Illinois Farm Families Blog

Jul 31 2014

Our Farm Life

A lot going on at the farm and only a little time to do it. The last month has seen us in wheat harvest. Planting what we call "double crop" soybeans. Baling wheat stalks into straw. And moving the bales into the barn. So far, this is the coolest summer on record. In our area, we could certainly use more rain. But the cooler temperatures are what have saved the crop so far. On the home front, a skunk family is camped out in the "goat shed." No immediate solution to that housing issue but we'll find a solution - and hopefully come out smelling like roses. Enjoy a few pictures from the goings on at our farm!

Heather Hampton-Knodle
Fillmore, Illinois

Jul 11 2014

Lunch with Grandpa

We love it when our two granddaughters, ages 3 and 18 months, come to the farm! And they love to go to the sheds, climb into the tractors and trucks, beep the horns and "drive". But their most favorite activity is packing lunches to share with Grandpa in the field! Last week we were packing one of those lunches and the 3-year-old wanted to take along some M&Ms for Grandpa and her. Quickly thinking, I suggested that we mix some Cheerios cereal with candy for a special treat. Later, in the field, she began sharing the "special treat" with Grandpa... one M&M for her, one piece of cereal for Grandpa, and so on. Finally, Grandpa asked if he could have a piece of the candy. To which she replied, "Grandma said you like cereal for your special treat. I like chocolate for my special treat."

Donna Jeschke
Mazon, Illinois

Jul 08 2014

One of My Favorite Farm Memories

One of the most fun things Eldon and I have done through the years is have a Memorial Day picnic. Our family always attends our small town (Kaneville) Memorial Service in the morning. Then afterward, some of the neighbors would stand around, wondering what to do next. One year, about 40 years ago, I just said to everyone to go home and see what they might have in their refrigerators which they could share, bring it, and come over for an old-fashioned picnic. I pulled some pork burgers out of the freezer and had about 5-6 families for a fun afternoon. Well, as our family grew up, they started inviting their school friends to add to the party. Then they got married and had families of their own. They invited other families... and you can see where this is going. Our grandchildren now invite their friends. The original neighbors are still attending and this year the head count was hovering around 80. When the weather is warm, there are usually water balloon fights between the boys and the girls, between the kids and their parents and just about everyone gets into the action. There are turns on the tire swing and on the trampoline for everyone. And some always like to pitch a few horseshoes.

We continue to have the pork burgers, but have embellished them through the years. We now put some pulled pork on them, along with a couple strips of bacon and a slice of cheese.

It warms my heart to see all the kids have such a good time. Again, when the weather is warm enough, they will all go through the back field down to the creek and dare each other to go in deeper and deeper. We now know to send some old towels down to the creek with them!

Usually, we have a tour through the barns to see the baby pigs. This year we did not do that because of the risk of the PEDV going around the countryside.

Most families go home somewhere around 6-7:00 pm with very tired, dirty, and happy kids.

Sandy Gould
Eldon, Illinois

Jul 07 2014

Under 30, Over $1M in Debt

If you're not from a farm but have time to venture out for a summer drive along some of the interstates crisscrossing Illinois, Iowa and Indiana - take a look at what might be a record corn and soybean crop. We've had some hot humid days, but for the most part, cooler nights and spoon-fed rains spread out across May and June have setup this to be a massive crop. As I received an email blasted to us bloggers requesting July content, I'm contemplating the beauty in my fields as well as the beast in the crop markets. Apparently, the market knows we're going to have record crops because today (June 30th), the markets turned bearish and started beating down prices. Soybean prices for our current crop are down $0.70 per bushel (~6%) and corn prices are down $0.22 per bushel (~5%). That's one day, after a key USDA report. Given these stark contrasts, I figured 'd touch upon a suggested topic: financial risks and rewards in farming from an under-30 point of view.

In my Sunday School Class (I was "promoted" to Junior High!), I brought up the concept of praying for peace (Philippians 4:6-7). My example, since I know that big numbers and personal examples get through to my "tweener"-aged youth, was on how much money I lost as an opportunity cost while helping with our Vacation Bible School last week. I figured that the stresses of life distilled into a dollar figure would warrant a good example of how prayer in my life gives me peace. One of my other enterprises is crop scouting for area farmers. While I'm winding that part of the business down, trying to harmonize it with our family insurance agency and make more time for our new son, it still is a profit center and is still a source of some stress at busy times. Rough figures, attending Vacation Bible School "cost" me about $2,500 in lost revenues. The reality is that as my scouting has slowed by design, I didn't much "lose" anything (I did lose some dignity and sanity while getting hit with pool noodles, tackled inside inflatable bounce houses, and portraying the evil villain in morning skits; but who goes to VBS to be a diva anyway?) - but it did serve an example of how and when one should pray for peace. I sure needed reminded of what mattered most last week when I wasn't at the farm 50% of the working hours.

