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Fire Fighting Farm Family

January 31, 2014

“I smell smoke.” That was the calm observation of our son, which catapulted our family into a grass fire fighting frenzy.

It was about 10 p.m. on Wednesday when we looked outside to see our farmyard ablaze. We learned later that a cord to a heater in a stock water tank shorted out, sending a spark into the nearby dry grass. The fire came up from the south behind our red barn and, because of the wind, went around it and then back north toward our house.

The 911 operator gave this advice: “Do not try to put it out yourself,” which we had to ignore. We live 10 miles from the nearest small town and rely on a volunteer fire department. I can’t imagine what we would have lost if we followed that sound advice.

So, we threw on boots and winter coats and rushed outside. My family was nothing short of amazing. V. hooked up hoses in the dark and started spraying water near the barn. He then set up our daughter with a hose by the house. Our son grabbed the fire extinguisher and worked the fire around the house propane tank. I went over to another structure, which has another hydrant, and began tossing out buckets of water. We then gathered west of the house to stomp out fire heading toward a row of trees.

The constant wind kept the fire moving, but the grass was short. That meant we could just follow the fire line and stomp along the way.

The fire crew arrived with just a few feet of fire left and they helped survey the area in the dark, looking for embers that could spark back up. We were thankful to see them!

We came in the house, stunned, around midnight, showered and tried to sleep. The wee hours of the night included many trips to the window, hoping we hadn’t missed any sparks.

It was chilling to look at the burn pattern the next day. I don’t know how we managed to avoid damage to structures. I think it was a matter of minutes — 10 minutes later and the red barn could have been in trouble.

Now, we breathe deeply, replace fire extinguishers and hope spring comes early and greens up our farmyard.

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I’m a day late in bringing you the update from Month 9 — harvest! We officially started cutting wheat on June 22. This year’s start was a little later than usual. We generally start cutting by Father’s Day. However, the wheat crop took a little longer to dry down because of the high humidity. We checked fields a couple days earlier, but the kernels were still soft — you could make a dent with your fingernail.

After several days of blistering temperatures and winds, the wheat was ripe. V. says you can hear when it’s ready. It rustles as it waves in the wind.

Ripe Winter Wheat June 2013

 

I enjoyed some time riding in the combine with V. (A combine is the machinery that cuts the wheat in the field and separates the kernel from the rest of the plant.) Mostly, I’m on the “support crew,” helping with meals, supply runs, chores, etc. We’re lucky in that we only have to haul wheat about three miles to the nearest grain elevator (a facility that stores grain in large steel or concrete bins).

The condition of the crop? We saw the toll from the late freezes. The stems in some areas were weakened and that wheat laid over. The combines were able to pick up most of it. Besides that, the yields looked good. We’re surprised and pleased after the rollercoaster growing season.

V. sums it up with this statement: “I love wheat harvest and I hate wheat harvest.” I know he wouldn’t have it any other way. Me either.

Here are a few scenes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPb4QM4JuJ8

Thanks for following our crop this year. The 2014 crop starts now.

Calling All Eaters

March 19, 2013

Happy Ag Day everyone!

I thought I’d share the presentation I did for TEDxICT last year, “Calling All Eaters.” Hope it provides some insights into ways we all can connect with agriculture.

As the U.S. Department of Agriculture says, “Every family needs a farmer.” I’d like to add that every farmer needs a family. Together, we feed the world.

Also, here’s a link to the slides in the talk, http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=7341369&trk=tab_pro.

Thanks for reading and watching.

We are a third generation wheat farm. The changes in technology have been staggering since Grandpa’s day. And yet, each year starts the same, with seeds in dirt.

Kansas Winter Wheat, Oct. 12, 2012

These winter wheat seedlings are about 16 days old. How does my farmer describe conditions? “Dry.” There was enough surface moisture for plants to sprout, but subsoil moisture is very poor.

The good news is that the seeds have sprouted. The bad news is that even though harvest won’t happen until next June, the seeds are determining yield now based on soil conditions. We need rain, soon.

Rain will also help the wheat plants establish a good stand to protect against harsh winter conditions. Snow is good, but strong winds can damage the plants. Also, this field, which was planted a little earlier than other fields, will be used as winter pasture for cattle. A plant with a good root structure can stay in place when the cattle munch.

I thought you might like to see the progression of our wheat crop, so this field and I will check in with you next month.

Kansas Winter Wheat Field, Oct. 12, 2012

2012 wheat harvest is off to a record start.

Wheat harvest is off to a record start this year . We started cutting on Saturday, May 26. That’s 15 days earlier than our previous record start date, according to my farmer-in-law, who has kept a daily journal for years and years.

We had high hopes for our crop this year (and every year). We had good planting conditions last fall and good moisture during the growing season. However, by mid-April and early May, temperatures turned hot and the rains stopped. The plants were tall, but we get paid on the weight of the kernels, not the vegetation. We worried about the wheat kernels drying too fast. Small, hard kernels weigh less than plump, hard kernels. Wheat is priced per bushel, with each bushel of wheat weighing 60 pounds.

We do quick calculations throughout harvest. We’re still early, but yields look OK. We won’t know for sure until the last scale ticket from the co-op.

Each harvest has memorable moments. The best of the year so far: Grandpa let D. steer the combine. I was riding with V. and we could see both of them smiling from ear to ear. (We were, too.)

D.’s take afterward: “Grandpa says I’m a natural.”

Looking forward to another day of harvest memories.

This is how I know. I never hung that mirror that is so handy in the utility room. That dining room wall clock is not my style, but I would never think to move it. There are canning jars and baby bottles that were stashed in the cellar before I was born.

I am the third generation to live in this old farm house. I am the third mother that cleaned after her kids and worried about her kids and thanked God for her kids. I am the third wife that loved her husband with all her might.

Sometimes, I wonder about living in a house that was only mine, that I helped design or pick out. But, then, especially at the holidays, it’s so warm to share Darlene and Marie’s home.

Convention or family reunion?

November 20, 2011

American Agri-Women at the 36th annual national convention.

American Agri-Women at the 36th annual national convention.

American Agri-Women (AAW) recently held its annual national convention — its 36th — in Wichita. Our convention had the framework of any other convention: keynote speakers, breakout sessions, officer elections and awards ceremony. That’s where the similarity stopped.

First, this convention was entirely coordinated by volunteers. There was not one “staffer.” Members secured the location, speakers and sponsors; arranged tours and meals; coordinated the business proceedings; devised out-of-the-ballpark themes and decorations; and attended to every last detail from registration forms to audio-visual needs to workshop signage.

Members didn’t just attend sessions in bland, sound-proof conference rooms. We broke free to venture out to see ag operations — grain elevator, wildlife preserve, ethanol plant and more.

And, perhaps most distinctively, members embraced each other as family. This family doesn’t share genetics. Instead we share a passion for agriculture. “Passion” is one of those overused marketing words. However, there is no other word that fits.

Members of other professional organizations share a loose bond, often based on occupation or industry, such as marketing, PR, etc., etc. AAW members share a lifestyle, a heritage, a legacy — producing food, fiber or fuel. We either live on family farms, go back to work on our family farms, or support family farms in our businesses.

We didn’t just listen politely during presentations. We asked questions. We challenged. And, we sometimes disagreed. Ag is serious business, after all, with major obstacles to how our legacy survives, and how we produce goods in a sustainable, responsible and profitable manner. Only a family can stand up to that kind of challenge.

There’s always room for more at the family table. So, if you eat, consider joining us: www.americanagriwomen.org.

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