Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas!

This is my favorite holiday of the year. I remember Christmas as a child, waking up my parents at dark:30 and telling them "It's Christmas!!" I was sent back to bed and told to wait until the sun came up. Eventually I would be allowed to wake everyone up (I was the youngest) and distribute the packages under the Christmas tree.

Between Christmas and New Years we would travel to my maternal grandparents at Madrid, Nebraska. I remember getting stuffed into the back seat along with three of my siblings, Jeannine got to sit up front with the parents since she got car sick. All of the Burbank cousins would gather there every Christmas, except the Atkins family who lived in North Carolina. We would play games, mostly 10-point pitch, for hours. Eat good food and then play more games. Great memories were made and lifelong ties formed.

As I got older Christmas was still fun, gathering with family, eating good food and sharing a lot of fun.

When our girls were small we got to experience Christmas through their eyes. Now I know why my parents were always amused during Christmas. It was such a joy to see their excitement.

But the real reason Christmas is my favorite holiday of the year is that this is when we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ! He was born as a human, yet was still God. He lived a perfect life, yet was condemned to die on a cross because of mine and your sins. He went to Hell.

But the miraculous thing is He became alive again and now sits in Heaven with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. Because of Jesus Christ we know with certainty that we can live in Heaven.

All we have to do is accept Jesus Christ as our Lord. He has done all the work. He has paid the price. This is free to all!! This is the best Christmas gift ever.

Merry Christmas to all of you. I pray that we will all celebrate together in Heaven some day.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Family, Floods and Fun

This past week Barb & I took a few days off and traveled to our neighbor to the west, Colorado. Like usual we combined several missions into one trip.

First off we visited one of Barb's cousins in Fort Collins, more specifically he is a first cousin to her mother. Dick is the youngest of his generation and so is only about 15 years older than we are. Dick retired from John Deere after a career in sales. Dick and his wife Lee lived in many communities around the United States and Austrailia.

Dick & wife Lee hosted us, along with Gus and Zoey, their two German Shepherds. They built their retirement house on an acreage above Fort Collins. Beautiful home and view. Our bedroom was in the basement complete with a king-sized bed and private bathroom.

Wednesday they took us up to Estes Park to view the damage the floods did to the roads and homes along the way. It is amazing how fast they were able to reopen both US 36 through Lyons and US 34 through the Big Thompson canyon. Much has been accomplished, but the crews were still busy cleaning up and trying to get the streams back into the old channels. We could see where stretches of road had been completely rebuilt after the entire roadbed had been washed away. 
 Most disturbing was the damage to homes and other private property. Many homes were no longer habitable due to missing foundations or walls. Water and sewer lines were washed out. Access roads and driveways are just gone. I lost count how many cars we saw that were parked, but no way to move them any more since there was no road left.

Some of the hardest hit areas are still not open to the public. Dick & Lee have two daughters who live in Jamestown with their husbands. Both couples had to be airlifted to safety via helicopter days after the flash flood through town. One daughter and husband still don't know if their home can be saved. It had 5-6 feet of water, mud and sand through the house. 

The other daughter's house fared better, but the damage to the village is immense. The main road to Jamestown is still heavily damaged. An alternate route is open for an hour each morning and evening for the residents to get in and out, but only those who live there can pass through.

On a happier note we were able to progress on some genealogical research. Both Barb and Dick are descended from the Ferdinand Wollschlager family. Ferdinand and Caroline immigrated to the United States from West Prussia in 1889. Six children accompanied them and they had five more in Wayne County, Nebraska. Barb is a granddaughter of Agnes, third youngest; Dick is a son of Lydia, the second youngest.

One of my hobbies is genealogy. I have an account with and with their help we found many census documents for their family and even found the ship manifest so we know where and when they arrived in the United States. Now I just need to get everything entered into my database.

