We’ve all been there. Your on a warm weathered road trip, a vacation or just out to see a distant relative. Along the way you see a grain farmer (like myself) out in his fields, working the ground, tending to his crops, or harvesting. Basically doing what farmers do. While you are watching that farmer for that small moment of time, the thought runs through your head, What do they do in the winter?
“What do you do in the winter?” is the number one question I, as a farmer, have ever been asked over the years. It’s usually followed by the joking assumption that we sit in the house and watch Oprah, Springer and Maury all day. However, Nothing can be further from the truth.
Yes, we work hard in the warmer months of the year, but what about the winter? What exactly does a farmer who cant be in his fields and cant tend to crops due to the freezing cold conditions do all winter?
Alright, so you may have saw that general response coming. So let me be more specific. In the winter, a grain farmer usually:
1.Hauls away the previous years crop from his grain bins to be sold at the elevator..
2. Works tirelessly on paperwork, closing out the year before and beginning the new year.
3. Attends meetings offered by Agricultural based companies in efforts to learn to be better at his/her job.
4. Completes all of the maintenance needed on his/her equipment to make sure its ready for the following year.
The list can go on and on.
For the moment, lets talk about #4 Maintenance. Why? Because its something we can all relate to.
If you own a vehicle, there is no doubt that at one time or another you may have had a breakdown or a flat tire. Things happen, but a general maintenance plan can help with that. Every 3000 miles or so, your car will need an Oil Change and maybe a new air filter. Every 50,000 or so miles it may need new tires, brakes or something else. If this maintenance isn’t completed in a timely manner chances are the vehicle wont last too long without having mechanical issues when you need it the most. Farm equipment is no different They need the same type of maintenance that your vehicle does, just on a larger scale. While a late model car may need its 4 quarts of oil changed every 3000 miles (for around $25-$45 at your local dealer). A tractor can run over 100-500 hours (depending on the model) before its 5-15 gallons of oil need to be changed (for $200 or more in the farmers shop). A cars tires may last 50,000 miles and cost $150 each while a tractors tires may last 4000 hours and cost upwards of $1500 each to replace (often having 6-8 tires). As you can imagine, this takes time. Especially if you have to do this type of maintenance when you need the vehicle or tractor the most.
So what do farmers do in the winter? A large part of it is maintenance, especially preventative maintenance. Every winter, at one time or another, virtually every piece of farm equipment we have is brought into our farm shop to be checked over. First we start just outside the shop door, blowing all of the dust and crop debris off of the machine with an air hose. Next, as in the case of this tractor, its brought into the shop for an oil change.
Throughout my tractor maintenance ritual, I treat the tractor much like a mechanic would your car. Like, checking air pressure in the tires, checking the antifreeze and other fluid levels and so on. After the oil is changed, fluids checked, air pressures checked, and more, its time to for a wash, some touch up paint and a wax before it leaves the shop. (Look for a future post explaining more about what we do)
All of this is done to maintain our farm equipment so it can be the best it can be. We hope the machines we use have long and breakdown free lives, just as you do your vehicle. This type of preventative maintenance along with many other responsibilities are what keeps many farmers like me busy throughout the year, especially in the winter months. So if you ever wonder what farmers do in the winter, simply stop by and knock on the farm shop door. Chances are, you’ll find a farmer inside.
It’s going to be beautiful day in late July. The morning is cool and dewey, but we know it’s going to heat up and get humid. So we get up early, get out a bunch of bowls, 1 quart ziplock bags, my Moms newly sharpened paring knives, a few 5 gallon buckets, a turkey fryer filled with water and a pick up truck. It’s Sweet Corn freezing day on the farm.
It’s been a tradition for as far as I can remember. Getting up early, picking a pick-up bed full of sweet corn, cleaning it, cooking it (boiling it in the turkey fryer if you were wondering), cooling it, cutting it off the cob, filling the bags, taste testing (for quality reasons of course ) and finally freezing it for future meals throughout the year. It’s a lot of work but it’s so worth it. The funny thing is, I’ve never had one bite of sweet corn taste like Gas, well Ethanol anyway.
Wait what? There is Ethanol in the Sweet Corn we eat?
No, there is no type of Corn that tastes like any fuel product either, but here’s a fact you may not know.
Ethanol is not made from Sweet Corn
This cartoon came across my FB feed yesterday.
At first sight, I chuckled, but after reading a few comments below it. I felt compelled to address it. The Mom in the cartoon is relating sweet corn consumption and hunger to Ethanol use. The fact is, Ethanol is NOT made from Sweet Corn at all. It is NOT made from the same Corn you buy in your produce isle or farmers market to have at your next meal.
Ethanol is in fact made from #2 yellow dent corn. Never heard of it? Sure you have, if you have ever seen a field of corn while driving down the interstate, more than likely it’s a field of #2 Yellow Dent Corn, more commonly known as field corn. In fact there was about 90million acres of it planted across our nations heartland this past spring. However, you won’t find any of it in your local produce section. Why? Let’s just say that although very few people actually like it, it really does’t taste very good.
