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Just What Do Farmers Do in the Winter Anyhow?

February 4, 2013 5 comments

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?

 A lot!

  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.

Hoods up, lets get to work!

Hoods up, lets get to work!  (When you see it…comment as to what it is)

Under our John Deere 6310.  Getting ready to drain the oil into a bucket for it to be recycled.

Under our John Deere 6310. Getting ready to drain the oil into a bucket for it to be recycled.

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.

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Making Farm Safety #1

September 10, 2012 2 comments

For generations, Farming and Ranching has been considered one of the Top 10 Most Dangerous Jobs in the US. It’s no secret that large animals can be very unpredictable, farm accidents occur both on and around the farm, and now and again there are farmer vs vehicle accidents on our nations roads. While many farm accidents are avoidable many are simply a hazard that goes along with the job. Murphy’s law. without a doubt. exists in Agriculture.

Being a farmer and a father of three, safety is a top priority on my farm. Accidents can, do and have happened over the years. Let’s just say after an accident long ago, we are very lucky to have my Dad here with us today. That being said, its understandable to say that my family is very safety conscious and, from time to time, takes additional measures to help ensure our own day to day safety on our farm.

Our latest example of increasing safety on our farm is a simple one, A right side step for our tractor.

20120909-070207.jpg
On many front wheel assist (similar to a 4×4 vehicle) tractors, there are steps on the left (drivers side) for the operator to get in and out of the cab. However since there is no cab access on the right side, there are no steps and nothing to stand on to access the right side of the tractor. This presents a problem when a headlight needs to be changed, when washing the tractor or when simply cleaning its windows. In order to complete those tasks, I normally have to climb up the rear of the tractor, then climb onto the rear outer tire in order to reach the lights, or clean the upper parts of the windows.

That’s until these parts came in the other day
20120909-070721.jpg

Here is a picture of what the right side of the tractor looks like as if it were New from the John Deere Factory in Waterloo IA.

(See how a new John Deere MFWD Tractor is made by clicking here)

The Muffler is on the right, and part of the fuel tank is showing below.

20120909-070654.jpg

With two of us at work, a few wrenches, and about a half hour, here is what it looks like now.

Side view of new side step and railing.

Front Right of Cab with new step and railing

At the end of the day, I can honestly say that I am very satisfied with the step, how easily we were able to install it, and the increased safety it offers. The only thing I will change on it is the color of the hand railing. This winter, the green railing will be removed, repainted to match the muffler’s black color and replaced so it wont stand out quite as much.

Yes, this example of increased safety was relatively inexpensive, quick and easy to install, but that is exactly the point. The Majority of the most valuable safety measures are indeed cheap and easy to install, yet seem to be commonly overlooked. Another example of a cheap and easy safety measure is a simple SMV sign which I wrote about on this blog a few days ago.

Check it out by clicking here: “While Harvest Speeds Up, Please Slow Down”

In closing, I encourage everyone to take a few minutes to look around their home or at their place of work and identify at least one thing that could be a safety hazard and address it. Weather its big or small, weather someone else notices or not, you will make a difference to someone. The someone who didn’t accidentally get injured thanks to a moment of your kindness.

God Bless

As Harvest Speeds Up, Please Slow Down

September 4, 2012 7 comments

We’ve all been there.  You are in a hurry, your driving down the road, with places to be and things to do and worst of all, your hungry.  Then ahead in the distance, there is a string of brake lights….yes another traffic jam.  As you get closer you see flashing yellow lights.  The thought of “construction again?” crosses your mind.  As you pull up on the car in front of you, you then realize it isn’t construction at all, its a piece of farm equipment doing a mere 20 mph  taking up nearly the whole road making it seemingly impossible to pass.  Frustration overcomes you, then maybe a little anger because you will surely be late for your appointment, or whatever else it may be.  But, eventually (after what seemed like an eternity) its your turn to pass.  Still frustrated and maybe still angry for being late, you might honk in displeasure and wave at the farmer as you drive by (Ill let you count the amount of fingers used).  But then life goes on, you pull into your favorite drive through and order up dinner to go (Ironic huh?) and get Safely on your way.

