Sunday, November 24, 2013

Hope & Marketing

Hope isn't a plan of action....

One of my weakest skills as a new farm owner & operator is marketing.  What is the best way to market my grain?  When?  How do I maximize my profit?  I've put a lot of thought into it and sought out resources to help me over the last six months.  I sold all of my 2013 crop and I would give myself a "C" grade overall.

Loading lentils to haul to the elevator
Lentils:  I contracted my lentil crop with a local grain elevator just prior to them being harvested.  I wasn't sure how many bushels to contract because the crop wasn't cut yet.  How do you know for sure?  After talking with some neighbors, I decided to contract 5,000 bushels.  Boy did I feel relief when that 5,001th bushel went through the combine!  I think I did pretty well with the lentil marketing.  I got a good price, I got them hauled off early, and all the lentils were Grade #1 when they arrived at the elevator.

Wheat:  All of my wheat went into storage on my farm, as none of it was sold yet at harvest time.  I then contracted half of my wheat crop in October for November delivery.  The trucks will be at the farm next week to haul it off to the elevator.  This contract was a 12% protein bid and the price was fair.

It takes a market plan to turn kernels of wheat into product
Then I sat and watched the market.  Down...down...down.  Finally this month I contracted the last half of the wheat for February delivery.  That contract is a 14% protein bid.  The price is okay, I'll still make a profit...but not as good as it could have been.

So why the C grade for marketing?  Well, I had other tools that I could have used to help me and I didn't.  I could have done some hedging.  I could have done a Put option to protect me against the falling wheat prices.  I could have done some pre-harvest contracts.  And I haven't done anything yet to get the 2014 crop priced and locked in at a profit.

So I'll stick with the C grade.  I made a profit and survived.  It wasn't a failure, but there is a lot of room for improvement.  I guess that's one of the things I love about the farm life...there's always the hope of doing it better next time.

But as we used to say during my days in the military...hope isn't a plan of action.  You can hope all you want, but it takes study, planning, and work to get the results you want.

It's time to build my plan of action...

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Great White Combine wasn't exactly THE great white combine, but it was his little distant cousin.

Yep, I had a little hail damage on my first crop.  It came in an afternoon thunderstorm that appeared non-threatening.  My crop was standing and ready to harvest, just waiting for the neighbor to make his way over after finishing some of his own.  When I heard the hail begin to hit, my heart sank.  It hailed for about a minute but it seemed like an eternity as I waited it out.

Wheat kernels after the hail
In the end, I got pretty lucky with the little hail storm; it could have been much worse.  The hail stones turned out to be about pea-sized.  When I scouted for damage, I could see wheat kernels on the ground and a few broken wheat steams.  The area of damage appeared to be under a half-section of crop (less than 320 acres).

My hail insurance was through the State of Montana.  I called to register my hail claim and explained that I would be harvesting the crop in a couple of days.  I have to say, I was very impressed at how quickly the State Hail Program responded and sent a crop adjuster to the farm.  Yes I was a bit skeptical; I expected government bureaucracy would mean two weeks until an adjuster arrived.  But just two days after the storm, he was on the farm and inspecting the crop.

State Hail Program adjuster checking damage
The final calculations on the damage came out to be 6.1% loss on 160 acres.  I felt that the area of damage was a bit bigger, maybe around 220, 240.  But after watching the adjuster do his appraisal I also felt his damage assessment of 6.1% was very liberal.  So it was a give-and-take situation and I felt like I got a square deal in the end.

Even more surprising?  The State Hail Program had the insurance loss check to me within another 10 days.  Yeah, I would have bet the farm that it would take months for that claim to be processed.  10 days is amazing.

The Old Man used to say you win some, you lose some.  In this case, I lost some grain and lost a bit of profit.  But I won some knowledge and won some respect for The Big Guy's combine.

Yes...the Great White Combine.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Harvest Is Done!

Finally...harvest is done!
First though, I apologize for the lack of updates about my farm.  I was in the habit of updating every Sunday morning and then suddenly farming happened and I was working every weekend.  I guess I'm still trying to work on my routine here.

Well, the main news is that harvest is finally over.  It was great!  There's no better time on a farm than during harvest...the sights, the smell, the long days...I love it.  Harvest lasted about two months, mid-August to mid-October.  Actually, it took a total of four days to harvest my crops, but I spent the remainder of the time helping two neighbors with their crops and they have a lot more acres to cover than I do.

