Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving, and Merry Christmas

No, I am not confused on the date, I know it is almost Christmas and I am writing about Thanksgiving? It is just that Christmas is the holiday season when I really am thankful for so many things.

We need to acknowledge that all we have is a gift from our Heavenly Father. And this is the time of year that we celebrate the best gift of all, the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ, who died on the cross because of my and your sins.

So here is a partial list of things I am thankful for, and I know you will be puzzled by some of them, read on:

My rheumatoid arthritis, allergies, bad back, cold snowy weather, being married to my best friend, two beautiful and loving daughters (we already opened our gifts so I an not buttering them up), our church has a pastoral vacancy, growing up and living in Lexington, Nebraska, my job and hobby are the same thing and so on.

Let me explain a few of these. I know that being thankful for rheumatoid arthritis is very strange, but I can't change the fact that I have had it for 26 years. I understand why senior citizens move the way they do, I can empathize with them for the aches and pains. Do I wish it would away? You bet, but God set it in my path for a reason. I might as well look on the bright side.

Much the same for the bad back and allergies that I have been plagued with for most of my life. For all three of these maladies I am thankful to be living in this day and age with modern medicines.

The cold snowy weather? Without the winter in Nebraska, how would we enjoy the spring, summer and fall in God's country?

Wife and daughters should be easily understood, especially if you know them.

I have some friends and family that don't understand why I enjoy living in Lexington. For those who don't live around here, Lexington underwent a major change around 22 years ago. IBP, a major beef processor, bought a closed manufacturing building and converted it into a beef processing plant. Tyson bought out IBP and now employs somewhere around 5,000 workers, most of them fairly new immigrants to this country. After a few years at the plant many workers move onto other jobs, but they stay in Lexington.

Lexington is now about 75% Hispanic, 5% African, and 20% Anglo. This has obviously changed much in town, from schools to churches to doctors and hospitals. The short answer is growth is better than death, which many small towns are facing. Our daughters have some amazing friends of many cultural backgrounds.

This is still a rural town as well. If there is a crisis in the area, people jump in and help however they can. Need a new library, pool, auditorium, gymnasium, etc. no problem. We'll just raise the money mostly from donations and build it.

Vacancy at church? I do miss our last pastor whom retired this summer. We do have a wonderful vacancy pastor. But people have been stepping up to help, with little prodding.

I am lucky to be able live and farm the ground that my great-grandfather homesteaded on and/or purchased soon after immigrating from England in 1872. It is a great feeling growing food for people around the world as well as here at home. Sometimes I have to pinch myself and remember that I didn't do this all by myself. I am building on what my grandfather and father started. I have a great employee and a family that helps however they can. And of course God is in control.

So in this Christmas season be thankful for all you have, even if it is unpleasant.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On the road, again

   Last week was a blur for us. I spent a total of one day at home and most of that was in town running errands and working at church.
   It all started with a very snowy trip to Lincoln on December 3. Our youngest daughter plays volleyball for Nebraska Wesleyan they had their annual banquet at noon. We drove down in heavy snowfall, yes we are crazy. We had a good time visiting with the other parents who are also crazy and watched our daughter get her first collegiate letter. And then we drove back home, on ice. We saw plenty of cars and trucks in the ditch, some of whom had just passed us a little bit earlier.
   The next day we went to Kearney after church for the start of the Nebraska Farm Bureau convention. Barb served on the credentials committee and I was a voting delegate and judged one round of the discussion meet. The roads were great by Sunday afternoon.
   NFBF convention ended on Tuesday evening and we came home. Wednesday was catch up day. After doing paperwork in the morning, we went to town in the afternoon so Barb could cook a meal at church and I could train a replacement on the church computer. That evening I was a reader at our advent service and Barb streamed the service on internet, a new experience.
  Thursday I drove to Lincoln again. This trip was to attend the Lincoln Power Farm Show, a very large indoor farm show. I met with a couple of vendors I had been trying to talk to and then drove home again. And it was snowing Thursday as well. Again many cars and trucks in the ditch.
   Friday Barb & I went back to Lincoln, yes we already established we are crazy. This trip was to watch our oldest daughter. She is a senior at UNL and is on the marching band. They had their final concert Friday night. We met with Barb's brother and family for the concert and had our family Christmas that evening and the next morning.
  Saturday noon we packed up and headed for Norfolk. Barb nephew attends Northeast Community College and is in the choir and their Christmas concert was Sunday afternoon. After the concert we headed home again, at least this time on good roads.
  While many think we are out of our minds to be on the road so much, we feel fortunate to be able to catch as many of our kid's activities as possible. We know these activities are limited and don't want to miss them. This week, however, we are staying as close to home as possible.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Office season

Harvest is over and now it is office and meeting season. I like to be inside on cold snowy days, but with the beautiful weather outside, I would like to be doing something more physical. I tend to procrastinate on keeping up with the paperwork involved in farming and the piles get quite deep on my desk. The goal is to get everything entered in the computer and filed. It never gets all done, but is a good goal.

