11/16/2017 3 Comments
The North American International Livestock Exposition is wrapping up and as is customary, my newsfeed is filled with pictures from the green shavings.
There's an emerging theme to this year's photos and posts- one of emptiness. The show introduced a new, shortened schedule for the first time in years, drastically reducing the number of animals and people that held over to the end.
Those exhibitors still left are posting pictures of empty barn aisles and vacant ringside seats, even while Supreme Champions are being selected.
One of my fondest memories growing up is the yearly trip I took with my dad and brother to the Ohio Suffolk Sale. Back then, a sale was more than just a sale and there were no computers involved. We met people. We went to dinner with people, we socialized. We made lifelong friends.
We actually talked to the breeders of the stock we wanted to buy. I remember one of the top breeders in the country hoping into a pen of ewe lambs with me to help me handle and sort through their differences. I learned more in ten minutes watching him than I could learn in ten hours watching online sales.
The social experience of that sale - and all the other shows and sales - was the driver behind us returning to the show ring year after year.
In fact, it was at a sheep show in Laramie, WY, where I first met a Missouri farm boy that would change my life forever.
When I followed him to college, my sheep came too. We started showing at multiple state fairs, sleeping in barns or the trailer, occasionally a Red Roof Inn.
We spent a few years chasing banners this way, always wrapping the year up with a grueling, exhausting long-week in Louisville, KY.
We loved every second. My 20 year old self couldn't imagine anything more important. And I swore that lifestyle would never change.
And then... it did.
We graduated. We returned to his family farm. He started farming for a living in a state where the crop is rarely out by early November. I started a career where all chaos sets in in early November. Within a few years we threw a few kids into the mix.
And before I realized it, years had passed and we hadn't been there. We hadn't walked on those green shavings because our schedules just couldn't make it work. We visited for a day or two. We even sent one or two down if they were good enough to justify the cost of paying someone else. But we both knew we would never be able to do the entire thing again.
And then, this year, the schedule changed. We became aware a little too late for a big change this year, but a small fire was lit back inside. It was like we were being invited back in.
Like someone said, "It's OK if you can't make the whole thing, we still want you to come and compete. We still want to include you."
Now don't misunderstand me. The pictures of empty barns and vacant seats are crushing to me. I hate that someone might be handed that purple banner in a Supreme Drive with only a faint echo of applause.
But, I love that it gives so many families a chance to be apart of it once again. I love that show and sale organizers are recognizing that costs have increased and schedules are more demanding and this new world we live in is different than it was 50 years ago.
I applaud them for attempting to try something new to revitalize the events that make our industry what it is.
Now we have some major challenges. As a culture we have shifted to an experienced based mindset. We have no choice but to continue to make an experience unparalleled to anything someone can get at home. We have to do everything we can to foster those relationships, mentorships and family bonding time. And we have to do it in less time, with more packed schedules, than we have ever done it before.
That means our sales, and our shows, are going to look and feel different. Or at least, if we are going to stay relevant they are.
My heart aches that my boys will not ever experience the exhilarating, exhausting 10 day run known to so many of us simply as "Louisville".
But on the other hand, I am confident that our industry will collectively come together to create an elevated experience that better aligns with the world we live in.
And maybe that new experience will find a way to exclude the "Louisville crud". Although on that I am less optimistic.
This post was initially published on American Soybean Association's Pod Policy blog on November 15, 2017.
My husband started farming the same year we got engaged – and we put about the same amount of thought into each. This is to say, we didn’t think about either much at all.
We were 21 and 22 years old, driven by emotions more than reason, so we got married and started farming. Looking back now, I think both of those decisions require just that – throwing logic out the window and following your heart. If you stopped to analyze the work involved, you could never logically justify either.
Both also required a third party approval from the person who was funding the adventure. My dad was an easy sell; he picked up the tab for the dress and party without much hesitation. Our lender, on the other hand, was not so easily convinced.
Although the risk of losing everything, which at that point was really nothing, wasn’t enough to give us cold feet, it was enough to justify a denial from our lender. Crop insurance was the offsetting strength to our negative equity balance sheet. It was the safeguard our lender needed to take a gamble on us.
