions so these are not traditional New Years Resolutions but instead Goals for 2013!

My goals for the family for 2013:

(1) Welcome Baby Sawyer – Our lives will forever change this spring with the welcoming of baby boy Sawyer in May. He’s not yet arrived and is already changing the way we look at the next year. I know there will be long nights, frustrating days and plenty of dirty diapers. But with that comes giggles, smiles and a round little bundle of love. We are both excited, and a little nervous, about his upcoming arrival and I hope he grows to love our way of life as much as his father does.

(2) Advance Our Ag Advocacy – Derek and I are no longer involved in the Farm Bureau organization in the same way we were last year, but we remain dedicated to continuing the advocacy of our farm and the entire agriculture industry. Derek will be serving on the Kansas Farm Bureau Resolutions Committee and I hope to continue my blogging and work with Kansas CommonGround. Neither may be large in scope but it’s what we can do to help show people how our family farm operates and how we work daily to raise healthy animals and plentiful crops. It’s important we keep putting accurate information out there for readers and the public because there continues to be so much negative and incorrect information published about the farming world.

(3) Be Open – You never know when a new opportunity will knock at your door so it’s important to keep your options open. When I ask Derek what his long-term goals for the farm are, he replies that he simply wants to put our family and the farm in a situation to take advantage of any new opportunities that may come our way. That may mean purchasing new land, securing additional pasture leases or upgrading equipment or it could mean another year of operating as we have. It’s all important and it all requires money which means our finances must be in order and our debt declining. That’s a task easier said than done but it’s important for a growing farm and family to always be looking to the future.

Derek’s goals for the farm for 2013:

(1) Find Grass – Grass is always at a premium in Kansas but the drought has left even the best pastures parched and ponds dry. Cattle need both grass and water to survive a summer and without both, entire tracks of land will be unusable. We send a 350-head cow herd and several hundred steers to grass each summer. We desperately need to secure grazing leases or we will be forced to either sell or keep at home those animals without summer grass. The lack of pasture land has already contributed to the decline in cattle in the state and fewer cattle mean higher beef prices. New pasture leases will allow us to continue our cattle operation in its current form and produce lean, nutritious beef through 2013.

(2) Finding Efficiencies – As input prices climb and grain and beef prices become less predictable, it’s more important than ever that we continue to look for ways to operate our farm and cattle in the most efficient way possible. That doesn’t mean cutting corners but instead doing more with less. Farming is a business and businesses are most successful when operating efficiently. This fall, we had sub-surface drip irrigation installed on three of our fields. This system replaced an old and inefficient flood irrigation system. We will still be able to water our crops but can now do so with less waste and far fewer man hours. We also took advantage of our fall crops to create more feed stuffs for our cattle and worked with area landowners to find corn fields for our animals to graze on during the late fall months. We are always looking for ways to do more with less and we will continue to change our practices to make the most of what we have available.

(3) Feeding More Families – It’s not just our family that’s growing. This country and the world are growing each day. That means more people to feed, more vehicles to fuel and more bodies to keep warm. As farmers, we have a responsibility to produce more with the same number of acres and inputs. In Kansas, one of the most essential inputs is water and it has been at a premium lately. That means planting crops that require less moisture and utilizing what rainfalls we do receive. Seed technology has allowed us to grow crop varieties that are more drought and heat-resistant. Those traits have been vital the past few years and unless weather patterns change, will be essential to producing a crop in 2013. Research into cattle genetics has also allowed our farm to produce leaner cattle, which results in healthier animals and more beef per animal. Technology has not negatively harmed the food we produce but instead allowed us to produce even more with less inputs and waste.

Like everyone making resolutions and setting goals for the new year, we look at our  list with optimism and excitement, telling ourselves nothing will stand in our way. I truly hope that in a year from now, I am able to say we accomplished all of our goals and if we didn’t, know that we gave it our all. The road to success is never easy and that’s why we have a four-wheel drive truck and a tow rope, just in case.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2013 to everyone from Derek and I and all of the families at Sawyer Land & Cattle.

