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Technology

Digging in the Dirt!

Why do little boys grow up to be farmers?  Simple.  They can continue to play in the dirt!  This week Daddy and Grandpa have been working to dig trenches for water and electric lines to the new shed.  In addition to the dirt, this project also involves a backhoe, which is even more fun.  Daddy knew he wouldn’t be the only one to think this, so he captured 10 minutes or so of the backhoe doing its work for Brett and Anna to watch on his phone.  And since they’ll watch it over and over, these ten minutes are worth their weight in gold next time the semi is stuck in the grain line!!

Honestly, I haven’t watched it all.  But if you have a little future farmer at your house, you’re welcome. 😉

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Taking Care of the Land, Another Approach

These pictures aren’t of our fields.  You’ve seen photos of Daddy and Anna repairing soil on terraces.  I’ve shared our rye grass project.  But this isn’t something we do on our farm; these pics are of a neighbor’s field.

Another way farmers are taking care of the land.  {DaddysTractor.com}

You likely know that terraces are mounds of dirt shaped like the hill designed to stop soil from washing down a field and into streams.  You can see in the photographs how this farmer is actually growing hay in strips where the terraces are– right in the middle of his corn field!

Another way farmers are taking care of the land.  {DaddysTractor.com}

The hay is actually bromegrass, which means our friend had to buy the seed and plant it where he wanted it to grow.  Bromegrass grows well in drought–making this farmer look smart at the moment!  It also has a strong root system that makes it a good choice to hold the soil in place for erosion control.

Another way farmers are taking care of the land.  {DaddysTractor.com}

By doing this, the farmer gets hay for his cattle to eat in the winter and protects the land at the same time!

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

My Meeting with Monsanto’s President

On Thursday of this past week my husband Brian and I had the opportunity to meet Monsanto’s President and CCO, Brett Begemann, as a part of the Agriculture Leaders of Tomorrow program.  We also toured the research facility in St. Louis, MO and got to take a peek behind the scenes at the greenhouses and test chambers.

My Meeting with Monsanto President

Mr. Begemann talked with us for a while about Monsanto’s acquisition of 20/20, the company that make the precision planting equipment you’ve seen us use on the blog.

If you are a regular follower I’d like to explain now that this post will take on a bit of a different flavor.  Usually I post information suitable for children—this might be information you as an adult read, then teach to the children in your life as you see fit.

Secondly, I’m writing this article to inform you.  You are free to believe anything you like.  If you disagree with me we don’t have to stop being friends.

AND I’m not being paid by anyone or any of that.  Soooo, let’s begin!

Thursday afternoon we toured the Monsanto research facility in St. Louis, MO.  In less than two hours we were briefed on the most advanced technology in the world.  It was amazing.  And yes, some of it was overwhelming.

It started with a basic understanding of DNA.  We’ve probably all seen pictures of the double helix strand.

My meeting with Monsanto President

All the information in a cell is recorded here in a code of ATs and GCs.   Its actually a lot like the binary system of 0s and 1s your computer understands.

In 2003 Scientists completed the Human Genome Project, which was a massive effort to read all these codes, record them, and share the information with the private sector.  This created a map of the ATs and GCs in human DNA.  The order of these codes determine what proteins are produced.  Each protein does a specific job, such as determining your eye color or hair texture.  Read this sort-of basic explanation of genetics from Wikipedia if you’d like more in-depth information!

Scientists have similarly mapped the DNA of some plants.  They have identified certain proteins and the jobs they do within the plant.  At the research facility we watched a presentation that explained the arrangement of proteins as a neighborhood.

My Meeting with Monsanto President

Each strand is a street and on each street are houses for the proteins.  Not every lot has a protein house, however.  Scientists used to think these were empty spaces and filled with “junk” but now they understand how much they don’t understand because the data in these empty lots seems to be very important to turning the proteins on and off.  For example, your DNA is the same in every cell.  But only the DNA that causes your eyes to be blue is actually “on” in your eyes.  Your skin is not blue, neither is your hair.  But that information is still in every skin cell, its just “off.”

So scientists know some proteins’ job is to control the yield of a plant.  If they can place this protein next to the correct empty house the yield of the plant increases!

