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kansasfarmer's blog

  • A successful farmer

    I guess one facet of being middle aged ( I still think of myself as young) is you know more people who die.  It seems my main social activity is going to funerals.  I think perhaps residents of rural areas go to more funerals because we actually know more people.  It seems counter intuitive, that someone from an area with a low population would know more people than someone in a city, but I think it is true.  It is very hard to be anonymous in a small town, the inverse of that is, it is hard not to get to know your neighbors. 

    I have attended a wide range of funerals this year ranging from a 104 year old woman, who was in pretty good shape, but died after some surgery complications, to an 8 year old boy who died of cancer.  I don't know the customs of other areas, but in my locale there is generally a "viewing" the evening before the funeral.  I prefer attending these instead of the actual funeral because it gives you the opportunity to actually express your condolences to the family.  

    When older people die, the viewing can actually seem like a happy event, as old neighbors who have moved away return to pay their respects.  People who have not seen each other in some cases for years visit and remember the "good old days".  Sometimes refreshments are served, and often the air is filled with the sounds of lively conversation and laughter.  The sadness of the loss is tempered by the good memories being shared.

    Recently I attended the viewing our neighbor Gene.  In his early 80s, Gene and his wife Bettie have been stalwarts of our community for my entire life, so from my perspective, forever.  Just seeing Gene, or even thinking about him brought a smile to my face, and very few people have that effect on me.  Gene was what we refer to as "a character", someone who always had a good story, always had a smile, always could make you laugh, no matter how bad things were.  He and his wife were pillars of our church, Bettie could go from baling hay to teaching Bible school in about 30 minutes.  They were good neighbors, people who could always be counted on to help out in a pinch.  I remember fighting a large grass fire one hot afternoon, riding on the rack in the front of a fire truck, and grabbing a cold Pepsi out of Bettie's hand as she drove down the road handing them out of her car window to the thirsty firefighters. 

    Gene and Bettie were workers.  For years Gene worked on an oil drilling rig many nights, and farmed during the day.  They managed to raise 4 children in between and along with all the farm and oil field work.  Gene did a lot of custom farming as well, in the UK you call it "contracting".  They had cattle, and for a time over 100 sows.  

    Some years after the sows had been sold, I was feeding my sows when Gene drove by on a tractor.  The tractor stopped, turned around, and came back down the drive.  Gene clambered out of the cab onto the ground, and began crooning the song "Precious Memories" to me in a gravelly voice.  When he was done he said, "kid, I saw you feeding these sows, and just all I could think of was precious memories".  

    The last several years hadn't been very kind to Gene.  In fact, the last few months caring for him had gotten the better of Bettie and they had to move into assisted care.  When the end came, the word spread quickly through the community.  The sadness of losing Gene was mixed with a certain sense of relief that his suffering was over.

    I waited to go to the viewing until it had been underway for over an hour, hoping I would beat the rush.  No such luck, the line stretched outside of the church,  Luckily, the fall evening was moderate, and being outside wasn't unpleasant.  The church was filled with laughter and chatter as neighbors and family told stories and shared memories.  A large bulletin board was filled with pictures, intermingling farm scenes with family scenes, and combinations of the two.  I'd say several hundred people showed up that night to remember a man many outside our community would call "ordinary".  

    As I get older, I get more philosophical.  I realize some of what I hoped to achieve in life probably isn't going to happen, some things have worked out better than I hoped, some not as well.  The dreams I had when I turned 18 and graduated from high school have not all come true.  Life is not quite what I expected, at the same time I feel very lucky.  Sometimes I wonder whether or not I am successful, and what exactly that means.

    We are surrounded every day by images in print and in video of "successful" people.  Farm publications with their stories of farmers handling farms of five or ten thousand acres or more can make a person farming less than that feel a little inadequate.  When you read how all this high priced farmland is being sold to farmers who are paying with cash, then you look at your own bank account and see about enough to buy 5 acres, it can make you wonder what you've amounted to.

    I once heard it said, "they don't make hearses with trailer hitches".  Gene managed to own several hundred acres and rent many more.  He raised 4 kids who turned out right.  He was married to the same woman for over 60 years.  He had the respect and love of many people, who years from now will tell "Gene" stories and smile.   Was Gene successful?  If the measuring stick you use comes from Wall Street, the answer might be different, but to me it is obvious, Gene was one of the most successful farmers I ever will know.  I hope I can be as successful as he was.

     

  • Drought over

    The talk in my neck of the woods right now is how no one can remember the weather making such a dramatic change.  I can officially say our drought is over.   My farm has received 14 inches of rain in 14 days, with heavy flooding rains forecast for tonight, 90% chance of them in fact.  A  month ago a 90% chance of rain would have meant nothing, now that it can rain again, we know we will get rain tonight, the only question is now much.

    Any kind of field work or haying has been at a standstill the last two weeks, no one is complaining.  Two years of too little water won't be forgotten quickly.  The grass is green, the ponds are full, life is good.

    As I approach the "old timer" years I will now be able to relate to younger people who probably won't really care all about the drought of 2011-2013, and how just when all hope for salvaging anything out of 2013 seemed to be gone, like someone shifted a transmission into reverse suddenly things changed, the heavens opened up and we were deluged.  I guess the only question to be answered now is will 2013 see a catastrophic flood, like we saw in 1998. I guess we will find out.

     

  • Same Song, Third Verse

    It was only three weeks ago I was thinking about writing a blog that our drought was over.  Even the NWS was predicting we would be officially out of drought.  We were getting timely rains, everything was green and lush.  It seemed our pattern that had taken shape over two years ago of rain being forecast then never materializing had completely changed.  Then, just like someone threw a switch, the rain stopped, the heat turned on(at 7pm it is 100F) and it quickly became obvious our subsoil moisture is so depleted we cannot deal with even a short three or four week period of dry weather without some damage. 

    As unbelievable as it is to me, my corn that just a few weeks ago looked so good, will probably not be as good as the disaster years of 2011 and 2012.  In fact, it is so short, it won't even make good silage.  Even more irritating is reports I read that the Iowa corn crop is suffering in some places from too much rain.

    Luckily, all my ponds did get full, and although their level is rapidly dropping, I think it will be quite sometime before stock water becomes an issue.  Our municipal reservoir nearly got full so drinking water is also fine for now, both things were getting worrisome 6 months ago.  I just have to wonder, how long will the drought go on?  Records indicate the period between 1929 and 1941 was officially a drought here, everyone is going to get awfully tired of reading my blog if all there is is 10 years of my complaining about lack of rain.

  • How about those Shockers!?!

    In my account of March Madness, I failed to give Wichita State its propers.  Thinking they would be a flash in the pan(shows how much I know) the Shockers(as in wheat shockers) beat out number one Gonzaga last night for a berth in the Sweet Sixteen.  In a first for our household, my wife and I spent Saturday night watching Wichita State in a real nail biter and I was actually excited about it.  Despite my predictions that in the end they would fall apart and lose, they won by 6 in a really outstanding game that surprised the basketball nation.  KU plays this afternoon to determine if it will be in the Sweet Sixteen, KSU is out.  How amazing it will be if WSU is the top dog in Kansas basketball in this tournament. 

    I'll hope for no cattle problems and settle in on this snowy March afternoon with some popcorn and watch the game.  Too cold to do anything else as far as this aging Kansan is concerned.

  • March Madness

    I've read a little about Six Nations on the forum, on this side of the Atlantic it is time for "March Madness", another sure sign of spring, and one of the few athletic events I take any interest in at all.

    America is a nation nuts about sports, I have no scientific data to back that up, just judging by whats on TV and what goes on 4 days a week at our local schools. Spring and summer are about baseball, fall is football, winter is basketball, on the high school level they throw in track during the spring just so no one has any free days with no practice.  

    These days, we start our kids off as soon as they can walk playing, at least when I was young you could read before you were expected to play ball.  High school and Junior high parents run themselves ragged all through the school year getting kids to practice and games, in hopes their child will get a university scholarship for some type of ball, although very few actually do.  