 

 

The wrath of Mother Nature

What a difference a month makes. In early September, Central Kansas was still fighting the summer heat. Crops were struggling, grass was drying and ponds were losing what little water they had left.

Now, not even half-way through October, farmers woke up Sunday morning to dead crops from a cold, hard freeze. Constantly changing weather and temperatures are one of the perks of living and farming in Kansas. It’s also one of the disadvantages.

This milo looks healthy but was affected by the freeze Saturday night. As a result, the plant will die, lose its grain and produce substantially smaller yields.

Earlier this week, temperatures were in the 70s. We knew there was a chance for a freeze last night but we didn’t know if that chance would become reality. And if temperatures did dip, there is little to nothing farmers could have done to protect their crops. Sure enough, the temperatures plummeted.

The freeze that struck Saturday night affected plants, shrubs and crops still growing. In this area that meant grain sorghum – milo – and alfalfa. Farmers that were lucky enough to get their crops out of the field before last night escaped any impact from the freeze. But not all of the crops were ready to the harvest which meant farmers were forced to wait and watch the mercury drop.

Droughts, intense heat and early freezes are all hurdles of the agriculture industry. Kansas farmers favor freezes – but during the winter months when crops are harvested and fields are bare. Freezing temperatures help kill weeds and any volunteer crops that are still growing in the field. People with allergies look forward to the first hard freeze each year because it signals and end to the suffering. But an early freeze, like the one we experienced last night, does more harm than good.

The crops hit by the freeze will essentially die, in the process losing grain and productivity. That will dramatically impact yields. The irony comes in that the fields impacted by the drought sit adjacent to the crops and fields that had shriveled from the heat and drought. It’s all weather but the dramatic opposites are a perfect example of the substantial sways in weather commonly found in Kansas. And the many, many impacts and obstacles farmers face every day while trying to produce food, fuel and fiber for the world.

Out and About

Farming isn’t a desk job. It requires hard work that starts when the sun comes up and ends long after the sun goes down. Over the past week, Derek and I have take a couple of opportunities to check on our crops, cattle and gauge the impact of the drought on our farm. It’s not good but we’re surviving. Below are images taken of our farm.

Our heifers always like to check out the new comers to the pasture. It’s their territory and we were trespassing!
We use sprinklers, commonly referred to as pivots, and flood irrigation, as pictured. The flood irrigation system uses a motor to pump water from the ground and push it through a series of metal pipes. Vents or gates are opened a various points along the pipe to allow water to escape into the field.
Froese Brothers Harvesting out of Inman chopped corn on our farm. The result – called silage – will be feed throughout the fall and winter months.
Derek’s father, Doug, walks through a group of heifer cows that are grazing in pastures southeast of El Dorado. We send our cattle to pasture during the summer to soak up the sun and enjoy lazing days grazing and napping.
Derek stands amongst his ladies as he inspects and condition and health of our heifers out at pasture this summer.

 

 

It’s Dry Out Here

Central Kansas has received some much-needed rain over the past few months but it hasn’t been enough to counter the wind and heat that has settled in for the summer. Constant 30 mph winds and 90-plus degree temperatures are great when we need the wheat to drop moisture or the fields dry out before planting. But it’s not as welcome when corn is trying to mature and soybean are attempting to emerge from the soil.

Kansas started 2012 with a moisture deficit. The winter was dry and spring saw only occasional showers. We had enough moisture to produce a decent wheat crop but now that corn, soybeans and grain sorghum are attempting to grow, moisture levels in the ground are dwindling – and quickly. And it’s not just the crops, but also the pasture ground we use for our cattle, that is drying up. Dry ground produces fewer usable grasses and ponds have less water available to the animals. According to an article published by Drovers Cattle Network, almost half of Kansas’ pasture land is considered in poor or very poor condition. The U.S. Drought Monitor shows most of the state in moderate to severe drought. And it’s only June. July and August are not months known for rain and cool temperatures.