The thing that struck me here was that DNA is different in every plant, just like it is in every person.  We all have a different combination of proteins that make us the different people we are.  At some point the DNA randomly goes together and you create an albino person.  At some point the DNA randomly goes together and my dark-haired husband and I have a red-haired son.  At some point the DNA can form a plant that yields like crazy.  But you really just have to get lucky.

Modifying the plant on purpose allows you to put proteins where you want them instead of waiting and hoping they will arrange themselves on accident.  

The odds of nature creating a seed with the exact combination you want are infinitesimal.  Just my opinion, but genetic modification doesn’t seem so scary when I realized it could have happened.   Not would have, but could have.  But I view this as learning from God’s design and using it to be better stewards of the land, better stewards of our money, and better human beings to the millions of starving people in this world.  But more on that later…

So some of our corn, soybeans, beets, etc., are modified for better yield, for stronger stalks that don’t fall down in a storm, for drought tolerance, and some are modified for herbicide tolerance.  That’s Round-Up.

My Meeting with Monsanto President

So here again our guide helped me understand what was really going on in a Round Up ready soybean.

The goal is to kill all plants in a field expect soybeans (or whatever you planted).  How do you kill a plant?  Well, Brett and I did an experiment on that back in our Plant Thematic Unit.  Plants need air, water, nutrients, and sunlight.  And while you can’t really control those in a field, sunlight is actually used for the process of photosynthesis which involves, you guessed it, proteins.  The chemicals in Round Up are so specifically designed that they can target the exact protein needed for photosynthesis.  (Actually its the messenger.  It kills the messenger.  I find this funny.  But irrelevant.  Right.)  The Round Up ready plant genes are relocated to new housing to protect their photosynthesis process.  Now farmers can plant more food in less space because instead of needing to drive equipment into the field to till the weeds under, they can spray Round Up.  Plus sensitive plants like corn produce lots more without the competition weeds provided.  And unless you have photosynthesizing genes in your DNA, Round Up isn’t a human problem.*

Furthermore, it is this amazing information about proteins that is being used to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, cancer, Asperger’s, so much more.  I find it interesting that we cheer these projects, yet decry GMOs.

Maybe it is because the effects of cancer are felt here, in our own backyard.  Hunger isn’t an issue we deal with in the US.  At least, it isn’t today.  Currently our own hunger needs stem more from a lack of money than a lack of food.  It just isn’t true everywhere you go.

But maybe we’ll be singing a different tune in another 30-40 years, because today’s population of 7 billion is expected to reach 9 billion in that short of a time frame.  In the next few decades farmers will need to produce more food than ever before.  They will do this with less land than we farm now and probably less water.  They will do this or we will be hungry.

 

 

**I welcome all comments, but please be courteous to all.  I will remove any rude or hurtful replies.  Also, this is a blog for children, so please keep it clean.

*I will be posting more about our meeting soon, but please understand there is SO MUCH to say about GMOs and Monsanto I could not possibly cover it all, especially in one post.   🙂

Categories: Science, Technology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Take a Tour of the Tractor

We’d love to have you come out to the farm sometime and take a ride in the tractor.  Especially now that spring planting is finally underway!  You could watch the monitors, observe the planter action, and bump over the terraces with us, if only you could make it out our way.  But if you can’t, don’t worry, because today I’m inviting you to take a tour of the tractor without ever leaving your computer!

Take a virtual tour of a modern tractor!  {DaddysTractor.com}

As you climb up the stairs one of the first things you’ll notice is the handle on the bottom of the door.  It may seem odd, but you couldn’t reach it if it were placed in the middle like a car door!

Take a virtual tour of a modern tractor!  {DaddysTractor.com}

The next thing you’ll notice is the pedals.  Why?  Because they will be eye level as you climb!

Take a virtual tour of a modern tractor!  {DaddysTractor.com}

The one on the left is the clutch, the one on the right is the brake.  The little one in the middle adjusts the steering wheel.  The yellow is a decelerator pedal.  You may notice there is no gas pedal.  Instead the tractor moves forward by using the clutch, throttle and the orange forward/reverse lever here behind the steering wheel.  Kinda crazy, huh?

Take a virtual tour of a modern tractor!  {DaddysTractor.com}

And since we’re now sitting here in the driver’s seat, take a look to the right.

