Keeping the Values Going and Growing

March 25 - 2Grandparents, Parents, Children, Grandchildren. If you were raised on a family farm, think about where it all started. Has it been a generational farm for 80 years in the making? Or is it a new farm with just your father or mother at the start? Generational farming is a family farm that has been passed down from generation to generation to keep the values of it going and growing. Generational farming is a very important factor in today’s agriculture community. In fact, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) 2012 Census of Agriculture, of the 2.1 million farms in the United States, 97 percent of those farms are family owned. Small family farms, actually make up 90 percent of the U.S. farm count Meanwhile, nearly eight percent of farms in the United States are midsize or large family farms, whether big or small, family farms are beaming with success. However, here and now, we need to realize that if we want to continue having successful family farms, we need to remember the importance of passing down the family farm. In this blog, I will discuss the need for generational farms, the challenges of generational farming, and finally, we will learn what it takes and how to prepare future generations for this difficult task.

FullSizeRWhy do we need generational farms? Well lately, I’m sure we have all been hearing this famous question: “How will we feed the world by 2050?” According to www.fao.org, the world’s population is expected to reach 9.1 billion by the year 2050. That is nearly a 40 percent increase from where we are now. This statistic could very easily frighten farmers into thinking there is no way I can contribute enough to help, but that thought is wrong. family farms together produce 86 percent of the value of farming and ranching. What would we do if family farms suddenly began to fail? According to www.start2farm.gov, the average age of the American farmer today is 57, and according to the USDA, the average age of the farmer has increased in each census since 1978. Former Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack stated that “We have an aging farming population. If left unchecked, this could threaten our ability to produce the food we need” (GenNext 2015). With the average age of the farmer increasing, younger generations need to step up to the plate and not just take over the farms but rather continue to increase the value of the farms. Not only is the aging farmer an issue, but financial values are as well. The USDA stated that the U.S. farm real estate value has averaged $3,020 per acre in 2015, and that’s only the average. It is virtually impossible for someone to get into the farming industry without having the preceding generation help. We also need to look at the increasing amount of technology available to the agriculture community. Aging farmers are less likely to feel the need to make technological advancements on their farm, such as auto steer and digital yield mapping. This is where, again, the next generation needs to step up. We have the skills and knowledge needed to make advancements in technology that can be useful to farmers. The importance of passing down the farm is extreme. As agriculturists, we will never be where we want to be by 2050 without generational farms.

Now, although the needs are great, the challenges can feel even greater. E.M. Tiffany wrote in the well-known FFA Creed, “for I know the joys and discomforts of agricultural life.” There is no doubt that passing down a farm from generation to generation is one of the most difficult tasks. One of the major problems that arise is how to treat all family members fairly but keep the farm as one unit.  In fact, this is often where the thought of the “generational farm” gets lost. Another important responsibility that can be difficult for the current generational farmer is having to educate the next on crucial information about the farm. All too often we hear about farms and ranches that get passed down only to be lost. If communication takes place between the generations before the farm is passed down, the farm has a better chance of surviving. Keeping up with technological advances is also a challenge that generational farmers face.

FullSizeR (1)Early mornings, late nights, long days in the field. Any hardworking and dedicated farmer will take on any task; but what does it take and how do you prepare? Well, dedication and determination doesn’t just come from anywhere. It’s a drive from within you that must act. It’s a beating in your heart that says “this is what my job has called me to do.” According to www.agweb.com, 56 percent of farmers report spending at least 10-14 hours a day on the farm. If you don’t have an interest in working long hours on the farm, then you won’t be able to find the joy in the job you do. When you stop, and think of the challenges, you can realize that generational farming isn’t easy. In fact, it’s something that just can’t be done unless you have the passion for it. However, there are group efforts in our nation that are working to prepare those who have a passion and dedication but just don’t have all the knowledge they need yet. Kevin Moore, a professor at the University of Missouri, teaches “Returning to the Farm.” This is a class that prepares students to overcome the financial and personality hurdles of becoming a farmer. Dr. Tom Field from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln also teaches a “Family Business” class that equips students with the tools they need to have conversations with their parents about things such as succession planning. I personally believe that we need more efforts like these to help prepare the next generation.