My first lentil harvest
The lentil crop was fantastic!  We harvested them in early September and I got about two years' worth of production in just one year, even though they were red lentils (green lentils usually have a higher yield than reds).  Two neighbors and I cut the crop with three modern CaseIH combines.  My 200 acres took an entire day because the lentils were very thick.  Instead of clipping along at 4-5 mph, we were running about 2 mph and in many cases less than 1 mph.  The lentils themselves were very good quality.  They were uniform in size, had no discoloration, and they were very clean.  It's great to have high yield and high quality in the same year!
Neighbor harvesting my spring wheat
And the wheat crop was also extremely good.  A different neighbor harvested my wheat with his three modern John Deere combines.  They spent about three days getting my 950 acres cut.  Yields were very high, but quality took a bit of a hit.  The wheat is bleached out a bit due to rains and the protein is lower than usual because the entire summer was so wet and cool.  However, I'm very happy with the was a fantastic beginning to my farming career.
Wheat standing and ready to cut
Meanwhile, I continued harvesting with the first neighbor.  I'm not sure on the exact numbers, but I would guess we harvested about 3,000 acres of lentils and about 10,000 acres of wheat.  We had it all during harvest...great yields, broken equipment, stuck combines (me!), great suppers in the field, busy truckers...and I loved every minute of it.

I have a lot more updates from the last couple of months.  A hail storm damaged some of my wheat, I spent a few days in Washington D.C. during harvest, we had a combine catch on fire, and I've gotten about half of my crop marketed.  But I'll discuss those areas in future updates.
In the meantime...harvest is done!

Trucks getting loaded with grain

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Hurry Up & Wait

I am supremely qualified to "hurry up and wait" after 20 years in the military.
Count your blessings if you haven't heard the expression before; it's one of the more frustrating things that Uncle Sam taught us in the military.  Hurry up, get ready as quickly as you can...and then wait for the event to happen.  If there was a chance of a military inspection, everyone would bust their tails to get ready as quickly as possible...then sit for a week waiting for inspectors to arrive.  When flying on military aircraft around the globe, we would show up bright and early...and then wait for five or six hours for the jet to be ready.  Hurry up, get it done, quickly!  Okay, good job, now wait...
I am doing the same thing right now on the farm.  Due to the cool and wet summer, the crop is taking it's sweet time in ripening up.  I've hurried up and gotten ready for harvest...and now I get to wait for it.
Lentils slowly ripening
The lentils look good and are slowly ripening.  I would say they are about 50% ripened, but really how do I know?  I've never seen lentils before, never grown them before.  The lower pods on the plant have firm, red lentils in them; the higher pods are still soft and mushy and the lentil is still green.  Luckily the local agronomist is keeping an eye on them for me and coaching me along.  He says they aren't quite ready for dessication yet.  They get dessicated at about 70%.  Once that happens, it will take about 5 or 6 days for all of the lentils to harden and be ready for harvest.
Three lentils from the same plant
My wheat is a couple of weeks away from harvest.  The color is just beginning to turn now, with the hilltops being amber and the bottoms still green.  There is a very good stand of wheat out there and I am excited to get it cut and put into the bin.
I have my harvest crews all lined up.  A neighbor is going to harvest my lentils.  He also raises red lentils and his were seeded at the same time as mine, so they should all be ready together.  For the wheat, I have a farmer who lives north of me lined up.  His wheat was seeded after mine so he will be able to cut mine and then move onto his own crop.
This wheat was the last to get seeded
The grain bins are cleaned and ready to go.  I don't have enough grain storage, so I am renting a building from another neighbor to use for the year.  His building holds about 20,000 bushels and that will handle most of what I can't put into my own bins.  The trucks are cleaned and serviced, the sample buckets are lined up, the auger is ready...
I've hurried it's just time to wait.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Summer Heat

