Friday, May 28, 2010
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
My response to the above letter was printed in the Jamestown Sun this morning, May 12th, 2010.
I had titled it "All Will Benefit From Additional Cows", but it was re-titled by the newspaper as "Big dairy will make it easier for family dairies in ND".
In response to Tracy Muske's May 6th letter to the editor entitled "Low milk prices make it hard for family dairies to survive", I feel obligated to clarify a few things.
Low milk prices have made it difficult for ALL dairy farms to survive. As a member of the board of directors of the North Dakota Dairy Coalition, I know firsthand that existing dairies have always been our top priority. We have served as a resource to help North Dakota dairies to improve and/or expand their operations. The dairies that have considered moving to North Dakota are generally not new dairies, but dairies that have chosen to move from another location, usually due to urban encroachment. Also, North Dakota has many advantages for dairie operations, including open space, land availability and affordable feedstuffs.
The past few years have been some of the most difficult the dairy industry has seen, and that has affected ALL operations, regardless of size or business structure. As the number of dairy cows in North Dakota has dropped, the biggest challenge has been the loss of infrastructure, meaning that dairy processing plants are now fewer and farther apart, therefore increasing the cost of milk hauling. In addition, access to veterinary and dairy equipment services has decreased. More cows in the state would mean a revitalization of that infrastructure, which is necessary for ALL dairies to exist.
When it comes to the issue of farm size, I'd like to remind everyone that a farm is a farm. No matter what size, or how their businesses are structured, all farmers are charged with effeciently vaising safe, wholesome food. None are more focused on animal well-being than dairy producers, who rely on healthy cows to sustain their businesses. Each farmer has the freedome to choose their own farm management techniques according to their individual goals and there is always a good reason for whatever size their operation is as their business evolves. For example, if my children choose careers other than agriculture, after my generation's retirement, my family's farm may be run by non-family, yet it will still be a farm. If all of my children choose to stay on our operation, then our operation will grow to meet the needs of multiple families, albeit larger, it will still be a farm. Either way, the next generation will continue to care for our resources responsibly. There is a place in the agriculture industry for every size and type of farm.
With regards to the dairy proposed in LaMoure County, I sincerely hope that our community warmly welcomes them. Everyone, from dairy producers to dairy consumers, will benefit from additional cows in our area.
Monday, May 10, 2010
("A Mother's Love" by Bonnie Mohr. For more information go to www.bonniemohr.com)
When I visited the National Dairy Shrine, in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin (http://www.dairyshrine.org/ ) a few years ago, as part of the International Forum for Women in Dairying, I happened upon a small poster. It was a reproduction of a sign to hang in a dairy barn, with a quote written years ago, by W.D. Hoard, the Founder of Hoard's Dairyman (http://www.hoards.com/). Today I keep it as a reminder of the basic animal husbandry principles that still hold true today.
Hoard's Dairyman was founded in 1885. My Great-Uncle, Harry Ensor, depended on it as a reliable source of information from the mid-1940's until he passed away in the late 1990's. The larger-than-average magazine with it's bright red and white covers still remind me of him.
Although Mother's Day has passed, I hope you will enjoy this quote. It is a reminder of the four-legged "working mothers" who provide us with our milk and an array of other wholesome dairy products and the tender care they deserve and receive from dairy farmers.
"NOTICE TO THE HELP: THE RULE to be observed in this stable at all times, toward the cattle, young and old, is that of patience and kindness. A man's usefullness in a herd ceases at once when he loses his temper and bestows rough usage. Men must be patient. Cattle are not reasoning beings. Remember that this is the Home of Mothers. Treat each cow as a Mother should be treated. The giving of milk is a function of Motherhood; rough treatment lessens the flow. That injures me as well as the cow. Always keep these ideas in mind in dealing with my cattle." ~ W.D. Hoard
Friday, May 7, 2010
(photo by Pavel Pabjan, Jr.)
It is with great difficulty that I blog today. I find myself in such an awkward place, questioning things that I was certain of and questioning the leadership of a church I love so very much. As you read this, please try to put yourself in my shoes, and prayerfully consider all that I, along with my church family, am working through at this time.
My faith and my farming practices have always gone hand in hand. I feel farming is my God-given purpose in life. I am to do my best at farming by efficiently and effectively using the resources He has provided to feed His people so that they are strengthened and nourished to serve Him. I feel that one of the greatest freedoms we farmers have the luxury of is being self-employed. We choose the management practices that best suit the needs of our land, our animals, our families and our consumers. Each farm is as unique as a fingerprint, even in small, close-knit communities. We have the choice of such a vast array of technologies- that in itself is a blessing.
