The Faces of Modern Agriculture

What winter means for farmers

ott10

Photo credit: Ott

Have you ever wondered what farmers do in the winter?  Even the most casual observer can see what farmers keep busy with in the warmer months of the year.  Crops need to be planted, tended and harvested.  Hogs, cattle, poultry and other livestock go to local and state fairs.  All of those outside projects that came up during the winter (and were put-off until warmer weather) are finally completed.

Although the work of farmers may not be easily seen in the winter, the work of a farm never stops.  Winter is a time of wrapping up loose ends from the previous season and preparing for the upcoming one.  And like all farmers in Indiana, Rob Richards of Indy Family Farms is keeping busy this winter.  I had the opportunity to correspond with Rob and talk with him about what operations look like at his farm during the cold moths.

Rob said that his farm’s typical winter operations include fixing the equipment used during the harvest, organizing and cleaning the shop, hauling stored grain to elevators, and prepping for taxes.  Like any business, farms have assets they need to maintain and business operations to perform.

Winter offers a challenge to farmers because of the unpredictable conditions.  “We haul a lot of grain in the winter, and weather conditions can play havoc with travel and some of the equipment we use,” he explained.

Indy Family Farms Photo obviously not taken this winter :)

Indy Family Farms
Photo obviously not taken this winter 🙂

Additionally, the folks at Indy Family Farms spend a good portion of their winter finishing the 2014 crop budget, selecting and ordering various input items (seed, fertilizers, chemicals, etc…) and completing the 2014 crop plan by field.   Farming isn’t a simple matter of waking-up on the first morning of spring, pulling out the tractor and planting the fields.  Careful scheduling is involved to make sure farmers have a plan for planting their fields at the proper time of the year with the right supplies.

Although winter means busy days finishing 2013 business and preparing for the 2014 planting season, Rob noted there are advantages to the change in seasons.   “Work hours are more regular and there is less need to work extra late hours, like during planting and harvest,” he said.  He added that the winter season comes with more flexibility for family activities, and offers the opportunity to visit the landowners they work with, and sit down with employees to get their input about farming operations.

What do farmers do in the winter? Plenty.  The activities completed post-harvest and pre-planting are the nuts and bolts of a successful operation.  Colin Powell once said: “There are no secrets to success.  It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”  For the farmer, this is what winter is all about: working hard to learn from the previous season and to prepare for the next one.

Categories: Farming in the 21st Century, From the Field to Your Fork, The Faces of Modern Agriculture | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The People of Agriculture (Thanksgiving Series Pt. III)

The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote: “We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts.”  To commemorate Thanksgiving, “The (agri)Cultured Foodie” will use the next week and a half to look at the “ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts” that put food on your table.

Farmers. Repairmen.  Crop scientists.  Veterinarians.  Communications specialists.  Engineers.  These are the people that make agriculture possible.  These are the people that help get food from the field to the kitchen.  These are the people we should be thankful tomorrow as we sit down and enjoy a meal with our families.

But who are these men and women that produce our food?

They’re the Beck Family from Indiana who raise crops and own the largest family-owned seed company in the United States.

They’re the Gyrgleski Family from Wisconsin who grow cranberries for Ocean Spray.

They’re the Nilsen Family from California whose turkey operation uses “natural resources to create sustainable energy and eliminate waste.”

I’m thankful for the men and women who have devoted their lives to cultivating and stewarding the earth, and providing food for my family and yours.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Categories: Farming in the 21st Century, The Faces of Modern Agriculture | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Talking with an Indiana Farmer | Part 2

Kip Tom

Kip Tom

Today, I’m finishing up my interview with Kip Tom of Tom FarmsClick here to read Part 1.

AM: Like every job, I’m sure yours has ups and downs, good days and challenging ones.  What aspect of your job do you find most gratifying?  What has been the most challenging experience you’ve encountered as a farmer?

KT: One of the most gratifying experiences is 1.) seeing committed young people come into our business (or another farm) and engage in the work with a desire to make a difference, and 2.) having the opportunity to help them along the way.

I also enjoy opportunities to transfer knowledge of production agriculture and give others the opportunity to change their lives and businesses.  It’s exciting to ignite the spirit of entrepreneurism that is embedded in some people and watch it flourish.