Summer heat?  If that means there is the possibility of turning the furnace on at night to keep the house warm, then yes there's some summer heat on the Hi-Line.
I was floating the Yellowstone River last week with family (by the way, if you haven't floated the Yellowstone in Paradise Valley, then you need to add it to your bucket list!).  On the way back to the farm, I kept an eye on the thermometer.  It was 90 degrees for most of the 500-some miles home...but only 72 once I reached the Hi-Line.
Folks, it's the end of July.  We're supposed to be melting under the hot summer sun every day.  And it's only 72 degrees at 4 o'clock in the afternoon?  Amazing.  Twice this week it's been down to the low 40s at night.  Truly amazing!
All of this cool weather has been great for the crops.  There has not been much moisture in my part of the Hi-Line for the last month, but the cool weather is helping the wheat while the heads are filling.  There is a beautiful stand in the fields because of the great moisture this spring.  If those heads fill...and if we avoid hail for the next six could be a nice harvest.
Not everyone has been as lucky.  I was at a farm auction yesterday and talked to a farmer from the Circle MT area.  His neighbors were hailed out two weeks ago, and then his crops were totaled in a storm five days ago.  I could hear the frustration in his voice and see it on his face.  Last year his crops succumbed to drought and this year to hail.  As I drove home, I thanked the Big Guy for the opportunity to be a farmer and asked Him to look out for my friend from Circle.  Now that I really know how much work goes into producing a crop, I wouldn't wish two straight years of crop failure on anyone.
No, there's not much heat this summer on the Hi-Line...and I'm extremely grateful for what we've been given.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Check Your Pulse

Do you have a pulse?
I do.  I have CDC Maxim red lentils growing this year and they are looking better and better as we've gotten some sunshine after all the spring rain.  But I'll be honest with you, I really don't know much about lentils or any other pulse crop.  None of them were grown around the Hi-Line when I was a kid.
So this week, I went to a Pulse Plot Tour hosted by the local university extension agent.  I really enjoy these ag seminar events because I always learn a lot and each one seems to reinforce the discussions held at previous events.  At this event, there were some great topics of discussion.
1.  Pulse Fertilizer Requirements.  A Montana State University soil fertility specialist reviewed soil conditions necessary for a pulse crop to fix nitrogen into the soil.  The discussion centered mostly on application of phosphorus.  Potassium and sulfur were covered as well, but the soil composition in this part of the world doesn't lend itself to needing those applied when seeding pulses.
Dissipation of Soil Samples in Water
2.  Herbicide Rotations.  A Syngenta representative discussed herbicide resistant weeds and had some great pictures of local examples of resistant wild oats, kochia, and pigeon grass.  I had seen her presentation before, but it was great to hear it again to reinforce the need to develop a sound chemical plan, paying attention to different herbicide groups and classes to diversify the modes of action.
Water Infiltration into No-Till (left) and Fallow (right) Soils
3.  Soil Health.  A National Resources Conservation Service agent gave a great presentation on building up carbon matter in soil.  Soil is a complex environment and the main ingredient is carbon.  He gave a couple of great demonstrations of what happens when rain falls on various soil compositions.

4.  Pulse Research Update.  A Montana State University pulse specialist discussed the various ongoing research projects being conducted on the Hi-Line.  He has done a lot of great work over the last 8 years up here and it was interesting to hear him talk.  He took a lot of feedback from the local farmers about ideas for future research.
Touring the Research Plots
5.  Plot Tour.  The pulse specialist took us out to the research plots and let us walk around to view the various varieties.  Aye Carumba!  There were a lot of varieties!  I've lost my spreadsheet, but I would guess he had 150 varieties of peas, 100 lentils, and 50 chickpeas.  Honestly, after a while, they all started to look the same to me.
As always, the conversations with various specialists and farmers were the most interesting for me.  In separate conversations with the Syngenta rep, the pulse specialist, a Montana Ag Department official, and the farmer who owned the plot land, I learned a lot.
It was a great day for me and well worth the time spent under the hot sun.
How about you?  Have you checked your pulse?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Canada Farm Progress Show

My neighbors to the north know how to put on a farm show!
SaskPower's Farm Safety Display
A couple weeks ago I ventured up for a day trip to Regina Saskatchewan for the Canada Farm Progress Show.  I've been to the National Farm Show in Louisville Kentucky a couple times and had fun looking and talking.  While it's a great show, it's primarily catered to the corn & soybean industries.  Because of its location, the Canada Farm Progress Show had a lot more information and equipment dealing with small grains and pulse crops.
One of the most interesting displays was by SaskPower and focused on farm safety.  They showed various things that could happen if you were to come into contact with a high-voltage power line.  It was very informative and well done (literally!).
SeedHawk 1300bu Seed Cart
Of course there was plenty of new and bigger equipment as well.  SeedHawk had a very large display area to show off their newest air seeder innovations.  I was particularly amazed at the 4-hopper seed cart capable of holding up to 1,300 bushels.  I can't imagine pulling that behind the drill!
And I don't know why, but this 115-foot long auger amazed me.  I guess it was because it seemed like more of an architectural phenomenon than it did a piece of farm equipment.  With augers this big, no wonder SaskPower had their display!
115' Grain Auger
As usual, the best learning happened while talking with other farmers at any one of the display booths.  I always get more ideas and thoughts from those conversations than I do from any of the vendors.
Great hospitality, great displays, and a great venue.  If you ever get the chance, check it out!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sprayers...Natural and Man-Made

It's been two weeks of spraying...and trying not to be sprayed.

