It's August. We should be combining wheat, but we aren't yet. We started the year out praying it stopped raining and now we've been praying for rain the last couple weeks. We finally got some, we got lucky. Sunflowers are just starting to bloom. It should be another week or so before they are full yellow. Corn is just set to pollinate, you can smell it. Soybeans have still got a long way to go...
It's just another year, farming. And this is just a crop update... At least the pictures are pretty, right?
Growing crops is a lot like life. We get so caught up in the NOW. We need rain, we don't need rain, we need sunshine, the crops look good, the crops look bad.
We go look at them multiple times a week. Always checking, always tracking where they are right now. But once they get out of the ground and have started on a path towards maturity, we often forget how far they've come. We forget the little miracles that were once seeds, seedlings, and how much growth we've experienced in between.
So today, in the spirit of celebrating where you are right now and where you are going... Don't forget to take a look back on how far you've come. The sometimes seemingly slow progress you've made towards a goal in your life is important. The sometimes endless struggle towards the finish of something in your life is important.
I hope you look back feeling empowered and full of pride of the things you've accomplished. Much like these crops have grown and still have a long way to go, so do our lives. We are forever growing, changing, and maturing... But we've already come so far.
Progress is important so enjoy the journey.
And once in a while, take a look back.
Several weeks ago I wrote about how we are growing flax again on the farm. Flax is a crop that Grandpa used to grow. And he's been eagerly awaiting it to bloom. He keeps telling me when the flax blooms, I will have to go stand in the ocean.
And this week, I stood in the ocean. As we came over the hill to the field of flax, there was no denying it was blooming. You could see it from a mile away. And it literally did look like an ocean of blueish, purple. It was gorgeous. I stood in the field, my camera in my hand, soaking it all in.
The blooms are starting to cycle through and once they fall off, they form what is called bolls. They are little pods that contain the flax seeds. These bolls are what we will harvest when it comes time.
Up close, the blooms are gorgeous shade of purple-blue with such intricate detail. Morning is the best time to catch these beauties blooming as they close up in the evening or whenver there may be bad weather. We drove by the other evening and sure enough, no blooms. Field was green, not the ocean we had seen the previous morning.
Crops never cease to amaze me. Farming never ceases to inspire me. It's a constant learning experience. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
Have any of you ever seen flax bloom?
Last week I wrote about how I love living in rural America... The nostaglia of a small town, the peacefulness, the quietness, no traffic.
But sometimes living in rural America, we get numb to the beauty that is around us. We quickly grow accustomed to where we live. And we forget to see what's around us.
I was reminded this last weekend the beauty that is created in the most simple of places. Living in rural America, often times I fly past all the corn fields, the pastures with calves that grow every day.. I don't spend enough time soaking in the beauty that is around me.
Hopping in the car, the windows rolled down, wind in your hair, sun shining on your face... Pulling over on the side of a dirt road, taking a few steps into a field just to soak in the sound of the crops blowing in the wind. (p.s. Check out our flax now!!)
There's honestly nothing better.
I hope you take some time this week to appreciate beauty in the most simple places... Instead of blowing by that field of cattle or that field of corn you drive by 10x a week, take some time to stop.
Stop. Soak it all in. And find beauty in the most simple of places.
1. Lack of Three Lane Highways.
In fact most of our roads look like the photo above. I don't know about you but since I have moved to rural America, three lane freeways terrify me. I used to be this awesome city driver.. I drove in SAN FRANCISCO! Any of you who have been there know what I am talking about.. Anyway, there is a stretch of three lane highway in Fargo and every time I drive it, I find myself clutching the steering wheel a little tighter than normal and breathing heavier than I usually do. Oh and the only traffic jam you will find yourself in rurally is usually a tractor or combine on the road!
2. Getting Across Town Takes... Maybe 5 Minutes.
Unless I am heading to the farm, I can leave my house about 5 minutes before I need to go anywhere. Getting across "town" takes not even that long because town is all but 5-6 blocks. In fact, I can WALK to the grocery store, hardware store, bar, and post office if I needed to. No more of that getting ready and leaving the house 20 minutes or sometimes an hour before you need to.
3. Rememnants of the Previous Generations
No matter where you go in small town America, you are bound to find remnants of the older generation. Old homes, old barns, old grain elevators, old businesses. You will find this in big cities as well, but often times those things are torn down to make room for the new. Honestly, is there anything better than that iconic photo of an old red barn on a grassy hill?