While Sweet Corn is largely grown for direct human consumption, Field Corn (#2 yellow dent) is mainly grown for some food production, livestock feed, and to be turned into countless other things, including Ethanol, which gets mixed into our nations gasoline supplies. It can be argued that Ethanol helps reduce our nations dependence on foreign oil and increases the octane level of our gasoline all while making each gallon of gas about 20 cents cheaper than straight gas. But that’s not my point.
What does this all mean? It means that the kid in this cartoon can feel free to eat his ear of Sweet Corn without guilt. It means the price you pay for Sweet Corn at the store and the supply there of are not affected directly by Ethanol because it doesn’t come from Sweet Corn at all. It means that my family and I can go to the gas station, purchase E10, E15, or E85 mixed gasoline and still be able to freeze our pick-up load of Sweet Corn every year.
Why? Because Ethanol Does Not Come From Sweet Corn
Want to learn more about Ethanol? Click here for some Ethanol Facts.
Want to know if your vehicle can run on E85? ( Flex Fuel Vehicle). Click here.
Today, less than 2% of the population are farmers and the average person is said to be 3 generations removed from the farm. However, even though less and less people are involved in farming these days, it is becoming easier for consumers to stay in touch with those who produce the food products they depend on every day.
Twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube, and the popular Pinterest.com, seem to be the online places to be these days. It seems almost everyone has a social media account on at least one of these sites and those who don’t have one definitely know someone who does. Common uses for these sites are to keep in touch with friends, family, post pictures of a child’s achievements and more, but have you ever thought of using those sites to get in touch with a farmer and learn where your food comes from? Doing so is a growing trend in social media. Consumers who are concerned about where and how their food is produced are now talking to the farmers who grow their food products daily through social media.
With well over 350 million active users, Facebook is arguably the most widely used social media tool on the web today. People from all over the world, from varying backgrounds constantly use the site to convey their thoughts from day-to-day. Farmers from across the country are also on Facebook and are ready and willing to tell their story as well. Countless farms of various types have their own Facebook pages so consumers and other farmers alike can see what they are doing, how they are doing it and why.
Some examples of Farm related Facebook pages are Organic Valley, The Farmers Life (IN. Grain Farm) , Haley Farms (OH. Cattle Farm), Gilmer Dairy Farm , Fair Oaks Farms (IN Dairy Farm) , and Boucher Farms (IL Grain Farm), just to name a few.
With 100 million new accounts opened in 2010 alone Twitter has proven its place in the social media landscape. Every Tuesday night on Twitter from 7pm-9pm CST, about 125-175 farmers and non-farmers alike, take part in a discussion called #AgChat. Each week the discussion has a different general topic surrounding farming, food production and agriculture in general. The discussion is moderated by a different person each week and everyone is welcome to chime in with their thoughts on the subject. Topics of conversation have ranged from Ag Policies to Biotech Crops to Feeding our Ever Expanding Population to name a few. The discussions are always educational and usually result in great conversations with other Tweeters after the chat is over. Everyone is encouraged to participate.
Some farmers who tweet are
Google+ and Pinterest are new comers in the Social Media world. Both sites are growing in size but as many of you know Pinterest has basically exploded in popularity, and yes, Farmers are on it too. While most searches and “pins” on the site seem to be about crafts, household items, and travel, a simple search for Agriculture or Farming will easily put you in touch with a farmer who produces your food products.
Lets not forget YouTube. YouTube is a place where many of us have visited to see one video or another, but soon find ourselves watching something totally unrelated to what we came to watch in the first place. From EHow, where you can learn to do basically anything via video, to that viral video of a kid singing a song, YouTube covers it all, including farming. A simple search for farming will bring up countless videos of farms including one by Chris Chinn (familyfarmer ). In the video “Truth about Modern Pork Production” she explains, in detail, how her modern pork production facility works on their family farm. Other farm related YouTube channels provide education on modern grain production, organic farming and urban farming as well.
Last but not least, blogs are all the craze today. Sites like tumblr.com and wordpress.com have countless blog post entries every day covering all sorts of subjects. Agriculture is a growing part of the blog world. Many farmers are using blogs to communicate with consumers today to better explain how and why they do what they do. Three great AG blogs are “Common Sense Agriculture”, by Jeff Fowle, “Agriculture Proud” by Ryan Goodman and “The Farmers Life” by Brian Scott. Bryan, Ryan and Jeff are professional Farmers and/or Ranchers who share their day-to-day lives and opinions with their ever-growing community of followers.
No matter which social media outlet you prefer to use, the farmers who produce your food products are there to answer your questions. They are easy to find, and will be there to give you an honest answer, straight from the source. The next time you are updating your Facebook status, or tweeting a tweet, look up a farmer and learn about where your food really comes from.
Today’s Farmers may make up only 2% of the population but their occupation directly affects all of us.
If you have any farm or food production related questions please contact any of the farmers listed above or leave a comment on this blog. Thank you for visiting Off the Cobb and God Bless.