I spent the last couple of weeks in the field spraying herbicides and fungicides on the crops.  I sprayed a few times for the Old Man when I was a kid, but this was my first time building a chemical plan, obtaining all the supplies, making decisions whether it was too wet or too windy to spray, and going out and doing it myself.

Rinsing out the Horvick sprayer after finishing CRP
I started with 35 acres that are enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).  There is an existing grass stand that needs to be killed so that new native grasses can be seeded this fall or next spring.  I hated it, every minute.  The ground is rough due to the grass clumps and there are also sand dunes interspersed around which made it very difficult to spray.  I used the 45' Horvick sprayer on the old pickup for 30 of the 35 acres.  I was bouncing around in the pickup and always seemed to have the left or right boom dragging on the ground.  Yep, it wasn't fun...and I'll have to do it again in a couple months to get a good kill on the grass.

Spraying grass with the ATV sprayer
The remaining 5 acres of CRP grass still has a couple inches of standing water.  It's a low area, almost a wetlands area, that will be re-seeded to a pollinator species.  Since there's still
standing water, I couldn't use the tractor or pickup that left the little ATV sprayer.  It took a long time with that little sprayer.  And because there's so much moisture on the ground, it will be very difficult to kill that area.

The wheat and lentils were much easier to spray with the 90' Bourgault sprayer.  With the tractor, I had GPS auto-steering to reduce overlaps and skips.  And the Bourgault has an automatic rate controller that adjusts the pump pressure based upon the tractor's ground speed so that every acre gets the same amount of product and water applied.

Bourgault sprayer for herbicide/fungicide on wheat
Spraying also gave me the opportunity to scout every acre and learn more seeding lessons.  For example, I had a very large seeding skip that absolutely perplexes me.  Huge!  It's almost 2 acres, a single swath where the seeder wasn't engaged.  I must have been asleep at the wheel!

I also had the 150ish acres that weren't pre-sprayed prior to seeding.  That was definitely a poor decision.  It's not overtaken with weeds, but the weeds that are there have a pretty good head start on the wheat.  I know for sure that I will pre-spray every acre next year.

The last spraying wasn't done by me, it was done by all the skunks around here.  There are a lot of them this year.  So far I've taken care of 7 of them...and by "taken care", I mean that I afforded them the opportunity to go meet their Maker.

So that's it, the spraying is done for now.  Time to get equipment cleaned up, buildings squared away, and start building a plan for harvest and grain storage.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Rock On!

The Old Man was a pro at picking rocks.  He did it the old-fashioned way with shovels, pry bars, rock sleds, and brute strength.

He was probably amused watching me this week while I prepped the lentil field for harvest.  For those who don't know, lentils only get about 12-to-18 inches tall.  I seeded CDC Maxim lentils, which are even shorter.  This means during harvest the combine header is very low to get the cutter bar close to the plant base.  And that means sickle and guard breaks, unless the field is smooth and free of rocks.  There are two ways to handle the rocks -- pick them or roll them, or both.

Degelman Rock Picker behind a JD 7630

I was able to use a neighbor's rock picker to get the biggest rocks out of the field.  It's simple to use, simple to maintain, and makes rock picking much quicker than the Old Man's methods.  Obviously it would have been much better to pick rocks before seeding, but I didn't have access to the rock picker then.  I also got to use his JD 7630, which is a very nice tractor.  Something like that would be perfect for me to use for spraying and snow removal.  Maybe someday...

Degelman Land Roller behind the 8640
I also rolled the field with a 50' land roller that I rented from a local business.  The roller has three drums with a total weight of about 9 tons.  Everything that I've read said to roll lentils pre-emergence, but all the local agronomists and neighbors say post-emergence is the best. Who am I to argue?  Some guys go faster, but I was at 6-7 mph with the 8640 and it only took about a half day.  The roller did a great job and I'm confident there won't be a field full of broken combines during harvest.

Here's the part that I found the most interesting.  I was in a field that is growing the Clearfield lentils, using tractors outfitted with GPS auto-steering.  When the Old Man was on that field, the Clearfield trait hadn't been discovered and auto-steer didn't dominate the tractor industry.  So here I was, surrounded by new farm technology, advancements, and practices...and yet I was battling those same rocks that the Old Man squared off against.

