Thursday, December 26, 2013

Thirteen from 13

2013 was a wet year.

Spring was wet and that delayed planting.  Summer was wet but for the most part crops like water.  Fall was wet and that spread harvest out right up to Thanksgiving.  So far the winter has been wet and that makes for happy duck hunters.

2013 was challenging.  2013 was a good year.

Here are a few, 13 to be exact, observations and reflections on things I learned, saw, heard, or enjoyed in the year that was.


  • We began (again) homeschooling this year.  We took a two year break from homeschooling after our third was born and while we transitioned to a new home, career etc.  Homeschooling is not for the faint of heart, just ask my wife.  I have a new newfound respect for teachers and administrators.    
  • Along those lines I believe Common Core has the potential to do to public education what ObamaCare is doing to healthcare.  But it's for the children!
  • Howard Buffett - farmer, philanthropist, and son of billionaire Warren Buffett - has written a book called 40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World.  It gets its title from the average number of seasons a farmer has of planting, caring for, harvesting, and improving upon his crop.  Buffett weaves together stories of his travels around the globe and the challenges (often dangerous) of feeding the planet.  Check it out.
  • And along those lines, I am not convinced GMO's or Monsanto are the enemy of the Earth.  However, I am becoming more convinced that there are reasonable arguments for concern about food safety, what's in our food, and the trustworthiness of companies such as Monsanto.  Wendell Berry may or may not endorse that statement.
  • Fools Rush In Where Monkeys Fear To Tread by Carl Trueman should be read by everyone.  After all, he takes aim at everyone.  While you are at it, read his book Republocrat.  While you're still at it pretty much read anything he writes.  


Also check out Kevin DeYoung, Russell Moore, ND Wilson, Tim Keller, Jay Sanders, and Marty Duren.  Over and over again these guys writings help me immeasurably.  There are many others, to many to list, but start here and they'll lead you to the others.  And for the ladies, consider Gloria Furman, Jani Ortlund, and Elyse Fitzpatrick.  


  • Have you heard of Peter Bradley Adams?  Go take a listen.  You'll like and you'll buy.
  • What about Gregory Alan Isakov?  Ditto the above.  


Both of the above guys have been around the music scene for some time now.  But in my small part of the world we have about 20 radio stations that come in clear.  Sixteen of those are country, two are Christian both of which are obsessed with Casting Crowns, one is dedicated to all things Fox News or Rush Limbaugh, and the other one plays a mix of classic rock (not that that's a bad thing).  So if you love Luke Bryan and Casting Crowns with a dash of AC/DC, Northwest Tennessee is your musical headquarters.  If not, create a station on Pandora called The Head and The Heart and you'll discover great music that radio doesn't know exists.


  • Myself and many others rejoiced from afar when Matt & Courtney Cummings son was born.  What an incredible testimony of faithfulness.
  • Josh & Gretchen Neisler are two of the most incredible people I've ever had the pleasure of being around.  However, Josh is a die hard Ohio St fan.  And Cincinnati Reds fan.  He'll probably have to give an account to the Lord one day for these sins.  But likely before that day comes, he'll get to rub my nose in all the future SEC (b/c as anyone from the south knows, when your team stinks you by default get to hitch your wagon to the conference) and St Louis Cardinal flops, frustrations, and failings.  Then I'll have to give an account.  But on that day that we are all united in Heaven, in unison we'll cheer against Notre Dame. 
  • I do not believe Phil Robertson is a hater, phobic, or racist.  Welcome to the new America where tolerance is defined and speech is based upon agreement with those whom you disagree with.  Wait what?  Because me and someone whom I may disagree with couldn't possibly be great friends or colleagues despite our differences. (Note the sarcasm)
  • There is very little difference between the Republican and Democrat party.  Stand with Rand.
  • Frozen is one of the worst movies ever.  If you like musicals, Narnia theme knock offs, and a repeat of every princess movie ever, you'll love it.  Naturally, my girls loved it.
  • Lana and I married in the year 2000.  I love her 13 times more now than in the year we married.
Like I said, 2013 was a good year.  Happy New Year!



Monday, May 27, 2013

Doing Ourselves a Disservice

A few days ago Andy Borowitz of The New Yorker wrote this satirical piece about Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia resigning as a Boy Scout scoutmaster.

Now it's starting to pop up on Facebook and other places as gospel.

Hold up and let's take a breath.

1) Scalia rarely gives interviews or makes public comments, particularly about issues the high court is still weighing (DOMA) and especially regarding hot button issues such as gay marriage.

2) I question if folks who are posting and reposting this story even read it, or just read the headline and thought, "We've got one for our side!"