Thursday saw us on the move again, but not very far. We traveled eastward to Greeley, Colorado. One of Cicely's high school classmates plays basketball for the Southern Utah (SUU) Thunderbirds. SUU played Northern Colorado in Greeley Thursday night and it was too good of an opportunity to miss. We enjoyed watching Hailey and her teammates go 1-0 in conference. We got to know many of them last year when we went to a couple of games in Cedar City, Utah.

Friday we headed home to finish preparations for Christmas.

Merry Christmas to all of you.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Still busy

Many of my non-farming friends wonder what I do all winter, since we no longer have any livestock. I think they imagine that I spend all day in the coffee shop. They couldn't be more wrong. 

In fact I rarely find time to go to a coffee shop, winter or summer. This last week is typical winter work week for me, and many other farmers.

I am in the middle of Meeting Season. You may not have heard of this season but it starts after harvest and ends by spring thaw. I will average 3-4 meetings a week during this time. There are days I have 3 meetings a day.

We do have some chores each day. We have 1 dog, Mollie, and several cats and Barb has about 35 laying hens. She sells eggs to several customers besides having eggs for us to enjoy. Like any livestock, they have to fed and watered morning and night.

Saturday found us on the road to attend a wedding in northeast Nebraska. The wedding was at 3 with a dance/reception following. With a 4 hour drive up there that took the whole day. 

Sunday morning we got up in Madison to head back home as Barb was singing in the Lexington Area Chrstmas Concert. This was held both Friday night and Sunday afternoon. It's a great tradtion with over 80 singers from several towns and many churchs combining their talents to honor our Lord's birth. 

Monday morning we again started early to get the morning chores done and then left for Kearney. Every year the Nebraska Farm Bureau has their annual convention during the first or second week of December in Kearney. It is a great time to meet up with the many Farm Bureau friends we have. For more on this you can read my last blog.

Farm Bureau convention concluded with a banquet Tuesday night. Our dog and cats were glad to see us when we got home about 11:30 at night.

Wednesday morning I had Fit Farmers. This is a program our local YMCA started several years ago to encourage us to keep active in the winter and keep those pounds off. It's more fun to do this as a group and then over tea and coffee talk about those who didn't make it that day. We meet 3 times a week. We are always looking for more volunteers to join us. P.S. the nickname is actually Fat Farmers since it fits us better.

Wednesday afternoon I worked in my office, paying bills and generally trying to clear off the papers that built up during harvest.

Wednesday night was at church. Barb cooks suppers Wednesday nights for those attending classes, both youth and adults. She serves 30-40 each week. While she was finishing up the chicken noodle soup I was programming the computer in the Sanctuary. We have a Praise Worship service at 11:00 that has all the liturgy on video screens and all the songs are also videos. I program and run the computer most weeks as part of my sharing of talents.

Thursday morning was another early start. We finished chores and left for Lincoln. I wanted to attend the Lincoln Power Farm Show (more about this in a future post) and Barb had appointments Thursday night and Friday morning in Lincoln as well. 

Friday morning I did my workout in the hotel exercise room since I was missing Fit Farmers, I've got to keep going or it will hurt worse when I get back. After Barb's meeting we hit the road home.

Friday afternoon we stopped at church so I could finish the computer work and Barb could check on the kitchen. Then I needed to stop at my Mom's and write some checks for her.

Saturday morning the Elders at church meet to sack candy to be given out after the Children's Christmas program. 

And so on. Usually by spring I can't wait to get on the tractor and slow down. In some ways it is actually slower in the summer than in the winter. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Farm Bureau Family

My family has always been members of Dawson County Farm Bureau, and by association, Nebraska Farm Bureau. At one point my father was county vice-president. We always went to the summer picnics and other events.

When I graduated from college I had to get my own membership, partially for insurance purposes. Farm Bureau Insurance is one of the most used benefits of belonging to Farm Bureau. I started attending the county annual meetings with my parents, always a good meals and friends to visit with.

