Conversations

Farmer Perspectives: What “Good” Moms Eat

By Lana Barkman, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer

Lana has a master’s degree from K-State. She lives on a farm near Circleville, Kan., with her husband, Caleb, and their daughter. The farm includes chickens, horses, dogs, and cats. In her spare time, Lana competes in barrel racing and judges horse shows.

My daughter is nearly 18 months old right now. It’s the perfect age to remember all the things you were going to do as the “perfect” parent — and it’s been long enough to have broken most of those rules already.

Many of my high parenting standards were all about food. In fact, my goals for healthy eating started before giving birth. As a healthy adult, I was shocked to learn I’d developed gestational diabetes. I meticulously tried to control the problem with strict guidelines on healthy eating: fresh veggies, lean protein, no processed foods, not even grapes, which would cause my blood sugars to spike!

I ate a lot of lean beef, which provided a great source of iron and other essential nutrients. Anemia is another common concern for pregnant women, and lean beef was an excellent option to get the iron and protein I needed.

Growing up around cattle, I was confident in purchasing conventionally grown beef from the grocery store. I knew it was raised responsibly and was safe. Having owned and raised cattle myself, I know firsthand ranchers care for their livestock in the same exacting way I was taking care of my body and growing baby.

 

Milk does a body good

After giving birth, my goals continued into breastfeeding. I was going to breastfeed for at least a year. I knew it was the healthiest option for my child and our family bond. Under no circumstances was I going to give my baby formula.

Well, never say never. I drove myself crazy trying to keep my milk supply up. I tried professional advice and everything else on the Internet too — supplements, pumping, different latches and all the other tricks. None of it worked, and the strain contributed post-partum depression. Eventually, my mom and husband intervened and recommended formula.

In the end, I agreed to supplement. Unsurprisingly, my worst fears were never realized. My daughter and I have a wonderful, special bond. She is in excellent health and didn’t have an ear infection for 14 months. I was able to get more rest, which helped my recovery too. My husband, father and mother were able to take turns feeding her and had their own bonding time.

As a consumer, I was so thankful to have a safe, affordable alternative. In a way, the dairy farmers I personally know helped provide me with this option. Baby formula is commonly made from a combination of nonfat cows’ milk and other ingredients to provide the energy, vitamins and minerals infants need to grow. There are soy-based formulas as well. Guess what? Farmers help contribute to those options too!

 

Future meals

As I prepare meals for my toddler, I am keeping this initial parenting experience in mind. A little flexibility helps, and every family must decide what is best for them. We are fortunate to live in a country where our options are all safe ones. It allows us to focus on our own family’s needs and feel confident that any choice is a good one.

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Farmer Perspectives: Farmers Love Technology

By Kim Baldwin, CommonGround farmer volunteer

Originally a native of New Mexico, Kim is a teacher and has worked as a television news professional for PBS and NBC affiliates. Kim moved to Kansas to marry her husband, Adam, in 2010. With their two children, the family raises wheat, corn, popcorn, soybeans, grain sorghum and cattle. 

In the last 30 years, a lot has changed about farming. Agriculture is advancing with the help of technology — just like many industries. Our farm’s philosophy is growth through innovation. In many cases, that means incorporating technology. We research, evaluate, test and calculate the return on investment on each new venture we try.

 

Targeted tech

We’re currently testing aerial crop scouting on our fields using drones (or unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs). Drones can fly above our fields and use different imaging techniques to tell us how the crop is growing or if there are weed or disease problems in a field. It’s an interesting advancement, but we still need a crop consultant to help us. Our consultant literally walks through each field during the growing season to check progress up close.

In turn, this information helps us accurately select and apply herbicides, fungicides or pesticides as needed. We don’t like to apply these products without good reason. Every additional expense means there’s less profit at the end of harvest.

We have specialized equipment to spray products on our own, and we’ve incorporated some interesting technology here too. We have sections of nozzles that turn on and off as the machine runs to better target our chemical applications. Again, the goal is to spray just what’s needed to improve yields and crop quality.

 

Letter of the law

To drive the spray rig, the operator must be licensed, which involves additional education. I worked in New Mexico’s Department of Agriculture and have a great appreciation for the detailed regulations farmers must learn, understand and follow.