Take a virtual tour of a modern tractor!  {DaddysTractor.com}

Here you see screens, monitors, control panels, ipad, and smart phone all working together to gather data about what’s happening in the field.  Pretty cool!  Find out more about our modern tractor technology in this previous post.

Actually, this side of the tractor has so many buttons and knobs they even store some under the arm rest!

Take a virtual tour of a modern tractor!  {DaddysTractor.com}

Above you are the climate controls and stereo.

Take a virtual tour of a modern tractor!  {DaddysTractor.com}

To the left you can enjoy the convenience of cup holders, or…. the buddy seat!  Loved by farm families world-wide, this fold down table pops up to hold a child.  Or two.  Or three!

Take a virtual tour of a modern tractor!  {DaddysTractor.com}

And behind you is the back window, complete with a pull-down sun shade.

Take a virtual tour of a modern tractor!  {DaddysTractor.com}

And if you’d care to climb back down, I’ll show you the outside!

Take a virtual tour of a modern tractor!  {DaddysTractor.com}

Behind the tractor lots of cables and wires attach from the planter.

This pic show how the planter hooks up to the tractor with a three-point hitch.

Take a virtual tour of a modern tractor!  {DaddysTractor.com}

Take a virtual tour of a modern tractor!  {DaddysTractor.com}

Take a look under the hood, but first you’ll have to climb up the steps, maybe even climb up a tire!

Take a virtual tour of a modern tractor!  {DaddysTractor.com}

Case used the space under the step to store a toolbox.  Having all the tools you need to fix break downs right in the field is critical since timing is so important to spring planting.

Take a virtual tour of a modern tractor!  {DaddysTractor.com}

Just a peek under the hood– there is so much stuff under there it would take a whole other post to tell you about it!  Hmmm, actually that sounds like an idea!  Would you like to stop by again soon?

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Getting Ready for Spring Planting

This shows farmers getting equipment ready for spring planting—so cool!  {DaddysTractor.com}

The sun seems a bit shy this year, but despite the cold, Daddy is getting ready for spring planting! Today’s task is getting the planter ready. The planter is one of the most important pieces of equipment on our farm because it puts the seeds into the soil.  Without that, there is nothing to farm!  Getting each seed at the right depth with soil pushed in on all sides is a big goal, but Daddy keeps working to make that happen.  After purchasing the planter we have now, Daddy took off many of the parts it came with and replaced them with parts from a company called Precision Planting.  And each spring he checks each part, replaces broken pieces, oils, cleans and otherwise repairs the planter.

This shows farmers getting equipment ready for spring planting—so cool!  {DaddysTractor.com}

Here you see Daddy using a tourch to remove a bolt that was stripped.

This shows farmers getting equipment ready for spring planting—so cool!  {DaddysTractor.com}

This is the part he was working on.  These are 16 of these on the planter and each one must be in perfect working order!

This shows farmers getting equipment ready for spring planting—so cool!  {DaddysTractor.com}

To adjust the row openers Daddy crawls in under the planter.  All is well and good until he needs a tool and has to crawl back out to get it!

This shows farmers getting equipment ready for spring planting—so cool!  {DaddysTractor.com}

Brett, Anna, and the farm dog Ben are great help to our hired man, Cory.

This shows farmers getting equipment ready for spring planting—so cool!  {DaddysTractor.com}

But Cory gets the job done anyhow!

This shows farmers getting equipment ready for spring planting—so cool!  {DaddysTractor.com}

The planter isn’t the only piece of equipment that must be prepared for spring.  In this photo you see a line-up of the tractors and the equipment they run that are ready for the sun to start shining!

This shows farmers getting equipment ready for spring planting—so cool!  {DaddysTractor.com}

The green and yellow thing on the end may look like the planter, but actually its a drill.  A drill does the same job as a planter- it puts seeds into the ground- but it does it a different way.  We use the drill to plant seeds that aren’t as picky about perfection, like wheat.  Some of our soybeans are planted with the drill too.  There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to plant everything with the planter.

What about you?  Are you as ready for spring as I am?!