Grandparents, Parents, Children, Grandchildren, and the list can go on. These are just four of the possible generations that can thrive on a family farm. Think of the sense of accomplishment someone could get from knowing that their farm has never died and never will. Generational farming is more than just land getting passed down. It’s a way of helping our world work more efficiently. It’s a way of learning and earning. It’s a way of life. If more people could see the need for generational farming, overcome the challenges of generational farming, and find the passion and drive to keep passing down the farm, then as agriculturalists, we can and we will succeed in the farming community and keep the values of our lifestyle going and growing.

 

kelli-mashino-info-bar

Importance of Family in Agriculture

darby-family

We are often told to choose our words carefully. Sometimes we don’t pay any attention to the words that aren’t inappropriate or hurtful but in reality they are just as important. When attending Nebraska Agriculture Youth Institute a speaker gave us a chart of words to use when talking about agriculture to the consumers who are unaware of who we are as an industry. There was one group of words that really stuck out at me, the usage of operation compared to family farm or ranch. I’ve always considered our ranch as our family’s, but professionally speaking I have always referred to it as an operation. When thinking about Keystone Cattle Company and O-C Livestock I realized that it isn’t an operation but really my family’s home.

Grandparents:

The reasoning behind my agriculture influence. Both sides of my grandparents have given me the opportunity to grow up in the most amazing industry and I have learned so much about their lives through doing the same activities that they have enjoyed in their lifetimes. My Grandpa and Grandma O’Connor have blessed me to grow up in God’s Country. It seems as if I can’t go anywhere without hearing crazy stories about Grandpa. Some of my favorite time with family is spent talking about the older generations. One of my most memorable brandings was this year when my grandpa crawled onto my brothers rope horse and heeled two legs on his first loop. I have been beyond blessed to be apart of the Keystone Cattle Company. However my blessings don’t stop there. My love for 4-H might just come from the Merritt’s. I love to hear the story of my grandparents meeting on the steps of the White House as they represented Nebraska as the 4-H Four Square Winners. Still to this day my family will go through my grandfather’s old papers on his registered Maines and his long line of show quarter horses. I love hearing people talk about how successful my Grandpa was in this tough industry, and even to this day my family and I wish we had his good eye to help us pick out our stock for the year. I love learning more about my family and am blessed to learn about the lives of my loved ones.

Mom:

Perhaps the biggest influence of agriculture in my lifetime. If anyone knows my Mom you know that pigs won’t be far behind. Growing up, raised by Nebraska 4-H’s Queen and King,she fell in love with the organization and has passed that down to my brothers and I. Her father, having a variety of operations, presented her with a chance to work on their feedlot growing up, show some awesome show horses, and be involved with showing livestock competitively. Her love for agriculture met her profession when  she traded out special education for a job at the local grain elevator. Though she was just  wanting to help out during the harvest season, her love for ag lead her to being the commodity trader for a feedlot and now a manager for a feed store. I have seen my mother put much time and money into spoiling my brothers and I with some awesome livestock, hotels for shows, and of course a fair amount of carnival food. I wouldn’t be as successful in FFA, 4-H or any other activities if it wasn’t for her support. Her ability to network with everyone in the industry shows me how important relationships are. I love sitting in the show barn doing nothing with her and aspire to be such as great of female agriculturalist as she is.

Dad:

The passing of my father last year has allowed me to learn so much about him in such a short time. Hearing stories about his success in high school and college rodeo inspires me to chase after my dreams. My father served as a regional director for both high school and college rodeo, which gives me a sense of where my strong leadership skills come from. Also the amount of support and friends he had, shows me that the all the relationships  built in the agriculture family are those of gold. 

Merritt:

My oldest brother is completely responsible for my future in agriculture. The year he left me to do my own chores had me worried, but being forced to be in the barn by myself made me realize his love spending time with his livestock. After chasing his dreams of judging livestock in college it has made me work hard to be more like him. From Casper College to South Dakota State, he has grown as an agriculturalist and man as he prepares to be in the workforce in agriculture. I can’t wait to see where this industry takes him.

Rhett:

Lastly my brother Rhett. Yep, you guessed it, Rhett is “that brother.” The one that is so close to home, but  we don’t ever see him because he is busy experiencing new things, but mostly you can’t get him out of the roping arena. Rhett has demonstrated the importance of finding your perfect place while at school where he has excelled in his rodeoing and academics. Rhett’s good work ethic, love for talking, and positive attitude will make him do great things while running the Keystone Cattle Company in the future. 