In a later post, I will describe exactly why my family has chosen to use certain technologies, but there isn't enough room for that today.
The challenge I'm faced with right now is what action to take now that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the "umbrella group" of churches, which my church belongs to, has taken strides to formulate a "Social Statement on Genetics". This has me VERY concerned.
You can read the full draft of the statement here:
Bishop Rindy of the eastern North Dakota synod of the ELCA is a wonderful man. As he spoke at a meeting at my church last night, I have to admit, everything he said made sense, but I still have questions that remain unanswered and I have more "homework" to do on this issue.
First, some facts on the ELCA "Social Statement on Genetics", which includes a section on "Genetically Modified Organism's in the Food Supply":
- All social statements begin as a request to the synod.
- In August of 2005, the Churchwide Assembly authorized the development of the statement.-It will cost $30,000/year, or a total of $210,000 from start to finish. This includes study, printing, etc.
- The draft of the "Social Statement on Genetics" is 63 pages long.
- The "Task Force for ELCA Studies on Genetics" has 18 members, but only includes ONE farmer, "Mr. Linden Olson, farmer and consultant, and member of American Lutheran Church, Worthington, Minnesota." It doesn't appear to me that any of the other members are involved in production agriculture.
When I asked Bishop Rindy about the section on GMO's , he responded that it will be a "document to help Lutheran's talk about genetics in a faithful way" and will explain "how you responsibly use GMO's".
I don't know about you, but I don't think the ELCA has really considered the long-term ramifications this may have on so many levels of our food supply. Maybe they have, and they're okay with the fact that this could have vast negative effects on so many of their farming members, but I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt, as they are still studying this issue and collecting feedback. I'm reminded of when Oprah made a "statement" about beef on her show. That was just a "statement", but it had consumers in a panic.
The basic principle I keep coming back to is that I do NOT believe it is the church's place to give recommendations on farm management practices. Similarly, I do not think it is acceptable that the church tell everyone in town what tires to put on their car, etc. We go to church to worship and study scripture, but from there it is up to individuals to apply the lessons we've learned in our lives.
No matter where you stand on this issue, I encourage you to pray about this, and to comment before October 15th, 2010 at:
This issue will be voted on at the 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.
(11/12/10- Please note: this was originally written in May 2010. I was not interviewed for today's articles in the Fargo Forum or the Jamestown Sun. Please read my newest blog post on this issue: When Faith & Farming Collide: Part 3. Also, Blogger has an error and I am unable to reply to any comments at this time. THANK YOU for visiting!)
Thursday, May 6, 2010
(Rear view of black less-lard hog, side by side with overweight, white, mostly-lard, hog at Dept. of Agriculture experiment station. Photo by Al Fenn. Life Magazine, October 1954.)
"The agriculture sector is...partly responsible for the explosion in our health care costs because they're contributing to type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease, obesity, all the things that are driving our huge explosion in health care costs."
- Senator Barack Obama, TIME Magazine, 2008.
Here's a little lesson in economics. When there is a demand for something, the supply increases.
Every time a consumer stands in front of a grocery store shelf and picks "this" product over "that" product, the demand for "this" product increases. This trickles back through the food manufacturers to the farmer eventually, therefore increasing the supply.
We farmers grow only what the consumer demands. For example, My Dad has told me stories of "lard hogs". Back in the day, the fatter the hog, the better, because every family had a tub of lard to cook with. Then somewhere along the line, consumers began desiring leaner pork, so farmers started breeding leaner pigs. Today, "voila", the modern hog has the muscle definition of my workout video instructors.
What I'm getting at is that I'm absolutely fed up (pun intended) with so many people blaming farmers for, well, just about everything.
What the consumer demands the farmer provides and we do a darn good job of providing whatever it is consumers demand in a safe, efficient manner.
If you're looking for someone to blame, perhaps you should take a closer look at YOUR food consumption decisions. Clean up your eating habits, and believe me, I will still grow what you demand.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
What does the cow say? If you're like me, the first thing that came to mind is "moo". However, a colleague, who is a fellow fan of animal agriculture, recently pointed out to me the obvious. A cow doesn't SAY anything, it is an animal, and it is unable to speak. Until my colleague pointed this out, when I was teaching my children about animals I would use the typical line "what does the ____ say?" Now I say "what sound does the _____ make?"
(My "Grannie", Freeda Graziano, in the 1970's, holding a trophy she won in a local tractor pull.)
