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kansasfarmer's blog

November 2008 - Posts

  • Giving Thanks.

    Today, Thursday, is Thanksgiving, a holiday that has roots back to the days of the Pilgrims in the 1600s.  The idea behind it is giving thanks for harvest and all we have.  To me it is one of our last "pure" holidays because it doesn't involve gifts of any kind, it simply involves getting together with family and friends and enjoying life, and maybe a football game(that reminds me, our high school team got knocked out of the playoffs so they did not go to state).  The meal is traditionally loaded with food that originated in North America, turkey is the staple meat, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes or yams, corn and pumpkin pie for dessert are on almost all menus tomorrow.  Stuffing is as well, if you are from the south it might be cornbread stuffing.  I don't know how it works in the UK, but over here holidays can get to be a balancing act in what family you go to see, your family or the in-laws...this can get really complicated these days due to divorce.  My brother is off to Indiana to see his much beloved in-laws, Mrs KF has graciously excused me from going to her mothers families get together Friday.  Today we ate lunch with her grandparents and uncle, tomorrow we will have a very quite meal with my parents at our home, Amy is busily cooking as I write, whipping up a batch of my families treasured butterhorn dinner rolls just like my Grandmother use to make, couple these light airy rolls with turkey and gravy and I am like a pig in the mud.....pure heaven.

     Our society is definitely more openly religious than yours, so tomorrow while not actually a religious holiday does carry a certain religious air.  The Pilgrims left England because they did not want to belong to the church of England, the first in a long line of people who have come to this nation from all over the world to escape religious persecution.  During these very uncertain times, it is comforting to take a day and stop to be thankful for all we have in this nation.  I know I am going to enjoy the day, and try hard to remember each and every thing I have to be thankful for.

     Ironically Friday is considered the first really big day of the Christmas shopping season, I am sure the news media will be entrenched Friday trying to judge just how well people are spending money, if it doesn't go well the stock market will probably tank Monday.

  • Harvest is over!!!

    I finished the 2008 fall harvest on a bright Saturday afternoon, a feat that puts a smile on my face every year but in particular this one.  Took Mrs. KF out to one of our favorite places to celebrate and ran into a distant neighbor, we both agreed that from start to finish, 2008 has tested us like no year we can remember. 

    The crop was above average, but then you have to figure the 60 acres that either didn't get planted, or were planted to haygrazer rather than corn or soybeans and that knocks the yield average a bit.  The price was not as good as I had hoped, but with contracts coupled with spot bid soybeans I averaged $9.02 per bushel, the highest average ever by far other than last year, that was very similar at around $9.10.  The big downer is the 5000 bushels of corn I stored because of the illusion I was under (fed by the "experts") that corn had alot of upward potential.  Could have gotten $3.75 spot when most of it went into storage, now maybe $3 and it seems it could be destined for $2.50 or less.  However,I am not going to fret over what to do with the corn at this point.  The outside plan may be simply to hold it and use it for feed in 2010, planting less acres of the costly stuff next spring, when I suspect cash will be in short supply anyway, along with credit.

    Thoughts now turn to livestock matters, I don't know how many days it will take to get that end of it caught up.  As I roam about the farm feeding cattle and hogs I have plenty of time to think about next year, I can't say I am not a little more worried than usual.  I attended my favorite bull sale yesterday as well as harvesting, managed to get there and back and buy a bull in about 2 and a half hours, for $4250.00.  Got to spend my evening meal justifying that to Mrs. KF.  The bull sale showed some weakness, but not as much as I thought....we in production agriculture in truth are a very optimistic lot, because no matter how challenging this year was, we all know in our hearts next year is bound to be better, and if it isn't, well, there is always the next year......

  • Cold wind blowing.

    There is a cold wind blowing in Kansas tonight, both literally and figuratively.  In the literal sense, this will be the coldest night of the fall, with a forecast low of 18F.  The temp was about 40F this afternoon, with a strong 20mph wind biting through me.  It has been dry for a week now, and once again I have started the combine up, I am on the final stretch now, the 08 crop is nearly all in the bin.

    From the more figurative point of view, all across Kansas and indeed all across the USA the election is no longer the topic of conversation, the economy is.  Everyday, almost every hour we hear or read more distressing news, from the biofuel refiner Verasun declaring bankruptcy, and asking to be let out of its contracts with farmers for corn, to Boeing laying off workers in Wichita, to our big three automakers flying to DC in their private jets to beg for a rescue by the American taxpayer.  Our faith is shaken in nearly everything from our politicians to our economists.  Two years ago at a cattle mineral meeting the speaker told all of us who raise cattle to figure on dealing with corn $5 per bushel and over for at least 5 years, about 3 months ago it was easy to find predictions of corn at $10, today cash corn is trading at the local elevators for about $3.35 per bushel.  About 2 months ago all you could hear was oil was headed for $200 per barrel, now it is plunging fast and hard, local crude is selling for about $45.  At least one farmer I know allowed himself to be talked into buying all his 2009 fertilizer in August, wrote a check for $80000+, now he is sickened as fertilizer prices plummet as fast as they rose.  As the seed salesmen make their pitches telling us to secure our soybean and corn seed for next spring now, I am left wondering how smart it is to write a check for seed today I will not get until April or May, regardless of the discount, because how do I know these companies will even be in business by that time? 

