Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Truth in Labeling?

For the past several few weeks, we've had the opening act, but no main attraction. Lightning has flashed outside the windows, and booming thunder has jolted us from our chairs with a resounding crash. But it's been all show until this morning. So far, we've had 0.60" of rain, and it's still falling gently.

It should help our dryland corn crop a little, though it would have been more beneficial a few weeks ago as the corn cobs were beginning to fill. But, regardless, it should help bolster our alfalfa fields, silage crop and our pastures.

With the summertime temperatures hovering near the 100-degree mark for the past two weeks, Randy says we are going to find out "drought resistant" our corn crop really is. (We are looking forward to more moderate temperatures for the next few days!)

This is our third year of growing corn on the County Line. One reason Randy made the decision to switch to corn from milo was because it has more drought resistance bred into the seeds. Additionally, corn is Round-Up ready, and milo is not. We had been having trouble controlling weeds in milo. If there are weeds and grasses in the corn, we can spray with Round-Up without harming the growing plants.
Since recent rains have gone north or south of us, our corn is looking stressed. As we walked through the field, the dry rustle of corn stalks sounded more like stomping through leaves in the fall than a lush green canopy for growing corn.
The proof will come when it runs through the combine in a few weeks. 
As for today, I'll just enjoy the rain and the cooler temperatures.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Operator Error: A Silage Update

Operator Error:  The photographer didn't realize in the bright sun that the silage was covering her farmer's face.

But I guess it does show how quickly this fast-growing crop changes, even if it won't win any photographic awards. (But, on a positive note, the clouds are sure pretty against that green silage, aren't they?)
I took this photo of Randy planting silage on June 6.
By June 15, it was already emerging.
I look at this photo from July 8 as the heat index approaches 110 degrees and I long for that cool morning.
This was two weeks later, on July 22. Even after the hot and dry weather of the past two weeks, the silage has flourished.

Randy planted 35 acres of silage (also known as forage sorghum), which we'll later have custom harvested for winter cattle feed. He planted it in two different locations, but both are relatively close to the trench silo. That makes it easier (and cheaper) to have the feed hauled to the silo next September or October.
As long as it keeps growing well, we'll be able to say "Dinner is served" to our cows and feeder cattle this winter.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Our Littlest Consumers: Sharing the Message

This littlest consumer is what agricultural education is about.  Hadley was her mommy Erica's tagalong during a blogger gathering I went to last week. Like me, Erica's Whimsical September blog is a mishmash of who she is - a Mommy, a military wife, a woman of faith, a closet fashionista, a recipe experimenter and a workout advocate.

There are some overlaps on our interest lists and favorite blog topics, but there are differences, too.  We both came to Baldwin Farms in McPherson County to learn and to connect with other bloggers for a farm tour and sweet corn picking. It was Erica's first time at a Kansas farm. She grew up in Alabama and lives in Manhattan while her husband is stationed at Fort Riley.

For me, farming is an integral part of who and what I am, the very fabric of my life as a fifth-generation Kansas farm from both my family and Randy's family.

But, for both of us, family is of utmost importance. Just like me, Erica wants what is best for her family, including what we put on their dinner plates.

Giving consumers accurate information is what I most appreciate about what Kim and Adam Baldwin (along with his parents, Dwight and Cindy) are doing through farm tours. Kim also is a volunteer for Common Ground, whose slogan is "Make food choices based on facts, not fear." With so many food choices available, Common Ground serves as a resource to help consumers sort through the myths and misinformation surrounding food. Volunteers help consumers discover that America's farmers produce food that is safe, affordable, accessible and nutritious - whether it's from conventional or organic farms, whether the seeds used are GMO or non-GMO, and the myriad of other choices U.S. consumers are privileged enough to make.
The sweet corn is the shorter plant. This human treat was nestled in a circle of field corn, which will be used for livestock feed and other commercial uses.
Kim and Adam spend a lot of time giving farming a "face." Kim shares information through her blog, Alive and Well in Kansas. They show snapshots of farm life through Instagram and Twitter. They're active with Farm Bureau and state and national producer organizations.
During the Baldwin Farms tour, I watched as Hadley stood next to corn that was more than triple her height. She pulled back the husk and silks and sunk her baby teeth into corn that had just been plucked from the field. The sweet corn seed was Seminis produced by Monsanto. It was right next to field corn also raised with Monsanto seed.

