Friday, October 31, 2014

30 Days of Thoughts of a Future Famer - Introduction

For the last few years, writer Holly Spangler has done a "30 Days of Blogging" challenge, and last year she convinced me to finally start blogging.  Every year has a theme.  I know numerous other bloggers who are focusing theirs on topics like food, agriculture in their state, and the like.  My topic this year goes along with the general theme of my blog.

This year's topic is 30 Days of Thoughts from a Future Farmer!  Why on Earth does this matter/do I think my thoughts are important?  I think that as a student, as well as someone not from an agriculture background, I take a unique perspective on things in the agriculture industry, from GMOs to CAFOs (be prepared, I love my pigs), cover crops, why I believe in no-till, and many other topics.

 (to break up the monotony, here's some of our cover crop rye starting to sprout in corn stubble)

I hope you'll all follow along as I go through my series this year.  Some posts will be based on current events in my life, and others are bigger perspective topics.

I want to hear your comments and questions through the blog and Facebook as I get ready for Day 1 on the 1st!  If you want to see a post on a certain topic, reach out to me!

As always, feel free to contact me through different avenues also, including my Facebook Page, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram (all hyperlinks lead you to me!). 


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Engagement, Harvest, and Life

It's good to finally have a morning where there is a little bit of time to write!

We are now in week six of classes at Purdue... Don't quote me on that.  It's been exam time, so things tend to run together!  I'm also in the process of working on making sure we are ready for an upcoming Dubois County Young Farmer meeting, and some events at school, so things are crazy! 

Add to the list of "crazy happenings" that I got engaged a week and a half ago!  My fiancee and I have been together since the week before Christmas, freshman year of high school, so December will be five years.  Finally putting a ring on your best friend of nearly eight years is exciting, nerve-wracking, and relaxing all in the same... I'll write about that in my upcoming 30 Days of Blogging series that you can watch out for during November!  Back to engagement, everyone wants to see the ring, and the adorable to-be bride, so I have pictures!  We couldn't be more excited for this next step in our life together!  Not to mention, we have two and a half years until the wedding, so no rush to get things done (or something like that, except not really).




While I listen to my friends at school who are home three times a week and weekends talking about harvest and yields, I usually get at least one daily update from my boss.  With Purdue being 160 miles from home, it's exciting enough knowing that the boss is in the middle of harvest at home, and yields are looking beautiful!  As hog farmers, we aren't exactly upset about these cheap corn prices at all.  It makes up for the fact that we were buying $7 and $8 corn for feed in 2012/2013 after the drought left us with.... Well, very little!

Pre-harvest, there were some improvement projects that we did to speed up the grain storing process this year.
 Here, we were sitting on separate grain bins with the new cross-auger mounts, trying to get them ready for the auger with large PVC pipe.  The augers were put up with a crane truck, and a crew of professionals (I wasn't around to get pictures).  We did, however get cross augers put up, so we use the unloading auger below to empty into the drying bin, and it is automatically augered into two smaller grain bins.  One we empty into a truck and transfer to a big grain bin that is separate from the majority of them.  The other now has an auger that pulls corn from the middle of the bin and transfers it to three neighboring bins.  Corn remains in our bins for as long as it takes to need it for feed.  More years than not, we use our corn up for feed as the next crop is coming to the bin.  Other years there is carryover from the previous year.
Another addition for us this year was a bigger unloading auger.  The old one had a full life, and was ready to be put to pasture.  Moving from an 8" to a 10" auger diameter is a surprising difference when it comes to unloading trucks!  It speeds up the process for sure!

I'm keeping things short today, but this was my text message on the first day of harvest - "First load."

Here's to a good week for you all!

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Monday, September 15, 2014

After a 4 Month Hiatus, I'm Back!

I was looking, and I believe the last blog I posted was in April.  After finals week, I went home and jumped into a work schedule where I simply didn't make the time to write.  If you follow my Life of a Future Farmer Facebook Page  

As some of you know, I took an internship this summer as a seed sales and agronomy intern with a co-op in Southern Indiana.  As a college student, and one who only ever worked on a family farm, I saw this experience as beneficial and necessary.  That sounds odd, "beneficial and necessary."  I say this because I've only ever had one boss prior to this experience, and I will honestly say he's probably been the best employer a person could ask for. 

