As I sit here in the office looking out at the rain falling down, I'm reminded of the text message I sent to my brother this morning. It simply stated, "Finished wheat yesterday. Thankful." And thankful we are. We struggled to get everything planted this spring due to the moisture that remained from the winter and continued through the spring. But our top-notch crew was ready for the task.
At the beginning of every harvest season, we hold our pre-harvest safety meeting. We also talk about operating procedures for each action during harvest: combining, driving truck, dumping trucks into augers, and on and on. We tried to start combining on August 18th but the wheat was too wet. Then we tried again on August 19th. Too wet. So then we started on August 20th and dumped our first load into the dryer.
I'm not going to lie, it is very fun to combine wheat. I had a mentor once tell me that we weren't "harvesting" we were "capturing". I agree with that statement. With all the care that we provide the crop during the growing season, we are excited to go "capture" the crop when it is ready.
But sometimes during harvest we have breakdowns. And with the newer equipment comes more "technical" fixes than we used to have.
Thankfully, the fixes weren't that major for us this year. But with the continued high moisture of the wheat, along with potential quality issues of this years crop, we decided to get aggressive in "capturing the crop." We decided to use our dryer in Kloten which we usually use only for corn. Our two dryers in combination with the dedication of our employees helped us finish our wheat before this weeks rainy spell. We are so thankful for good weather, great people, and God's help to be done with harvest.
I took this picture as I was drying wheat in Kloten one night. The star just brings it all home. I'm grateful for my family's involvement in harvest. I think Herlof already realizes that we're still doing what they used to do a hundred years ago....threshing the kernels from the plant. In fact, I know he gets it....
In our pre-harvest safety meeting, I asked the question: "When is corn harvest over?" The answer is when the last kernel of corn comes out of the dryer. Well, we're not combining corn yet, but the last kernel of wheat came out of the dryer on Wednesday, September 5th....so we're done with wheat harvest! But prior to harvest we had to make sure everything was ready, just like Herlof.
In the above picture, you'll see that Herlof wrote "NDSU" on one combine and "FARM" on the other combine. You'll also see that Herlof wrote "L" on top of the John Deere tractor for Landis, "J" on one truck for Big John, and "E" on the other truck for Eddie. Sometimes I think Herlof is more prepared than we are!
We were getting our equipment ready and were excited to begin harvest on what looked like a decent spring wheat crop. But on Saturday, August 4th, we had a hail storm travel over several quarters of land that we farm. We had several fields of wheat that had significant hail damage, which was very disappointing. Fortunately, we covered most of our fields with hail insurance this year, which offset some of the loss from the hail but will not cover the total loss from the storm.
In the above picture, you can see many stems on the right side bent over because they were hit by hail. You can also see wheat heads laying on the ground, and seeds that have been knocked off heads laying on the ground. The storm didn't slow down maturity of the crop, so harvest was still ahead and we were ready to roll.
We didn't paint "FARM" or "NDSU" on the combines, but they were well-serviced and calibrated by our operators. While we combine the wheat, not only are we capturing the grain - which is the main reason we farm - but we also are preparing our ground for next year. We pay very close attention to how high we cut the wheat plants, how well we chop the straw, and make sure that we are spreading the residue as evenly as possible. The reason for this is that we will be planting either pinto beans or soybeans directly into this residue next spring.
We started combining on August 9th. The grain was dry and the weather was mostly hot. We were making very good progress through the wheat crop. Yields on the fields that didn't get hail were close to what we were expecting. Fields that had hail definitely showed a yield loss.
We made good progress through our early, dry wheat. But then we hit some wetter wheat. That's when I started the grain dryer. We prefer to not dry our crops, but we want to harvest our crops when they are in good condition rather than wait too long and grain loses quality and color in the field.
As we saw the end of combining getting close, we all get a little more excited. We are so thankful to have such a great group of guys on the farm who are so skilled at what they do. I'm proud of the work we do on our farm, and we wouldn't get it done without them.
Every day during combining we stop for about 20 minutes or so to have supper. It's good to have a physical and mental break to help us keep going in the evening. And it's very good for us to visit with each other to make sure we're all doing our best.
And some of the best conversations during harvest are between experienced farmers and beginners. And I think we can all classify ourselves as beginners in many aspects of everything related to harvest. The dryer is empty and wheat harvest is done.