Maybe the rocker Bon Jovi said it best.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Gone Fishin'

I had more important things to do on Sunday than to write my weekly update.  It was time to fish on the lake.  We were supposed to be catching big walleye, but they out-smarted us all weekend.

As I was losing the chess game to the fish, I spent time on the boat thinking about spring's work, how it went, and what I could or might have done differently.  Here are the areas that I came up with.

1.  Pre-spraying needs more attention and planning.  Because everything was delayed due to the snowfall in March and April, there were no weeds coming when I first started seeding.  If there's no weeds, there's no reason to pre-spray, right?  Well yes...but there will be weeds.  Death, taxes, and weeds will always be.  After my clue light came on, I finally began pre-spraying the fields I hadn't seeded yet.  I hurriedly talked to the agronomist, got a recommendation on chemicals, and quickly applied it.  Yes, I got it done, but not in the most efficient way.  Next year I need a plan, I need to know what I'm going to apply well before I begin, and I need a strategy to sequence the pre-spraying and the seeding.

2.  The goal isn't to finish seeding as quickly as possible.  I thank my brother for this advice early on when I first started to seed.  Getting the entire crop seeded in 10 days will not lead to a bumper crop...but seeding in optimal soil conditions, at the right speed, with the right fertilizer and fungicides will make a big difference come harvest time.  If it's a bit muddy, stop for a half day or more to ensure soil conditions are optimal.  If you have to wait 4 hours for fertilizer delivery, that's okay.  Spreading out the seeding dates may actually help you better optimize the rainfalls in June and July.

3.  My initial plan on crop rotations may need tweaking.  My 1160 acres are, for the most part, laid out in four different areas.  I intended on rotating a pulse crop through one area each year.  I'm not sure about this now and I'm still thinking about it.  I may need a different plan initially because the previous farmers produced wheat on everything in the two years before I started farming.

4.  Read more.  I like to learn from reading.  I did some reading before I started seeding, but there's a lot more for me to do.  I need to learn more about soil chemistry, agronomy, plant biology, etc.  I'm not going to learn it all at once or all by reading...but it's a good foundation.

5.  Take better notes.  I took a few during seeding, usually at the beginning of each day on where I was starting the day and how the air seeder was calibrated.  That's good, but I need more notes.  See some big rocks that need attention?  Make a note.  Are there washouts or wet spots to address?  Make a note.  Something strange happen with equipment?  Make a note.  Take notes and more notes and more notes, then digest them after seeding and take some action on them.  Definitely something I need to get done.

I know those sound basic and simple, but they are very important.  I didn't necessarily fail completely in these areas, but I do need to do better.  And I will do better.

Now if I had just put these same thoughts into action with my fishing, maybe I would have had a fish fry for breakfast this morning....

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Crop is In

So about this blogging thing...yes, I have fallen behind.  And that's good news, because it means I've been busy farming.

Seeding started on May 12th, Mother's Day, with the Clearfield Maxim lentils.  I was excited, nervous, anxious, happy, scared, relaxed, and a bunch of other emotions when I got started.  This was it, the first crop ever on my farm!  I had to get the inoculate properly mixed and applied to the lentil seed.  I wanted to seed exactly 55 pounds/acre along with 30 pounds/acre of phosphorus side-banded with the seed.   There couldn't be too much or too little overlap between seeding passes.  And I didn't want to look like a clown out there directing the circus!
It actually went very well.  I was a bit over on the phosphorus application and ended up about 10 acres short.  But that's well within the error margin for a beginner.  And my seed guy gave me plenty of seed, so I had about 5 acres extra.  It took me a couple days to get it in and then it was on to the spring wheat.
Loading more fertilizer onto the air drill
Wheat started on May 14th.  Seeding rates varied between 78 and 85 pounds/acre, based upon whether I was in good or bad soil.  I used a fertilizer blend of 65-20-10-5 (65% urea, 20% phosphorus, 10% potash, 5% sulfur) with rates varying between 150 and 200 pounds/acre.  Yes, there were a lot of fertilizer loads delivered to the field by the fertilizer plant!
I finished it all up on May 30th, just as it started to rain.  When it stopped 24 hours later, we had accumulated 1.95" of rain here on the farm.  And it felt so good!  My crop was in and the Big Guy was delivering His own fertilizer to my fields.

