Here is this week’s Rural Reflections Radio program, Letter to Dave February 2013
I love the change of seasons. I am a sucker for introspection and there is no better time to take stock than when one season hands the baton to the next. I will spend the first few lines of this letter indulging myself.
I think I am healthier than last year as this time. Few know this, however I have lost about forty-five pounds of weight in the last seven years. It has been a very gradual decrease because I refuse to give up every indulgence (that would be beer) in my life. I want this weight loss to be a lifestyle change and not a diet, I also wish for it to be sustainable as I don’t want to do it again. Personally, life is good with Lisa as always and she seems to like me too-a good thing as we recently celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary.
On the agriculture front, we had a good crop despite the drought and the prices nationwide are quite good. This set of circumstances, joined to low interest rates, have driven up land prices. Land prices have increased four to five times over in the last seven years with the steepest incline over the past three years. It is said that there is “land for buyin’ and land for sellin’.” We sold again this year but I really don’t feel bad as we still have our nice little farm and we’re both happy. I also suspect that anyone who lived in the farming culture through the late seventies and early eighties remembers what it was like when commodity prices tumbled. I can easily remember the tractorcades, the penny auctions, Farm-Aid, farmers losing land or putting marginal land into crp and even some banks closing their doors. I think the banks will be fine even if there is trouble as they now demand a healthy down-payment plus collateral in addition to a provable cash-flow. Also many of the larger farms have such large critical mass that they can take a reduction in cash-flow or land value and recover the loss over time. I see young people taking on tremendous debt in pursuit of acreage once used only for hunting and this worries me. I hope everyone does well however I believe we will eventually see shelter-belts re-planted, land sold for pasture and the return of something other than row after row of corn. Again, I wish everyone wealth and happiness-I am just old enough to have seen this same musical production before when it played “off-Broadway” and closed sooner than first thought.
I hope all is going well for you out in Carrington, Dave. It has been such a long time since I last visited that I suspect it has changed. Carrington is kind of at the intersection of where the farm industry meets that oil industry so times must be notable. I bet my next visit will see a somewhat different Carrington, even though I really liked it as it was. I hope to soon send pictures of the grain bin I turned into a crowding tub next time I letter you however I am done for today. High-five the wife and kinder for me.
Your little bro’
p.s. I blew out the water lines this week and in answer to many inquiries, yes the pig flew this year!
Here is this week’s <a href=”http://grantnelson00.tripod.com/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/lettertodaveapril2012.mp3″>
Rural Reflections Radio Program</a>
We spoke this week and you reported about 41 degrees and slight snow
cover in Carrington, North Dakota. I would say we are a bit less and
a bit more, respectively. Dad said the last time we had this type of
winter was in 1943; it was worth the wait for a repeat. We passed through an un-white Christmas without notice and now the cupids of Valentine’s Day may not need parkas.
I know you are busy assembling farm equipment at Erickson Implement in preparation for
spring planting. Good commodity prices mean that farmers not only
have some money to buy new equipment but it also means they need to
have the kind of equipment that can plant, spray and harvest the crop
in a timely manner. Better, more timely practices mean more bushels and more profits. Ten years ago people were not in a great hurry to spray expensive chemical on $2 corn-now the chemical for Round-up ready corn is an investment with a very short payback.
I have been more relaxed this winter as we’ve had little snow to plow
and our cattle need less hay brought to them when the weather is
warm. Freezing temperatures bring about increased need for
hay and it just gets worse the lower it goes. I purchased some hay
bales that received rain from our neighbor, Tom Scholin, and am using
them to bed for the cattle. Straw bales seem a rare commodity as
today’s combines chop the wheat stalks so completely as to make them
almost impossible to bale and so I use hay then top dress it with a little straw
to make it look nice.
I do have a few projects on the docket. I have removed all of the
shelving from the garage which once housed all of my old John Deere
snowmobiles. The sleds are gone and now so are the heavy shelves
which once held them. I have covered the walls with peg board to the
point that I no longer have any more stuff to hang from the walls. I
guess I thought the peg board looked nice AND overdid it just a bit.
I am also installing a filter to remove fibers from our
washing machine before they get discharged into our drain field.