There are regulations in place to ensure the safety of the applicator and bystanders as well. My family, including my two young children, live next to our fields. I’m confident their father and grandfather following label recommendations and government regulations for our crops, consumers and our children’s safety.

The herbicides and pesticides themselves are part of the technology we use on the farm. Before selecting a product, we research each one. We ask questions from our suppliers, carefully read the product label and then follow directions.

I’ll admit I was surprised by how little chemical is typically used on a field. A large part of the mix is water. Depending on the product, the amount of herbicide used is less than a large soda per acre — the rest is water to disperse the chemical.

 

Personal connections

In fact, I owe my marriage, in part, to the benefits of computers connecting people. My husband and I met online. I was teaching in southwest Missouri when a friend dared me to join an online dating service. Moving to Kansas wasn’t part of my “plan,” but technology allowed me to connect with someone outside of my geographic boundaries.

In a similar way, I hope to forge friendships with people seeking to learn more about agriculture. We can use this platform to connect, answer questions and listen to each other. I’d love to hear your questions about our farm’s use of technology!

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Farmer Perspectives: Going from Vegetarian to Cattle Producer

By Frances Graves, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer

Frances and her husband, Kris, raise beef cattle — and their three daughters — in Bartlett, Kansas.

I spent years trading hamburgers for veggie patties, a “morally-conscious” food consumer who sought organic, natural ingredients whenever possible. Growing up in the city, I didn’t really understand how our food was grown. That is, until I left and started raising cattle myself.

Eventually, I began to crave hot dogs at ball games and turkey on Thanksgiving and gave up being a vegetarian, but I still tried to eat as organic and naturally as possible. After my husband and I had our first daughter, we decided to move to rural Kansas and join his family’s farm, a conventionally raised cattle ranch. After the move, I struggled to find the same variety of foods and often drove to nearby cities to shop at specialty stores and bring home coolers full of organic produce and natural meats.

 

Farmers, they are just like us

As I began to meet farmers, I saw people who truly care about the food they feed their own families and the rest of the world. I questioned my own farm’s practices too and became convinced we’re doing the best we can for our animals, our land and our food supply, like most farm families today.

I no longer fear growth implants, GMO foods or cattle that receive an antibiotic if they become sick. All of these technologies serve a purpose, and I believe the farmers who use them do so after thoughtful consideration and for reasons I never understood as an urban consumer.

For example, I used to question growth implants for cattle. Since joining the farm, I’ve learned how these hormones improve sustainability by producing more pounds of food for the same amount of resources. On our farm, an implant also replaces hormones lost when a bull is castrated to fulfill the body’s need for hormones to thrive. Everything we do to our cattle helps keep them healthy and grow to their fullest potential.

My former self was very concerned with excess hormones in food. Now, I understand that almost all the food we eat naturally contains some hormones because plants and animals need those hormones to grow. The implants we give our cattle don’t create an excess and are long gone before the meat is on a plate. In addition to being administered by the watchful eye of multi-generation producers like my family, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration also approves the safety of growth implants.

 

Kindergarten for calves

I once questioned whether conventionally-raised cattle were well cared for during their lives. Our business is what we like to call a “kindergarten” for calves. We take weaned calves and acclimate them to living on grass. We have a stringent vaccination program that helps keep animals healthy. The cattle have a doctor on call, our local veterinarian, in case of illness.

One of our biggest challenges is the change in weather. Kansas is known for its temperature swings. Some days can feel like winter overnight and summer during the day. To help prevent sickness, we check on calves more frequently during these times. We are out every year breaking ice for water in the winter and planting more trees each spring for shade.

We understand that fresh, clean water is critical to animal health. That’s why we actively improve our water systems and ponds with new technology, ensuring our cattle can drink fresh water on demand while protecting the natural environment of our ponds and streams. We’ve even installed gravity pipes to fill waterers so we don’t have to use more water than necessary. It’s a conservation win combined with good cattle handling.