After getting married in 1985 I was nominated for a seat on the county Farm Bureau board. At the meeting I found out I was running against one of my many older cousins. Much to my surprise I was elected and my journey started.

In December, 1985 I attended my first Nebraska Farm Bureau Annual Meeting, and I haven't missed another since. The first year we went to the banquet, as the county board picked up the tab for all county board members. I remember the packed steamy banquet hall at the Holiday Inn in North Platte, in a blizzard. And all those people. They seemed to all know each other and were quite noisy visiting.

In 1986 I was elected as a voting delegate and I fell in love with Farm Bureau. Here we could debate policy and influence potential legislation. IT WAS FUN! I have always held strong beliefs and was not afraid to share my ideas. I quickly ran into other similar strong believers. Even after arguing with them over silly little points we became friends. Many are still close friends, Naomi, LaDene, Russ and many others.

That year Barb won a Young Farmer and Rancher (YF&R) Discussion Meet and with it a free trip to California to compete at the American Farm Bureau. WOW! More neat people farming everything you can imagine.

Since those early years Barb & I have served many years in many capacities with Farm Bureau. One of us has been on either the county board or the state board of directors since 1985. I have no ideas how many miles we have driven, trips taken, or nights in hotels since then. But it has all been worth it.

Our girls grew up at Farm Bureau meetings. Until they got into high school they attended at least part of each convention too. Many of our Farm Bureau friends remember them from stroller on. Now our oldest is on a county Farm Bureau board in North Dakota.

Several times I was challenged beyond what I thought I could do and was trusted to do it well. Thanks to Nebraska Farm Bureau presidents Bryce and Keith for pushing me.

This year was a little strange for Barb & I at the state convention. For the first time since 1985 we had no official duties, except for judging the YF&R Discussion Meet. We spent much of our time visiting with old friends we hadn't seen for a year or two or three. We caught up on kids and grandkids (theirs). We talked to many of the politicians and other agricultural leaders who have become good friends over the years.

Last night at the annual banquet we were once again in a large room (not steamy this time) packed with people. But now they are all friends. And I was one of many adding to the noise level. We honored Keith Olson who served 9 years as Nebraska Farm Bureau president and really nurtured me as a young Farm Bureau member.

While Farm Bureau may not be your group, I highly advise all of you employed in production agriculture to join and get involved with at least one agricultural organization. There are too few of us to sit on the sidelines. Like anything else, the more you put in the more you get out.

I advise you to go all in!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Corn Harvest

Never got around to writing about corn harvest until now, a couple of weeks after we finished. I love harvest season since it is when we can see the results of our hard work and the gifts from God, but the days do get long.
This is a view from the combine seat in corn. Corn is planted in rows and the corn head has snouts that direct each and every plant into a set of rollers that pull the stalk down and leave the ear of corn in the head. Lots is happening fast in the head and is a dangerous place to be when running. That is one reason they now install a kill switch on the operator seat. If you get off the seat the corn head will stop in 5 seconds.
Unfortunately not all our corn was standing ice and pretty. Some blew over with the high winds in September. Believe it or not this is looking down rows of corn. Makes it tough to steer the snouts between the corn rows when you can't see the snouts or the rows. If you are wandering why this photo has the silver pipes and yellow fingers and the other doesn't, well that is another part of harvesting, breakdowns.

It seemed like we had lots of breakdowns on the combine this year. Some were mechanical (bearing and broken stripper bar), some were electronic (sensors, switches and wiring harnesses) and some were operator error, me. 

One evening I was starting a new field of my harvest partner and was heading west into the setting sun, combining right down his 12 end rows. All of a sudden I came to a stop. It took me a while to figure out what I hit. The outside row hit a pipe that was buried 4 feet deep. It was part of a stop installed to stop a center pivot irrigation system. It will also stop a combine.
It doesn't look that bad on the pipe, but the head does not look so good. It is hard to show on a photo, but I twisted the main frame of the corn head, back and down. The company engineers decided they would have to replace the frame and not straighten it.