4. Peace and Quiet
There's a certain peace and quiet in the evenings when people are inside and no nightlife is going on that happens in small town America. In fact, even when I run to the grocery store at 7 p.m., there are usually no cars on Main Street. I love taking runs through town when the sun is just about to go down. There's no traffic, it's nice and cool, and rarely anyone is outside. It's so quiet and peaceful.
5. Everyone Waves to You or Says Hi.
Whether you know the person or not, you wave. It's the unofficial rules of rural living. Same goes for seeing someone in the grocery store or on the street. This was new to me when I first moved to rural America as I had always been weary of saying HI to people I didn't know. But now I can flash a smile and wave hi as I drive by with the best of them. And honestly, I wouldn't have it any other way. Now I find myself when I travel driving past someone and waving my hand like a crazy person...
These are just five of the many reasons I love where I live. I wouldn't trade rural or small town life for anything now. Sure I miss my Starbucks, boutique clothing stores, and fancy food... But that just makes it even more special when I do get to enjoy those luxuries in life.
What are your favorite things about rural life?
I have written quite a bit about the future in Agriculture. I’ve written about thinking outside the box and being willing to adapt and accept new things in your farming operation. But sometimes thinking outside the box may be trying something we used to do, bringing back something of the past. This year on our farm, we are doing just that. We needed a crop to go into some production land that has had wheat on it for a couple of years. Two weeks ago I wrote about our crop rotation and while we maintain that rotation throughout our fields, sometimes it just isn’t possible.
So we needed a new crop. Our answer? Going back to something we used to grow. Flax.
Where did flax come from?
Flax is actually one of the oldest fiber crops in the world. It is said to have originated in the Mediterranean region of Europe, but it was extensively cultivated in ancient China and Egypt. In fact, the linen cloth that wrapped mummies in Egypt has been found to contain flax fibers. Flax production made it to the United States for commercial production somewhere around 1753 and became a popular crop as the upper Midwest and parts of Canada were settled during the 1800s. Today, worldwide, the top producers of flax are the Soviet Union, Poland, and France.
Where is flax grown?
Flax is a crop that is traditional to North Dakota. Back when people first settled here and broke the native prairies, flax was one of the crops produced. Because flax thrives in moderate summer temperatures and rainfall along with fertile clay soils, the North Central part of the country is where flax has traditionally been grown.
Flax has a history in other North Central states such as South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. In Alternative Field Crops Manual put out by the University of Wisconsin Extension in 1989, they reported that “Wisconsin had 2,000 acres for seed in the state in 1966… Minnesota had 378,000 acres in 1920 and over 1,600,000 in 1943. Since 1943, acreage has steadily declined with only 15,000 acres grown in 1988. “
If we take a look at the 2013 Flaxseed Planted Acres by County, we can see the current numbers of production for selected states such as North Dakota. Even though we and many other farmers in the area have moved onto growing other crops, North Dakota continues to rank first in flaxseed production with more than 90 percent of the nation’s flax crop grown here. Flax grown in North Dakota is often used in a crop rotation along with other small grains such as barley and wheat. Flax is also traditionally and continues to be grown in Canada as well.
So what is flax used for?
Producers typically grow two types of flax: seed flax for the oil in its seeds and fiber flax for the fiber in its stem. Today most grow flax for the oil and food use in the United States. Flax seed is crushed and used to produce linseed oil and leftover linseed meal. The oil has many uses while the meal is used for livestock feed. The fiber seeds are used to a variety of paper products and linens. Apparently cigarette paper is a major flax paper product. Who knew!?
With the trend towards eating healthier, flaxseed has gained in popularity. Flaxseed contains high levels of dietary fiber, lignans (antioxidants), and omega-3 fatty acids. Studies have suggested the benefits of flaxseed on lowering cholesterol levels or in those with breast and prostate cancers. Although no conclusive evidence has been produced. I certainly know that I have seen it pop up more and more in recipes for healthy baked goods as well as in things like smoothies and energy bites.
Being that I am originally from California, I have never seen flax in production. I was very excited when my husband announced that we would be planting it this year. I look forward to watching it grow and getting the opportunity to firsthand learn about an entirely new crop. I have heard it is beautiful when it blooms! Stay tuned and I hope you look forward to following along and learning with me!
Here is what our flax looks like right now.
It seems lately there has been an outpouring of events in my life and people who are connected to me's lives that keep reminding me of how tangible our lives are. As people on this Earth, but more importantly, as farmers we are not invincible. No matter how much we think we are, our lives can be taken from us in an INSTANT. I have even heard some people verbalize "oh that won't happen to me". It only takes one error and your life could be flashing before your eyes. I am sure that every single one of us can count at least one person we've known who has been injured or had their life taken in a farm-related accident. It shakes close to home when it happens, and safety isn't something we talk much about.