 

Purchasing power

Today, I’m still the family’s main grocery shopper, but I’m happy to serve cheeseburgers with affordable, safe ground beef from the grocery store. When I buy food, I’m more likely to seek products with a “made in the U.S.A.” label over the “organic” label, which can have different standards across the world.

Just like any other business, we want our family farm to grow and thrive. As ranchers, we have the added responsibility of producing a safe and healthy product for our family — and yours. I spent years worrying over the quality of my food. Now, I know farmers everywhere are already sweating those details for you.

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Farmer Perspectives: Sustainability from a farmer’s perspective

By Kelsey Pagel, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer 

Kelsey and her husband, Matt, are part of his family’s farm near Wetmore, Kan. They are the third generation to contribute to the operation and raise corn, soybeans, wheat, cover crops, chicken and cattle. They are living their dreams as farmers and focus on holistic and sustainable management practices.

Chances are, you’ve seen “sustainably farmed” labels at your grocery store. Did you ever stop to wonder what that means? Like many confusing food labels, the definition is not universal. In fact, sustainability can mean different things from one farm to another.

For us, sustainability simply means affirmatively answering “can you keep doing what you’re doing long term?”

I currently live and work on our farm full time. It’s my family’s sole source of income. Above all, farming is a business — and very few businesses are sustainable if they aren’t also profitable.

On our operation, we see everything from a holistic viewpoint. We firmly believe each living thing on our farm is intimately interconnected. Our choice in one area affects several other things. For example, we feel like the soil is the heart of our operation. Without healthy soil, we can’t raise healthy products — crops or beef.

To achieve healthy soil, we need to have a living root in the ground as much of the year as possible. This helps prevent erosion on our land, and each plant gives organic matter back to the soil — helping the next one grow and flourish. We believe the soil needs the same things we, as humans, need: a diverse diet, shelter against the weather and a little stress.

As soon as a crop is harvested off the ground (by machine or by animals grazing), we rush to get seeds in the ground to start growing. This is the soil’s diverse diet. Plants can actually give back nutrients to the soil.

We are a no-till operation. That means we want the ground to have cover — we consider that the soil’s shelter. In our view, plain soil is open and exposed to the elements. The soil temperature in bare spots is much higher, which requires more water to grow plants. Exposed soil can rapidly lose water and nutrients to the air. Our no-till philosophy helps maintain cool, nutritious soil even during the peak of Kansas summers.

We also want to stress the soil a bit. It’s okay for the plant to have to work a little bit to stretch those roots to get water or fight off a few bugs. The process is similar to how exercise works for our own bodies: a little stress makes us healthier overall.

Our cattle are part of our system. They help the land in a number of ways. Cattle help graze cover crops — again, our soil’s shelter and diverse diet — and add back nutrients to the land through their manure. It’s a natural process that allows the animals to take what they need from pastures and return the favor to the plants.

Our holistic approach extends to our cattle herd as well. We intentionally own the cattle from their birth until harvest, which helps us minimize stress on the animals. We perform sonograms on our finishing calves to let us know the optimal time to harvest. It’s our hope that people can truly taste the generations of work put into our pastures, crops and cattle.

There are many definitions of “sustainable” and “holistic.” The simple truth is that these definitions must change depending on the specific opportunities. To us, this is what works for our bottom line, our land and our family.

Every day, we feel the desire and responsibility to continue and improve the farm we now operate. It’s not just grocery shoppers that want farms to be sustainable — our family wants the same thing. Our parents and grandparents want our farm to be sustainable. It’s the farm they started, and it’s our job to continue the tradition.

It’s not easy, but we do our best to continually learn about the latest science, the best practices and how we can implement new techniques into our operations.

Please feel free to ask any questions or follow our lives online on Facebook and Instagram (@SustainableBitesLLC) or Snapchat (@EverydayKelsey).

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Farmer Perspectives: How to Support Family Farms: Fill a Grocery Cart

By Janet Phillips, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer 

Janet and her husband, Caleb, work with three generations of family on their farm near Cherryvale, Kan. Together, they raise corn, wheat, soybeans and cattle. In the past 10 years, the farm has grown in size but remains focused on caring for the land and their animals. 

“Buy local” is a phrase I hear often — even in rural America. As a farmer, my job is to put safe, healthy foods on tables across America. That includes my local community.

