Monthly Archives: September 2015

Not Your Grandpa’s Combine

There is so much more to farming than you’d ever think.  I’ve been here for eleven years and I’m still amazed.  Last week I had a great time visiting a neighbor’s farm to see how they calibrate their combine monitor for accurate harvest data– and believe me, this is not your Grandpa’s combine!

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

A combine’s monitor senses the grain coming in and records how much is being harvested.  This lets you know right then how well the field did.  On Bray Farms, Brad used this field to test two different brands of seed, filling half his planter with each type.  Now as he harvests he can see exactly how well each brand did.

That is, he can see exactly if his monitor is working correctly.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

To calibrate the combine’s monitor Brad first harvests a small sample of corn.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

He gets a reading from the monitor,

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

and then unloads the corn into a weigh wagon equiped with scales.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

This wagon belongs to Cory Robinson of CR Seeds & Services.  He’ll be busy this fall taking it to many farm fields to calibrate monitors and checking to see if the seed he sold is working well for his customers.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

Now the wagon weighs the corn as well.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

And Cory will check the grain for a few other things while he’s at it.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

This tests the percentage of moisture in the corn.  Usually the places you sell corn to want “dry” corn, about 15%.  Brad’s was measuring closer to 19%, which means he’ll need to dry it before it can be sold.  As fall progresses the corn will dry out in the field and less air drying will be necessary.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

Cory also uses this little thingamajig (technical term) to find the test weight of the corn– also important when you sell the grain.  Once the tests are done Cory unloads his weigh wagon back onto Brad’s semis, which take the grain back to the dryer.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

Then Cory gives Brad the numbers to put into the combine’s monitor.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

Look at the last line.  The second column tells what the combine believes the total weight of the load to be. A simple click to the third column allows Brad to input the weigh wagon’s results.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

And the monitor will calibrate itself in just a moment to give you the most correct results.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

This was Brad’s third test (bottom three rows– top two are from 2014) and the total was 3 pounds off– 0.0%.  The monitor will retroactively change the data from whatever has already been harvested and Brad will have accurate maps he can use to submit to his insurance agent (insurance is based on a five year average for a field), use to plan how much grain to sell, and compare to his planting or fertilizer maps to see what seed is working well and what nutrients the crop may need.

This modern world of agriculture is pretty cool.

Categories: Farming | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Why Didn’t I Think of that Sooner Homeschool Ideas

We start slowly into our homeschool year in August, but we’ve been in full swing for about a month now.  This is our fourth “official” year and for any of you struggling out there I just wanted to say, it’s finally coming together.  And since I’m banging my head wondering why I didn’t think of these ideas sooner, I thought I’d share what’s working for us in homeschooling.

Why Didn't I Think of That Sooner Homeschool Ideas

For clarification, I’ve got a 3rd grader, a K/1st grader, and a two year old with special needs.  I’ve recently started working from home, plus this blog, and a husband who works long, hard days.  We’ve got farm animals and community responsibilities and a house that doesn’t clean itself.  I know what busy looks like.  Actually, I’m quite familiar with crazy.

Previously our days were a hodgepodge of schoolwork and housework and disagreements and bribery with a fair amount of getting lost on Facebook and sneaking candy my kids didn’t know about.  We learned.  But it wasn’t what I wanted.

This year it’s finally going better.

This year when school starts I quit being mom, housewife, blogger and become teacher.  I’m focused, the way I want them to be.  Sure, sometimes I run a load of dishes.  But mostly I don’t.  No computer, no iPad, less phone.  I want them to know this is important to me.  That mind-set is making a difference.

Why Didn't I Think of That Sooner Homeschool Ideas

A couple of books I read this summer also helped me rearrange my living space.  I really thought about the square footage in our home compared to the use we get out of it.  For us that meant converting the home-business office into the school room and a massive overhaul of how we handle paperwork.  To help with the toddler/homeschool situation I had a garage sale and used the money to put bar-height tables where the office used to be.  I now love this whole paragraph.

