I need you to hear something right now. I need you to hear this loud and clear - I’m so sorry for everything this year has thrown at you. I’m so sorry for all the things you cannot control that put so much weight on you. But hear me - YOU are not defined by this year’s crop. Or this year’s income. Or this year’s “success”.
You are not the farm. You are more than the farm.
I saw you leave again this morning, smiling, but still carrying the stress. I know the first thing you did was drive down by the creek to see how much the water has receded. After you do chores in flooded pastures, you’ll sit with your Dad to try and figure out what fields might dry out the fastest and what, if anything, can be done while you wait.
You’ll run the numbers another time or two, to see if it all makes sense. You’ll run through the calendar a few more times, to count down how many days you have left to get caught up on work. We both know you’re never going to be caught up.
You’re standing there, facing wet fields and a crop that may not generate enough income to cover its own expenses, hay fields that can’t be cut, and calves that don’t quit eating just because it’s wet. In your head, you’re hearing the clock - tick, tick, tick - counting down the hours you’ve got to do the work you’re so far behind on.
I know, that even though you keep smiling and laughing, the stress is getting heavier each day. I see it in your eyes. I feel it in the way you toss and turn all night.
So I need you to hear me again - YOU ARE NOT THE FARM.
You are a man who works harder than anyone I know. You are a man who is honest to a fault. You are a man who always finds new ways, better ways. You are a man who can keep the big picture in mind while maintaining laser focus on the details. You are a man who quietly, and humbly, prays for God to help you on the tasks he’s laid before you.
You’re a husband. A father. A son. A brother and an uncle. You are a farmer, a damn good one too, but you are not defined by the farm.
Your family and friends - we love you, regardless of your corn yield or planted acres or the price you sell your calves for.
We will get through this year - one, rainy, wet day at a time. Together, with the strength and guidance of God, we will get through this.
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D ear Neighbor,
You pass by our local business daily, even though we don’t have a storefront on Main Street. You drive by our production lines to and from work each day, although you probably just call them fields. You probably don’t give much thought at all to the corn, cattle and soybeans we are raising.
It would probably surprise you to know, that right here in Linn County, MO, a recent economic impact study concluded that $126.6 million in sales is created each year by the local farm families and that 1,173 jobs are supported by those sales. For a rural county, with total population just over 12,000, those numbers are rather significant.
On a national level, the US Grain Council highlights that agriculture accounts for 20% of the US economy and creates more manufacturing jobs than any other sector. In total, more than 21 million jobs are supported by agriculture.
Even with those numbers, we are often left out of the conversations around our economy and local growth and business. That’s on us more than you – we don’t always make ourselves as available as we should. We often struggle to get away from the farm to tell our own stories and sometimes we get aggravated with those who don’t understand our livelihood.
Right now though, we need you to know something. We need you to know that we need NAFTA.
Last fall, I was at the high school football game, where a neighbor was complaining about “grocery store beef”. Like so many others, he seemed surprised when I explained that our beef IS that grocery store beef. Our family is dependent on a much larger market than our local market.
Like most farming communities around the county, we raise more product than could ever be consumed locally, even with the trendiness of it all. Farms tend to be where people are not.
As of 2012 census, we had over 46,000 head of cattle in our county. That’s nearly 4 times our human population. The local crew could never consume all that beef. The same holds true for the corn and soybeans and other products we raise.
Your local farm families – your American farm families – happen to be extremely good at what they do. The best in the world by most measures. NAFTA - the North American Free Trade Agreement, makes trade with some of our largest partners - Canada and Mexico - more efficient. And trade is vital to the success of American agriculture.
US Grains Council points out that the sale of corn to Mexico has went up 847% since the start of NAFTA. Missouri is uniquely at risk. In 2016 alone, 69% of our ag exports went to NAFTA trade partners which makes us the 5th highest state for percentage of exports effected by the agreement. The US Chamber of Commerce estimates that 8.2% of Missouri job are connected to NAFTA trade.
Your local farm families are entering our fourth year of an agriculture downturn. The USDA reports that farm income has decreased 42% over the last three years. Many of your local farmers are not in a financial position to withstand the economic blow that would be delivered from a withdrawal. Young farm families like my own would be hit the hardest.
We love the communities we call home, and we are passionate about helping rural communities thrive. In order for our local business to continue to have strong impact on our rural economies, we need you to know that #NAFTAworks. And we need you to share your support with our elected officials.
Your Local Farm Family
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!
“What do you do?” Sometimes I identify myself with a lengthy description of my career in Ag finance, but often I just leave it at, “We farm!”
I also find myself using “We farm” as an explanation as to why I am alone so often at gatherings. But the more people I talk to, the more I realize that not everyone knows what I mean when I say, “We farm”. So I am going to explain exactly what “farming” means to my family.