In my discussions, no one has a single definition for “local.” There’s no set number of miles or state line. To me, buying “local” food is so much more than buying tomatoes and cucumbers at the local farmers market. It is supporting family-operated and owned farms.

 

Family farming

My husband, Caleb, and I both come from a long line of farmers. I’m a fourth-generation farmer, and he is a fifth-generation farmer. For both of us, farming is what we both always wanted to do. We love growing things and taking care of animals, and we want to raise our family to practice the same care for our land and our animals.

We feel very blessed to farm alongside both Caleb’s parents and grandparents. We each have our own operations, but we work together to do everything. Since getting married almost 10 years ago, our farming operation has grown tremendously. We have been given the opportunity to rent more crop ground, and we have rented more pasture to grow our cattle herd. Growing the size of our business ensures we can provide for the multiple families involved.

At the same time, our own family grew as well. We are teaching our little ones where food comes from and how to work hard, be respectful, have fun, get dirty and be good people.

We are simply a family — a family who works together running a family business that’s constantly changing. We adapted to new technologies and larger equipment so we can raise things more efficiently. That helps our environment by using less resources to grow more per acre. Plus, that efficiency helps lower costs for you, the consumer.

 

Not an outlier

We are a family farm, but you might be surprised to learn that around 96% to 98% of the farms and ranches across the United States are family owned and operated, as well. Our story is not much different than thousands of other farmers and ranchers.

Each of us play an active part in our communities and help to employ lots of people — from our farm to the local businesses where we purchase supplies, tools and groceries to the truck drivers who transport our crops and beyond. We are just as proud to grow food for local farmer’s markets as for the shelves of Wal-Mart and Whole Foods.

 

Well-suited to farming

As farm owners, we make our own decisions about what crops to grow. Our land and climate are best suited to raising crops like corn and wheat. We can’t plant avocados and expect to support our family and continue our business. So we plant the crops that grow easily in our area and spend hours trying to decide what varieties will do the best in our climate and in our soil.

Our pastures support grasses our cows love to eat. On the other hand, our pastures can’t support delicate lettuce crops. We simply must listen to our land and Mother Nature.

 

Balanced diet

To ensure our family consumes a balanced diet, we seek out produce like lettuce, tomatoes and apples — to name just a few. These crops aren’t local most of the year. Yet, we are thankful for a stable food supply that can bring what we need all year long. It may not be from the next field, but it’s likely from a farm similar to our own. In exchange, we provide beef and wheat for bread. Our nation is fortunate to have such a diverse food system.

We often are asked how to support local farmers. It’s quite simple, really. Just fill your grocery cart. If you want to really support the farmers in your own backyard, go to the store and buy their product with confidence, knowing it was raised and carefully cared for by hard-working hands from all across the land.

 

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Farmer Perspectives: Offline and On to the Farm

By Lesley Schmidt, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer

Lesley contributes to her fifth-generation family farm while working full-time at an engineering firm. On the farm, she helps produce alfalfa, oats, sorghum, soybeans and wheat. She also helps manage the cow/calf operation. In the city, she is a civil computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) technician, cartographer and permit writer. During track and field season, Lesley officiates at schools, including colleges, across Kansas.

 If you have a social media account, you have probably seen some heated discussions about food. In real life, I’ve had a lot of great conversations about food, farming and agriculture. In fact, I have the opportunity to talk about my farm nearly every day at work.

My co-workers know about my family farm, and I often get questions about agriculture. I’m happy to talk about what I do on my family farm, and I have even acted as a liaison to help people interested in learning more to go visit a real farm themselves.

Face-to-face conversations are the best way to see each other as people. Rarely do these interactions end with the vitriol I’ve seen online. Frankly, that’s not how most people I know treat others. My non-ag friends are passionate about their jobs, their families and even the food they eat. The enthusiasm is wonderful, and it’s a great start to learning more.

If you feel the same way, let’s all get offline and on the farm, together!

 

Six Degrees to a Farmer

Chances are, you are less than six phone calls away from the chance to meet a real farmer. If you’re interested, ask your friends. I have helped friends learn about apples by visiting an apple orchard. They had a great time, including a hay-rack ride and drinking fresh apple cider.