Harvest was so-so this year. Soybean yields were good and prices were great. Corn was well below average, but prices again were great. We had hail and greensnap losses on all our fields. some were minor, others were horrible. It is not good when the soybeans yield as much as the corn.

Today I am finishing with the harvest records and getting the proper reports to the crop adjusters for the hail and greensnap losses we had this summer. Next is printing off yield maps and starting to analyze the good and bad from this summer. I also need to get our personal accounts caught up. I can keep the farming account straight since I use the computer for printing checks, but it is easy to put the bank statements aside for a rainy day. Now is the time, even though it is not raining.

Meeting season has already started with the Farm Bureau Policy Development meeting in Kearney a couple of weeks ago. Next is the Nebraska Farm Bureau state convention, again in Kearney. This are always fun seeing friends from all around the state. I have attended every NFBF convention since I was first elected to the Dawson County board in 1985.

Well enough time off, back to the piles of paperwork.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


So much for keeping up with this blog. Now we are into harvest. I totally skipped writing about irrigation this year. Will try to do better next year.

We are rained out of harvest now, so I will try to get started on this again. This last weekend we received 2.75-3.25 inches of rain. It is very muddy everywhere now. We hope to get started again Wednesday, but today is foggy and cool, not what we needed. We will be loading trucks on the road for the next week or so, this is lots of fun for both the harvest crews and anyone who is traveling the country roads.

We did start harvest on high moisture corn last Monday, 10/3/11. This was delivered to a cattle feedlot to be ground and packed into a bunker silo for storage. High moisture corn is a great feed for cattle in a feedlot and it allows harvest to start sooner. They want corn with a moisture content of 25-30%, much wetter than dry corn which is stored at 13-15% moisture. The wet corn is ground and packed tight to get as much air out as possible. The pile is covered with plastic and will ferment (like beer) and will keep for the next year.

We have one day of wet corn to go before we can start on soybeans. The soybeans were also ready last week, but wet corn has a higher priority. It is tough to time the wet corn harvest since in normal weather corn can dry out 1-2% of moisture a day. So corn that is 30% today will be 25% in 3 days normally. This year it went from 26% to 22% in one day.

Yields of our wet corn is about what was expected. No record yields this year. We had some hail damage early,  ranging from 5-15% loss, and some greensnap, ranging from 10-50% broken. Greensnap is a nasty loss. It happens when we get a very strong wind at exactly the wrong time. Corn can be very brittle just before the tassel comes out if it has been growing rapidly, which it did this year. Then we got 70-90 mph winds one night. Snap. One hybrid had greensnap of 50%, others were 10-15%. It really hurts the yields, and there is not much you can do. While some hybrids are tougher than others, all could greensnap if they get wind at the wrong day.

We are exited to get into the soybeans. We have been hearing yields that are way above record yields from our neighbors. I hope ours are there as well.

Let the sun shine.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Time Flies in the Summer!

Wow, a month has gone by and I finally got back to put up another post.

The corn is growing FAST now. The last half of June was, and always is, a very busy time period. During those two weeks we cultivated all the corn with our rolling cultivators, fertilized all the corn with liquid nitrogen using our coulter applicator, and ridged all the corn to prepare it for irrigation.

One step at a time. We use two 8-row cultivators that are adaptations of the Lilliston cultivator. they have curved spider wheels that run in the dirt, loosening the soil and throwing some soil onto the row, covering up small weeds next to the corn plants. They work best when you can travel about 6-7 mph. This is a picture of one of 16 gangs per cultivator.

The picture to the left is one of our ridgers. We run two like this and can convert one of the cultivators to ridging if needed. This year we needed it.
This is looking back while ridging with the adapted cultivator. The picture below is looking ahead over the hood. The corn has almost shaded the entire row now. It would have already shaded the row except we received some hail in June which slowed the corn down.
This is the corn today. As you can see the corn is growing rapidly. This is only one week after ridging. Now the corn is adding a leaf per day and 4-6 inches of height.

We normally would be irrigating like crazy by July 4, but we are much wetter than normal. The soil is fully saturated and we will wait for a week or two before starting to irrigate. The more we can keep the pumps turned off the lower the expenses will be.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Corn is growing!!

    I haven't kept writing as I wanted to. Just too tired or busy at night. This week the temperatures finally warmed up, all the way to 98! The corn is loving these temps and bright sunshine and is growing fast.

This picture was taken on May 23. The corn was planted on May 3 and in 20 days the corn was up and starting it's second leaf. This was ridge planted in corn stubble.
    This is a different field taken on June 7. This was ridge planted in soybean stubble on April 29. If you look close you can spot some old corn stalks from 2009 still on the surface. I was spraying this field with a tank mix of herbicides. On our corn I use a generic glyphosate herbicide and an atrazine based preemergent herbicide. I use the mix to avoid herbicide resistant weeds. I needed to spray the corn before it reached 11.5 inches and you can see that I was pushing it a little. Much of our corn grew 3-4 inches from Sunday to Wednesday.
    Next comes applying nitrogen fertilizer and spraying soybeans. We will also cultivate the corn next week after it's fertilized. Oh and we also cut our first cutting of alfalfa to bale next week too. Might be a bit busy.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Row Stalker

Finally getting around to posting pictures of our Row Stalker.  As you can see there are two disc per row that run against each other. They cut off the root ball from the previous year and throw it out of the way. This machine runs best at high speeds, 10-15 mph. Usually our teenage workers get to run this as they love the speed.

