Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Interview with the Farmer

I was recently interviewed by a non farmer for a perspective on farmers, farming, food, and the environment among other things.  Below is a copy of his questions and my responses.  Thanks to Jay Sanders for his thoughtful questions.  Check out Jay's wonderfully rich and honest, culturally & theologically informed, often times hilarious blog over at Tie Ly Guh  

An Interview with the Farmer

My father and grandfather spent significant portions of their lives on farms.  I, on the other hand, grew up in an area where the only thing that was being grown was under a heat lamp in my neighbor Dwayne’s garage.  Most of us don’t give farming a second thought.  Maybe we don’t believe it but we still act as though the food we eat was made in some back room at your local Wal-Mart.  Come to think of it, that may be the case but you get my point. 

Recently I had the chance to ask my friend Shane a few questions about farming, why farmers matter and how we can better appreciate the fruits of their labors.

Our country is moving further and further away from its agricultural roots.  Should we be concerned? 

Yes I think so.  In the U.S., most families (people) are now 3 generations removed from the farm and the average age of the U.S. farmer is 57--and rising, meanwhile the farm population is shrinking (less than 2% of the pop., our numbers are low enough now that "farmer/rancher" is no longer listed as an occupation on the census survey.  We are now part of the other people). As a producer this can be quite scary for several reasons.  Primarily, and I don't use this in a pejorative way, is fear and ignorance.  Ignorance is simply a lack of education.  Fear, in this context, is really just laziness masked as activism.  As we as a nation get further away from our agricultural roots, we as a people are less educated, or less aware about where our food comes from.  So many people I talk to literally think food comes from the grocery store.  That's it.  Need more bread or milk?  Go to the store and get it.  The end.  It's quite sad actually.  And, many of our "leaders" and policy makers think the same way.  That's why I say it can be quite scary.  So we as farmers and ranchers have to be more proactive in telling our story and simply educating the non farm folks at all levels to the who, what, when, where, why, and how of agriculture.  That's one of the reasons why each year we have all the area 5th graders come to our farm for Ag Day, and it's one of the reasons I decided to occasionally blog on this topic.  We have to be the voice of agriculture--not documentary films like "Food Inc." that while provocative, only tell one side of the story.  Organizations such as Farm Bureau (who do a lot more than sell insurance), U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, and even Mike Rowe on his show "Dirty Jobs" are acting and working to bridge this disconnect between farmers and farming, and to show the general public that the American farmer by large has at heart the best interests of the land, the environment, the animal, and the end user.

Why is it important to buy local whenever possible?

Well I think it's certainly good to buy local, or participate in community gardens and food co-ops.  One, you are supporting the local economy and local producers.  Two, you are putting a face to the producer of the product you are eating.  That interaction with the producer can be great.  You can ask them questions about how they grow their product, where they grow it and so on, and really develop a good and positive relationship.  Three, generally speaking, it's going to be a much fresher product, and taste better.  So yes, farmers markets and such should be supported by the local community.  However, these types of enterprises often appeal to a niche market.  Food and growth experts tell us that global population is rising at such a pace, that farmers will have to produce as much food in the next 40 years as we have in all the years combined since the inception of farming.  This is a monumental and historic task set before us.  I say all that to say that yes, let's continue to support locally grown and community gardens etc, but let's not be naive enough to think that these alone will solve our growing and future food related issues.   

Many people worship creation and many people seem bent on destroying it.  As a Christian who farms, what do you feel is your responsibility in caring for the land that God has given to you?

I love this question.  I believe that much of the answer lies within the question itself.  I am responsible for caring for the tracts of land (and all land in reality) that God has seen fit to entrust us with.  I think as a Christian, I have been given a biblical mandate to watch over and care for the land (Gen. 1:28-30, 1 Cor. 4:2).  This all stems from the recognition that God created and owns everything (Ps. 24:1, Ps. 50:10).  I'm simply a manager of these resources and my goal is to leave it to the next generation better than it was when I received it.  God is glorified even in seemingly simple and insignificant acts such as this.  Dominion and stewardship rightly understood do not mean domination or destruction.  Nor do they necessarily mean "organic" or "green."  Those are two words that are so loosely thrown around they are void of any significant meaning.  Many well meaning, well intentioned Christians, I think, stumble all over this issue in the name of "Creation Care" or "Christian Ecology."  Again, these are not bad things.  The problem comes when someone reads say, a Wendell Berry or similar type author book, and then takes that and tries to apply some form of "Gospel centered" environment tag line to it, and before you know it, we have denominations unwittingly writing position papers on the evils of incandescent light bulbs and making resolutions for Christ centered global warming response teams.  Good stewards recognize, again, that we are to manage our temporary possessions to the best of our abilities and teach others to do the same, while at the same time not being intentionally neglectful or harmful to that which is entrusted us.  This discussion is so often framed in an either/or format, when in reality it very often can be an and/both format.  We can drill oil and protect the caribou.  We can spray pesticides on crops and still have safe, clean food.  We can't let our environmental conscience be guilted into bad laws and policies b/c some folks prefer Prius's to SUV's.  