But for purposes of this blog, the first response from one of my older youth (I have 6th-8th in our Junior High setup) was: Are you rich? It didn't offend me, but it did jar me a bit that that was their first reaction instead of what I was trying to teach. I suppose one of my wife's favorite quotes - she's an Ag-Communicator by trade - s true: You're responsible for what you say as well as what they hear.

So, am I rich? It's funny that this all came up this past Sunday. Peace from prayer was not only a good topic for my class, but also for me. And it was also my birthday. While I'm not at the dreaded 30, being my first birthday as a father, I did have some surreal thoughts running through my head that day. Asking myself if I'm rich was another good question for reflection.

By balance sheet standards, yep, I'm rich. Not many 28-year-olds in the world over have over a million in assets though when I read Forbes, The Economist, or some other business literature, I sure feel like I'm the outsider there. While I'm not going to do formal research for this blog, suffice it to say that I know I'm probably better off than 99% of the under-30-year-olds in the entire world, financially.

But with great rewards come great risks, luck, skill, and (in my case) large doses of humility. Humble enough, I hope, to warrant not being part of the stereotypical 1%. Most of my assets are tied up in land and farm equipment. Let's take a look at each in brief from a young farmer's vantage:

Land is the best "real" investment as it doesn't truly depreciate or wear out, in general. But this makes it so attractive and, given that less than 1-2% of the nation's farmland transfers ownership in a given year, it's a relative scarcity - so it's overvalued. In fact, I read once that there was never a time, except for the last few years of the 80s and first few years of the 90s, when farmland cash-flowed by itself. This means that no purchase of land paid for by itself, rather, it was paid for by an already established land base. And this one exception in the 80s/90s was more than likely luck - who saw depressed land prices slowly rising as interest rates moderated and commodity prices skyrocketed in 1994/1995? Very few. But many, who were willing to take the risk, benefited. They were the opposite of the risk-takers in the 1980s. That farm financial crisis led to many, many farms going bankrupt. So what does this mean to an under 30 farmer? Think of your competition. The average farmer is 57, and survived the worst time in the last 50 years to farm in the 1980s and has an established land base to help pay-off land purchases. While my land assets look good on paper, they're still not without great risk. If the land I purchased tanks in value (unlikely, but certainly not impossible), I could easily be in the same situation as consumers with underwater mortgages. The problem is that if that happens, it likely means that corn and soybean prices have went into multi-year declines or interest rates have increased... or both. Since young farmers don't have the land base to dilute the price of newly purchased land, a downturn is particularly damning. If this sounds like the plight of other young entrepreneurs, it is. Farming might be different for all the unique challenges of Mother Nature, but a business it still is. I can relate with young entrepreneurs in this economy quite well. And the long-term liabilities of my balance sheet from land purchases show it.

Farm equipment is double-edged sword. Failure to invest in technology leads to a slow death of stagnation in any business. But equipment depreciates, needs to be maintained, and is constantly outdated by the latest upgrade. It costs more than what a price tag lists. I don't own all the farm equipment, rather I own units in our family limited liability company. We formed it to hold the equipment for accounting purposes. But each year the value of those units declines. It sure looks good on paper, but it is like dry-rot in your house. If you don't maintain your house and make occasional upgrades or full-blown renovations, you're hosed. Farm equipment is the same. The intermediate-term liabilities on my balance sheet show it.