Did you know that agriculture has been deemed the 8th most dangerous job? In 2011, the injury rate for agricultural workers was over 40 percent higher than the rate for all workers.The Department of Labor states that " farm related accidents claim as many as 1300 lives and cause 120,000 injuries a year, most of which are preventable." But even then, farm accidents don't just cost lives, limbs, or health, they also cost equipment breakdowns and delays. Accidents are usually caused by avoidable physical hazards, carelessness, sleeplessness, and stress-related actions such as rushing to get things done. The majority of those factors can be prevented. So if they are preventable, what steps can we take to ensure farm safety?
Get Some Sleep
Farmers talk a lot about hard work and it is something to be very proud of! In a society where the value of hard work is long gone, farmers are a shining example of those seemingly "old fashioned" values. If only more people could learn to value work like farmers do. Farmers are usually up before the sun and come home after dark. Sometimes they work all night because it's simply what you've got to do to get done. But is it possible that the sacrifice of our sleep could potentially be dangerous?
Stop for a minute and think about a time where you've experienced someone (or maybe even yourself) fall asleep at the wheel. Of a tractor, truck, or other piece of equipment. You are not alone. Nearly 60% of people have admitting to driving drowsy and nearly 37% of people have admitted to actually falling asleep at the wheel! That is a pretty sobering statistic... And as the wife to a man who farms 20 miles away, him falling asleep at the wheel of his pickup to come home is something that crosses my mind almost weekly.
Watch Out For Potential Hazards
What about throwing caution to the wind when doing on the farm activities? Entering into grain bins or leaving a tractor running to check a malfunction "just this once". Or maybe because it's how you've always done it and nobody has ever gotten hurt. Not respecting machinery of any sort leads to accidents and injuries.
Be aware of these potential situations. And if that thought crosses your mind "this may be dangerous" then it may be best not to do it. Sometimes it takes planning and preparing to minimize hazards, but it is better than losing your life over it. Here are some general hazards to watch out for from the National Ag Safety Database:
Take Time to Train & Teach
My dad jokes about when he learned to butcher, his dad basically handed him a truck, knives, and a steel and said no go out and butcher. I have a feeling many farm kids will tell you that is how they learned to drive a tractor. Dad simply gave them a crash course in how it works and off they went.
Of course, we value our children working alongside us and as kids we are elated when we get to help Dad or Mom out on the farm. The thought of danger doesn't even cross our minds. As this Southwest Farm Press article so eloquently says, "Farm families, like most of us, want to protect their children without sheltering them too much. My dad would never have knowingly put me in danger. It was a simpler time and we didn't consider the danger." Here's a startling statistic for you. Farm machinery, including tractors, accounts for 36 percent of (farm-related) deaths in youth. Thirty percent of farm machinery-related deaths occur in children less than 5 years old. It just breaks my heart.
So what can we do? Take some time to teach your children (and your employees for that matter) about those hazards and dangers. Guide them in the correct steps to safety and teach them to respect the machinery. Before allowing them to use a piece of equipment, the person should have complete training in the item to be used, and be made aware of hazards that may occur with its misuse. Besides actual training programs, manuals are a good thing to let them read.
Attitude & Being Aware
I would argue that one of the most important aspects of farm safety is the attitude of the operator. If the operator is constantly on the lookout for accident situations, if he doesn't take chances, and if he doesn't accept accidents as being a part of farming, he will probably not be involved in an accident. On the other hand, if he believes that he can cut corners, always doing things half assed, or that he won't ever get hurt... accidents will happen. Accidents happen to all of us, even those of us who are careful!
I would say that the majority of farmers are pretty safety cautious because they know that if they are hurt, there is no one else there to get the work done. But it is easy in a movement of stress to rush to get things done and safety goes out the window. Always being aware of the dangers and keeping your mind on the job you are doing at that moment versus what else you need to get done can prevent many accidents.
It is my hope that through simple prevention, we can eliminate stories like I heard this week from a friend of their neighbor getting caught in a baler trying to fix a netting malfunction. It took his life and consequently his wife and 11 year old daughter found him. Accidents happen, but let's try and prevent more from happening with prevention. Attitude and being aware is a key component, as the quote above states, 90% of all agricultural accidents can be prevented. It's simply up to you!
What is an agronomist? What do they do? And where does the future of agronomy lie?Read more...