Thank you so much for your continued support! We are blessed!
We start every day with a morning meeting at 7:00 a.m. This meeting allows us all to exchange ideas and to set the plan for the day. Today I started the meeting with the question "When is harvest done?" One response was, "as soon as the crop is off the field." While that is very close, the correct answer came shortly after: "When the last kernel of corn is out of the grain dryer." Spring wheat harvest will begin next week for us and will go until late October when corn harvest is complete.
Harvest is one of the most important times of the year for us. It also can be risky. That's why every year we have a "Harvest Safety" meeting before the combines start rolling in the fields. This morning, Elizabeth shared information on safety hazards relating to trucks, grain dust, sitting in combine cabs, healthy eating, and getting enough rest to help ensure a safe harvest season. It was great to have involvement from everybody. We've all done this before, but it was months ago - so a brief refresher is a good thing. On our farm, the key is to "Start Slow."
We had a good one hour discussion about best operating procedures for all of our equipment during harvest, emphasizing that our most important tool during harvest is communication. We were very thankful to also have Kyle from Uglem-Ness, our Case IH dealer, on hand to discuss electronic items on the combines. You would all be amazed at how much of harvest operation relies on electronic controls.
And if you look at the above picture closely, you can see who's most interested in what Kyle is trying to show us. I'll give you a better view:
We are very thankful for the help we get from Kyle, and from all the other mechanics at our dealerships that help us keep our machines running, especially when things unexpectedly break down. Farmers work long hours and so do these people.
And so as we get ready to harvest the crops that we planted, cared for, and prayed for, we wish all other farmers a safe and successful time of year. And if anybody is in the Aneta area and wants a combine ride, just shoot me an email or give me a call. Everybody should take time to see how it all happens. I can assure you that this group is ready to go....until the last kernel of corn is out of the dryer.
I haven't posted on this blog since January. I apologize for my delay, but I'm back. As many of you know, I was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor in mid-February. To spare my "45 minute story" as Elizabeth calls it, I had successful surgery, six weeks of successful radiation, and am currently in the process of chemotherapy. I feel great, my family is doing great, and we feel extremely blessed. We are thankful for all of the prayers and concerns that we've received from our family and friends. We praise the Lord for his graciousness.
We've had great support on our farm and from neighbors also. Tim, Rodney, Elizabeth, my brother Mark, and everyone else on the farm did an amazing job of running the farm when I wasn't around. Even when I got back to the farm, Tim and Rodney were doing a fantastic job of making sure everything got done....something they've done many times! Everyone else stepped up their game also. We are blessed to have such a wonderful group of employees. They all even sang "Happy Birthday" to Herlof on his 5th birthday...what a lucky kid!
Our crops look good. Wheat harvest will begin in a few weeks, followed by pinto beans and soybeans, and then we'll finish with the corn. We did a great job of getting the crops planted timely and we've had warmer than normal temperatures, so our corn is ahead of normal schedule. Looking out the office window this morning, I'm looking at tasseling corn. So hopefully our harvest won't end in the middle of a cold November, but in a mild October!
And with all the thankfulness that we have in our lives for my health prognosis, our special farm, and our family we had another scare last week. Elizabeth and Herlof were on their way to Grand Forks for Herlof's guitar lesson when they were T-boned by a pickup while driving on the highway. Amazingly, Elizabeth and Herlof were uninjured. And thankfully the other driver was safe as well. Elizabeth, as always, did a wonderful job of caring for Herlof immediately after the accident. We are thankful for their safety and also for the Toyota 4Runner they were driving - what a safe vehicle!!
So after their accident, we've had even more thoughts and prayers sent our way. We are very thankful for that. We've even had people comment on the struggles that our family has been through these past few months. Elizabeth and I agree that we shouldn't feel sorry ourselves, but we must be grateful. I am in great shape, and Elizabeth and Herlof walked away from that accident with no injuries at all. Was that not God? As the title of this article states, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" That is the second half of the verse Romans 8:31. The 8th chapter of Romans provides great promises for us. Have a look at some point.
Our family is blessed. We continue to look to Jesus in everything we do. Thank you for your love, prayers, thoughts, and support.
I'll be posting to the website on a more regular basis moving forward. Thanks again to all of you. As my wife says, we're moving "onward and upward!" God bless.
