I feel very fortunate as a grain and livestock farmer, as well as, a member of my family’s retail Crop Protection business, to interact every day, every hour, and every minute with good ole’ Mother Earth! Honestly, my therapy is putting my hands in the soil; all the stress extends out through my fingers, and I walk away feeling light as a feather! Often times, “us farmers” like to use the term “stewards.” Well, to make sure I got this right, I went to Webster’s Online Dictionary and found the definition: Stewardship: the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.
This definition strikes an even deeper cord with me. My husband and I are expecting our first little one this fall. Stewardship could also be another word for pregnancy. (If you have ever been pregnant or are a father than you can totally relate to the following). I tell ya, I have never been so good about drinking all my milk, eating my whole grains, and all of my veggies and fruits. (I don’t have any trouble eating lean animal protein, meat has always been a favorite for me). In addition, I monitor about every other detail of my life, from not consuming caffeine to staying away from sweets. I also refrain from heavy lifting and I stay active without overdoing it. While at times I find it very tedious, and I’d just like to go living my life “willy nilly,” I know that the best chance of having a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby is to monitor and manage all of the details of my life.
Farming is no different. Farmers don’t go about their farms “willy nilly.” (Please note, I am the only farmer who has ever used the term “willy nilly”). Careful thought and research, and even more time consuming, tedious management practices get implemented on farms all over Indiana and the United States, so that farmers can produce safe, affordable, and nutritious food. Another word for farmer could be steward.
So in honor of Earth Day, I thought I‘d post some pictures of what my family farm does to protect and improve our most precious resources.
While I really don’t like all of this rain we are getting, the pictures of the grassed waterways really help to illustrate why you sometimes see strips of grass meandering through a field. Grassed waterways are constructed in the low-lying areas of a field. That way when it rains cats and dogs, the excess water flows through the waterways, which allows for a dramatic reduction of soil erosion. After all, without soil, farmers wouldn’t be able to grow all of the crops that we do. Honestly, soil is as important to a farmer as air is to your lungs! Once soil is eroded, it can never be replaced.
We installed these filter strips next to ditches and creeks that run through our fields. This strip of grass provides a buffer to stop soil erosion and ensure that fertilizers and plant pharmaceuticals stay in the field and don’t go into the water. In addition, both filter strips and grassed waterways provide habitat for birds and other wildlife. Farmers will not mow these areas until August or after to give the birds time to lay their eggs and raise their young.
This is a first for our farm this year. We planted about 150 acres of annual ryegrass immediately after we harvested our soybeans last fall. The ryegrass provides many important benefits; the roots of the ryegrass grow very deep, several feet in fact, which opens up pathways in the soil which help to improve drainage. In addition, as the roots and shoots die, they will add important organic matter back to the soil. We planted the ryegrass on fields that have some slight hills on them. When we get these big rains, as we have received recently, it will help hold the soil in place while reducing erosion.
On top of all of this, my family believes strongly in no-tilling. No-tilling is basically not taking any plow out to the field and turning over the soil. Instead, we leave the crop residue (corn stalks and bean stubble) out on the field after we harvest and then in the spring, plant directly into the field. No-tilling also helps reduce soil erosion and increases soil porosity.
As I mentioned earlier, my family also raises beef cattle. We make sure the cattle are fed a well-rounded diet consisting of corn, a soybean based supplement to add protein to their diet, and many forages such as hay and grass out on the pasture. Herd health is of prime importance, the veterinarian stops in for routine checks on the herd. We give vaccination shots just as you do to your children, pregnancy check the cows, and also give them de-wormers in the fall. As the cows graze on the pastures they digest worms and pick up lice, not a real pleasant thought, but we take care of that problem for them! Also, if they get sick, we treat them. Usually, they just need a quick dose of antibiotic. My family believes strongly in keeping our cows healthy and happy. After all, it’s just plain disrespectful to the cow or steer to let them go on being sick and ignore them.
The other day, I upgraded my cell phone and entered the world of the iPhone. Seriously, this phone may be smarter than me. I still haven’t quite figured out all of the features, but totally love the grocery list app I downloaded, as well as, checking my email whenever I want. Most people would be surprised with the technology on today’s farms. Posted are some pictures of our dry fertilizer spreader truck. This truck has two different bins where I can apply two different fertilizers at the same time. This means one trip across the field, using less fuel, reducing compaction, and increasing my time. My husband also pulls soil samples from the fields and writes fertilizer recommendations. I load up maps of the fields and put fertilizer exactly where it needs it in the field. That way, every area of the field gets exactly the right amount of fertilizer required, not too much or too little. The fertilizer rate changes constantly throughout the field. This also helps reduce cost to the farmer, while maximizing yield. This is just a small example of the technology farmers are using.
My Grandpa always said you really don’t own the land, God just made us the caretakers of it. My family’s goal is to be the best stewards we can be and to leave the land in better shape than when we received it. We want to make sure our footprint on this earth is small while we produce food to help feed the World.