Next time you are at the Farmers Market, introduce yourself to the farmer, let them know you have purchased before and enjoyed their produce, offer a compliment and share how you prepared the dish. We love to hear how others have enjoyed our produce and we love to share our ag story.

I’ve helped connect real people to real farmers for real discussions about agriculture. I’ve even helped a state legislator visit a farm to learn more about a bill up for discussion in the Kansas House of Representatives.

 

FAQs

My friends and co-workers have asked a lot of questions — and sometimes I don’t know the answer. It’s true. Farmers aren’t experts in all of agriculture. It’s a big industry that grows thousands of different crops, processes and packages them and delivers them to customers. That’s a lot of work!

The good news is interested consumers can easily find tours and experts. In fact, I’ve participated in those tours myself to learn more. I recently went on the annual Health & Wellness Coalition of Wichita Food Tour to learn more about how food is grown, distributed, prepared and consumed in the area. I enjoy learning about food in my community and all the different ways YOU can be involved. We visited a local produce farm, a community garden, a food rescue distribution locker, and a restaurant where the owner uses local produce in his recipes, whom also shared his experience working with farmers. It’s amazing to see how locally grown produce is making an impact in my community.

When a new grocery store opened nearby my office, I went to explore with my co-workers during our lunch break. This gave me the opportunity to bust some myths about hormone-free chicken. Added steroids and hormones aren’t allowed in poultry production in the United States. Any labeling you see touting “hormone-free” chicken is more likely a marketing gimmick since all chicken produced in America is up to this standard.

I’m not a dairy farmer either, but I’ve been able to answer questions about hormones and antibiotics in milk with the help of my dairy friends. Did you know an entire tanker of milk must be dumped on the ground if antibiotics are found in just one sample?

The point is, there are a lot of different aspects of agriculture to explore, and, as farmers, we are eager to share about our unique businesses. If you have a question, don’t hesitate to ask!

If you are interested in getting offline and away from unproductive arguments, just ask your friend or coworker to help you find a farmer.


Learn more:

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Farmer Perspectives: How Your Garden Grows (It’s Not Too Different from Corn!)

By Jami Loecker, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer

Jami and her husband, Billy, live in Manhattan, Kan., with their two children. Together, they raise a chicken flock and garden while Jami is employed full-time off the farm as a local agronomist. She helps other farmers and retailers in eastern Kansas by recommending improvements to crop production practices for corn, soybeans, milo, wheat, alfalfa and cotton.

For me, growing plants is both a profession and a hobby. I’m an avid gardener, but my day-to-day job is helping farmers grow healthy crops. My education in plant and soil science can be applied to thousands of acres of corn, wheat and soybeans — and it can just as easily be used to help a few tomato plants thrive in my backyard.

My friends often ask for my help during the summer when they encounter a particular weed or pest in their own garden. In fact, many of our “garden-variety” concerns are the same ones a commercial farmer would encounter.

 

Identify the culprit

When my friends ask for gardening advice, the first step is to identify the weed, disease or pest causing the problem. It’s no different than a crop farmer. In fact, that’s one of my jobs as an agronomist. I walk through fields to understand the cause of the problem and determine how widespread it may be in a field.

Last year, one of my friends had a tomato hornworm problem in her garden. We talked about the pests, and she described the damage. After we determined the cause, I recommended a few pesticides I use and trust. I also gave her advice on how to safely use the products so she can feel confident slicing those tomatoes later in the summer.

 

Selectively used

My friend wasn’t going to use a pesticide on her garden unless she really needed to. Yet, she didn’t want to suffer a complete crop failure either. It’s really the same for farmers. Pesticides or weed control products can be expensive, and I’ve never known a farmer to spray their crop unless it was needed.

Whether you’re dealing with a few plants or a few acres, the rate of application for a product is likely similar. There’s sometimes the idea farmers are hauling jugs of chemicals to the field and dousing their plants. That’s just not true. You wouldn’t do that in your garden, and farmers wouldn’t do it on their crops. Often, farmers are applying a few ounces of a carefully selected, highly regulated product on a per acre basis. To help with perspective, that’s often the amount of product measured by one or two cups over an area roughly the size of a football field.

