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Posts Tagged With: environment

Do Conventional Farmers Use Environmentally Friendly Practices?

Today is Earth Day which seems like the perfect time to answer a question I hear a lot.  Do conventional farmers use environmentally friendly farming practices?

Many people equate “environmentally sustainable” with “organic.”  I’m sure this is largely true, but organic is more about how you grow the plants than how you take care of the land.

But I’d rather not get out the boxing gloves with organic.  Instead I want to answer the question; what do conventional farmers do to take care of the land?

Actually, they do a lot.

DSC_0276

Here’s a photo I snapped of Daddy’s tractor planting corn.  You can see the green of our cover crop, which, sadly, was supposed to be wheat.  And while the failure of our second wheat crop is disappointing, the nice thing here is that you can see the fresh marks of the corn planter clearly in the green.

Many people think of organic farmers as being more environmentally friendly.  What about conventionally grown food?  {DaddysTractor.com}

The red arrow shows the marks from where the planter has just put seeds.  The yellow arrow shows the odd shape of untouched wheat grass between the planter rows.

Why in the world would we do that?

Well, it’s environmentally friendly.  Our land is hilly, so to keep soil from washing into streams we use terraces to keep the soil where it belongs.  Terraces are an awkward shape and they cut an otherwise rectangular field into weird shapes as well.  Farmers have to plant and harvest on one side of the terrace at a time.  We start planting by tracing the outline of the field (end rows) and then we trace both sides of the terraces.  Finally we finish planting by filling in those blank spaces the yellow arrow points out.

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

The use of technology is also a major part of being a good steward.  The GPS monitor shows us exactly where the tractor has planted and what little triangle somewhere as been forgotten.  The planter also uses a pretty impressive system that shuts off each row individually as it drives over ground that has already been planted.  That saves us lots of seed, as well as confusion when it’s time to harvest double planted ground.

Planting with terraces is a pain.  However, protecting streams and our water supply is important to us (we drink water too) and it’s beneficial because soil that washes away is our best top soil.  Those are two big reasons you’ll find conventional farmers practicing soil conservation!

Here are other posts that describe why it’s always Earth Day on a farm.

Farm Ugly! How farmers are taking care of the land. {DaddysTractor.com}

1.) Farming Ugly!  Cover crops help prevent soil erosion, control weeds naturally, and enrich soil.

Farmers taking care of the land {daddystractor.com}

2.) Terraces and no-till, best practices on our farm.

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

3.) Another farmer planting hay on terraces and waterways.

If you’re a farmer, what other practices do you use?  If you’re not, what questions do you have?

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

Why We Are Using a Bulldozer for Spring Planting

Tractors, planters, sprayers– all equipment you might think about using when spring rolls around.  But this year we have been putting a lot of hours on Grandpa’s bulldozer in order to get ready for spring planting.

The field just across from our house was pulled from a government program called CRP and the owner wanted to rent it out for the first time in 20 years.  (The CRP program was started years ago as a way for farmers to allow poor production land to rest.)  It was mostly great news for us.  It meant more land that is very close by and a landlord we enjoy working with.  You can imagine the downside if you think of trying to use anything that has been left alone for 20 years!

The field looked like this, all 200 acres of it.

DSC_0125

Using the bulldozer to ready a field for spring planting

So much brush everywhere!

It has been no easy task to get it ready for spring planting!

The landowner used a mower to cut down the small trees.  Cory used the skid steer to pull out the larger brush and Grandpa has been handling the largest obstacles with the bulldozer.  Wayne used the custom cultivator to pick up stray sticks and then whoever is free has been using the tractor and disk to cut up the stalks so the planter and later the combine won’t run into anything capable of tearing it up!

Daddy made a custom cultivator to pick up brush

Daddy and the guys made this custom cultivator last year to pick up brush. The prongs are close together and all along the back bar instead of spaced throughout. You can see how it catches sticks!

Using the skid steer to ready the fields for spring planting

The skid steer can pull small brush and pick up the piles. Because the attachment on the front is shaped like claws the skid steer can shake the dirt from the piles, leaving more soil on the field.

Using the bulldozer to ready fields for spring planting

The dozer knocks down the larger brush and then pushes it into piles

Using the bulldozer to ready the field for spring planting

When the disk comes through it chops up the ground into big chunks, hopefully getting rid of pointy stalks!

Using the bulldozer to ready the field for spring planting

Last the harrow smooths up the dirt, leaving a happy field ready for bean seeds!