We finished planting soybeans May 17 followed by our four varieties ornamental popcorn and two varieties of broom corn. This is in addition to the three varieties of large Indian corn that were planted earlier.

I'll have another blog about this hobby gone bad later as they start to grow.

We did receive a light rain the evening of May 17 (0.65") and then a good soaking rain May 24-25 (3.25"). Now we need some sunshine.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Planting 2011

I finally started planting corn on Thursday, April 28. It took all afternoon to get the planter and tractor all hooked up and all the wires and hoses in the right places. One hang up was the tractor guidance system was not talking to the planter module. Technology is great when it works, a pain when it doesn't.

My Trimble guidance system is quite busy during planting. It steers the tractor, runs and controls a fertilizer injection pump, runs and controls the seed drive, turns row clutches on and off and logs everything on a data card. The seed population is adjusted automatically to match a prescription that I made. I plant more seeds per acre on the high yielding ground and fewer seeds on the lower yielding ground. Also some hybrids like high populations and some hybrids like lower populations.

The row clutches are new this year. They help cut seed costs and raise yields by not double planting on the ends or edges of fields. I plant one pass or two on the bottom of most fields first. When I plant the field, the guidance system knows when I cross into what was already planted and shuts the rows off. When all are off I can lift out of the ground and turn around. On square fields this is not a big deal. I could come pretty close by hand. The real benefit comes on the many odd shaped fields that I farm. Sometimes one side of the planter is off for several yards before the other side is done planting.

Planting into soybean stubble.
These are some of the pictures I've taken this year planting corn. The first two are ridge-planting into a field that was soybeans last year. These fields are very mellow and we plant directly on the ridge from last year with no other tillage. 

Planting into soybean stubble.

After Row Stalking, before planting.
Planting on the old corn ridge.

  The next two are ridge-planting into a field that was corn last year and will be again this year. I am on a corn-corn-soybean rotation on most of our fields. Before the planter we ran a machine called a Row Stalker. I can't find any photos in our files (I know they are there somewhere), but I will post them as soon as I can get some new shots. The Row Stalker has two discs that run against each other and they cut off the top 2 inches of the ridge left from last year. This cuts off the root balls from last year's corn. Those roots are very tough and I need to get them out of the way for this years corn crop. I then plant on the ridge.
Planting into alfalfa sod.

The picture on the right is no-till planting into an alfalfa field that has been sprayed with a herbicide to kill the alfalfa. We used to use several tillage passes to break up the field, which took a lot of diesel fuel and dried out the soil. This method works much better.

I should be half done planting corn by Monday evening. Most of our fields are now dry enough to plant, although we did find a few wet spots Saturday.

Friday, April 29, 2011


Finally started planting on April 28. Still too wet in some fields. This is ridge planted into soybean stubble without any other tillage.
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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Rain/snow, is spring coming?

Friday we received 1.6 inches of precip. mostly as rain, but also had 4 inches of wet slushy snow. Plus we has 40-50 mph winds all day. It all melted by 4pm but was very nasty at 8 am. C slid into the ditch driving to school, as did several of her rural classmates. The slush and the 50 mph winds were not good to the younger drivers.

Hopefully that will be the last blast of winter. I'm ready for spring and planting crops!!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Spring Farm Work

It's raining outside so I am catching up in the office today, which includes writing this post. I have pushed this off for too long.

We ridge plant all of our crops, which means that we do no tillage in the spring. We do have other tasks to keep us busy though. First we apply dry fertilizer to the fields. We only apply what each field needs, based on soil fertility test done last fall by our agronomist. When we apply the fertilizer rate to an entire field I use a machine that looks much like a lawn fertilizer spreader. The nutrients we mostly apply with dry fertilizer is phosphorus, potassium, sulfur and zinc. Most of our nitrogen fertilizer is applied as a liquid, and most of that is put on during the growing season.

Many of our fields have been grid sampled, where our agronomist takes separate soil samples from small squares inside of the entire field. They may end up with 30-40 different soil fertility tests per field. Then they prescribe different amounts of fertilizer to each area. On these fields I hire our local coop to apply the dry fertilizer since they have the machine that can vary the dry fertilizer rates as they drive across the field. This saves money, fertilizer and improves yields; a win, win, win.

The next step for us is to shred the corn stalks left from last year. We do rent our corn stalks to a neighbor with cows to graze during the winter.  The cows do eat quite a bit of the refuse left from last year's crop, but they do not eat the corn stalks. They need to be chopped up to make cultivating easier later in the year. We use a Rhino shredder that shreds 6 rows at a time.

