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kansasfarmer's blog

April 2008 - Posts

  • Nervous on this side of the Atlantic

    Hardly a day goes by for us now that we don't hear some very disturbing economic news here in the USA.  While you are accustom to high gasoline and diesel prices, we are not, and are setting all time highs now with alarming regularity.  Warren Buffet, the Berkshire Hathaway guru predicts today that the recession will be much harsher than anyone believes, that isn't too hard for me to believe. We are told the average US household has $8000 in credit card debt, the worst kind of debt you can have as far as I am concerned.  Along with higher fuel prices, almost everything else seems to be going up as well.  I was getting what is left of my hair cut the other day and the woman who cuts it informed me she had to take a second job to make ends meet, as her husband had taken a pay cut when he changed jobs(he was affected by the meat packing plant closure here).  At our local eatery the prices have gone up 10%. 

    I bought another load of hay today from one of my best friends, an excellent farmer who also is an oil producer.  His feeling was that oil is now too high, and the side effects will be more detrimental to him than any benefit he is going to receive.  He also must buy higher priced diesel, but his worry is what it will do to the economy as a whole. We talked for well over an hour, one would think being around farmers now you would hear nothing but positives, but our talk was mostly negative.  We are both quite fearful of the high priced inputs we must deal with now, and our main concern(I have shared this before, but he echoes it) is grain prices will not stay high enough to compensate for soaring input costs.  We both have sizeable cowherds, that is another worry, two fold actually, rising feed costs will damper the beef industry, and less money in the pockets of consumers will lead to decreased beef consumption. 

    By no means am I an old man, I will turn 40 in a few days, I just feel old.  But in my short life, I have never been as apprehensive as I am now about the future of the USA.  While my opinion by itself is not much to talk about, I am hardly the only person who shares it.  There is a growing feeling among the people I know that an economic storm is coming the likes of which has not been seen for many years, probably since the 1930s.  The most unsettling part of it all is, our politicians seem oblivious to all of it, they seem to think if you ignore the problem it will go away.  We are assured today our economic stimulus checks are in the mail, I am no economist but I do believe this is the dumbest thing I have ever seen our government do, borrow money to give to consumers who have already spent too much in hopes they will spend more.  I stick with my opinion this is meant only to stave off disaster until after our elections, then Katy bar the door, all hell is going to break loose. 

    Mrs. KF and I are preparing for the worst, we had wanted to build onto the house but have put that on hold for the forseeable future.  We have planted a big garden, and saved a little money.  Hope it will be enough.  Just thought you ought to know all kidding aside, your cousins on this side of the ocean are nervous, and many of us believe we are in for several years of really bad times.

  • Planting corn.

    It would be nice to say that I am now finished planting corn, at least my corn for grain, however I have just 58 acres planted, out of 175.  I intended to plant about 225, but have scaled that back a bit because of high fertilizer.  We are wet now after 2 inches of rain the night before last, we will need a rain about Monday because the corn I planted will be crusted in.  Water standing in the furrows is not a good sight.  Obviously this year is going to be a challenge(aren't they all?). 

    We are not the cornbelt, we do not have the potential for 200+ corn, well, maybe we do but it is about once in 10 years, so you can't use the inputs like you would in Illinois or Iowa. I switched to dry fertilizer this year from liquid, NH3 is still the most popular form of N.  I plant 23500 seeds per acre in a 30 inch row, about an inch and a half deep.  Usually I throw a furrow about 3 inches tall, a problem if you get a heavy rain.  The trend is toward populations of 27000+, the best corn I ever raised was with 23500, 100 pounds of N and 50 of P, so I stick with that recipe.  Higher populations will yield more in a good year, but in our frequent 2 month dry snaps during the summer, higher populations will also lend to corn going down and barren plants.  All the corn I plant this year will be roundup ready, I will go over the top with either Atrazine or Harness after planting for weed control, and then come back with roundup if needed.  About 80 acres this year is triple stacked corn. 

    I have a John Deere planter, 6 row.  It uses a finger pickup mechanism I should take a picture of.  There are I believe 26 fingers on a wheel, with tiny springs running on sort of a cam.  The wheel turns down into the corn, and as it comes up the spring pulls it shut, grasping one seed.  It goes past a brush that gets rid of any extra riders, and then is ejected onto a tiny little stepped conveyor belt, that drops it into the slot.  It is a good system, a bit complicated but very accurate.  Much better than plates.