After thinking long  and hard about how the words “family ranches” are more appealing than operations it made me think about how my operation would differ if it weren’t for my family. Agriculture is one of the fastest advancing industries yet it sits strong on a foundation of tradition and family. The closeness of family operations prove to be than producing goods but instead making a living worth loving. The future of agriculture will continue to grow but the tradition of the family farms and ranches will stand strong for ever.

darby-oconnor-info-bar

Why drones?

img_9094

Why drones? What is causing such an increase in drones? In a time where technology is everything, it would only make sense for drones to be the new fad. The biggest question is what can they do for agriculture?

Drones and agriculture go together like peanut butter and jelly. It makes sense to use them to make the farmer and ranchers lives easier. How? There are several applications that can help make life on the farm a little easier.

First some background on drones. Drones are also known as UAV, which stands for an unmanned aerial vehicle. This means that they are flown by someone through a receiver on the ground. Did you know that the first flight of an unmanned aerial combat vehicle was in the early 1910s for the military? They started to focus more on UAV’s at that time to help with target training.

There are several types of drones as well. With all different types of drones out there, how are you supposed to know which one would work for your operation? That is a great question! Every operation is different and your needs with a drone with vary. Depending on the drone you pick you have to decide what you are going to use it for down the road. Will you be using it to check your cattle? What about flying across your fields to see your crop index? Those are questions you need to ask when you are shopping around.

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0003.JPGI have seen application of a larger drone by Slant Range with a NDVI sensor. NDVI stands for Normalized Difference Vegetation Index. A NDVI sensor can measure the solar radiation that the plants put back out after absorbing it to carry out the process of photosynthesis. The sensor is finding the near-infrared light that the plants are putting off from its leaves. By using a NDVI sensor you can measure the plant productivity, how much rainfall may have occurred, weedy areas that may be in the field, and other applications. Infrared in the NDVI also can measure the amount of heat being put off. Using this application of NDVI, you can fly over your cattle herd and see if any of them may have a higher temperature than normal. You can also use the regular camera to fly over your herd to see if there are any changes occurring in the herd.

While attending Southeast Community College in Beatrice, NE, I have had the opportunity to learn some about drones. I have been able to apply the information I gathered from the drone, to the fields on campus and create prescriptions and suggestions. The drone I have been able to fly the most is the DJI Phantom 4. The students on campus have been able to fly over most of the land on campus and see what it looks like from above. We tested out the DJI app that you download to fly the drone and used some of the features.

With some of those applications and different drones in mind, you can narrow down what may work for your operation.

sam-steward-info-bar

Carrying on the Family Tradition at the Denver Stockyards

In the midst of mud from the freshly melted six inches of snow, miles of pens, and the hum of generators, I stand above the ground and take in my surroundings. The catwalk in the Denver stock yards is one of my favorite places in the world.  On it, I am able to look over a place that has historic value, as well as significance to my family.

img_4581

One of my favorite memories was this past January, seeing my photo on the Wall of Champions in the Yards as National Hereford Queen, since my parents and grandparents are on the wall, too. I am the fourth generation of both sides of my family to exhibit cattle at the National Western Stock Show, and the fifth generation on both sides to raise Hereford cattle.

img_0002

Photo Credit: Michelle Wolfrey

While these two traditions have uniquely influenced my life, the broader traditions of agriculture run deep in many families, such as my own.  There are technical traditions, such as branding cattle with the brand (and sometimes the same branding irons!) that have been in a family for years.  There are also traditions of agricultural life that are more so associated with values and soft skills.  For example, when I think of integrity, I think of a cowboy, because the image that most people have of a cowboy is a kind person who always helps and does the right thing.  Other traditions of agricultural life include grit, courage, and passion. These are a handful of the reasons that I am proud of the traditions that I keep as part of an agricultural family.

katie-nolles-info-bar

Agriculture in the Classroom

Growing up in the middle of Omaha and growing up with agriculture I got the unique opportunity to see first-hand the disconnect between consumers and producers. I grew up on my family’s 38-acre farm with sheep, goats, horses, and pigs. My farm life experience taught me more than just about what the world agriculture means. It taught me responsibility, respect, leadership, how to be caring, work ethic, and determination; Each day I am thankful for the way I was raised.
With many Nebraskan’s removed from farms and ranches, a responsibility is given to us to share the story of agriculture. I have taken this responsibility personally. As an Agricultural and Environmental Science Communications major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln I am learning and growing as a communicator. I have found new tools and perspectives to help me reach a variety of audiences and then help them realize how important agriculture’s story is to me and why it should be important to them. One of those tools is the Agriculture in the Classroom Program.

