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Agriculture, skepticism, politics

2022 on the farm

| Posted on in farming, life

2022 was a good year. It wasn’t great, thanks to the crippling drought that began on July 1 and persists to this day, but natural disasters notwithstanding, it was a good year in which there was much to be thankful for.

Old planter box ready to explode
Old planter ready to explode

In the summer of 2021 it was all I could do to finish planting with my planter — the last couple hundred acres found me leveraging tire tubes and ratchet straps to hold the air pressure in the seed boxes, so while I was white-knuckle hoping it didn’t explode I ordered another planter.

The new planter is a 25-year-old 16-row, which was an upgrade from my 30-year-old 12-row. It took a lot of work and some help from Wayne and a hired bead-runner for some welds that were above my skill level, but we got it working in time to start planting beans in April. We also installed an electronic flow monitor for liquid fertilizer, allowing me to see any flow restrictions at the row level from a tablet in the cab. I kept planting soybeans until the wheat was ready to cut, including enough custom soybean acres for neighbors to pay for the planter this first year.

Wheat harvest was relatively uneventful, though we’re still running only one combine due to a supply chain backlog that has yet to produce a replacement rotor for the old machine. It was the first year using FarmTRX, a third-party yield monitor with GPS that produces really nice yield maps. While the wheat looked the best I ever remember seeing in March, yields turned out just average because it didn’t rain much in April. With Wayne’s help we knocked out around 600 acres of wheat in 8 days. We’d have done it in 6.5 if it weren’t for a broken rotor gearbox mount that took us an entire day to fix.

After harvest, it kept raining so I kept planting double-crop milo on nearly all the wheat acres we’d just cut as well as several hundred acres of milo and feed for neighbors.

As soon as I finished and put the planter away, the rain stopped. It didn’t rain much at all from the first week in July until harvest. My weather station on the roof at the farmhouse logged just over an inch total from August through October, and most of that came in little showers that barely wet the ground much less soaked in to be agronomically useful.

The artesian well by the house has only stopped twice in my memory. The first time it stopped was when I first started farming in the drought of 2013-2014 and the second time was on September 15 of this year. It’s still completely dry.

Fall harvest went well, though the yields were understandably disappointing. Not a single soybean field performed well enough to evade the insurance claim. Sadly, double-crop milo is not insurable in this part of the state, so the milo project was a fairly severe money loser this year. The FarmTRX worked well on the one combine for wheat harvest, so we put a second one on the other machine. Since the rotor doesn’t shake at the slow speeds of fall harvest, and since Wayne is becoming a very good combine operator, we were able to run two combines for pretty much all of the 1400+ acres of soybeans and milo. We were finished by the first week of November, since it didn’t rain to slow our progress, which is a far cry from the December 1 finish in 2021.

We did have a small scare during fall harvest as Wayne and I were cutting on the Hunter place. We started noticing smoke that looked disturbingly close to the home place. I ended up parking the combine and running home to double check and found a fire in the process of taking out some of our soybeans and the western half of the Cox pasture. It was started by a neighbor who was swathing pasture and quickly spread to our fields. The local fire department put it out as quickly and efficiently as they always do, but not before it took about 10 acres of beans and 30 acres of pasture.

Normally this time of year we have a couple hundred steers on wheat pasture in Oklahoma. However, because it’s been so extremely dry there really isn’t much in the way of wheat anywhere around that’s good enough to graze. We sold all our stockers in August as planned, but we have yet to restock. We’ll be looking at hopefully buying once we start to see pasture green-up. Hopefully by then I’ll have an opportunity to install the new (to me) hydraulic chute in the corrals that I purchased a year ago.

With a little free time at the end of the year thanks to an early completion to harvest, I went down the rabbit hole of building a Johnson-Su Bioreactor. In a nutshell, research from a molecular biologist from New Mexico State University has shown some soil health and nutrient absorption benefits from the introduction of fungus to cropland. The bioreactor I built will compost the wood chips, leaves and straw for a year and produce a fungally-dominant compost from which I’ll make an extract and apply it in addition to or in place of fertilizer. I’m not sure how much I believe everything that’s been said about it, but it’s at least worth a few small trials. If half of what they say is true, it might lead to a drastic reduction in the amount of synthetic fertilizer I apply to each crop.

Lastly, I got an unexpected call from NRCS in December. I was told that the county conservation board had elected me to be the 2022 winner of the Kansas Bankers Association Conservation Award. I was told it was for the work I’d done between 2015 and 2021 to convert the farm from conventional tillage monocropping to no-till practices with crop rotation and cover crops. I honestly don’t know much about the award, which will be presented at a banquet later this month, but I’m just hoping I get a certificate that I can hang on the wall alongside the one Grandpa won in 1989.