Then we spray all of our fields with a herbicide package to kill winter annuals (dandelion, tansymustard, field pennycress and others) and stop early sprouting spring weeds. On fields going to corn we spray the herbicide mixture with a base of 32% liquid nitrogen. This heats up the herbicide mix (works faster) and gives the soon to be planted corn an early boost. Our sprayer covers 20 rows at a time and is 60 feet wide. Turning on ends of fields can be tricky if you don't watch what you are doing.

We use a Trimble guidance computer on all our tractors. This is a screenshot of me spraying a field. It keeps the tractor and sprayer on the right path and eliminates overlap. It also controls how much spray is going on the field. If I speed up or slow down it resets the valves so I put on exactly what I want, in this case, 15 gallons per acre (upper center of screen). It also turns the spray boom on and off on the ends, and if the field has a diagonal end it turns them on and off in sequence to avoid any more overlap than necessary.

That's it for today. When I start planting I'll write about that.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lexington Area Farm Family of the Year

In recognition of National Ag Week for the past 31 years the Lexington Area Chamber of Commerce has a banquet for area farmer and ranchers. At the banquet they honor the Ag Employee of the Year, Agri-Service of the Year and the highlight is the Farm Family of the Year.

For 2011 they honored the Max & Theresa McFarland family as the Farm Family of the Year. Their farm is a little different than what we are used to in central Nebraska, they raise grapes and run Mac's Creek Winery & Vineyard. They purchased an acreage north of Lexington in 1999 and planted their first vines in 2000. The first harvest was in 2002 and by 2003 they had won three bronze medals at the Florida State Fair International Wine Competition.

Now they are winning gold and double gold medals at competitions all over the United States, competing against wines from all over the world. Quite an accomplishment for such a short time.

They also have a wonderful tasting room that is open most days in the summers and weekends in the winter. Our family has been there for family reunions and anniversaries. They have developed quite a reputation for their theme parties and their Friday with Friends from 5-9 p.m. is very popular with locals and out-of-towners alike.

If you are ever in or around Lexington it would be worth your while to stop off at Mac's Creek Winery & Vineyard. Their webpage is

Saturday, March 5, 2011

God and the locked bathroom

Many of you know that our youngest daughter C is a senior starter on our girls basketball team. They made it to the State Tournament this year for the first time in ten years by beating arch-rival Holdrege in the District finals. When the state brackets came out there was Lexington, the #3 seed and our opponent was . . . Holdrege, again, who made it in as a wildcard.

They played what one reporter called an epic game late Thursday night. Each team had a ten point lead only to see it evaporate. Lexington took the lead with a three-point jumper with 25 seconds left. Holdrege retook the lead with a shot with 3.8 seconds left. Lex got a half court shot off at the buzzer, but fell short to lose by 1 point. Bummer.

God's Life Lesson #1: Sometimes the answer is "No, your basketball season is over."

There is no consolation at this point for daughter C that she played the best game of her career that night, scoring a career high 12 points (she is not the scorer of the team), grabbing bunches of rebounds and keeping the lead scorer for Holdrege under 10 points.

What most of you do not know is the story of the rest of the night and further proof that God knows what we need and when we need it.

The dejected girls left Devaney at 11 p.m. for the Holiday Inn to shower and eat. A veritable smorgasbord was set up in Coach's room with the two LARGE boxes of food and two baskets of fruit that were donated for the team to travel to Lincoln with. The girls were moving in and out of Coach's room as they showered and ate.

A team member rushed in and announced "X is locked in the bathroom!!" (Name withheld for many reasons.) The coach's wife, Peg, who is one of the gentlest and calmest souls on this earth went to see if she could talk #1 through unlocking the door. It turned out that she had not locked the door, she merely closed the door and the mechanism broke inside the door.

Hotel maintenance was called and while they were arriving the night manager tried his luck. He slid a hotel keycard under the door and had X try to slip it in the frame to push the latch back, no luck They tried a couple of other things and gave up.

By this time ALL the team was in her room to watch and support X in her perils. You must know this is a team that really gets the team approach. They win as a team and they lose as a team. There are no prima donas on this team. However, if there was a girl who occasionally got over excited in a game and had to get cooled down, it was X.

The seniors who are leaving in a week on a senior trip to Washington D.C. recalled the warnings from their trip sponsor about last year's trip when girls from another school who got locked in their hotel room and had to have a hole cut in the hotel wall to get them out.

The team started to speculate on what type of maintenance man would show up, the large overweight kind who couldn't get down, or maybe one with the standard plumber butt crack. When he did show up he was a normal body size, but when he knelt down to look at the door lock, there IT was. The girls started laughing, but luckily the girl inside was laughing too and he thought they were laughing at her.

He tried a few more ideas, but finally decided he had to cut off the outside door handle to get at the lock mechanism inside the door. Unfortunately this was a solid steel door, so they couldn't just break it down. So at midnight the maintenance man is using a hammer and chisel to break off the door handle. I can't imagine how loud that would have been, especially with a room full of girls watching and giggling.

