David v. Goliath?

August 28th, 2010

I recently submitted the following comments as a response to the dialog surrounding this post:

http://www.adfarmonline.com/blog/aroundthefarm/activism-in-ag

Please feel free to read and weigh in via comments.

I read this article the other day and enjoyed it immensely.  It is fun to come back a few days later and see the discussion that has started in the comments!  This is one of the reasons I love the Internet and social media, it allows us easy access to information and to have discussions with people we might have never met.

Having just watched the trailer, I would be interested in watching the entire documentary and looking into the source information used for the documentary.  Kim you mentioned that:

The other side of the story isn’t presented here in all cases, so why should a documentary, with seemingly nice backing from the German government (HIGHLY anti-GMO), be required to show all sides of the story? That’s the beauty of documentaries, to give a more focused picture into an unexplored subject matter of interest that conventional media outlets cannot.

I think that it is the responsibility of the person creating the documentary to discuss both sides of the issue so the viewer can have an informed reaction to the material presented.  If only one side is presented, I think the intent of the material switches from documentary to propaganda, and can become downright deceptive.

That being said, I want to say my perspective comes from growing up on a family farm in North Dakota.  I have lived overseas where GMO crops aren’t widely used.  One of my current occupations is operating a seed dealership for our family farm here in ND.  We sell seed that comes from both Dow and Monsanto’s genetics.  Our family is also a proud supporter of a local CSA farm.

The “David v. Goliath” theme that is presented here also manifests itself when looking at organic versus GMO.  There is a growing number of people who tend to view organic as good and GMO as bad without fully investigating the issues at stake in making that decision.  People tend to think that GMO or non-organic crops are worse for you because of pesticides.  Organic foods, however, tend to have a high level of toxins due to the defense mechanisms they need to produce to grow.  The point I’m trying to make is that people on both sides of the fence tend to, in my opinion, oversimplify the matter and ignore the complexities and unanswered questions that exist.

I am a fan of GMO crops.  I think that the advances in research brought about by companies like Monsanto are making agriculture a better place and industry.  We are seeing yield potential in crops that would have not been dreamed of before.  Using GMOs allows for less pesticide, and consequently fewer trips across the field which saves on fuel emissions, etc.  The innovations in GMO allow for a stable product to come to market in a shorter time which allows for more innovation and focused research. 

I’m a firm believer that organic/natural production can co-exist with GMO produced crops.  But I think it’s unfair for one side to ostracize the other when we’re really after the same goal:  feeding the world with healthy, sustainable agriculture.  The moment we stop throwing stones at each other and start working together to achieve these goals we will have made progress.  Discussions like this are just the start of that process.

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Drive safely during farming season – 5 things you must do.

May 18th, 2010

I read the following article from a fellow ag blogger, Andy Kleinschmidt.  Andy is an extension educator for Ohio State University that writes about various farm and ag issues.

It is common to see tractors and other machinery on both paved and gravel roads during the farming season.  I have memories of driving all shapes and sizes of tractors pulling everything imaginable down the road at a blazing 11 mph.  Those memories also include automobile drivers will a wide range of abilities (or lack thereof) to maneuver around farm equipment.  I can’t stress enough the importance of maintaining a high degree of caution and patience with farm vehicles during the farming season.  With the two or three hills we have in North Dakota, visibility can be an issue.  Please don’t assume that the tractor driver sees you!  Also, the equipment driver’s age might range from 10-90+.  Please exercise caution when approaching or passing.

Without further adieu, here are the driving tips from Mr. Kleinschmidt:

Spring and early summer are extremely busy times of the year for farmers.  Activities are many, and include moving large equipment from farm-to-farm.  Oftentimes moving farm equipment requires travel on roads.  Farm equipment is large, slow moving and does not stop quickly.  As such, it is very important that motorists take caution when approaching farm equipment.  Below are a few tips that should be followed when driving during the busy farming season:

  • Slow down immediately when you first see farm equipment ahead of you on the roadway. Farm equipment usually travels less than 25 miles per hour. It takes less than seven seconds for a car traveling at 55 mph to crash into the back of a tractor 400 feet away.
  • Be patient and wait for a safe opportunity to pass farm equipment. The tractor or combine operator will probably be aware of your presence and will pull over when possible as traffic begins to back-up.
  • Drive defensively when approaching on-coming farm equipment. Impatient motorists may pull out suddenly to pass the farm equipment and enter your lane.
  • Be on the alert when you see amber flashing lights ahead in either lane.
  • Be prepared to stop at railroad crossings when following a vehicle towing an anhydrous ammonia tank. Anhydrous ammonia tanks look like the large propane gas tanks used by rural homeowners.

farm safety

Risky Business

May 9th, 2010

The Economist, a British newsmagazine, recently asked the question: “What does [the Icelandic Volcano’s disruption of global air travel] say about man’s apparent inability to control nature?