Our farm received about 2.5 inches of rain last week and we are already in need of more. Meteorologists were forecasting a 50 percent chance of rain for our area so we are crossing our fingers. If we do not receive ample amounts of moisture in the next few weeks, our non-irrigated corn will not produce usable ears of corn and soybeans will also fail to produce beans. Because we also own cattle, we will still be able to use the plants but it means a smaller fall harvest.

So will continue to hope and pray for rain. In the meantime, you will be able to find my husband and his crew irrigating whatever possible. Thankfully we have the resources to do so, not everyone is as fortunate. Changes in water usage rules will allow us to pump our full allotment this year, even though we exceeded our pumping limits last year. We will, however, have to cut back on our water use the next three years so that our five-year usage average does not exceed our annual water allotment. My husband helped advocate for the rule change and I think it will prove very helpful this year.

 

The Real Story on “Agent Orange Corn”

A new buzzword aimed at skewing long-established farming practice has popped up, this time causing people to question the safety of the corn now growing in fields across America.

CBS’s morning news show aired a segment this morning on “Agent Orange Corn,” a new herbicide produced by Dow Chemical intended to kill the “super weeds” that have taken over corn fields across the country. Other media sources have also covered the issue.

The controversy was started and has been stoked by Vietnam War veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange, which contains 2, 4-D, while serving in the country in the mid 1960s. The herbicide was used to kills grasses and leaves that covered much of the Vietnam countryside, exposing people and places on the ground.

Many Vietnam veterans have attempted to link their exposure to Agent Orange to cancer, birth defects and skin rashes. A definite link has never been proven and according to the American Cancer Society, “in most cases, neither type of study provides definitive evidence on its own.”

Now the powerful 2, 4-D chemical is being used in herbicides to kill weeds that have grown tolerant to other types of weed control systems. These weeds are often referred to “super weeds,” and invade fields, reducing yields and drawing valuable nutrients and moisture from the soil.

Dow, who produces the 2,4-D herbicide, has also announced its intentions to develop a corn variety that would be resistant to 2,4-D, allowing farmers to spray their corn fields at all points in the growing cycle, without damaging their crops. Currently the 2,4-D herbicide can only be used at the start or very end of the growing cycle.

As media outlets have begun reporting on the new herbicide, people have begun questioning the safety of their food. Sadly, no accurate answers are provided and people are forming their own, inaccurate opinions. So let me bring you the accurate facts, straight from the corn fields of Central Kansas.

– All herbicides and seed varieties used in our fields MUST be approved by the Food and Drug Administration before it can be sold for public use. That is the same rule that covers any other food and beverage released for public consumption. If it’s not safe, it doesn’t hit the store shelves.

– Farmers across the country currently use similar forms of herbicide and herbicide-resistant seeds – such as Round Up and Round-Up Ready Corn to defeat weeds. The 2,4-D herbicide is no different in technology and use. We, like most farmers, have used herbicides and herbicide-resistant seed for several years and been able to substantially improve our yields, producing more food for fewer dollars – that is vital as people demand affordable food sources.

– To date, no deaths have been linked to herbicide use on plants. In fact, many backyard farmers use the same practice to keep their produce and vegetables safe from bugs and invasive weeds.

– Weeds are unwanted trespassers in our fields. They pull valuable moisture from the soil and can stunt the growth of crops. Traditional farmers, such as my husband and his father, do not only rely on herbicides to remove weeds but also use the tractor and disc to till under the weeds and manually pull them from the ground – like a gardener would do with his rototiller or hoe. Ask my husband and he will tell you that uncontrolled weeds in a corn field would have a “major” effect on yields for that corn. That means less food for both people and our animals.

– As the population of the U.S. and entire world grows, it remains vital that farmers have access to the tools and resources that allow them to produce more food using fewer acres and inputs. That means new advances in seed technology, pesticide and herbicide use, irrigation and harvest practices.

– We, as farmers and ranchers, aim to provide a safe and healthy food supply. We would never use a product or produce a crop that was not safe for human consumption. If you have questions or want to see for yourself, make your way to our farm. We are glad to show you around!