After my maternal grandmother (Freeda Graziano, aka "Grannie") passed away a few years ago, my aunt found an old, yellowed Baltimore Sun newspaper in the attic. It was dated March 18, 1973. At that time, she was married to my Grandfather, who still operates our family's farm in Maryland, raising crops and dairy cattle. The newspaper contained a letter to the editor from Grannie. Her letter is a rebuttal to an earlier article, which I do not have a copy of, but apparently it was by Gilbert Lewthwaite, was written about a farm in Iowa and was entitled "Price rise makes life easier on the farm". Mr. Lewthwaite's article included statements such as "the farmer is the major beneficiary from and source of current inflation." Ouch. I can see why Grannie took offense to such comments.
I so enjoyed her letter. She really "let 'er rip", and I was impressed to read the strong words from my witty, but generally soft-spoken, grandmother. I'm sure the original letter, if hand-written, was penned in beautiful cursive as well. I learned a lot from my Grannie. She was one of my best friends and I miss her everyday, but I'm grateful that I learned something from her even after she passed. We farm women, although generally a modest bunch, must stand up for what we believe in and that noone should underestimate us.
Grannie wrote "Sir: Gilbert Lewthwaite in his article "Price rise makes life easier down on the farm," leaves me with the distinct impression that a farmer shouldn't have the same priviledge as other working people: that is, of having a respectable modern home. Granted he doesn't spend as many hours in it as most people do, since his working day isn't a routine 8-hour day, but more likely 16 to 18 hours many months of the year; but most people still like a nice home to come home to, even farmers....
What is most puzzling to me is the fact that it took an act of God, a storm such as Agnes (hurricane that struck the east coast in 1972), to wake the people of this country up to the fact that a couple of bad years for the farmer will affect every person in this country. For years we have been the only industry in existence trying to survive running a business by buying our supplies and equipment retail and selling our product wholesale. For the past 20 years, while our costs steadily climbed our income was stagnant, but I don't recall that fact ever rating a front page article in your paper. Consumers were perfectly content with that situation, while many farmers were giving up and selling their farms to developers to build lovely homes for other people, and the farms steadily declined. Unless fortunate enough to buy one through family as Lewthwaite's man did, no farmer can afford to buy a farm now strictly to farm unless he rents other ground to farm to supplement his income. And this is getting harder each year to do as the farm ground is fast being bought up by developers....
I don't think you will find many farmers in the business expecting to get rich; but the consumers must realize that if the farmers can't make enough profit to stay in business, and they continue to sell out at the rate they have in recent years, the consumers are going to pay even more, as the food abundance and variety they have been enjoying in recent years is going to dwindle away before their very eyes."
Wow. So much of this is still true today.
Atta girl Grannie! Thank you for raising my Mom right, because she learned from you and she raised me right. Thank you for encouraging and inspiring me. I just wish you were here so that I could tell you Happy Mother's Day.
(Terry Entzminger leading a Vacation Bible School group on a tour of his dairy.)
For this blog, I will occasionally borrow material from others that has inspired me, so I can pass on the inspiration.
The following poem was written by a neighbor of ours, Terry Entzminger. Terry and his family operate Entzminger Dairy and Terry manages the milking herd of 825 Holstein cows and oversees the raising of 750 replacement heifers. Entzminger Dairy is one of the best managed dairies I've had the opportunity to set foot on (and I've visited thousands around the world). Terry is a true advocate for agriculture. The Entzminger's hosted over 500 local school children for farm tours last year and has Terry has served as a director for dairy organizations for over 15 years. Very deservedly, he was recently awarded the North Dakota Farm Bureau Cultivation Award for his contributions to the agriculture industry. Terry is a modest, soft-spoken man, but laughs easily, and is a joy to work with. Jeremy and I are so pleased that each spring and fall, he marches a group of heifers down the gravel road to our pasture to graze our cover crops. Having those four-legged guests on our land increases the fertility of the soil, and helps our farm to stay profitable. Oh, and it helps to pacify my desire to stay involved in the dairy industry. You can take a girl off of the dairy, but you can't take the dairy out of the girl!
Terry is not only an accomplished dairyman, but a talented poet. So without further adieu...
"May Our Farmers Stand With Pride", by Terry Entzminger
From gently rolling pastures
To open fields far and wide,
From each barn door to the orchards
Our farmers stand with pride...
Yet there are too many people
Who do not understand,
That the food upon the table
Comes off the farmer's land...
For the food we take for granted
Was once a tiny seed,
That was planted by a farmer
To supply the food we need...
But we have a disconnection
Since our food comes from a store,
And we have lost appreciations
As what we need the farmers for...
