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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. {DaddysTractor.com}

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. {DaddysTractor.com}

Making me very grateful.

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

Farming is more than a career.

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

It’s a lifestyle.

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

And a pretty amazing one at that.

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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.”

Grant_Wood_-_American_Gothic_-_Google_Art_Project

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.

planter

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.

drone

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?

pepper

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.

groundedparentspic

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 skepchick.org has a post with other ideas you can help with.  GroundedParents.com 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

Horsing Around

I’m in Springfield today, at Missouri State (go Bears!) with my ALOT class. I’ve posted pictures of our D.C. advocating experience, showed our Monsanto tour, and told you about ethanol. In out quest to learn about all aspects of ag I’m currently sitting on bleachers watching students demonstrate horse techniques!   

    
 
Missouri State is doing interesting work because many people, not just those in agriculture, love horses. Being around these amazing animals is a great way to bridge the gap for college students- teaching them the hard work involved in the care of any animal. 

But being here is giving me ideas. I wonder if a horse would be happy in my goat pen…

Categories: Science | 1 Comment

My Tour of An Ethanol Plant

My tour of an ethanol plant

I’m about to leave again for my third ALOT trip of the summer and I haven’t posted anything about our second trip!  We did So Many Things on our trip across Northeast Missouri.  I’ve lived in this state my whole life and I’d never experienced anything like these tours.  We saw a dairy/addiction rehab operation, watched ham and bacon from start to finish, learned how to capture cow manure for methane gas, and even visited an Amish sawmill.  And then there was this tour.

My tour of an ethanol plant

This is an ethanol plant– a place where corn is turned into fuel for your car.

My tour of an ethanol plant

The plant manager explained all about the process and the product and then showed us around the facility.  Not sure I’d ever thought about it, but the ethanol in your gasoline is almost 200 proof alcohol.

My tour of an ethanol plant

Wouldn’t have guessed that.

My tour of an ethanol plant

Actually, an ethanol plant is pretty much a brewery.  The corn is ground up and separated into parts.  Dry flakes can be feed to cattle, the liquid is boiled, yeast is added, and the water is evaporated off.  In the pic above you can see the bubbles from the yeast.  And watch out.  This stuff gets HOT!

My tour of an ethanol plant

After it comes out of the evaporation process they add something to the alcohol to make it unfit for human consumption.  If they didn’t all this product would be under the same regulations as regular alcohol– and the same taxes!

My tour of an ethanol plant

I thought the most interesting part of the tour was seeing how they manage the plant.  The entire facility brought 40 jobs to a small town, but only five or so are needed to oversee the process of making the ethanol because everything is done from the (blessedly air conditioned) office.

My tour of an ethanol plant

Two guys watch the monitors, checking for changes and using a radio system to call for someone to look at tank four or whatever.

Next time you pull up to a gas pump, check the ethanol content in your fuel and think of farmers. American corn, processed in American plants, made by American workers is being used to move your car down the road.

I like the sound of that.

Categories: Science | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

The Japanese Art of Getting Rid of All Your Stuff

The Japanese Art of Getting Rid of All Your Stuff

If you haven’t heard about KonMari, you’re probably not on Facebook enough.  (Congratulations!)  Marie Kondo wrote The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanses Art of Decluttering and Organizing a few years ago, but the phenomenon recently hit the US.  She teaches you how to have a tidier house by getting rid of the clutter, i.e. everything.

The Japanese Art of Getting Rid of All Your Stuff

I can’t really explain the book, so you have to read the real thing if you’re interested.  But you start with clothes, hold everything you own, and instead of choosing what to get rid of you choose what to keep– only things that bring you joy.  The distinction is surprisingly more important than you’d think.

The Japanese Art of Getting Rid of All Your Stuff

When I started I thought I didn’t have a lot of clutter, since our house is an older home with little storage space.  I was wrong.  Using Marie’s criteria I’ve gotten rid of more than half of each category I’ve “KM’ed” (that’s KonMaried).

The Japanese Art of Getting Rid of All Your Stuff

But, #farmmomproblems, I don’t have good place for a yard sale.

The Japanese Art of Getting Rid of All Your Stuff

And I have So Much Stuff.  (That’s crafts, not scrapbooking.)

The Japanese Art of Getting Rid of All Your Stuff

Homeschool.  Not this year’s curriculum.

So what every country girl needs is a friend in the city.  Hopefully a super great friend with prime garage sale real estate.  And then you’ll need a couple of pick-up trucks to haul everything down and a few days to sit outside with your laptop while writing blog posts and re-pricing items that lost their stickers.

Japanese Art of Tidying

And you’re set.

KonMarie8

Now if only I could get rid of all the dishes so I wouldn’t need to wash them…

Categories: Family | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Better Make Hay

You’ve heard the expression, “better make hay while the sun still shines?”  It falls in the same category as “shake a leg” or “get a move on.”  And while I have no idea how shaking your leg helps get any work done, “better make hay” isn’t just a saying for us.

Better Make Hay While the Sun Still Shines

Baling hay tends to get put on the back burner because there aren’t many cows on our row-crop farm.

Better Make Hay While the Sun Still Shines

The tractor on the left pulls the mower, which does what any mower does.  Behind that is a tractor pulling the red and yellow rake.  The rake pulls the cut grass into rows, ready for the baler.

Better Make Hay While the Sun Still Shines

The tractor drives over the rows of grass and the baler sucks them up, winding the grass around and around until the bale is big enough.

Better Make Hay While the Sun Still Shines

Then you open the baler and the hay rolls out.  (Funny story, round bales roll.  You have to be careful opening a baler on a hill.  There’s a surprising amount of physics in farming.)

All this, of course, depends on any number of things– most importantly the weather.

Fresh cut grass has water in it which evaporates as the grass dries to hay.  Baling dry hay is very important because wet hay will continue to “cure” after it’s baled and the steam inside a wet bale can actually cause the whole thing to smolder and smolder until your hay bale goes up in flames.

Better Make Hay While the Sun Still Shines

We rely a lot on the National Weather Service when we cut hay.  We need a minimum of two sunny days in a row, one for the grass to dry and another to do the baling.  But since no one can predict the future we often see rows of hay like the photos–wet.

Better Make Hay While the Sun Still Shines

This hay was cut with a 0% chance of rain, only to experience several inches and a hail storm.  At this point all you can do is hope it stops raining and the hay can dry out again.

And when you’ve got a sunny day, well, better shake a leg.

Categories: Animals, Farming | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Oh Hail

Hail damage on the farm

Just a day or so ago these were thriving, healthy bean plants.

Hail damage on the farm

Then came the hail.

Hail damage on the farm

A massive downpour and so much falling ice that it destroyed our crops in a matter of minutes.

Hail damage on the farm

And there was nothing we could do.

Hail damage on the farm

These leaves are useless to the plant now.  No more photosynthesis.  No more energy.  No more crop.

Hail damage on the farm

There is insurance.  But this is heartbreaking.  This is farming.

Categories: Farming | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

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