And both of these assets are intermediate or long-term. What about the short-term? The risk there is in weather and price. Going back to my opening paragraph, think about today's price decline. $0.70 per bushel of soybeans is quite a bit, and $0.22 per bushel of corn isn't insignificant (my Grandpa's generation barely saw prices move more than $0.10 the entire marketing year!). If one hadn't sold any production ahead or done any futures and options hedging, a typical 1,000 acre farm (500 corn @ 180 bushels per acre and 500 soybeans @ 50 bushels per acre) would have lost $37,300 - that's ONE DAY. Now that's a bit over dramatic - farmers don't keep their heads in the sand, oblivious to price or weather risk. That's why we hedge. And the opposite could have happened too - what if the market went up that much? Sounds great. But the counter to that scenario selling ahead and missing the benefit of the price increase. In any case, today is a good point on risks we face. If you're under 30, then the average farmer at 57 has 27 more years of experience. Agriculture is evolving and youth has its advantages - but I take experience over college education when I'm on the fence (that's why, among other reasons, I still need my Dad).

Our family just bought a farm on June 20th. Over a million dollars. I'm rich right? Go to the courthouse - the bank, technically, owns it; they're just renting it to me on their terms for the next 20 years. And what if I'm buying at the high? For the record, I really think we are buying at the high for at least the next 5-10 years. Dumb investment, right? Not in my opinion. I'd rather be a fool to my peers and a genius to my heirs or charities. The real challenge of being under 30 and over one million in debt is in taking the long view. That's where the rewards accrue if you can manage all the current and intermediate risks. On my 28th birthday, upon reflection, I didn't really think I had accomplished much in my life. But then I remembered, my Grandpa didn't make his first big land purchase until he was 40. I guess I'm at least 12 years ahead of the best man I ever knew - financially anyway.

Back to the main point on rewards versus risks: am I rich? If I am, it's muted by the risks I bear along with others my age in farming. If I am, it's if one turns a blind eye to the liabilities column of my balance sheet. If I am, I'm not taking enough vacation time to enjoy the spoils of my riches. In light of all this, I still don't consider myself a success yet. At least, not financially. I have a wonderful wife, an amazing 7-month old son, wonderful and supportive parents/business partners, a great sister and brother-in-law, and many supportive friends. My faith, my work give me purpose. I really am rich. But it's only because I remind myself of what I really have not listed on a balance sheet. The greatest risk I bear is in forgetting that. Under 30 and over a million in debt isn't so bad; my riches aren't in an account.

Andrew Bowman
Oneida, Illinois

Andrew is a fifth generation Illinois farmer. He and his wife Karlie have one son, Ryker, and farm with Andrew’s parents, Lynn and Sally Bowman, in addition to serving farmers through insurance and consulting enterprises.

Jul 03 2014

Getting the Buzz About Agriculture

Despite living my entire life in a county comprised of nearly 90 percent farmland and driving past miles of crop fields each day on my drive to work, I know very little about what is growing on the land around me.

As a full-time nurse and mother to three young children, I've heard a lot of buzz about GMOs (genetically modified organisms), farming pesticides and organic versus non-organic foods. In terms of what’s best for my family, I didn't want to rely on the opinions of others.

On May 16, I had the privilege of visiting Dan and Pam Kelley’s farm as part of the Field Mom program through Illinois Farm Families. The program takes moms like me who are interested in learning more about where their food comes from and gives them a firsthand look at the farming process from spring planting to fall harvest.

On this tour, Mr. Kelley spent three hours talking about their 3,500-acre corn and soybean farm. He enlisted the help of various specialists, including a seed expert to discuss the process of bringing GMO seed to market, an agronomist to talk about the importance of quality soil and a farm equipment representative to talk about technology used in farming practices today.

I was looking to the experience for reassurance that the food I was providing to my family was safe and of good quality. The thing that surprised me the most was the extensive process it takes to bring GMO seed to market from start to finish. We learned from GROWMARK Seed Corn Product Manager Matt Free that all new GMO seed varieties require regulatory approval through the Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and USDA -- an up to 13-year process! This means there is more regulation in place for GMO crops than organic crops. GMO crops allow farmers the efficiency of providing larger quantities of affordable, sustainable food to meet the demand of our growing global population.

I also learned that farmers have nothing to hide. They are parents and consumers just like us. Seeing their farming practices firsthand gave me the reassurance I needed in order to be confident that the crops being produced on our local farmland is not only safe for my family, but protective of the environment we are leaving for future generations. I’m grateful to be a part of the Field Mom program and look forward to the next farm tour where we learn about livestock and fall harvest.

Devon Flamming

Devon Flammang is a Field Mom from central Illinois who, like Chicago moms, is visiting farms to see firsthand how food is raised.