    March Madness is what surrounds Division One mens NCAA basketball.  This gets all the press, even though  there are other tournaments during March, including the Kansas high school tournaments, that are now over.  While we have several good universities in Kansas, the two that get the largest following of loyal alumni(along with plenty of fans who have never even been to college) are the University of Kansas in Lawrence(KU) and Kansas State University in Manhattan(K-State).  K-State is our land grant agriculture university, so you can guess most farm families have loyalties there.  The feud between K-State fans and KU fans is mostly good natured and very obvious.  However, I give the K-State loyalists the edge when it comes to outright visible support.  Every Saturday during football season I see a number of vehicles headed toward Manhattan flying little Powercat flags from them(the wildcat is the mascot, the emblem is now trademarked and called the Powercat).  In fact, I have inherited a large limestone rock in my front yard with a powercat and our cattle brand on it from my grandfather, he went to Emporia State, but over the years his allegiance moved toward K-State. 

    I can only get slightly excited about it all, I am about as athletic as a box turtle.  I like high school basketball, and so I get mildly interested in what is going on.  My in-laws are K-State grads, and to see the excitement this conjurs up in them you would think they had $1 million riding on the outcome.  In the bigger picture though, college basketball is one place where Kansas is usually a perennial powerhouse, not so much because of K-State(they usually make their best showing in football) but because of KU.  

    Today is selection Sunday, when the brackets are made, this will be televised.  The entire thing wraps up the first week of April, but not before we've gone through the "sweet sixteen", the "elite eight" and "the final four".   I believe in the past President Obama has made a big deal out of his brackets(maybe he just mentioned them and the press made the big deal).  I believe David Cameron attended a game with him last year?  I have to hone up on my knowledge of what is going on, just so I can carry on a conversation with people for the next several weeks.  It's kind of a nice tradition though, and it brings in spring just as surely as the first green leaves on the trees, the first mosquito bite, and the first tornado watch.  I am sure if you really want too, you can watch it all via the net, starting tonight, I believe the selection will start midnight your time. 

  • I'm really not very brave.

     Last Monday evening I learned I am a little too concerned about staying alive to do anything like interfere in a crime.  I am a county commissioner, Mondays are the day we meet at the county seat.  Sort of like your county councils maybe, yet not quite the same, for one thing there are only three of us.  Our job is to approve the budgets for fire, police, ambulance, courts and county roads as well as set the levy for property taxes and regulate some things locally like the hospital board and building codes.  Monday is always a very long day for me with the meeting consuming most or all of the morning(no meeting today because of Presidents day) and usually at least part of the afternoon "trouble shooting" so I don't have to make the 30 mile trip to the county seat again that week.

    Because of this, I was returning to my home farm Monday evening from feeding silage traveling east, from the west came a cloud of dust like none I'd seen in years, I finally spied a black pickup at the base of it traveling at what I estimate to be 80-100 miles per hour.  The crossroads are both dead ends, one to my house, one to a farm where my great grandparents lived years ago.  This pickup turned and went to my house first, slamming on the brakes and sliding at the end, whipping around and coming back south at a high rate of speed down the other dead end road all in the span of a very few minutes as I watched from the tractor. 

    I had a notion these people were up to no good from the very beginning.  As they shot through the intersection in front of me, my cell phone rang.  Because of the close working nature between myself and the Sheriff, his cell phone number is in my phone, the caller ID showed it was him, and before I answered I knew at least part of what was going on just from him calling me.  "Where you at???" he queried.  "south of my house" I shot back, "are you chasing someone?".  "Yes we are" was the answer, "do you see them?".  I told him I did, they were at the other end of the dead end and couldn't go anywhere IF the law got there quickly.  He assured me the trail had gone cold not too far from me and they would be there quickly.  I realized if I was willing to perhaps have a confrontation I could pull the tractor and wagon across the intersection and pin them.  I also realized if they wanted to escape the law as bad as they apparently did, they might have no compunction what so ever about shooting me.  Unarmed, I decided not to make a stand until I was armed, called my wife told her to lock all the doors and meet me at the front with my gun.  Just as I walked up to my house to grab the pistol, they came back from the south, turned east, and were gone in a cloud of dust, a full 2 minutes later the police came racing through.

    It would have made a lot better story had I trapped them and they been arrested.  Of course, there is a chance I wouldn't have been around to tell it, who knows.  What I discovered much to my disappointment, is I am just not very brave.

  • How many different ways can you say "It's dry"??

    Looking back over my last several blogs, they have all dealt with the same thing, we need water!!  New year, same problem.  The topic of our local town council meeting Monday night was what water restrictions to put in place, when to put them into place, and how to figure just how much water is left in the city lake.  Yesterday it was announced that the USDA has declared 104 of the 105 counties in Kansas drought disaster areas, the first disaster declaration of the new year. All this does is entitle producers to borrow money from the USDA, borrowing more money is not what most of us need.

    Earlier in the week, a .75 inch rain was forecast for our area.  That would have ranked along the lines of a heavy dew as dry as it is, but would have been very welcome.  As with nearly every rain for the last 2 years, the reality was much less than the forecast, I ended up with .3, any moisture is welcome, but you can take your foot and scrape off the little layer of moisture and get to dry dirt with little effort.  We did have a chance of snow for tomorrow night, it has been removed from the forecast, and the 14 day outlook is for dry and cold weather now, we get two kinds of weather now, warm and dry or cold and dry.  

    The first question for me this new year is, do I fertilize my hay ground?  For me at this time the answer is no.  There is no subsoil or topsoil moisture, as far as I am concerned spreading N on my brome would be a waste of time and money.  The alfalfa fixes its own N, it needs some P and K which won't leave me, all the same I don't feel like spending money on hay ground when there isn't any water to grow hay.   What keeps me up at night is what will happen to my cows. 

    I've spent the last 26 years of my life, my entire adulthood, building a herd of 200 cows that are top of the line.  I may not have the fanciest equipment in the world, or biggest house, but I have as good a cowherd as walks anywhere.  To use a UK term, it will gut me to have to sell them.  I have a plan in place.  First order of business, cull what you would cull anyway of course, but there is also a list of cows that either are old enough they would have to go in a year or two anyway, maybe aren't the best behaved, they go next.  Third on the list is rather than go to grass with the 90 or so fall calves I will wean in April, I will sell them and put cows on the grass they would have been on.  What I hope is the worst case scenario is sell about half the cows, and try to hold onto the best 100.  Of course worst case is to run out of water and feed altogether and sell them all.  I can't imagine it getting so bad I have to do that, but I couldn't imagine 6 months ago it would stay dry another 6 months.  I knew it was possible, I just couldn't foresee the consequences.

    I am gradually talking myself into being able to accept the worst case scenario.  I have crop insurance, interest is low, the value of my land is high, my wife has a good job and I have some non farm income of my own, we won't starve or go broke this summer, we shouldn't lose the farm.  The price of cattle is very good, something that usually isn't the case during a drought and of course could change.  Things could be much worse.  I'm facing weather problems farmers have faced for generations without the tools I have available to deal with them.  

    Of course, with every forecast of rain, what all of us think is maybe this is the start of the drought breaker.   Sooner or later, we will be right.

  • Water

    Seems like water is a big problem on both sides of the Atlantic, too much rain in the UK, too little in much of the USA..  With the growing season over, and with some relief in the eastern cornbelt, the story of the drought of 2012(and in Kansas the drought of 2011) isn't getting much national airplay.  For an area in the middle of the USA about 7 times the size of the UK, the latest US drought monitor shows extreme to exceptional drought hanging on.  Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota are all entirely in drought, as is Minnesota and most of Iowa.  While there appears to be part of Texas that has seen relief, a large portion of that state is still in drought.

    With my crop harvested, my daily activities are dominated by taking care of my cattle.  As I drive from group to group in my pickup, memories of my dad trying to sing along with the Sons of the Pioneers come to mind.  "Cool, clear, water" was the refrain, and certainly today in the minds of nearly all cattlemen in Kansas, water is our chief concern, even more than feed.

