Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Dave Kurns, inventor of the hog coulter
If you ever get any value from Agriculture Online, or farm Web sites like it, you owe a little something to Dave Kurns, who led the launch of the site nearly 15 years ago. Agriculture.com was our parent company’s first Web site, and it was the first site created by an ag media company.
From the outset, Dave, who worked for Meredith New Media, saw that this emerging medium was all about interactivity and community. He steered us in the direction of creating tools like discussion groups, online classified ads, and a feature called Homestead, where you could build your own home page on the Web before that was possible with other tools.
Despite having graduated from Iowa State University, the land grant college up the road, Dave was a city boy with a computer science degree. But he showed a great affinity for farmers, and enjoyed working in agriculture.
In the midst of all the excitement of building Agriculture Online, Dave also invented the hog coulter. One day, while explaining the Internet to a group of aggies he started to demonstrate keyword searches. Reaching for an example, he summoned up the term "hog coulter." I about fell on the floor laughing.
Every time that combination of words comes to mind, I chuckle to myself. And I have taken the occasion from time to time to kid Dave about his invention.
But, the joke’s on me, it turns out. There really is such a thing as a hog coulter.
However, as you can see in a new video that Dave presented me on my recent birthday, there are quite a number of definitions of "hog coulter." Editors, executives, meteorologists, marketing managers, Web designers, and farmers all have a different design in mind for the tool.
I invite you to check out Dave’s video, What is a hog coulter? and see if they've got it about right. Or maybe you've seen your own hog coulter?
Posted by John Walter at 7:15 AM
Friday, July 17, 2009
There was plenty of competition for this field on our place
A hot discussion on our site, “Cut throat neighbors,” delves into a young farmer’s problem in fending off aggressive competition for land he’s renting: “Every year neighboring farmers contact my landlords and offer astronomical prices…to rent their land,” he says.
This must be common occurrence, given the big response this farmer gets. And some folks are not very sympathetic.
"You are naive to think you are entitled, deserve privilege, or for some reason think the market is closed because you rented a farm,” says one respondent.
Another says: “Farming, especially renting, is dog eat dog, always has been, always will be.”
About five years ago, the long-time operator of our Nebraska farm went bankrupt. Very soon after I got the news, the phone started ringing. A couple neighbors to our farm, as well as one of the area’s big operators, checked in with me about the availability of the land.
One of the farmers that contacted me was a younger fellow who had just lost some rented ground. He and his wife both worked off the farm, but he had a small parcel of his own and was hoping to stay in the game with a little more land. We set up a meeting to get acquainted. He brought his dad to the meeting, talked about people we both knew, and showed me pictures of his kids. We wound up signing some papers.
He’s kept up his end of the bargain, tending to the all the details—pushing paperwork, keeping up the fences, maintaining the irrigation equipment and CRP, and generally keeping an eye on things. He keeps in touch on a regular basis.
When commodity prices went through the roof a couple years ago, it was tempting to raise the rent. I decided against it, because the guy had gone beyond the call of duty a couple times, and we seemed to be about even.
I guess what I’m saying is that we could be getting more money for that farm, but when is enough enough? And aren't there other important pieces in a land-rent relationship?
According to the farmers participating in the “cut throat neighbors” discussion, here are some things you should consider as you rent land and deal with neighborhood land sharks:
• Out-hustle the competition. “We all have to prove ourselves, and even without other farmers calling your landowners, you are still in a silent competition with area farmers,” said one.
• Go on the offensive. One farmer says he recently threw a big barn party for his landlords and other neighbors, some of whom might be retiring soon.
• Take care of business. Says one landlord: “All my ground is irrigated so taking care of equipment is at the top of my list.” Others mention things like shoveling driveways and mowing ditches.
• Be a good communicator. Landowners like to hear about how the crops are doing and what you’re doing to improve the farm. One fellow takes his landowners on tours of the cropland, showing what improvements he’s made and how the crops are faring. A farm manager says he rents land to a smaller producer over a big shooter, because the little guy answers his phone calls and e-mails promptly.