     Because our air is so cool most of our pastures are still black.  I am still feeding cattle.  With all the water, if it can ever stay warm we will be in an ocean of grass, but for the moment there are alot of very unsatisfied cattle around here, alot of cattle in the road ditch as you drive around my neighborhood.

    The alfalfa is doing great in this cool wet weather, it will probably be ready to cut before I am even done planting corn, I was hoping to be half way through soybeans when we cut it for the first time.  It has been sprayed for weevil, luckily we got that on before the rain.  For the most part, this is a typical spring, too cool to being with.  Just wait, by mid July I can almost promise I will be crying for rain, and complaining about temps crowding 100F. 

  • Will it ever end?

    Not winter, this election.  As you have undoubtedly read or heard, Hillary won Pennsylvania, now according to some in the news she has new life in her campaign.  I am tired of the entire thing.  I don't like her, I have also decided I don't like Obama. For better or worse it has to be McCain.  I wonder how many of us are going to go crazy before this election is over, I think I may. 

  • Hot, sooty, mad, and a little more humble.

    In my post about the fellow who burned down his barn, if I didn't say it I thought it, I was feeling pretty good that in my years of burning pasture I had never called out the fire department.  Felt quite good about how intelligent I was with my burning technique. 

    Going to grass is the preoccupation for me right now, planting corn has to take second place.  All the landlords want burned off this year, and it is needed.  With 9 out of 10 days being either too wet or too windy, the forecast for yesterday of west winds 5 to 10 miles per hour was all I needed to plan a day of burning, I had in mind to get about 700 acres burned.  The first burn went off without a hitch.  Our land is laid out in square miles, usually a road every mile, north and south, east and west.  These are good barriers for the most part.  I had half the section to burn, the neighbors on the other half wanted to burn their north quarter, but after myself and my crew got the fireguard burned between us decided to burn the entire thing.  No problem. We fireguarded around the cemetary(don't want the dead people irritated) and my landlords house.  Everything went perfectly, within an hour and a half we were ready to move on. 

    It was noticeable that the wind was not out of the west, and it was more than 10mph, more likely 15, and moved constantly from the northeast to the northwest, shifting about every 10 minutes.  I needed to burn the west side of the place the fire pics were taken I posted, and the south 25 or 30 acres along the state highway.  That place has a watershed dam, is fenced into 5 different sections,and is seepy all around the dam, plus has alot of buildings.  To the south was my dad's haymeadow that he did not want burned, south of that another 40 acres that is not ours, with a house.  With the barn fire of Monday fresh in my head, I knew that fire can back downhill through green grass and burn buildings.  My original plan was only to burn the west part, but the fire went into dads west half, where he wanted to burn, then backed up onto the dam.  As it was going across the dam, we made the snap decision (since we were there and had lots of help), to burn the east part, even though in my heart I knew it was risky.  The idea was to burn a fireguard against dads meadow, that would also protect the house to the south.  As soon as we lit the guard, the wind switched, and I immediately decided to "abort the mission" and started yelling to put the fire out.  We absolutely could not get ahead of it, and it crossed the small meadow down into the timber.  At the same time, the fire kept up its steady march across the dam, toward the buildings, cutting cross the wind so it was not moving fast, but still worrying.  I decided even though I didn't want to admit defeat, I would call for one firetruck.  As I am on the crew, I called a fireman personally, and didn't have the pager set off(to keep it quiet, although everyone I knew was driving by on the highway).  We dragged hose into the timber and pretty much got that out, then thought we would try our guard again, as we had a section of the meadow burned already.  We wet about a 10 foot swath of the short (4-6 inch) grass down with the firetruck, against the tall grass of the pasture.  The idea was to set right against the wet grass and put that south side out, I had abandoned my pickup and garden hose and was now in command of the fire truck.  As quick as we set our guard against the wet grass, it crawled right across it and back across the meadow, back into the timber.  Looking back north, the fire was getting more dangerous coming across the dam, slow and steady.  I called for another fire truck, and took the one we had to try to stop the fire from coming over the dam.  We didn't have enough range to squirt water down to the bottom of the dam and out across the emergency spillway, and the ground was too soft to drive up it.  We also didn't have enough hose to drag across the spillway.  So, we went back to the meadow as soon as the other truck got there.