Consider this line from the article: “Some of the happiest memories of my adult life have been as a scoutmaster. Huddling under blankets around the campfire, and so forth. But now, all of that has been ruined. Ruined.” 
Is there any way possible to read this in which it doesn't make Scalia sound like a pedophile?
Then this one: "Shortly after sending the letter, Justice Scalia destroyed his scoutmaster uniform in the blazing fireplace of his Supreme Court office."
Who knows if he really has a fireplace in his office or not, but doesn't that strike you as brash reaction by someone who is so seemingly cool and levelheaded?

3) Marty Duren warns us, especially as Christians, that "The good news of Jesus should not be obscured by our penchant for spreading error riddled bad news."  Read that article here.


As Christians, we do not help ourselves, the church, or the cause of Christ by blindly repeating and sharing stories like these.  At best we appear to be lazy and sloppy.  At worst we appear to be incompetent and violators of  the 9th commandment.

How can we expect to be taken seriously on any number of significant issues when we do not offer up any credibility?  Christians need not be FoxNews 2.0.  Christians need be faithful disciples of Christ, a disciple who has done their homework.     

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Joel Salatin & Monsanto, Part Deux

This post doesn't really deal much with anything to do with the title, I mostly just wanted to use the word deux.  Now I can feel like a co-producer on one of the Hot Shot movies.

Marty Duren took the time to read my post and his response was gracious, logical, and fair.  This is what makes him one of my favorite people to read.

Since tractors nowadays drive themselves, I had time to think about my previous post and some of Marty's and Jay's feedback.  I think fundamentally we agree, or, at least I don't have any problems with their feedback.  I'm trying to approach this topic from the perspective of how can we feed a growing global population.  In other words, what's it going to take in terms of production, technology, economic factors and so forth.  That's what undergirds most of my thought processes, at least on this topic.

I had some additional random thoughts and considerations on the topic (some of which can be connected to the previous post), so I'll just spill them all over this page in no particular order.  Hopefully I'll remember most of them.  Here we go:
  • It's easy for us in the U.S. of A to say things like "don't eat meat" or "only eat organic." But try that line on someone in India or Ethiopia.  How does that help the rest of the world?  What does that do to help alleviate poverty, hunger, and malnutrition in third world countries?  They just want to eat, and would like to know another meal will be there the next day too. 
  • Vegetarianism is fine too, but as Jim Gaffigan states, animals are "fun to pet but better to chew." 
  • If I get sick enough, I go to the doctor and they usually give me an antibiotic.  People do this for themselves, and for their pets.  Why not do this for livestock as well?  The same thing can be said for vaccinations.  People get them, pets get them, how about cows?  Granted, this is a multi-facited issue with multiple approaches on how to care for and feed animals and how to raise them, impact of droughts etc.,  in other words there is a lot more to this than sad looking pictures of CAFO's, but I'm happy for people to have the choice.  If you want to only eat grass fed, free range, organic, antibiotic free beef or poultry, that's great.  There's a market for that, and people are willing to pay a premium to have that.  If you're content with McDonalds, there's a market and a medical field for that as well. 
  • I know of now other industry in the United States more heavily regulated, moderated, tested, or scrutinized than agriculture.  It's not fail safe, that's been proven.  But I feel safe to eat the salad and the steak from the grocery store or the local restaurant.
  • When a seed is altered to make it tolerant or resistant to something, it's been genetically modified, hence GMO's.  The two common GMO seed traits we use are plants that are resistant to the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate) for weed control and Bt (bacillus thuringiensis) which protects the plants against worms.  Roundup attacks an enzyme in plants that humans don't have, and Bt is naturally occurring in the soil.  The funny thing about Bt is that it is an "approved" insecticide spray on organic crops, but when it's incorporated into a seed, it's now an evil GMO.  Another common corn herbicide goes by the name Callisto, and its active ingredient is derived from the chrysanthemum flower.  
  • With all that, those darn weeds and insects still come back.  Maybe they don't stick around poisoning the soil as much or as long as we're sometimes led to believe.  Perhaps sunlight and soil microorganisms start breaking them down or feeding on them immediately.  Thanks for the thistles Eve. 
  • If I used commercial fertilizer mined from the Earth, I get blamed for mining from the Earth and polluting the water.  If I use manure as fertilizer I get complaints about the odor and polluting the water.
  • If I till the ground I get accused of raping the soil and creating erosion, polluting the water, dusting the air, and burning too much diesel.  If I go No-till, I significantly reduce erosion and fuel use, but I use more herbicides to achieve weed control, and I pollute the water.  2 out of 4 isn't bad.    
  • Biotechnology is not the end all, but in my opinion it helps get us toward the goal of feeding people.  Community gardens, farmers markets, buying local are all great ideas and should be utilized.  I'm just not convinced we can feed the masses with those methods alone.  



Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Joel Salatin and the Monsanto Dilemma


I don’t know Marty Duren but I wish I did.  Based on his writings, I can tell he is someone I’d like to hang out with.  In fact you should go now and bookmark his website, martyduren.com and regularly check his blog, “Kingdom in the Midst.”  After that, go and order a copy of his book, “The Generous Soul.”  Then tell everyone you know about both.  I think we both live in the same state, Tennessee.  I think Duren works for Lifeway, and I used to work at a Lifeway bookstore.  And, we share a mutual friend in The Nature Boy Jay Sanders.

On Monday Duren wrote a piece entitled “What Charles Darwin and John Deere have in common.”  Myself being a farmer, I was of course drawn in by the use of the words John Deere.  Why?  Because nothing runs like a Deere. (rim shot)

With the exception of the cattle feedlot photo which could have used some more context it was, as usual, a splendid article.  Check it out at the above mentioned site.  I noticed after reading it a link to a review Duren posted about six months ago regarding a book written by Joel Salatin.  (Salatin is among others things, a popular lecturer on food related issues and his Polyface Farms was featured in the documentary Food Inc.)  Somehow I had missed this, so I read it as well.  Read that one also.  If I may, it is with this article that I want to quibble.

In particular, this line is what I’d like to focus on:
Are food consumers the beneficiaries when the food chain is increasingly controlled by a corrupt, multiple-fined company like Monsanto–the Planned Parenthood of the food industry–whose greed is exceeded only by the shamelessness with which they advance it?
(There is also a line about subsidies, but that’s a topic for another time)

Since I’ve yet to read this Salatin book, I’m not sure if these are Duren’s or Salatin's words, but either way to compare Monsanto to Planned Parenthood is a fairly egregious charge.  I’m no Monsanto apologist, and I’m certain Monsanto will not be elected to the business ethics hall of fame if such a thing existed, but here’s the deal.  Monsanto produces genetically modified seed.  This is no secret.  So does DuPont.  And Syngenta.  And BASF.  And Dow.  And Bayer.  And the list goes on.  They’ve been doing it for years and will continue doing so.  And as such, they own the patents and the rights to the use of their property.  That’s fair.  Each year, we sign a license agreement stating we understand this and agree to play by the rules.  Farmers who don’t play by the rules and get caught are subject to severe penalties, such as the case with Indiana farmer Vernon Bowman.  We pay a premium to use this seed, and the folks who save their GMO seed year to year are guilty of theft.  One of the misnomers about Monsanto is that they force farmers to use their seed.  Not hardly.  I can grow whatever seed I want including non-genetically modified seed, the good ol’ conventional stuff.  It’s readily available as well.  We personally use GMO seed on our farm because with it our yields are steadily increasing, it helps us be more efficient, and it actually reduces our pesticide use.  Given our current environmental conscience, these are good things.  Is Monsanto a friend or enemy of the farmer?  The answer to that question is probably yes.  They’re a frienemy.  Multi billion dollar companies tend to get treated like the evil empire, but lets not stoop as low as comparing them to Planned Parenthood.  Call them the Yankees of seed production.

What makes Salatin, Michael Pollan, Wendell Berry and others appealing is their honesty, sincerity, passion, and ability to articulate their position.  However, this farmer believes these guys often only give one side of the story and with their smooth speech people are seduced into believing that their line of thinking is the only way.  And when I get an opportunity to perhaps shed light from another perspective, I kinda feel like I’m duty bound.  No doubt these gentlemen appeal to a growing niche market, and each have helped propel a national discussion on food matters.  For that I’m appreciative.  Nor though am I na├»ve enough to forget that global population is booming, people are hungry, and we’ve got food to produce.

In other places Salatin talks about poisoning the water and raping the soil, but much of this seems to me to be conjecture spurred by over zealous documentaries and lecture circuits.  One year recently we were using chicken litter (manure) as our primary source of fertilizer (something Salatin would be proud of) and wouldn’t you know someone threatened to sue us over the smell and potential groundwater contamination.  Much more could be said on this.  Stories like that are all too normal around America’s farmland.  Sigh.  What’s a farmer to do?

Is Salatin right or is Monsanto right?  That’s debatable.  They likely both are, in part.

Should we be using GMO seed?  That open for debate also, but I see numerous benefits.