Tim and I bought the Kloten Elevator in 2017. A little comedy was involved, but for the most part this was a serious investment into the future of our operation. In late spring, Tim asked if I'd like to go look at the Kloten Elevator. I basically said "Yes" just to be nice. I didn't think that we needed a dilapidated grain storage facility at our disposal. After our little tour on that Friday afternoon, I knew we needed to have it.
On the west side of the location is a flat storage building, then in the middle are the three grain elevators, and on the east side is the sunflower plant (pictured above). The flat storage building would be handy to store machinery in over the winter. The elevators likely wouldn't get much use in 2017. But the sunflower plant would be used for drying and storing corn. We put in a couple bids and we got it. Now to work!
We started cleaning up the lot right away. Mowing, shoveling, picking weeds, etc. We didn't focus much on the elevators because our priority was the sunflower plant. Chase, Tim, Parker, and Levi cleaned up bucket load after bucket load of old and rotten grain from underneath the three bins. Fortunately, I wasn't involved in that project because I heard the smell was about as bad as it could get.
We also cleaned the inside of the bins. Again, many loader bucket loads of old grain had to be shoveled out. Tim also cleaned the conveyor that we dumped the truck into. Several big jobs that were taking time. And remember, corn harvest is coming quickly!
Not all of the repairs were mechanical either. With the grain dryer and the two grain legs as part of the system, there was a big electrical control panel that was used to control the flow of grain through the system. Unfortunately, that didn't exactly work either. It was time to start pushing some buttons.
But thankfully, we had help. Larry Ohnstad and Ohnstad Electric from Petersburg were a big help with the dryer control panel and the main electrical control panel. Elijah Bjorlie from Tolna was a big help with the legs. Terry Huso from McVille helped with the dryer. Lon Zellmer from Aneta helped with the dryer. Troy Myron from Larimore helped with dryer. And probably my biggest support on the dryer was Ken Donsbach from Bloomington, IL. Ken was a service tech on the Meyer-Morton dryer for many years before starting his own company. He didn't have to fly up here, but I probably called him at least 100 times when we were having trouble getting the dryer to fire up. We finally got it. Notice the lights are lit up on the below picture!
Thankfully, we got the dryer and legs running in late October. We had already been drying some corn at our site back on the farm so adding this dryer helped by increasing our capacity. For the most part, things ran pretty well. We have some work to do next spring and summer on the elevator to get that ready to receive some grain. But we had great use of the dryer in 2017 and that made a big difference on our farm.
Hopefully this is something that Herlof will get the hang of after a few more years!
I have to thank all of our employees for working so hard to get the Kloten facility ready to handle wet corn this fall. It wasn't fun and it wasn't clean. But you all did a great job in making this work. And it is my goal that we can bring more of this elevator back to life this coming year. Thanks to everyone.
Perspective is an interesting thing. Some people have it and some people don't. Those that have it might not even realize that they do. And those that don't might think they have it all figured out. Most of us don't have it all the time; sometimes it just takes a moment to help us achieve it.
It's been an interesting spring on the farm. We've been wet. I haven't seen some of our fields this wet...ever. And as we've been struggling to get into fields, I've got friends and fellow farmers that are praying for rain. All of North Dakota is currently listed on the US Drought Monitor as being "abnormally dry" with areas of central and southern North Dakota in a "moderate drought." Is a wet field so bad when a family in central North Dakota is having to ship cattle off farm because their pastures are too dry to produce decent grass? Is a muddy field so bad when my college buddy is planting into dry dirt? No. And farmers in my area should thank their lucky stars to have such moisture....and should pray for the farmers that are asking the Lord for rain. As I told my brother late last week, I'm sure there will be many prayers for rain in our lifetime. Sometimes it's hard to keep perspective when we are operating in our little bubble - entirely focused on getting the crop in the ground.
But then there are moments like this: It was Memorial Day weekend and we were slowly making progress seeding soybeans and pinto beans. Fortunately, it was sprinkling that Monday morning so I gave the guys the day off...and encouraged them to go to the Memorial Day program in Aneta. But that rain also gave me concern for delayed planting and poor field conditions. As I walked up the steps into the auditorium for the program that morning, I was focused on my concerns and not the point of Memorial Day. When I walked through the door, my arm was grabbed by a woman standing in the entry waiting for me. She said, "My daughter wants you and Elizabeth to sing 'I Have Decided to Follow Jesus' at her funeral." Her eyes filled with tears and so did mine as we hugged each other on the steps of the auditorium. Instantly, my field conditions weren't so bad. My problems and concerns seemed so small....I felt guilty.