 

Thoroughly tested

Pesticides and weed control products are intensively regulated by state and federal governments. The fine print on the back of any pesticide sold at your local lawn and garden store is the result of years of research — and it’s not all company-provided data either. The research supporting a new product approval needs third-party science to back up its safety and effectiveness.

My first recommendation to everyone is: read the product label. There are specific rates of application and wait times for harvesting the resulting crop. Using a product off-label may even damage the plant. That’s true for corn farmers and carrot growers. It’s all right there in the product label.

In fact, the downside for not following the label is serious for a farmer. Commodities are regularly tested for chemical residues. If a shipment is rejected, then a whole year of profit may be in jeopardy. The farmers I know would never risk their livelihood, and most growers I work with speak passionately about the responsibility they feel when raising food for a growing world.

I believe the world needs both gardeners and large-scale growers. I love working in my garden and getting my hands dirty. I feel just as confident feeding my family from the grocery store as I do serving up salad from the garden plot. Farmers and gardeners may use different tactics, but the science is the same.

 

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Farmer Perspectives: More with Less

By Molly Drimmel, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer

Molly’s full-time job is a field agronomist. In this role, she helps farmers raise healthy crops. Her husband, David, joined her family’s farm near Wakarusa, Kan., in 2013. Together, they grow corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa, sorghum, chicken, beef cattle, pigs and goats.

These days, it seems like everyone is being asked to do more with less — fewer hours in the day, smaller budgets and less resources. Farming is no different. Today, producers are being tasked with increasing their yields while reducing their costs. To accomplish this goal, farmers must make every acre of ground more efficient as resources become more scarce. And, we’ve done it.

Year after year, our land yields more per acre. We’re feeding the world with fewer people, less land and reduced inputs. I’ve had a unique vantage point to see this change firsthand. I’m a researcher and have helped bring new technology to the market. In my job, I talk to farmers to understand what they are experiencing in their own fields. Plus, I work on my own family’s farm, and I’ve seen our technology change rapidly in my lifetime.

 

Better seed

Improved seed technology is one important way farmers have been able to produce more crops with the same amount of ground. I’ve headed up a corn research station in Western Kansas and a soybean research station in Eastern Kansas.

Across Kansas alone, there is a vast difference in growing conditions. At the research stations, we are able to experiment with the latest corn and soybean hybrids. Our focus is finding the perfect seed that could grow quickly, produce good yields, use less water and have good tolerance to important diseases. These benefits translate into reduced use of natural resources. Plus, it gives farmers greater flexibility in planting crops, which helps provide a reliable supply.

As a researcher, I’m part of thousands of years of history. That’s about how long humans have been genetically modifying plants. Until recent scientific advances, this process was done by choosing plants with the desirable traits and cultivating those particular plants. Today, scientists can expedite this process by selecting a desired trait right in the DNA of the plant — that’s a GMO, or a genetically modified organism.

In my lifetime, GMOs have provided hybrids that significantly increased crop yields, all while using less water and chemicals. That’s efficient for farmers, but it’s also good for our environment and meets consumer demand.

 

More education

One key to doing more with less is to work smarter not just harder. In my opinion, farmers have always been pretty smart. They know what their ground is capable of. The average age of today’s farmer is about 58 years old. In five decades, they have seen a lifetime of successful and unsuccessful crop years. Now, a younger generation of farmers are coming in with a formal education from universities and experience with advanced farming technology. For example, I have added to our family farm by getting my master’s degree in agronomy, which is the science of how plants grow.

Farmers are using education and experience to tackle some tough problems. One of the most pressing concerns in our state is water availability. Even just 10 years ago, we used a lot more water to grow one crop.

Today, we’ve reduced that amount using better seed technology combined with advanced equipment technology. We can turn off irrigation systems and monitor water use from our phones. Plus, we know a lot more about the plant itself. A little stress can actually help encourage the plant to grow, digging its roots deeper and producing more yield. Figuring out what growth stage of the plant needs the water the most has helped us increase yields with minimal water use.

