Wednesday, May 13, 2015

We Are Indiana Agriculture: The Nichols

By Sarah Mahan of This Farm Family's Life

Abby Nichols and her husband, Andy, live in Franklin with their two kids, Ellie,3, and Tyler, 2.  “We live and work with my family on a grain and beef farm in Franklin.  I mostly stay home with my kids, but also help manage our freezer beef business with my cousin, Zach Dougherty.  I also help out on the grain farm during the busy season.”

The Doughertys’ farm, around 2,000 acres, includes beef cattle and a retail fertilizer and chemical business that custom applies fertilizers for other farmers.  “My family settled in this area in the 1800’s.  My grandpa was always a farmer, with the exception of the 4 years he served in WWII.  My grandpa and grandma purchased the farm where we are presently located in 1961.  My grandpa had dairy cows, but in the late 60’s he switched to raising beef steers.  We have been raising beef cattle on this farm ever since.”

Angus is the breed of choice on the family farm.  “We have 20 cows that have babies each year starting in February through March.  We also purchase about another 50 head from an Indiana producer when they are about 700 pounds and finish feeding them out for freezer beef.”   Abby and her family work hard to ensure proper nutrition, which produces delicious beef.  “We believe it starts with a quality diet and proper care.  We feed the steers corn that we raise and mix in a soybean-based supplement for additional protein.  They also eat grass or hay every day.  In addition, we provide ‘free choice’ mineral.  Basically, we leave tubs with mineral and salt and the cattle just know when they need to eat it.  I always say mineral is like the cow’s Flintstone Vitamin.  Of course, the cattle have access to clean water.  We feel a corn-based diet helps to yield beef that consumers desire--tender, well-marbled and delicious. The cows are fed quite differently.  We really just want to maintain their weight and keep them healthy so they can have healthy pregnancies and deliveries.  They also get free-choice mineral, as well as corn silage and hay in the winter and grass and hay in the summer.”

Abby says that she enjoys so much about her job.  She enjoys working with her family and teaching her kids about agriculture.  She also enjoys raising cattle and connecting families to their farm and the beef they raise.

Friday, May 1, 2015

I Am Indiana Agriculture: Kristin Flora

By Sarah Mahan of This Farm Family's Life

Kristin Flora and her husband Justin live in Avon with their 1 ½ year-old son, Gunner and are expecting a baby due in October.  Justin owns Flora Brothers Painting, along with his brother.  Kristin is a Purdue University graduate with a degree in Agribusiness Management and a minor in Communications.  She was very active in the College of Agriculture while at Purdue and continues to be active on campus by speaking in classes and at club meetings.  “I recently participated in the Leaders in Action program through Indiana Farm Bureau and had the opportunity to visit our Senators, Congressmen, and Congresswomen to lobby about issues that affect the agriculture industry.  It was a neat experience to be able to not just learn about issues, but be able to make our voice heard and make a difference.”

After Kristin’s parents graduated from Purdue University, they purchased their family farm shortly after she was born.  The farm is a  1,000  sow farrow-to-finish operation that markets approximately 20,000 pigs each year, and is still owned and managed by Kristin’s father and employs 8 people.  Kristin and her two other siblings were homeschooled through grade school “allowing more time to be spent following her dad around and learning the ropes.” 

“One of the fondest memories that I have from growing up on the farm is always feeling a sense of responsibility for the success of the farm.  I had chores from the time I could walk that taught me to always pull my weight and see what needed to be done.  I was blessed with parents who were very financially wise.  Rather than receiving an allowance, I was paid an hourly rate for my farm chores.  I would save up my hours and turn them in a month at a time.  My mom took me to the bank to cash my paycheck in small bills.  We would then divide the amount up and put 10% in the ‘church tithe’ envelope, 50% in the ‘college’ envelope and I was able to keep the remaining 40% as spending money.  With my 10 years of showing hogs in 4-H and taking a foods project that was sold in the auction, I would tithe 10% to our church and put the remaining 90% into my college savings account.  Although I thought all of these rules were completely unfair at the time, I am very thankful that I was able to cash flow all 4 years at Purdue with scholarships, college savings, and working between classes.  This gave me a leg up in the real world.”

While farming is in Kristin’s blood, she also gets to work with farmers every day.  A Corn Specialist for AgriGold Hybrids, Kristin works with growers to suggest the best hybrid seed choice with their ground.  “I love taking the time to sit down with my growers and make a field-by-field plan of what hybrid will be planted, what populations to plant at, and how to manage its nutrients throughout the growing season.  I scout their fields over the summer to check plant health and growth and to learn more about that field for future seed recommendations.”

Kristin wishes that others could see the heart that farmers put into their operations.  “One of the things I enjoy most about working with farmers is seeing their passion for what they do.  Farming isn’t just an 8 to 5 job behind a computer.  They care about their animals, about their land and the future.  Sharing in that passion has provided me not only a financially rewarding career, but more importantly, an emotionally fulfilling career.”