Today, Elizabeth and I sang at the funeral. What a wonderful service it was. It helped us celebrate a life and a woman's inspiring relationship with Jesus. That's the important stuff. It gave us something to work toward. And that can make all the difference.
We are nearly done planting. We have good sub-soil moisture. Every one was safe this spring. And we wish the same for every other farmer.
On our farm, we try to do things safely. If it's heavy, get some help. If it's windy, park the truck so you can un-tarp it with some help. If it's muddy, stay out of there. Ok, that last one isn't the easiest to enforce but you get the idea.
For several years now, we have participated in a Safety Management Program (SMP) with North Dakota Workforce Safety and Insurance (WSI). We pay a premium to WSI every year in case an employee gets hurt on the job. If that is the case, our WSI insurance will cover medical costs associated with the injury. By participating in the SMP program, we get a reduction on our annual premium. In order to successfully complete our annual audit by WSI we need to have documentation of every safety-related thing we do on the farm. In order to accomplish this, we designated a "safety coordinator" who was responsible for implementing the program and all the documentation. The first safety coordinator was Eddie, the second was me, and the third - and current - safety coordinator is Elizabeth. Eddie and I both agree that Elizabeth does the job much better than we did.
At first, meeting all the requirements of our SMP was time-consuming and tedious. It was hard to remember to document everything. Safety training meetings were boring. We felt like we were doing a bunch of work just to save a little money...the safety part of it wasn't a big deal. That is all changing.
Elizabeth tends to bring a little more "fun" to the safety coordinator job than Eddie or I ever did. We have a safety committee made up of Noel, Landis, Elizabeth and myself who meet monthly and discuss safety topics related to the current work on the farm. It is not hard to go to a safety meeting when Elizabeth has made fresh muffins and coffee.
We have safety training meetings with all the employees throughout the year. In early April, we will have our big kick-off safety meeting before springs work starts. And we'll have another meeting in mid-July to discuss harvest safety.
In addition to the formal safety meetings, we have regular morning meetings each day. We talk about what's going on for the day and also discuss any safety items related to the work. Every Monday, Elizabeth comes to the meeting to ask if there are any constructive criticisms or "atta-boys" regarding safety from the previous week. It's a great opportunity for everyone to share what they've noticed regarding safe behavior.
Elizabeth does a walk-around inspection of the farm once per quarter. She documents if she sees any hazards that need to be addressed and provides a summary at a morning meeting. We've also added an eyewash station, first aid kit, ear and eye protection, a hard hat, and other safety gear to our shop. We have fire extinguishers hanging by every door in every building on the farm, and we have extinguishers on every tractor, truck, combine, sprayer, etc. Even Herlof wears his eye protection when playing with his toys. He knows that his mom is serious.
We've recently added two additional items - one we hope to never use and one we hope to use all the time. We recently purchased an automated external difibrillator (AED). Several of us on the farm are CPR-certified, and Elizabeth and I are EMTs. We are familiar with AEDs and the potential benefits, so we bought one. I hope to never use it on our farm but am glad we have it just in case.
The other recent addition is a Lockout/Tagout system. We are very excited about this and hope it gets much use. Elizabeth created a "Lockout/Tagout" dry erase board that now hangs in the shop. If something is being worked on and shouldn't be started, the keys are hung on the board and a description of the work is written down. The person responsible for the repair writes his name down and he is the only one who is supposed to remove the item from the board.
Once the item is noted on the board, then a tag is attached to the item that is being repaired. This could be a truck, tractor, electric grinder, air compressor, or anything else that should not be used while it is being repaired. We haven't had any accidents from this type of situation, but having this system will help prevent any accidents from happening.
Even just a year ago, this safety program work was tedious and time-consuming. Now it is a part of our daily routine that we take very seriously. Elizabeth has done a great job of getting everything organized and getting the guys involved. It does not seem tedious, it seems like the smart thing to do. I'm proud of our crew for understanding the importance of safety on our farm.