Their answer was, in short, not much. Man’s apparent inability to control nature is just that — mostly apparent. The disruption caused by the volcano was largely a result of human over-reaction to an otherwise benign spectacle. The author argues that this submission to “the charms of powerlessness in the face of nature” is merely a way of saying we “don’t want to be bothered with facing up to what humans can do.”

Farming presents a unique vantage point from which to ask the same basic question posed by The Economist, because, in a sense, farmers work out the answers every growing season.

The history of farming over the past 60 years in North America is complex, but in some ways it has given farmers a degree of control over nature (though this may, in the end, turn out to be merely apparent). Just to name a few things: farmers now have control over encroaching weeds through the use of herbicide, they have more control over drought through the use of drought resistant plants, and they have some control over unfertile soil by using synthetic fertilizer. Now some of the companies who produce and sell the products I’ve listed would love for farmers to believe that they can, in fact, have total control over all the variables that combine to make farming such a risky venture. If farmers just apply this herbicide, or buy this seed, or use this method, then all is well and farmers can sit back and swim in their profits.

All that said, no one has yet stopped a hailstorm in its tracks, or rung water out of the hot, dry blue sky in late July, or turned off the flood that prevents their planting. As much control as farmers might appear to have, any farmer would admit that he or she in fact feels quite humbled by the vagaries of life on the plains.

North Dakota boasts some of the most extreme weather in our country. Representing the “geographical center of North America,” North Dakota is far removed from the meteorological calming and moderating effect of large bodies of water. Some of the highest and lowest temperatures ever recorded in the United States came from North Dakota — 121 degrees in Steele, ND, and -60 degrees in Parshall, ND. This extreme weather can, and often does wreak havoc for ND farmers.

From my vantage point, our powerlessness in the face of nature is neither apparent nor charming. Record warmth and hardly a drop of precipitation (rain or snow) this April allowed us to plant wheat earlier than we have in two decades. May is now on course to be one of the coldest on record, and this morning the early-planted wheat, now 3 inches tall is covered in snow!

When planting good seed, applying an adequate amount of fertilizer, and protecting the crops from weeds, farmers indeed may feel the outcome relies on them, but at other times, they sense that the growth and completion of a crop is mostly out of their control. Do farmers have control? Yes. Are farmers powerless at times? Yes. Is this charming? No, but probably healthy, healthy to remain ‘grounded’ in our role in and relationship with nature.

*The article, entitled “Earthly Powers: Disasters are about people and planning, not nature’s pomp,” appeared in the April 27, 2010 edition of the weekly magazine. To read the entire article, go to http://www.economist.com/opinion/displaystory.cfm?story_id=15951696

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Farm Kids Have More Fun!

May 8th, 2010

A common misconception about farms is that farms are boring.  You take a long drive out into the middle of nowhere and there is nobody and nothing to do.  Wrong!  Sure, a person can be bored silly on a farm just as well as they can in a city.  But as my mother always said “only boring people get bored.”  This is really true when it comes to farm kids.  Growing up on a farm you have to know how to make your own fun!  And a couple of perks are that most of that fun doesn’t cost you a cent and you really don’t have to travel anywhere to get to it.

Some things that I have done for fun on the farm, mostly when I was a teenager:

Go for a ride in the tractor or on the four-wheeler

Swim or fish if there is a river or lake nearby

Take your dad’s (or someone’s) pickup truck mudding (mudding is the activity in which one takes a truck down a muddy dirt or gravel road and mud flies everywhere making a huge mess and the vehicle slides around nearly going off the road….really quite exciting)

Horseback riding

Have a huge shop party so that you can invite nearly all the kids in the county

Bonfires out in the middle of nowhere

Taking some machinery out for a drive

Using your incredibly huge lawn as a golf course or a baseball diamond

Also using your incredibly huge lawn for a ice skating rink in the winter

Barn dances

Take a trip in the grain truck to the elevator and have coffee with the guys

Driving really fast down deserted roads (I wouldn’t try this one)

Street dances in small towns nearby

Hunting/or making a shooting range

Go to the implement dealer and check out the new tractors and combines

Check out the county fair or parade in the summertime

There are a lot of things that a person can do on a farm that are really fun.  Also as I have mentioned in my earlier posting is that farm life is also a lot about friends, family and the connections that you have with others.  If you have friends and neighbors then you can always get a group together and have a good time.