Thankfully Fairbanks International, our dealer, found us a new 8-row head to lease while our 12-row head was down. We ended up using the 8-row for the rest of harvest as the new frame has to come from Germany.

This is dumping corn into a grain cart. This was on a Sunday and we don't ask the hired help to run then, so just Don & I combine and truck by ourselves. Oh yes, the neighbor I harvest with is also a Don so we tend to confuse a lot of people.

We have scales on each grain cart to know how much we harvest from each field and how much we put on each truck. We try to load each truck up to the maximum allowed on the roads by Nebraska, but not go over. We have lots of DOT trucks around here and could always get stopped and checked.

We have wireless remote cameras mounted on the combine auger and also on the grain cart tractor so the grain cart operator can see what is going on. This is looking into a truck I just filled with the grain cart. It is much nicer to actually see what you are doing rather than guessing.

This was one of the mechanical breakdowns we had. The drive shaft that powers the corn head broke at a U-jooint. This was a weakness in design, we broke 4 of these driveshafts until they finally put a heavier driveshaft on. This killed a couple hours each time it broke.

This is a pictire of my office for the fall. The new combines are quite comfortable with leather heated seats and foot pegs to rest your feet on. Of course it is pressurized to keep the dust out and air-conditioned and heated. 
This was my snack cupboard. These are really nice shelves that I filled with all sorts of candy, snacks etc. It made the loooong days bearable. 
And this is a refrigerator. The combine tech worked a couple days trying to figure out what went wrond with the wiring in the combine since the refrigerator wouldn't work. It isn't quite as petty as it might sound since I also used the same outlet to power a monitor I needed. We ended up running a tag wire from another outlet over to the refrigerator.

This is a picture of the combine monitor. I have six different run screens to choose from to view and all of them are programmable. This is the screen I watch 90% of the time. There are no other gauges or idiot lights, so this monitor serves as the engine monitor, the combine monitor, the guidance system and the yield monitor. It took awhile to figure out what to place on which screen.

This busy handle is the multi-function handle that controls much of the combine functions that change frequently. There 21 different things I can do with these buttons and one button on the back that acts like a shift button. All of these are run by the thumb of the right hand. The handle is also the hydrostat control, which adjust how fast I am driving through the field and which direction I am going.

And that is it, the final rows of corn combined this fall. I was holding my breath the last couple of rounds hoping I would finish before something else went wrong.

And now that harvest is finished, what else do I do the rest of the winter? More blogs to follow.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Soybean Harvest

This has been my view for the last several days and a few more to come. We started soybean harvest on October 1 and have logged eight days so far in the combine seat. I have a few more to go as we still have 320 acres or so to go. We can combine about 120 acres of soybeans a day if we can go all day. The picture above was in a field where the beans are planted in rows that are ridged for gravity irrigation. If you look close you will see green leaves still on the plants. This made combining very tough.

We also have many fields where the soybeans are drilled and there are no ridges. On these you can go whatever direction you want to go. GPS guidance systems make this job much easier and faster. We can always keep a full swath. When I have to steer by hand I always leave a couple of feet on the end of the head so I don't leave strips of beans uncut.

When the sun goes down you keep right on cutting, until the humidity comes up and stops you cold. One night I was tooling along at 3.5 mph at one end and when I finished the round I was crawling at 2 mph. The soybeans had gone from 9.5% moisture to 12% moisture in just one round.

We unload the combine on the go, saving time. A great day is where I can start combining in the morning and not stop the combine or get out of the cab, except for calls of nature, until night. Combines cost so much money (a new combine and head will cost around $500,000) that you can't afford the down time. Also we want to get the crops out as fast as possible as soon as they are ready for harvest. Nothing good can happen to them in the field once they are ripe.
Climate controlled cabs are not a luxury during harvest. This a shot of the same grain cart the same day, just going the opposite direction. The wind was blowing all the dust from the back of the combine up to the front. Soybean dust is very scratchy and not good in the lungs.

