Free to Eat in the USA!

With this year’s crop finally in the ground and long summer days upon us, one of my favorite holidays, Independence Day, is quickly approaching.  The 4th of July gets me thinking about all things American – apple pie, family gatherings, the Stars and Stripes, ice cold Coca-Cola, and fireworks.  (What summer holiday would be complete without copious amounts of colorful explosives?!?)


Independence Day also gives me the opportunity to reflect on why I am thankful to be both a citizen AND farmer in this great country.  While it can be easy to get engulfed in pessimistic views, the United States is full of opportunities and freedoms that many parts of the world do not get to enjoy.  American agriculture is often portrayed in a negative light, but many people fail to notice that it plays a noteworthy role in those very privileges.  Since the “average” American consumer has little to no connection to those of us who produce our nation’s bounty, it becomes more important for each of us to be willing to tell our story.

American citizens, as consumers, have come to expect high levels of choice and availability of products.  Because of those expectations, agriculture is one of this country’s largest industries.  According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, more than 21 million American workers produce, process and sell the nation’s food and fiber.  They also state that today’s farmers produce 262% more food with 2% fewer inputs (labor, seeds, feed, fertilizer, etc.), compared with 1950.  Farmers work very hard to produce high-quality, marketable products, which allows us to have one of the safest and most abundant food supplies in the world.  This allows households to have more disposable income as only 6.8% is spent on food.  This can be compared to approximately 15% in Europe and as high as 45% in Pakistan.

American agriculture is also very diverse.  Farmers across the country raise everything from fruits, vegetable, meat, and milk for food, to cotton for clothing, corn for ethanol, and even eggs for incubation of vaccines. There are more products and by-products directly from agriculture than one can truly fathom.  This product diversity allows consumers to freely choose what kind of lifestyle they want to follow, whether it is carnivorous, gluten-free, vegetarian, pescetarian, or even the extreme vegan. Thanks to American Farmers, products for all of these lifestyles are affordable AND attainable.

Though it is often overlooked, farmers are also excellent stewards of the land.  They habitually employ practices that concentrate on conservation and preservation of natural resources.  Many methods are utilized while keeping soil, air, and water quality in mind.  The environment is how farmers make their living, so, of course, they do what is necessary to care for it.

On the 4th of July I’ll be attending a picnic with my family, eating an all-beef hotdog served up on a soft bun made from regular white wheat flour.  You may be having a vegan soydog on an organic, gluten-free hotdog bun.  Either way, appreciate your options and thank a farmer!

Image Credit: JDmoar

There’s Always Room for Innovation

A couple of weeks ago, I was able to attend the National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville, KY. This particular expo is DakotaFest – indoors and on steroids. It covers 27 acres under roof and hosts everything from livestock equipment to the latest innovations in farm equipment. A common theme throughout the booths this year was precision application equipment. As we farmers try to cut costs without adversely affecting our bottom line, I am encouraged that there are so many innovative ways to improve our nutrient efficiencies. More effective use of our fixed inputs allows us to lower the overall cost of production per unit vs. 9385458134_9bdf17cbb1_ojust cutting costs in general.

Many exhibitors showcased tillage tools that increase residue breakdown while simultaneously reducing erosion. A huge concern of farmers across the United States is how to better hold the soil where we need it – in our fields. As we flew over the central Corn Belt, it was evident that wind erosion is occurring across a wide span of the country. I do understand that if no fall tillage was done in many areas of the Corn Belt, there would be no crop planted the next spring. It is painful to see soil erosion still occurring even though the dirty 30’s are long behind us and conservation tillage practices are commonplace. I have used “no-till” as a conservation practice for many years, but, in recent years, have adopted strip-tilling as a nutrient placement practice, therefore I do more ground work than a true no-till operation would.

Countless exhibits focused on precision application of seeds, chemicals, and fertilizer. Innovative products were displayed throughout the show. Case IH’s new high speed planter, which is a whole new planter built around Precision Planting parts, beefed up all of the components that might see added stress if there were to be a high speed interaction with a rock. John Deere added an upgrade to their older style planters to allow them to use Deere’s Exact-Emerge technology. Precision Planting has always been about upgrading your current planter, which is typically more economical than trading for new. If farmers aren’t buying new planters, they can still upgrade to the latest technology available through various attachments and products. In short, there are cost effective solutions out there for all planting issues.

Continuing to invest in technology and adopt new practices will enhance your bottom line.   At the same time crop insurance can provide a measure of protection. While we are in the Multi-Peril Crop Insurance sign-up period with a March 15th deadline, cover as many costs as you can. We are in agriculture for the long haul, so be sure to make your crop insurance decisions based on your long term goals – even when the short term outlook seems to be a little scary. My experience tells me that when we least expect it, an opportunity can come along that will change the dynamics of the entire year, so have faith and stick to your plan.

Image Credit: Daniel X. O’Neil

Climate Change: Are We to Blame?


Frequently on the nightly news, the major networks run fear-mongering stories on the rising polar temperatures, El Niño, and greenhouse gasses. While we should be alert, climate change should not be considered a bad thing in all contexts. If South Dakota had not experienced significant warming over the last 10,000 years we would still be covered by what geologists estimate to be more than 1500 feet of ice – that is over ¼ mile thick! That’s a lot of frozen water and I’m glad that I wasn’t trying to no till corn under those conditions! I’m not sure I would want to dodge those pesky dinosaurs either…

So what is the immediate risk of climate change to farmers in our area? First and foremost, we need to acknowledge that our environment is ever changing and that even though we influence it to some degree, we do not drive the forces that are changing. According to Mark Seely, MN Extension Climatologist, the Midwest will move away from times of frequent, smaller amounts of widespread rainfall to times of fast, larger rainfall amounts less frequently. This means we are less likely to see light rainfalls that fall all day or over several days’ time, and more likely to experience events of heavy rainfall that lasts for a very short amount of time, with more time in between rain events. Annual rainfall in Beadle County has actually increased about 2” since 1960.

I can recall the winter of 1968 when I felt I lived in “Snowmageddon.” Our area got many lengthy snowstorms throughout the winter. We had to move it every single day before we could even start our daily chores. Maybe my memories of that winter, and several others similar to it, make me think that any move toward global warming is good!

Farmers, by nature and necessity, are good stewards of the soil, but we can always make improvements. The no-till practice has made central SD a grain producing powerhouse. We have learned to plant and produce in conditions that just 20 years ago would have been considered absurd. Who would have thought that we could grow a bushel of corn on 33% less Nitrogen than just 30 years ago thanks to better seed genetics and biotechnology? Are we at the top yet? NO WAY! We are just beginning to unlock the secrets of exactly when our crops need nutrients and how much at each stage. Our next challenge is to figure out ways to get those nutrients applied on time, but not too early so that they are lost to the environment.

If dramatic swings in weather is a forecast of the future, then crop insurance will play an even larger role in a farmers risk management portfolio. Crop Insurance is important to both farmers AND consumers alike, ensuring the safest and most reliable food supply in the world. Looking ahead to the next 35 years (2050) it will be important that consumers are educated as to why we farmers do what we do. How and when you apply nutrients should be an economic and environmental win/win for all sides in our symbiosis. A secure and safe food supply will be even more of a challenge as we move to support a 9 billion person world population. What works today may not be the best management practice of 10, 20, or even 30 years down the road. As our world changes so must our farming practices to keep ahead of demand.

I have the utmost confidence in the American farmer to adapt and meet those changing goals.

Image Credit: L. Braughler