Although if we awoke tomorrow
And there was nothing left to eat,
We might gain appreciation
For our farmer's daily feat.
I hope you have enjoyed this poem as much as I do. It hangs on the wall in my office because Terry was kind enough to give Jeremy and I a framed copy for our wedding. We in agriculture must encourage each other and these words encourage me every day.
For information on ordering Terry's book of poetry, entitled "Beyond the Heart and Mind", contact me. It does not include the above poem, which was written after the book was published, but it is filled with many other gems.
(Photo courtesy of Lon Tonneson, Dakota Farmer Magazine)
One of the most important things we can do for agriculture is to tell others about it. People today are interested in where their food comes from and who produces it. Even if they aren't initially, once you strike up a conversation about it, from my experience, their curiousity is sparked, and they start asking questions.
We have never forced farming on our children. As parents, Jeremy and I believe that our children will be capable of whatever they set their mind to. If they choose a career in agriculture, so be it. If not, we will be equally proud of them. This being said, they are around agriculture everyday. Jeremy and I are passionate about what we do, we sincerely enjoy farming, and I think it's rubbing off.
Our oldest daughter, now three and a half, knows more about where food comes from than most adults I know. She has studied our equipment (from a safe distance, with close supervision), checked seeding depths, will tell you that you need to dump into the semi when the combine hopper is full, and can identify our equipment from the neighbor's from miles away. She understands that we make food ingredients, that once processed, end up on the grocery store shelves and then on our plates.
She'll tell you about ALL of this fearlessly. With a friendly smile, she'll proudly talk to people we see at church, at the store, and at her school, about how our family raises their food. She even swears that her father's name is "Jeremy Farmer Robert Wilson". Not kidding. She's the littlest ag-vocate I know, but her approach is very effective and she is giving our farm a face. A rather cute one, if I don't say so myself.
I think we can all learn from this. In each situation we are presented with we should be ag-vocates. It doesn't have to be rehearsed and it doesn't have to be high tech. It's as simple as smiling, shaking a hand, and being proud of what you do.
To learn more about telling your agriculture story go to http://www.ageducate.org/ and http://www.agchat.org/
Monday, May 3, 2010
As an 8th grader, my main project for the year in my U.S. history class was a term paper on "Agriculture from 1900-1990". Now THAT was overwhelming. From horse-drawn equipment to the invention of the cream separator, the tractor, and then modern equipment- WOW! Farming has come a long way in a short time! In fact, just 70 years ago, in 1940, the average farmer fed 19 people. Today each farmer feeds 155 people! (Source: http://www.ageducate.org/)
As part of my research for that 8th grade project, I spent an afternoon with my Grandpa Thomas interviewing him about all the changes he had witnessed growing up on my family's farm, living through the Great Depression and WWII, and working later in life for a local John Deere dealership. Thankfully, I recorded the interview with my little red battery-powered cassette player. That tape is now a treasure.
At the age 26, I realized that Grandpa Thomas, then in his mid-80's, was likely nearing the end of his days. I rushed home to visit with him, armed with my digital video camera, and a list of questions. It broke my heart that when I arrived I found that the chemo treatment he'd had that day had completely wiped him out and he passed away just a few hours later. I was devastated to lose one of my best friends, and I never got the chance to ask him so many of the things I still wonder about today.
Sometimes we do have to learn things the hard way. Not wanting to miss another precious opportunity, I've MADE the time to sit down with my husband's Grandfather, Grandpa Wilson, who will turn 90 this fall. I've been interviewing him, scanning the amazing collection of family photos he has, and recording the history of our farm, with the kids clamoring around and all.
What an amazing journey this has been. You'll definately have more posts to read on this in the future, but here's a little tidbit to whet your appetite.
My husband's Great-grandfather, J. Harry Wilson, was a true innovator in agriculture. He left the east coast, homesteaded in Indiana, then Kansas, then North Dakota. Going broke, and starting over each time. In fact, the farmstead where we farm now was the third farm in the Jamestown area where J. Harry had tried to make a go of it. Grandpa Wilson tells me he was a "hard man", and "wiry". Five feet eleven and about 140 pounds of pure grit. He had three young daughters when he lost his first wife, and re-married to Grandpa's mother, Suzie, a school teacher in her earlier years.
So here's the lesson of the day from my time with Grandpa Wilson: Work hard, but treat your family with respect and kindness. Try like the dickens to stay out of debt and invest in the things that last.