Apparently, many of the fibers lost from our clothing during washing
end up in the drain field, do not break down and therefore create
a mat. It is just this sort of illegitimate carpet that ruins drain
fields and so we will now filter the washing machine’s gray water
prior to release. As is typical, nothing gets me excited like plumbing waste water; I guess I am still that little kid digging ditches so the excess water from the corn silo could run into the pasture.
I hope all is well in Carrington, Dave. I also hope that our good fortune of little snow ends prior to this summer or we are going to rightly call it a drought. It will be at that time that I will become nostalgic for a white Christmas-at least for the moisture.
You’re little bro’
Here is this week’s Rural Reflections Radio
If I trail off and leave only zzzzz’s in the middle of a sentence it is because today was the first full day of the sugar beet harvest. Beet harvest is as close as I can come to a good reason to get out of bed at 1:45 in the morning, however there exists no truly good reason to commit this sleep crime.
During the harvest, I must always align my truck with a pipe that hangs from the conveyer which loads the sugar beets into my truck. That pipe is my whole world until harvest reaches a conclusion. I will try to find it in the dark and in the glare of mid-day sun and try to never lose track of it’s relationship to me.
I work for R and R Farms near Warren, Minnesota. They have already completed all other harvests which means there’s lots of hands to help. It is a good thing because most people who use their vacation time for harvest plan for the first two weeks of October. I’ve heard that some folks have to go back to their regular jobs as we have typically finished harvest by now-and it’s really our first day, Dave.
It was nice seeing you and Mary for the wedding of our nephew, Derik Nelson. He and Nan created a sincere and happy day in which we could all participate. Lisa and I spent a few days in October watching Ana Hibbert and Adam Tongen find the bliss of sharing a same last name. Lisa and I have joked with Ana’s mom that we should receive a goat as payment for introducing Ana and Adam. The joke was on us at the groom’s supper when payment was presented in all it’s furry and cloven-hooved glory. I felt an immediate sense of dread brought on by the thought of goat-parenthood but soon realized this an event created only in an effort to demonstrate how my face appeared when I felt my world was coming to an end. The goat went home to it’s owner and next time we play cupid we’ll just ask for an invitation to the wedding or a simple hand shake.
Harvest is soon done around here, Dave. Some of the corn has been combined although I believe many await the corn to shed some moisture so they can avoid the expense of extensive drying. Our nephew, Jamie, has been trying to combine sunflowers and I haven’t seen standing beans for at least a week. Our farmers are now participating in a favorite fall sport-ditching their fields. There’s also more drain tile being plowed into the ground, I suspect people are trying to get more production from the land they own as opposed to purchasing increasingly-costly crop land. I’ve heard some crazy land prices in our area recently, I hope those prices are based on a something other than the sweet emotion of the last decade’s commodity prices. I remember the late seventies/early eighties and all the long faces when prices fell and they had to give back all of that high-priced and highly-leveraged land.
Wow, I’m a bummer. I’m sure everything will be fine. (that tune you hear is whistling in the dark)
you’re little bro
Here’s what happens when I clear out my mental pantry and serve it. GN
First off, we celebrated our anniversary this week. My mind was
otherwise occupied when I felt panic; had I missed our anniversary? I
realized the nine year milestone was the next day and ordered flowers
directly in proportion to my heightened emotions (anxiety mixed with
fear and love.) That night I casually mentioned to Lisa of our
impending anniversary and she immediately told me I didn’t have to
get her flowers this year. (Note to young men, that means get her
flowers) Anyway, I told her that I had already ordered flowers for
her but that if she wanted, I could keep the receipt and she could
reimburse me at her convenience. My black eye should soon heal.
We closed up the garden this week. Lisa does most of the gardening
however I helped her evacuate the remaining tomatoes and peppers
prior this week’s frost. We picked a lot and left the rest-some too
tiny to ripen or otherwise unusable. It reminded me of culling cattle
for shipping however I don’t have the emotional attachment with
habanera peppers that I do with heifers and steers. I feel like our
farm is a great place for cattle and I get a little guilty when I
send them away. Lisa can always tell something is bothering me after
the steers and I part company.