Hadley's mom got the same handouts I did. Kim, who is an educator at Inman High School, gave us a Farm Vocabulary Cheat Sheet in true teacher form. I'm sure the terms like "no-till" and "dryland" and "double crop" were new to Erica, while they are second nature to me.

She got to see that terminology in action when we walked into a non-irrigated field where the Baldwins had no-till planted milo after wheat harvest. 

But I figure what spoke most fluently to Erica was seeing Kim's and Adam's son, Banks, in that field with his Mom and his new puppy, Milo.
He was with his Grandpa Dwight in the sweet corn field, picking corn.
And he and his Daddy had a conversation in the soybean field just across from the corn field while they waited on all of us to pick as much sweet corn as we wanted.
The Baldwins' 2 year old was out in the fields with his parents and grandparents. He will be eating the GMO sweet corn that his parents raised. As he sinks his teeth into corn on the cob in the coming years, they'll discover whether he's a methodical typewriter-carriage-type of corn eater or someone who prefers the hunt-and-peck method.

The Baldwins put a name to a face for consumers. They open their farmstead to visitors from China and Japan through Adam's efforts with the Sorghum Checkoff. Their littlest ambassador - their 2-year-old son - charmed a recent trade delegation from China with his skills on his Strider bike, tooling around the machine shed.

Connecting with consumers is what I try to do when I take crop photos and share them along with other photos in the "family album" of Kim's County Line." It's why I do step-by-step photo posts of alfalfa production or show the 9-month life cycle of wheat.
Bloggers from left: Jenny Burgess, Kim Baldwin, Kerry Wiebe, me and Erica DeSpain.
It's what other Kansas farm bloggers are doing. Some 99 percent of the people who grow food in the U.S. are family farmers. At the blogger event, I loved meeting a few people from my social media network. I shook hands with first-generation farmer Jenny instead of interacting through the Farmer's Wives Facebook group and learned more about her blog, Farm Wife Transparency.  I met some new-to-me bloggers, Kerry, from I Married A Milkman, who, with her husband owns and operates Keriel Dairy near Whitewater, the last remaining dairy in Butler County.

There was another Kim blogger. (We had a lot of Kims at this event, but Kim Fee is not pictured above.) Kim Fee runs Sunflower Supper Club in Hutchinson with her friend and business partner, Julie Kimmel, (and there are lots of recipes on her site that I'm anxious to peruse and try)!
The machinery that Adam showed us was familiar to me. But we can always learn something new. They have cameras hooked up on their equipment, helping them see the back of the sprayer to make sure it's working or helping them see any vehicle traffic jams they are creating as they travel from field to field. (Dwight told us farm wives that if our farmers are wanting to add the cameras that it's a good investment, both for safety and efficiency. Perhaps for chiropractor bills, too, to prevent some of that constant neck strain from turning around to look at what's going on behind you.)

I also learned about drip system irrigation. While we are dryland farmers, my parents and brother use center pivots for irrigation, and, back when my Dad was just getting started, my sister and I rotated wheels on the system to move it from one pivot to the other. Drip system irrigation uses sub-surface tape to apply water and nutrients to a crop. Through technology and sensors, specific amounts of water can be applied to crops throughout the growing cycle. Technology is making a difference in conserving water - one of our most precious resources.
At the Baldwin Farm, just like on the County Line, plants are nourished with fertilizer and sprayed with herbicide to combat weeds and insecticides to combat infects (as needed). The Baldwins, like us and other farmers, observe the regulations for application and the time restrictions before harvest. It costs money to apply these "extras" and to use quality seed. But it's part of our commitment to producing quality and safe products for human and livestock consumption.
We want it to be: For consumers like Hadley and Banks, our own families and the rest of the world. 

Disclaimer: My meal and a portion of my travel expenses were paid for by Monsanto.  I also received promotional items from Kansas Farm Bureau, Common Ground, Kansas Wheat and the Soybean Checkoff. And we are thoroughly enjoying our free sweet corn from Baldwin Farms. However, all opinions expressed are my own.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Fireflies and Golden Skies

Tiny pinpoints of light punctuate the dusk as fireflies take flight. They remind me a little of the peripheral vision tests I take at the optometrist, but instead of clutching a button tightly in my right hand and holding my breath in typical Type A, don't-fail-this-test form, I breathe in deeply and sit back as comfortably as I can on the hard concrete of our front steps while I watch the free show.