Our farm consists of our cows, our sheep, and our row crops. I will cover each of these over the next few posts, but will start with our cows.
One of my favorite parts of our farm is our cattle herd. We have what is commonly called a “Cow/Calf operation” – meaning we maintain a group of cows who will raise a baby calf each year, and then sell the baby at weaning time.
When Matt decided he wanted to come back to farm with his dad that meant he was going to have to find additional sources of income. For most farm families it simply isn’t feasible to take a farming operation that supported one family and suddenly expect the same income to support two families.
So for us, the decision was pretty easy to purchase cows! We both love livestock, we actually met at a sheep show! A cow is a fully mature female who has already had babies. We started with 20 older cows, which was considered a little safer investment because of their experience delivering and raising calves, or babies.
Once we became more experienced with our cows, we started adding heifers. A heifer is a young female who has never calved before. We like to purchase heifers because a younger animal can stay with us on our farm for a longer time and we will know more of her complete health history. But the risk is higher and labor greater, because heifers need more assistance in the beginning.
When we first started, we did not own any of our land so we had to rent the land our cows used. We have since been able to purchase a farm, but still have to rent some pasture to make sure we have enough for all of our cows.
The first step is to breed the cows and heifers. On our farm we live breed – meaning we use live bulls, or intact male cattle, that naturally breed the cows. Many farmers are taking advantage of other breeding methods like artificial insemination.
You might hear people refer to “spring calvers” and “fall calvers”. These terms describe the time of year the cow will have her baby. We actually have some of each, so we are typically having babies, or “calving”, in September and October and then again in February and March.
Our cows, like nearly all beef cattle in the United States, have their calves on pasture. They rarely need any help, but we do have to watch the heifers much more closely – remember heifers are the ones who have never had babies before. Usually after one or two calving seasons they have it figured out and will no longer need any help from us!
Once the calves are born, they graze and roam pastures right alongside their mamma for about 8 months. After the group reaches the point they no longer need milk as source of nutrition, they are ready to wean. Because we are a cow/calf operation, this is the time we sell our baby calves, who now weight about 550 pounds!
When our calves are ready, we sell them for the current market price. Prices fluctuate daily on cattle and it’s something we have no control over. Price changes is one of the greatest challenges for any farmer!
Our calves are purchased by other farm families that will “background” them. They will keep the calves, most often on pasture, until they reach 12-16 months of age. We typically separate our calves and sell the heifers (females) to a local farmer who will background them until they are ready to breed, and then sell them as bred heifers to other cow/calf farmers.
The steers (neutered males) then go onto yet another farm family who will finish them at a feedlot. A majority of feedlots are considered small feedlots, with 95% of them having less than 1000 head.
Regardless of size, the families that run feedlots are extremely dedicated to finishing out a high quality and safe product! Once the cattle reach market weight, they will be harvested with their beef sold in stores across the country.
Nearly all beef cattle in the US start on farms just like mine and spend a majority of their lives grazing pastures. The next time you purchase beef from the supermarket, know that you are supporting family farmers just like us!
The next time you purchase beef from the supermarket, know that you are supporting family farmers just like us!
1 Whole Chicken
2 Tbs oil
1 packet ranch dressing or dip mix
1 packet onion soup mix
1 tsp paprika
2-Tbs fresh garlic
1 large yellow onion
Directions for cooking (slow cooker or smoker):
1. Rinse whole chicken and pat dry. Rub oil on chicken.
2. Mix ranch, onion soup mix, paprika together and rub on chicken.
3. Quarter onion, mix with garlic and place inside of bird.
4. Refrigerate overnight (optional).
5. Place is slow cooker for 4 hours on high or 8 hours on low OR...
Place in a 250 degree smoker for 3-4 hours until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
6. Allow bird to rest 10-15 minutes before serving.
1. All chicken sold in the USA is antibiotic free! No chicken raised in the USA is raised with any added hormone! (No labels needed!)
2. Buy local if you'd like - you'll support your neighbor farmers and your chicken will be fresh!
Or... Buy one at the store! Your chicken will still be delicious and fresh, plus you're still supporting family farmers! Farmers often grow the crops and livestock that make the most economic sense for their area, soils, weather patterns and availability of resources! Many of your chickens will be produced by family farms in Georgia, Arkansas and Alabama!
Remember 93% of farms are family owned and just because they aren't local to you doesn't mean they aren't awesome at what they do and well worth supporting!
3. Conventional or organic onion? It's up to you! Just remember, organic and conventional are simply production methods.
The resulting onions are the same in terms of nutrition, safety and flavor! And you guessed it - you're supporting family farmers either way!