    I grew up hearing stories of the "dirty thirties" and the "50s".  I've seen dry times I called droughts.  I wasn't all that old in 1980, it was pretty bad, hot, dry, but short relatively speaking, sandwiched between two really wet years.  Seemed awful at the time.  Now after two years of actual drought, I am beginning to see the difference between a dry spell and an honest to goodness drought.

    Every day I have to check my water sources, to see if I still have any water.  I have combined my cattle from 14 pastures into 6 groups, 3 on pasture, 1 group in a timbered "trap" , 2 on arable fields.  I farm on a small river, and thought I was always guaranteed water.  While I have the odd pool of water on the river, some a couple feet deep, the water has not ran since early summer.  The river water is a terrible black color from falling leaves.  In one pasture is a pond we cleaned out last summer, that was filled early in the year from one random heavy rain.  It is now about 1/3 full.  In another pasture, the pond is nearly dry, but a spring continues to amaze me by running a stream of water about as big as my index finger.  A couple of days ago, a pond went dry where I run 100 cows, I am now watering them out of a well, and wondering just how long it will produce water.  On my dad's farm, one pond is dry, one appears to have about 60 days of water, and a spring that hasn't been dry since dad bought the farm in 1965 quit running several months ago.

    Long range forecasts are notoriously inaccurate, but if they are to be believed, there is no real drought relief possible for us for several months yet.  Anywhere stockmen gather, they make the observation it would be possible to get enough rain to grow grass next summer, but not run any water.  A difference from the 1930s and '50s is many of the rural households are now hooked to municipal water supplies, and quite a few cattle are being watered on "city water".  There is also much talk in rural circles about when our city cousins might decide to "cut us off".  Our own city council is monitoring the lake that supplies my drinking water, and I will readily say I do not envy their predicament.  Just last week I had a backhoe out to dig an area out of a pond so the cows could drink without getting stuck in the mud.  I predicted 30-45 days worth of water left, that is the pond that went dry the day before yesterday, just a week after my prediction.  The city fathers cannot wait until the water is nearly gone to tighten things up, yet do not want to alienate the rural populace by turning off the tap too early. 

    In a drought, everything is relative.  Someone from west Texas would look around and think I am living in the Garden of Eden, while someone from Somerset might think this is about as bad as the Sahara.  I'm sure a lot of folks from Australia would think we are a mighty soft lot here in the middle of the USA.  Half the average rainfall two years in a row wreaks havoc, whether your normal rainfall is 10 inches a year or 50.   As we progress through early winter, decisions will have to be made that won't be easy.  Locally some people may have to sell part or all of their cowherds.  Custom graziers will have to decide at what point they call their customers and tell them they can't graze their cattle next year, they won't want to make the call too early, then see it rain 10 inches, but in fairness can't call someone 5 days before grass and tell them they have to take their cattle elsewhere for the summer because there is no water here.  Local governments will have to ratchet water restrictions from voluntary to mandatory, and may have to order people not to water livestock with municipal water.  Landlords and tenants will have to have some heart to heart talks about rents and availability of water, and how much adjustment can be made in rents when you have to haul water, if there is a place to haul water from.  With no guidebook to go by, a phrase you hear a lot these days is, "grandpa said" as in "grandpa said even in 1936 that spring didn't go dry" or "grandpa said half the guys in the township hauled water from that well in the '50s".  Even in a drought, you do have periods of rain, my grandpa said "the only year I saw it dry all twelve months was 1936, and that was a son of a bitch"

    At 44 I am not young, and I am not old.  I realize I am seeing history made at a local level, 20 years from now God willing I will look at some 20 year old and say, "I remember in 2012 that spring along the highway never did go dry".  That 20 year old will think I am just a goofy old guy, until he actually lives through a real drought, and worries every day that spring might quit running.  Regardless of the country you farm in, or the crops and livestock you grow, there comes a time when the best resource for understanding and  dealing with a problem is some guy about 85 years old who lived through the same situation 60 years ago.  

  • Is it time for this again already?

     It seems like only yesterday it was 2008, it actually rained that year, and we elected Obama as President.  The people who live in this household were sick of the 2008 election by the end of 2007.  Now, along with suffering through the worst drought in 50 or 60 years, we have to go through another national election, complete with empty promises and political posturing. 

    It might be my age, but I have come to the conclusion that neither side is worth a damn and mostly lie to us to get elected.  I still see it as my sacred duty to vote, and so I watched the GOP convention, and will watch the Democrats, and will watch the debates, and try to figure out who is the least bad, and vote for that person.  

    When I was a little fellow, many moons ago, every Presidential candidate felt compelled to outline their agriculture policy before an election, I don't think that has happened since Clinton, there aren't enough farmers left to matter.

    The best way I can explain how I feel about the choices we have this year is this.  Imagine sitting in a chair, with a 12 gauge shotgun, trying to decide which would be less painful, blowing off your right big toe, or your left.  This is the feeling I will probably have when I vote for President in November.

    I really hope someday a successful third party will emerge in America, maybe then things will change for the better.

  • The year without a winter.

     While still officially in winter, it hardly feels like it today with a very warm and humid 80 degrees.  Cutting up two big trees that died near my well, I got pretty sweat soaked this afternoon.  The 10 day forecast shows the lowest high to be 66F, the new 30 day came out today for April and shows a broad area of the USA with much above normal temps for the upcoming month.  There are already bugs out everywhere, the frogs are singing in the evening, trees budding, and I keep reminding myself to watch for snakes.  

     I suppose the cause and reason for this warm weather is up for debate, my Yahoo homepage trumpeted the fact that 250 locations set record high temps for this date today.  What is not up for debate is that on my farm this winter we never had a real winter, in fact we only had 5 really cold nights.  It was warm enough it never killed my winter feed turnips.  This warm winter was fortunate for our drought stricken area given hay was in such short supply.  Of course it was also easier on the livestock in general, the ax I use to chop ice sits undisturbed in the corner of the machine shed, where I put it when I decided I was done chopping ice last winter.

     A mild winter is great in my book, but day after day of high temperatures 20 or 30 degrees above normal make me worry about what our summer will be like.  Our drought situation has improved some and our ponds have gained water, all mine are full but a few aren't so lucky.  The weathermen blame La Nina for all of this, the question mark seems to be if La Nina will persist, or break down.  If it breaks down, I gather we should have decent rainfall prospects this summer, if not, according to many forecasters we can figure on another year of severe drought.

  • How long can it stay dry?

    More or less a rhetorical question.  We know it can stay dry for much longer than it has been.  My theory has always been we had 4 very wet years in a row, and it would stay dry for as long as it was wet, very pessimistic I know.  If I am in fact right, then we are only one quarter of the way through out drought.   While my view has been regarded as overly gloomy by many of my associates in Kansas, there is a growing acceptance that we are in for more than just one dry year.  NOAA has once again put our county in the "extreme" drought category, I am not certain how they determine this, but I believe there is only one more step on the scale.  They also indicate there is a high likelihood this drought will persist at least through the beginning of next summer.

    I guess I have made the decision not to seed any wheat this fall.  Some has been planted in my neighborhood, and light rains have brought it up.  I am driven by the economics of crop insurance and the markets, my guarantee is better on corn and soybeans, and the price of wheat today multiplied by what one might reasonably expect to grow is quite a bit less than any of the three major spring crops I could grow, grain sorghum being the third.  With topsoil moisture levels so marginal, and subsoil levels depleted, it just doesn't excite me to plant wheat.  I would just as soon take my chances with a spring crop.

    Certainly grain sorghum will play a bigger part in my cropping plans next spring.  "Milo" as we call it has always been the crop of choice for hot dry conditions.  Over the last 15 years with reasonably decent rainfall it has fallen out of favor with many farmers in my area, I expect to see at least a slight resurgence in its popularity and acres.  

    With most of the wheat planted that will be planted, and spring planting 6 months away, the number one concern today is stock water.  I heard from a reliable source last week one contractor with a track hoe had 100 ponds on a list for cleaning out.  One of the farms I winter cows on has absolutely no water in the creek or pond now, I am watering out of a drilled well and hoping it will successfully water 95 stock cows and 2 bulls through the winter.  You can buy feed, but when you are clear out of water you are done.