Light ... it's such a powerful thing in the darkness, even when it's a fleeting millisecond as a firefly streaks across the yard, seemingly playing tag with its friends. This summertime light show is accompanied by music from other insects and the rumble of a nearby tractor playing background bass.

Light ... the moments at sunrise and sunset are some of my favorite times of the day.
A June sunrise
Some mornings simply take your breath away with their beauty, a brocade of golden threads woven across the backdrop of blue sky.
A June sunrise
Sunset is like the final gift of the day, a reminder to hold onto that beauty as we lay our heads on the pillow for another night for rest and refreshment.
Harvest 2015 sunset
Even the eastern sky can be kissed by light as the sun departs for the day and the moon makes its appearance.
A few weeks ago, news channels and scientists talked about a rare astrological event: The planets of Jupiter and Venus would be in conjunction, and Regulus, the brightest star of the constellation of Leo, would be in close proximity. June 30, 2015, was "advertised" as a sky that would approximate the Star of Bethlehem.

I imagined a Christmas graphic -- a huge twinkling star, big enough to guide the Wise Men, just like in the Sunday School leaflets of my youth.  I anxiously drove the car beyond the trees to our west and looked up. Only the remnants of the sunset remained faintly glowing at the horizon, and the sky was shifting toward inky blackness.  I had arrived at the appointed time.

It wasn't what I was expecting.  The planets weren't perfectly aligned to make that guiding star. Sure, they were closer than normal. It was pretty. But it wasn't a glowing beacon in the nighttime sky.

And, I was a little disappointed. I halfheartedly took a few photos and then erased them. I don't have the photo equipment for capturing the nighttime sky anyway. But this "big event" seemed like false advertising to me.

Then, little dashes of light flashed just above the CRP grasses. The fireflies zigged and zagged in their own makeshift light show. I could hear combines still chomping through ripe wheat and insects hummed in quiet conversation, a kind of background "white noise" from my open car window.  

While some people talked about the beauty of the rare nighttime sky, one other Facebook friend was brave enough to say it wasn't what she'd imagined either.

But beauty doesn't have to happen in a big flashy show. It may be as tiny as pinpoint firefly flashes in the dark. And maybe we can be those little flashes of light, too, human fireflies using our light to pierce the world's darkness.

Open your soul and entertain the glory of God
 and, after a while, 
that glory will be reflected in the world about you 
and in the very clouds above your head.
- Frank C. Laubach, Christian missionary

Matthew 5:14-16
Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

A Time to Think

Worship is a way of gladly reflecting back to God the radiance of His worth.
 –John Piper, preacher and author

A Time to Act

Give thought and thanks for the light of day and the comfort of night.
 Devotional (in blue) from Guideposts.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Pretty As A Postcard: Almost Wordless Wednesday

A Kansas sky can be as pretty as a postcard.
From a unique sunrise (July 21, 2015) ...
... to ever-changing sunsets.
Ah, Kansas!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Sky High

From my vantage point, a summer sky (July 13) provided a beautiful backdrop to my trip to deliver supper and shuffle vehicles from one field to the other.

But, on the other side of the storm, an EF-3 tornado was romping through a rural landscape much like my own, toppling power poles, upending trees like Tinkertoys and tearing a family's get-away cabin into pick-up-stick-like pieces.
While I waited for the guys to get to my end of the field for their taco pizza supper, I took a photo of a sky that reminded me of an alien mothership, hovering over a neighbor's soybean field. A county away, a farmer was losing his soybean field to 165 mile per hour winds.

We give great value to eyewitness accounts. We want reports from the people who are there, recording history as it happens.

But as I watch beautiful Kansas skies, I have come to a realization. Our eyewitness account often depends on what direction we're facing. Context colors our experience.

Our experience may be standing right under the storm cloud as life tosses us to and fro at a whim. Or we may view the storm from a distance and not personally witness its fury. 
Life is like that, too. Unless we are personally experiencing the storm, we don't understand its every nuance. If we're not the ones being struck by the "lightning" of the storm, we can't really speak to the experience.