Do the big box stores like Wal-Mart help or hurt local farmers like you?

They don't hurt, and if anything they help local producers.  I have a friend who grows pumpkins and he sells them directly to our local Wal-Mart. I have another friend who grew sweet corn and watermelons and sold directly to area grocery stores.  They get paid a premium b/c Wal-Mart knows exactly what there getting, when there getting it, and from whom they are getting it, and it's not something that is being trucked in from a 1,000 miles away when it's grown 5 miles away. Wal-Mart and other chains are a business and they care a lot about public image.  If they can put pretty little signs in their produce sections saying these items are grown locally, people eat that stuff up.  Look, Wal-Mart, Cosco, Kroger etc. care about making a profit and protecting their image.  They also swing a huge stick, especially when it comes to peoples purchasing decisions.  If consumers are demanding product A instead of B, what do you think Wal-Mart is going to do?  That is totally acceptable. So, if a local producer can get hooked up with a box store and provide a commodity that people want, the folks at Wal-Mart are smart enough to recognize a good business deal, and that ultimately is good for that producer(s).

Floods, droughts and tornadoes probably mean more to you than someone in any other profession and for most farmers I know, no matter how good the weather is, it's never good enough.  How has farming affected the way you trust in the supremacy of God?

Well, it is usually cause for a lot of repenting on my part.  Arguably two of the most important factors to a farmers success are completely out of his control:  weather and markets.  More often than I care to admit, I find myself questioning God on too much rain, not enough rain, rain at the wrong time, too hot, too cold and so on.  What have I done?  I've committed a radical form of idolatry.  I've put myself in the place of God and I'm telling God that I know better.  I often shutter at my own foolishness.  So yes, this is a profession that can radically effect ones faith, and without a solid grounding and firm belief in the sovereignty of God, well, that person will feel a lot of anxiety and despair.  Farming can take big swings from highs to lows in relative short amounts of time, and ultimately what I hope this does is push me to prayer, praise, humility, and thankfulness during both those bleak looking times and the rewarding times of walking in high cotton.  As per the guys who say it's never good enough, well I know a lot of those guys, and quite frankly, I don't really like being around them.  No matter how good things are, or how good a year it was, they somehow manage to only speak doom and gloom.  Those guys are annoying and give farmers a bad name.  Either shut up and move on or get into another profession to complain about.  One thing I rarely hear come from my dad's lips is complaints.  Some things I do hear pretty often from him are words of thankfulness and blessings and optimism.  Things are going to work out one way or the other.  It may not be the way you wanted, but having a trust in the supremacy of God is ultimate, for without that no one anywhere would farm.     

Talk to the guy that lives on a quarter of an acre in the suburbs.  Is it important for him to grow something, even if it's a few tomatoes hanging from his porch? 

Sure, yes grow something.  It's pretty easy to start, fun, rewarding, kids can do it with you, and how many things can a person do whereby they can daily see the fruit of their labors?  That's one thing I love about farming--you get almost immediate results of your actions, and then you get to constantly tweak and fine tune throughout the year.  The suburbanite can do the same thing on a smaller scale and watch with amazement as nature does what nature does.  Plus, people just need to get their hands and clothes dirty from time to time.  Folks who are afraid to get dirt on their hands, or kids who are afraid to hold a worm--I don't know what it is, but something is fundamentally wrong with that.

How can caring for a garden, large or small, be beneficial to biblical manhood or womanhood?