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Farm to Table– Where Your Food Comes From

How many of us really know where our food comes from?  Sure, it grows on the farm.  Sure, you may go to the farmer’s market and purchase your veggies or visit a U-Pick to get the whole apple orchard experience.  But there is so much more to food than even farmer’s think about each time they sit down to the table!

Sure, farmers planted seeds, but where did the seeds come from?  Yes, farmers grew the wheat, but who baked that bread?

So here’s a look at a small piece of the big food picture; these are pictures of what we do with the corn after it has been harvested.

Hauling Grain (15)

Daddy drives the semi and trailer to the grain elevator. This elevator, part of a company called Ingredion, is in Kansas City. Ingredion is a smaller elevator than others, but it has some neat technology others don’t. The huge, concrete cylinders store grain. Imagine how much grain they can hold and then remember this elevator is small!

Hauling Grain (27)

Depending on the day, Daddy and Anna must wait in line for their turn to unload. Some days they wait for several hours.

Hauling Grain (63)

This is a scanning system. Our truck has a card on the dashboard with all our farm’s information. As you drive across this computer scans the card so the elevator knows who the grain is coming from.

Hauling Grain (37)

These trucks are waiting in line just in front of the probe. This machine takes samples of the grain to be tested for moisture, foreign material, to see if it is the correct kind of corn (waxy), and for a fungus called aflatoxin.

Hauling Grain (42)

This shows the probe sampling our corn.

Hauling Grain (49)

The machine will take samples from a couple of places in the trailer, often once in the front and once in the back.

Hauling Grain (71)

Then its into the office to await the results of the tests.

Inside the office Brett watches an employee test for foreign matter.

Inside the office Brett watches an employee test for foreign matter.

Here they check for alfatoxin.

Here they check for alfatoxin.

This screen displays information about the automated grain leg system.  The grain leg moves the corn from the shed where farmers unload to the concrete silos, which you'll see soon in another photo!

This screen displays information about the automated grain leg system. The grain leg moves the corn from the shed where farmers unload to the concrete silos, which you’ll see soon in another photo!

And now the appropriate thing to do would be to play in the semi truck while waiting yet again for your turn to unload.

And now the appropriate thing to do would be to play in the semi truck while waiting yet again for your turn to unload.

If test results are fine the next stop is this green shed.  Grain is unloaded from the bottom of the trailer and goes under the floor.  Then the yellow grain leg, using a belt and buckets, hauls the corn up and over to the storage silos.

If test results are fine the next stop is this green shed. Grain is unloaded from the bottom of the trailer and goes under the floor. Then the yellow grain leg, using a belt and buckets, hauls the corn up and over to the storage silos.

Daddy cranks open the hoppers on the bottom of the trailer and corn flows out!  This, I might add, is about the best part and the whole reason to sit for hours in a semi truck!

Daddy cranks open the hoppers on the bottom of the trailer and corn flows out! This, I might add, is about the best part and the whole reason to sit for hours in a semi truck!

Here Brett sweeps up each and every kernel, making sure it falls into the grate.  You might also see that the truck is parked on a plate of metal.  This is the scale which weighs the truck before unloading and after.  The difference is the amount of corn the elevator will pay him for.

Here Brett sweeps up each and every kernel, making sure it falls into the grate. You might also see that the truck is parked on a plate of metal. This is the scale which weighs the truck before unloading and after. The difference is the amount of corn the elevator will pay Daddy for.

And this is the last of the corn, trickling out of the hopper bottom.  All that is left of the trip is to close the doors and grab a ticket from the scale house telling us how much the truck weighed.  And then its back to the farm to pick up another load and do it all over again!

And this is the last of the corn, trickling out of the hopper bottom. All that is left of the trip is to close the doors and grab a ticket from the scale house telling us how much the truck weighed. And then its back to the farm to pick up another load and do it all over again!

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Farmers Taking Care of the Land

It’s true.  Farmers haven’t always done the best job taking care of the land.  Generally not on purpose, but because we didn’t always know what was the best way.  But we have learned SO MUCH in the last hundred, fifty, and even five years.  Modern farmers are getting better and better at taking care of the land everyday!