Working for a company or corporation like the co-op places you in a total different environment.  My branch had an operations manager, salesmen, applicators, truck drivers, and many seasonal employees.  Being part of such a diverse operation is unique.  Not only did I spend days on end hauling soybean and corn seed, fertilizer, and chemicals, I also spent a significant amount of time pulling soil and tissue samples, repairing equipment, assisting with field days, and putting countless field signs in the ground.  I  had never had many of these experiences, and I got the opportunity to make some realizations about what I do (and what I don't) want to do with the rest of my life.  My boss always says, "It's better to spend a summer learning you don't like doing something, than hating your career because you made the wrong choice as a young person with no field experience."

Other than being an intern, I got to do many other exciting things this summer.  One of which was be on a National Title Winning Agriculture Economics Quiz Bowl team.  As a student at Purdue, I took AGEC 498A, which last year happened to be Ag Econ Quiz Bowl.  We met once a week spring semester, and every other Sunday during the summer, went over ten different categories of economics questions, and prepared for national competition.  In mid-July, we attended the Applied and Agricultural Economics Association (I think that's right) annual conference in Minneapolis, MN.  This is largely a convention for professors, graduate students, and the like.  There were teams from across the nation that came to compete as undergraduates in this competition from schools including Mizzou, Iowa State, Manitoba, and the like.  You could say we had very fair competition.  In the end, My team of three won the contest, bringing home a large trophy and another bragging point to Purdue University!

This is a short synopsis of my summer - Hope yours was great as well!

As always, please submit questions and comments - I am always happy to discuss. 

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@ebenkamp2013 on Twitter, Life of a Future Farmer on Facebook, and @samebenkamp on Instagram

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

"The Consumer is Always Right, and That's Why Farmers Use Pesticides"

 Last night, Purdue Collegiate Farm Bureau held their annual banquet, and the keynote speaker was Mr. Leonard P. Gianessi from CropLife Foundation.  The topic was a unique one to say the least, but as we typically look at things from the eyes of producers, it gets very hard to understand consumer attitudes against things like pesticides that make their food more safe. 

What Mr. Gianessi has been doing in these sorts of presentations is turning the card around and speaking about the fact that it is consumer standards and expectations that bring cause for our use of pesticides.  Now before anyone gets all hot and bothered, let me explain that statement.  This link should take you to the PowerPoint slides. 

We learned something interesting in this presentation.  Farmers aren't spending a fortune on chemicals because they simply love spending money, using fuel to drive through fields spraying, and using time that could be spent doing other things.  They spend all this time and money because it produces a better product for their consumers.  Actually, they make this investment because consumers demand food of a certain quality at the very least.  I mean, we could just not do this, have some food that is still acceptable to eat, but looks funny, is discolored, or the like.  In some cases, like blueberries, these chemicals protect consumers from finding beetles conveniently hidden in their food.  Who doesn't like a nice crunchy beetle after every few berries, I mean come on! 

In all seriousness, I urge you to look at the CropLife Foundation's webpage here, and find them on Facebook here.  There is further information on this and other similar topics.

Have a good day, and remember that it's spring.  Slow down and watch for slow moving farm machinery.  That's someone's family member, and saving a couple minutes isn't worth taking their life.

Always remember to leave comments!

Samuel Ebenkamp
@ebenkamp2013
https://www.facebook.com/lifeofafuturefarmer

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Hitching up the Honey Wagon

It's that season again!!

While most people get excited for baseball, cutting grass, and washing cars again, farmers are changing oil, and trying to get spring field work done.  In the case of this year, they just want to get STARTED.  In my part of the country, the fields have been too cold to plant, too wet to till, and not solid enough to pull a manure spreader across.  As the ground continues warming up and becoming more solid (less muddy) the livestock producers are eager to get in their fields because they are getting to be late on hauling manure. 

Individual practices vary by farm, and as I work on a total no-till farm, I will discuss this as we operate.  Before we can get corn planted, there are a lot of buildings that need manure hauled.  After manure is hauled, we spray burn-down on cover crops, and then finally start putting seed in the ground. 