Adam & Eve, the first farmers, started out in a garden, and were placed there to work and take care of the garden.  We'll they blew it and now I have weeds in my fields :)  Caring for a garden, or an animal, or a 57 Chevy for that matter--several things can be going on here.  Perhaps a husband and wife are building a garden wall - working, lifting, shoveling, sweating - and in the course of this they are serving one another and modeling a healthy marriage relationship to their onlooking kids.  Perhaps a dad is showing his son how to plow and chop and dig and weed and instilling in his son an appreciation for a strong work ethic and a faithfulness that tiny seed planted grows into large fruit.  Maybe mom is helping her daughter take care of newborn kittens and modeling to her tender care and lovingkindness for something fragile and dependent, which will serve that daughter later in life when she has her first child that is fragile and dependent on her tender care and lovingkindness.  Or maybe an older man in the community is teaching a younger man who never had a father figure, thru conversation while they work to restore a car, how to be a man who leads, protects, and provides for his family.  Perhaps, thru the simple, ordinary, mundane routine of life, even something as plain as caring for a garden, conversations are happening, relationships are being built, seeds are being planted and roots are delving deep into something that is authentic, lasting, and true.  Something that will help men and women in fulfilling their God ordained roles.  Perhaps.

Shane Burchfiel runs a family farm in Tennessee where he grows corn, cotton, soybeans and wheat.  He blogs regularly at Before the Store.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What are pesticides?

"How can an organization preach about informing the public and telling our story when our own producers don't even understand basic terms like pesticide?"

That was said to me shortly after a discussion on a resolution where I was making an attempt to broaden and strengthen the language of a particular line of wording at the recent TFBF convention.  Ultimately the amendment passed--albeit rather clumsily--after some brief discussion which was reduced to little more than semantics after an explanation of the desired purpose of the change.

But it did get me to thinking, if several people in a room full of farmers and ranchers were confused on basic agriculture terminology, how many more people who make up the non farm population (which, by the way, is over 98% of the population in the United States) would likely be confused or uninformed of language farmers use regularly?

What is a pesticide?

To define this, we need to break the word down.  Cide means to kill, hence the use of terms we are  familiar with like homicide, suicide, or genocide.  Pest, in agricultural terms, refers to something unwanted such as a plant/weed, insect, or disease.  Combine the words together to form pesticide and you get a definition of the word like this:

From the Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) - any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying or controlling any pest, including vectors of human or animal disease, unwanted species of plants or animals causing harm during or otherwise interfering with the production, processing, storage, transport or marketing of food, agricultural commodities, wood and wood products or animal feedstuffs, or substances which may be administered to animals for the control of insects, arachnids or other pests in or on their bodies. The term includes substances intended for use as a plant growth regulator, defoliant, desiccant or agent for thinning fruit or preventing the premature fall of fruit. Also used as substances applied to crops either before or after harvest to protect the commodity from deterioration during storage and transport.

And from Dictionary.com - an agent used to destroy pests; A chemical used to kill harmful animals or plants. Pesticides include fungicides, herbicides, insecticides, and rodenticides. 

So, pesticide subclasses include herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, miticides, nematicides, rodenticides etc.  The confusion arises because in our common everyday language, we choose the easy route and just say pesticide.  It's like when we say Kleenex instead of tissue.  When producers go to get recertified, we don't get herbicide or insecticide recertification.  We get pesticide recertification.  Why?  Because pesticide is the umbrella word that captures or covers all the sub classes of related "cide" words. 

Are pesticides dangerous?

Depends on who you ask, but the short answer is yes and no.  Think about it like this.  Are guns dangerous?  Yes and no.  Are baseball bats dangerous?  Yes and no.  Are vehicles dangerous?  Yes and no.  What do I mean by all this?  Simply, anything not used as its intended function can be dangerous.  So, if a person doesn't follow the label on a chemical, it could be dangerous.  Is that the fault of the chemical?  I would argue nay, it is the fault of the user.  Likewise with guns, bats, cars, computers, or anything else, when used in accordance with how it's designed to be used, it is safe.  When used in a reckless and irresponsible manner, it can be dangerous.  

So why the fear?  

Well, let's just admit the word pesticide doesn't sound nice.  If we had a puffy flowery term we could use instead, I'm sure we would, but pesticide is the word we have, so it is the word we use.  Second, whatever the formulation of the product, all pesticides come with "signal" words on them that denote toxicity of the product.  Words like "caution, warning, danger," and "keep out of reach of children."  Mind you though, these are the same words commonly found on common household products like shampoo, hairspray, and dish soap.  Sometimes they even have cool symbols with a skull and crossbones.  

