The term nerd 25 years ago and still today generally has a negative meaning to it, but there are a bunch of agricultualists and our supporters that have embraced the term and somewhat made it the calling card of the AgChat Foundation. I am not sure who first coined the term, but it has caught on and we embrace #AgNerd.
The AgChat Foundation is an organization dedicated to helping enable people involved in agriculture to better tell their stories through the use of social media. I serve in a volunteer capacity with the organization in setting up our conferences to help with this educational effort. I attended the first conference in August of 2011 in Chicago, IL. It was quite an experience finally meeting in person all of the individuals with whom I had advocated for agriculture with over the previous couple years. We put together our second Agvocacy conference this last August in Nashville, TN and it was a resounding success.
As I look forward this week to attending The Ag Issues 2012 event sponsored by Bayer Crop Science I reflect on where this social media journey of agvocating has taken me. I have had an opportunity to work with an amazing group of people that are interested in having a conversation with consumers and finding our common ground. These are selfless individuals interested in helping others to tell their stories and help bridge the gap that seems to exist between the producers of our food and the consumers. Last night many farmers and others in this area had a chance to listen to Anne Burkholder speak about the importance of telling this story and doing it the right way. If you have not heard of Anne, make sure to visit her blog at www.feedyardfoodie.com. I believe it opened some eyes to the divide that is out there. For too many years agriculture has sat back and let others tell our story for us. Let me tell you, it is not a pretty story. Do you consider your farm a “factory”? I certainly do not, but that is the way we are portrayed the majority of the time! Why, because the public does not know us. What they do know of us is usually second hand.
I get the chance because of this social media adventure to serve on a sustainability panel at Ag Issues 2012. The Twitter hashtag for the event in #agissues12. Please follow it on Twitter as myself and some friends I have met through #agchat will be tweeting the conference also. To follow the conference follow me at @Huskerfarm Michele Payn-Knoper at @mpaynknoper, and Jeff Vanderwerff at @agsalesman. We will be #agnerding with our smartphones, iPads, etc. for a couple days in Nashville, but there are a ton of others out there doing it every day, telling their story via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Blogs, Pinterest, etc.
Who are you going to tell your farm story to today? Is there someone you can connect with in a positive way to start a conversation? Are you going to let someone else do it for YOU? Are we going to be part of the solution, or help create a bigger divide? Take 10 minutes a week to tell your story in some way and see what it can accomplish. Large companies employ PR and reputation management firms to handle interaction and communication with the public. As individuals in agriculture, that is just another one of the many hats we need to wear each day on our own farms! I tell my story because I want to ensure that our children are afforded the same opportunities in agriculture that I have been. Find your reason!
One of the common misconceptions with row crop farming is that we tend to take the winters off and basically sit around doing nothing. I would say a decade or two ago if you were purely a grain farmer, there was a lot more time off than now, however, most farms twenty years ago had a livestock presence also. It seems we finish harvest, start fall fieldwork, ground freezes, and you tackle the continual pile of bookwork and planning for the next year along with working on equipment for the next few months so it performs with minimal breakdowns.
We used to have a cow/calf herd on this farm and I will tell you that when it is snowing and blowing I do not miss the cows a bit, but many in our area who farm also tend to a livestock herd year round. I can tell you that if you have livestock, there is no downtime on the farm. I remember calving out heifers (Cows who are having their first calf) and waking every two to four hours for two months to check on them in cold weather. I also remember rolling bales in blizzards to try to keep them warm and give them a dry place to herd along with some energy from the feedstock. Carrying a half frozen calf through snow while the cow head butts you in the rear because you took the calf. Having a cow jump in the back of a pickup because you are tagging her calf. The days of raising livestock on a larger scale are not something we intend to do again, but we will have a small herd again someday to teach my children the responsibility of caring for food animals and understanding the purpose they serve.
Another thing that has changed over the years for our farm is that there is a tremendous amount of management and bookwork that goes into a farming operation. We have become more like a full fledged business. We have moved from written accounting ledgers, to quicken, to quickbooks, and now to managerial accounting which allows us to analyze data from a cash or accrual basis on individual field levels. We have changed from, well I think i will plant this because of rotation or preference to hard financial analysis of what crop will provide the best return while also properly nurturing the soil that is the living organism that our farm depends on each and every day to make our living. We spend days in the winter analyzing yield data, soils maps, soil fertility tests, and hybrid data to pull all of these things together and go to the field in March or April with a plan that rests on hopes of a good weather year.