Jun 16 2014

Mother Nature & Technology

It’s now the first week of June and things are looking up. Our crops were planted timely and are up and enjoying warm (but not too hot) temperatures with plenty of sunlight and (so far) regular rains. We couldn’t script it better (unless we were in a greenhouse or had irrigation everywhere). In thinking of a blog topic, I thought new technology on the farm might be a different flavor to try. In the midst of this great weather, it’s probably appropriate to talk about a new way farmers are dealing with Mother Nature.

While farmers are not unique in working under conditions of uncertainty, I’d be hard pressed to think of other professions that have as much uncertainty. That’s why the constant drive in technology has been so important from transforming America from an agrarian society into the global economic powerhouse it is today—we focus on improving agriculture technology because it’s what we CAN control. And what we can’t control, we can manage through technology. So what can technology manage? We may not be able to control everything about a kernel of corn from start to finish, but I can plant it at exactly 2.5” and exactly 5.64” apart from each of its neighboring plants. We may not be able to kill every single weed in a field (we get pretty close), but we can use the equivalent of less than 3 soda cans of an herbicide over a football field of area to control what’s out there and protect our crop. 

Weather is a synonym for uncertainty. We can’t control it, but we can manage it—sort of. Climate Pro is a new “hyper-local” weather data service on steroids; it’s a service put together by Climate Corporation which is now owned by Monsanto. (Full disclosure, I sell and service this product to other farmers—so I am a little bias). We know how much rain a field received, compared to another field a few miles away. I can look up what the weather did in 1988 or 2012 in a field (the last two major droughts).  But that’s just data itself.  It doesn’t take into account the “so what” factor of data—pretty graphs don’t give me much value on the farm. 

Essentially, Climate Pro takes data and turns it into actionable recommendations. Weather affects everything about growing a crop. Planting, Pests & Diseases, Nitrogen Management, Field Health, Harvest, and Revenue—these are the six different advisors that all take the real-time data for each field and models them. The models come from university and company research. One example right now is the Nitrogen Advisor—I know that I need to put down 100 pounds of nitrogen on my crop. Just last year, that was an educated guess—it’s still not perfect (nothing dependent on Mother Nature is), but it’s much more certain than before. It’s not only saving us money, but it’s helping us keep excess nitrogen out of the environment. Win-win!

So, since I don’t want this post to be a self-serving “cheap plug” for me, let me summarize. Take a look at this website  Climate Pro is one new example of how technology is helping farmers manage what they can’t control. Climate Pro won’t solve the problems of the weather on the farm (it takes faith to work when so much of your work isn’t based on what you control—another topic for another blog). But it does give us a new tool to manage what we CAN do given the weather. Mother Nature always wins—but farmers using new technology need not lose either.

Andrew Bowman
Oneida, Illinois

Andrew is a fifth generation Illinois farmer. He and his wife Karlie have one son, Ryker, and farm with Andrew’s parents, Lynn and Sally Bowman, in addition to serving farmers through insurance and consulting enterprises.

Jun 07 2014

Using Innovation to be Good Stewards of the Land

When the Field Moms visited the Jeschke Family Farm to learn about corn and soy, I was surprised by all of the information that we learned.  There was quite a lot to take in. We moms visited 8 different stations set up around the farm to learn about farming operations, and corn/soy products. One of my questions / concerns for this visit was GMOs: genetically modified organisms. I had heard mainly negative things about these products, so I was interested in seeing the farmers’ point of view.

I really enjoyed learning about the technology that is involved in modern farming. Who knew that a tractor and planter cost more than my house? (way more…) Or that they can run on autopilot to follow a pre-set course that makes the most use of soil and land available? Or that fertilizers and pesticides are used sparingly and variably on fields according to soil samples? Not I!   

There is much more to 21st century farming than haphazardly planting seeds, and following that with chemical usage. Farmers use soil samples, GPS, and photos / video of their crops taken by small flying cameras to make informed decisions about their planting seeds and tending crops. Farmers study the soil to determine which fertilizers to apply, and how much. You can have a sub-plot on the field that needs nothing, next to one that lacks nitrogen or potash. With these samples, farms apply fewer fertilizers to the ground.

Pesticides (both herbicides and insecticides) are also applied in smaller quantities than in the past. Farmers use technology to see where the needs are – back to those flying cameras, coupled with walks through the fields to inspect. Once that is determined, they can use modern equipment to apply only in areas in need, and close to the soil to avoid airborne spreading.  