I also took a look at the subjects we must cover (Missouri requires 600 hours in math, language arts, science and social studies) versus important extras (religion, PE, art, etc.).  I’m working to combine them in practical ways.  My favorite example is journals.  We were writing typical prompts– “what I did yesterday”, “what I like about fall”, etc..  Now we’re journaling everyday in response to our devotion.  Same time frame.  Same skills.  Whole new meaning, and it’s a core subject.

Why Didn't I Think of That Sooner Homeschool Ideas

One thing I thought was a concession has turned out to be a blessing.  I had never used a computer-based teaching programs because, well, I guess I thought homeschooling meant I should be doing the teaching.  But homeschooling is so much more than subjects.  By using Teaching Textbooks for math I have more energy to devote to phonics or to make a social studies project happen or to help them create their own cookbook just because they want to.

So it’s taken three years to reach a clicking point.  Naturally it’s still not perfect.  But it is good.  I mean, I’ve been a parent for eight and a half years and I’m still waiting to feel confident in that. 🙂

What made homeschool click for you?

Categories: Homeschool | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

My Own Front Yard

While we wait for the ground to dry out and harvest to kick into high gear I’ve been using my new camera (the old one was dropped one too many times!) to capture the beauty in my own front yard.

My own front yard. The beauty of fall #harvest15. {}

As we drove to church yesterday I noticed the balconies on a set of apartment buildings.  Small platforms, maybe 4 x 6 feet where families store a bicycle or two, maybe a potted plant.

My own front yard. The beauty of fall #harvest15. {}

Making me very grateful.

My own front yard. The beauty of fall #harvest15. {}

Farming is more than a career.

My own front yard. The beauty of fall #harvest15. {}

It’s a lifestyle.

My own front yard. The beauty of fall #harvest15. {}

And a pretty amazing one at that.

Categories: Family | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When is An Inch of Rain Welcome in September?

Rain during spring planting can be looked on as a good thing; rain is necessary for crops to grow. But rain during harvest?  All it does is slow you down.

So when is an inch of rain a welcome blessing in September?

When the combine runs a board through the head while driving through the field and you have to tear the whole thing apart to fix it.

Rain 3

When the part you need to fix the combine head has to be shipped from three states away.

When your farmer signs up for professional development programs and must travel to D.C. during prime harvest time.

Rain 2

When you really, really, really need someone to fix the dishwasher.

When you really, really, really need someone to wrangle the kids.

When we’re all tired of family dinners consisting of Subway sandwiches at the edge of a field.

Rain 1

When the average amount of sleep you’re farmer has had per night is less than the number of days since you saw him last.

When God sends the rain and there’s nothing you can do about it anyway!

Categories: Family, Farming | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Picture A Modern Farmer

The AgWired team has been busy at the Farm Progress Show, so I’ve been reading, writing, and posting lots of information about everything new in agriculture.  I’ve been wading through information about ag app developers, tweeting John Deere’s newest tractor capabilities, and watching drones take flight.  Which got me thinking.

Despite being eighty-five years old, American Gothic is too often the picture that comes to mind when you mention “farmer.”


It would be harder to find something farther from the truth.  In fact, today’s farmers use as much technology as anyone in Silicon Valley.  Let me try to paint that picture for you.

We call it “precision farming.”  First, you might hire a company to come to your field and mark it off in a grid.  A bit of soil is taken from every square on the grid, carefully recorded and tracked.  These soil samples are then sent to a science lab and tested.

A picture of today's modern farmer

It’s then possible to take the maps with those results and upload them to a device in your tractor.  The right kind of equipment can read those maps as the tractor drives through the field and make changes in the amount of fertilizer placed in each grid square so you put on exactly what is needed.  The same idea can happen as you’re planting– putting more seeds in good soil and fewer on thinner ground.

GPS and auto-steer mean the tractor can drive along its path by satellite, with less than one inch of error along the way.  GPS also lets the planter know where it’s been and each row can shut off as the equipment drives over a spot that has already been planted.  Expect the same for the machine that sprays crop protection products over the field.  Automatic shut-off means no waste, no excess.


As the plants grow, farmers can now keep a watchful eye on disease and pests that might ruin a crop with the use of an Unmanned Ariel Vehicle (UAV) or drone.  Or a livestock farmer may use a drone to check cattle grazing on large acreages.