    Stress can bring out the worst in people, and by now I was stressed.  I had two houses in peril, my dad chewing nails because his meadow was now about a third burned.  My crew wanted to be gone by 1pm because of the "prom" last night, and I had interupted my fellow firemen on their Saturday afternoon activities, also, I had smoke completely covering the highway, which is very illegal.  We had a powwow in the middle of the meadow where a majority wanted to cut the meadow in half and burn to the timber with a backburn.  Right or wrong, I exploded " we couldn't hold the son of a ........ at the creek, how in the world can we set a backburn in the middle of the meadow and hold it!!!!!!!".  I overruled everyone, we set it back at the end of what had been burned and took it to the highway.  We were successful, and moved back to the north to take care of the buildings...but.

    As we were on the hill above the meadow, trying to guard around the buildings, the fire came out of the timber,in the meadow,and headed at a rapid speed back to the south toward the other house(if we had successfully done what the other guys wanted to do, we would have had the entire timber fireguarded, I still think we would have lost it but it doesn't matter now, they know in their hearts I was wrong).  At the same time, the truck I was on that carries 900 gallons of water,ran out.  The little truck with 300 gallons, thank God, got to the fire and stopped it.  We refilled our trucks out of the lake, and were able to get things mopped up, 5 hours after the fiasco started. 

    The moral of this longwinded story is I know now that I too, the great fire wizard, can also lose control of a controlled burn.  I will never light a fire on a day when the wind is not steady from one direction.  When we took the trucks back to the firebarn, we were called to another similar situation, I had much more empathy for the fellow than I would have otherwise.  Interestingly enough, when it was all said and done, the wind went dead calm.....never once yesterday did it blow straight from the west at 5-10 mph, as it was forecast to do. 

  • Enjoying the mistakes of others.

    I am probably blogging too much here of late, but I enjoy sharing the more refined aspects of my life with all of my friends on FWi. 

    I don't know if things are always perfect on your farms in the UK, but they hardly ever are on mine.  Sunday I fed the last silage.  The wind blew hard from the north all day, as it had the last two, and the cattle were miserable. This time of year the cool season brome grass in the road ditch is the best feed around, so our cattle spend all day with their heads through the fence.  Add to that the fact I shut them off the triticale across the road from the house because it was muddy, and I have at home 140 very unhappy cattle.  Toward evening I noticed the entire bunch around the gate looking across the road at the triticale, and suspected they were plotting an escape.  I had fed them extra hay that day, so I felt somewhat encouraged that they would not implement their plans.  About bedtime I decided perhaps I should make a patrol, to see what the old girls were up to.  I drove down my drive to discover the road from my garden to the corner was full of cattle, peacefully bedded down in the ditch, with the gate blown to pieces(it is a barbed wire gate,your American cousins can afford very few real gates).  As a Kansas lotto commercial once said, "black cattle are awful hard to see in the dark".  It was impossible to get a count, I returned for my Arctic Cat.  The sound of my Arctic cat means one thing to my cattle, get your sorry ....... back where they belong, and before long I had a parade of cattle coming back from the farm of mine to the south.  Not smart enough to go through the gate they had destroyed, they headed to the end of the dead end I live on and blew through that gate, then for good measure a few went down past the silo and wrecked that one as well.  By midnight I had all three gates back together and had driven the cattle across the river into the pasture, where they sulked all day Monday(or perhaps gloated) until evening, when they returned for a repeat performance, but I let them on the triticale and fended off another escape.  The amazing part, with all the shouting and swearing, the gunning of the 4 wheeler past the bedroom window and through the garden, my wife was completely unaware I was even out of the house, it disturbed her sleep not one bit.  Things like this amuse the neighbors,  it is always fun when you see others having a bit of a problem, to know their lives are not perfect, which brings me to this.

    Yesterday was a perfect afternoon, the best in 2 weeks.  Hardly any wind, just light from the north, and about 60F, with bright sunshine.  A perfect day to burn pasture.  Everyone had their guard down.  I spent my day grinding feed and rearranging my equipment, putting the feedwagon in the back of the shed, etc, of course this was after feeding these hungry cows. I left my pager inside, thinking there would be no out of control fires because of the light wind.  When I went into the house to get a drink at 4pm, the pager was alive with action.  The wind had changed, and was still weak but from the south.  There was hay on fire, and one of my neighbors had caught his barn on fire, no one had noticed until it was burned completely down, hay, combine header, and all.  No one noticed because of the smoke everywhere yesterday.  So, while everyone makes fun of me for my cautious attitude about burning fireguards against buildings, even when the wind is blowing the fire away from them, and the grass against them is green, I can smile silently to myself and gloat in the fact I did not burn down my barn, yet. 