We can be empathetic. We can be sympathetic. But maybe our best response is just to listen to the eyewitness, no matter how tempting it is to add our perspective.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Change of Scenery

With the thermometer hovering near 100 degrees for the past week, I am ready for a change of scenery. Kind of like Goldilocks, I am seeking "just right" - not too hot, not too cold, but that magical time when a sweatshirt is like a warm hug on a chilly morning. I must admit a little envy when I see people posting photos from their Colorado vacation cabins, bundled up with a fleecy sweatshirt.

I don't know whether the heifers were ready for a change of scenery. But they got one anyway. We moved them from one pasture to another on July 8. Though it was a couple of weeks ago, it seems like longer. The morning we moved them, it was cool enough that Randy wore a long-sleeved T-shirt. Believe me, that hasn't happened since, and it's just a fleeting - though welcome - memory. 

We moved the 25 heifers and one bull after they'd been at the "Palmer pasture" for a couple of months. That pasture is not large enough to sustain that number of animals all summer. Even though there was a good amount of grass still there, Randy decided a nice, cool morning was a good time for a move. I married a wise man!

After we got them gathered in the pen, we herded about 10 at a time in the barn ...
... and into the waiting cattle trailer.
In three trips, we brought the heifers to the pasture south of our house, where they'll be dining for a few weeks.
We'll reverse the process and take them back to the Palmer pasture later this summer.
Mr. Bull got a chauffeured ride back to the home place, where he's hanging out with some late-calving cows.
His job is done for the season. We hope the "ladies" are still working hard, gestating a portion of our 2016 calf crop!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Checking In On The Kids

It's always good to check in on the kids. You never know what kind of trouble they can get into when left to their own devices. Tearing up the property? Unexpected visitors? Eating all the food?

Though I'd much rather check in with my granddaughters, we instead loaded up the 4-wheeler and went to the Ninnescah Pasture to check on the baby calves and their mothers. With harvest behind us, it was time to make sure the fences were still standing and everybody was at their assigned location with no other visitors crashing the buffet.
We couldn't believe that they were all gathered close-by, and we didn't even have to unload the 4-wheeler. And, if truth is told, I was looking forward to a 4-wheeler ride down by the river. Oh well! It was getting dark pretty quickly anyway by the time we were able to go.
Everybody was present and accounted for.
They were their curious selves and came to check out the interlopers to their pastoral abode.
The pretty sunset was a bonus.
(I'm running behind with my posts. This actually happened July 8.)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Smut on a Family Blog

I know this is a family blog, but I've got to talk smut. What is the world coming to, when a farm wife from Central Kansas is putting smut out there on the internet?

Believe me, I'd rather not. But before you call the Morality Police, I'd better 'fess up. Yes, smut can mean "obscene or lascivious talk, writing, or pictures."

And these photos are obscene all right. But they fit a different definition:  a fungal disease of grains in which parts of the ear changes to black powder.
It kind of looks like aliens invaded a few of the corn ears.
I emailed my brother, who is a lot more experienced with corn than we are. He sent me a 22-page PDF from researchers at the University of Illinois and St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, called "Common smut of corn." There's nothing common about words like "ascomycetes, basidiomycetes and oomycetees." Thankfully, he also sent me a 4-page Reader's Digest version, "Common Smut and Head Smut in Corn" from AgAnytime.
What is boils down to is this: Yes, we have some smut in our corn fields. Common smut in corn is caused by the fungus Ustilago maydis. They are greenish white or silvery white in appearance as they develop. As they mature, the fungal tissues begin to turn black with the development of teliospores. Head smut is caused by the fungus Spahacelotheca reiliana.

And if these researchers find it hard to distinguish one from the other, I will just say I'd rather we didn't have it. Nobody needs smut in their life. I'd rather I didn't have to talk smut on a family blog. But if one of my goals is to chronicle our farm life, I need to be real. And that means talking about smut.
Thankfully, it doesn't all look like that. We also have normal looking ears developing.
We got from 0.10" to 0.20" of rain a week ago. We could have used more on the corn and less on the hay that Randy put down. The corn has not flourished with temperatures above 100 degrees every day this week.

But such is life on a Kansas farm.