    I believe most of the folks in the UK are at least familiar with the term "dirty thirties" referring to the epic drought of the 1930s, listening to the old timers it appears the 1950s saw a dry period that might not have been quite as severe, but was much longer.  The law of averages would indicate we are overdue for a long lived drought.  It will be very interesting to see how our farming practices compare to those of the '30s and '50s.  We are told that no till will conserve moisture, and that seems to be an obvious conclusion, what I think is an unknown is will it conserve enough to make a real economic difference?  

    The other point of interest for me is the future of the USA's beef cow herd.   The drought is centered in an area of this nation that has a huge percentage of the beef cattle.  With strong prices for cattle of all classes, many cattlemen may not try all that hard to hold on, it may be more attractive to cash their cows in and either never buy any back, or wait for the day that hopefully is not too far in the future to restock.  The question then will be, restock with what?  Our national beef herd is already at a many decade low, it would seem to me if it would rain enough to break the drought, the demand for breeding stock would drive prices too high to buy back.

    I believe I may be repeating myself when I say I have new found respect for my grandfathers and great grandfathers being able to hold on through the '30s and '50s, without crop insurance and many of the conveniences we have today to deal with hot dry weather.  In those two droughts there wasn't even a rural fire service, wildfires here were fought with buckets, wet burlap sacks, and backfires and the entire neighborhood either pitched in to help, or lost everything.  

    There is one more nagging question that goes through my mind daily now.  Is this a drought like all the other ones this area has seen over the centuries, or is this driven by climate change?  If it is driven by climate change, could it perhaps be permanent?  Quite honestly I believe this is a normal cyclical drought, but until it is actually over there will be some lingering doubts in my mind regarding the future of farming in this part of Kansas.

  • Running out of water

     As the drought intensifies on my farm, the main issue now is water for the stock.  I have one pond completely dry, another that is just a mud puddle with a tiny bit of water in the middle the cattle can't get to, a third that will be dry by spring.  Others are in better shape, a few are spring fed in some of the pastures and I wouldn't expect them to go dry. 

    All over the countryside bulldozers and track hoes are digging out ponds, making them ready to hold more water whenever rain may come.  At any gathering of farmers now the main concern is water for the livestock, we have come to the point where our crops have done all they will do.  

    I winter most of my cattle on two branches of one "river" that many people would refer to as a creek.  It has not run for nearly a month, and when the leaves fall in the few remaining holes the water will be awful.  We have a number of detention dams for flood control, at times when it is dry they release water, I was told yesterday by my father who is on the board they will not release water this fall because of a fear of a prolonged drought through next year.  As disappointed as I was to hear this, I am hard pressed to disagree with the decision.  When the river doesn't run, here at the house our well pretty much dries up, it will make about 100 gallons a day, not enough to water many cattle.  

    Our drinking water comes from the town water supply, that comes from one of the detention dams, perhaps 100 acres.  My dad told me one of the board members went to the middle in a boat and measured 28 feet of water,so other than tasting odd we will have water for the house as long as we pay our bill.   It appears I will have to water cattle this winter from that water.

    We have been getting a few rains, very light in nature, that have greened up the grass and laid the dust some.  We just can't get enough to be a real drought breaker though, one that runs water, fills the cracks, and puts you in a position if it gets dry again you have some subsoil moisture to run on.  This summer our subsoil moisture together with one freak rain(the 5 incher) is what saved us from total disaster.  We absolutely have no subsoil moisture to run on now, from here on out things get really interesting.

    NOAA says La Nina has returned, so there probably isn't much chance of a turn around this winter.  

  • Hotter than '36

     Our local TV comes out of Wichita, about 100 miles to the west.  According to their records 1936 had the most days with 100F(in Wichita), 50.  Tomorrow they figure on tying that record, and will break it Thursday.  Medicine Lodge has now had 60 days over 100.  I believe in my lifetime 1980 was the worst, I seem to remember 55 days above 100, and I know it was drier.  All in all though, 2011 has been very hot, and very dry.  On my farm we have been VERY fortunate to start with outstanding subsoil moisture this spring, and luck out and pick up some good rains several weeks ago, rains that would probably cause flooding in the UK, but barely ran any water here.  Had it not been for the random 5 inch rain I got about 4 weeks ago, followed by a couple more inches 2 weeks later, we would be completely burned up by now.  As it is only our corn has been ruined, but the beans and sorghum are not far behind, and our hay crop was very short.

    It was about 6 months ago we registered -25F, we had a day or two around 112F, so we've had about 137 degree spread from high to low in 6 months.  I keep thinking about my grandparents, they were married in 1937 so weren't in this house in 1936, but suffered through the summer without electricity to even run a fan(this territory got power in 1948).  We complain today, with our deep ponds dug with bulldozers, crops covered by crop insurance, air conditioned cars, houses, tractors and pickups.  How miserable it must have been in 1936.  I heard a farmer say once 1936 was so hot and dry he was conceived in '36 but wasn't born until '39.

    In those days my great grandfather bossed my grandfather and his 3 brothers who were in their 20s.  At that time our family had lots of oil production, which worked out nicely in the Depression because it kept them solvent.  They ran 2000 head of cattle.  With no feed, my great grandfather was forced to buy corn to feed them, lots of corn, 88 box cars full of corn.  According to my grandfather, the big cars held 1100 bushels, the little cars 900, in your terms that would be about 25 tons per car, give or take.  He and his older brother were in charge of getting the corn from the train to the farm.  Grandpa learned to scoop left handed, so they could stand side by side and shovel corn into a 2 ton IHC truck.  They had the day the train arrived and two more to unload the car, or they would be charged a fee called demarage.  They scooped it from the train to the truck, from the truck into the burr mill, the mill blew the ground feed into a wooden bin above the granary.  They could pull a slide and most of it fell into the feed wagon or truck, but then they had to scoop it into the bunks.  

    They also had to haul water, grandpa said some days that was all they did.   There were deep enough holes in the river they didn't run dry, with a tank on a wagon they hauled water to cattle nearly every day.  The simple thing would have been to sell the cattle, but since cattle weren't worth anything and my great grandfather could afford to keep them, they toughed it out.

    My mothers parents were not so lucky.  They did not have oil, and had already been battered by drought in 1933 and 1934, not to mention the Great Depression as a whole.  In 1936 they ran out of water, feed and finally money, and were forced off their farm.  My grandpa only told me about it once.  It was a long time ago and much of the details are vague now, but what little crop they had was eaten by a plague of grasshoppers, insects are always much worse in a dry year.  I have no idea how my grandparents survived, my grandmothers father was a fairly well off Mennonite farmer and probably had to help them.  They finally recovered and bought a farm in 1948, but were always very frugal for the rest of their lives, even when they had money.

    My paternal grandmothers folks had an irrigated farm in eastern Colorado.  Grandma was still living with them in 1936, they could irrigate out of the canal, but still had to fight the grasshoppers.  Her father rigged up a canvass in a dump rake with a few inches of kerosene in it, he drove back and forth through his hay fields and when the hoppers jumped into the canvass they fell into the kerosene and died, when he had a load he dumped it at the end of the field and set them on fire.

    From the UK I imagine it is hard to fathom how I can be complaining about drought in a month with over 7 inches of rain.  You just have to understand how fast the ground dries out when it is over 100F with a strong and very hot southwest wind.  On those days you can mow hay in the morning and it is dry enough to bale by the middle of the afternoon.  I do mean dry, dry enough to keep.  There are a whole list of things to concern yourself with when it is this dry, aflatoxin in the grain, blue green algae in ponds that kills stock, cattle getting stuck in the mud around ponds and dying, cattle overheating and dying, tractors and vehicles over heating, sorghum and a few other forages being high in nitrates and prussic acid, fire(a few this summer were caused by hay mowers hitting rocks) drinking water that tastes like crap, and very high electric bills from running the air conditioner 24 hours a day, that covers most of it.  Still, I guess we are lucky.  It could be 1936 instead of 2011, and instead of sitting comfortably in my air conditioned house typing this message on the worldwide web, secure in the knowledge I do at least have crop insurance, I could be out on the front porch, with bugs biting me trying to sleep, wondering how on earth I will feed my family with no farm and no money, just like my grandpa did 75 years ago.