I am not sure if we are blessed or cursed on our farm here in North Dakota in that we plan a variety of crops. I think it intrigues people and even some farmers on the diversity we plant up here. North Dakota has a history of diverse crops; in fact, someone like my husband’s grandfather didn’t originally plant many of the crops we plant now. Crops of the past such as wheat, barley, oats, sunflowers, and flax have been slowly phased out for crops like corn and soybeans. But on our farm, we still continue some of the tried and true crops in our area. The reasons behind this are numerous and with this post, I hope to shed some light on those reasons.
On our farm we grow four different crops. And we grow these crops, honestly, because we have the opportunity to do so. Planting a variety of crops for our operation lowers our risk. What I mean by that is that in our area we can have a great short season and a bad long season or vice versa. In turn, we utilize a variety of short season AND long season crops. Our climate and seasons simply aren’t set up for a full season crop such as corn all the time.
Out of the four crops we plant, two are broadleaf and two are grasses. We cycle them through in rotations from grass to broadleaf and repeat. A rotation like this also allows us to change modes of herbicide action so that we aren’t putting the same herbicides on the field time and time again.
The Four Crops We Plant
We plant sunflowers on our farm because it is a good warm season broadleaf that utilizes the leftover nitrogen in the soil from the previous corn crop. The flowers are planted in between the previous year’s corn rows. We are fortunate in our area to be able to plant sunflowers as many places around us are too wet or have a problem with blackbirds. Sunflowers are also the crop we’ve become known to produce, as my husband is well known as Sunflowerfarmer across social media.
Wheat is an original crop grown to this area and we choose to put it in our rotation because it is a great short season grass. We seed wheat into sunflower residue because as a short season crop, it does well after a full season crop like sunflowers. Sunflowers also tend to leave behind limited water so if you were to plant another full season crop like corn, it could run out of water later in the year. With a short season crop like wheat, we typically don’t have this problem.
Soybeans are a great stable crop for our area. Soybeans allow us to maintain good weed control as well as are a pretty tolerant crop. We need a crop that can be seeded into wheat residue that has the potential to be wet and soybeans allow us to seed in a wide range of planting dates.
Corn, for the most part, is an opportunity crop in our area. If you can get quality yield and good prices, corn does very well for us. But you can only sustain so many acres in corn because it’s a hedge on risk. We plant our corn early, as corn is a full season crop, and on soybean ground because the soybeans leave us with low residue in the field.
I want to be sure I state that this is simply what works for our farm. It is by no means a rigid set of rules or guidelines for others in our area to farm. In fact, all farms differ. From year to year, for some farms, the crops may vary or crops may stay the same. Not all farms have the opportunity to do a rotation like this, some areas are simply not set up for certain crops. As you can tell from this post, crop choice and rotation hinges on many different factors. This year we are even going back to a crop of the past and planting some fields into flax.
Ultimately, it is the responsibility of each farm to decide for themselves what is the most beneficial and profitable for their farm all while keeping all those various factors like soil, nutrients, water, residue, etc. in mind when picking crops to plant. Choosing crops and seed varieties are not a choice that any farmer takes lightly. It takes time, research, and even counsel sometimes to find what is best for your farm. And for some it takes trail and error before they figure out what works and what doesn’t. It is much like anything in life, finding a good balance is key.
One of my favorite Sunday afternoon activities to do is to stop by Grandpa & Grandma's house... My husband and I stop, Grandpa usually offers us a beverage, grandma brings out food or candy, and we just sit there and talk. We listen to the stories that living 80+ years brings.
I love listening to Grandpa's stories.. The stories of the farm, the many auction's he's attended, the stories of cattle and crops, and winters. Grandpa really is a one of a kind. I've never known a man who could make me laugh so much in one sitting. Or a man who is so full of one-liner's like when he shakes your hand and says "this is where two good hands meet".
As I sit there and listen to him talk about the past and catch up on what's new in our lives. I think to myself... You wonder what he thinks...
What he thinks about how much the farm has grown since he's retired
What he thinks about how the equipment has changed, grown, and advanced
What he thinks about how the methods have changed, the landscape has changed
What he thinks about seeing the new generation of his family farm the same ground he did for all those years
Last time he was out at the farm, he told me a story about his planter. He can remember back to when he planted with a 2 row planter. Now he marvels at the new planter in the yard. He says "I almost couldn't believe when my son brought home an 8 row planter and now look at this."
I cannot even imagine what it will be like to take in all of that once I have turned some 80 years young. To see the changes that occur in my lifetime. Right now 20-something feels like a long time, but my life is just a drop in the bucket. I look at Grandpa and I can only hope to age like he has. To still have as much spark, be as full of life, and witty as he is.
But for right now, I feel so fortunate to be able to listen to his stories on those Sunday afternoons. And maybe one of these days I will have to ask him what he thinks...