He eventually got the outside handle off and had X pull off the inside handle. One of the girls remarked "Now we can see you." Of course like any high school girl she didn't take a stitch of clothing into the bathroom with her and she was only wrapped up in a towel. She went screeching into the tub and pulled the shower curtain. The maintenance man told her to calm down, he was married and had girls of his own and had seen everything, X replied that he hadn't seen her.

It then took him quite a bit more time before he was finally able to get the latch pulled out of the door frame and released X from her bathroom prison at 1:10 a.m. A cheer went up and X peeked around the shower curtain to see them all there. And both of them saw the cameras and smartphones recording the entire event. He remarked "I suppose this will be on YouTube." The girls replied it was already on Facebook. They were uploading it as they went along.

God's Life Lesson #2: He knows what you need and when you need it. The pain and frustration of the one point loss was washed away, at least for awhile. Years from now when the girls look back on the State Tournament experience they won't remember the heartbreak loss as much as X locked in the bathroom.

God Is Great!!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Biotechnology Plants

With all the news about biotech (GMO) plants and new approvals from the government agencies, I thought I would put in my 2 cents. RoundUp Ready alfalfa and sugar beets can be grown in 2011 and Enogen, a corn with amylase inserted is also labeled for 2011. I am quite proud of my brother who led the development of Enogen.
   To begin with it is important to remember that man has been changing the look and quality of all the plants we raise and all the animals we own, both agricultural and domestic, for as long as we have been tending flocks and raising food. Corn was originally a spindly plant that had its seed on top like sorghum in old Mexico when grown by the Aztecs, Mayans and Incas. It was converted to its modern look with lower placed condensed ears by careful choosing of parent lines over centuries.
   Animals have also changed. Dogs are now domesticated, not wild like wolves or coyotes. Cattle are much larger than only a few decades ago, also by careful selection of the breeding herds.
   Biotechnology came into play only since 1973. In 1980 the first patent was issued for a biotech product, a microorganism that would eat oil. The next patent in 1982 was for a bacteria that produces human insulin.
   Plant biotech was first tried in the field in 1986 and was in tobacco, a plant that is easier to manipulate because of its gene structure. 1996 marked the beginning of a new age in modern agriculture. RoundUp Ready soybeans first entered the market in 1996 along with Bt cotton. Bt corn followed the next year.
   So what are these products and why have most farmers adopted them? RoundUp Ready is a term used by Monsanto to define their line of biotech crops that resist the herbicide RoundUp (glyphosphate). RoundUp is a broad spectrum herbicide that kills most all plants. Monsanto found a soil bacterium that would break down glyphosphate and then inserted that gene into the soybean (and other) plants. Round Up Ready allows farmers to spray a herbicide over their fields killing all weeds and leaving the desired crop untouched. Monsanto and other companies have followed with glyphosphate resistant corn, cotton, alfalfa and sugar beets. Expenses for farmers have gone down and yields have gone up. Many specialized herbicides are very expensive and often can harm the grown crop. There are fewer weed issues in the fields today and weeds really hurt yields.
   Bt corn and cotton have a gene from a  naturally occurring soil bacterium inserted that kills specific insects. Bt insecticide has been around for a long time and is qualified as organic. However once the gene for Bt is inserted into a plant it strangely loses that organic label. The Bt bacterium has many many varieties, and they can be tuned to a very specific insect. It works by knocking out a specific enzyme in the insect's gut, an enzyme humans and mammals don't have or use. Since the use of Bt has spread, insect damage to our corn crop has plummeted. We used to have to treat all our corn fields multiple times with insecticides to reduce corn rootworm, corn borer and corn earworm. Even treated the yields were reduced by the insect damage that occurred.
   The latest biotech product released is Enogen, a corn that has the enzyme amylase inserted into it. It is designed for use in the corn ethanol industry. It will not enter the human food chain, although it has been tested and approved as safe for humans to eat. It's use will increase the efficiency of corn ethanol plants. I know how long this product took to come to market since my brother started research when helping out after my father's cancer surgery in 2001.
   What about the concerns. I divide these naysayers into two groups. Those who want agriculture to be the way it used to be and those who are fearful for their lives. For those who want ag to be the way it used to be, it probably never was that way and it won't be that way in the future. Agriculture used to be a labor intense, capital poor industry. Farmers worked their lives away to feed themselves and a few others, often dying young because of the harsh work conditions. Today we are an industry that it very high tech and can grow tremendous amounts of food with little labor input on the farm. Capital requirements are very high and it is not easy to get into the profession.
   For those who are fearful of being sickened by their food, I would argue that the food today in the United States is the cleanest, healthiest, most abundant food in the history of the world. Use of biotech has reduced the amount of herbicides and pesticides that have been used on the farms. While the genes of the crop have been modified, it is with genes that exist in the world today in bacteria mostly found in the soil.
   By the time any biotech product reaches the market it has been tested for many years. It has to pass muster by several U.S government agencies and also must be approved by our major trading countries around the world. 
   I widely use biotech products on our farm. It has increased our yields, lowered our use of pesticides and decreased the weed pressure in the fields. Seed prices are much higher, to pay for the biotech research. It has been a big win so far and the seed/chemical companies are promising much more in the near future.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Long, Fun Weekend