Many people have at least heard about a product called DDT, and the effect it had on the bald eagle population.  For many, this is perhaps the only association they've had with pesticides.  A memory, a story, a video from over 50 years ago--that is what some equate to modern agriculture and its use of crop protection products.  DDT has long been banned in this country and in several others, and arguably so, but does that mean it, or any pesticide for that matter, should never be used?  Well, one thing DDT is excellent at controlling is mosquitoes--particularly those malaria carrying mosquitoes that are ravaging already ravaged parts of Africa.  I'm not advocating the return of DDT.  However, in those special circumstances where a product could be used safely and help alleviate malaria from war-torn, poverty and drought stricken, hungry, thirsty, and lacking in basically anything you can imagine nations of Africa, I think we could make an argument for the use of a DDT type product.  It's a heck of a lot better than the governments solution of giving them nets to sleep under, but I digress. 

Is the fear of pesticides justified?

I think not, and here are some of the reasons why:

1.  Farmers and producers of food & fiber are required to go thru routine training, testing, and certification on safe, proper use, storage and handling of pesticides.  Training includes items like reading & understanding labels, understanding target and non-target pests, use rates, droplet size, variances such as water volume, temperature inversions, wind speed, ground speed etc., what to do in the event of a spill, buffer zones, and accurate record keeping of what/when/how a product was applied.  And, if we break the rules and get caught, we face serious fines, potential legal action, loss of use, and even potential jail time if the act is especially or intentionally grievous. 

2.  Consider this realistic scenario - Farmer Smith sprays a common product like Roundup (Glyphosate) at a rate of 1 quart per acre, in a solution of water at 10 gallons per acre.  Picture a quart sized bottle of product evenly distributed in 10 gallons of water.  Beginning to see how small of an amount that is?  And, many products farmers use are used at much lower rates like 8 ounces, 3 ounces, even half an ounce per acre.  In other words, this is concentrated material.  Now, how big is an acre?  One square acre is 43,560 square feet, or roughly the same size as a football field.  As you can see, 10 gallons of water with a quart or less of product spread evenly over an area the size of a football field in order to get the desired control of the target pest(s) is not very much.  Suffice it say, farmers are not poisoning the ground--which, by the way, would seem to be counterproductive to the farmer since that's the very ground he is depending on for his livelihood.

3.  There is a difference between regular use and restricted use pesticides.  Basically, regular use products can be purchased by the general public at places like Lowes, Wal-Mart, Tractor Supply, local nurseries etc.  These would be common household and lawn type products that do not require any special license or certification in order to purchase.  These products are diluted down and are typically much weaker in strength.  The products that farmers typically use are not available to the general public for purchase and do require special license or certification for purchase.  You may ask, couldn't anybody just go get the license and fill out the paperwork and buy it?  Well, not exactly.  These dealers know who the farmers and/or licensed professionals (think certain types of lawn care, right of way, utility companies, forestry personnel) are and what the purpose of using these products is for.  To make a long story short, they know who is and isn't allowed to be making purchases of restricted use products.

4.  OK, but shouldn't farmers be using organic products and finding other ways not to use chemicals.  Yes, and we are.  First, keep in mind that "organic" is a loosely defined term and is about as easy to define as is Wicca or New Age.  Second, the organic movement is as much an environmental/political movement as it is a healthy food movement.  However, that doesn't mean we have to have organic vs. non-organic wars.  The fact remains farmers can learn from the organic movement.  The organic movement also has to realize that it alone is not a sustainable model to feed over 6 billion people globally.  Local food co-ops, organic gardens, and farmers markets are wonderful ideas and should be supported and utilized, but a community garden will likely feed more possums, raccoons, and squirrels than it will people.  The fact is that thru technology, crop rotation, no-till, cover crops, and other means, farmers are reducing the amount of pesticides they spray each year.  That's a good thing both environmentally and economically.