We also know more about weed control. Many farmers I work with choose to use a herbicide before the crop is planted to help reduce competition from weeds right away. We can also responsibly apply the chemical exactly where it’s needed using global positioning system, or GPS, technology that’s commonplace in tractors these days. A product may not go all over a whole field. It can be applied in targeted areas to reduce chemical use and cost to the farmer.

A farmer can soil sample his field then layer input maps such as fertilizer, chemical and insecticides over yield maps and target specific areas. By identifying high and low producing areas, they can then write prescriptions for a field allowing them to use less inputs. This can reduce cost for the farmer and produce more with less — leading to a better environment.

 

Greater investment

These new technologies come with a greater investment on the part of the farmer. We must invest our money, but we also must invest our time into learning new tools as they arrive. It can be intimidating for older generation farmers, but most folks I know are more than up to the challenge. When my dad started farming, he would find a tree in the horizon and plant straight to it. His row was not always the straightest. In the last few years, my husband has set up autosteer where the GPS plants in a straight line, and he does not even touch the steering wheel until he gets to the end of the row. His rows are perfectly straight. The same GPS can then be used to apply herbicide and fertilizer to get precision placement and efficiency.

My husband and I returned to my family farm in 2013, and it’s been a struggle to grow our operation considering the large amount of money it can take to purchase more acres of land or a new tractor with the latest GPS technology. We don’t go on vacation much, but we’re finding our family moments in what we’re building together. We love the land, our livestock and working together as a family.

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Farmer Perspectives: Farming Outside of My 8-to-5 Job

By Krystale Neitzel, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer

Krystale is part of a fourth-generation family farm outside Lawrence, Kan., and a full-time operations manager for an insurance company. She and her husband, Lowell, are raising their two kids while growing crops and running a small beef cattle feedlot. Krystale is an expert multi-tasker and fits in hobbies like baking, writing, running and reading.

Farming doesn’t have regular working hours. We must plant and harvest when the timing is right. The weather, season and plants must all be ready — whether we are or not! Occasionally, that means adjusting family travel plans, date nights and more. Other times, it can mean the farm work adjusts to our growing family.

I still consider myself a farmer even though I’m an operations manager for an insurance company most of the week. Like many of you, I am juggling many parts of my life: family, hobbies and a career. How I get it all done probably looks similar to most moms too!

 

Farm job

Our farming operation consists of corn, soybeans, hay and cattle. My great-grandfather and grandfather began our farming operation in 1945. My mom and dad farm the same ground today with my aunt and uncle. In 2011, my family began to develop a succession plan to help keep my brother, his wife, my husband and I part of the family farm for many more years down the road. Together, we formed Bismarck Farms.

With my parents transitioning away from day-to-day farming duties, it has meant our workloads have increased. This year, my husband completed the majority of planting. It’s meant he’s been in the field for weeks straight — moving straight from fertilizing fields to corn planting into soybean planting and then harvesting hay.

When we “put up hay,” it involves mowing the grass, letting it dry, raking it up, baling into bundles and then hauling it back to the farm. These working hours are not 8 to 5, Monday through Friday. We must time actions based on weather, supplies of products (like seed, twine, drivers, equipment, etc.), machinery working as it should, tending to other areas of the farm where help is needed (for example, we have cattle, irrigation tasks, equipment moving, and ever-present equipment breakdowns).

My husband probably averages more than 12 hours per day farming, which leaves a lot of the day-to-day family duties to me during the busy seasons.

 

Day job

I work off the farm Monday through Friday, 8 to 5. I oversee and work with five insurance offices doing everything from employee management, checking in with marketing reps, account reviews, quotes and whatever else the day may bring. Recently, I took on a management role so I’m often working more than 45 hours a week. My co-workers love stories about country life. I often have tales of visits from opossums or skunks.

My sister-in-law also has a full-time job off the farm. With six people involved in the farm, our schedules can look a little crazy!

 

Weekend job

Our families each have young children. As anyone knows, that’s a full-time job in itself! Recently, all our careers required some flexibility to accommodate our kids’ new hobbies and interests.