  • Aftermath

     It might seem from watching news of the American heartland the last month or so, and perhaps even reading many of my posts, that tornadoes are as common in the middle of America as fish and chips are in the UK.  While it is true we have many more tornadoes than any other place on earth, they still scare us, and actually are not that common.

    Most tornadoes don't kill anyone, they touch down in open country, may hop scotch along for a mile or two, tear up a fence and a few trees, maybe blow down a barn, or tear off a roof, and then they are gone.  Many tornado warnings end up coming to nothing, the tornado either never forms, or hangs harmlessly in the air.  

    Occasionally though, a bright sunny day can turn into death and destruction nearly in the blink of an eye.  Saturday was one of those days in Kansas, Sunday was one of those days in Missouri.  

    For the rest of my life I will remember what I did the day of the Reading tornado, and I will always remember the Joplin tornado the next day.  Saturday I worked on building fence in a wide open pasture, on what you would call a "brilliant" spring day in Britain, the sky was clear, the wind just enough to keep you cool.  As the afternoon went on cumulus clouds towered in the sky, first to the north and then to the west, flattening out on top into the unmistakable thunderhead we see so often.  The least impressive storm, the one to the west, is the storm that ended up building strength as it moved northeast, after nearly falling apart about an hour before it formed a tornado.  

    I spent my Saturday evening under clear sky with few worries eating out with my wife at one of our favorite places, while 20 miles from where we were the sky turned green and a tiny Kansas farming community bore the brunt of natures fury, in the process one man lost his life,while many others lost their homes. 

    The following afternoon from my farm 125-150 miles away I could see the lightening flash in the towering storm over Joplin, the huge flat top of the storm was impressive from that distance, the unfolding tragedy as the evening wore on was hard to comprehend, even harder to comprehend was I could stand outside in clear weather and see the storm, so far away, with no fear of harm to me, even though it brought so much death and destruction to others.

    The first thing you do when you hear of such death and destruction is thank God it wasn't you.   I think the next reaction for most normal people is "how can I help?".  I had seen enough harmless tornado damage to know what I could do was help clear debris, and by Sunday evening had a plan in place to go with 4 others from our town to help with the clean up, taking a skid loader belonging to one of them.  The first thing that hit me as we got in view of Reading was had the storm been a half mile north or south, the town would have been spared.  Had it raised up for just a half mile or so, the town would have been spared.  It really wasn't horribly destructive over a very wide or long area, it just so happened the area it was destructive over was that town.

    We got out of our vehicles next to the grain elevator and walked through town to the command center to register as volunteers, walking that half mile or so gave an overview of the town.  One home might barely have damage,the next be marked as not habitable.  Parts of trees and shingles and all kinds of debris was everywhere.  

    When we got back to our equipment, I simply walked to the nearest home and asked if they wanted help clearing trees.  They were waiting on an insurance adjustor, so I walked across the railroad tracks to where an extended family was busy cutting up trees.  All that was left was the frame of a mobile home wrapped around the trunk of a tree, the tree had been destroyed except for the trunk.  All their worldly possessions were scattered around, most in some state of destruction. 

    A couple of us helped the man with the grain elevator get his pesticides sorted out, the other three ended up cutting up trees and removing debris for 5 households, all people we did not know.  I had a chainsaw problem and was sitting on a log working on the saw, looked up and saw one of my neighbors walking by, she and her husband had also come for the cleanup.

    By 6pm we were beat, the skid steer had picked up a nail or something and had a flat, so we loaded it on the trailer and walked to the firebarn where relief workers were cooking hamburgers and hotdogs, filled our plates and sat down with the volunteer firemen to hear their stories about the storm.  

    Like me, none of them had ever faced a huge tornado head on.  The one who ended up setting off the siren said he was spotting at the bottom of a little hill and saw a huge green cloud, with what he thought was just a lower cloud.  When it topped the hill he was just 2 miles from it.   When the town was hit, so many trees and power lines were across the roads it was hard for the firemen who had been spotting to get back into town to start the search and rescue, the chief told me it was nearly an hour before they could shake the shock of what happened, and that with no street lights and so many trees blown down, it was hard to even know where they were.

    It is hard to know or understand why one town gets destroyed, and others go untouched, or even more baffling how one house can be destroyed and the house on either side still stand.  Some people would offer a religious reason, others a philosophical reason, us honest people will say we don't have a clue why life works this way.  What I do know is that tragedy brings out the best in people, and farm people are always at the fore front of tornado relief efforts, a fact touched on by NBCs Brian Williams last night when he remarked that since Joplin was in farm country, the roads were cleared much more quickly because of all the agricultural equipment available.

    Before we could even go into town we had to sign papers we wouldn't charge people for our work, of course none of us were there for that reason, but evidently not all of the residents knew that.  I observed a man trying to pull a large log out of his yard with a pickup and making no effort.  I walked over and told him we could cut it up and move it with the skid loader, his question was, "how much will that cost me?".  When I told him we didn't come to make money tears came to his eyes and he shook my hand saying, "there are just so many good people around here".  That was all the pay I needed. 

  • Due for a duster....

    ...........one of my neighbors with a way with words used this term not long ago.  After so many years of excess moisture, all of us know deep down in our hearts we are way overdue for a prolonged drought.  Many times I have a tendency to confuse a dry spell with a drought, and have predicted dry weather on my blog, the NOAA made it official about a week ago, our part of the state along with much of the nation farther south is now in a moderate drought.

    20 years ago a dry period inevitably led to comments about "the '30s".  So many of that generation have now died  that you are more likely now to hear references to "the 50s" when dry weather is brought up.  In my relatively short life the reference point to all hellish years is 1980, for my paternal grandfather is was 1936, and to my slightly older maternal grandfather and our now deceased 102 year old neighbor 1913 ranked right up there in terms of hot and dry.  My grandfather lost his 10 year old brother in 1913 to heat stroke, and often talked about doing field work at night because it was too hot for the horses and the farmers during the day.  He told a story about church being interrupted one hot summer Sunday because a neighbors cows had gone into his well because they were so crazed with thirst.  The people rushed to the farm from church to find a dozen cows down the well.  A tripod was erected with a pulley and most of the cows got out alive.  I didn't believe this story until I saw something similar happen 10 years ago myself.

    Dry weather during the winter isn't a bad thing.  There are only nagging reminders of how quickly we will suffer when the weather warms up, like chopping a hole in the ice and getting down to mud and no water in the pond or creek.  On the farm where I winter my spring calving cows the creek is nearly dry, and so is the pond, I took a tractor and loader and dug a 10x5x3 feet deep hole several weeks ago,  and put the entire water load from that pond into that hole.

    Droughts proceed in stages according to the time of year they start.  The first concern has been getting the wheat up, this is still an issue for much of the 8.8 million acre Kansas wheat crop.  For most stock water problems won't really emerge until spring and warmer weather, our next issue will be fire.  Those of us on the fire service are looking back to 1996 for a guide of what to expect, the fires started in mid-February of that year and peaked in the middle of March.  We are working hard to get the fire trucks in the best possible repair.  Sooner or later you get nearly everything burned off that will burn, then the next issues will be growing grass, and getting a spring planted crop out of the ground.  The overriding issue for everyone in our area that is mainly devoted to raising cattle will be feed for next winter.  

    I have been busy trying to buy up any excess hay I can find in case it does stay dry.  I was able to rent two extra pastures, a 40 and a 320 that will allow me to spread the cattle over more acres.  For the first time in about 10 years I am planning to plant oats and undersow it with red clover and crabgrass for hay, this mixture tends to make more feed during dry weather than many other types of hay.  I also am going to carry over about 3000 bushels of corn that can always be sold if it breaks loose and rains, but may be invaluable as feed if it doesn't.