My neighbor seeding wheat next to me
I learned a lot during seeding that I will share later.  I had a few breakdowns, but nothing that couldn't be fixed within a few hours.  I pre-sprayed most of the fields before seeding.  And I made some good decisions and some bad ones too, and some that the jury is still deliberating.  As I said, I will share all of that later.
But for now, I'm going to relax, enjoy a nice Sunday, and celebrate getting my first crop in the ground.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Preflight Inspection

I am ready to go!  Since I spent my last 20 years on Air Force flightlines, I will have to explain it all in military jargon.

I spent the week finishing work on my farm equipment to make sure it is ready to go.  As the week went along, I couldn't help but think about how working on farm equipment is very similar to working on fighter jets in the Air Force.  Here are examples of the similarities with the last aircraft that I supported, the F-22A.

First and foremost, there are the instructions.  For the F-22, there is a Technical Order called the 1F-22A-1 Flight Manual, or the "Dash One".  The Dash One explains to the pilot how all the systems on the aircraft operate and what to do if one of the systems fails or has a problem.  It is similar in many ways to the operators manuals for my tractor and air seeder.

Maintenance requirements and intervals for the F-22 are in Technical Order 1F-22A-6, or the "Dash Six".  The Dash Six outlines preventative maintenance activities based upon the amount of hours the jet flies and based upon calendar timelines.  For example, the weeble fluid in the wobble shaft might need checked every 5 hours and replaced every 150 hours, while the flux capacitor might need overhauled every 18 months.  Again, the operators manuals for my farm equipment do the same thing, laying out maintenance requirements based on operating hours as well as annual inspections.

The most common inspections for military jets are based upon flights, and a single flight is called a "sortie" in military aviation.  The F-22 inspections include the Preflight (prior to the first sortie of the day), the Thru-Flight (performed between sorties flown during the same day), the Post-Flight (after all sorties are complete at the end of the day), and the Packaged Maintenance Plan (in-depth maintenance performed every 300 hours, roughly once per year).  This week I completed something similar to a preflight inspection on my equipment.  I've looked over all the components to check for leaks, cracks, tightness, and wear, I've replaced or repaired everything needing fixed, and now it's ready to go.

Finally, the Air Force tracks the operational status of aircraft through "MC" codes.  Mission Capable ("MC") means a jet is ready and capable of performing the mission it was designed to complete.  Here are the major MC codes that the Air Force uses to track status:
  • MC:  Mission Capable.  The jet is ready to perform its designed mission.
  • NMC:  Non-Mission Capable.  The jet is broke and not ready to fly a mission.
  • NMCM:  Non-Mission Capable due to Maintenance.  A component needs fixed or replaced.
  • NMCS:  Non-Mission Capable due to Supply.  Parts are required and not yet available.

Preflight Inspection Complete
This week, my farm equipment was mostly NMCM, needing maintenance to be performed.  Among other things, I needed to change oil, re-wire a battery cable, replace a hydraulic seal, weld a crack in a bracket, and clean things up!  And for about a day, the air seeder was NMCS while I waited for the local parts dealer to get some bearings that needed to be replaced in the packer wheels.  Now everything is fixed and ready and my equipment is MC.

MC.  It's time to roll baby, I'm ready for my sorties to seed wheat!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Signs of Spring

Spring is here.  It must be here because calves are getting branded and the snow runoff has started.

Last weekend the Hi-Line was still covered in snow, so I drove to my uncle's ranch north of Yellowstone Park to help brand calves.  It's been 20 years since I've been around cattle branding, so I was excited to do it again.  Rounding up cattle, culling out calves, pushing them through the branding table...I love a long, hard day or two of branding.  The best parts?  First, there is always good food and a lot of it.  And when it's over, I go home and don't have to hassle with cattle for another year.

Branding in Paradise Valley
In high school and college, I worked for farmers who had cattle.  Raising cattle is hard work and it never stops.  There are always cattle to feed, fence to fix, hay to put up, or calves to pull.  Yep, I have a ton of respect for cattlemen.  They truly earn every dollar they make.

Anyway, I picked up another uncle in Billings on Friday night and then we headed to the ranch.  It's a beautiful area and it's no wonder the area is called the Paradise Valley.  We worked all day Saturday, ate some food, spent some time at the cabin, and worked a bit more.  Did I mention there is always good food at a branding?  And lots of it?  Yep, I love branding.