Review of the Wilger Electronic Flow Monitor system

| Posted on in farming, reviews

I recently purchased a new-to-me Case IH 955 planter. The liquid fertilizer set-up on it was completely trashed, with the exception of the tanks and the pump, so I needed flow dividers. I wasn’t happy with the round, silver Jon Blue divider that was on my 12-row, and whether I got two 12-outlet dividers or a single 20-outlet model, it looked like I would be well north of $1000 to handle my 16 rows. That still wouldn’t give me any way to monitor the overall flow rate much less indicate a restriction or break in any individual row line.

A little ducking found me looking at the Wilger EFM system. It monitors individual flow for each row digitally, and connects by Wi-Fi to an Android tablet, saving me from having to mount yet another single use display in favor of my “wallpaper all the surfaces with pixels” mantra.

The only place I could find to sell me one online without a phone call was Dultmer Sales in Nebraska, though before I was done with everything I had probably 30 minutes of phone time burnt up with them.

Assembly was straightforward and I had it running in no time at all. My only complaint lies in the roughness of the Android app itself. The layout is pretty awful by anything close to modern design standards. For some reason, it is set to always show three products and 24 rows. It would be much more useful and easier to use if it used all of the screen to show only what was configured. In other words, for me it should only show one product and 16 rows – the balls could move much higher and lower giving a greater degree of precision to the individual flow rates.

It also seems to have a relatively slow refresh rate. I’m not sure if that’s an issue with the app or with the sensors, but I wish it would update multiple times per second instead of once every second or every few seconds. Here’s a short video showing how it works on a turn demonstrating the slow refresh rate.

Is the system worth $3500? Probably, especially in a year like this when knowing how much fertilizer you’re applying makes a big difference at these fertilizer prices. Is the roughly $2000 difference worth it compared to what I was going to spend on only flow dividers anyway? Absolutely.

#plant22

| Posted on in farming, kids

Brian spent the day with me last Friday and was excited to help get soybean seed.

I’m loving the new planter. I did 350 acres in the last two days. I’m seeing the 16-row at somewhere around 35 or 40% faster than the 12-row.

I did have some delays due to a cracked frame and a wiring harness that was weirdly incorrect. After a visit from Craig and a few hours reconfiguring the wiring harness, I was up and running.

After knocking out 650 acres in the last week, I find myself on the final stretch of soybeans before switching to milo. I’m excited to be well ahead of schedule.

Another breath

| Posted on in Uncategorized

Last Friday we took the boys to Wichita. Knowing we’d have to hold down at least one needle-fearing child in order to get his immunizations, we couldn’t think of anyone better than our favorite shot-putter to get us the hookup.

Nolan, Callan and I got two shots each, one in each arm. They each got the fun-sized Pfizer in one and the flu in the other. I got my Moderna booster, after nearly 10 months since the original second shot that I got on inauguration day.

I know the science is clear. I know this is the day I’ve been waiting for forever — the day I can start to protect my children. Still, because I get my news from a wide variety of sources, I’m aware of what a small, wrong-but-loud contingent of the political right are saying about the vaccine and children. It gave me pause, even for a split second. Me, the guy who has been publicly railing against the anti-vaccine movement for well over 15 years now. Me, the guy who repeatedly cites the fact that vaccines are the biggest technological achievement in the history of humanity. Me, the guy who corrects people who claim this vaccine was rushed or quickly developed by reminding them that this mRNA platform has been in development for more than a decade. It still gave me pause, because they were my children.

It was just a momentary lapse of confidence before my brain started working again. But if the misinformation on the right can cause me to blink, what does it do to someone who isn’t paying attention to the facts?

For now, I’ll take a much needed breath and rest slightly easier knowing we’ve taken the first step in protecting our children. Here’s hoping they approve the under-five dosages sooner than later.

House for sale

| Posted on in Uncategorized

It’s been a few months since we finally moved to the farm. It’s been an enormous process, and I’m not sure what was more difficult — spending money and time making immediate improvements to the farmhouse or clearing out the old house in Medicine Lodge.

We finally listed the old house. I’m honestly going to miss it, and there are quite a few aspects where it is superior to the farmhouse. But we need to be on the farm and we can’t take the house with us.

The first week and Strawman Biden

| Posted on in politics

It’s been a week since we came up for air. Apprehension wears on a person, waking up every day and wondering what new embarrassment or horror was wrought upon our nation by the president the previous night. The Biden inauguration was a wonderful return to tradition and cathartic in its normalcy and dignity. But it also reminded us, by the waves of relief we felt washing over us, how intensely oppressed we had been feeling for the last four years of national disaster.