You all know the sayings about farmers. “Three and three, three weeks in the spring and three weeks in the fall”, Keep the hat rolled so it will fit in the mailbox”, etc, etc. Agriculture has become a full time, highly management focused business. It has adapted and changed to meet ever increasing needs both domestically and globally while maintaining the “Family Farm”.
Do we slow down a little in the winter compared to the growing season, yes, but do accountants slow down other than year end and the tax season early in the year? Yes, they do. Is winter “downtime” on our farm? I would say, no. Is winter downtime when raising livestock on a farm? I would definitely say NO!
Well, we finished up harvest a little over a week ago and it has been a blur of activity since then. We are shredding stalks on the gravity irrigated fields, discing up our organic quarter to return it to conventional production, drying grain in the bins to prepare the crop for winter storage, cleaning up equipment, winterizing equipment, storing equipment in the building for the winter, purchasing and making commitments for next years crop inputs, planning for next years crop and meeting with our seed customers to get next years orders.
Below are a few pictures to get you caught up on our farm happenings.
Raising “Food Animals”
Animals hold many roles in our society. Growing up in urban South Florida, I had more experience with “pet animals” than any other. However, my dad likes to hunt so I was also familiar with wild animals that became food on my dinner table. When I married Matt, moved to Nebraska, and started to work at the cattle feed yard, I was exposed to another “type” of animal: a “food animal”. This is an animal that is raised for the express purpose of becoming human food.
It wasn’t until I began to work at the cattle feedyard that I starting thinking about animals in different “roles” in society. As an urbanite, the boundaries between the “animal types” were pretty fuzzy for me. Fifteen years later, as a cattle feedyard manager, the boundaries are very clearly defined. I have animals at my house that are pets. I have pet dogs, cats, and I even have a couple of horses that fall into the “pet” category.
Magnum (the horse) and Izmo (the cat in my daughter’s arms) are pets that are part of our family.
Those animals are literally part of our family. I suspect that many of you can empathize with this type of relationship with an animal.
My cattle do not fall into this category. They are not pets. They are animals that are raised for food production. I mentioned in my last post that I have two top priorities at the feedyard: food (beef) safety, and healthy and well cared for cattle. Those are priorities for me because I know that healthy cattle make healthy beef. It is a heady and sobering feeling for me as a mother to know that the animals that I am caring for will end up nourishing children. That is a huge responsibility, and one that I take very seriously. I have to have food (beef) safety as my top priority—the animals that I raise are being fed to people—they are not sleeping on my couch at night next to my dog.
This steer calf is a “food animal”, raised according to Beef Quality Assurance Practices, and will provide a safe and healthy source of beef for either my family or yours.
I make decisions every day that affect the health of my cattle and the safety of the beef that they produce. If I treated my animals “as pets” I would be doing a disservice to you as the consumer because food safety and quality would then not be my top priority. I realize that it may be difficult to imagine an animal that is not a pet, but I am asking you to do that because it is something that is incredibly important to understand if you are truly interested in “where you food comes from”. Your beef comes from cattle. If you have been following this blog from the inception, hopefully you fully realize how important cattle care and comfort are to me. However, it is equally important that you realize that, as a “grower of beef”, I must put the safety and quality of beef ahead of everything else.
About the author Anne Burkholder:
A native of urban Palm Beach County, Florida; I was an Ivy League educated athlete fueled by beef for many years before I understood “where my beef came from.” Now, I am a mother of three and live with my husband in Nebraska where we run a cattle feedyard and farming operation. Feed Yard Foodie is a site where people can come to read about the real story of beef, written by someone who actually gets their hands dirty.
Many thanks to Anne for allowing us to publish this piece on our blog. Please connect with her on her blog at www.feedyardfoodie.wordpress.com
Just a few pictures to catch you up with what we have going this time of year. We are currently very busy with yellow corn harvest and have seen some very good yields. We finished soybeans a few days ago. The corn is still a little too wet to go to the elevator with it so we are putting it in bins to dry it down and store.
Also included is a short video of how I taught my black lab Coal to jump up to the combine platform to ride along. I apologize for the video being sideways as I held my phone that way. Tilt your head a little to the left and you will never notice!!!