   We just completed a long weekend that was a lot of fun, but also somewhat sad as well. Since our youngest is senior in high school, we are notching a lot of "lasts" this year. Last fall we had the last homecoming dance, the last high school volleyball game, the last halftime show by the marching band, etc. This weekend we marked off two more lasts. Thursday was parent-teacher conferences and this was the last of a long run of conferences, since J was a kindergartner.
   This year was a good set of conferences. C is really enjoying her last semester of high school in a good way. She is happy and bouncy almost every day when she comes home. Grades are the best she has ever had and she really likes most of her teachers and classes. The most surprising was the comference with her American Government teacher. His first question for us was "Does C like me? Did I turn her off?" This was surprising because it is her favorite class. For those who know her, you know that she can't or doesn't hide her feelings about anyone or anything. But Mr. Ambler had no clue what she felt about his class. We told him to tease her and loosen her up. We also told her to smile a little.
   After conferences we left for the Nebraska Panhandle for the annual East-West Shootout. Each year Lexington, North Platte and McCook (East) plays Scottsbluff, Gering and Alliance (West) in a series of three games over parent-teacher conference weekend. The boys play in one direction, the girls in the other. This year the girls played in the West, so west we went.
   This was the third time this year we traveled to Scottsbluff for sports, playing there twice in volleyball in October. This weekend was also the last time we travel there for high school activities.
   The girls did great out west winning all three games, beating Gering 53-36, Alliance 49-17 and Scottsbluff 64-46. C is not the scorer for Lex, but does a good job on defense, finding the open girl on offense and grabbing a lot of rebounds.
   The parents also had a good time out west. Most of us met for lunch on Friday at The Emporium in Scottsbluff. If any of you are ever out there we highly recommend it. Barb and I found it on one of our volleyball trips. Locally owned they have an interesting menu for lunch and unique specials for dinner. In October we had dinner there and the service and food was as good as any 4-star restaurant we have been to in Chicago or D.C.
   Part of the reason the trip was fun was just being around each other. What is special about this team of girls is that they are all friends and just enjoy hanging with each other. There are no drama queens and even our Division I basketball recruit is the consummate team player and very humble off the court. Most of the parents have been sitting on bleachers together for years, most since older siblings started sports in middle school. Oddly enough most of the girls on the team are the youngest of their families.
   Sunday morning services went very well. The service only took me about an hour and a half to put together from scratch, and pastor even used his sermon illustrations in his traditional service. Sunday evening Barb & I had a Valentine's meal at Lundgren's Catering with members of the Trinity LLL. A great finish to a fun weekend.
   Happy St. Valentine's Day to all.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Media Shout, what fun!

I am in the process of learning a new software program called Media Shout. To add to the fun it is on a new computer at church that is running Windows 7, and I'm a Mac guy.

Last fall we started a Praise Worship service at our church at the request of many of the younger families. They just didn't get into the more traditional services we had and many had migrated to another church in town to get what they wanted.

We started putting the service together using PowerPoint on a laptop and used a projector and portable screen in front of the church. I had volunteered to build the PowerPoints, knowing if I had trouble C. could bail me out. The congregation voted to purchase a new system complete with two video screens in front of the sanctuary and a computer in the sound booth. It was finally installed in January.

While the new computer has PowerPoint installed, our Tech guy also purchased and installed Media Shout, which he said was the going thing for churches. I can best describe Media Shout as PowerPoint on steroids.

There is no manual, but they do have online tutorials and lots of tipsheets. Good Thing. I spent most of one afternoon at the church just playing with the software trying it out and figuring out what button did what, and why I would want to use this. I still did the first week with PowerPoint.

Then I got brave (or bullheaded) and decided to do the next week on Media Shout. I spent 5 hours at church on a Wednesday building the first service, mostly. I had a glitch with one song, but that was a problem with another software program. I thought I was set. Friday I went in to fix the one song and WHAT HAPPENED? It wouldn't run!!

I couldn't even get things to play on the right video screen. After three visits with the tech, I found out he had come in Thursday and fixed a couple of his issues, but messed me up. I had to reformat all my cues (slides) and reformat Pastor's PowerPoint sermon illustrations. Another 4 hours.

Last week things went much smoother. It only took about an hour at church after building most of the cues at home on my Mac, running as a PC. I still have some formatting issues, but I think I know what they are and can fix them.

Why bother with Media Shout? I can now see how powerful it is and the possibilities are amazing. I can control the backgrounds separately from the foregrounds and have a music layer run independent. I can change out cues or slides while the program is running and insert them seamlessly. The director of the bell choir has asked about using a video as background during their playing bells, no problem.