For example, my family offered a public roadside fresh garden market since 1982. Most weekends, we would put in 12-hour days, interacting with customers and explaining how we grew our crops. The market was truly a family affair. Our mom helped with deposits, payroll for employees and other daily tasks.

We all loved the market, but the extra time became too much to handle. Our son begged to grow his 4-H projects and have livestock. Unfortunately, our market was still open during the week of our county fair.

This year, we decided as a family not to operate the summer garden. It has been a bittersweet decision. We’re missing our customers but have more family time. My son has been able to raise pigs as a 4-H project. Having pigs was something he’s wanted to do since he was a toddler. I’ve never raised pigs, so it’s been an adventure for us as well!

 

Juggling

The demands of farming, a full-time career and a family require a juggling act every single day. I love running to the field after I leave work to help move equipment — sometimes I don’t get to change clothes so I do it in heels! Other days, I bring the guys an iced tea in the hot field and end up untangling alfalfa from the hay swather (the equipment that helps harvest the hay). Now that my son has pigs, you’ll often find me helping him. I’ve quickly learned I must take the time to change out of my work clothes first!

Finding the balance between an 8-to-5 job and farming sometimes gets the best of me, but there isn’t much I’d change. I’m never sure how the day will go between work, dropping off our kid for classes and farming.

Like most moms juggling a family and career, my passion for each keeps me motivated. I’m lucky our family business involves every member of our family. We can each work towards a shared goal of improving our business and helping to feed the world.

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Farmer Perspectives: We Hear You

By Melissa Hildebrand Reed, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer

Melissa Hildebrand Reed farms with several generations on her family’s dairy farm near Junction City, KS.

Melissa is one of seven family members working on the family dairy farm near Junction City. Hildebrand Farms Dairy raises 150 cows and supplies milk to more than 120 stores across Kansas. Melissa and her husband, Brett, have two sons.

 On a typical farm, producers harvest their commodity and sell it to a company or cooperative, which turns it into something you might see a grocery store. That’s the way our farm operated from about 1930 until 2007 when our family decided to build a processing plant.

Now, we are in the unique position of selling directly to the public. Having our own dairy processing facility allows us to own the milk from the cow all the way to the grocery store. We even sell bottles directly at our farm store. We also have the opportunity to get to know you, our customer, better.

There are a few questions that stand out during the hundreds of conversations I’ve had with customers. Maybe they’re even questions you’ve been wondering about.

 

Can I see a dairy cow up close?

Yes! We give tours of our farm. We’re close to Fort Riley and Manhattan, Kansas, both of which bring people from all over the world to Kansas. Many people have never had an encounter with any sort of agriculture before. If this sounds like you, we’d love to show you around.

We’re immensely proud of our cows and our farm. There is no question to big or too small to ask. Our cows graze beautiful pasture in the Flint Hills and receive clean sand bedding in our free-stall barn. In fact, we’ve found the best milk comes from cows that receive the best care.

 

Is your milk GMO-free?

Our milk is not genetically modified and neither are any ingredients we use — like pure cane sugar in a flavored milk, for example. However, we don’t seek a “GMO-free” label for a few reasons. First, our cows would not be able to eat feed containing GMO ingredients. Based on our research, it would be an unnecessary cost that doesn’t positively contribute to the safety or quality of our products.

We grow most of the food our girls are fed. For us, GMOs help us reduce the use of herbicides while increasing yields of our crops — meaning we can feed more cows with the same amount of land.

 

Is your milk organic?

Our first priority is treating our cows with care. Using antibiotics are critical to good animal care at our dairy. If one of my girls is sick, we’re going to help get her healthy again. The idea of not treating a sick cow to retain an “organic” label on our milk wouldn’t be true to our farm’s values.

We use antibiotics carefully and sparingly. Antibiotics don’t stay in an animal’s system forever. The cow rejoins the milking herd after it is eliminated from her body. We vigilantly track each dose and animal that requires a treatment, which is prescribed by our veterinarian. Milk from cows being treated with antibiotics doesn’t even enter our processing facility. That’s true of our farm, but it’s also true of any other dairy in the United States.

Our family believes our milk stands out in the grocery store for its quality. To show you we care, the best label we can put on our product is our family name.

 

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