We’ve all been in those shoes before.  Running late, in a hurry, and stuck in traffic.  Its common everyday right?  Happens all the time and at the end of the day everyone gets home safe.  Not always.  According to The Michigan Secretary of State:

From 2004 through 2009, more than 1,000 crashes involving farm equipment occurred in Michigan. Of those crashes, 272 involved injuries and 22 fatalities.

In the coming weeks, Harvest will begin to gear up across the Midwest.  Drivers will see an increased number of Farm Equipment traveling our nations back roads, County Roads, and State Routes as well.  One thing all of these pieces of Farm Equipment have in common is a simple triangular shaped reflective sticker or panel attached to them.  Like the one below.  Now I have to assume most of you reading this have a valid drivers licence and know your road signs, but lets take a short quiz as a refresher.

What is the name of this Sign?

What Does it Mean?

Where do you usually find it?

I know, its an easy one right?  I hope it was.  Here’s the answers:

What is the name of the sign?

 SMV (Slow Moving Vehicle)

What does it Mean?

 The vehicle it is attached to is moving at a reduced rate of speed, usually around or under 25mph.

Where do you usually find it?

Rear of a John Deere Combine with SMV

How’d you do?  It was easy right?

These Slow Moving Vehicles present a challenge to their operators and other drivers alike.  I personally,  know all too well, that driving a slow, large, often tall and wide, piece of farm equipment from field to field has its challenges.  Narrow roads, narrow bridges, low clearance on overhead bridges, construction, etc etc, are huge concerns just to name a few.  However my (and other farmers) main concern is safety of  the other drivers who are on the road as well as our own.

While all farm equipment legally has to have a SMV attached to it before it can be driven on the road, many late model combines and tractors have numerous flashing (hazard) lights as well as Beacon Lights to warn other drivers of their slower speeds.  Still some drivers just don’t seem to notice and or respect the warnings these safety measures put out.

In my personal experience while driving farm equipment on the roads,  I have been passed on the right (on the shoulder), been honked at numerous times, seen “the finger” waved my way more times than I can count, have had a few near misses, and have ran partially off the road in order to avoid an accident.  I can go on and on.  However have been lucky enough to have never been in an actual Tractor or Combine vs Car accident, though many others have, like this

or this

From a farmers point of view, we understand that while driving our equipment on the roads presents a challenge to other drivers. However, moving our equipment from field to field via our nations roads is an important and necessary way for us to plant, care for and harvest our crops which help feed you and your family, as well as the world.  Just like every other driver on the road, a farmers top priority is getting to the next location safely.

So next time you are on your way to work, and come up on a SMV, like a Tractor or Combine, please slow down, most farmers will try to give you some room to pass when its safe, then maybe even give a wave.   Please remember,

 As Harvest Speeds Up, Please Slow Down

 

Are College Degrees Surrounding Food and Animals and Plants Really “Useless”?

January 20, 2012 Leave a comment

While doing my usual scroll through the social media landscape yesterday I discovered Facebook, Twitter and Google+ to be abuzz about what College degrees were useful in today’s society and which were not.  Having a Degree from Iowa State University myself, I found myself interested in finding out what degrees were deemed useless based on facts.  So I clicked on the article that everyone seemed to be talking about

http://education.yahoo.net/articles/most_useless_degrees.htm.

The Yahoo article turned out to be a blog post of sorts citeing info from the Department of Labor (indirectly) with quite a few of the authors opinions mixed in and few real facts.   So what were the top five listed “Useless Degrees” you ask?

  1. Agriculture
  2. Fashion Design
  3. Theater
  4. Animal Science
  5. Horticulture

Judging by this list, apparently no one needs to :

  1. Eat
  2. Wear Clothes
  3. Watch Actors on TV or Broadway
  4. Have pets care options
  5. Have any Landscaping around their houses, Golf Courses, Football Fields, or local Flower shops.