 

catherine-aitcThe Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation’s signature program is Agriculture in the Classroom. This program creates standard based materials for Nebraska Youth and Educators. Nebraska provides resources such as books, posters, activities and lesson plans about beef, pork, corn and soybeans. Each of these resources explains what happens from production to the everyday use of agricultural products of consumers.  A part of Ag in the Classroom in Nebraska is the Ag Pen Pal program. This program helps urban classrooms in Nebraska relate with the agricultural community in Nebraska.
catherine-ag-in-the-classroom-logoThe Nebraska Agriculture in the Classroom Program is a part of a larger program called National Agriculture in the Classroom (AITC). National AITC is supported by the United States Department of Agriculture and helps provide a network of opportunities. AITC is striving to help community members appreciate and understand the food and fiber system that supports us all. Their goal is to see agriculture is valued by all.

 
catherine-ag-in-the-classroomNational Agriculture in the Classroom is where I began my search for curriculum and resources that I use to teach urban youth in Omaha. Having teaching aids at your fingertips makes it impossible to say that you cannot share your agriculture experiences with whomever might have a question or misconception. If in any situation I need a resource to help communicate the ins and outs of agriculture production I can be sure to have unlimited help with the National and Nebraska Agriculture in the Classroom Programs at my side.

 

catherine-ag-in-the-classroom-websiteWith many Nebraskan’s removed from the farm, a responsibility we now have is to share the story of agriculture. It is so important to me to see our society becoming agriculturally literate because the agricultural community has made me who I am. I owe my work ethic, friends, family, and future career to the agriculture industry.
I hope to someday have a career that allows me to help integrate agriculture into school curriculum, that reaches out in the marketplace to the general public about the real story of the products they are purchasing and that makes the importance of agriculture known on a local, state and national level.

 

catherine-jones-info-bar

An Inside Look at How Antibiotics are Used in Livestock

Drought - Cattle on low hay 2

Everywhere I turn, I seem to be faced with advertisements encouraging me to eat antibiotic-free meat. While one beauty of being an American is that we have the freedom to choose how we raise our livestock and what products we buy.  In no way am I shaming antibiotic-free producers.  However, I understand that fear of antibiotic resistance and concern for animal well-being.

As a sixth generation beef producer from the Nebraska Sandhills, I have firsthand experience with raising livestock.  When cattle get sick with a bacterial infection, my family chooses to treat them with an antibiotic.  We don’t do this because a sick calf would mean a loss in profit.  I can speak for most if not all livestock producers when I say that our livestock are our way of life.  We put our heart and soul into caring for these animals, and it pains us to see them suffer.

To acknowledge the fear of antibiotic-treated meat animals, here are a few thoughts to keep in mind.  As producers, we develop herd health programs with our veterinarians, and receive training on proper dosage and withdrawal procedures. Relative to the topic of antibiotic resistance, many of the compounds used to treat animals are ionophores, which are actually antimicrobials that serve no purpose in human medicine, and do not impact antibiotic resistance whatsoever. While there are the few drugs that are utilized by both species, they are used to different degrees, as in the case of tetracycline, which accounts for only four percent of human antibiotic prescription, but comprise forty-one percent in animals. Producers feed the meat that we raise to our own families, so we would absolutely never taint the food supply.

Cow faces
As the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) goes into effect in January 2017, the use of antibiotics for growth promotion will no longer be allowed.  Antibiotic use will be more closely monitored by requiring a VFD or prescription for the use of medically important (those also used in humans) antibiotics.  The VFD, which is the result of an FDA Guidance for Industry, is part of the livestock industry’s effort to reduce antibiotic resistance.
If there are further questions about the VFD, livestock use of antibiotics, or livestock production in animals, the best solution is to contact a veterinarian or livestock producer.  While we may seem far away, we are more than happy to answer whatever questions about our way of life that you have!