Manure smells bad, annoys travelers and neighbors, and puts slow moving traffic on the road.  Why do we have to do things the way we do?  Great question!  Each field that has manure hauled on it is required to have soil tests pulled once every few years.  Depending on how the soil tests come back,
farmers have to plan a strategy to get rid of a ton of manure.  This is done more strategically than you may think.  Some farmers, in efforts to save time like to stay as close to the manure storage (hog house, lagoon, turkey house, feedlot, etc.) as they can.  What they have learned over time  is that to truly harness the nutrient value of "all that 'crap'" we have to view it as a nutrient source rather than a waste product. One farmer I know to has figured a nutrient value on his hogs manure at nearly $50 an acre.  This means Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium, and Potash that they don't have to buy elsewhere. 

Personally, hauling manure is one of my favorite jobs on the farm ("eww" is the typical response).  There's not a much more relaxing job than five minutes loading a tank, driving to the field, finding where you stopped last, five minutes or so to unload, and the trip back.  It's not the best smelling job, and you may walk away with some "mud" splattered on you...  I enjoy it... It's peaceful I suppose. 

Think of it this way.  Driving through the country right now may smell absolutely horrid (especially in the poultry-heavy areas of our county).  What you need to look at more importantly, is the sustainability aspect of it all.  Farmers raise livestock, use the manure to fertilize fields, grow feed crops in those fields, and continue the cycle.  Animal ag in this sense is a very circular business.

Next time you see that "honey wagon" on the road, just breathe through your mouth, and take your time because what he or she is carrying is something you really don't want to be reckless around and cause an accident.  Manure doesn't do any favors for car paint...

Have a great day and be sure to let me know if you want to hear about any topics in future blogs!
sebenkam@purdue.edu
@ebenkamp2013 on Twitter
Life of a Future Farmer on Facebook

Photo courtesy of Gilmer Dairy Farm and Will Gilmer.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Miss Peggy Sue and You




This title must have made you wonder if I have lost it!  Well, fortunately I haven't.

I want to talk about one of my buddies, and she's pink!  Just like most people that live/work on farms, I too have one little critter that I take a special interest in.  Okay, she's not very small.  She's about a two year old sow that I, for some reason or other, just cant resist!

Now, why did this sow get a name and many of them don't?  Well, for the most part I was bored and "Peggy" rhymes with "piggy" (real creative, I know!).  This is actually "Peggy II" since Peggy I went to see Louie at the hog market back in the fall.

When I go to visit the farm, or work if you want to call it that, one of my first stops (after dipping my boots in a foot bath for biosecurity reasons) is the sow building.  One of my responsibilities since I started helping on the farm was to help care for the breeding hogs.  There are around 150 of them on the farm, and I always have one that's a favorite.  This is usually because she is the one that doesn't bark at me when I bring the feed cart down the aisle, but rather just looks up at me and patiently waits while I bring breakfast.

What's so special about sows that is different with market hogs?  At the farm, the breeding livestock come from a high-quality breeding stock breeder (tongue twister much?).  Sows will usually stay on the farm two to three years, and farrow (have piglets) twice a year.  They come to the farm about six months old, and then will usually breed in the next couple months.  Sows are pregnant for 114 days (three months, three weeks, three days is how its taught) and then have piglets.  They move into a "farrowing house" and are then put in individual pens like the one you see above with plenty of space to move around, warm straw to sleep on, feed every morning, fresh straw every morning, and a section where the piglets can lay under a heat lamp and stay warm when they are not nursing.  Piglets are very heat sensitive when they are born, so they are kept in buildings where climate is closely monitored.  After six weeks in the farrowing house, the sows go to a different building where they have outside access, and are put on a feed ration to help them put weight back on after six weeks of nursing.  Piglets go to the nursery at this time, and are put in group pens with other sows' piglets.  All pigs are well monitored for their health and well-being.

Peggy and the other pigs are raised in a way to provide a safe, nutritious, and healthy source of pork to consumers across the nation!  Yes, contrary to what some will say, farmers really care about what you eat, since it has their name on it. 

(sorry, this showed up sideways)

As we wrap up National Agriculture Week, I felt that I could share with you about one of my pink friends, since agriculture is, you could say, a huge part of her life! 

As you go on, think of Miss Peggy next time you are eating pork products.  She helped those get to your table!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

So, Are You a Farmer?