  • Wet, windblown, cold and grumpy.

    That describes me this afternoon.  Our weather is always extreme, but this winter(and I still feel it is winter as it is 44F outside with snow forecast for tomorrow morning) has been unrelenting in its length. It has not been unusually cold so far as extreme temps go, but it has been unusually cold in that it got nasty the end of November and has stayed cold without letup.  In addition, it has been quite wet, we have received enough rain this winter to easily grow a good summer crop if we could have deferred some to July and August.  Our pathetic wheat stays pathetic because it can't get a hitch of warm weather to grow.  Our pastures, which are 90% warm season grasses, need nights above 50F in order to grow, so while the magic date of April 15th when many pasture contracts start is fast approaching, there is nothing of value for the cattle to eat.  I wallowed around in my pit silo today and managed to get a load of feed, one more hour of wallowing at the end and I will be out of silage, at least I can put the feedwagon away I guess.  The seedcorn is still in the sack, I guess that is good as it would not fare all that well in this cold wet dirt, but I can't help but be jumpy now as it is time to plant corn, I really like to have at least part of it in by the 15th of April. 

    I've talked about cold and wet, now how about the wind.  The bloody wind as you would say, we here would refer to it as the G--da-ned wind(I self censored, how could Isabel ask for more??).  Kansas is known for being windy, this last week has been no exception.  With about 1000 acres left to burn I need days where I have a hope of controlling the fire, and those have been few and far between.  Of course, since the grass won't grow because of the cold, I guess it doesn't matter that the pastures have not been burned, other than it will mean I have to burn, plant corn, and move cattle all at once.  Our National Weather Service, which I tend to brag about, let us down big time yesterday afternoon.  A big storm blew in that toppled some buildings and destroyed a few others, and we didn't even get a warning.  A shed roof was blown onto the highway and a few of the firemen and one of my friends with a tractor and loader helped the deputy remove it.  5 buildings were damaged at the Emporia cattle auction, a couple I guess beyond repair, and according to the radio, somewhere near here an entire row of Porta Potties were blown over....that is newsworthy.  The fact we got this storm isn't unusual, the fact it hit us without warning from the NWS is.  Well, I feel better now, hope things are bright and sunny in the UK!!

  • Have you planted any corn yet?

    That is the question most asked from one farmer to another this time of year.  In my case the answer is no.  I would have liked to have planted some this week, heavy rain Monday night and more forecast for tonight and tomorrow night makes about the middle of next week the best case scenario.  As always, this will coincide with "going to grass" April 15-20 is the start of most grass leases, meaning I will want to haul cattle out to grass at the same time I want to plant corn.  Since the cattle are becoming a thorn in my side and feed is getting quite short, the cattle will win, as is usually the case.  I will then be in a foul mood because I am not planting corn.

    Granddad said that the time to plant corn was when the leaves on a hedge tree were as big as a squirrels ears.  This morning it is 32F with frost on the ground, no sign of hedge leaves.  In the 1990s Pioneer came out with the "early corn early" program which advocated planting a short season corn(about 97 days, 15-20 days shorter than what we usually plant) early, in late March if possible.  While the shorter season corn generally yields less, it had an advantage in that if you planted it in late March it would be done by July 1st, and usually our rain is plentiful from April through June, often it seems our last good rain comes around July 4th.  I was a disciple of this program until I planted early in a March warm snap only to have cold rain set in for a week after planting, rotting my seed in the ground.  I tried a couple more years and got hit with late frost, I now have decided grandpa knew best, I don't try to be the first guy out with a planter.  However, my blood pressure still goes up when several other guys get some planted, and I don't, I can't help it.  All I can do now is roll with the punches and see how much rain we get.  It is supposed to frost again Saturday and Sunday night, grass won't grow in this weather and neither will corn, so it appears I had better start buying some hay, when I started the winter I had 500 tons of silage and 750 bales of hay, I now have just the end of the silage, maybe 20 tons, and about 30 bales of hay.  It has been a LONG winter. 

  • KU wins.......and storm news.

