Posts tagged technology
Sustainability Spotlight: Large-Scale Commodity Farm

If there is one word I could use to describe Lee Scheufler, my father and the co-owner/operator of Scheufler Farms, Inc. it would be efficient.

“I wasn’t going to marry a farmer!” declares Margaret, wife of efficient Lee, my mother and co-owner/operator of Scheufler Farms.

“But my charm overwhelmed her,” Lee jokes with a wink.

Scheufler Farms is a large-scale grain farm in the smack-dab center of Kansas. Lee and Margaret have been married over 30 years and together manage this 100% family farm with only one full-time employee. Their farming philosophy is to run a highly efficient enterprise to capture low cost per unit production.

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Sustainability Spotlight: Industry Perspective

Last December, Marvin showed up on my parents’ doorstep.

Marvin works for ADM (Archer Daniels Midland Company – although nobody ever calls them by their full name) as a marketing agent who procures grain from local farmers.

He and his company want to sustainably source wheat in Central Kansas, but “sustainable” first needs to be defined. Thus ADM is looking for producers willing to share information about their farming practices.  The goal of this  Field to Market program is to determine the most profitable - yet environmentally friendly - way to raise wheat. ADM, in turn, wants to partner with these farms to purchase this sustainably grown grain.

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The Next Generation of American Agriculture

My Dad was featured in the Wall Street Journal last month. That's right, I'm basically the daughter of a celebrity.

He and several other farmers in Central Kansas (like my high school classmate Mason!) were interviewed for the article: The Next American Farm Bust is Upon Us. Unfortunately, the tone of the article was less than positive; apparently I wasn't the only one who noticed the piles of grain across my home state last summer and it's not an illusion that the low price of grain is going to force some farmers out of business.

This begs the question: How will American Agriculture respond to this changing climate?

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Volatility

Unpredictability is the name of the game when it comes to farming. Weather, pests, breakdowns, and (perhaps most frustrating), the marketplace.

Things have been especially good this year: plenty of rain and sunshine at just the right time. Fortunately (or unfortunately?) it's been good everywhere. The Former Soviet Union and Europe had record-breaking wheat harvests this year. Thus, surpluses abound.

For those of you who've had training in basic economics, you know what happens to price when supply outweighs demand. That's right - price goes down.

That's what's happening right now.

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Rained Out: A Story of Mitigating Risk

For all of the technology in modern agriculture - the GPS device in the combine, the weather app on the phone, the wireless electronic truck scale - our food system is still in the hands of Mother Nature.

It's never more apparent how small we humans are in the universe until your game of Pegs and Jokers is interrupted by a tornado warning. There is a false sense of security in having a basement; if a tornado barrels over the house, there's really nowhere to hide.

This is the scary part of being a farmer.

You can plan. You can estimate. You can research and work late nights and get all the planting done on time. But one flood, one hail storm, one extra week without rain can wipe it all away in the blink of an eye. While farming is about knowing how to grow crops in your climate, it's also about business (knowing when to spend money to make money), relationships (you gotta trust people to work with them), and mitigating risk.

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Nitrogen Fertilizer, a Comparison

A few weeks ago I wrote about how nitrogren fertilizer is an essential part of farming because it is an essential part of protein, and thus nutrition for humans.

Across farming philosophies - from conventional to progressive to organic to local - the fact that nitrogen is essential to life is an undisputed fact. Beyond that agreement, however, opinions begin to differ regarding exactly what type of fertilizer is best to use.

While I can in  no way compare to a trained agronomist's opinion, I'd like to offer a (very) brief overview of the options farmers have today about what types of nitrogen fertilizer are available and review a few of the pros and cons of each.

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Nitrogen: the Building Block of Building Blocks

Protein.

I've ranted over its popularity in the American diet. I've warned that we're getting way more protein than we need (although so far there's no evidence that this is necessarily harmful). Yet still for most humans on the planet today, lack of protein remains a major source of malnutrition.

Water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink. This pretty accurately describes our relationship with atmospheric nitrogen. There's lots of it, but it's not in a form that is available for plants to use. Nitrogen as fertilizer comes from one of three places: 1) recycled nitrogen, 2) fixed nitrogen, and 3) synthesized nitrogen.

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Farming when the Ground is White and the Temp is Low

I work an 8-to-5-ish job. I have weekends and holidays off, I accrue PTO, and if I'm deathly ill, I have (amazing) coworkers who will step up to cover for me.

This does not describe the life of a small business owner, such as a farmer.

A small business owner works the hours he needs to - meaning 16-hour days during harvest - and takes time for herself when she can. For most farmers, this means that if you want to take a vacation, it's probably going to be in the dead of winter.

So what exactly does a farmer do when the combine is in the shed? Quite a bit, actually.

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Milo (Sorghum) Harvest 2015

Scheufler Farms, Inc. Fall Harvest 2015 is officially over. It ended last Friday, when the crew finished in the milo field.

Usually it's the double-crop beans that are last crop standing in the field, but it was a warm, dry fall. Usually the first freeze of the year halts the milo's growth, which causes it to dry more quickly and allow it to be harvested before the last of the beans. The first freeze in Central Kansas came late this year.

Milo, or sorghum, is a lesser-known grain. It certainly has its benefits, however, so I'm excited to introduce you to this commodity crop.

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Fall: Harvest, Planting, and My (Dad's) Happy Place

Fall is a busy time on a Kansas farm. It's the place on the calendar where harvest and planting intersect.

Unlike wheat harvest, which wraps up in less than two weeks, fall harvest lasts from September until all of the crops are harvested. Which, depending on the weather, can be anywhere from November to early January (although that's unusual and not really ideal).

While the rest of the world is thinking about pumpkins and spiced cider, my dad is in the field on every dry day and praying for rain after he's planted the wheat.

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