Farmers also use technology to decide when to apply fertilizers and pesticides. Obviously they want to avoid doing it right before a rain, but they also want to avoid wind to prevent any unnecessary spreading of these chemicals. High-tech farm equipment and meteorology tools allow farmers to make these decisions.

Now, how do GMOs play into this? Well, the development of new strains of seeds has allowed farmers to use fewer fertilizers and especially pesticides. Also, crops can be more resistant to extreme weather, which allows for a more successful harvest. How does this work? Scientists can take the strengths of some varieties of plants (corn, for example) and pass those qualities on to a new seed type. This can produce a crop that is better able to fight off grubs, or requires less water, or is successful in poorer soils. The biggest benefit here is lowered use of pesticides. If the seed and plant can fend off a certain disease on its own, there is no need to spray to fight that scourge off. Sounds pretty good….right?

So after the tour I looked online to compare what I knew from before about GMOs with what I had seen and heard on the farm. Do you know how sometimes an internet search is a bad idea? This seemed like one of those times. So much, frankly, scary information out there! But I am thinking of what the Jeschke’s said: that farmers have always moved ahead with technology, just like other careers. I am a teacher – how many slides rules have I seen in the building? Exactly 1 – it belongs to the calculus teacher and she shows students how to use it so they stop complaining. Do I keep all paper records and have to add up grades and percents? Years ago I did, but now report cards are all computerized. At home, I have a washer and dryer; no fear of crushing my hand in the hand-cranked rollers of what is now an antique. So it stands to reason that farmers are moving ahead. Illinois farmers do not use horses or oxen to plow, or pull wagons of seeds to plant. They have high-tech tractors and planters that follow GPS directions for straight and even rows. If there are seeds that tolerate drought, or resist disease, it stands to reason that farmers will choose to use those as they create a healthier growing environment.  

People cross breed dogs and cats to be hypoallergenic and shed less. Granted I don’t plan to eat a ‘schnoodle,’ but should it be called a “Frankendog” as many GMO foods are labeled? I read an article about GMOs in Hawaii, and there was discussion of banning the use of GMO seeds. However, the act would “grandfather” in the so-called “Rainbow papaya” that resisted a type of fungus. So a plant that had already been modified was acceptable, but new changes are not? I can relate to Mr. Ilagen in the article as he struggled to find the truth about these methods.

I believe that I understand more about GMOs now. Before the visit, I was not sure why farmers would want to grow something that was modified – why not leave well enough alone? But it turns out that well enough may not have been so after all. I paraphrase Mr. Jeschke when he said that there will always be a farmer willing to produce “organic” as there will always be consumers ready to pay the increased price to do so. (even though “organic” does not always  mean 100% pesticide free, but that is another topic).  He also spoke of our obligations as comfortable and fortunate first world citizens. While most of us may worry over what to fix for dinner, we are lucky not to have to worry if there will be dinner to fix. Increases in crop production allow us to feed more people, especially the vulnerable who need our attention the most.

Thank you so much to the Jeschke family! They are using innovation to be good stewards of their land, and to look at how their actions can benefit others in our world. I thank you for sharing your field with us by providing the “Field Moms’ Acre.” I can’t wait to see how our crops of corn and soy fare this year as we continue to learn about farming throughout the growing and harvesting seasons.

Samantha Godden-Chmielowicz
Chicago, Illinois

Samantha is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2014 Field Moms. Throughout the year she visits Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each visit, the Field Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers

Jun 03 2014

Field Moms Talk One-on-One to Farmers

This past weekend, the 2014 Field Moms met in Mazon, Illinois, at the Jeschke Farm, about 70 miles southwest of Chicago, to learn about their corn and soybean farm. We were met there by enough Illinois farmers to field a baseball team. One of the great things, and there are many, about this program is that Illinois Farm Families makes an effort to show us, not just tell us, what farming in Illinois looks like. While time permits us to go to just one farm each Saturday, on that day we meet many more Illinois farmers just like the ones who own the farm we visit. We talk to them, in small groups, and we ask a lot of questions about the stories you see and hear in the news (or on your front porch). We aren’t just taking the word of one person or one farm. We are seeing that the group, Illinois Farm Families, which was formed with the intent to educate Chicago-area consumers via moms, is made up of farmers that represent the family farms that make up 94% of farms in Illinois. To date, we've toured two farms and a grocery store (where we talked about food labeling), and so far, in total, we've talked with more than 20 different farmers!