And the lesson I'd like to share with you all: Be sure to make the time to thank those in the wiser generations for their efforts. From the way Grandpa Wilson lights up when he shares his memories with me, I can tell he's enjoying our visits as much as I am.
Saturday, May 1, 2010
There are two additions to "In The News"- Jeremy was recently named a Master Farmer by Dakota Farmer Magazine, and our family was featured in North Dakota Living Magazine.
Sarah & Jeremy Wilson
Sarah & "Grandpop"
Why do I farm? I've pondered this for many years.
First, I think I was instructed to. Growing up on my family's farm, from a young age, everyone simply helped out. I was assigned chores that were age appropriate. Some of my first memories are of going along to help feed cattle. I went along with Mom to collect eggs, candle them (check them for cracks and imperfections), weigh them, and package them, when I was in kindergarten. I was Dad's "helper", accompanying him on many trips for parts to local farm equipment dealers. My grandfather's brother, Uncle Johnny, taught me how to bottle feed calves when I was 8. Grandpop sat me up on the fence and told me to remember the eartag numbers of all the heifers that were "giving piggy back rides" when I was 9. I didn't figure out until years later that I was actually doing heat detection for him. (A female bovine will stand to be ridden by herdmates when she is ready to be bred). I still smile at how Grandpop harnessed my overabundance of energy, and made me feel very important, even with that simple task. I was fortunate to learn from my parents and grandparents animal husbandry skills that had been passed down for generations.
Later in life, around the 6th grade, I realized that I was one of a very small minority. By 1990, farmers made up only 2% of the U.S. labor force (http://www.agclassroom.org/). I had a choice, I could either hide my agricultural roots, or take great pride in them. I chose the latter and spoke publicly in and out of the classroom about the importance and the impact that innovations in agriculture had made in our community and our economy.
By high school, it was my passion. I became spokesperson for the dairy industry and no longer just "in my blood", agriculture was my career of choice. I realized that mankind would always demand food and it seemed like a natural fit for me. I was excited about the job security and in the back of my mind, I knew it would please my family.
As I continued to college and graduate school, I was faced with the philosophical questions that education often brings. How will I leave this world a better place? What effect am I having on the earth, the environment, future generations, etc.? How can I make a difference? Agriculture still fit the bill. I was relieved in a way that I was still on the "right track", and that the cascade of decisions I had made to get to where I was were validated by additional knowledge. The success of our nation, and the health of our people and and the quality of our environment was based on our continued success in agriculture.
I had considered agriculture by the numbers, but the last, and most important piece of the puzzle didn't fall into place until I was faced with the biggest decision of my life. This decision caused me to reflect on all aspects my life and to define all my hopes for the future: Marriage.
Ask anyone who knows us, and they'll say that God brought Jeremy and I together. It couldn't have been anything else that put into action the chain of events that has gotten us to where we are today. Goodness knows as shy as he was, it took an act of God just to get him to finally ask me out :) We share the same passion for farming, and I'm grateful to be married to my best friend and faith partner.
After all things have been considered: my heritage in agriculture, the economics of agriculture and the career opportunities agriculture has presented, it comes down to this.
God has called me to farm. I know in my heart that it is my purpose in life. He created a hierarchy, where animals were created as a source of nourishment for humans and He gave us the ability to develop technology to feed His people so we can serve Him.
I have leaned upon two verses when faced with challenges and challengers that may cause me to question why I farm.
"...Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth." (Genesis 1:28, New International Version)
"Be careful to follow the commands of the Lord your God, that you may possess this good land and pass it on as an inheritance to your descendants forever." (1 Chronicles 28:8, New International Version)
THAT is why I farm.
To all who have encouraged me on my journey, THANK YOU, especially Grandpop, one of my greatest mentors, and my best friend and husband, Jeremy (see pictures above).
This afternoon my daughter and I watched the Kentucky Derby and we saw Glen Fullerton bet $100,000 to win on SuperSaver. The press went wild because his bet was SO enormous. I couldn't help but think of the gamble every farmer takes each spring. Across the nation, we farmers sit down with our lenders, talk of balance sheets and cash flows, and sign off on our operating loans. The stakes are high in agriculture these days. Gone are the days I've heard tales of when one good crop had farmers with enough cash on hand to buy the next year's inputs (seed, fuel, fertilizer, equipment, etc.) outright.
Even Glen Fullerton's bet is just a drop in the bucket when you look at the cost of inputs today, even on an average sized farm.
So here's hoping that this year the big bet we've placed to win in farming will have us smiling like Glen Fullerton when harvest is complete, but even if we don't have a big win, may we have the opportunity to stay in the race.