A Job Mostly Done

Another short update on the big farm project. Mainly, two images of the main heavy equipment work completed.

You get a good look at the old barn site as it sits now … pretty much empty. Off to the left you will see the remnants of a failed grape experiment, which is the next thing to go (the start of that project was rained out this past weekend). This is the site where the machine shed will hopefully start going up this winter.

Here you get a look at the other side where two pole sheds currently sit. There used to be the foundation for an old hay barn here, but no longer. The semi sits on a concrete slab at the moment and it is actually leveled off instead of a drop off where the dirt had settled over the years. What is going to happen with this area is still up for discussion, but more-than-likely some small cattle operation will be using at least one of the two sheds here which would mean that my dad, brother and I will be reprising our roles of putting up electric fence in the future.

Clearing out the weeds was a huge undertaking and there is still a lot of work left to clean everything up and plant in some grasses to keep the weeds away (and provide foliage for the cattle). That will be for another time. It is a good thing that my dad saved the old disk because that thing will be getting dragged through his area so that the better one can be saved for the fields.

Update on the Downed Barn

Just a short update on the downed barn.

The entire thing has been buried and today should be the last day for leveling off the whole area with the dirt from the hole that was dug. From here things will move a little more slowly but this it the general outline:

  • Remove the attempted vineyard starting this weekend. This requires manually clipping the tension wires and removing all of the wires and posts before the disk (or plow) can be taken through and the ground prepped for next spring’s planting.
  • Last night the discussion revolved around how to orient the new machine shed on the property. The main issue is that we don’t want put the new shed over the top of the (deep) hole that the barn is now buried in. There is going to be quite a bit of settling over the next years and we do not want a new machine shed to be sinking into the hole. So, figure that out and get started on the new building will take a few months.
  • Harvest is coming … I guess.

That’s about it at the moment. Having a large-enough machine shed will be a huge upgrade for the place and also set us up for expansion in the future. One thing I would like to do is map out the new building a little bit and maybe get a site plan started for what the future might bring.

That’s for next time.

Ag Reality

The Star Tribune recently ran an editorial by Susan Hogan titled When political rhetoric trumps child safety. Basically, she is upset about how corporate interests have killed proposed rules to protect children under 16 working as farmhands.

I’m not taking issue with the proposed rules here, but I am taking issue with where she perceives the problem coming from. Here is the problem paragraph for me:

But to abandon the entire safety reform effort because of public outcry from special-interest groups put political gain above children’s well-being, and that should never be the case.

Special interest groups? Those “special interest groups” are mainly family farms and farmers. Those are the people who were going to be hurt the most with these new rules and, rightly by my estimation, felt it as an overreach by the government.

If family farms are special interest groups, then every person is a special interest group. This is just ridiculous and a case of the person completely missing the point.

Looking at Harvest 2011

Farmer Bob

The above is who I call Farmer Bob.

This post is nothing more than a little post about what I’ve been doing over the past two weekends. I’ve been helping with something I never really helped with before: harvest.

First, let me say that I would not have been able to help if not for Laura watching our two boys by herself for the past two weekends. She does the same thing during the week and I don’t know how she does it, and then I abandon her for two weekends to help take the corn out with my dad and brother. So, thank you to Laura, especially, for taking care of our boys while I played with the big toys in the field.

Now, you need to understand that I spent the first 24 years of my life pretty much distancing myself from the farming operation on the family farm as much as possible. I went ahead and focused on music and technology (among other things) while my younger brother spent his time learning the family trade side-by-side with our dad.

Sure, I got in on baling hay, loading hogs, and other smaller things but Kevin spent his time out there fixing the machinery, combining crops, running in loads, working up the fields for the next year, planting crops, etc. He was learning how to be a farmer and I was imagining myself coming back and visiting for fun.

Little did I know what happened during all of those years. I think the quote goes something like this:

You can take the boy from the farm, but you can never take the farm out of the boy.

I’m probably messing it up, but the gist is that in getting away from the farm I grew up on I began to enjoy doing those thing I had distanced myself. It really came to a head last year when I was able to help take loads into the co-op and found that I … enjoyed it. I enjoyed working on/for the farm.

It was strange.

It was strange in the way that you find something out about yourself after years of trying to deny it. I actually do like farming, or at least certain aspects of it. Laura likes to point out that I would not do very well with the mundane, everyday tasks that are involved with farming (I have a hard enough time getting up in the morning for my sons … animals would had to wait), but there is still a part of me that enjoys certain aspects … and harvest is one of them.

Am I going to get into farming full-time? Probably not. The idea is there, but at this point I don’t think I would be happy doing that. However, I do look forward to spending some more time out there during critical junctures of the year and helping out where I can. An extra hand at times can mean an expanded operation without needing to get more help.

Plus, Jamis loves to ride in the tractor and combine.

Technology in Farming

This is going to become a larger topic for me as time goes on, but I thought I’d briefly speak on what things are changing on the family farm in regards to adding little bits of technology and software to areas of the operation we have not done in the past.

My family’s current farming operation is decidedly “old fashioned” compared to the large farms around the country. There is no GPS guiding the machinery down the field, no scales telling you how much you have on the wagon currently, no sensors and displays telling you how much crop is coming through the combine or seed is going into the ground … it is operating, for the most part, the same way it was when I was born 25 years ago.

This year I was able to help out some more with harvest in two ways:

  1. increase electronic record keeping
  2. helping take the crop out of the field

You should ask my younger brother how often I helped with the latter growing up (not much), but the first one is my idea. Instead of having to try and keep track of all of the paper sheets the local cooperative gives us when we sell our crop, I created a spreadsheet to keep track of them for us along with some metrics throughout the season (average test weight, average moisture content, total bushels, total gross income, etc.). The idea is to streamline tax time by having all of our records ready ahead of time.

They keep track of most expenses for the farm in Quicken, but the idea is to begin to move to more granular electronic records there as well. I will have more on that in the future.

The second part, helping take the crop out, had me driving this setup:

Brother's 4430 pulling J&M grain cart

To say I had fun would be an extreme understatement. The big change for me was the use of our cell phones to keep in constant contact while working. My brother drove the semi, taking loads to the cooperatives while my dad was in the combine taking out the corn. I was on my cell phone keeping in contact with both to know when I could dump what was in the grain cart and when I needed to come out and pick up what was in the hopper on the combine.

It was invaluable.

Technology changed the entire game this year because we never had to stop working in order to stay in contact. We could call each other up if we had questions or needed to know something.

These are just little, tiny things that are helping to improve the efficiency of my family’s small operation in Minnesota. I hope to find more ways to help out in the future.