Farmers taking care of the land {daddystractor.com}

Terraces have been a big part of taking care of the land on our farm.  Here in northern Missouri the hills can be quite rolling, thunderstorms can be very severe, and ditches, gullies, and streams abound!  Terraces are rows of dirt made around the shape of a hill that stop the soil from being washed away.  In the above photo you can see the terrace lines through the snow.  They are made with a bulldozer, which carefully pushed the dirt into a pattern designed just for that field. It costs a lot to build new terraces, but they should last more than 20 years, making them a good investment for our future.

Farmers taking care of the land {daddystractor.com}

When the bulldozer is gone, however, the field is sometimes left in poor shape.  The heavy equipment crushes the dirt and leaves deep tracks.  Seeds can’t grow well in the hard, uneven dirt, so something has to be done.  That’s when Daddy (and Anna!) pull out this strange contraption.  Its a field cultivator.  The arrow shaped pieces of metal in the front stir up the soil and the spikes in the back smooth it out, ready for tiny seeds!

Farmers taking care of the land {daddystractor.com}

I took these pictures, however, because this is a sight you won’t see often on our farm.  A field cultivator leaves the soil nice and smooth, but it also leaves it loose and ready to wash away in the next thunderstorm.  Once the seeds begin to grow their roots will help hold the dirt in place, preventing washouts, but for a few months this ground is vulnerable.  We only use the field cultivator when it is truly necessary and then we only use it exactly where we need it.

Farmers taking care of the land {daddystractor.com}

Here you can see the tractor driving on the top of the dirt mound with the cultivator repairing the ground on both sides.  You can also see that Daddy and Anna are driving only on the terraces, not the whole field.

Spring (should it ever bother to arrive) is a time for lots of dirt work.  Follow us here on Daddy’s Tractor to see more of what farmers are learning about taking care of the land!

Categories: Science, Technology | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Top 10 Useless College Degrees

Yahoo Education posted an article earlier this year listing the top 10 most useless college majors.  Number one was agriculture.

The article claimed that because farms are getting bigger, more efficient, and scarcer all the time there will be fewer farm management jobs available.  Therefore the whole degree is pretty much worthless.

You might be interested to know that the agriculture community responded with such force that an article posted on Yahoo Finance a few months later listing the top 10 worst college majors didn’t place ag anywhere on the list at all.  Turns out there was a lot more to agriculture education than Yahoo knew.

Sunday night at our Missouri Farm Bureau annual meeting high school and college students (many majoring in agriculture fields) competed for a scholarship with speeches explaining to all why ag education is not only viable, it is growing!

True, there are fewer farms now than there have ever been.  But there is a lot more to ag than planting seeds and milking cows!  Someone sells fertilizer to farmers.  Someone develops the formula to create the very best fertilizer.  Someone ships the fertilizer, packages it, advertises it, etc.  And these fields are growing!

The world’s population is expected to double by 2050.  That means we’ll need to double the amount of food we grow.  With fewer farmers.  And less land.  So we’ll need scientists to help figure out how to do it, or we’ll all be hungry.  We’ll need people to do all kinds of problem-solving to feed the world.  And maybe we won’t need lots of people to actually grow the food, but the ones who do will need to be highly educated.

At least, we’ll need all this if you plan to keep eating 🙂

Categories: Technology | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Green Farming (with red!)

On our farm we drive red equipment, but on Wednesday of this week our family learned a bit more about going green.  Environmentally speaking :-).

Tractors, combines, sprayers, and other farm equipment are powered by diesel engines and engines create two things– basically dirt and gas.  Companies who build these tractors and such have been working hard to make engines much cleaner.  Check out the picture below.  The red box shows how much pollution was created by a tractor in 1996.  The blue box shows how much pollution is created by engines built in 2011.  The green represents the changes that will be in place just two years from now in 2014.

Green Farming (with red!)

You can see how much progress has been made!

Of course, not everyone solves problems in the same way.  Our red equipment is made by a company called Case IH, but I bet you’ve heard of another company called John Deere.  Deere and Case both have found ways to lower the amount of pollution, but the methods are very different!  If you’d like to learn more about these methods check out this Case website and watch their video.

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Ride in Daddy’s Tractor

You’ve heard lots about farm life, but you haven’t been able to ride in Daddy’s tractor just yet!  Well hop on board as we plant field corn right in our own front yard!

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