The field looks quite different from those first brush pictures, wouldn’t you agree!

You may remember from previous posts that, while this field looks picture perfect its not how we usually farm.  The loose soil can easily wash away leaving our fields without the necessary top soil to grow good crops, plus polluting nearby streams.

Grandpa also added to the farm this year, buying the field across from his house.

Using a bulldozer to ready the field for spring planting

This field connects all four farms, Grandpa’s home, this new farm, our new rental, and the field our house sits on. What a difference in how it looks!

This farm will not be worked at all.  It’s been cow ground for years but we won’t be tearing up the grass or anything.  Instead we’ll simply plant beans directly into the sod.  The first year won’t likely be a great one, but taking care of the soil will have more benefits in the long run.

Because really, we’d rather not be using a bulldozer to get ready for spring planting!

Categories: Science | Tags: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Did You Know? Fueling a Combine

There are several reason you won’t see this at your local Casey’s.  Um, very often.

Fueling the combine {DaddysTractor.com}

Obviously, most gas stations have a shelter over the pumps that would seriously get in the way of a piece of equipment this size.  And gas stations tend to be either in towns or along highways and not convenient to slow moving vehicles in fields in remote locations.

So how do you fuel all that harvest equipment?

With your own fuel tank.

Fueling the combine {DaddysTractor.com}

Our farm has those giant fuel barrels filed with dyed fuel (for farm vehicles only), but they stay at the farm’s home base.  This trailer is a newly-traded addition to Daddy’s collection which allows him to haul fuel right to the combine.

So much easier than pulling up to the pump at Quick Trip!!

This trailer has two pumps, just like the ones you’d use to fuel your car– except at little bigger. 😉  They wind up on a hose reel, which is what you see in the photo above.

Fueling the combine {DaddysTractor.com}

The tanks are in the rear of the combine and you have to pull the hoses up the ladder to reach them.  And while some pieces of farm equipment (semis) actually have two diesel tanks, that’s not why you see two hoses in these pictures.

The second, smaller, hose actually fills the combine with something called DEF.  This fluid is the secret to making our red equipment environmentally green. 

(If you’re interested in learning how this combine is reducing emissions into the air, try this previous post.) 

{DaddysTractor.com}

So now you know.  This is why you won’t see tractors or combines in line at the local Conoco.  Very often…

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

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

Farming Ugly! Farmers Taking Care of the Land

Farmers used to hitch up the horses and plow the ground for planting each spring.  Ground that had laid dormant all winter was turned over for that fresh-earth smell and dark brown fields that set off the bright green of new leaves and azure spring sky.  Its such a pretty picture!  This is the field in front of our house.  Not so pretty.  In fact, you could say that this is farming ugly!

Farm Ugly! How farmers are taking care of the land. {DaddysTractor.com}

“Farming ugly” is a phrase coined 25-30 years ago when agriculturalists discovered no-till farming.  Instead of breaking up the ground into pretty fields farmers learned to plant into the ground just as they had left it in the fall.  Corn is planted into bean stubble, beans are planted through corn stalks.  This prevents soil erosion.

Farm Ugly!  How farmers are taking care of the land.  {DaddysTractor.com}

Here you see what might be confused for wheat or grass; its actually rye.  We planted rye on several fields this year to act as a cover crop.  Some homeowners might plant grass seed each fall to prevent weeds from growing in the empty spaces on their lawn.  This is the same idea.  Weeds can’t grow where the rye is and the roots hold the soil in place until the soybeans grow big enough to do that job themselves.  When its time to plant the tractor and drill just run right over the rye, smashing it and allowing the dead plants to decompose into rich top soil farmers prize.

Farm Ugly! How farmers are taking care of the land. {DaddysTractor.com}

The great thing about rye is it also has a natural toxicity that kills some new weeds that might like to find a home in our fields.  The bad thing is, this is really farming ugly!

Farm Ugly!  How farmers are taking care of the land.  {DaddysTractor.com}

 
These are the marks from the drill. The seeds are dropped in these trenches.

A few days ago I was perusing the Internet when I came across a controversial food article.  Many of the comments left to the writer were furious; not at the author, not at the blog, but at farmers!  One in particular struck me because “Kevin” stated emphatically that big farmers don’t take care of the soil.  It made me wonder– did Kevin know a lot of large-scale farmers?   Did he watch them purposefully destroy the earth from his front porch or was he generalizing “Big” as “bad” with nothing but a “feeling” and some YouTube videos?

