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. 

Follow me on Social Media!
@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.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Sense of Belonging

We all have a different calling in life, and sometimes it takes longer than others to find it.  What makes this whole process a little simpler is knowing your niche.  The golden question is "What is MY niche?"

Coming from a small town where I knew so many people, was very involved, and was familiar with the way life "just was," Purdue was slightly terrifying to put it lightly.  I have now completed a semester and a third, and learned one thing.  Big places become smaller when you get involved.

When I moved here in August, my friends were scattered hours away across the state, my family nearly 180 miles away, and my girlfriend over 200 miles away.  I WAS ALONE!  Well, except there were something like 38,000 other undergrads at Purdue that were in a similar position.  During welcome week, or Boiler Gold Rush as we call it, all of the colleges within the University held a meet and greet with some of the faculty and staff.  At the end of the week, the Ag department held a carnival.  All of these events served to make us feel like a part of the Purdue Ag Family.  Soon following this, the College of Ag's Agricultural Council hosted an ice cream social, and invited all of the clubs from the college to set up a table and be able to be advertised to incoming and returning students.  This is more or less where my college career began.

I have since become involved with Purdue Collegiate FFA, where I serve as community service chairman.  Coming from a high school with a barely-active FFA, I have gotten to fully embrace what the Collegiate division of FFA has to offer.  The opportunity to continue serving my community, school, and industry on a daily basis is something I truly enjoy.  More than that, the relationships I have built with fellow members are simply awesome!  Collegiate FFA is different from high school FFA in what we do, but we still work and live by the same principles.

Other than FFA, I got involved with Collegiate Farm Bureau, which at Purdue is a division of Indiana Farm Bureau, which is a part of the American Farm Bureau Federation, for those who are not familiar with the organization.  Farm Bureau and Indiana Young Farmers have offered me opportunities to attend two conferences, one in Indianapolis, and the second I just returned from, in Virginia Beach.  This has afforded me the opportunity to learn more about crops, people, policy, social media, networking, and many other topics.  The people I have met and interacted with make an impact on my life every day.

I am also a member of Purdue Agricultural Council.  As a member of Ag Council, I get the opportunity to again network with fellow students as well as faculty and staff of Purdue, working together for the common good of the students and college.  My term with Ag Council just began in January, so I do not have as many experiences to share yet, compared to the others.

What I'm getting at is, when you find people and organizations that make you feel like you are welcomed, share common goals and beliefs, and truly build relationships with people, you take on a sense of  belonging.  In order to succeed and truly achieve happiness, you must find a niche where you can feel at home.

I am a first hand testament showing how a small town kid can make it in the big city.  My recommendation is to always get involved and make connections!  I wouldn't be on the path I'm headed down without the guidance and friendships I have made through this.

Attached are some photos from my time at Purdue so far!

Thanks for reading!

Feel free to contact me any time at sebenkam@purdue.edu, or on Twitter at @ebenkamp2013.



Saturday, January 18, 2014

Crops are In, What do Farmers do in the Winter?

I hope everyone is having a happy New Year!

I don't know how you spent your holidays, but I spent my break from Purdue back at work on the hog farm.  Boy, I missed it!  And miss it again already. 

Due to it being a popular question I get asked, this post is about what farmers are doing all winter.  And no, drinking coffee and eating those delicious pies farm wives make is not the answer (though winter holidays do often bring pie, speaking from experience).

One thing I noticed while I was there was the type of work being done around the area.  Due to the nasty weather we had, one answer is, "Not much."  Other days, it was a rush to get everything imaginable done!  If you follow me on Twitter (@ebenkamp2013), you would have noticed the differences from day to day. 

Farmers and ranchers are, as I've said many times before, master tradesmen.  In the spring and summer, there are crops to plant and care for.  In the fall there is harvest.  In the winter, there is a whole other type of battle.  Working with pigs, we have even more to do!

One major task of farmers during the winter months is to haul off all of that grain they harvested in the fall.  For many of the people I know, this is a year where they will haul more than ever before.  This is also a time for major equipment repairs.  We get by on smaller repairs as necessary throughout the year, but winter is typically a time when we will do transmission or engine work.

Many livestock producers will be hauling manure right around the new year.  When they can, they haul manure at planting and harvest in order to get the best use out of the nutrients, but in numerous cases, due to building age and past construction requirements, there is not the capacity to last all winter.  Livestock farmers, especially in the northern states where it gets very cold, spend a lot of times checking buildings, heaters, ordering LP gas to keep the animals warm, and checking/thawing water lines to prevent them from busting.  It is a difficult task to raise livestock through some of these rough Midwestern winters.  This does sound like a slightly one-sided discussion, in terms of livestock care, but I have no experience with cattle.  I can recommend that you check out this article from CNN Eatocracy that discusses different types of livestock issues in winter here.

Farmers spend a lot of time watching the weather.  They do it every season, but in the winter it is even more interesting.  Some of us live with The Weather Channel, Weatherbug, AccuWeather, or another application open on our phones.  Where I work, we have to plan ahead feed-wise.  If it is going to snow or pour rain for three days, we need to be prepared and have feed ground for our pigs at the farm, and plan for the co-op to pre-deliver feed for the contract part of the operation.  When the temperature is going to be cold, we have to make sure the hog truck is positioned so that if it's too cold to start that we can pull-start it.  We plug in our diesel tractors, and put the blade on the old Massey 135 in case we have to move snow.  One time this winter, they called for enough snow overnight that we even moved equipment around so that if we needed to get the huge snow blower out, we could.  Eight to twelve inch predictions ended up only being two inches with patchy ice.  Luckily with all the below zero temperatures we had, only one time did we have a water line freeze, so we bucketed water to sows for that day.  Fortunately, we weathered everything with little incident. 

But here I sit, back at Purdue, in two or more inches of snow, dreaming of the farm and home...  Someday I'll be back for good...  Someday soon.

I hope this was an enjoyable, informative read.  I think it's very important for consumers to know about their food supply, and the people who raise their food. 

If you have questions or want me to write about a certain topic for you, please let me know!  I'm looking for things that strike your interest!  You can find me on Twitter (@ebenkamp2013), Facebook (Samuel Ebenkamp), or email me at sebenkam@purdue.edu.  I look forward to hearing from you!