• Build a good reputation. ”Dog eat dog to make a buck has ruined more young farmers than anything as they bid the profit away to be a BTO,” said one farmer. Says a landowner: “I value honesty and integrity far more than getting a few extra dollars.”
• Try for multi-year leases. One farmer has had good luck working with landlords to bargain extra years for additional improvements to the land. Another fellow, however, recommends one-year leases so that the owner thinks of you as hungry and hustling. “Humility, hard work, and honesty are all you need,” he says.
• Work with what you have. “I can make a very good living off my acres because sometimes intensifying is better than more and more acres,” says one farmer.
• Buy your own land. "My advice is save your money and invest in buying your own land, says a farmer. "Buy a little here and there, nothing more than you can afford."
Posted by John Walter at 9:42 AM
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Last week, on a lark, I drove over to the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, a native prairie restoration project on some 5,000 acres in central Iowa. The refuge claims to be is the largest re-creation of tallgrass prairie in the U.S., with more than 200 types of prairie plants
The well-designed learning center has some interesting displays, but the real drama is out on the land. You can take a couple trails through the prairie preserve, and on this day in early July nature stole the show. The prairie flowers were blooming, the birds were singing, and the bees were buzzing.
I spotted at least two birds I’d never seen before, a bobolink and another that looked to be some kind of grouse. I photographed a colorful plant or two, including this spectacular butterfly attractor (photo above).
I had never seen such a rich array of plant species in a prairie restoration and learned later that volunteers have been collecting native seeds from roadsides, cemeteries and railroad beds around the state to plant at the refuge.
Hiking though the prairie there and later driving through the bordering cropland made me think once again how much agriculture has changed the natural world. It seems worth remembering that from time to time.
We have a CRP field of prairie grass on our farm in Nebraska, an excellent stand that includes some native forbs, along with a mix of indiangrass, big bluestem and switchgrass. A walk though the place gives you a little feel for what the country looked like before the plow that broke the plains.
And that wasn’t so long ago. There’s a place down the road where you can still see the remnants of the sod house where my great grandparents lived for a time, and on a hill above there, buffalo wallows from the great herds that once roamed what is now Buffalo County, Nebraska.
The irrigated corn and beans across the road pay the taxes and insurance for the place, but there’s something healthy about being able to take a prairie hike, perhaps to remind one from whence we came.
Posted by John Walter at 8:04 AM
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Knee-high corn hard to find here
You’d have to look pretty hard in central Iowa to find some knee-high corn on the Fourth this year. This morning, though, I found some in sandy end rows of a field along the Des Moines River. The rest of the field was head high.
That tough little patch may symbolize the nation’s corn crop this year in a couple ways: There’s a lot of variability out there, and farmers had to work pretty hard to get a lot of this crop in the ground.
In early returns to an Agriculture Online poll, farmers say they’re finding corn measuring from their ankles to over their heads. There’s knee-high, waist-high, shoulder- and head-high corn in about equal parts, according to poll respondents.
“I will have to go with all the above,” commented one farmer who took the poll. “I have corn planted 4-23 that started to tassel on 6-30. And corn planted on 6-1 that is knee high and everything in between.”
Whatever the height of your corn, we do know there’s a lot of it. On Tuesday, USDA predicted the second largest corn acreage (next to ’07) planted since 1946.
And, as in many years, there was plenty of adversity to overcome this spring for farmers around the country to get the crop planted. So, while we’re checking the corn, the Fourth is a good time to recognize the perennial successes of the American farmer.
In a press release this week, the U.S Grains Council pointed out that corn and soybean growers “worked steadfastly” to plant a total of 164.5 million acres, an increase of nearly 3 percent over ’08.
That’s a good word for it: “steadfastly.”
“Time and time again, U.S. farmers are faced with adversity, but their commitment to providing an adequate supply of U.S. feed ingredients as well as their dedication to curbing global hunger perseveres," said USGC President and CEO Ken Hobbie.
Have a great holiday weekend, corn growers. Hope the fireworks are flying over some tall corn in your fields.
Posted by John Walter at 7:31 AM