Tuesday, February 26, 2019

21 years under the stars

By Shelley E. HuguleyFarm Press Editorial Staff

This month, my farmer and I will celebrate 21 years of marriage. If you had asked me as a little girl if I would grow up to be a farmer’s wife, I would have cocked my head, wrinkled the crease in my forehead and said, “a what?” The redheaded part would have been easy. I’ve always been crazy about redheads.

When my farmer and I first met, I was a couple of years out of Texas Tech University at Lubbock, Texas. I was living on my own and driving what I affectionately called “a piece of Nissan.” What you need to know is my Nissan ran through much of college on a prayer and chance. One of its fine features was its absolute refusal for the windshield wipers to work. But that’s not really a big deal when you live in West Texas, right? On the rare occasion it did rain, I would simply reduce my speed and follow the white lines on the road.

My farmer, prior to us dating, overheard me telling someone about my wiper crises, and said, “Are you serious, your windshield wipers don’t work?” He went on to explain how he knew how to fix most anything and could he take a look. Not only did he repair the wipers but noticed my tires were worn down to the chord. My farmer told me he was certain God had extra grace for women because if these had been his tires, he would have already had a couple of blowouts.

I’ll never forget the first time I visited the farm. Having grown up in the city, we had nights when the stars were brighter than others, but nothing like I witnessed in the pitch-blackness, except maybe a floodlight by the barn, that night at the farm when I looked up. I remember standing outside the farmhouse in amazement. I had no idea what I had been missing.

In the fall of 1997, I found myself in the middle of a cotton field behind my farmer’s house, with him on one knee proposing and me screaming with excitement. Good thing he asked me in the country! Dressed in his work jeans and t-shirt, he led me out to the field to show me some “good” cotton, where my engagement ring was strategically placed in a cotton boll. I’ve been walking in high cotton with him ever since. (I didn’t say high prices.)

When you divorce the city and marry the country, there’s a bit of a learning curve. For example, in a small town when people ask you where you live, they are not asking you for your physical address. What they are actually asking you is who lived in your house before you did. “I live in the ol’ so and so house.” And for someone who did not grow up in a small town, not only was I trying to learn people’s names but who lived in their house before they did! The funny thing is 21 years later, I ask the same thing.

In a small town you keep your pantry stocked with cake mixes. Whether it’s a birth or a death or a cake auction, a girl can’t be without a cake mix. You also learn the value of home-canned vegetables. I had never had “canned” food other than Campbell’s off the grocery store shelf. My mother-in-law made and canned chow-chow, a relish you put on black-eyed peas. Those jars were like gold, carefully rationed throughout the winter and spring until it was time to can some more.

I’ve learned a lot over the last 21 years. Our family has grown from two to five. We’ve weathered and are weathering some tough farming years. But as long as I’m with my farmer and remember to take moments to stand in awe of the stars, we’ll celebrate 100 more.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Going a Step Further with Environmental Stewardship

This blog was submitted by the National Pork Board in Celebration of National Ag Day.

The team at Dykhuis Farms, Inc. raises pigs and row crops in a system in which one complements the other. But, the men and women on the Holland, Michigan, farm are also raising environmental quality standards in an area where water quality is a major concern.

The farm owned and operated by Bob and Lorrie Dykhuis and their five children and their familiesdaughters Erin, Rachel, Cara and Jenna, and son Josephis home to around 18,000 sows and 3,000 corn and soybean acres. The farm that started with 80 sows in 1978 is rooted in core values surrounding animal welfare and environmental sustainability.

Those two go hand-in-hand, especially in how the Dykhuis Farms team approaches water quality. It’s emblematic of the holistic, complementary cycle that characterizes the western Michigan farm and the animals and crops it produces. The farm’s row crops help sustain the pigs the Dykhuis family raises, while the manure from the pigs provides valuable fertilizer to help achieve high crop yields.

RealPigFarming recently sat down to chat with Brock Gobrogge, certified crop adviser and crop manager for the farm. In addition to working to ensure the farm produces bumper crops, he’s tasked with utilizing manure from the pig side of the business. And, he’s leading a team who’s proving the value of pig manure as a way to sustain soil fertility in the long term.

RealPigFarming: Why is environmental stewardship so important to Dykhuis Farms?

Brock Gobrogge: It’s always been important on this farm. Today, Lake Makatawa is a high-phosphorous lake because of the concentration of livestock production in our area. We know that there can be an impact on water quality, and we have worked hard to not only establish best management practices, but go a step further to make sure we’re as environmentally responsible as we can be with everything. We want to make sure we’re not only not harming the environment, but that we are doing things that can improve both the environment and our water quality.

RPF: What are some of the things you do to accomplish that?

BG: We are aware of the most agronomically and environmentally sound practices possible. We are attentive to the composition of the manure from our pig farm, and are always thinking of the best ways to utilize it on our crop fields. We conduct soil nutrient tests every two years, and we test our manure with every application so we know we are applying exactly the right amount. All of our equipment is “smart” equipment, so we can apply precisely based on what our soils and crops need. We’re doing a lot better matching those things up. And, we have invested in systems that allow us to store more than a year’s worth of manure, which enables us to get more out of that manure from an agronomy standpoint.

RPF: How would you grade yourself on these efforts?