    I have lived long enough to know this can all turn around nearly overnight.  A month from now I may well be half way to my knees in mud.  But the fact is, as my neighbor says, we are due for a duster, you just can't get past that.   So, I will continue to plan for a very dry 2011.  If the year turns out to be like 1996, that might not be bad at all, because although it didn't rain much that entire year, it never got hot and always rained when we needed it.  Hay was short that year,but our corn and soybeans were some of the best ever.  On the other hand if it turns out to be like 1980, we will have nothing.  A combination of nearly no rain, 50+ days over 100F and billions and billions of grasshoppers wiped everything out, hay, crops, grass, all of it.  I was just a kid then, but I well remember we had absolutely nothing, my father and grandfather put our entire spring planted crop up for silage, and filled half the pit.

    A decade ago I would have been a nervous wreck.  I guess I am more mellow now, and maybe slightly better off financially.  I am more able to accept that there is nothing I can do to make it rain, I can only deal with the issues that arise.  I have crop insurance, extra grass, will round up some 2010 hay, keep my fire pager turned on and wait and see what happens.  There is nothing else I can do.

  • It's a good thing I'm a farmer.............

     ........because I couldn't be a cop.  I have had the most entertaining evening in a long time.

     We had just finished our fire meeting, when over our pagers came a call from one of the deputies to county dispatch he was in pursuit of a vehicle that wouldn't pull over.  Our ears perked up when we realized he was in town, and headed right past the fire barn.  We listened as they went off the highway and onto the gravel, it didn't take a great deal of intelligence to realize they were going to wreck at some point.  Myself and another guy followed the dust in our pickups, and in less than 2 and a half miles out of town heard the deputy radio back the truck had gone off the road and hit a tree, and there were at least 3 people trapped in the truck.

    The other fellows we had left behind rolled our rescue truck, I got to the scene almost immediately, with the first guy(our fire chief) just ahead of me.  He didn't get very close, and when I pulled up next to him I figured out why, the deputy that had been in pursuit was on the ground wrestling one of the guys who was trying to run away, with handcuffs on.  I got out of my pickup and didn't know for sure what to do, the best I could come up with was to offer to lasso the guy with my lariat rope from behind the pickup seat, and tie him to a tree.  The deputy got the better of the dummy who was trying to get away, and jerked him to his feet and started manhandling him back to his patrol vehicle.  All this time the guy was protesting he hadn't been trying to get away, even though he had run nearly 300 feet from the totalled pickup.   When we got to the patrol vehicle, the deputy told me to open the door and get his ankle chains from behind the seat, soon drunken idiot number one was chained hands to his feet, and simply couldn't understand why. 

    In the wrecked pickup were 4 others, bloody as all get out, who appeared to be trapped.  However, before we started to cut them out, we asked them if they could get out on their own, and to our surprise all 4 wiggled around and got out of the truck.  There were two 40 year old drunks with 3 teenage boys, real fine role models.  The ambulance, Sheriff, Undersheriff and a few more deputies arrived, and then the parents of the teenagers.  

    After tonight, I am sure I could never be a policeman of any kind.  It takes entirely too much patience.  Wrestling a stinking filthy drunk around on the ground for 5 minutes, then have to listen to him whine about how mean you were too him, and he wasn't doing anything wrong(the deputy asked a very good question, if you weren't doing anything wrong, why did you try to get away from me??).  It was like my own live episode of "Cops".   People can say whatever they want to about the police, I think it takes a heckuva person to have a gun, yet not shoot more people than the police do, out of disgust if nothing else.

     

  • Time to put on the orange hat.

     It's that time of year again, when the countryside is crawling with people of dubious intelligence carrying high powered rifles...deer season.  For the 10 day stretch that started the 1st of December,  I have a bright orange hat, the kind hunters are required to wear, "hunter orange" it is called.  The idea being nobody can mistake someone in bright orange for a deer.

    I've probably said it before, deer season is a mixed blessing.  The countryside is lousy with deer, I read in  a farm paper yesterday Missouri hunters took 188000 deer in their November rifle season.  The problem is, deer are only slightly more of a nuisance than deer hunters. 

    Starting in 2000 we began leasing our land to out of state hunters for a fee, this didn't go over well with the locals who were accustom to hunting for free.  As time has gone by I have refined the deer hunting business some, it now provides a huge percentage of my yearly net income.  There always seem to be "issues" though, either with getting paid, or unhappy hunters.  One of my 5 rifle hunters had a very unhappy day today, someone shot too close to him this morning, then drove too close to him this afternoon.  He didn't see a big buck, and this evening discovered someone had stolen one of his deer stands.  Something tells me he might not be back next year.

    Lucky for me, the USA is full of people hungering to take a shot at a deer.  I have had hunters from Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, Colorado, Arkansas, and Pennsylvania.  I have a list of people who will pay to hunt should any of these fellows decide not to come back.

    There were nearly 10000 car deer accidents in Kansas last year, Mrs. KF was involved in one of them, doing over $6000 of damage to her new Toyota RAV 4.  Deer do considerable damage to growing crops.  Lease hunting is one way to recover some of those losses.   I think overall I get hunters that are more cautious about where they shoot, but it still makes me a little nervous each day as I go about my business knowing there are so many rifles pointed who knows where.  A round from a .243 or 30.06 goes a long way. 

  • A perfect season.

    Life in small town America, really small town America, is dominated by church and school.  You have to live in a complete bubble to escape that fact.  Right or wrong, high school athletics dominate school life in a small town.  Many of the signs marking the entrances to communities say, "Home of the Eagles" or something like that in reference to the mascot of the school, and water towers often have the likeness of these mascots painted on them.  Football in the fall, basketball in the winter, track in the spring, we follow our hometown teams both because we are proud of our kids, and because truth be told, in small towns we don't have much else to do for entertainment.

    We are hard on our coaches.  The movie "Hoosiers", called by a title I can't remember in the UK, is stunningly accurate in its portrayal of the way communities critique high school coaches.  In the 8 years I served on our local school board nearly all of my stress was caused by one coach or another, and the way the parents and kids interacted with them.  Nearly everyone is an expert on coaching in a small town, since nearly everyone played one sport or another.  You hardly ever hear "the other team was just better than we were" after a defeat, generally losses are caused by poor officiating or bad coaching, or a combination of both.  Just ask the parents.

    There is no question a losing season drags the morale of a small town down.  Conversely, a winning season generates enthusiasm and pride.  Our small community has enjoyed a perfect football season this fall, culminating in our team playing for the 8 man state title this afternoon.  Over the last few years we have come  close, but never quite made it.  Our town collectively held its breath as we won one game after another, hoping it wasn't all a fluke.  After winning substate last week, even guys like me who don't care much for football spent quite a bit of time and conversation trying to evaluate our chances in the big game.  

    Hoosiers is also accurate in the way it portrays the entire community rallying around a team in a good year.  Store windows had signs cheering the boys on, much of the town made the two hour trip to watch the game, and thanks to regional radio the rest of us listened this afternoon as boys we have known since they popped out of the womb played on brilliant and warm fall day.  We got our monies worth, a real nail biter.  Right up to the final moments the outcome was uncertain.  My normal "who cares" attitude about sports pretty much vanished.  I was hauling cattle and listening on the radio in the pickup when I noticed my neighbor had two cows out, both of us were irritated about the interruption.  I got to do the running, as I was running back to my pickup he yelled out....."we are ahead by 8!!".  It wasn't until there was about 40 seconds left it became certain we would win.  I called one of my best friends who had a son playing and suggested he and about a half dozen other fathers strip naked and run around the field, the culmination being a group hug of the coach, "it'll make the paper" I assured him.  He declined the notion of a naked run, but admitted he had tears streaming down his face.

    It will make the paper anyway.  A quick glance at the Emporia gazette website a few hours later reassured me of that, as it boldly proclaimed our small towns victory.  Just like the end of "Hoosiers", our small town will remember this day for a very, very long time.

  • Fire weather watch.