Monitors right in the field can let a farmer know when an irrigation system needs to be turned on, most likely through an alert on his phone.  The farmer can often turn the water on from his phone too.  Fruit and tree growers have access to the same smartphone technology to alert for frost, and animal farmers can check their barns while sitting at a soccer game.

And then there’s harvest.  Combines create maps as they move across the field, recording the yield as it goes along.  These maps can be overlaid with spring planting maps for even more information.  All of that may be tracked with another app from a smartphone.

Modern agriculture is a long way from pitchforks and overalls.

Categories: Farming, Technology | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dear Gwyneth, Knowing Tony Stark Doesn’t Make You a Science Expert

Call me crazy, but I’m getting kind of tired of celebrities being treated like scientists.  Or experts.  Or important sources of information for anything other than movies/sports/music.

If Gwyneth Paltrow didn’t already learn from the food stamp debacle that American moms do not relate to her, she’s gone and done it again.  She (and many other celebrity moms) have been speaking out against GMOs and the Food Labeling Act.

Because Pepper Potts does science?


And not even that because Pepper is actually running the company, Tony does the science.

So her fictional character knows another fictional character (although can Thor please be real?!) that does science.  Ergo, real-life celebrity, millionaire mom has the credentials to speak out on bioengineering.

Got it.

If Washington listens to this grandstanding I’ll think even less of our politicians than I do now.

Here’s my crazy idea.

What if, instead of listening to famous people we listened to people who actually know.  People with degrees in science, agriculture, biology, that sort of thing.  People who have families too.  Moms and dads who grow food by day and feed it to their kids each night.  Parents who don white lab coats at work that wouldn’t stay white for three seconds at home.  People who need safe, affordable food for their children.

There is a group of such people who are speaking out.  They are scientists and farmers, nurses and med students, moms and dads uniting collective voices to be heard over the babble of Hollywood.   They are #Moms4GMOs.


Right now you can go to their webpage and sign an open letter to Gwyneth Paltrow, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ginnifer Goodwin, Sarah Gilbert, Jillian Michaels, Jordana Brewster, and all the other celebrity moms who love their children but have no understanding of what it takes to grow food for a growing nation.  Type in your name, email, town and a signature stating who you are and why you care.

You can also use the hashtag #Moms4GMOs on social media.  Tweet Gwyneth Paltrow (@GwynethPaltrow), Sarah Michelle Gellar (@sarahMGellar), Jordana Brewster (@JordanaBrewster), and Jillian Michaels (@JillianMichaels) with a link to the letter.  Post the letter to their Facebook pages too, politely asking them to read it. Kavin Senapathy at has a post with other ideas you can help with. also has #Moms4GMOs and #Dads4GMOs buttons you can download for your Facebook page.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m a huge fan of Pepper and Tony and Thor (did I mention Thor?).

But when it comes to bioengineering?  I’ll go with science thank you.

Categories: Science | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Are GMOs 100% Safe?

I’m so excited to bring you this post!  Guesting today is Mommy PhD, a mom and scientist who has thoroughly studied the food she feeds her family.  I met her via Facebook a few months ago and it seems only fitting that Mommy PhD and Daddy’s Tractor would teaming up to help your family make informed decisions! 😉

While the scientific consensus about the safety genetically engineered crops (GMOs) is very well established, many people remain unconvinced, largely based on misinformation spread by activists and organizations funded by the organic industry. Anti-GMO activists often ask scientists to prove that GMOs are 100% safe.

However, this is the wrong question.

It is impossible to prove anything is 100% safe and, in reality, nothing is 100% safe. Everything comes with a risk and safety is always relative. The real measure of risk regarding GMOs is the relative risk compared to non-GMO food. The question that should be asked is:

Are there increased risks associated with each GMO product compared to its non-GMO counterpart?

Science has told us the answer – GMOs are at least as safe as non-GMOs. There is essentially no difference between the two in terms of risk.

Let’s take a step back from the details of the science and talk a bit about general concepts of risk and risk assessment to understand what this means in terms of GMOs.

The basics of risk assessment

Humans, on the whole, are intuitively terrible at assessing risk in our own lives (even those who are trained in statistics). Just look at the popularity of casinos!  We make bad assumptions and make the wrong comparisons when we consider risk in our own lives.