    One of the most pronounced signs of our economic thin ice is the price of land has fallen about 25% nearly over night.  Each land auction seems to be showing that is the case in our area.  We have seen several parcels no-sale, something that has not happened in nearly 4 years.  Just 7 months ago we were at the beginning of a boom in agriculture like none ever seen, the BBC was wringing their hands over the world food crisis, and everyone who sells to farmers was trying to figure a different angle to get the most money out of us.  Today, grain and livestock prices are plunging, and KF spends alot of time with my brow furrowed as I calculate what it will cost to plant a crop next spring versus what crops will sell for. It is little comfort to me that our springs, creeks and rivers run wide open today, because past experience tells me that really wet years such as this one are almost always followed by "dusters".  If you have no crop, it doesn't matter what the price is.  I can only imagine that as much as I cussed the constant rain of 2008, I may well spend most of 2009 hoping and praying for rain. 

    Thanksgiving is one week from today, the day set aside in our nation for most of us to thank God for what we have.  I am thankful to be sure, things could be so much worse.  But as this cold wind blows across the farms, cities and small towns of our nation, I am left wondering what we will be thinking and thanking God for next Thanksgiving.

  • Football

    I am in the very slim minority of American men who doesn't care much for football.  I just don't get much out of it, I feel that way about most sports.  However, when it comes to our high school team in both football and basketball, I do show some interest.  Therefore, I am blogging tonight about our high school team making it to the state playoff tomorrow.  I will not be driving the 150 or so miles to the game, but I will listen on the radio.  Small town America is dominated by two features, church and school.  High school sports dominate the community focus the most regarding school, that is somewhat of a shame but it is the way it is.  Alot of adults relive their glory days through the younger generation playing ball, too bad that same emphasis isn't put on academics. 

    Our boys are tough this year, tough, smart, athletic, and team players.  Our coach is approaching legend status.  Of course, if we weren't 11-0 they would be "the boys" instead of "our boys" and "Coach" said with pride and admiration would be "coach" said with at best tolerance.  I have posted before that the movie "Hoosiers" set in the 1950s in Indiana accurately portrays life in a small US farming town.  I found out a few weeks ago in the UK the movie was called "Best Shot".  It is about basketball(stars Gene Hackman and Barbara Hershey, and remarkably Sheb Wooley of Purple People Eater fame) but it give a very good portrayal of the way a town gets involved when their high school team has a good season, such as our team has had this fall. 

    If we get past tomorrow, we play for the state 8 man championship next Saturday.  The smallest schools play 8 man football instead of 11 man, due to small enrollments. I was on the school board when we made the switch due to our community getting smaller all the time....grown men were almost reduced to tears because they just didn't feel 8 man was real football.  After almost 10 years all that is over, their chests are thrown out with pride, and tomorrow just like in "Hoosiers" a long line of cars will depart our small town and make the 2+ hour drive to cheer on the home team.  Tomorrow all the problems with the weather and economy will be forgotten, the worry over how Obama will govern will go by the wayside, and the focus all across Kansas will be football as high school teams in 8 classes compete to play in their respective championship games next weekend.  This time tomorrow night, our town will either be celebrating moving on to the next step, or somber thinking what might have been.

  • Veterans Day/Honor Flights

    Another Veterans Day has come and gone, the parade in Emporia was cancelled because of wind and rain, I had thought I would go and snap a few photos to post.  I also forgot to go by the cemetary(I went by twice, I forgot to stop and take a picture).  As a child, mostly the veterans we were honoring were WW2 vintage, now we have some new crops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the much maligned Vietnam veteran is getting their share of honor, albeit late, as well as those from the "forgotten war", Korea. 

    I watched the 9pm BBC America newscast, and saw the 3 surviving Brit WW1 vets laying their wreaths, they looked to be in very good shape for being past 107, one I believe was 112.  They also interviewed the only WW1 vet alive in the US, he was 107 or 108, and seemed remarkable as well. 