Consider this, who’s more likely to create corn that can produce its own nitrogen?  Who’s more likely to create drought resistant wheat that can be grown in countries like Uganda and Ethiopia?  Consequently, who's also likely to charge so much for said seed that no third world country farmer can afford.  Levon Helms words ring true: "The poor old dirt farmer can't run no corn cause he ain't got no loan."  Or, who’s more likely to produce another documentary that fits a narrative of railing against the evils of modern agriculture, only giving one half of the picture while simultaneously blaming our healthcare crisis on cows and corn as opposed to gluttony and excessive antibiotic use?

In his Darwin/Deere article, Duren is correct when he said: “Whether Salatin is 100% accurate, like most things, can be debated. What he brings to the forefront, and what is critically important, is the need to avoid fragmented thinking. We are not moving toward truth when we isolate parts from the whole. Instead, we make truth more elusive.”

I agree, but it helps me sometimes to fragment things down into there parts before putting them back into there whole so that I can gain a clearer understanding of what, or where, the truth actually is. 


Monday, February 4, 2013

On the Eighth Day

My Facebook page blew up sometime around the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl.  That was about the time Dodge ran the now famous "So God Made A Farmer" commercial narrated by the late Paul Harvey.

The comments were fantastic and hilarious.  I loved every one of them.  Apparently I am the only farmer many of my friends know, which does make sense since farmers make up less than 2% of our nations population.  I live in a small town, most folks know or know of one another.  My circle of friends, contacts, and networks includes a lot of farmers.  That makes sense to me.

But, I'm reminded that I'm in a minority.  Most people don't know a farmer.  Most people don't know how food is produced.  Most people don't know where their food comes from.  I'm reminded of the awesome task and responsibility given to us who produce the food.  I'm amazed at how much so few of us are able to produce.  It's simply mind boggling.  And, I'm reminded of the task that lies ahead of us as the population continues to grow.  It's going to be all hands on deck.  Looking forward to the challenge.

Paul Harvey first gave the original version of that speech back in 1978 at the National FFA convention. I was barely one year old at the time.  Dodge did slightly edit the original version, but did so without sacrificing the overall content.  For the cost of Super Bowl commercials, I can hardly blame them.

I remember where I was the first time I heard Harvey recite those words.  Sitting in my dads truck out in a cotton field eating lunch, the local radio station would play the Paul Harvey update each day at noon. I was around 16 at the time.  Quite fitting I think.

Now as usual some folks just can't resist lampooning a commercial like this one.  Probably in the same way I find it hard to resist taking shots at Wendell Berry.  Popping up in comments sections and on message boards are comments ranging from the clueless, to confusion, to delusion, to cheap shots at...wait for it...Monsanto.  How original, attacking that evil empire.  As an aside here, let me say if you want to criticize "big farming" at least have the courtesy to use and understand the basic nomenclature of agriculture.  As a starting point, may I suggest the following tips:

1) Know the difference between a family farm and a global corporation and the stats on those.  By some peoples standards, our farm is a global corporation seizing on the weak and destroying the environment.  Sigh.  I think not.

2) Understand the difference between terms like hybrid and genetically modified organism (GMO). Hybrids are nothing new.  I'm a hybrid.  You're a hybrid.  In layman's terms, anything that has two parents or anything this is crossed with something else is a hybrid.  How do you think we got so many apple varieties?  GMO's means the plant (seed) has been genetically infused to resist something or control something.  Roundup Ready/Bt corn for example, can be sprayed with a product containing glyphosate --known as Roundup to most people-- and kill the weeds w/out hurting the corn.  Bt protects the plant against insects.  These are good things.

3) Understand the costs associated with farming.  Some things are expensive, some aren't.  Know the difference.

Farmers may very well have a love hate relationship with Monsanto.  But I've never understood why they seem to be targeted more so than the other Ag affiliated companies.  Maybe b/c they're the biggest?  The wealthiest? Maybe others are envious of them?  Other companies are using this technology or have invested in their own version of it.

Where is the outrage towards Dupont, Dow, Bayer, Syngenta, BASF, Phytogen and so on?

How about a little consistency here?

Farmers know the rules to the game, and we (should) fully understand our rights and limitations when we use their products.  It's their product.  They hold the rights to it.  It's their intellectual property.  To knowingly use Monsanto's or anyone else's patented products then complain about the rules later is asinine. No one is forcing our hand here.  Not really anyway. We have other options in the seed and chemical market.  We use these products b/c we've seen the results.  Besides, if the weed resistance problems continue with Roundup (Glyphosate), Monsanto will be less and less influential.  Farmers will spend money, but not bad money towards solutions that doesn't work.