    The old saying is, "if you don't like the weather in Kansas, wait a day, it will change".  My dad always says our weather goes from one extreme to another, I was shocked in 7th grade when our Kansas history teacher taught us that actually is the description of our weather.

    The flooding rains of summer that gave us the big ditches and chunks of driftwood to watch for during fall harvest are just a distant memory now.  The weather is nearly perfect as far as living and doing chores goes, but the increasingly wide stretches between rains and the decreasing amount of precipitation those rains yield is beginning to show.  

    NOAA has issued a red flag warning for extreme fire danger for most of the state tomorrow, and a fire weather watch for the rest of it.  Frost and dry weather has turned our tall lush green grass of summer to tall, dry brown grass, a situation we will live with until spring, or until fire blackens the prairie.  The final piece of the puzzle is coming into play now, humidity below 20%.  When humidity runs in the 40%-50% range the grass is surprisingly hard to catch afire.  Generally, even with a fairly stiff breeze, a road will stop most fires if the humidity is above 40%.  Everything changes below 20%.  At times, a strong stream of water from a fire hose will knock fire ahead of itself with low humidity, and a road is barely noticed by the fire in a strong wind.  Care must be taken to avoid driving a vehicle into tall grass at times other than the early morning for fear of starting a fire, in fact a 700 acre fire started Wednesday in Stafford county when an agronomist on an ATV set corn stubble ablaze while taking soil samples.  Electric fences sometimes start fires, I've even seen a couple started by tractors pulling a load uphill on a road, and blowing out a clinker into the grass.  Of course, every once in a while you get someone who gets a kick out of "throwing matches", the worst I can remember was about 15 years ago when someone started fires over a 30 mile stretch of road.  

    This time last year we couldn't get out into the pastures because of deep mud, I am still bouncing over ruts I left, now, we dare not drive into them during the afternoons for fear of fire.  What a difference a year makes.

     

  • Going Ballistic

    "Going ballistic" is a term we use in the states for getting very, very angry.  I have no idea if you say the same thing in the UK.  In an hour and a half, 8:30 am our time, I will be going ballistic on our builders.

    Every once in a while I learn something I believe is not true.  I use to believe people with back trouble exaggerated how much it hurt, then I had a couple of bouts with a bad back, and realized hey, that really is painful.  I also heard never to hire your friends, and that working on your house is stressful.  I built two machine sheds, hired friends to build one, everything went fine there, how big of a deal could it be to do a little work on the house?

    In the summer of 2009 Mrs. KF and I drew up a plan to remodel our home inside and out, to the tune of $60000, might not be much money in the UK, it is a ton for me, especially to spend on the house.  I have(might be better now to say "had") a very good friend who built his own house and did a beautiful job, he works with a guy who built his own house and did a really nice job, they built one of my machine sheds, I figured hey, hire your buddy, he will never let you down.

    The first thing to be done was rewire the house.  Old wiring burns down many homes, no point in doing a bunch of work, only to have the house burn down.  Perhaps I should have sensed trouble brewing when the first day they worked, November 18, 2009, they punched a hole through my bedroom wall.  Nothing was said, I made the assumption(one of many) that they would fix it.  

    Time went on, 90% of the work they did was good, 10% was crap.  At times the work was sporadic, because I learned all good builders start 2 or 3 projects at once, and work on one for a while then leave.  We gritted our teeth and told each other(the wife and I) just to be patient.  Mrs KF even made a point every day of complementing their work, and told me I should do the same.  In June they "finished"  the inside.  I still had the hole in my bedroom wall, along with a half dozen very visible defects.  Every morning, first thing I saw was a grapefruit sized hole in our wall as I gazed down past my toes.  Mrs. KF and I assured ourselves fixing that was on the list, just be patient.  

    Then, one very hot June night, I got out of bed to get a drink.  Our new, high efficiency air conditioner was going full blast and the house was very comfortable.  As I walked through the dining room in the dark, I heard what sounded like someone thumping on the dining room table.  I stood there, half scared a ghost was present, and turned on the light to see water pooling on the table, coming from the ceiling.  

    What you may or may not know in the UK is an air conditioner produces a lot of water in humid weather.  There is a drain.  They had installed my drain at an angle that did not allow the water to flow away from the unit until it was nearly full....with the very humid night, it could not drain water away as fast as it was being produced, and was running out onto the ceiling, and soaking through into the room below.

    The next day being Sunday, they were not going to work,but got a call from me promptly at 7am.  I had very nearly called at 1am when I discovered the leak.  When my friend arrived I gave a very animated and profanity laced run down of all the things we were unhappy about, ending with, "and I suppose you expect me to look at this goddammed hole in my bedroom wall for the rest of my life?!?!?!?".  

    Things moved pretty fast inside the house after that, within a couple of days most things were fixed so we could live with them.  I was told they needed a check for siding and windows, the windows had to be specially made, so they would not be back until the 5th of July.  Without argument, I wrote the check.  

    However, nobody showed up on July 5th.  My friend had to sell his house and work on another one so he and his family had a place to live, they got another job with a deadline.  Mrs. KF and I waited patiently through July, August, September and the first week of October before I got a little blunt made a phone call, they showed up the second week of October, without my friend who now claims I was told all along he was not going to work on the outside of the house.  

    I was combining and getting home in the dark.  I didn't pay close enough attention to what was going on.  They had three sides done before I really inspected what they were doing, it was very half assed.  We had a couple of polite conversations, didn't make much difference.  Last week they put a door in the kitchen(from the outside) requiring them to take down the rack that holds the pots and pans..they left it on the floor and Mrs. KF tripped and fell over it while bringing in the groceries.  

    The new head builder got divorced in the middle of all this and now has a new girlfriend.  Even though he is 40, he is apparently required by law to talk to her on the cell phone at least once an hour all day long.  They have been putting on siding in between visiting, telling jokes, talking on the phone, and cooking bratwursts in a large smoker they brought and put in the front yard.  He has custody of the kids,and brings one with him every day, who has been beating the hell out of the siding with a stick and chipping paint off of it.  With less and less hair on my head all the time, and an increasingly round face and figure, apparently I bear a striking resemblance to Buddha and inspire not even a tiny bit of fear in anyone anymore.  The real kicker though was I had questions about the warranty they could not answer, and told me I needed to go to the company website.  While on the company website, I learned they have not been putting the siding on correctly, and it will not have a warranty because of that.  When I brought this up, they just sort of shrugged and said I probably won't need the warranty anyway, so in the blink of an eye I go from a 50 year warranty, to none.  

    Yesterday, my dozer man showed up to clear some trees to build fence.  He walked around the house looking at the trim and started laughing.  That was the final straw.  Mrs. KF and I had a two hour long conversation going over the bids and bills, and all our frustrations.  I tried calling all 4 builders and finally got one.........I gave him a fairly severe 30 minute long chewing out, told him not one more dime changes hands until we are 100% satisfied, and they better figure a way to get a warranty on the siding, or I guessed it could all get sorted out in court, because I was not going to pay them any more money, period.  So, at 8:30 we have scheduled a group ass chewing, where I am going to go completely ballistic all over again.  

    Moral of the story, hire your friends to work on your house, when you are done you will have less money and fewer friends. 

  • Done with fall harvest.

    I wrapped up fall harvest yesterday at 10am.  To jog readers memories, I finished fall 2009 harvest in March 2010.  We have had day after day of perfect harvest weather, with highs in the 80s.  Soybean moisture has fallen into the 8.5% area, with corn in the 11% range.  I cut soybeans last Saturday night that tested 8.8% at 9pm. 

    Yields have been average on soybeans(running about one of your tons per acre, or in the low 30s bushel wise), and below average for corn(maize) at about 70 to 80 bushels per acre, with a few guys down in the 30s(my poorest was 50).  Very good prices however have turned this into a pretty good year, money wise.  Local prices yesterday were $11.55 on soybeans and $5.10 on corn, the highest harvest prices by far I have ever seen.