Some of these ideas may sound a little out there to some of you who have never experienced them but they really are a lot of fun.  And one does not have to be a “country person” to appreciate these things nor do those who live on farms not appreciate activities in metropolitan areas.

So I encourage you to find a friend who has access to a farm and go and try some of these things if you never have before.  You might find that you have more fun than you thought you would.

Sincerely,

The Farmer’s Daughter

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Please welcome a farmer’s daughter to our blog!

April 7th, 2010

I will be posting on her behalf, please read and say hello!

The Farmer’s Daughter

I grew up on a farm in southeastern North Dakota.  When most people think of farms they think of animals.  We did not have any animals on our farm.  It was strictly a grain farm.  The crops grown on our farm included soybeans, navy beans, sunflowers and wheat.

There are many great things to be said about farming.  I believe that it is one of the best ways for a family to live, especially for children.  As children my three siblings and I always had lots of space to run and play.  We lived in a house that is nearly 90 years old and it was fun to know that we lived in the same house that my great-grandparents had lived in.  My mom always had lots of flowerbeds and a vegetable garden, so we had fresh vegetables every summer and fall.

Besides family life there is also community life involved in farming.  Usually when a person is a farmer they get to know a lot of their neighbors because they do business with them on a regular basis.  Or if they do not do business with them it is still useful to get to know one another because farmers can discuss crops, the markets, the weather and other topics and get advice and ideas.  Farm families also depend on one another in times of crisis.  When a crop needs to be harvested immediately or face impending destruction, who will they call to help?  The only people they really can call are their friends and neighbors who are in the agriculture business as well.  There is not a farmers-for-hire business that they can call on a moment’s notice. The friends and neighbors will have the appropriate equipment, skills and knowledge to get the job done.

Farming families often have lived within the same communities together for generations.  Their children have gone to school and grown up with the other family’s children, just as their parents did.  Some families are related to other families.  Some have long-standing businesses together.  And when one says long-standing in relation to a farm life situation they usually mean something spanning generations.  This is how it is in small, rural, farming communities and it will likely continue on that way.  This is a culture unlike many others.  One will not find this in a big city.

Farming is a fascinating profession.  It is often not looked at as a high-status profession, but in reality farmers really need to be business savvy and decisive.  They have a lot of the qualities that would be looked for in a CEO or CFO and probably run a budget comparable, if not larger, than most businesses.  They drive equipment that is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and use trucks, pickups, 4-wheelers, and planes to keep an eye on their business’ progress.  Farming also involves chemistry, geology and biology.  Farmers have to know how their plants grow, when they grow, what to do if they will not grow and much more.  Farmers have to know about soil quality and how the minerals in the ground affect their crops.  And farmers have to know how to mix chemicals.  If they choose to use herbicides, pesticides or fungicides they have to know how to use them, how to mix them, etc.  Altogether there is so much variety in the profession of farming.  For a farmer, the learning never ends.

I have gone through and given you a sampling of what farming is as a way of life and as a profession.  I have observed and experienced all of this and more that I would like to tell you about in future postings.  I did have some hesitation on writing in this blog because I do come from a 4th generation farm family and from a farming community.  I know how close these relationships can be and want to be respectful in my writings of this.  Because of this I may refrain from giving specifics about myself or those I am writing about.  But I do hope that I can open your eyes to what growing up on a farm would be like and what a rural, farming culture is all about.  I aim to dispel some misconceptions and give you a little humor as well.  I hope that I can teach you something and I welcome any questions.

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Introducing Jordan Gackle, Another Contributor

April 2nd, 2010

 

I grew up on a farm near Kulm, ND, just down the road from Schott’s. Our farm sits on the edge of the Coteau Hills, a geological formation marked by rolling hills and innumerable prairie potholes. This land also marks an entry into the North American Great Plains, a vast, often harsh ocean of grass stretching west to the Rocky Mountains. To the east one descends over five hundred feet in just ten miles into the “flats” — rich farmland that only grows more fertile along an eastward path until finally one reaches the Red River Valley of the North, some of the most fertile land in the world, comparable to the Nile River Valley in Egypt. Ours is a land in between.

I never understood why my ancestors kept moving west until finally ending up in the potholes. Why not set up camp in “the flats”? The land was more fertile and better drained — all around good farmland. From what I can tell they went the extra miles precisely because of the potholes, which they felt offered an excellent water resource for raising livestock. I guess I can see their perspective, but sometimes it would be nice to plow straight for more than fifty feet without having to drive around a small lake!