5.  All pesticides used in the United States are regulated by federal and state law. Before farmers and other applicators can use them, crop protection chemicals undergo extensive research, development, testing, governmental review and approval to protect human health and the environment before being able to apply for registration from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  For much more information on the criteria that has to be met before a product can ever make it to a field, check out this link: http://www.croplifeamerica.org/crop-protection/pesticide-regulation

Additionally, consider this - many of the common products producers use are naturally occurring in our environment.  For example, the active ingredient in a popular corn herbicide called Callisto comes from the chrysanthemum plant.  Another popular crop protection product called Roundup attacks enzymes in plants that humans and animals don't have, so it is safe to humans.  Finally, there are millions of tiny microorganisms (unseen by the naked eye) that live in the soil and begin breaking down products by literally feeding on these products.  Sunlight also has a similar effect.  So, it's not as if these products stick around in the soil indefinitely, which also greatly diminishes the likelihood of these products contaminating groundwater.  Actually, a better argument for potential groundwater contamination could be made by all the chemicals we dump down our drains, flush down our toilets, or use irresponsibly on our lawn.

6.  Practically, unnecessary or excessive pesticide use is just wasteful and expensive.  Farmers are also business people, and like any good business person, cutting waste and eliminating inefficient methods and practices is good business that contributes to the healthy and stable economic vitality of each operation.

Rather than adding to the confusion, hopefully I've helped eliminate some of the confusion.  Perhaps next time you see an article, or a documentary, and words and phrases like those in this blog appear, you will be all the more discerning.

As with all things, let sound science and common sense prevail; not rash, fear based, emotional arguments.  Thanks for reading and together we as American farmers can and will continue to produce the worlds safest, most abundant, most affordable food supply.  That's what good stewards do.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Food vs. Fuel - Myth or Reality?

From time to time debates happen among varying ideologies that sometimes work people into a frenzy without those people first stopping to think if a problem actually exists.  One such debate is the food versus fuel discussion.  It goes something like this (yes, I know I'm painting in broad strokes here):

Team Food:  Corn is in so many of the products we use, consume, and feed, now we are using it to make ethanol to add to gasoline.  We have to stop or curb the amount of ethanol we produce for fuel, otherwise we will run out of food.  Also, ethanol messes up small engines.

Team Fuel:  Corn is a renewable resource, and if we need more of it, we can grow more of it (some would argue here thanks to subsidies--a great discussion for another time).  Ethanol is a viable alternative energy source, one that we can grow so that we are not giving money to the terrorists.  Without ethanol, gas prices would be even higher, thereby make the terrorists richer.  Stop terrorism, demand ethanol.  Oh yeah, if your engine is messing up, try changing your plugs or filters every once in a while.

So obviously I've exaggerated some here, but often these debates (like so many) get framed in an either/or category.  I'm going to suggest rather than this being an either/or argument, it's a both/and.  Yes, we can both have the proverbial cake (fuel) and eat it too (food).

How does this work?  Well, it has to do with what part of the plant, or kernel, is being used for what.  Rather than boring you with a lengthy typed out explanation, I will supply you with links to check out for yourself.

First, is a video clip discussing the food vs. fuel debate.  Feel free to watch the entire show (show # 706), but the segment dedicated to this specific discussion is from minute 1:12 to 4:40.  They give a brief overview of the debate and discuss the process of ethanol production from corn, which part goes to fuel, and which part goes to feed.


And here are additional links covering multiple angles on this issue, with some discussing additional alternative energy sources.





This is a debate that's been had, is happening now, and will continue to have into the future.  Is there a food vs. fuel problem?  I don't think so.  Is there a lot of propaganda out there?  Most likely.  Will we run out of food?  Not as long as we continue to be responsible stewards of the land entrusted us.  Will we run out of fuel?  Not likely anytime soon.  Shouldn't we seek alternatives to oil that are cheaper and more environmentally friendly and stop terrorism?  Absolutely!  Ever wonder why the oil companies are so opposed to alternative energy?  $$$  Ever stopped to think about, even with $3 plus gasoline, how little we spend on food & fuel in the United States as part of our total overall expenses?  Most probably haven't, but more and more are beginning to.

As with any discussion, let our thinking be guided by sound science, common sense, and realistic ideology before instituting or instilling  unnecessary fear, policy, regulation, or law.  This much I think we can all agree on.   If we can agree on this, then we can begin having healthy discussions and debates that go beyond protesters posters and CNN sound bites.

As always your thoughts are welcome.  Thanks!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Responses to Food Inc.