Spring Arrives on the Hi-Line
I drove back up to the Hi-Line on Monday afternoon.  It was amazing to see the change in scenery after getting north of the Mighty Mo and back into the snow.  But that didn't last long.  Officially, by my clock, spring arrived Wednesday afternoon when it got up to 49 degrees.  And since then, it's been in the 60s for highs.  The sun is shining, the wind is blowing, and the runoff has begun.  Yep, spring is here.

It won't be long now...and I will actually be farming on the Hi-Line.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Please remain on the line.  We appreciate your business and our next associate will be with you soon.

Yep, I'm waiting.  Waiting for the snow to melt and for the frost to go away.  Waiting for the last of my equipment to get here.  Waiting, waiting, waiting.

So in the meantime, it's the small things.  I think I'm finally all set on seed.  For lentils, it will be CDC Maxim CL red lentils.  I'm excited to try the Clearfield system.  I'll have 200 acres and those will be the first to seed.  For spring wheat, it's SY Soren treated with Warden Cereals WR on about 960 acres.  Seeding deadlines are March 25 for lentils and June 5 for wheat, so I hope to be in the field soon.  I don't like waiting.

I know I'll need equipment in a couple years, so I went to an equipment auction in ND just to get a feel for prices.  There was a lot of good equipment and honestly, I didn't feel the prices were too extreme.  Most of the equipment appeared to be in good shape.  The tractor, combine, air seeder, and self-propelled sprayer were all under 10 years old.  Semis, trailers, and augers were 10-20 years old.  I know the guy who bought the air seeder.  He just picked up more land this year, he's nervous about making the seeding deadline, and so he got another seeder to get the crop in on time.  He doesn't like waiting.

I also talked to the fertilizer & seed dealers about getting deliveries from them.  Once spring starts, I know there will be a mad rush of farmers calling in.  After talking to them, I feel better but still nervous.  The fertilizer guys say they can deliver within 3 or 4 hours of a phone call.  The seed guys might be able to keep my treated wheat in a semi trailer, ready whenever I need it.  Hopefully they both work out.  If not, then I'll have to wait during seeding.  I don't like waiting.

And I've been attending services at different churches in the community, trying to find the one that is home for me.  This may seem weird to some, but every time I've moved I've never known what I'm looking for in a church.  I just wander a bit, try different services, and then eventually the Big Guy lets me know where He wants me.  I wish He would just speak to me through a burning bush, but He doesn't.  He makes me wait....because He knows I don't like it and that I need to get better at it.

Thanks Big Guy.  I'm waiting.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

It's a Mess

Yep, the shop is a mess.
There's stuff and junk and things all over the place.  Oil, chemicals, parts, tools...not organized, not labeled, and definitely not in military inspection order.

In military jargon, FUBAR
Since there's still snow on the ground and it's too early to seed, I started cleaning up the shop this week.  The Old Man generally kept a pretty tidy shop.  Since he passed, it's been in a constant state of chaos.  Ma put items where she could find them, neighbors would occasionally leave items in different places, and my brothers and I would set them in other areas.  In the end, you have a full-blown mess.
The only way to do it is to start over.  Hit the master reset button and begin again.  So that's what I've been doing this week.  I am clearing shelves, drawers, and containers and then organizing it like I want it to be done.

Mother of All Messes

It's fun and it's not.  I have come across quite a few homemade tools that are fun to look at and wonder what they are for.  And then after a bit, I wish the Old Man was around to explain it to me.  There are parts to a Massey 1135 tractor that hasn't been on this farm for over 25 years.  I chuckle when I find them, knowing the Old Man never tossed out anything of possible use in the future.  And then after a bit, I think about the care and hard work he put into that first tractor of his own.
Yep, the shop is a mess.  But I know the Old Man is looking over my shoulder and saying "Clean this mess up, I need to change the oil in the Massey!"

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Got Training?

One thing I nearly overdosed on while in the military was training.  It doesn't matter if the training is good, necessary, or usable -- you still get it.

Firing a weapon?  Great training.  First aid, surviving chemical agents, removing an aircraft engine, leadership, all more great training.  Separating from the service, flag detail, casualty notification, classified data, there's training for that too.  Using a ladder?  Sponsoring a new Airman?  Moving?  Yes, training for that.  Oh, it's been a year since the last training?  Well then it's probably time for some refresher training.  Can't show up for work on time?  Some might call the consequences "being disciplined" but it's really another form of training.

That's just one of the things that makes our military services so great.  They invest in people.  All people.  Thousands and millions are spent on training.

As I began my transition to farming, I sought out as much training as I could find.  This week has been a great week for me and my training.