    Also on the BBC news was a segment about "Honor Flights" and the man who started them, Earl Morse(I hope this is right, for some reason even though I just watched it, I am having trouble remembering his name).  These are one of the neatest things I have seen happen for a long time.  The first I knew of them, was when a plane load of local WW2 vets headed off to Washington DC to see the WW2 memorial.  They were each accompanied by a high school student, to help them with any problem that arose.  This was a totally free trip for the vets, they made the trip in one day.  The local flight was coordinated by a nearby school district, I wasn't sure who started them or if they were national until tonight.  An 83 year old fellow who is married to one of my granddads cousins, and who for the last 20 years has been my chief mechanical advisor participated in the first flight from this area, and it made his day.  He couldn't stop talking about what a wonderful experience it was, from the way they were treated to being able to see something he thought he never would see, the monument honoring him and his millions of comrades.  It is one of those things that come along that make you have faith in the human race, and I think it was a great experience for the 16-18 year old kids who went along, the newest generation helping the greatest generation, and learning in the process. 

    I thank God for all the men and women who were willing to lay their lives on the line for our nation, and I thank God for our allies around the world and their armed forces.  We owe our freedom to these brave people.   

  • Can you hear her??

    One of the more poetic American sayings is, "the opera ain't over till the fat lady sings".  Meaning, it ain't over till its over as Yogi Berra said.  If you listen hard on the west coast of the UK, perhaps you can hear the fat lady singing.  After nearly 2 years of politics, that seem more like 20, our national elections are about to begin.  We are about to make history, most likely electing the first non European President ever, or electing the first female VP. 

    Our nation faces many difficult times, little did we know in 2004 that only 9 months into his Presidency George W Bush would be faced with the first attack on our homeland I believe since the Brits invaded  in 1812.  No one knows for sure what faces our new President or our nation, we can only hope that he has the wisdom to lead us through whatever hurdles we face.  We can also hope that our world allies especially the UK and Australia will continue to be with us in a world increasingly hostile to the USA.  We need all the help we can get.

  • Harvest stress starts to show.

    It happens every April, May and June, and again in September and October, if harvest lasts until November it really gets bad, that is my stress level goes out of sight.  In Kansas, our peak work loads all seem to hit us at once, the prime week usually to plant corn is also the week we go to grass with our cattle, cutting alfalfa and planting soybeans comes hard on the heels of that, we are usually still trying to plant soybeans when the wheat harvest hits the end of June, and also hay.  Harvest usually begins in September, the stress is low then.  By October, harvest is in full swing, we are trying to plant wheat, and then bam, the week of October 15th it is time to gather cattle off of the rented grass.  Although hail is not as likely now, just a tiny bit will thresh the soybeans out, so every forecast storm makes me nervous, such as the storm forecast for Wednesday.  Our days are so much shorter now, and we still have these heavy dews each morning, this morning we had a fog that rolled out about 9, but rolled back in about 11, that is, it nearly rolled onto my farm, it got as far as the river, then rolled back, but a good friend of mine was enveloped not far away while I stood in the sunshine.  I have asked a another friend to come with his combine to help me cut as soon as he can, my nerves are getting frayed with the frequent rains, so far we have not had any losses from our fall rains, but I hold my breath every day.  While I do not enjoy paying someone to combine along side me, I figure it probably doesn't really cost that much, as there are plenty of things needing done after harvest is over before our truly nasty weather will hit hopefully not before January 1st(cutting soybeans runs about $20 an acre, fyi). 

     I cheated this fall on my rented grass and left the cattle on 10 days over what I was suppose to.  Our heavy summer rains have left grass in most pastures that has seed heads as high as the top of my head.  Moved 100 head from two pastures onto one farm I winter on yesterday, out of 100  2 head had to try to wreck the entire process.  One rather evil black brockle faced cow decided to try to lead a charge back into the pasture, fortunately the others wouldn't have it, they realized the feed was much better on the other side of the road.  When the cow turned to see nobody was following her, she shot back across the field, but turned the wrong direction and went charging up the road.  I was in my trusty '81 Chevy pickup, my "cow rolling" pickup, a habit that would set DEFRA out to haul me off to jail.  Cow rolling is exactly what it sounds like, you roll the cow, does wonders for their attitude.  This cow however did not need to be rolled, she turned around and headed through the gate unscathed, taking with her the one calf that had stubbornly refused to follow the others and ran around the other side of an old barn. 