Next I want to visit other churches and see what they are doing so I can get better. Maybe I should add a countdown timer so Pastor knows when he should be done with the sermon.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Snow Coming, again

    This sounds like a doozy of a storm coming our way the next couple of days. Luckily for us we are on the back edge of the snow, only predicting 4-6 inches here. Iowa and Missouri could get really dumped on. What really concerns me is the cold and wind.
     Tuesday is to have a high of 3 with 30-40 mph winds, not a day to be outside. This is the kind of weather that really is troublesome to livestock owners. You have to provide fresh water and feed even on those extreme days, and keeping water open is horrible.
     I get to call the tire people this morning. They were out the last snow when I had a flat tire on the payloader while scooping snow. I went to move it yesterday to put our flatbed trailer in the shop and it is flat again. They won't be too happy since it is 15 now, but it is only going to get colder and we need it to move the snow later.
     Today my schedule is pretty light, after last week. Tomorrow I sign up at FSA for the government program for 2011. With the current high prices for farm commodities it is hard to remember the reason we have a farm program. The goal is to have a safety net for framers to keep them in business so there will be enough food to feed everyone. 15 years ago the farm program saved us and now we are in good shape. Without family farmers our food supply would not be possible.
     Even with the almost record high farmgate prices paid to farmers, food is still cheap to Americans. Most of the price consumers pay is for labor, processing, packaging and trucking after it leaves the farmers hands. So a doubling of price to farmers may only mean a few cents per loaf of bread.
     So bundle up, protect your skin when going outside and thank a farmer when having a hot bowl of soup.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Pickering Family

“You have to know the past to understand the present.”, Dr. Carl Sagan

A few years ago I decided to put our family tree into a computer database and fill in some missing branches. The Batie family didn't need any more work since my uncle Russell had tracked the Baties back to Thomas Batie who was married in 1751 to Margaret Robson, but no idea where he came from. My Mom's side was tracked even further. John Burbank was in the American colonies in the 1660's. 


So I looked at Dad's mother's family, the Pickerings, which is appropriate since all the land we now own was previously owned at some time by one Pickering or another.  I knew that my great-grandparents James and Harriett Pickering immigrated to the United States and settled in the Plum Creek, Nebraska area.  Luckily we started having the oldest Pickering cousins start telling family stories at our annual reunions. What fun.

After much searching and looking at all kinds of websites and transcriptions of records this is some of what I now know about the Pickering family.

James and Harriet Pickering left Liverpool, England on April, 1873 on the steamship "Spain". James was a blacksmith in the coal mines around Hartshorne, Derbyshire, England. He probably had a drinking problem and Harriet thought the move would cure that. James' uncle Edward Pickering had earlier come to America and landed in Plum Creek, NE. Edward wrote to James to come to Plum Creek as the new town had no blacksmith. James sold everything and  came to America with Harriet and his two young sons, William and John. William turned 3 shortly after arriving in America and John had his first birthday on the ship coming across the Atlantic. Harriet told her grandchildren that the voyage was horrible and she never wanted to do that again. 

John had scarlet fever while on the ship and developed a high fever and lost his hearing and was deaf the rest of his life. They landed in New York City on April 14, 1873. They boarded a train for Nebraska. When they arrived in Plum Creek, Edward was gone! His son Frederick was killed in an accident involving a loaded gun and a wagon of firewood. James and Harriet stayed and filed a homestead on the SE 1/4 of 10-10-21 on April 26, 1873, having settled on the land on April 24, a mere 22 days after leaving England.

James & Harriet Pickering and family, ca. 1890

James worked as a blacksmith in Plum Creek and built a house and barn on the homestead. He had to walk the eight miles to town the first summer because he had no money for a horse. James was unable to make the final preemption payment on the entire quarter so he gave up the 80 acres with the frame house and built a sod house on the other 80 acres and paid for it.

In 1879 he filed for a tree claim on the NE 1/4 of 10-10-21. On February 2, 1892 he received the patent on that quarter. By now James and Harriet had three more children; Harry born 1874, Sarah Anne (Annie) 1877 and Jim 1879. James continued to buy adjoining land from the government, Union Pacific Railroad or neighbors. James purchased 80 acres in 1886, 160 acres in 1887, 80 acres in 1892, 80 acres in 1893 (the original homestead with the frame house) and his estate bought 80 acres in 1894, a month after he died. 


In 21 years James and Harriet had accumulated 720 acres of ground after arriving with little or nothing. A true American Success Story.

Four of the five children married and lived around the original homestead. Will moved to South Dakota. My grandmother Annie inherited the tree claim and then bought more land with her husband Kit Batie. Harry was a horse trader and kept trading one piece of land for another and finally traded for land in the Sandhills around Brewster. Jim bought another neighboring farm and lived there for awhile before trying out Oregon (didn't stay). John farmed north of the tree claim, but eventually lost his ground.


Plum Creek became Lexington in 1889, but that's another story.

Later I will post stories about the Pickering cousins who attended District 56, a rural school in the neighborhood.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Snowy Morning in Nebraska

We had a beautiful snow here Sunday, if any snow can be beautiful. We got about 10 inches of light fluffy snow with little wind, so it is laying fairly flat. The wind is now starting to pick up. We will see if it starts to pile up.