Here are three of our trucks used to haul the crops away to market. We run a fleet of five trucks. One has already left for the elevator and one was busy hauling hogs (a sideline business). Only three of the five are my trucks. The others belong to a neighbor. We share the combine and harvest crew to reduce our costs. It has worked out well for both of us.

When soybeans harvest is finished, hopefully this week, we will move immediately to corn harvest. This will take longer because we have more corn acres to harvest. I will post again then.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Wild Fruit

One of the benefits of farming many small fields bordered by creeks, canals and ditches is the wild fruit that we get to enjoy. In central Nebraska there are 4 varieties of wild fruit that we may get to harvest, emphasis on the MAY.
Most years we get to pick at least one and usually 2 or 3, but it is a rare year where we get to harvest all four crops. Late spring freezes, hail, insects and birds all take their toll. This year was one of the rare years and I picked all four.
The first fruit that ripens is the mulberry. Mulberry trees are kind of a pest and we don't like them around the yard. When birds eat the berries their poo turns an awful purple color that stains terrible. These mulberries grow on Buffalo Creek and one tree is a white mulberry. It is even sweeter than a normal mulberry. Makes great pies. They were ripe the first of July.

The next fruit that ripens are chokecherries. They are small purple to black berries that will really make you pucker when eaten raw. Cooked, however, with enough sugar and they are wonderful. They make great jelly and even better pies. The problem with pies is pitting all the seeds out. Most of the cherry is pit and not much left over for pie. I picked the chokecherries the middle of July.

Next up on the fruit bandwagon are wild grapes. They usually ripen about mid August. Wild grape vines are hard to find and I'm not telling where mine are. Wild grapes vines don't bear every year. Sometimes they take a few years off, so you never know which vine will have fruit on it. Sometimes they climb trees and the fruit is 20 feet in the air. This year I was laying on the ground cutting the wild grapes.

The final fruit of the year are the wild plums. This is the fruit by which Lexington got its original name Plum Creek. Plum thickets grow all over and are ripe about September 1. This year they are plentiful and are not ripening all at once. As I write there are still ripe plums out there. Wild plums are not purple like domestic but are red/orange.

Barb has processed all this wonderful goodness to jams, jellies and pies. The wild fruits make a nice change of pace from the domestic fruit that we buy or pick. The wild fruit just has a unique flavor that can't be described. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Irrigation 2013

It's September and I've gotten lazy again. Since we are almost finished with irrigation I ought to tell you we have been doing this summer.

Farming in the middle of Nebraska we need to irrigate if we hope to raise a normal crop every year. The picture at left shows the difference between irrigated and dryland.

We have two different water sources, surface and ground. Surface water is diverted out of a river or stream and then transported to the fields by canals or pipe. Our water comes from the Platte River and is brought to our farm by the Dawson County Canal. It is the third oldest canal in Nebraska and was dug with horses and mules about 1894.

 At right you are looking down the canal north of our house. It is already half the size it was at the river 12 miles upstream. The Platte River falls 6 feet every mile it moves east. The canals were designed to fall 1 foot every mile. This way the canal moves away from the river as it moves east.
Ground water is water taken from the ground (simple huh?). Our ground water comes from the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest fresh water aquifers in the world. We are very fortunate to have a very thick water supply that is also close to the surface. We hit water about 10 feet down and the water bearing sand and gravel is about 200 feet thick. This a picture of our newest well, drilled 3 years ago. We do have limitations on drilling new wells, they can only replace old wells.

 We use three different ways to deliver the water to the plants in the field now. My father used two others in previous decades, but newer methods are more efficient. The "oldest" method we currently use is gated pipe. This is either aluminum or plastic pipe that is 8-10" in diameter. There are rectangular holes cut in one side and plastic gates inserted to plug the holes.