    Speaking of DEFRA, I doubt half of what we do in Kansas would comply with their regulations, it is only a matter of time before my cow rolling days come to an end.  I reckon at some point I will have to employ a "cow psychologist" to come out and reason with the "convict" cows to get them to change their ways.  One of the favorite cattle handling stories in these parts involved a farmer of Polish descent, his two sons, a Shorthorn bull, a Jeep, and a brand new Chevy pickup.  Milo came down to this country from Nebraska, I don't know if we was born in Poland but he sure sounded like he was.  He had a pig farm in Nebraska, decided he wanted a ranch so bought a nice 960 acre place southeast of town.  When Milo was calm, you could understand him, but when he got excited his accent got worse, and he interspersed his English with some Polish.  Milo and his two boys, Jim and Joe, set out one day to do a fairly simple task, move a Shorthorn bull from one pasture to another.  Milo had a new pickup, and one of the boys had a Jeep.  The idea usually is one leads the bull, and the other follows down the road.  This bull was sort of a "counterfeit" to use my grandfathers terminology, and rather than try to run off, proceeded to completely wreck the Jeep, in fact if I recall the story correctly I believe he turned it over.  When he had finished wrecking the Jeep, he started on the new Chevy pickup, pretty well demolishing it.  When Milo would relate this story, by the time you got to the wrecking of the new pickup, he was swearing hard and fast in both Polish and English, and possibly one or two other languages, and it was at that  point he would utter the only phrase that a Kansan could interpret...."and den, vee shot the no good zon-offa-bish"(sorry Isabel, I guess you can bleep that out).  Yup, that is right, they waited until they had two vehicles destroyed, THEN they got out the 30.06 and shot the bull.  That was an expensive day, to be sure. 

    That leads me farther away from harvest to a similar incident that happened in my own family.  Grandpa was one of three boys, the first born in 1910, the last in 1913.  Their dad didn't have a pickup, and he often checked pastures in the car, I think a Ford model T.  My great granddads old bull gave it the same treatment Milo's Shorthorn gave his pickup.  Granddad reckoned he was maybe 7 or 8 when this happened, he and his three brothers were with Great gramps.  My great granddad had the temper most of my family is famous(or infamous) for, and drove what was left of the car to the house, fetched up his rifle, and they went charging back to the pasture.  The bull came tearing across the pasture for the car, great granddad jumped out, according to my grandfather he and his brothers were screaming and crying "daddy daddy that bull is going to kill you".  Well, that is not what happened, because "daddy" dropped that bull in his tracks.  I wonder what DEFRA would have done to Milo and my great grandfather??

     Anyway, alot of harvest stress in these parts is caused by cattle, not actual harvest. Since almost no one here raises only crops, all of us must tend to the cattle as well as harvest. I think it might be fair to say our cattle as a rule are not as well behaved as yours in the UK, especially those with a little "ear"(Brahman).  But, I also think it fair to say that many of our farmers are not as well behaved as yours either. 

    Of course, breakdowns, rain, and a whole host of other things contribute to our harvest stress, just like in the UK.  Very few of us in my community have enough storage for all of our crops(some have no storage at all), we haul alot of crop to our local elevator.  They are nearly full, and having trouble getting grain moved out to a terminal, thus the people buying our grain are also getting into sort of a bad mood, as evidenced last night when I delivered my last load of soybeans for the day at 8pm.  They were waiting for one more guy who was coming in at 9, and were not at all amused by my suggestion that if only they would work on Sunday afternoon, it wouldn't be so imperitive that we dump so late on Saturday night. Things only got worse after I left, the guy they were waiting on is one of my best friends, and they tried to dock his load 2% for dirt, even though the probe showed foreign matter at .1(because of flooding and needing to cut right down on the ground soybeans can carry alot of dirt).  My understanding is this led to quite alot of hate and discontent. 

    So, we are stumbling along.  The end is definitely in sight for us now.  I think everyone I know is looking forward to folding the unloading auger in for the last time and pulling their combine into the shed for the winter. I think if we can have 10 more good days, harvest in my part of Kansas will be 95% completed. 

    I realize this has been a very rambling blog, I guess anyone still with me is either lacking for entertainment or genuinely interested in the happenings in the dead center of the continental USA, so I will throw out one more topic, one I frequently mention, fire.  Maybe only one or two other times in my life have I seen such big grass, and now that it has frosted it has gone from tall, lush and green, to tall, dry, brown, and flammable.  It is a very long time before we intentionally burn our pastures the end of March into April, and each day the grass becomes just a bit easier to burn.  In our county alone we have miles and miles of grass, on a dry windy day just a spark, be it from a vehicle, electric fencer, welder, or arcing power lines can trigger a fire that can spread faster than you can get ahead of it, consuming all in its path.  Once in a while you get a "fire bug" that is someone who drives through the countryside tossing out matches, the worst I remember was in the early '90s when someone drove about 30 miles setting 8-12 different fires.  Thursday I listened to the pager while combining as 4 different crews in the south end of the county were paged out to fight a grass fire, I will have to keep the camera close at hand these next 5 months, because I am betting sooner or later we end up with a fire locally that will tie us up all day, and may be a record setter for us.  I can only hope the fire doesn't consume anything of mine, and that we can get ahead of it before it takes out a house. 

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