Thursday, April 16, 2015

I Am Indiana Agriculture: Tom Landrum

By Sarah Mahan of This Farm Family's Life

Tom Landrum is a Dairy Farm Supervisor for the Indiana State Board of Animal Health (BOAH). The third-generation dairy farmer resides on the family farm in Dearborn County.  The farm was purchased in 1916 by Tom’s grandfather.  “We milked cows up until 1990 when a tornado destroyed seven barns.  Since then, I have kept dry cows (a cow that isn’t lactating) and heifers on my farm while another dairy farmer milks the lactating cows.  My wife, Judy, has been a part of the farm operation since we married in 1979.  Judy drives tractors and helps manage the operation.  I have shown our Registered Milking Shorthorns at state, regional, and national shows since 1956.  I worked at Farm Credit Services for 30 years. After retiring from Farm Credit Services, I began working for BOAH in 2007 as the state farm supervisor.”

Tom Landrum (center) was recognized for his service to the Indiana State Board of Animal Health and the citizens of the state by Board Chairman Lawrence Stauffer, DVM (left) and State Veterinarian Bret D. Marsh, DVM (right).

Each Grade A dairy farm must be inspected by BOAH at least twice annually to check for compliance with state and federal regulations to produce milk for public consumption.  The division has 11 dairy inspectors who regularly visit each farm for compliance.  This involves evaluating cow care, equipment care, sanitation, and timeliness.  “The dairy division has the enforcement power to regulate dairy farms and ensure the milk they produce is safe and wholesome,” Tom says.  Inspecting a farm is no small task.

“The inspection begins at the mailbox,” Tom explains.  “We check for cleanliness of the entire operation.  We use a 19-point check system to score the cows, milk house, milking parlor, surrounding barns, water wells, and medication cabinets.  We inspect for proper care, proper location and administration of medications.  We look especially at the equipment condition and cleanliness.  We also monitor milking conditions, milk storage, milk sampling, and milk hauling.  All of these must meet the state and federal standards.  My job impacts Hoosiers by being a reliable safety net for milk.” 

BOAH’s dairy division permits and inspects Indiana’s 1200-plus dairy farms, 37 processing plants, 500 milk haulers (drivers), and more than 350 tanker trucks.  Indiana’s dairy farms range in size from 20 to 3000 cows, but, regardless of size, all farms receive the same level of inspection by BOAH staff.  “Dairy inspectors are also responsible for inspecting dairy product processing facilities in Indiana.  Every tanker load of milk is tested before processing to verify no contamination by antibiotics that may have been used on the farm.  Milk is the most highly regulated and closely inspected food product on the market.”

On modern dairy farms, the milk is never touched by human hands and is not exposed to contaminants.  “My job is important because the public wants to know where their food comes from and how the animals are treated.  I get to see and monitor much of this.  Dairy farmers are good, hardworking people, and I enjoy being around them.  Not many people see as many dairy farms and cows as I do.  I enjoy people and ‘good’ cows.” 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

I Am Indiana Agriculture: Don Villwock

By Sarah Mahan of This Farm Family's Life

Indiana Farm Bureau President Don Villwock farms 4,000 acres of corn, soybeans, seed soybeans and seed wheat in Knox County.  His ground is 100% no-till, which means it isn’t plowed or turned between plantings. That reduces soil erosion and aids in the preservation of soil nutrients.

Don has practiced no-tilling for 30 years and has also planted cover crops for almost that long.  Cover crops help build and improve soil in between planting of other crops.  He has also served as a Soil and Water Conservation District supervisor and hosted several soil health field days.  But he feels there is always “an opportunity to do more.” 

Don began practicing soil conservation in the 1970s by no-tilling double crop soybeans into wheat stubble.  This practice allows you to get two crops from one field in one year.  He says that no-tilling offers multiple advantages for his farm.  “For me, what got me started in no-till was the bottom line.  In the 70s, we were running on small margins and no-till allowed us to reduce our machinery costs and labor force while still maintaining the same yields.” 

On top of maintaining his yields, Don has won several awards in the National Corn Yield contest.  His conservation practices also get the attention of landlords who specifically seek out no-till farmers.
The no-till journey hasn’t always been easy.  “Planting corn after corn was a particular challenge,” Villwock says.  “It takes extra management, and we had to make sure we had a good stand row cleaner to allow us to meet our yield goals.” 

Don works closely with Barry Fisher of the Natural Resources Conservation Service to incorporate conservation practices on his farm.  “Barry is practical, pragmatic, and his experience on the land sets him apart.  He’s been with us every step of the way on the no-till journey.  The more we learn, the more we continue to improve.”

Thursday, March 19, 2015

IFOF Celebrates Ag Day at Statehouse

Organizations affiliated with Indiana’s Family of Farmers celebrated National Ag Day at the Statehouse. The group hosted a luncheon for legislators and staff while celebrating the role of farmers in the state.

“Let’s lift up all farmers,” said Indiana State Department of Agriculture Director Ted McKinney. “As we continue to progress in Indiana agriculture, let’s lift up the entire food chain. Let’s start before the farm gate and let’s celebrate past the consumer plate.”