For the last five years, my sister-in-law has asked me to speak to her freshman-level biology class at Mayville State on the topic of Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a geneticist or a scientist or a plant breeder, but I do have some knowledge of the history and development of GMOs. In 2004, I was working on my master's thesis on the economic impacts of genetically modified (GM) wheat. Turns out that GM wheat was never commercialized, but that project brought me closer into the world of GM traits and seeds.
So I went to Sarah's class last week and did a little teaching. My main point to the students was this: the worst thing about GMO is.......the name! They all agreed that they had eaten food with GMO ingredients in it within the past 24 hours. Something with sugar? GMO. Something fried in oil? Likely GMO. But what is GMO? It's the most advanced level of plant breeding that exists. We talked about classical breeding, molecular breeding, and marker-assisted selection. The next step in plant breeding was gene modification to get the progeny plant to exhibit the desired characteristics in the fastest way possible. Gene modification is also the goal in classical breeding, it just takes several generations to arrive at the desired progeny.
We hear plenty of negative information regarding GMOs in mainstream and social media. I am for sustainability, strong science, and healthy food. I am not for trying to scare people about the food that they eat with inaccurate information. Solid research must continue. I will rely on the real scientists to help provide solutions and innovations that will help farmers, food processors, and food eaters. I hope the students will have a slightly different perspective when they hear people talking about GMO crops.
It was fun to go back to college for an hour. And I appreciated everybody's attention.
Last week, the NDSU Extension Service and University of Minnesota Extension hosted the annual Conservation Tillage Conference (CTC) in Fargo, ND. The conference is organized by Jodi DeJong-Hughes from the U of M and Abbey Wick from NDSU. Jodi is a soils and reduced tillage guru. Abbey started at NDSU only four years ago and has already established herself as an expert in the continually developing field of soil health. Abbey had invited my brother, Mark, and I to share our experiences with no-till farming practices and cover crops during a roundtable discussion at the CTC.
The conference started Tuesday morning with a keynote presentation from Bryan Jorgenson (pictured above) of Jorgenson Land & Cattle Partnership in Ideal, SD. Mr. Jorgenson emphasized the importance of learning about healthy soils from native prairies. He also discussed the need to look at soil health from an entire system approach, from no-till practices to diverse crop rotations to inclusion of cover crops to utilizing livestock for grazing. The "whole system" approach is a concept that stuck with me.
After the keynote address, we had the opportunity to attend several different breakout sessions. The first one I attended had to do with residue management and decomposition. One of the greatest difficulties in our no-till operation is managing residue from the previous year's crop. It starts with making sure the combine is set properly to spread the residue when we are harvesting the crop. But the inclusion of cover crops after harvest in the fall can actually facilitate the decomposition of residue much quicker than without the cover crop. That I didn't know before this breakout session.
Then after the breakout sessions there were table talks. These 30-40 minute discussions are in smaller groups and allow the conference attendees to ask questions and share dialogue. The above picture is Mr. Jorgenson's table talk. I asked him several questions about the use of livestock to help manage residue and speed up the conversion of residue to fertilizer. Cattle are integral to the system. (Guess what we're getting for Christmas, Elizabeth!) I was also impressed with his commitment to his 100% no-till system. The soil types and average climate in Ideal, SD are much different than Aneta, ND so it's hard to share the exact same practices, but I appreciated his passion for no-till.
Wednesday morning is when Mark and I hosted our roundtable discussion. We were supposed to begin at 9:30 a.m. At 9:31 there were two other gentlemen sitting at our table. I thought, "Well, I guess nobody wants to try no-till practices in northern North Dakota." Five minutes later, there were 20 or so folks sitting around our table.
I shared experiences that we've had on our farm. I've learned a great deal about no-till from Tim, and we've learned some new things together in the last few years. Mark shared pictures comparing no-till fields and conventional fields after heavy rains. The no-till fields provide greater water infiltration so we have less run-off and water erosion. We had great interaction from the group. I firmly believe this type of conference is what is going to help farmers get better. We had great instruction from the experts, but we also had the opportunity to visit with each other and learn some things that work...and just as important...the things that don't work.
A huge thank you to Abbey Wick for the invitation and to Jodi DeJong-Hughes for all her work in hosting the conference as well. It was the best farm-oriented conference I've ever attended.