Protecting crop insurance is vital to protecting the ability of young and beginning (YB) farmers to enter the market. In an industry where the average farmer is 58 years old and record transitions are expected to take place in the upcoming years, we are in dire need of new people starting to farm.
(To continue reading please visit Pod Policy here.)
Shortly after our oldest was born, I started reading everything the search engine returned about how to feed children the “right way”. It would be a few more years before I realized this is almost never a good idea.
From the first article on, an overwhelming weight was being pushed onto my shoulders. The weight of fear, fear of our food.
Everywhere I looked, I was being told our food was scary. It wasn't like it "used to be". It wasn't "natural". It wasn't "simple" or "clean".
His runny nose, my extra baby weight, his occasional rashes, my cough, our inability to sleep well, the mysterious missing other sock - all clearly stemmed from consuming this new "Franken-food".
I was being told this, being sold this, by food manufactures and restaurants and bloggers and even other moms. I was being told I had to pay more, be more selective, and demand more. I had to "know my farmer" and “buy local” or else...
And I was ready to do all of that and more. This was my child's health after all and I am his mother! And no one knows better than his mother.
I also remember my first dose of reality. I was quizzing my farmer husband about GMOs, while eating sweet corn from our own field. He didn't laugh or put me off, but answered as best he could. He did smile a little at some of the crazier things I had bought into, but never laughed.
Over the next few months, and continuing today, I started learning about our very own industry - modern agriculture – from a new perspective. The perspective of a mom.
I spent more time on the farm; I spent more time with other farm families. I spent time with the scientists and researchers who develop our technology, with people who test it, with the people who actually use it. I spent time with our consumers, talking to them about our industry and hearing their own concerns. I spent time with other moms, who also happened to be well educated on farming and food.
I spent time learning about where we had been, and where we are now. I learned that both eras in agriculture - yesteryear and modern times – are represented with inaccurate, incomplete stories often told to evoke emotion instead of truth.
Soon, I realized - we are those farmers.
We are those farmers they want you to fear. We are those farmers who raise GMOs. We are those farmers who use chemicals. We are those big farmers. We are those farmers who raise that grocery store food.
We are the farmers who use GMOs.
We use them by choice. We use them because they help us fight drought, erosion, pests and fungus. They help us leave a smaller footprint and be more responsible stewards of our land. We are also the family that proudly buys and consumes products grown with GMO ingredients because we understand what they are, how they help, and the science that has proven them safe for over 20 years.
We are the farmers who use chemicals.
We use chemicals carefully and in the correct amounts. We do not “soak” your food in chemicals. We use chemicals to manage risk and our environment and to provide you a safe, reliable food source. We often rely on modern chemicals that have been developed to be more effective and less toxic that chemicals used decades ago.
But we are also the farmers who use GMO's and other technology to reduce our chemical use as much possible. Not because the chemicals we use aren't safe, but because they are expensive and require extra trips across the fields.
We are those big farmers.
From the outside looking in, people often look at us as large farmers. Surveys have indicated the average American defines a “large farmer” as anyone farming more than 100 acres. We are 20 times that.
Other farm families would consider our farm size average or standard. We farm more acres and have more animals because we needed to grow to support another family returning to the farm. We farm more acres because we have equipment and technology that allows us to. We farm more acres and have more animals because we actually love farming!
We are those farmers that raise grocery store food.
We aren't "local" to hardly anyone, with the exception of a handful of folks in Linn County, Missouri. Our calves and lambs end up on your grocery store shelves, without any labels to distinguish it as "better" or "safer". Our corn and soy end up feeding animals across this country and in food products that end up on your store shelves, again, without any distinguishing labels.
We are those farmers. The farmers you hear about on TV and social media. We are those farmers you read about on fast food bags and internet blogs. We are those farmers, but that is NOT our story. We are those farmers, but we are not scary, and neither is the food we are raising!
Kate Lambert grew up in northern Illinois, not on a farm but active in FFA and showing livestock.
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