Farmer and son are featured on four-story mural
Thinking such a day would never come, it did and has gone—my 25th service anniversary at Successful Farming. Well, the actual day isn’t until sometime in July, but I received a watch at a staff meeting yesterday and some very kind words from my boss, Loren Kruse, editor-in-chief.
I was surprised enough that I didn’t get all emotional about the deal, but today I do feel a need to reflect a bit. What first came to mind when Loren invited me to the front of the room last night was how everything I’ve been able to do in 25 years here has been because of the good name of Successful Farming. I thought how that brand has opened so many doors over the years, and how that's been possible because of the people who've worked here with me, and before me.
I can hear still hear a voice from a long time ago, a woman over the phone calling out across the farmyard to her husband, “there’s a fella from Successful Farming who wants to talk with you.” The farmer drops everything, rushes to the phone, and cheerfully welcomes me to visit their place. That kind of thing has happened a whole bunch of times in 25 years.
Coincidentally, last Friday, a new four-story mural celebrating Succcessful Farming was installed on the side of our headquarters building here in downtown Des Moines.
Successful Farming was the founding magazine of Meredith Corporation 107 years ago. The name has long been engraved in stone on the original headquarters building, and now across the street a new image of a farmer and his son, with our new logo, will mark our century and seven in the business of farm publishing.
I like to think that the mural, which will remain in place for three months, is a tribute to the American farmers who are our readers. Obviously, without their loyalty and subscriptions, there would be no Successful Farming at 1716 Locust Street.
So here’s to you, my predecessors, my colleages, and all our readers. Thanks for keeping Successful Farming viable into its second century. And thanks for the 25 years.
Here's a little slideshow of the mural, and of the Successful Farming staff who gathered this morning for a photograph: Celebrating Successful Farming.
[Watch a video of the installation]
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Last week, I attended a demonstration of a new conservation practice and learned a new word—bioreactor.
On the drive over to the event, watching the young corn rows flicker past in bright green, I thought once again how the productivity of these deep, rich Midwestern soils is based on the ability to drain them. And it’s this water leaving the land, often laden with nitrates, that is increasingly the focus of conservation programs in farm states like Iowa.
A tile line bioreactor consists of a trench filled with a carbon source, in this case wood chips. As tile line water flows through the bioreactor, microorganisms break down the nitrate and expel the substance as a gas.
The project sponsors, which included the Iowa Soybean Association, Sand County Foundation, and Agriculture’s Alliance for Clean Water, were enthusiastic about the early results for the technology. The first bioreactor in the state, installed in Greene County last August has cut nitrate concentrations by 60% to 70%, said Keegan Kult, an environmental specialist for the soybean growers group.
What’s the future for bioreactors? There are issues in designing and managing the structures. USDA is studying the funding eligibility for the practice.
The 12x100-foot bioreactor we watched being built will cost about $7,000 -- for the control structures, wood chips, fabric, and contracting work. It will treat water from a 40-acre tile pattern.
A bioreactor is a field-level practice, which can be relatively expensive compared to watershed-wide practice. A small wetlands restoration, for example, can receive drainage from a couple thousand acres, filter the water, and provide other conservation benefits.
The farmer hosting the demo project I saw is clearly conservation-minded. He’s been willing to pay for practices that are proven to benefit soil and water. His strip-till beans were covered in protective corn residue. The creek taking the water from the bioreactor demo was flanked by a 130-foot wide buffer strip.
Conservation practices can provide direct benefits, even if long term, to a farmer. But a bioreactor?
"This is a pretty progressive step for a farmer to take," Kult told me. “The bioreactor is helping the people downstream."
Driving home I followed the creek from the demo farm down to the Boone River, which shortly drains into the Des Moines River--the water supply for the city of Des Moines. Soon that demo farm’s 40 acres of drainage becomes just a drop in the bucket of an agriculturally intense watershed. There are about 9.5 million acres in the Des Moines River basin.
Bioreactors are just beginning to be put to the test, but you hope that farmers and the people downstream will find in them a new conservation tool.
Video: Bioreactor tour
Posted by John Walter at 1:29 PM
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Beautiful June days, with a full strawberry moon on the rise, makes me think that we should go fishing. I think of my brother-in-law, Art, this time of year. He died five years ago from brain cancer, on a night with a full moon rising, the same time of year we had always met somewhere to go fishing. My sister, Pam, and nieces, Cori and Lindsey, gathered this week in his memory and sent me some pictures from their trip to the ocean, including the funny sign here.
Think I'll post a little piece I wrote on the first anniversary of Art's passing, as a way to celebrate his life, and also as a little reminder that it's about time to pick up a pole and head to some water.... How about you? Are you going fishin' this summer?
A part of this tale Art and I came to call "The Last Cast." We never realized how it was truly the final chapter. This was two years ago, under the first full moon in June. We were canoeing the Flambeau River in northern Wisconsin on the last day of what would be our last fishing trip together.
We had two vehicles and had spaced them out for about a half day's trip from one to the other. It's a beautiful stretch of river, and the thought was to catch a few smallmouth bass. But mainly, as always, the idea was just to be on the water.
Art was always very focused in these deals--juggling gear and tackle, piloting the canoe, and figuring out how to catch a fish in a new stretch of water--all in a fast-moving channel. After a couple hours, Artie got the knack for how to catch a fish in these waters. Had to do with a certain lure lobbed almost on to the shore. The smallies were right up against the bank, and you had time for one quick cast in each promising pool. I think I was stubborn and stuck mostly to my own unsuccessful techniques, until a couple of football-sized bass of Art's won me over.
Now let me stop time and roll us back up the river. It was a place where we had stopped to have lunch. We had come to a section where the rapid flow widened into an area braided with sandbars and islands, and then divided in to two main channels. A long rocky sandbar above the fork presented itself as an easy spot to beach the boat. We stopped for lunch, to stretch, and cast a little.
I remember that after awhile we started picking up rocks and telling little stories about the life forms that were ensconced in that river. The narratives took us back a couple of ice ages ago. I don't remember the stories, and I'm not sure we brought home any of those rocks. (I'm going out to check my tackle box this evening.) But I know that for a few minutes we transcended time and felt in touch with something eternal.
Stories told, we pushed the boat back in the river and continued downstream, with the same pattern in place. Art catching fish. Me not. A couple hours later, we came around a bend and saw a few hundred yards away the towel that we'd tied around a tree to identify where we'd parked my truck. It would a matter of careful timing to get the canoe back across the river. We had to hurry. I still hadn't caught a fish, so I joked that I wanted to make one last cast. Art stuck an oar in the water and battled the current to give me time. Yes, indeed, I really did catch a beautiful football of a fish on The Last Cast. We laughed and laughed, high-fiving, then doggedly paddled across the river to shore.
Today, I think of that fork in the river, where we had lunch. How a year later, Art went one way and I went the other. I've learned that the water flows in both channels. It's just that I can't see him over there on the other side now. But I know that the river comes together again.
Posted by John Walter at 6:22 PM