BG: We’ve been able to achieve more balanced soil fertility in our fields. We know where our phosphorous levels are lacking, and we are able to apply precisely the amounts we need. We’ve found there’s a real monetary value to our manure in how it helps feed the living organisms in the soil. That leads to better overall soil health, and it helps get those nutrients to the plants so we can raise healthier, higher-yielding crops. It’s a cyclical process with our manure. We can use what most consider a waste product to improve our crop yields and do a better job sustaining our pigs.

RPF: How do you see your environmental stewardship activities changing and improving in the future?

BG: There’s so much left to learn. We know we can raise healthy crops utilizing our pigs’ manure, but how do we raise even healthier crops? We can pour all the nutrients into our soil that we can, but we’re not using them efficiently if we’re not getting those nutrients to the plants themselves. We’re at a high level of production now, but we’re just at the tip of the iceberg with our ability to improve our soils and crops using manure. There’s so much about soil microbiology that we don’t know yet. Manure is one way to improve soil conditions, but we don’t know all of its benefits yet. We’ll continue to learn and find ways that manure can benefit our crops.

On a broader level, I think more of the most progressive pig farms out there are starting to capitalize on the benefits of their manure. I think more pig farmers are sharpening their pencils and finding the right balance. We’re producing millions of gallons of manure a year, and we can use it in ways that increase our bottom line while protecting our waterways and the environment.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Wondering What to Do for National Ag Day?

By Isabella Chism

Are you pressed for time and struggling to come up with ideas on how to celebrate National Ag Day (March 14) in your local community? Consider these ideas:

  • Share on social media. Post a photo that shows what agriculture means to you – whether it’s the ingredients for your dinner, a rural field or a busy market. Use the hashtags #AgDay19 and #FoodforLife. Sharing links to the 2019 Ag Day Essay Contest Winners across your social media platforms is another great option. Find links to the winning entries in the written essay and video essay contest here: https://www.agday.org/2019-contest-winners.
  • Organize a pizza party on a farm, in a classroom or at a mall. Explain how ingredients from kids’ favorite food come from farms and ranches and how each is processed and delivered to the grocery store or restaurant.
  • ​Volunteer at your local school and plan a classroom activity to teach kids about the importance of agriculture. (Examples: make a compost bin for them to observe in their classroom or do an egg shell seed growing experiment.
  • Encourage a local elementary school to designate a day during National Ag Week (March 10-16) to distribute quizzes and puzzles with school lunches. This might also serve as an opportunity to explain the connection between farms and mealtime. Your state’s School Food Service Association may be able to provide assistance. Or, with cooperation of the school, ask farmers or grocers to donate items (milk, ice cream, bread, burgers, etc.)
  • Approach your local public library about organizing an exhibit. Books about rural communities, animals, farms, etc., could be part of a special section that encourages children to learn more about agriculture and how it affects their lives.
  • Check out local farms or dairies in your area that offer tours and information about how they produce, sell and market their food. Visit with non-farming friends or family and round out the day by making a farm-to-table meal.
  • Throw a cook-off party with friends. Try to incorporate ingredients your state is known for, i.e. pork, apples, almonds, beef, corn, etc
  • Contact your legislator and remind him or her about the importance of supporting farm initiatives.
Isabella Chism, an Indiana row crop farmer, is chair of the Agriculture Council of America, which organizes National Ag Day. She also serves as vice chair of the American Farm Bureau’s Women’s Leadership Committee.

Friday, February 15, 2019

This essay is the winner of the 2019 Ag Day Essay Contest.  Visit www.agday.org for more details on National Ag Day.

Agriculture: Food for Life

How will our country lead the way?

Grace Brose, Box Elder, South Dakota

There's a little boy, out in the front yard with a beat-up toy truck, filling the back end full of dirt, only to dump it all out and start over again. Pretty soon that little boy is a teenager, and he finds himself trying to rock that old Ford out of some rut, thinking he may have underestimated how much it rained last night. In the blink of an eye, he's a newlywed, breaking ground on a two-bedroom, white-picket-fence dream. He's ready to plant some roots. Well, now that little boy is an old man, and in his two hands, you can see years of hard work and sacrifice. Every blemish is its own story. Those hands are strong enough to plow and plant, and sweat and bleed, yet gentle enough to raise a family.

That is the story of farmers and ranchers all across the country.  That is the story of generations of my family, the reality of my fellow rural Midwesterners, and a great source of pride.  That cannot end the story, though.  The world population is ever-growing, and those old men cannot plow and plant forever.  Now is the time for my generation to step up and step in because agriculture is more critical than ever.  Agriculture is a science. Like any science, it is continually changing.  It is no longer just eighty acres and a dream.  IT is precision ag, genetically modified organisms, cover crops, no-till techniques, innovative pesticides, and more!  Innovations in technology, transportation, architecture, and even medicine mean nothing when people are dying of starvation.  The global population growth is not slowing down, and I am not exaggerating when i say being able to feed that population is paramount to sustaining life on Earth.  The Midwest, the United States, and the entire globe must realize the importance of modern agriculture.

With that said, I am infinitely proud of the life my family has been able to build through the generations. I am proud of a farmer that will spend several months and thousands of dollars cultivating the ground, planting his crop, and watching it grow, only to have it blown away in a storm a few weeks before harvest. I am proud of a rancher that will be up multiple times in the night during calving season to check on his cows but still shed a tear watching a mama cow lay beside its stillborn calf. Most of all, though, I am proud that one day, I will be able to combine the traditions of my family with the needs of the world. That, indeed, is something beautiful.

This essay is the winner of the 2019 Ag Day Essay Contest.  Visit www.agday.org for more details on National Ag Day.