Every summer around July 1 we have to string out the pipe on the ends of the fields. I usually recruit some high school kids to help. The pipes are 30' feet long and we put out about 5 miles of pipe so that is a lot of pipe.

This a picture of the water coming out of the open gates. When we are irrigating we have to go to each field and open a new set of rows and close the old rows twice a day. We use old golf putters to tap the gates open and closed. Saves a lot of sore backs.

We use gated pipe on both surface and ground water. Most fields we have a pump on the surface water to pressurize it for the gated pipe. Some fields have enough gravity drop to work without a pump.

Each fall we must remember to flush the gated pipe that is on surface water. There is sediment in the water that settles out in the pipe. The picture at right is just after I pulled the plug. It will flush for several hours before the water starts running clear. If we don't the pipes will have enough mud in them to make it almost impossible to pick up in the fall.

After the last irrigation (and flush) we pull the pipes apart and then find another crew of strong backs to pick all the pipe back up and pile it for next year.

We started using gated pipe in 1975 and until a few years ago that was all we used. Then I purchased a couple of center pivot irrigation systems (left). The look like a pipe in the air with wheels underneath. One end is fastened to a pivot point and the other end moves around the field in a circle. They have sprinklers on them similar to ones in your yard, put more precise.

A new center pivot system is about $75,000 to $100,000 depending on what you add to the package. Normally they need little daily attention, other than to make sure they are still running. We have ours set up to send a text message to our phone if something happens to it. We also have an app to control the pivot from wherever we are. They are more efficient in using water than the gated pipe and take much less labor. Much of the land previously irrigated with gated pipe is being converted to pivots in our area if they fit the field. One downside is that pivots irrigate a circle in a square field so there are corners that will be dryland or will have to be irrigated another way.

The newest irrigation technology is subsurface drip irrigation (SDI). It has been used in orchards and other high value crops for several years, but is now finding a foothold in rowcrops here. I installed this system 3 years ago and am very happy. It is about twice as expensive as a full center pivot on a per acre basis, but if your field is small, rectangular or irregular shaped, it may be about the same price per acre.

This picture shows the valves that control which sections of the field get water. I am currently adding a computer controller to my system so that it can be controlled remotely.

Normally we finish irrigating by Labor Day, but not this year. We will be irrigating until September 14 at least. The crops got behind with some cool weather in August and are not mature yet. If we stop irrigating too soon the plants die early and the yield drops off dramatically.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Preventing Spills

Another one of the many regulations that affect farmers these days is the SPCC or Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure. While it went into effect several years ago most farmers were ignoring this regulation because the EPA was looking at other industries and not ag. Not anymore.

This regulation states that if you have storage capacity of more than 1320 gallons of fuel and oil on your farm you need to have a spill plan in place and some type of control facility. There are many acceptable ideas and you can self-certify your operation, but like all federal rules and regulations, it takes an engineer and an attorney to understand the rules.

There is a chance Congress may change the rules of the SPCC to exempt farmers, but we decided to go ahead and meet the current rules. One reason is that we are close to groundwater and a creek is less than 100 yards away. This spring we hired an engineering firm to develop a plan and design a control structure for our farm. Most of the plan is "boilerplate" and is identical to many other plans. but it fulfills the rules of the feds.

We decided to build a steel tank with a poly liner to contain our fuel storage tanks. It was easier to install than we thought it would be, the worst was figuring out what went where.

Our plan called for a 12" containment depth, but the side sheets were 33" tall, so we dug a trench with our backhoe to lower them.
We were really dreading installing the liner, but it was remarkably easy. They sent plenty extra and we were able to keep the roll fairly square while unrolling it. 

We trenched the electric line from the old site to the new site. Helps having an electrician live next door.

This is our finished site. We will repaint the 2 older tanks white again. The white paint helps reduce vaporization of the fuel we store.