While the farmers we meet are independent of each other, they are often connected in some way. Many of the younger ones we met last week (in their 30’s to 40’s) grew up showing animals together at 4H events or county fairs. We learned that many of them knew each other at college (U of I). If they didn’t know each other growing up or through their education, they come to know each other through the Illinois agricultural community, which seems big when looking at the land area and quantity of food produced, but in the scheme of things is a relatively small group of people. 

And that small group of people, especially the younger generation that I mentioned, is college educated. Most have a bachelor’s degree and several that we've met have a master’s degree in a specialized field, such as dairy cattle or swine. Many, in fact, left their family farms to “see the world” and later returned to farm. When you talk one-on-one with someone, you have the opportunity to have a meaningful dialog. These folks know organic chemistry. They know animal science. They know technology. They know botany. They are active in their communities. Every single one of them we have met is passionate about what they do. They are also modest and humble and don’t claim to know everything and look forward to improvements in all of the above and more.

Perhaps our consumer perception of the American farmer is off the mark. I can’t speak for everyone, but when an Illinois consumer action group comes knocking on my door, as it did last night, and paints a picture of farmers as a group who are irresponsibly handling animal antibiotics, if I didn't know better because of what I've learned on our hog farm tour, what am I to think? Do farmers completely understand the consequences of their actions, like spraying pesticides or giving their animals antibiotics, for example? The farmers we have met are mostly from two generations, the new generation of farmers (in their mid 30’s and 40’s) and their parents’ generation. Whether they have a college degree or not, they really do know what they are doing, they are constantly improving, and more to the point, they can talk about it. 

As I gave the gentleman at my door last night some of the facts I've learned first-hand as a field mom, it knocked him off of his rehearsed spiel and the depth of his pitch became transparent. He politely left my porch after telling me I’m misinformed and handed me his pamphlet so that I could read more about it. He probably won’t go to Illinois Farm Families website to validate what I was talking about, but then again, maybe he will.

The longer we sit and talk with a farmer on our tours, the more detailed information we receive. It’s not rehearsed or scripted or designed to move us emotionally or persuade us. I would challenge anybody to think about talking to a group of consumers about what you do in your profession and what that entails. The farmers we are talking to have a lot of knowledge about a lot of different things, they are in tune with our world, and they’re sharing what they do, and why, with us field moms hoping that we’ll, in turn, share it with others. I hope I do them justice.

More on that baseball team of farmers we met at the Jeschke Farm in my next post.

Heather Guido
Oak Park, Illinois

Heather is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2014 Field Moms. Throughout the year she visits Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each visit, the Field Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers. Read more from Heather on her blog, Field Mom Journal.

May 02 2014

Spring Brings New Life and Renewed Optimism

We’ve had five days over the past few weeks—two of them this past weekend—where we could finally bring Ryker, our four-month-old son, outside to see the world.  It’s crazy to think that, being born in November, he really hasn’t experienced good weather yet! So, spring is also FINALLY coming. And with it, as also felt by anxious children looking out classroom windows and backyard-grilling aficionados, the anticipation of warm weather and greener landscapes. 

For me on the farm, it’s the sense of new life and renewed optimism that makes spring so special. Technically, the corn and soybean seed we plant has no greater yield potential than when it’s in the bag sitting in our shop--Mother Nature keeps us humble and thus prevents “100% efficiency.” This week, I’ve moved our planter out of storage and into the shop. Most neighbors have long since done this, but we put our planter away ready to go last summer—it only needs hooked up, dusted off, and calibrated. We’ve been receiving our seed too—this year our corn products will come from Dekalb (Monsanto), Wyffels (Private Family), Pioneer (DuPont), Funk (Syngenta) and Beck’s (Private Family). That’s a bit too many, admittedly, but we are trying small lots of the last three to build relationships and see how their products perform. And for soybean, we will plant seed soybean, likely a Channel brand (Monsanto)--we know everything about these seed soybeans, except what commercial name and brand it’s sold under. Finally, we will grow eMerge seed (Private Family) for our non-GMO food grade lot. 