Harvest is in full swing so I haven't posted anything lately, though I did want to get this information on here for anyone who may be interested.  I recently briefly mentioned the popular documentary "Food Inc."  Attached are two links that give an opposing perspective to this documentary.  As I said earlier, "Food Inc." is a fine production that is visually stimulating, articulate, and professionally produced.  (It looks good on television, unlike some doc's that look they were filmed by a 6 year old with a camcorder from the 80's - looking at you Blair Witch.)  

If you have not yet seen "Food Inc.", check it out.  It can be streamed free on Netflix, or most video stores should have a copy to rent.  It worth 2 hours of your time.  Also worth a little bit of your time is considering reading the two links posted below in response to "Food Inc."  Don't watch/read one without the other.  Considering the importance of food, where our food comes from, and who produces the food we eat, I think it's only fair to consider both viewpoints before making rash conclusions.  Also good to remember about documentaries (and I love watching them) are these wise words from blogger Justin Taylor: 

I should confess at the front-end that I have mixed feelings about documentary-type films. On the one hand, when done well (here’s looking at you, Ken Burns!) they can be enormously entertaining and a vehicle for learning. On the other hand, you don’t have to be a film expert to know that the genre can be a conclusion in search of a film narrative (here’s looking at you, Michael Moore!). If you ask 100 people a question, it’s easy to edit it down to the 5 people who responded in the way that you wanted. And you can take those 5 people and edit their answers to advance the narrative even further.

The links:

I don't necessarily agree with each statement made via these two links, nor do I necessarily disagree with much of what is discussed in "Food Inc."  The point is for one to explore as much information as possible and make a reasoned, educated, realistic decision.  So, check these out, educate yourself, ask questions, buy local, eat food(s) in season, and visit a farm.  

Thanks again, and as always your thoughts and questions are welcomed.  Enjoy!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Meet a Farmer

How many of you know a farmer?  Can you put a face to a person that grows and produces food?  Do you know, or have you ever thought about, where your food comes from? (If you said this or this, you guessed wrong)  I'd like to introduce you to a friend of mine who is one of those people that makes up less than 1% of the U.S. population. That's a percentage so small, that farmer is no longer listed as an occupation on the U.S. Census.  Farmers now help make up the inauspicious "other" category, and yet, farmers are being asked to feed, clothe, and help fuel a growing global society like never before.  Scarcely will a farmer meet a challenge he or she can't handle, and one such couple meeting that demand is Ben & Jennifer Moore from Dresden, TN.  Ben and I became friends when we were fraternity brothers together in college, and I met Jennifer, whom he was dating at the time, shortly thereafter. Recently named Tennessee's Young Farmer & Rancher winners for 2011, the Moore's will now proceed to the national competition (held in Hawaii this year--yes, they will somehow suffer through it) as representatives from TN for a chance to win a new Dodge truck, the use of a tractor for a year, and various other prizes.  I'm vey happy for them, and excited that they are representing Tennessee.  Check out the short video below to meet them and learn more about their operation.

Now, you can put a face to someone who helps feed and clothe you.

As always your comments and questions are welcomed and encouraged.  Thanks!

The Fabric of our Lives, Part 1

I say Part 1 because this will likely be a three part series, though I'm not sure when the other two parts will be completed.  With many trilogies, the first two are usually good while the third is often, well, not worth watching (or reading) - ex. Karate Kid 3.  But, we shall proceed and try and follow the lead of those great trilogies such as Back to the Future, LOTR, and the original Star Wars.

Cotton defoliation for us began today.  What is cotton defoliation?  Basically, cotton defoliation serves 3 purposes:

1.  It helps the leaves fall off the cotton plant, reducing the amount of "trash" in the cotton.

2.  Aids in opening the bolls completely, making harvest (picking) more efficient and more likely to gather all the cotton in one pass instead of two. 

(closed boll on left, open on right)

3.  Prevention of any unwanted regrowth (greening back up) on the plant(s).

(Cotton Growth Chart)

Farmers who grow cotton are paid by pounds, or bales.  In addition to weight, these bales are also graded, and a poor grade would result in a deduction, i.e. loss of money.  So, in addition to aiding in the harvest process, defoliation also helps improve the overall quality of the finished product.

