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.

 

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Why drones?

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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.

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How Has Farming Changed Since “So God Made A Farmer?”

Shared from Ryan Goodman’s Feb. 5th blog –

Ryan Goodman is a generational rancher from Arkansas with a degree in Animal Science from Oklahoma State University in Animal Science, and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree at the University of Tennessee, studying beef cattle management. He is one of many farmers using social media to bridge the gap between farmers and urban customers. Follow his story daily at AgricultureProud.com or on Twitter and Facebook.

4H notecardThis week has been an exciting one for those discussing food and farming. After Sunday’s airing of the Super Bowl, online communities were buzzing about the images and characteristics that defined our farmers in 1978. Those traits and values still hold true today, despite what we often hear in mainstream media and reports from those who have a “beef” with modern farming.

Paul Harvey first recited “So God Made a Farmer” at the 1978 Future Farmers of America Annual Convention. A few things have changed in the three and a half decades since. My dad was in junior high (and still had a full head of hair). Since then, he has raised a few thousand cattle, has broken in a few new pickups, and harvested several crops of hay.

So how do things compare between 1978 and today?

Using the numbers from our most recent U.S. Agriculture Survey (2007, a new one is being conducted for 2012), here are some interesting comparisons:

  • In 1978, there were 2,257,775 farms, averaging 449 acres each. In 2007, those numbers reduced to 2,204,792 farms averaging 418 acres each. Farms today are actually smaller by 31 acres.
  • Today the market value of farmland and buildings is $1,892 per acre. That is up from $619 per acre in 1978 – an increase of $1,273 per acre.
  • Today we have 922,095,840 acres of farmland in the United States. In 1978, that number was 1,014,777,234 – a decrease of 92,681,394 acres.
  • In 1978, 56% of farmers claimed farming as their primary occupation and 44% of farmers claimed zero days away from the farm work.
  • Today, 45% of farmers claim farming as their primary occupation and 35.3% of farmers claim zero days away from the farm work.
  • Our average farmers have aged almost 7 years since 1978. Today the average farmer is 57.1 years old.

The numbers have changed, and so has much of the technology farmers use to produce much more food on much fewer acres, but the person remains the same. The characteristics, values, hard work, determination, and grit it takes to work day in and out, producing food for a global food supply, still holds true 35 years after the late Paul Harvey first made his description.

While recently farmers and ranchers have struggled to have the general population understand their way of life, I hope we all take this opportunity to ruminate on the things food producers are doing right and carry on the conversation on how we can continue to improve.

So God Made a Farmer

And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, “I need a caretaker.” So God made a farmer.

God said, “I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, milk cows, work all day in the field, milk cows again, eat supper, then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the township board.” So God made a farmer.

“I need somebody with arms strong enough to wrestle a calf and yet gentle enough to cradle his own grandchild. Somebody to call hogs, tame cantankerous machinery, come home hungry, have to wait for lunch until his wife’s done feeding visiting ladies, then tell the ladies to be sure to come back real soon and mean it.” So God made a farmer.

God said, “I need somebody willing to sit up all night with a newborn colt and watch it die, then dry his eyes and say, ‘Maybe next year,’ I need somebody who can shape an ax handle from an ash tree, shoe a horse, who can fix a harness with hay wire, feed sacks and shoe scraps. Who, during planting time and harvest season will finish his 40-hour week by Tuesday noon and then, paining from tractor back, up in another 72 hours.” So God made a farmer.

God had to have somebody willing to ride the ruts at double speed to get the hay in ahead of the rain clouds and yet stop in mid-field and race to help when he sees the first smoke from a neighbor’s place. So God made a farmer.

God said, “I need somebody strong enough to clear trees and heave bales, yet gentle enough to help a newborn calf begin to suckle and tend the pink-comb pullets, who will stop his mower in an instant to avoid the nest of meadowlarks.”

It had to be somebody who’d plow deep and straight and not cut corners. Somebody to seed, weed, feed, breed, brake, disk, plow, plant, strain the milk, replenish the self-feeder and finish a hard week’s work with an eight mile drive to church. Somebody who’d bale a family together with the soft, strong bonds of sharing, who would laugh, and then sigh and then reply with smiling eyes when his family says that they are proud of what Dad does. “So God made a farmer.”

–Paul Harvey

Paul Harvey - image courtesy of www.politicalnewsnow.com

Paul Harvey – image courtesy of http://www.politicalnewsnow.com

Snow Dancing

The state of Nebraska was hit with its second snow storm of the winter earlier this week causing snow days for many and traffic delays for all. While the snow brought an inconvenience, Nebraska is still many inches of precipitation behind for most years. Leading to the looming question, how will the continued lack of snow and rain impact the ongoing drought?

With record lows for precipitation and highs for temperatures, 2012 took the record for both in the 12-year U.S. Drought Monitor data history. Nebraska was the epicenter of the drought this summer, and drought conditions continue to worsen in the beginning of 2013. As you can see in the maps below, at this time last year only a small section of moderate drought conditions existed in Nebraska. However, this year the entire state is in exceptional or extreme drought.