I bet you’d be surprised at how many BIG farmers really do care about the land.

After all, it belongs to us!

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

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

What Daddy’s Tractor Does in the Winter

So I’ve been rereading my recent blog posts and I’ve noticed they are all about chickens.  In fact, you may have noticed that the tractor has been entirely missing from “Daddy’s Tractor” for some time.  Has it been sitting idle?  Is it broken down or rusting in a fence row?  What does Daddy’s Tractor do in the winter anyhow?

Actually, Daddy’s tractor has been quite busy as of late!  For the last few weeks the tractor has been acting as snow plow.  Out here in the middle of nowhere the county snow plows take several days to get to our roads.  And even after they’ve been cleared the wind often blows across the open spaces, filling in the gap between the piles of snow on both sides of the road and blocking you in even worse than before.  So out come the neighborhood tractors.  Daddy, grandpa, and many other farmers use their equipment to help out all the families who live on these back gravel roads.  Its just one of the neighborly things that still happens in the country.

Daddy's Tractor does all kinds of jobs, including plowing snow!

The tractor has also been busy improving the quality of our fields.  Earlier this winter we redid the terraces in the field behind our house.  Terraces are a must on our rolling fields; they keep water from washing away topsoil so our fields stay filled with good dirt and streams stay clear of runoff.

Daddy's Tractor, what the tractor does in the winter

The snow actually helps you see the newly built terraces; the raised lines of soil are the first places the snow melts.

And more recently the tractor and skid steer have been working to rid a farm of the fallen trees and old fence rows and adding good topsoil where its needed.  They are also using the dump truck for this job, which is a lot of fun for Daddy :-).

The tractor also has the job of taking hay to the cattle.  One of the older tractors on the farm has a bale spike (observe) on the back so it can easily lift and carry those huge hay bales out to the field.

And its hard to believe, but soon Daddy’s tractor will be hard at work getting ready for spring planting!

Categories: Science | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Election 2012

2012 is a big election year!  We will vote for President of the United States, as well as many Senators, Congressmen, Governors, and local and state offices.

Some people believe politicians in Washington do not affect their lives, but on our farm our daily life has a lot to do with the laws and regulations others put into place.  Let me give you an example.

Last year the Missouri River flooded.  Check out this map of the US.

You can see that the Missouri River goes through many states, not just Missouri.  So when the river flooded, lots of people had trouble!  The Army Corps of Engineers decided the best thing to do would be to dynamite a levy– a dam built up with dirt to keep the river where it belongs.  When they blew the levy up thousands of Missouri homes, businesses, and farms were destroyed in the horrible flooding that followed.  The Corps said destroying the levy was the best way to control the flood.  Many Missourians disagree.

This year we will vote for leaders who will write new laws.  We can choose leaders who promise to pass laws that will change how the Army Corps of Engineers does its job, or we can choose leaders who plan to keep things the way they are.

The farms that were underwater last year are dry now, but they are still unusable.  The sand and debris from the flooding cover the good, rich dirt, keeping plants from growing.  Scientists say it could be 20 years before the land is usable again.

So tell me, do you think politicians in Washington can affect your life?  Who will you choose in Election 2012?

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

What is Drought?

Maybe you’ve heard about it on the news, or maybe you can look out your window and see it, but what is a drought?  And why is it so important this year?

Drought brings to mind hot, dry summers, but the actual meaning of the word is just that there is not enough water supply to meet the demand.  There are actually three types of drought and one of them is called agricultural drought.  It means there is not enough water for plants to grow.  Usually agricultural drought is caused by a lack of rain, but it is possible for farmers to be experiencing drought while others in the cities and towns are not.

The reason is that plants need water more at some times that others.  If the corn is ready to pollinate or if the kernels are filling out the plant needs more water than usual.  If the ground is dry just for these important steps it can mess up the entire plant.  A well-timed rain can be just as important as lots of rain.

Agricultural drought affects everyone.  This year the drought is over many places in the US.  That means food of all kinds is struggling to grow.  But drought is affecting even more than food this year.  Some towns are having problems with getting enough water for people to use for drinking, cooking, and cleaning.  These towns must stop people from washing their cars, watering their gardens, or filling pools.  Wild animals are also struggling for food, since the grasses, bushes, and berries they usually eat are burnt.  Trees are already loosing their leaves.

Brainstorm a list of all the ways you use water.  Which can be affected by drought?  Leave me a comment and tell us if you already see signs of the drought where you are.

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

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