    First things first, KU won the NCAA national championship basketball game in overtime.  KU has a great basketball tradition, and over the years has done well.  Our state may be less than 1% of the national population, but we have produced the best college basketball team in the nation.  If you haven't seen the movie "Hoosiers", it is worth a watch.  It is about a 1950s smalltown high school basketball team in Indiana.  It is a good movie in its own right, but it also does a good job of portraying the social aspects of life in a small farm town, and the importance small communities place in high school athletics.  If anyone happens to watch it(if it is available in the UK) let me know what you think of it.

    As my previous blog started to state, the weather radio went off several times again last night, prompting me to start a late night blog as I stayed awake looking at the approaching storm on the computer.  As I said, we were paged out to aid the one deputy on duty for the entire 500+ square mile north end of our county.  The job of a storm spotter in our community is two fold, first to be an on the ground source of information the Sheriff dispatcher supposedly relays to the National Weather Service to help them decide what warnings need to be issued, our most pressing job is it is our observations that lead us to decide if we will set off the tornado sirens for our community, it is quite a low tech procedure, we watch, and one or two guys sit in the firebarn watching the computer and listening to us, should we make the call to set off the sirens they are to pull the lever and take cover.  Spotting at night is quite hard and dangerous, luckily most severe storms happen during the heat of the day and not at night.  Last night was a hail and wind event, ended up getting about an inch of pea sized hail making the roads nearly impassible.  I suppose anyone reading this has to wonder why I would want to do this, although I don't know the level of volunteerism in the UK.  At least part of our population places value on community service, and I am in that part.  With our sparse population we have a low tax base in rural counties, leaving many of our emergency services to volunteers.  When the fire department was approached about storm spotting some years ago I thought it meant we would sit in our homes and tell someone what was happening, I didn't realize it meant going after the storm so to speak.  I have to admit, I like it in the daytime, it is pretty interesting, however last night as my pickup was pelleted with relentless hail and I nearly skidded off the road, I questioned my decision to do this.  The storm made quite an impression on Mrs. KF.  She was soundly sleeping when I returned home, and even though I had announced my departure, she asked, "did you go somewhere last night?" over breakfast this morning. 

    Youtube has some good tornado video, do a search for "Yates Center Tornado".  That storm started in our county(Woodson county is one county southeast of us) and produced a tornado here, in fact that tornado was probably the "baby" tornado that led to the one taped.  I spotted on that storm.  This is the video taken closest to where I live, and is pretty interesting to watch. 

  • All Kinds of Noise.

    Kansasfarmer is wide awake tonight at 1:11 am, too noisy in this house to sleep, at least for me, my better half is dead to the world right now, not the least bit concerned with what is going on outside the bedroom let alone the house. 

    Our problems started earlier this afternoon when a thunderstorm bringing hail and lightening with a little rain set off a grassfire, interesting in the fact that all day before the storm people had been burning so it seemed strange that this particular one needed put out.  Severe weather had been predicted all day, however it didn't "feel" like severe weather was going to be a problem as there wasn't much humidity, humidity almost always goes along with severe weather.  Lightening flashed around all evening, but no real storm hit us.  We went to bed thinking the entire thing was a little overdone, and not much would happen.  The first clue that was not the case came right around midnight when the fire pager sounded off for a barn fire from a lightening hit in the far south end of the county, and at this moment, it has just gone off for us to storm spot, more later.........

  • The Final Four

    A very unusual event happened in our house this Saturday night, we watched a sporting event on TV.  It wasn't just any old ballgame, it was the 2nd game of the final four in the NCAA division one basketball tournament, pitting the University of Kansas Jayhawks against the University of North Carolina Tarheels.  If I have a favorite sport it is basketball, and since Kansas is in it I was interested.  I imagine most TV sets in the state were tuned to this game from San Antonio Texas.  Kansas was the victor, after nearly squandering a 28 point lead in the 2nd half( they allowed UNC to get within 5 points) they managed to win 84-66.  This means KU plays against Memphis for the NCAA championship Monday night.

    Our two leading colleges(you call them university, we seem to use the terms interchangeably) are Kansas State University(the Wildcats) and the University of Kansas, known simply as K-State and KU.  K-State is a land grant college where most farm research in the state is done, they are responsible for developing many of our wheat varieties and produce all the state's veterinarians, so understandably in farm country we are mostly K-State fans, but once they are out at least a few of us can and will grudgingly root for archrival KU.  Tonight farmers and city folk alike are proud to be from Kansas, and proud that our state will be well represented in a national collegiate tournament.  If it couldn't be the Wildcats at least it is the Jayhawks. 

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