Jan. 3, 2012 Drought Monitor

Jan. 3, 2012 Drought Monitor

Jan. 29, 2013 Drought Monitor

Jan. 29, 2013 Drought Monitor

Nebraska’s family farmers are using innovation to ensure they meet growing global demand, while protecting and preserving precious natural recourses we all depend upon, such as water, by using:

  • Conservation tillage – Many farmers don’t use plows any more, as new tillage practices focus on disturbing the soil as little as possible. This cuts back on the number of trips across the field saving fuel and reducing soil compaction. Also, leaving residue such as cornstalks in the field conserves soil moisture and reduces the amount of fertilizer, nutrient and irrigation required to grow a healthy crop. Field residue also prevents soil run off when snow melts.
  • Advanced seed technology – Seed companies have led the charge to develop seed that is resistant to drought
  • Irrigation research – Through soil moisture monitoring, Nebraska farmers are working to cut back on the water they use without affecting yields
  • Precision technology – Modern tractors and machinery are equipped with GPS to eliminate overlaps in planting and fertilizer application. Satellite mapping ensures farmers apply just the right amount of nutrients in the right place.

Energy required to produce a bushel of corn over the past two decades has decreased by 37%

While the technology farmers are using helps them to be more environmentally responsible, efficient, and accurate, they still need certain levels of moisture to produce a yield required by a growing and hungry population. So, here’s to rain dancing…or snow dancing!

 

–Kassi Williams is a proud farmer’s daughter growing up on a cow/calf and grain farm in Iowa. She earned a Bachelor of Science from Iowa State University, majoring in both animal science and public relations. She has been involved with agriculture from birth, working in multiple facets of the industry including the USDA and Extension. Kassi relocated to Nebraska in 2010 to work for a marketing communications agency for a multitude of agriculture clients.

Get to know your Nebraska farmer: Doug Saathoff

Doug Saathoff of Trumbull credits his dad and granddad with good planning: both he and his brother Dan are able to support their families on the Saathoff farm in the northeast corner of Adams County.

“They always told us: ‘Don’t get carried away,’” Doug says. “Things look good now, but we need to prepare for the next bad year.”

Doug’s great-grandfather started out farming near Glenvil, east of Hastings, but during World War II, the U.S. government took the land for an ammunition depot, so he moved to the Trumbull area. Today, Doug, Dan and their sister – who’s married to a farmer – are all close by: “You can drive around the section and you can be at all of our places,” Doug says, which makes it easy to help each other out.

Doug attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), majoring in business. “When I went to college, I wasn’t planning to farm. But I missed being outdoors,” he says, so that business degree got swapped for a major in diversified agriculture. He graduated in 1996.

Doug met his wife Gail, who’s from North Platte, at UNL. He lived in Burr Hall, she lived in nearby Love Hall, and the rest is history. Gail teaches sixth grade at Doniphan-Trumbull School and their older daughter Emma, 8, is a third grader there. Younger daughter Erin, 5, will start kindergarten this fall at the same school.

The Saathoff farm grows corn and soybeans, and seed corn for Pioneer. Nearly all of the land is irrigated, about half with gravity irrigation, and most of the rest with more water-efficient center pivots.

Doug recently installed drip irrigation on a former gravity field that’s too irregular for a pivot. “We were wasting too much water on that field, and we definitely want to conserve water,” he explains. So do his neighbors: a lot of drip irrigation systems are being installed in the area. “As farmers, we are conserving the land and the water. We’re not out there putting more fertilizer or chemical on our crops than we need to,” he emphasizes.

The biggest challenge in farming, Doug says, is trying to control costs and remain profitable to support the farm and keep it going. He’s focusing on implementing newer technologies that help with that goal and support the environment. His tractors now have GPS and he traded planters so he can use variable-rate planting and variable-rate fertilizer application so he can farm more precisely.

Doug is an occasional golfer and about 10 years ago he was invited to the Adams County Farm Bureau golf outing. That led to an invitation to join Farm Bureau and attend the county Farm Bureau board meeting. This summer Doug is completing his term as county president. With his leadership, Adams County Farm Bureau has developed a close relationship with the Hastings Chamber of Commerce and collaborates with the chamber on events such as coffees with state senators. During National Agriculture Week in March, Adams County Farm Bureau hosts Hastings’ “Business after Hours” gathering.

That close relationship led to the Hastings Chamber of Commerce being the first local chamber in Nebraska to adopt a resolution in support of livestock farming. “We had meetings with the chamber about the Humane Society of the United States and its animal rights agenda, and then the chamber executive, Tom Hastings, took up the cause.” Now several local chambers have adopted similar resolutions.

Although his operation is all crops, Doug says it’s important for crop farmers to stand up for livestock producers: “They’re my main customers, and every livestock producer I know takes good care of their animals.”

Continue to check back to the blog each Thursday to get to know more farmers and ranchers from across Nebraska as they share their everyday stories. And to read past farmer and rancher profiles, click here.

Learn more about ag families in Nebraska by visiting www.nefb.org. And while there, be sure to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.