Thursday, May 21, 2009
Members of the Farmers for the Future social network have uploaded some 6,000 images through the Web site’s photo sharing tool, and it’s been a pleasant surprise to see how well this feature has resonated with people.
Surfing through the pictures gives you a good feel for what most interests the nation’s young and beginning farmers. If you look at a very large selection of the photos, you’ll see what subjects are most on their minds—primarily family and the animals and crops they tend. Machinery is also a popular subject—no wonder, inasmuch as they live so much of their lives in tractor, combine and pickup cabs.
Jennifer Dammann, who farms with her husband in southwest Iowa, is one of the photographers featured in a new slideshow highlighting a few of the latest images from the network.
What motivates her photography is that "it’s a way to capture what we do in ag,” Jennifer says.
“I feel that we need to show what we do. Many people do not know what a planter looks like, what a beef cow looks like, etc., so I feel that if I can take some pictures it will help educate the non-farm community," she says.
One of the things that strikes me about this big collection of pictures is how everyone has their own approach to photography--and how every farm is so very different. Jennifer brings her farm to life by including her husband and daughter in many of the images.
“For example, the "Heading to the planter" photo shows something that happens almost every night that we are planting. It is our farm life and we are proud to be farmers and we just want to share that with others," she says.
Sometimes the photographs bring revelations. Shane Newbrough, a Missouri farmer, reflects on a photo of his dad out in the field. "My father tells me stories about working ground with a team of horses," Shane writes. "And to see him standing next to a 185-hp tractor and a 31-row planter....just in his lifetime. It makes me wonder what I will be standing next to one day when my son takes a picture of me."
Take a quick tour to see just a few of these outstanding pictures of spring field work, family life, and farmstead action.
Posted by John Walter at 8:18 AM
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
This week, I visited a couple farmers who are participating in Iowa Learning Farm, a conservation demonstration project sponsored by Iowa State University Extension and other agencies.
Craig Fleishman, one of the program's farmer-spokespersons, is a rare ridge tiller in central Iowa. The tillage system has long been known for its soil and water conservation benefits, so it was a pleasure to see Fleishman in the field with his 15-year-old, 12-row planter.
“I’m the lone ranger,” he said. "Ridge tillage has fallen out of favor."
You couldn't ask for a more enthusiastic representative for conservation, even if his tillage system appears to be disappearing from the landscape.
On Monday, Fleishman's planter was smoothly shaving off the top of corn ridges and planting soybeans into a perfect seedbed.
"With ridge till, I always wind up planting in a moist, mellow, firm seed bed," he said. "With the controlled traffic, you never plant in wheel tracks or anhydrous tracks. The seed bed is always the same. And you're always pushing the weed seed off the row."
And, all that crop residue left behind by the system is great for the soil and water.
Reduced chemical use is another well-known benefit of ridging, of course. This year, Fleishman sprayed corn herbicide on ten-inch bands at one third the broadcast rate. He’ll spot spray with glyphosate, then come with the cultivator, sidedressing nitrogen the first time, building ridges the second go-round.
Other conservation practices on the Fleishman farm include buffer strips, strip cropping, contouring, and grass waterways.
Clearly, Fleishman, a fifth-generation farmer, is trying to care of the land--a value you think would put him in the mainstream. So you wonder how he has become a "lone ranger" in the neighborhood when it comes to tillage.
"Sometimes we get caught up in the efficiency of our equipment, and we do more what's convenient for us, rather than what's good for the soil," he said. Modern machinery is moving faster, and is moving more soil, he says. Chisel plowing is nearly like moldboard plowing these days.
He fears that the trending interest in strip tillage will meet the same fate as ridging one day, relegated to minor status by big iron and ever-larger farms.
"With some of this big equipment, how can you take care of the waterways?" he asks.
Fleishman hopes that new programs like The Learning Farm eventually will help "create a new culture," and make conservation "the right thing to do," he said.
"Conservation should be the normal thing to do. We need to make it more mainstream."
Video: Fleishman's ridge-till planter & system
Posted by John Walter at 6:29 AM
Monday, May 4, 2009
Kelley Kokemiller takes a break to talk planting progress
Sunday afternoon, as USDA would be wrapping up its weekly Crop Progress report, I took a windshield tour of my own backyard—about a 50-mile stretch of country roads north of Des Moines. I’ve always thought this area to be a good example of Iowa’s best cropland--mostly gently rolling, well-drained, black soils. Syngenta, Pioneer, and Monsanto produce seed in the area; the farmers here usually have a good jump on planting, it seems.
Last time I drove this route was early June ‘08, when farmers were still waiting to get back in the field and finish up planting after a long rain delay, just as the watershed was about ready to send the full force of its waters down river to flood Des Moines.
This year so far, a different story is emerging. While it’s been cool and wet, there's been enough of a window for farmers to plant corn in a timely fashion.
In half an hour of driving on Sunday, though, I didn't see a wheel turning, other than guys riding their lawnmowers.
Finally, I stopped at a farm to check in with a grower I’d visited before. The family was getting ready to spray beans in a river bottom area nearby.
I drove over to a field where Kelley Kokemiller was about to make his last round with the sprayer, ahead of the first soybeans to be planted. The bottomland field’s sandy soils had dried out enough to plant, but most ground in the area was still too wet to go, even though it looked dry on top
“This field is dry but everything else around here is too wet to plant. My brother was just in another field and said he nearly got the pickup stuck,” Kelley said.
“We had four inches of rain recently,” he said. “It looks good from the road, but when you get out in the field you’ll find a lot of wet spots out there.”
Kelley said the family has planted all its corn (“for the first time anyway.”) Most farmers in the area have most, if not all, of their corn planted, and a few beans are in the ground, too, he said.
But, as planting season continues, with rain in the forecast and wet soils below the surface, the “game is still on the table” in central Iowa.
Hope planting's progressing well in your part of the country.
Posted by John Walter at 6:46 PM