My perspective is much different than when we had 2,000 cattle around the place to feed and water every morning, rain, snow or sunshine. The feedlots in this area were busy by 6 this morning blading and scooping the snow out of the feed alleys. Next came the bunk sweepers and scoop shovels to clean all the snow out of the feedbunks. You must clean all the snow and old feed out the feedbunks before you add new feed, or the cattle will waste most of what you feed them. We never had a bunk sweeper, only scoop shovels to clean them by hand. If you think cleaning off a driveway is bad, try scooping 2,000 feet of feedbunks by hand, before you do your normal chores.

Next is to clean the water tanks from ice and snow. Most modern tanks have some sort of heater or continuous flow water to keep them clean, but 10 inches of snow will overwhelm most of them. After feeding then you start to clean the pens of snow. You really need to clean the concrete apron by the feedbunks and the mounds in the pens of snow so the cattle can eat and rest on dry ground. If not done right away the snow becomes ice or mud, depending on the weather. Both are bad!!

Since our livestock today consists only of 40 laying hens (Barb's hobby), one dog and 10 or so cats, chores aren't bad. I did have to get up and clean the driveway  out to the road early this morning so C could get to school. Even 10 inches aren't enough to cancel school since it didn't blow it around. Our dog is a Black Labrador Retriever cross and thinks this is the most wonderful weather. She still wants to play fetch in the deep snow. She can't understand why we keep wanting to go inside to warm up. After all it only 9 degrees and the snow is so much fun to play in.

For me this will be an office day. Moving the 2010 file folders to the last year drawer, making new folders, printing 1099's and paying more bills. What fun.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Snapshot of our farm

We operate our farm inside a regular C corporation, Batie Cattle Co. In our area we are a small to medium sized farm with around 1400 acres. Virtually all the farmland is gravity irrigated. We raise corn, soybeans, alfalfa and occasionally winter wheat. The quarter-section where we live has been our family since 1879 when my great grandfather, James Pickering, filed for a tree-claim on it. He had to plant 10 acres of trees and keep them alive for 10 years before he got title on the ground. He finally received the patent on this quarter in 1892. (I will have another post just about James, an American success story)

I have one full time employee, Kenny, besides myself. We do hire some additional summer help, mostly high school boys, and some harvest help in the fall. For several years now the summer help has mostly been Kenny's sons. That is about over as the youngest graduated from high school last May and will be attending tech school next fall to become an electrical lineman. This will probably be his last year. I don't know yet whether either of my daughters will be working here this summer. They have both helped over the years, but usually are too busy to count on for regular work.

With a name like Batie Cattle Co. you would assume that cattle would be a large part of our operation. It used to be. When we formed the corporation 26 years ago, all of our income was from feeding cattle. All of our crops were fed to the cattle and we bought more corn besides. We quit feeding cattle in 2003 for several reasons, the main one being we were losing too much money. We also knew that if we were going to continue we were going to need to install expensive waste containment systems on the feedlot. It was a tough decision to make and even tougher to tell my Dad, but it was the right decision for us.

Instead we added some farmground and concentrated our efforts on raising the best crops we could. Since then we have added a sideline business of trucking breeding gilts for a local veterinarian. This started when we were looking at moving from straight trucks to a semi. Our vet asked us to look at buying one we would take over the road for him. We did and now we put 20,000 to 30,000 miles a year on our semi hauling hogs.

Monday, January 3, 2011

All about me

This is the first post in my blog about what's important to me; farming, family and my faith, not necessarily in that order. My purpose in creating this blog is to  let the non-farming public see what life is like on our family farming operation. I am also using this forum to get some of the family history and stories written down for my children and other family. It is impossible to separate our faith in Jesus Christ from either of these two areas since it is only because of his sacrifice on the cross that enables me to live my life.

My name is Don Batie. I have been married to my best friend Barb for almost 26 years. We have two daughters, J & C. J is a junior at University of Nebraska-Lincoln majoring in Agricultural Education. C is a senior at Lexington High School. I will only be using their initials for privacy.

I have lived and farmed all my life in the Platte Valley, northeast of Lexington, Nebraska, except for the four years I attending the University of Nebraska-Lincoln myself. I started to help my Dad farming when I was old enough to carry a couple of siphon tubes (more abut them in a later post), about 5 or 6 years old.

My wife Barb grew up in a dairy farm in northeast Nebraska. Besides helping me with whatever needs done, she is a freelance writer for a couple of local newspapers, a regional newspaper and the Nebraska Farmer magazine. She also has a weekly column in a local newspaper.

We are members of the Trinity Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Lexington and serve in various ministries there. I am an elder and also help with the video projections for our contemporary service. Barb runs the soundboard, teaches Sunday School and sings special music.

Both of us are very active in a number of organizations outside of church. I have been very involved with Farm Bureau, serving as Dawson County president for a total of 9 years, on the Nebraska FB board for 7 years and on several NFBF committees over the last 25 years. Barb has also been county president. I also am on the Dawson County Planning Commission, president of Nebraska Water Users, serve on the Nebraska Agricultural Leadership Council, Ag Builders, and a rural cemetery board.

Barb is active in the Nebraska Press Women, Cather Circle and is on the Nebraska Environmental Trust.

Next post will talk about our farming operation.