We did a little pre-pile of the sugar beet harvest this week. It was
nice to see the boys at R and R farms and eat cold, single-serving
beans while I wait in line. Now, I have written about the harvest for
about a decade so there are lots of my stories that exist on the
internet. I have now begun receiving emails from people angry at me
because-well I do know about what they are angry. One left me a
comment that I don’t realize how hard people in the MY sugar beet
processing facilities work-apparently I recently took ownership of
American Crystal Sugar. Considering I drive a pick-up worth about
$1000 and use most of my vacation time for the honor of participating
in the harvest, it is amazing that people perceive me to be an executive
at Crystal Sugar-I don’t even own a suit.
We started feeding and watering birds again this week. We purchased a
bird waterer this summer that is easy to maintain and clean. It is
basically an upside down bottle that feeds into four little troughs
that are kept about ½ inch full of water. You can hang it where you’d
normally hang a bird feeder and I’ve only cleaned it about four times
Finally, Lisa and I are on the marriage tour again this week-end. My
nephew, Derik Nelson will join with Nan Pietruszewski (man that made
my spell checker pop) in marriage. Lisa and I liked Nan from the
start and we tolerate Derik so they should make a nice couple. Truth
is I’ve never loved an insurance salesman as much I do Derik, he’s a
good man and a great nephew; he and Nan will be a happy couple.
I’d like to express my feelings for what currently occupies the
recycle bin of my computer-current affairs that deserve to leave
nothing of themselves except a streak in the toilet bowl. First off
would be the people who complain when Hurricane warnings precede a
storm that isn’t as bad as initially thought. Any Hurricane is
something like the finger of God in strength. If that finger had a
little arthritis this time and was not as strong as predicted, then
be thankful: perhaps the next warning will save your life. Another
fantastic candidate for a good flush is the defense in a local murder
trial in which they allege fear of police is a mitigating factor in
shooting a police officer three times. People don’t fear the police;
they fear justice. It’s like when you’re a child-fear of parental
discipline is the road you walk until you arrive at a place where
you’ve matured and start doing right based on your own good
character. You don’t get to punch mom and dad for making you do right
and you can’t shoot cops who enforce the law that we create. If we
allow the criminal to decide how much justice he or she will accept
then justice will wither and die.
Enough of that, let’s talk weather, Dave. Your recent report is that
Carrington, North Dakota has received approximately 25 inches of
rain in August while other areas close by have right around that
amount. This excess has made your harvest very difficult as evidenced
by local farmers removing tires from their combines and replacing
them with tracks. You explained to me the reason for this is that
tracks exert about ¼ the force on muddy ground as do 20.8 x 42 duals.
Dave, I’m glad you and Erickson Implement were able to help farmers
in central North Dakota by being a major supplier of combine tracks.
The last statistics show you’ve sold 17 sets of tracks while others
suppliers in the area have a combined total of 38 tracks sold at a
price of 59,000 to 70,000. It’s just nice that commodity prices are
high enough to justify extreme harvesting. We are dealing with
water’s excess around here too. There is a large drainage project on
a half section near our farm right now. I have been riding the
‘wheeler down to watch construction but am following our dad’s law in
that I am not getting in the way.
I had a little company this week, Dave. Mark Hayek from NRCS and Tim
Szymanski stopped by for a pasture walk and some cattle talk. I often
feel like I am a Martian among Earthlings when I speak of “grass fed”
or “grass-finished” beef cattle. It was nice to have a couple of guys
visit who speak my brogue. The visit really lit a fire under me as
there are certain techniques such as bale grazing which I’ve wanted
to try and I just needed a little encouragement. The visit really
helped me decide to go for it; it’s sometimes like I already possess
the golden egg but just need a little boost to hatch it.
Anyway, we had three inches of rain here last night so I feel the
pain of rain. I hope your harvest wraps up successfully and you sell
lots of tracks.
Your little bro’
The sun loves cattle pasture and pasture loves the sun. Although, I
am not a part of that relationship, I like basking in its light.
This is the sweetest time of the year on pasture, both emotionally
and dietary. Spring cattle pasture was a little high in protein and
low on sugar, then early summer made the grass grow so fast that some
of it got too mature to be at its best: however now we have hit the sweet
spot. The cattle are grazing grass at about a foot high and leaving
when there’s about four to five inches left. This keeps the grass young and tender
plus takes advantage of a grass plant’s ability to use sunlight to absorb carbon and
make sugar. This makes the grass sweet and very good for adding a little fat to some quite muscular
animals. The fat is what transfers the beneficial elements that make grass-fed cattle healthy
plus provides a little savoriness.