I’m easy, though. Tell me the new president is a decent human who isn’t a businessman and I’m pretty much sold. But President Biden has wracked up quite a first week, but it’s been low hanging fruit.

Biden campaigned on reversing most of the previous president’s executive orders on day one. Biden won the election handily, earning more votes for president than anyone in history, and that majority of Americans expects him to follow through.

He had a big day one that has stretched into week one. From ending the construction of walls and pipelines to stopping the intolerance of race-based travel bans and private prisons to ending arbitrary restrictions keeping a specific group of patriots from defending America, the president has been busy delivering on his promises to those of us who voted for him.

He’s restored the dignity of the White House press briefings by installing Jen Psaki as press secretary, someone competent at her job who is well spoken and respectful of both her office and of the fourth estate. He’s warned his staff that they will be fired on the spot for being disrespectful to others. He’s leveraging science-based approaches for ending COVID-19 and planning mitigations for climate change. He’s rejoining the international organizations and agreements that allow us to demonstrate the excellence that his critics both claim he denies and simultaneously want to keep to ourselves.

I have friends who are, unsurprisingly, bearish on the new administration. Whether they’re brainwashed by alternative-fact media, believers in conspiracy theories like the big lie that there was something wrong with the election, or, hopefully, are just old-school conservatives worried about big government and deficit spending, they wonder if those of us who voted for President Biden are happy with the first week.

I can’t speak for the majority of American voters who cast their votes for the president, but I can say with enthusiasm that I’m delighted with Biden’s first week. But I’m also cautiously skeptical about his future.

Strawman Biden, the caricature that the right makes him out to be in order to more easily attack him, is a godless communist. He’s a radical lefty who wants to end capitalism and America as we know it by banning fossil fuels, private insurance, religion, cows and guns. Strawman Biden wants to raise taxes for the working man and replace all stop signs with roundabouts.

The problem is that President Biden didn’t campaign like Strawman Biden and he sure isn’t governing like him. President Biden is a centrist, which is why he had such a hard time squeaking through the primary. He’s a Catholic who is probably the most religiously observant president we’ve had in a very long time. During the primary, President Biden actively campaigned against the policies of Strawman Biden, much to the chagrin of us liberals. President Biden is far too conservative for those of us who favor bold and immediate progress to a better future.

Time will tell if we’ll be able to push President Biden to be more progressive. He sure has the mandate to at least move us back to center after the debilitating rightward lurch we experienced during the last four years. He’s made a good start with the flurry of executive actions during his first week, but that’s the low-hanging fruit. We need more — much more. Here’s hoping we go past center towards a better future, and maybe even implement a few of Strawman Biden’s more reasonable positions — but definitely not the roundabouts.

Not quite yet

| Posted on in kids, life, science

“What do you want me to do?” she asked.

It was May 29 and Diane and I were debating two urgent issues. Would we let Nolan play baseball in the season that was about to start and would we attend my niece’s first communion that weekend?

I’ve been furious at Kansas for opening up like nothing happened. I’m mad at Governor Kelly for caving to pressure from the right to take her foot off the brake and mad at Barber County for not really doing anything more than a head fake at social distancing.

Every night on my way home, beginning before they were even technically allowed to, the parking lot to the local bar was full. I’ve seen Snapchat messages from friends throughout the quarantine partying without blatant disregard for distancing rules. I can count the number of masks I’ve seen worn in Barber County in the last four months on two hands — one if I exclude my family.

The data are showing that, while the first-affected coastal areas are trending downward, the middle of the country continues to see hotspots indicating the danger is far from over.

New COVID cases in Kansas continue to frequently number in the hundreds per day

We ended up making the decision to stay home and continue restricting contact for anything non-essential. Holding Nolan back from baseball was one of the hardest decisions I’ve made as a parent — knowing first hand how my own baseball skills fell behind those of my peers when I as an adolescent chose to take a year or two off of summer baseball so I could spend more time farming.

I’m skipping or calling in to meetings. We’re still avoiding restaurants and even take-out. The running joke on our weekly Sunday Service for Sanity streaming parties is that “I don’t want a part-time poop-fingers mouth-breather to give me the 19” but it’s a serious and, I believe, legitimate concern that I continue to wrestle with.

A lot of people depend on me in ways that don’t have a backstop. If I were to get the ’19 and have an experience as bad as my friend Rob, that downtime would be devastating to wheat harvest and fall-crop planting.