Sustainability is a buzz word. Consumers often associate the word with very small or organic operations. There are a lot of pieces to true sustainability, but nearly all farmers have the ultimate goal of leaving their farm to their children and grandchildren. In fact, most farmers rank this as a priority over short term profit!
So how are we making that happen? How are modern, large scale farms sustainable? How are farms far away from you suistanble?
I am going to explore what we do here at Uptown Farms over the next several weeks with #SustainabilitySundays!
The picture you are looking at above is showing two of the most exciting technologies on our farm - "no till" production and cover crop usage!
This week, let's look at "no till" farming!
I see comments in online discussions about how farmers today are "too lazy" to plow their fields and just rely on chemical. Let's look at what is actually going on when you see a field that has not been plowed.
For years farmers thought it was necessary and beneficial to till or plow the soil prior to planting. Studies now show us this isn't true and that tillage, especially deep tillage, can really have adverse effects on our soil health as well as the soil organisms that we need for long term productivity.
Plowing can create what is called a "plow pan", which can stop water and root systems from being able to penetrate into the soil profile as effectively as they should.
Newer equipment and GMO technology allows us to maximize the benefit of "no till".
First, it helps on top of the soil. It keeps our soil covered which minimizes weed growth, helps to regulate soil temperature and helps to retain moisture in our soil. We take soil coverage even farther by using cover crops (discussed more next week).
Second, as the corn trash is slowly decomposed by our ever growing earth worm populations, it adds to the organic matter inside the soil profiles. Organic matter (OM) provides food sources for the thousands of microorganisms that we need to exist in our dirt. OM also helps control soil compaction and retain water within the soils!
Plowing does incorporate most of the OM into the soil, but in a much quicker period than the the slower and more natural process allowed by no till.
On top of the corn stubble, you are seeing cereal rye. We do not harvest the rye for a cash crop here, but use it as a cover crop. Our cover crops are planted after harvest and compliment the no till production. They will be terminated either shortly before or after the cash crop (in this case it would have been soybeans) is planted.
To me, there is nothing more exciting than cover crop technology and I will discuss it more in depth next week!
The boys and I made the trip back home to northern Illinois over the weekend, without my husband who was in the fields still, and someone asked, “Does your husband just farm?”.
I understood the question. The person asking was wondering if that was his full time job or if he had another job. And the person asking was certainly not meaning any offense by the question. But it had me thinking for many of the miles home.
My husband, like any farmer, is not “just” a farmer. He is a well-educated, smart man. And this is not unique to my husband. Most all the successful farmers I know are ridiculously smart. In no way are these people “just” farmers. So here is a list of just some of the roles farmers play every day.
·Laborers: Much of their day is spent doing physical labor. Before I sat down at my desk this morning my husband had physically hauled feed to several hundred animals and picked about 30 dozen ears of sweet corn. A few months ago we participated in a Fitbit challenge and I was blown away when my husband consistently out-stepped me (the runner!).
One day I had an EIGHTEEN mile run. I got up at 4am and purposely ran around town in circles for 18 miles. He out-stepped me that day (they were building fence) by 100 steps. I cried.
·Scientists: They are constantly gathering and analyzing data, testing soils and plants, analyzing those tests to make informed decisions about what the next move will be. This year for instance, my husband has had to monitor the rain fall on each of his fields to try and gage how the nutrient content, soil health and plants will be affected from the large amounts of moisture we have had and determine if there is anything they can do to help their plants.
If you doubt the intelligence of a farmer, check out this guide from North Carolina Department of Ag that is supposed to help a person read a soil test.
·Weathermen: The farmer does not rely on the local news channel for his forecast. Instead, he gets out his smart phone and looks at a dozen different websites, analyzes the radar maps, and makes his best determinations about when to plant, when to mow hay, and when to hold off. These decisions can be the difference between making a profit or not.
People married to farmers do not check the weather either – we simply call our farmer (who is probably more accurate)!
·Chemists: Many farmers have their chemical applicators licenses and are required to study and understand the chemicals they are using. Watching my husband prepare his sprayer is like watching a chemist at work in a lab. He is intimately familiar with the chemicals he is using, their purpose, risks and hazards, and the exact measurements and mixtures he needs to be safe and effective!
·Veterinarians: Livestock farmers simply cannot rely on their local veterinarian all the time. They have to know about medications, dosages, and wound care. It’s not uncommon during calving or lambing season for my husband to have to deliver babies, treat mamma for something and treat babies for something in the middle of the night when no one else is available.
·Buyers: The options available to farmers for seed, chemical, fertilizers, loan products, equipment and more are endless. They have to spend time sorting through all of the data and reviews to make the best decisions for their operations. Unlike popular internet myth, Monsanto does not make a single one of these decisions for the farmer and Monsanto is only one of many choices they have.