The reason why

Americans constantly question the agriculture community. From inquiries on livestock practices to investigations on pesticides, farmers and ranchers are continuously answering questions about their practices and farming methods. Most outside sources like to believe agriculture doesn’t have the answers. They craft articles and opinions on the make-believe-basis that farmers simply make spur-of-the-moment decisions with no thought for the welfare of the animals, the environment or the people who consume the food they produce. Not true! Everything we do – down to what color of tractors we drive – is done for a reason.

The latest publication to question agriculture’s intentions and production techniques is O, The Oprah Magazine. The May issue includes a series of articles about biotechnology and genetically modified foods.

The main article poses the question, “What impact do GM foods have on our health?” and follows with “no one really knows.”

Actually, we do. After biotech crops go through the typical six to 12 years of testing before they go to market, we know a great deal about them, according to the Council for Biotechnology Information. The group says that food made from biotech crops has been determined to be as safe as non-biotech foods by no less than the Food and Drug Administration, American Dietetic Association, World Health Organization, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the National Academy of Sciences. That’s a fairly impressive list of people who always have public health in mind and maintain the ability to prevent food from hitting the grocery store shelves.

Farmers understand that at no risk to the public, they can produce more food on fewer acres – saving fuel, water and land. Biotech crops are one of the many ways agriculture is making itself more efficient.

We also understand why we house poultry indoors and keep pigs from roaming free and eating garbage and one another in the great outdoors. We also know exactly why we till the soil and use pesticides to keep our plants pest-free. And finally, farmers and ranchers know exactly why they get up each morning and head to the fields, to provide food, fuel and fiber for a growing population.

Farmers dedicate their lives to providing for their families and millions of others around the world. Each practice – either in the fields or the at livestock barns – has been established because it solves a problem or makes agriculture more efficient and therefore more affordable. We have a reason for all of our methods and we are always happy to explain.

The American Farm Bureau Federation contributed to this article.

Settling For Broke

At the start of 2012, report after report highlighted the record farm income generated in 2011. An article from Reuters reported that farm income exceeded $100 billion for the first time last year. Other reporting agencies published similar findings, giving the general public the idea that farmers were getting rich while other industries and people were struggling to make ends meet.

The reports of record income only told half the story, they did not point out the record prices for inputs such as fertilizer, gas and electricity. The stories also appeared as budget and farm bill talks got underway in Washington D.C.

Now, with budget and farm bill discussions in full swing, many industry experts are warning that farmers shouldn’t expect too much. The country has maintained a record-setting debt load as farmers have socked away millions. We can’t expect Washington to feel sorry for us, one analyst told me.

During Friday’s U.S. House Agriculture Committee farm bill hearing in Dodge City, one farmer testifying before the three-member panel questioned why we as farmers are so scared to admit success. Why did we have to continue to be content with barely getting by when other industries were applauded for growth and development?

It’s a great question and one that hits at the heart of the farm bill debate.  For years, agriculture has been penalized for success. Large farms are labeled corporate farms and shunned by the media and public. Rich farmers are criticized for making too much money on the backs of hungry Americans. And large feedlot companies have been targeted by new regulations that would break down their cattle purchasing and marketing tools, putting smaller feeders on an even playing field.

Now I am not an advocate of unnecessary government payments or federal support for crops that never hit the ground, but I am an advocate of a healthy and successful agriculture industry – one that has the manpower and capital to continue to find new technologies and means for producing more food using fewer resources. Why do people want to see an industry that is vital to the future of our country, running on a shoestring budget and near-zero income?

As we continue this path through the farm bill process, we, as producers, must remain firm in our request for tools and services that allow us to insure and market our crops. We are not looking for government handouts but we are looking for ways to ensure we can produce a safe, healthy and abundant food supply while still bringing home enough cash to feed our families and provide opportunities for our children.  Farmers shouldn’t have to settle for broke and we need to let Washington know that.