So many people graze their pasture until it looks like a golf course.
The problem with this is that along with rain and nutrients, grass
needs some sunshine to grow. The green blades of grass act like a
solar collector and help make the grass grow through photosynthesis.
When cattle are allowed to graze every part of the solar collector,
the plants can no longer grow at peak efficiency. A bare pasture is also
subject to overheating from sunlight whereas a pasture that is left with some cover
is shaded and cooler-a nicer environment for beneficial worms and microbes.
Worms constantly work their way through the soil leaving small openings which
hold rainwater. We get very little water runoff as the pasture has structure similar to a sponge
because of all those little worm tunnels. Microbes in the soil exist to help break down
leftover grass and manure into fertilizer for new growth.
Okay, if the technical information about pasture grazing has caused a slight glaze to occur
on the surface of your eyes, here comes the glaze remover. Cattle, pasture and sun have way
more meaning to me than just making beef-it’s a combination that makes me happy. When I am
free from the world, under the sun and hanging out with fifty of my closest bovine friends, I am
doing what I was made to do. That porous pasture of ours is soft on my feet and all of that green
grass helps to keep the air temperature a little cooler. I’ve always sought to define myself by
responsibility but have little interest in clubs or other groups. When I am in the pasture, among the cattle
and green grass, I can afford to let my guard down and serve those who serve me. When I am in
the pasture, I know my own identity; I am a lowly shepherd-lowly and happy.
Had a few minutes so prepare for a note to drop your way. Our cat, Magoo, is seated in between me and the computer screen; he likes to edit as we go along. I allow him to edit for spelling and grammar but never for content. Oh yeah, Magoo says hello too.
This week the first grass-fed steers of the season are set for processing. I usually sort and load them the same day and then haul them into our brother Steve, for processing. This year I put them into the barn several days prior so it makes for less work the day of hauling. I am feeding them some nice alfalfa during their confinement which I purchased from Lyle Swanson. Feeding cattle one forkful at a time reminds me of the fair when we used to bring cattle in for showing. I don’t go to fairs much anymore-too many people in one place. However, when I feed our steers I have close contact with them and it really takes me back to a time when our show cattle had fresh straw each day, got fed individual-sized portions of feed from a pan stored in our carefully packed barn box.
Dave, there’s a huge celebration going on in town for Arctic Cat; they’re celebrating a silver birthday. Arctic Cat has meant an awful lot to the area for many years and it all started with Edgar Hetteen’s dream. I drive an little Arctic Cat 250 ATV which has helped me build fence, check cattle, spray pasture and even relax at the end of the day. I use my tractor maybe once a week, the pick-up two-three times a week however that little ‘wheeler and I spend as much time together as Magoo and I do on the couch. Thanks to Arctic Cat for my little helper and happy birthday, too.
Dave, I have never been more organized however I’ve never been so busy. We have more cattle than ever on pasture but they are what we need to process all that forage into meat and fertilizer. I recently had a sample done on our pasture and found that it has all the nitrogen, phosphorous, etc that it needs. Here’s the kicker-we haven’t fertilized it for three years. The legumes in the pasture create nitrogen which feeds the grasses while the cattle process what they don’t need into manure which goes back into the ground. Photosynthesis from the sun does the rest. Anyway, I will have no fertilizer bill this year and that feels good.
I finally had a moment for a project, Dave-it’s called a Dorothy room. A Dorothy room is a free-standing tornado shelter built to specifications from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA.) I am using the specifications but am building it under the steps. The finished part which faces the hallway is made from the counter from the old Viking cafe. I am pretty confident when it comes to building fence, cattle feeders or anything rough, however indoor works makes me nervous. I typically build by eye however I am using tools for this project as foreign to me as a shovel to the average teenager. Anyway, I should finish it just as the tornado season ends and it will be the subject of a future column.
I hope the rain stops at your home in Carrington, North Dakota soon, Dave. In case it doesn’t, I have attached a pdf file of specs from FEMA for a floating structure-it’s called a Noah’s ark.
Your little bro’