From a guys point of view, we need all of these!  WE love to eat good food provided by farmers and others in the Ag industry, we can’t live without a good pair of Jeans and a T-shirt, there are few things better than watching a great action movie, mans best friend needs a good vet like Kata Nichols (a vet with a Animal Science Degree) to go to once in a while, and sometimes most importantly us guys need a good local Florist to provide us with flowers for our wives/girlfriends or both (just kidding) from time to time.  Not to exclude the girls, but lets face it, while the the above could be said for you too gals too, I doubt you buy flowers for the guy in your life.

After reading the article I began to think about the value of my degree I worked hard to get, a Bachelors in Agricultural Business.  While I was fortunate enough to be able to come home to work on and eventually take over the everyday operations of our farm, there were many other job opportunities along the way that my Ag Degree allowed me to pursue.  I recall going to an agricultural job fair at ISU where countless companies from all across the country were actively seeking those with Ag Degrees to work for them.  No Degree…NO Job.  It’s that simple.  I wonder if going to the job fair was “useless”  hmm….  NO.   Like I said above, I didn’t take any of those 9-5 jobs which my degree allowed me to enter into, however I do work in the AG field on my own farm.  While I may not need a degree to run my farm, I value it and the education I received greatly because it helps me everyday, in every decision I make which in turn makes my farm better than it would have without a degree.  Many others in my situation would agree.

AG FACTS:

  1. Nearly 30 percent of today’s farmers and ranchers have attended college, with over half of his group obtaining a degree. A growing number of today’s farmers and ranchers with four-year college degrees are pursuing post-graduate studies
  2. Agriculture employs 17% of the U.S. workforce, or about 23 million people.
  3. Agriculture employs more than six times as many workers a the U.S. automotive industry

Back to the original article,  In response to the article a Facebook Page was quickly created appropriately named

“I Studied Agriculture, and I have a Job”

 https://www.facebook.com/pages/I-Studied-Agriculture-I-Have-A-Job/306700539376086?sk=wall

 Almost immediately the page took off and was running…well sprinting…well…something faster than that, maybe like a speeding Indy Car.  It seemed to be gaining exponential popularity as the day went on.  As of this morning, less than 24 hours into the pages young life it had over 2500 likes and growing.  As for the time this post was written, it is boasts over 2700 likes.  Countless posts on the page have stated what degree the posting person has, how they use it and why they believe the article to be in error.  Recently other media types have even picked up on the flaws of the Yahoo Article like those listed below:

The Huffington Post:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/allen-s-levine/useless-college-majors_b_1217401.html

And AG DAY on YouTube

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5l_d3zdx0jI&feature=share

And even other media stations like WIBW.

http://www.wibw.com/blogs/melissa/Useless_Degrees_This_List_Doesnt_Sit_Well_137706603.html

An Agricultural Photographer https://www.facebook.com/#!/lens.of.a.farm.girl Posted these pictures

https://www.facebook.com/#!/photo.php?fbid=314532528589459&set=a.314531975256181.70626.309663002409745&type=1&theater

https://www.facebook.com/#!/photo.php?fbid=314532841922761&set=a.314531975256181.70626.309663002409745&type=1&theater

In the end, if the author was looking for attention he got it.  But in the end, which is more useless, the degree or the article?   In my honest opinion even this flawed article wasnt totally useless because it had 2 items of value.

  1. It brought the AG, Animal Science and Horticulture (all 3 of which are Agriculture Based) together
  2. It proves just how important the AG industry is to our world, and how many jobs are out there for those with AG Degrees.

So, I suppose, in a weird way, we should Thank the author for not doing his homework, studying his sources, or filling in the blanks (so to speak) on his article.  Wait…that kinda sounds like what we all had to complete to get our degrees doesnt it?  Have a great day, and God Bless!

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