The event featured a brief program. Members of the Indiana FFA state officer team read a proclamation signed by Governor Mike Pence declaring March as Ag Month in Indiana. The group recognized Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee chairwoman Jean Leising and House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee chairman Don Lehe as special guests.

Winners of the group’s essay contest were also recognized. The essay asked, “What are the benefits of Indiana agriculture?” Each winner received a $250 cash prize. In the 4th-6th grade category, Kendall Cash of Derby, Ind., took first place. Cash is a 4th grader at Perry Central Community School. She is the daughter of Calvin and Kelly Cash. Levi Spurgeon, a freshman at Indian Creek High School, won the 7th-9th grade category. Spurgeon is the son of Amy and Mathew Spurgeon of Trafalgar, Ind. The winner of the 10th-12th place category was Emily Dougherty of Greenwood. Dougherty is a junior at Whiteland Community High School. Her parents are Amy and Matt Dougherty.

National Ag Day is celebrated every year on or around the first day of spring.

Friday, March 13, 2015

We Are Indiana Agriculture: The Akers

By Sarah Mahan of This Farm Family's Life

Craig Akers and his wife, Lindsay, and their two daughters begin each day by collecting eggs from their 350 hens on their family-run hatchery.  The process begins by placing eggs in an incubator, where they stay for 21 days until the hatching occurs.  Akers choose not to bring poultry in from other locations, so they produce new hens out of the existing flock.  The chickens usually don’t start laying eggs until they’re about 5 months old.

Indiana is ranked No. 3 in the nation in egg production which means that the eggs in your refrigerator probably came from The Hoosier State.  In 2011, the Indiana Agriculture Statistics Service valued the state’s egg industry at more than $422 million, thanks to the success of both small-scale operations and large-scale operations.

 “We’re fairly self-sufficient, “Craig says.  “We raise our own chickens and breed for what the standard of that chicken is.” 

The family carefully monitors the birds and also grinds their own feed which consists of corn, alfalfa, calcium and a protein supplement.  They also make sure the chickens always have plenty of water.  “We have an automatic water system that catches rainwater and pipes it through the coops and buildings,” Craig says.  “But in the winter, we have to carry fresh water out to the chicken houses every day.”

Craig says that attention to detail is very important.  Since they don’t supply to grocery stores, being able to offer the best product to local consumers is vital.  “There are so many other places that people can go and get eggs, but we have very loyal customers that come to us year round in the snow, sun, or rain.  People like our product and what we do.”

Akers Hatchery produces between 15 dozen to 18 dozen eggs per day and also has chicks for sale, which allows consumers to start raising their own hens for eggs.  For visitors who drive to Akers Hatchery for eggs, the eggs were likely laid that morning.  Craig says, “I have even gone to gather eggs while people wait for them.”

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

We Are Indiana Agriculture: The Gillis Family

By Sarah Mahan of This Farm Family's Life

Elaine Gillis and her husband, Craig, farm corn and soybeans in Delaware, Blackford, and Jay counties.  They have an 8-year-old son, Adam, whom they anticipate will join them in the farming operations someday.  Additionally, Elaine assists Craig with their Beck’s Hybrids Seed dealership.  Farming has been a part of Elaine’s life for many years.  She grew up on a farm about 20 miles from where they currently farm.  “Farming is a way of life and a life that was born into my blood.  I don’t work outside the home; however, I do help operate the inventory in/out of our seed dealership, help with manual labor at spring planting, and drive the combine in the fall.  Additionally, I do contract work for an agricultural company, Beck Ag.”  

One of her fondest memories from growing up on a farm is the fall season.  “I love the smell of corn and beans on a chilly or cold evening.  It can’t be found anywhere else, but on the farm.  I also remember the late evenings, listening to the augers empty grain into the grain bins and having fun playing with my brothers and cousins in the barn lot while my dad was working in the fields.”

Elaine and Craig are the third generation to farm the family farm.  “Craig’s grandfather came directly from Belgium and started to farm upon his arrival to the States,” Elaine explains.  Craig’s dad Richard and his brother, Joe, join are also active on the farm.”

When asked what she enjoys most about farming, Elaine stated, “The sense of accomplishment watching a crop grow throughout the season and seeing how plants adjust during adverse conditions during the growing season.  To me, this represents so much of life and how we adjust to different conditions when they are presented.  It’s amazing what the possibilities are when we take care of our soil, the plants, and our water supply, and this is evidenced in the adaptability and success of the plant.”

Elaine currently serves on the United Soybean Board, representing the Indiana Soybean Alliance.  The Gillis family is also one of the feature families in the Glass Barn at the Indiana State Fair.  Additionally, Elaine serves on the Indiana Soybean Board Organizational Committee to spread the word about the many uses for soybeans and the good work soybean farmers do.

“Agriculture is not just a job for many of us in the business.  It is a true love for the land and a true effort of stewardship to our environment.   In our business, we do things to be able to strengthen our operations so that we can pass our business to the next generation.  We plan to take care of things now so they are available and stronger for the future.”