 

katie-nolles-info-bar

The Ag Sack Lunch Program: Educating the Future of Agriculture

By: Abby Steffen

ag-sack-lunchI grew up in Northeast Nebraska, in a very rural area. Most of my summer days were spent on my grandparent’s farm, learning about agriculture before I even knew what the word “agriculture” meant. I would run through corn and soybeans while they grew in the fields, I would sit and watch my grandpa bring the cows into the milk barn, I would giggle as baby calves fought over which one got to suck on my fingers. At the end of the day, I knew what the food was that was on my supper plate. I knew how it was raised, how it was harvested, and how much work was put into getting that food from farm to fridge to fork. Knowing these things humbled me in a way I cannot describe, but also gave me some peace of mind to be able to see what I was eating and putting into my body. I wish every kid in America would be able to grow up with these types of experiences, but I know that is not possible. There are many children who are now completely removed from farms and ranches. They aren’t provided with many opportunities to learn about agriculture. The Ag Sack Lunch program is trying to change that.
ag-sack-lunch2In 2010, the Ag Sack Lunch Program was created to educate Nebraska fourth-graders, teachers, and parents about the different agricultural industries in Nebraska, all while providing 5,000 sack lunches each year. Each Ag Sack Lunch Ambassador is given a set of presentation cards that give the children a visual to look at during the presentation. The cards have fun facts that help the students not only learn about the seven main industries in Nebraska, but also make connections about how these industries impact their lives.  They learn about how much land in Nebraska is devoted to farming and ranching, and also that 1 in every 4 jobs relates back to agriculture. The Program covers both specific sectors of the livestock industry, such as beef, dairy, swine, and poultry; and also crops like soybeans, corn, and wheat. In their sack lunches, the students receive a ham, roast beef, or turkey sandwich. They also get carrots, Fritos corn chips, a rice crispy bar, mayonnaise and mustard, and a deck of cards that have fun facts about each industry and look just like the cards the ambassador presents with. At the end of the presentation, the group walks through every item in their lunches and talks about which industry they came from.
ag-sack-lunch3This is now the Ag Sack Lunch Program’s seventh year and I have worked as an Ag Ambassador for two years. I can honestly say it has been one of the most rewarding and educational life experiences I have ever had. It has kept me humble and open minded, as I did not grow up in a very diverse agricultural area. For many classes I presented to, I was not surprised when students knew most of the answers. However, once I began to present to more urban centered schools, there were times I felt truly heartbroken. Some students I interacted with did not even know where the meat on their sandwich came from before the store. I could see the want to learn in the students’ eyes.  When it finally clicked for them, the smiles on their faces was enough to make me fall in love with the Ag Industry all over again.

ag-sack-lunch4Agriculture is a huge and important industry in the state of Nebraska. It is crucial to the economy, the environment, and of course, to providing enough food to feed the growing population. Unfortunately, as more and more generations are being removed from farms and ranches, agricultural knowledge is not being passed along. Not many people know how this industry works and there are not many schools in Nebraska who implement ag-related courses. How can we expect people to understand and care about an industry and lifestyle they aren’t even familiar with? This is why the ag-literacy work that we do in the Farm Bureau Crew and in programs like Ag Sack Lunch is so important. By learning how to communicate to people of different ages and lifestyles we can improve ag-literacy in Nebraska. We can get people more involved and interested in agriculture to strengthen the future of the industry. In The Crew, I get to share different stories in agriculture through videos, photography, social media and blogging. In Ag Sack Lunch, I get to talk to students about where I grew up and how important agriculture is to people, especially in rural areas.
The experiences I have gained by working with The Crew and as an Ag Sack Lunch Ambassador have really made me appreciate the area in which I grew up and the educators who understood the importance of our state’s Agricultural Industry. I have experienced first-hand that programs like The Crew and Ag Sack Lunch are so important and influential to the Agriculture Industry. In the future, it will be up to their generation to find more sustainable food practices in order to feed the growing population while keeping the economy and the environment in check. They are the future of agriculture, and sponsored programs like The Crew and Ag Sack Lunch are preparing them in fun and interactive ways!

 

abby-steffen-info-bar