I read on RealClearPolitics website that this was the first of a series of commercials spotlighting farmers and agriculture that Dodge/Chrysler will be unveiling throughout 2013.

Kudos to Dodge for that.  In case you missed the commercial, here it is again:



And, for the full text of Paul Harvey's words, watch and listen here:








Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Expository Farming

When farmers go about making decisions many factors come into the equation, and each decision can in turn affect a prior or future decision.  I can pick the perfect variety for a field, have the perfect amount of fertilizer placed, have all the pests controlled and have my drainage all lined out only to watch it all wither away because it was scorching hot and never received any rainfall.   Not much I can do in a situation like that.

The point here is that farmers have some things in their control and some things out of their control, so we need to be experts in the areas we have some control over, and make sure our basics are covered.  I can't control temperature nor can I control rainfall, at least not on non-irrigated fields.  So, to position myself to be as successful as possible, I better make sure the things I do have some control over are being taken care of, such as proper soil fertility, pest control, proper timing of various field applications and the like.  I'm talking about the kinds of things you have to do week after week or month after month or year after year in order to maintain a crop to help it reach its maximum potential.  This is what we call taking care of the basics, or taking care of the fundamentals.

Agriculture like other professions has its fair share of scoundrels and snake oil salesmen.  They come along every year promising the moon, which for any given product is always a 3-5 bushel increase.  Evidently each attends the same snake oil school because regardless the product, each essentially use the same sales pitch promising the same result, all for the same price.  Yipee! We got ourselves a deal boys!

I suppose these guys continue to exist in agriculture, like other professions, because PT Barnum was probably correct when credited with saying: "A sucker is born every minute."  The problem is that by and large these "add-on" products just don't work and rarely pay off at a better than break even margin.  A fellow could spend a small (or large) fortune trying to outwit and outguess Mother Nature.  A wise dairy farmer once told me a big key to successful milk production was to obey the four C's: keep the cows clean, calm, comfortable, and cool.  The same logic can be applied to plants.  Rainfall will cover up a multitude of mistakes but if the basics haven't been taken care of along the way, fields will tattle on you come harvest.

Likewise, the church and her leaders has to take care of its basics, the fundamentals.  That all begins with faithful expositional preaching and teaching of Scripture.  What is expository preaching?  Short answer, it is the verse by verse, book by book teaching of Scripture.  What does this matter?  Bible scholar Don Carson lists 6 points as to why this method trumps the more common "topical" method:


  1. It is the method least likely to stray from Scripture.
  2. It teaches people how to read their Bibles.
  3. It gives confidence to the preacher and authorizes the sermon.
  4. It meets the need for relevance without letting the clamor for relevance dictate the message.
  5. It forces the preacher to handle the tough questions.
  6. It allows the preacher to expound systematically the whole counsel of God.

I bring this up because I was reading about a popular church that asked its members via Facebook to say in one word what they loved about their church.  These are some of the responses that question generated: 
  • relevant
  • a place of freedom
  • because the students are wicked awesome
  • come as you are (several versions of this one)
  • accepted as I am (again, multiple variations of this one)
  • because its a riverbed where flows living water (can someone explain this to me???)
  • thinks outside the box
I suppose it's a good thing it's a place of freedom since only one person managed to answer the question   with one word.  None of these responses are bad or wrong, though some of them leave me scratching my head in wonder, while some make less sense than applause at a Justin Bieber concert.  Most churches would do well to be a little more relevant, open to outsiders, and to think outside the box.  But what's a theme commonly missing when the "relevant" heavy church starts asking their people questions like this?  You guessed it -- not one mention of the preaching, teaching, discipleship, worship, vision, mission, missions etc. of the church.  Sure most people would quickly embrace these when suggested, but isn't there something telling when the basics of a healthy church are otherwise never mentioned?

I think, that's too often reflective of churches that either abandoned or never really embraced expository preaching.  Expository teaching and preaching is a key foundation of the church.  It's the fertility, the rich soil, that aids in the growth of all the other functions of the church -- teaching, worship, missions, discipleship, counseling, family life, discipline...  It's key because it places Christ in the proper place, at the head and at the center of everything in the life of the church.  When Christ is placed on the tail end of everything in the church he becomes like a caboose was on a train.  It's only a matter of time before he is completely left off.  

Churches and farms are a lot alike.  Some are healthy, some are not.  Both can and should always be looking for ways to improve.  Both are guilty of looking for quick and cheap fixes to sometimes deep problems and issues.  Both want the snake oil salesman to be right.  But we both know, if we examine ourselves, that if neither take care of the basics, all either of us will be left with is being relevant.

Then we get tattled on.