While the theoretical yields of these seeds drops as Mother Nature asserts her dominance over our carefully concocted winter plans, the optimism that comes with this anticipation is one of the key drivers as we prepare for spring. It reminds us why—to quote Eisenhower, “Plans are worthless, but planning is indispensable.” We have a mix that would be analogous to the portfolio theory financial advisors profess: some hybrids are stronger in yield, but weaker in drought tolerance. Some are taller, some shorter, some have a longer flowering and grain fill time period, others are quicker and mature faster. Some are disease prone but yield more—a so-called “racehorse”—while others are steady and less volatile but yield less—a so-called “workhorse.” Some have genetically engineered traits, some don’t. 

When we make our plans, we believe in a mix to have resiliency on our farm, both agronomically and financially. These are the thoughts that enter a farmers’ mind as he receives his seed and gets ready for a crazy two-week to two-month planting window (Mother Nature, again, determines how long this planting window is!). I enjoy looking at the bags in our shed and envisioning a good season and plentiful harvest ahead.

We hope to begin basic fieldwork this week if the soils warm and dry a tad. We practice no-tillage on our farm—meaning that, other than injecting fertilizer and planting, the soil is left undisturbed. It’s cheaper to employ on our farm and better for the environment. But there are places where the rain washes even no-tilled soils into small “rills” (think about a very, very small gully—or what could grow into a gully or ditch). So, we take a soil finisher (other farmers may use a disk or field cultivator) to level those small rills out. Many farmers chose to till their fields completely—some soils need that type of mixing action to bring oxygen into the profile and dry things out for planting. We’re fortunate that it’s not necessary on our farm.

This will be a special spring for us. As I envision what this season might hold, I now need to rig up a car seat into the buddy seat of our tractor.  This will be the first year I farm as a father.  The symbolism of planting seeds to bring a new season of life while holding new life in my arms at night has not been overlooked. I’m preparing to do what my previous four ancestors did. And as I look to the future—as they did this time of year—I can include visions of Ryker helping me in the future. Spring is in the air; so is optimism on our family farm. Enjoy the season!

Andrew, Karlie and Ryker Bowman
Oneida, Illinois

Andrew is a fifth generation Illinois farmer. He and his wife Karlie have one son, Ryker, and farm with Andrew’s parents, Lynn and Sally Bowman, in addition to serving farmers through insurance and consulting enterprises.

Apr 18 2014

It’s Time to Plant Corn Week

Well, the week that the calendar indicates it is time to plant corn just wrapped up. The challenge is that the weather man didn't cooperate very well. We would like to see the soil temperature above 50 degrees and staying at that level or above before planting corn. It appears the part about staying there is the rub this year because we are looking at much colder temperatures for this coming week. I am not surprised, because typically there is little corn planted in West Central Illinois before Easter, which of course is still a few days away. What did I decide to do? I did plant one farm because the corn seed went into the soil as well as I have ever experienced on this particular farm, which is typically wetter than ideal during optimal corn planting dates which I consider to be April 10 to May 1 for our area. Now for the waiting game to see if I did the right thing. If I don’t get an adequate stand (plant population) then I will know in 30 days or less that I made a mistake, otherwise it may be harvest before I get indicators as to whether I made the correct decision.

Regardless of how that field turns out, I now know that when I put everything back in the shed it was operating properly. Of course, there is no guarantee that will be the case when I go to use them again because little gremlins seem to proliferate on my farm to provide little challenges to make life more interesting. I am relieved to get the first field under my belt so I can look forward to the corn planting rush with confidence. 

Friday afternoon I was surprised to find out my oldest daughter and son-in-law were coming home to do some fishing, and to let their citified doggies run off some energy. Even though I was in the tractor going back and forth pulling the field cultivator Friday and Saturday, it was nice to have them around. After some successful fishing Saturday morning they helped Lisa, my wife, place some dirt around a foundation, and then picked up dead trees and sticks in the pasture while their puppy played with the calves. One of my biggest joys and blessings on our family farm is that we can mix work, play, and family time all into one activity involving each of us as well as the farm animals. 

Burdette Rosendale
Augusta, Illinois

Burdette and his wife, Lisa who works off the farm, produce corn, soybeans, custom grain operations, and a few left over 4H/FFA cows in Hancock County. Their two daughters, who are or plan to be involved in the agricultural industry, frequently return home to help on the farm. Burdette is also the author of “Hope from the Harvest Fields – One farmer’s journey through God’s Word” where he shares some ideas about daily living gleaned from years of experience as a farmer and an accelerated journey of personal and professional development. You can learn more here.

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