·Marketers: Farmers have to market their own grain, hopefully at the right times. They have to make the final determination about what to sell and when. Again, these decisions can mean the difference between being able to make the farm payment or not.
·Lobbyists: Farmers now make up less than 1% of the population. This means each year politicians care less and less about how their legislation affects farmers. Several times a year my husband puts on his suit and tie and heads to our state capital to meet with lawmakers and tell his side of the story.
·Heavy Equipment Operators: So this is probably a given. Most people think of farmers driving their HUGE tractors in the fields. But farmers also have to navigate those giant pieces of equipment down city streets and highways, safely! This is a huge challenge for them during planting and harvest and one of the most stressful things about their job. So always remember to SLOW DOWN when you see farm equipment on the road!
·Mechanics: Farm equipment breaks down. It breaks down in fields that are miles and miles from anywhere. And most farmers can fix most anything and have to, often times in a hurry.
·Men of God: They know there is only a portion of their job they can control and huge portion they cannot. They cannot control the weather, disease, pests, prices and more. So they look up and ask the Good Lord to give them the tools they need to make it another year doing what they love.
Whatever farmers do they always do it well!
I am in Denver this week, surrounded by some of the leading minds in agriculture real estate. I have had some amazing conversations and learned much, some of which I'll try to share!
A fellow appraiser and family farmer in Washinton explained to me how many of the organics are grown in her region of Washinton (state).
You can see on my drawing above that farmers grow conventional plants in an outer area with the organics contained within the middle.
This setup allows for a "barrier" from pests. The conventional products can be treated for pests with highly regulated and tested (and safe) pesticides. The organics in the center then benefit by being surrounded by the treated area.
How would it effect yields and quality of production if growers didn't have such barriers? What would happen to cost?
Are organic farmers often portrayed as more caring? More careful? Does it alter your perception when you realize many of the organics on the market are produced by the same families who are also growing much of the conventional food?
Jackson County, Oregon has passed, and the courts have upheld, a county wide ban on growing GMO’s.
The Farmer’s Daughter does a great job giving an overview of the decision that was upheld on Monday in Oregon.
This is not a ban on the consumption, sale or processing of GMOs. It is only a ban on growing them. It’s obvious why conventional farmers would lose sleep over such a decision, but here are some other people who should be just as angry.
1. Consumers: County by county ban on production practices will negatively impact food choice and food price.
If this single county sets a precedence and farming management decisions are being made in courtrooms by judges, instead of at kitchen tables by farm families, food selection will go down and price will go up.
Consumers, preferably with reliable and fact based information, should have the right to choose which type of farming practices and products they want to support with their purchases. Farmers should then have the right to respond to consumer demand with farming practices that make the most sustainable and economic sense for their farms.
2. Small Business Owners: Any small business owner should be enraged at the government making management decisions for us.
An important and often overlooked fact is that each family farm in your community is a small business. They employ part time and full time workers, they buy and sell thousands of dollars of goods within the local community, they pay taxes, and they donate time and money to local causes.
The Government, without the support of fact or science, determined some farm families to be of more worth than others. They have handed a death sentence to conventional family farms in their county.
3. Supporters of Young Farmers: Young farmers could be wiped out if the government limits their ability to use the latest technology.
Young and beginning farmers face unique challenges compared to their more established counterparts. Our margins are even thinner than our neighbors that have been operating longer. Our debt is greater, our equity is less. We make farming decisions based on long term projections and rely on the ability to use all resources available to us.
If the government removes our ability to farm using the most advanced seed technology available, it would very well bankrupt us. On good years there may not be measurable difference in yield (income). But on bad years? We could suffer a major loss without the assistance of insect protection, drought protection, and more that GMO technology provides.
Go here for an in depth analysis of the cost and income differences of GM and non GM crops.
4. Science Community: In a single ruling, a judge rejected the lifetime work and opinions of scientists who have devoted their careers to studying GMO technology.
There is no more thoroughly tested food on the market today than GMO variety food crops. As explained by Genetic Literacy Project, 89% of scientists believe GMO foods are safe! This judge threw science, fact and reason out the window and instead used emotionally changed anecdotes to make a ruling.
5. And everyone else. It has become cliché to call someone un-American, or un-patriotic when they don’t agree with your principles. But there is something terrifying to me about a group of voters willing to strip away the ability of farm families to make their own management decisions.
It’s even more terrifying the government would make such broad based laws with no science, fact or reason.
Remember, this decision has nothing to do with the actual consumption of GMO's products. This ban only limits the ability of families to chose which production practices are best for their family on their farm.
(Note - there is no safety or nutritional difference in organic and conventional raw products. The difference in organic and conventionally grown products is ONLY in production practices.) Read here for a great analysis on the two.
Kate Lambert grew up in northern Illinois, not on a farm but active in FFA and showing livestock.
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