There are some questions I get pretty commonly, and this is one I want to address today.  "So, are you a farmer?"  Well, what's your definition of a farmer, and we will go from there.

I have worked for a farmer, raising corn, beans, wheat, rye, and pigs, and this will be my fourth summer with him.  What makes someone a farmer?  Does that mean you own the land?  You're the one that plants and harvests the fields?  You get the check when crops are sold?  You pay the bills?  You care for the livestock?  If you ask me if I'm a farmer, I will say yes. 

Why?

I don't own the land, a single seed or pig, any of the equipment, and I don't pay the bills.  What makes me a farmer then?  When I'm at home and can work, my alarm goes off at 5:30, I get up, and head to the farm.  No matter the season, I have pigs to feed, feed to grind, and other tasks to do.  Depending on the time of year, we may have crops to either get in or out of the ground, fertilizer to put down, manure to haul, pigs to sell, and there is always something that needs fixed.  Do I look at this as a job?  Not a chance.  What is it then?  It's farming in America.  You can call it work, by definition of the word, but it's a labor of love for me.  Most farmers wouldn't be there if it wasn't.  I do this because I want to, not because I feel I have to.  Nobody makes me - it's about loving what you 're doing.

I need to clarify why I use the term "we" when I talk about things happening, as it was a point of contention last week.  As I mentioned, I'm an employee in the operation.  I say "we" because when work gets done, if I'm a part of it, in the end, "we" did it.

What do I think makes a farmer?  I think a farmer is something special.  Man or woman, a farmer is someone who spends some portion of their lives growing row crops, raising livestock, keeping bees, growing produce, running a hobby farm with a corn maze, or doing some other sort of similar activity.  Farmers are something special.  Farmers are built of dedication, patience, hard work, tired backs, strong arms, and a heart of gold.  Paul Harvey mentioned much of this in his 1976 "So God Made a Farmer" talk, made popular again by Ram Trucks in the last year.

"And on the 8th day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, "I need a caretaker." So God made a farmer.
God said, "I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, milk cows, work all day in the fields, milk cows again, eat supper and then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board." So God made a farmer.
"I need somebody with arms strong enough to rustle a calf and yet gentle enough to deliver his own grandchild. Somebody to call hogs, tame cantankerous machinery, come home hungry, have to wait lunch until his wife's done feeding visiting ladies and tell the ladies to be sure and come back real soon -- and mean it." So God made a farmer.
God said, "I need somebody willing to sit up all night with a newborn colt. And watch it die. Then dry his eyes and say, 'Maybe next year.' I need somebody who can shape an ax handle from a persimmon sprout, shoe a horse with a hunk of car tire, who can make harness out of haywire, feed sacks and shoe scraps. And who, planting time and harvest season, will finish his forty-hour week by Tuesday noon, then, pain'n from 'tractor back,' put in another seventy-two hours." So God made a farmer.
God had to have somebody willing to ride the ruts at double speed to get the hay in ahead of the rain clouds and yet stop in mid-field and race to help when he sees the first smoke from a neighbor's place. So God made a farmer.
God said, "I need somebody strong enough to clear trees and heave bails, yet gentle enough to tame lambs and wean pigs and tend the pink-combed pullets, who will stop his mower for an hour to splint the broken leg of a meadow lark. It had to be somebody who'd plow deep and straight and not cut corners. Somebody to seed, weed, feed, breed and rake and disc and plow and plant and tie the fleece and strain the milk and replenish the self-feeder and finish a hard week's work with a five-mile drive to church.
"Somebody who'd bale a family together with the soft strong bonds of sharing, who would laugh and then sigh, and then reply, with smiling eyes, when his son says he wants to spend his life 'doing what dad does.'" So God made a farmer."
From http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/02/paul-harveys-1978-so-god-made-a-farmer-speech/272816/ .

To answer my question, yes, I am a farmer.  By one definition or another, I am.  I love the animals on the farm.  I love the land and am doing my part to conserve it, improving it for future generations.  I want to make sure I'm helping to produce the very best of what all I help raise on the farm.  I farm for the consumer, because that farm is where my heart is.  This is the difference between the people that say they're going to "work," and my "I'm headed to the farm."  It's about so much more than a paycheck, and until you've experienced it yourself, it's hard to understand.

I don't own it, but I love it all the same.  It's my second home.