    Our flooding summer rains left our fields with ditches and driftwood to dodge, more than one combine has suffered a little damage.  I got a piece of driftwood stuck in my feederhouse, but luckily it didn't tear things up.  Fall has turned dry, with growing concern for the 2011 wheat crop.  I have not planted any wheat,and will not unless we get a rain this weekend.

    All things considered, I think 2010 will go down as a pretty good year for most of us in eastern Kansas.

  • Noxious weeds

    In Kansas we have noxious weed laws, probably a dozen weeds have been declared "noxious", meaning that if you don't control them the county may do it for you,and charge the costs to your taxes.  The newest noxious weed and without a doubt the most expensive and difficult to control here in the Flinthills is sericea lespedeza.  This weed was introduced in this country for wildlife habitat.  It was only after the government had spread it far and wide that it was discovered you couldn't kill the stuff, and cattle hate it, and must be starved to eat it, although goats love it and sheep will eat it, problem is there are precious few of those in Kansas. Fire, our chief tool to keep our pastures clean and weed free only makes it grow bigger.

    I have been battling this weed about 15 years and making very little progress.  Tomorrow I take the battle to a new level, aerial attack.  I am going to bite the bullet and have 160 acres sprayed from the air.  The sad part of this is that I already know next year I will still have it.  Hopefully this method of spraying(the terrain is too rough to spray with a ground rig) will at least help me get an edge so we can do some mopping up next year on foot, but I wouldn't be a bit surprised if I have to call in air strikes next year and the year after.

    The bad thing about sericea is the cost of controlling it is sometimes more per acre than the grassland will make.  It pits neighbor against neighbor because hard feelings ensue if one person feels their neighbor isn't doing enough to control it.   Each of our counties has a noxious weed department, and most counties now subsidize the chemicals used to fight this battle, and that has helped bring costs more in line with what farmers can afford, leading to my decision to blanket spray.  

    A word of advice....don't ever plant sericea no matter how good your government tells you it is.

  • A surprise storm.

    Wrote a blog with this title two days ago, for some reason it never got posted, at least not that I can see,so I will try again.  After 3 weeks of the hottest weather we have had in 10 years with highs in the high 90s to mid 100s, we have gotten some relief. 

    Friday night a red line of storms on radar appeared as though it would miss us, but we just caught the southern tip.  My farm narrowly missed what was either a small tornado or an extremely narrow downburst.  Mrs. KF and I were watching the 10pm weather, the last thing we heard from the weatherman was "the threat for severe weather is over for this evening" when our electricity went out.  My parents(who just live 3/4 of a mile to the west) still had their power, as did my neighbors directly to the east, so I assumed lightening had hit the breaker at the end of the lane and went to bed after calling in the outage(to a very aggravating automated system).  Sometime in the middle of the night a power truck drove into the yard, but left without restoring our lights.  When we still had no electricity at 6am I called the neighbor to the north who is on the same line we are.  It was then I learned that just 250 yards to the north of my house on the other side of the river there had been lots of wind damage, and about 15 poles were down.  After going up and seeing some of the damage, I was relieved that it had not hit the farmstead, but also a little concerned how a storm this strong could occur without notice from the National Weather Service before or after.

    From that strong storm we got .6 of an inch of rain, then Saturday night another .25.  Yesterday we had a slow, gentle rain the entire day that added up to an additional 1.5 inches.  This moisture will go a long way toward making a fall crop, although we are not out of the woods yet as far as hot dry weather goes.

  • It's really hot.

    3 years ago today Mrs. KF and I were motoring along from Ashford, Kent to Bridgwater Somerset, took a side trip to Windsor Castle and the town of Farnborough to see a distant cousin, got a peek at Stonehenge from the A303 I believe, then got lost and another distant cousin picked us up at a grocery store in Bridgwater. 

    My 4th or 5th cousin Julie-Ann gave us a great tour of Somerset, and among other things on our next to last day we went to a car boot fair, as I describe it to folks here at home, a garage sale on steroids.  From what I can remember, that day was the hottest of the summer so far in the UK, I believe about 85F.  Mrs. KF and I were amused to say the least at all the people standing around panting, and the young men stripping off their shirts because it was so hot.  I am not making fun of anyone, it is just that 85F to us does not seem so hot, just like 105F doesn't seem that hot to veterans returning from Iraq.

    From what I gather, our temp today was around 105F.  I don't look when it is extra hot or extra cold because knowing for certain only makes it worse.   You do get somewhat use to the heat(or the cold in the winter) but you still don't enjoy it.  Just like the extreme cold tests the limits, the extreme heat does too.  Radiators have to be constantly blown out, hay baler fires are much more easy to start, tires blow out if they are weak at all.  Your age begins to show too. 

    Our TV constantly reminds us of the signs of heat stroke as does the radio, and "keeping hydrated" is the name of the game.  I have a gallon John Deere water jug I keep filled with ice water(I also noticed you Brits have a real aversion to ice), that means you first fill it with ice, then let the water fill in the air spaces.  On a good hot day I will drink two of those.  When you come inside you drink more ice water, or ice tea, or stuff like Gatorade.  Sometimes, you just say to hell with it and don't work during the middle of the afternoon, because even if you do have a good air conditioner on your tractor, everything runs so much warmer it bugs you, and your AC doesn't work that great anyway.

    Right now I can take this all in stride.  Ample rains all summer have blessed us with plenty of subsoil moisture.  But every day like today hurts us.  Our soybeans are blooming and setting pods, this kind of weather will make them abort.  By this time next week I won't be very talkative at all, and in another week my mood will be bleak.  

    There is a little chance of rain Wednesday night and Thursday.  An inch is all it would take to make me smile.

  • Talk about ugly.

    Our 2010 election process is well underway with the primary in Kansas August 3rd.  Kansas is a predictably Republican state, and usually our politics are fairly polite, perhaps much like those in the UK, or at least how we would imagine they would be.  This year is an exception. 

    I suppose the problem is obvious.  One of our two US Senators, Sam Brownback, is leaving his Senate seat open to run for governor.  Two of our US Representatives, Todd Tiahrt and Jerry Moran(both GOP) are running for his seat.  Both have been fairly popular in their own districts, and in reality there is probably not much difference between them.  So, naturally both have resorted to convincing us the other is evil.  Their running for the US Senate is leaving their respective House positions open, with 6 Republican contenders for Moran's seat, and I believe 5 for Tiahrt's.  There are three front runners for Moran's 1st district spot, and each of them is spending a fortune lambasting the others.  But the real fortune is being spent in the 4th district that takes in Wichita, where "Wink" Hartman has been running ads it seems since dirt was new, in reality I believe I saw the first one the end of April.  His chief challenger Mike Pompeo also seems to have plenty of cash to spend, and they have been hurling insults and character abuse against each other for at least the last month, calling each other liars, not insinuating but saying it outright.

    We live in the 1st and not the 4th and it has been fairly easy for me to decide who I will vote for in our own House race, but Mrs. KF and I have remarked more than once if we lived in the 4th we might not vote at all.  Apparently we share that feeling with many in the 4th, because a dark horse emerged last week in the persona of Jean Schodorf, after running about 3 ads, she skyrocketed up the polls right past old Wink, who rumor has it has spent over $1 million of his own money in this race. 

    I think the overall effect of this race is to make everyone disgusted with politics(more than we already were).  How can any of us know what is true, and who the biggest crook is, with a daily dose of propaganda coming full force, in emails, pop up ads on the computer, TV, radio, and the good old US mail in the form of flyers.  I talked to another farmer several days ago who was advance voting because he and his wife were going on vacation.  He told me they sat at the kitchen table discussing what to do, and finally decided between Moran and Tiahrt one would vote for Moran and the other for Tiahrt, so they could do no harm.  How sad is that?  

    What will be especially amusing is watching the Republican party try to close ranks behind those who are victors in the primaries Tuesday.  After all this name calling and mudslinging, suddenly like magic everything will be all better,and we will be called on to present a unified front in November, to send good Republicans to DC to battle Obama.  At one time I thought Kansans were above all that, I guess we aren't.  What our nation needs is a viable third party.  More and more of us say it, whether or not it ever happens is unknown.

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