Emotions cloud our assessment of risk.

We are bad at assigning value to long-term risks and benefits; we have an innate tendency to focus on the short-term. We also think in very small sample sizes (after all, what happens to me and my family must be most important, right?) and not in terms of populations (which is how epidemiological statistics are calculated). We overestimate the risk of the unfamiliar and what we don’t understand. A familiar example of our innate misapplication of risk is that we tend to be less apprehensive about getting in the car every morning than we do about getting on a plane. In reality, the risk of injury or death from a car accident is much higher than the risk from flying on a plane, which is the safest mode of transportation in the US.

Let’s consider the example of heart disease and smoking (with some made up numbers) to understand the essentials of risk assessment in health and safety. Our natural tendency is to look at the risk of heart disease in smokers and attribute the entire risk in that population to smoking. However, the risk due to smoking is only the risk that occurs in excess of the rate of heart disease in the general population.

Looking at the graphic, let’s pretend the top group is non-smokers (or the general population) and the bottom group is smokers (or people in some other at risk group). The people in yellow do not have heart disease and the people in red have heart disease. The base rate is 2 in 100 or 2% in the general population. The absolute risk in smokers is 8 in 100 or 8%. The relative risk is 4 because we divide 8% by 2%. In this example, smoking increases the risk of heart disease by 4. This relative risk is the magic number that tells us how much additional risk of heart disease is attributable to smoking.

Risk assessments in health

This gets more complicated when you consider that most behaviors, medications, and other choices we make have both risks and benefits. Some treatments have side effects. Some behaviors that are good for you might also have risks (for example, you might have a greater risk of injury if you exercise). So now we have to consider many more variables. We also have to weigh how much risk is tolerable to gain a benefit and the risks and benefits of doing nothing.

What does this all have to do with GMOs?

What all that risk assessment stuff above means for consumers and is that safety is relative to whatever you would do otherwise.

So the relevant question is not: “Is this GMO crop safe?” It is: “Is this GMO crop at least as safe as its non-GMO counterpart?”

Or, in science-speak, “Are there increased risks associated with this GMO crop compared to those associated with its non-GMO counterpart?” We ask what the base level of risk is and assess whether any particular GMO poses any risks in excess of that base level.

This question has been answered for all currently available GMOs.

The risks are assessed compared to the alternative. GMOs are the most well studied and tested food in our food supply. Layla Katiraee at Biofortified wrote a great description of how these studies are designed and carried out earlier this year. GMOs undergo intense scrutiny by the EPA, USDA and EPA prior to deregulation (meaning before they can be sold to consumers). In contrast, non-GMO crops require no approval no matter what genetic modification techniques were used to create them, even if genetic engineering techniques change far fewer genes than other techniques (this actually represents a higher risk from non-GMOs compared to GMOs, although still very small). We also do not screen these non-GMOs for allergens, even when a large number of genes are changed. In contrast, allergen screening for GMOs is extensive.  For non-GMOs, we recognize that even if we change a large number of genes, an apple is still an apple and these do not require any testing. However, for GMOs, even if we change one base in one gene, we subject this crop to years (sometimes decades) and millions of dollars worth of testing.

This stringent scrutiny of GMOs is unscientific and arbitrary. However, it does provide us with an awful lot of data about GMOs. What all this data shows us is that there is no increased risk associated with any current GMOs – for allergies, for food safety, for nutritional content, for environmental impact – compared to their non-GMO counterparts. In fact, for some nutritionally enhanced crops (like Golden Rice), they can actually be healthier. This is why every major scientific and regulatory agency that has reviewed the data on GMOs has found that all currently available GMOs are at least as safe their non-GMO counterparts. This information isn’t hidden or secret. GENERA (Genetic Risk Engineering Atlas) is a public database of over 1,000 studies of GMOs assembled by Biofortified, an independent non-profit.

Let’s revisit our question: Are GMOs at least as safe as their non-GMO counterparts?
Yes. As I explained above, the evidence shows, over and over and over, that there is no increased risk associated with growing or eating GMOs.

Categories: Food, Science | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

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