The farm I grew up on has been in our family for three generations. My Grandfather established the farmstead in the middle of twentieth century. My Dad has been farming the land since the late 70s, and now I…

After high school I, like most farm kids, left. I headed toward a place filled with promise and potential. I sought a future filled with possibility. I went to the city.

In college I studied history and philosophy (So much for a promising future filled with possibility!). Through college I periodically felt a pull to come back and try my hand at farming. It never happened. Then I got married and moved to Vancouver, BC to begin another degree. All the while, the farm maintained its periodical pull on my life. Now, five years later, when I probably should be putting my degrees to work out in the world, I think its finally time to heed that pull to the farm, at least a little.

Though our life at present is somewhat nomadic, my wife, daughter and I will remain long enough on the edge of the Great Plains to put in our first crop.

And I look forward to keeping you posted.

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Exactly what is a “family farm?”

March 20th, 2010

From my limited perspective, it appears that farming is going through a perception crisis.  What I mean when I say “perception crisis” is that the perception others have of farming, agriculture, and family farming is misunderstood and oftentimes inaccurate.  The urbanization brought on by  the Industrial Revolution resulted in a growing number of people moving away from the farm into cities.  Consequently, mankind created a divide in the connection between the population and the source of its food.  This divide has continued to grow exponentially. 

Recently there has been an increased desire among people to close this gap and understand where food comes from.  

Having grown up on a family farm, I always assumed that everyone knew.  For as long as I can remember, I have walked through fields of wheat and barley.  I have watched the predominant crops in our area shift from flax, sunflowers, wheat and barley to a greater number of corn and soybean acres.

Farming at it’s core is a simple process – put a seed in the ground, let it grow and harvest.  The complexities that surround these steps – crop marketing, global fertilizer supply, soil formulation…the list goes on.  On top of that, everything can be planned perfectly but one bad day (or hour) of weather can ruin an entire season.  I remember watching a hail storm destroy nearly our entire crop in one hour of “weather”.

This blog is my attempt to put a face to family farming.  I’m hoping to draw as many people to the conversation via articles and comments.  Let’s have a meaningful discussion on agriculture, and educate others on what farming is really about.

Please feel free to post a comment sharing your thoughts on the question: What is a family farm?

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Welcome Tommy Butcher to our community!

March 19th, 2010

A quick introduction:

My name is Tommy and we have a small family farmstead in the Wheatland, ND area with about 10 acres. Currently we have a couple horses, some chickens and raise Wirehaired Pointing Griffons. In the past we kept a couple dairy goats for family use and are looking to possibly pick up a couple sheep for lamb meat and/or a couple miniature cows for milk/meat.

There are great benefits in having a small farmstead, especially when it comes to raising children and helping to provide fresh food. I have a edge with the dogs since I am technical in my profession and know how to position websites in the top searches for Google and Bing. This allows me to market my dogs online and reach a national audience.

The current challenges we have is finding where to purchase animals like sheep and mini-cows. We are fairly new to North Dakota, moved up from Texas 4 years ago, so we don’t have all the connections that long times rural residents have.

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Schott Testifies before House Ag Committee

March 16th, 2010

Bart Schott, First VP for National Corn Grower’s Association, recently testified before the U.S. House of Representative’s Agriculture Committee regarding H.R. 4645, the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act.

The main article can be viewed here:  http://ncga.com/current-cuban-embargo-works-against-us-farmers-3-11-10

A written copy of Bart’s oral testimony can be read here:  http://ncga.com/files/pdf/CubaBartOral03-11-10.pdf

Bart was also interviewed for a national radio story on 3/12.  We are fortunate to have a copy of that interview to share with you!

Bart Schott 03-12-10 Interview

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Welcome to Schott Farms!

March 16th, 2010

I am very excited to announce this blog, and let you know about some of the ideas that I have been kicking around in my head for this site.  Those of you that know me well know that I am passionate about building community.  It is my hope that this blog is a site does exactly that.  I’m hoping that this blog is a resource for people in the ag community to share, learn from each other, and is the starting point for discussions on ag-related issues.

Aside from building community and sharing ideas, this blog will be host to another purpose – raising awareness about ag-related issues, and putting a human face to the farm.  Those of us who grew up on family farms may not be aware of this, but not everyone fully understands what goes on around a farm, especially considering the care and stewardship that farmers so diligently strive to maintain when maintaining the land.  It’s my hope that this blog is a site that will generate discussions to that end as well, and allow farmers and ag professionals a place to tell their story.

Comments are welcome and appreciated.

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