Just in case you didn't know, that stuff that you wear everyday, dry off with, sleep on, and wipe with all comes from a plant.  In other words, it's natural, not a synthetic item that has been blended from other products.  And these are just a few of the uses. (See bales link above for more)

On a separate but related note, occasionally I will get asked if cotton defoliation is the reason peoples allergies flare up.  Well maybe, but probably not, at least not to the extent one may think.  It is logical to think that because defoliation takes place in approximately the same window of time, in the same  relative geographic area, this is the cause for ones allergies.  However, do remember that like in the spring, this time of year (late summer/fall) is also high pollen season, and known allergens like ragweed pollen are floating through the air aggravating ones sinuses.  It seems to me that it is more likely seasonal allergies are the cause rather than defoliants. 

As always your thoughts, comments, and questions are welcomed.  Thanks!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Corn Harvest, Facts, and More

After getting off to a good start, corn harvest has come to a standstill on our farm, and will likely stay this way for the next few days.  We've run into corn that's still a bit green (wet).  Ideally, corn that is harvested for grain will have a moisture content below 17%.  I sampled some today and it was over 20%, so we will park the combine and wait a few days for it to "dry down."  While it could be harvested at 20%, the grainery (also known as an elevator) will dock (penalize) corn over 15.5%, by taking away bushels.  They do this because they will have to physically dry it down themselves in their grain bins with their fans, and this costs them money.  So, for example, let's say we have 1,000 bushels of corn on a semi-trailor, and the moisture checks at 19%.  The grainery will dock a percentage of that load, and only credit us as having, say, 900 bushels.  Remember, the grainery is the one buying our product--whether it be corn, soybeans, wheat etc.  Now, we will only get paid on 900 bushels instead of the 1,000 delivered.  Corn today is selling for around $7/bushel (a really good price for the farmer).  Now figure what one lost by cutting it too wet:

$7 x 1,000 = $7,000
$7 x 900 = $6,300
For a loss of $700 on that load.

$700 x 10 loads a day (as an average) = $7,000 per day one would lose by harvesting corn too wet.

I think we'll keep the combine parked a few days.  It's still very early in the harvest season, so we aren't hard pressed, and won't be unless the weather turns ugly for an extended time, to try and get it out in such a hurry.  The closer we can get it to 15.5%, the less dock that will be applied.  Corn is considered "dry" at 15.5%, so anything below that number doesn't get docked.  However, corn that is too dry can present other potential issues, which I can discuss another time.

Corn being harvested by a combine:

The corn plant is pretty a-maize-ing, and the uses derived from this plant are probably even more amazing. Sorry, that's pretty corny. Two recent documentaries,


put a spotlight on corn.  Both of these documentaries are very entertaining, enlightening, and well-made.  Unfortunately both of these documentaries, like many politicians, often only tell one side of a story.  I learned much from these documentaries, and others like them, and found myself agreeing with much of what was being said.  However, I was still somewhat disappointed that the information presented, while truthful, was in my opinion, lacking and incomplete.  More on this later.  I would recommend watching these if you have not yet, but would urge a word of caution and discernment if not familiar with the agriculture related issues discussed.  I only briefly mention this now because a few people I know have asked me about them, so I wanted to get a word in now. As the late Paul Harvey would say, "The Rest of the Story", is coming. 

Finally, some corn facts:

And if you have kids, teach, or homeschool, here's a link to educational resources about corn:

As always, your comments and questions are welcomed.  Thanks and enjoy your corn, but not like this guy:

Monday, September 5, 2011

Dyer County Farm Bureau Ag Day 2011

Each year fifth graders from Dyer County and Dyersburg City Schools come to enjoy Farm Bureau Ag Day by listening to local farmers and county extension agents explain agriculture in various stations. For several years now, Ag Day has been held on our farm. It varies from year to year, but each year includes a cotton stop, corn stop, a soybean stop, and a popcorn stop--for a snack, of course! This year a safety stop was added to teach students about four-wheeler safety. Students learn about each crop, how it is used in the products they use everyday, and meet actual farmers who grow the crops. Students also get to see the equipment that is responsible for planting, spraying, and harvesting the crops. For many students, this day might be their first experience on a farm. 

 Four-Wheeler Safety was a station added this year.

 Students listen to a demonstration on corn.

 Students learn about soybeans.

The cotton station is always a big hit.

Snack time! 

As always, comments and questions are encouraged.

Hungry and Naked

...what you would be without farmers.