First, my local Small Business Development Center reviewed my business plan.  I have to admit that when I first read all the red ink on my draft plan, I was a bit upset.  How could someone in an office 60 miles away question my plan?  But as I read the comments again and again, I began to understand
what a great service they provided to me.  Their review and comments made my business plan much better.  Thank you Lorene, you are awesome!  And guess what?  It's free.  Free service.

Then I found out about the Farmer Veteran Coalition which helps service members establish themselves in the agriculture industry.  This group provides an abundance of help in funding, education, mentorship, planning, and many other areas.  This week they began working to find a mentor for me who will help me learn to market my wheat and lentils that I will produce.  How awesome is that?  Thank you Julie, you are awesome!  And guess what?  Yes, another free service.

Late this week, I received a phone call from the National Farmers Union Beginning Farmers Institute which provides leadership and farm management training.  They select a class of students each year to attend three educational sessions throughout the country.  They provide agriculture professionals as speakers, on-farm training workshops, and cooperative tours.  Thank you Maria, I am very excited to be in the class!  Oh, and guess what?  Well, it's not completely free, it cost me $100.  Meanwhile, NFU is paying the majority of the travel, hotel, and meal expenses.  That's as good as free, considering the mentoring, training, and education that I will receive.

And finally, this morning I attended Easter sunrise service at a local church.  That is the ultimate free service.  Free forgiveness, free grace, free love.  Happy Easter my friends, He is Risen!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Approach With Caution

I love being around a group of farmers and getting into a conversation with them.

Over the past couple of weeks I have been at a few local events.  There was a farm expo, customer appreciation days by two auto parts dealers, a church fish fry, and a coop chemical meeting.  Each drew in good crowds of farmers and gave me an opportunity to pick their brain and get some advice.  Now that I am back on the farm, I like introducing myself to both new and old acquaintances and ask if they have any advice for a beginning farmer.

The best response came from a farmer who used to live just up the road and who retired in the 1990s.  His response?  "Approach with caution."  It was a great answer and immediately caused me to laugh.  But of all the responses I have received, I keep thinking about that one.  It actually is a great, great answer.  Approach with caution.

Caution, think long and hard in my planning.  Crop rotations, seed varieties, fertilizer application, herbicides and fungicides, a marketing plan...they take a lot of thought and analysis.

Caution, manage the risk on the farm.  Market volatility, multi peril & hail insurance, operating loan, machinery & land prices, farm program...they are significant factors in my planning effort.

Caution, the farmers have been doing great on the Hi-Line the past few years.  The law of averages has to kick in at some point.

Caution, there are fewer local equipment dealerships and grain elevators every year.  I have to take that into consideration with my equipment management and marketing plan.

Caution, the days are long and hard.  I need to make sure I keep myself in shape, physically and spiritually and mentally.

Approach with caution...great advice.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Hello, Spring?

Finally at the farm!  Now if I could just find it under all of this white stuff...

After traveling through two snowstorms, I arrived at the farm to find that one of my great neighbors had driven his tractor up here and plowed the yard open.  There was about a foot of snow, with some very large drifts along the tree line.  The driveway always plugs with snow, it's just one of those things I will learn to deal with every winter.  But like I said, a great neighbor had opened it up for us.

It didn't last long.

Snow drifts along the shelter belt
Winds on Monday were 20-25 mph and visibility was less than a quarter mile.  Luckily no new snow fell, it was only the snow we already had blowing around.  I do think I saw a cow or two blow by the yard (note to self, get your eyeballs checked).  So of course the driveway was packed with snow again.  I spent Tuesday morning opening it back up.

And now another blizzard today.  The Weatherman says widespread blowing snow, 18-23 mph this afternoon, with gusts up to 30, and new snow of 3-5 inches.  Apparently (and this is just an assumption on my part) the Weatherman hasn't looked at his calendar to see that spring is supposed to start on Wednesday.  As in, three days from now.

Getting ready to wrassle a badger
And speaking of spring, I was very surprised to get a visit from a very distant cousin of Punxsutawney Phil when a young badger stopped in at the cat house on Wednesday.  Judging by his reaction, he wasn't too happy that I interrupted his lunch.  If Phil's cousin ever visits you, be forewarned that the claws are long and the growl is deep.

The badger's gone now, I buried him under the snow out in a field.  But looking back, maybe I should have asked his opinion on when spring starts.  Obviously Phil and the Weatherman do not know it's in just three days.