There was recent news of an announcement by the WHO that asymptomatic spread is perhaps less common than initially believed. I’ve also heard conflicting information, also from the WHO, but I hope that’s the case so we can ease up a little bit on our practices that are becoming more and more rare in this part of the country.

Being a parent is hard. Holding the line on social distancing when everyone else is back to life like nothing happened is hard. Luckily, at the end of the day, saying I am doing everything possible to protect my family will be easy.

Cultural inequality

| Posted on in politics

There’s a Trump 2020 flag near my farm. It went up a couple of weeks ago, somewhere shortly after the president was impeached. I get to see it four times a day when I drive past to and from feeding cattle in the morning and evening.

Trump

In this part of the country, not-so-lovingly referred to as “Jesusland” by a close friend from the coast, support for the president isn’t uncommon. Thankfully, it’s still relatively rare to see public displays of support like flags and signs, but I’m guessing they’ll increase substantially between now and November.

In February 2017, I wrote about how the Trump administration was a backfire resulting from turning off the key of the long-running engine that was the GOP. It turns out it hasn’t been so much of a bang but more like dieseling — the way an engine turns in reverse for a while after running on bad gas or with bad timing. My old wheat truck does this all the time. The best thing to do to get it to quit is to put the truck in gear and apply the brakes.

There are many types of inequality in this country. Racial inequality has been a problem since before our nation was founded. It sadly continues to this day. Economic inequality is also nothing new but continues to worsen at an alarmingly exponential rate. But I think just as concerning and maybe even more fundamental is cultural inequality.

It’s the cultural divide that keeps us from agreeing on basic tenets of Americanism. Basic beliefs that I have held all my life are challenged by significant parts of this country in ways that seem as recent as they are surprising.

We’re the shining city on the hill that all should aspire to reach and look up to. Except we get upset when foreigners want to come here legally. Some of us get so wound up that we want to be as cruel as possible, even to those legally requesting asylum. We’re afraid that they have a different culture but we claim they commit crimes and take our jobs, but we’re immune to the facts that they commit far fewer crimes per capita than native-born citizens and that they have a hugely positive contribution to our economy.

In America, everyone is equal and all our voices should matter equally. But there are constantly pictures making the rounds on social media showing how much bigger the red parts of the country are than the blue parts as if acres mattered more than people…or if the weight of a vote depends on the distance to your closest neighbor. The people sharing these pictures are convinced that the culture of homogeneity of the flyover states is in danger of being invaded by a culture of diversity from the blue splotches on the map. They don’t understand or care that the the Electoral College and even the Senate, the original gerrymander, have become anti-democratic even if they were originally good ideas that functioned as training wheels at the start of our nation. They don’t care that a vote for a Kansas senator is worth less than 20% of a vote for a Wyoming senator.

Dad used to talk about how people who didn’t go to college are just different than those who did. Exposure to so many different cultures changes a person for the good.

I remember how one of my friends got upset by the use of the term “uneducated” to describe people without college degrees in the breakdown of the votes in the last presidential election. She was upset by what she heard as the implication that college is the only way to find knowledge, as if it meant people who didn’t attend college couldn’t be smart. It doesn’t — it’s simply shorthand for those who didn’t attend college.

However, there’s a far more useful implication from the “educated” versus “uneducated” shorthand that pollsters use to break down results. Americans who attend college have, in my experience, a far greater tolerance for different opinions. They don’t necessarily line up on one side of the political divide or the other, but on the aggregate I think they are more understanding and accepting of diversity. When they hold political and cultural beliefs, it’s usually a deliberate decision instead of the default positions that come from never leaving the echo chamber of home.

It’s the cultural divide that’s hurting our prosperity in this country. It’s why we keep our heads down in a small town. It’s why population is declining in rural America. It’s why population is increasing in urban America. Who wants to raise kids in a place that’s full of hammerheads who are unwilling to accept different ideas?

Just as racial and wealth inequality imply those at the top having privileges and opportunities not afforded those at the bottom, so too does cultural inequality. Cultural diversity is crucial to our collective future, but sadly there are significant parts of this country that are being left behind.

I have a neighbor who likes to make signs and put them up along a major highway.

Leaving aside the fact that Liberal Democrats is the name of a political party in the UK, he’s definitely more politically active than I am if perhaps not as diligent about word usage and capitalization. Another of his signs said something like “we live in a country of laws” and listed the Constitution AND Bill of Rights (the Bill of Rights is actually part of the Constitution) and also listed the Declaration of Independence, which actually isn’t a law at all. I admire his activism and engagement, but I wonder if he’s doing himself or our community any favors. Do passersby associate his views and lack of precision in language with the majority of our town? I hope not.