One of the challenges I face is attempting to make a significant impact in consumer awareness of modern agriculture systems.  Another challenge is attempting to change and improve global food security when those in developing countries want to engage, but politics, governance or cultures do not allow it to happen.  It starts with our youth, and one person at a time.

(Photo by Borden)

(Photo by Borden)

AM: In the profile about you in “Indianapolis Monthly,” you said something about GMO crops providing millions of meals served to a starving world while noting there has not been one hospital visit reported because of GMO use.  Can you expound on that? How is modern agriculture and biotechnology helping to feed a starving world?

KT: First off, I will say that I and many in agriculture embrace all forms of food production, whether organic, natural, local or commercial modern agriculture.  We need them all for today and tomorrow. 

My reference to biotechnology was in respect to concerns about food safety.  Since 1996, the global population has consumed 17 trillion meals without one documented overnight hospital stay that was verified and attributed to approved biotech crops.

Biotechnology has delivered crops that have improved yields and productivity, including new advanced molecular breeding techniques and the ability to ward off pest more effectively.  The biotech changes have reduced the impact of pesticides to humans and the environment. 

Up to this time, most biotech crops benefits were focused on improving production.  Going forward, there has and will continue to be significant investments in developing seeds and traits that benefit the diets of consumers and livestock.  We will build coordinated supply chains that will deliver more value, and improve agriculture systems and those that agricultural systems support.

As the world’s population climbs to 9.3 billion people in tandem with improved diets, we will need to double the worlds food supply by 2050 with the same or fewer resources we have today while protecting the environment.  We are (and will be) merely using science in food production, just as we do in so many other areas of our human existence like medicine and technology.

Thanks Kip for some great insights into Indiana agriculture.  Do YOU have any questions about ag that you’d like to see answered on this blog?  If so, email me at isdacommunications@gmail.com Thanks for reading!

Categories: Farming in the 21st Century, The Faces of Modern Agriculture | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Talking with an Indiana Farmer | Part 1

Kip Tom

Kip Tom

Today, I have the privilege of introducing you to Kip Tom.  Kip is the CEO of Tom Farms, a family-owned business located in Northern Indiana.  Tom Farms was established by Everett and Marie Tom in 1952 and is currently one of the largest suppliers of seed corn to Monsanto.

Kip kindly agreed to do an email interview with me discussing sustainability, agriculture in the 21st century, and family business.  Enjoy the first part of the interview today, and check back for the rest of the interview on Thursday.

AM: Obviously, your family’s connection to agriculture is deep and important to you. How does your family’s farming history impact the way you think about the Ag industry?

KT: Our family settled in our community 176 years ago this summer, about seven generations before my children joined the business.  Each of us who have a role in this business must take responsibility to assure that the business continues.

AM: Sound economics and business principles are key components of running an operation that can last for multiple generations.  Why is it important to run a family farm using sound business principles?  How does a sound business model contribute to the overall livelihood of an operation?

KT: Oftentimes financial decisions have been made on the farm in the past with little-to-no due diligence.  A business can only survive through good and challenging times if the financial impact of all decisions is clearly understood prior to making the decision.  It is critical that leaders understand where the income and cost centers are, and how the contribute to the business’s bottom line.

AM: As I listen to the conversation surrounding agriculture, I hear a lot of talk about sustainability.  What does sustainability mean to you? How is an operation like yours sustainable?

KT: Sustainability is a word that can span many conversations, but to our business it means:

  1. Succession of the family business;
  2. Protection of all resources spanning generations; and,
  3. A systems approach to our manufacturing processes.

AM: You’ve spent many years on your family farm, and have also chosen to be actively involved in the national and international discussion about agriculture.  In other words, you have the knowledge and experience of working on the farm while also understanding the various dynamics of national and international Ag concerns.  From your perspective, what are the top three challenges farmers are facing in the 21st century?

(Photo by Roberts)

(Photo by Roberts)

KT: The first challenge I see is a failure to recognize that production agriculture is a manufacturing business and that we need to invest in developing a systems approach to producing the products that we “build” on our farms to feed the growing global demand.  Farm structures will be much different in the future as they are in essence a “biological manufacturing plant” producing food, fiber and energy.  Success in this endeavor will require extensive capital investments, coordinated supply chains, and talented management and staff.

Additionally, education will continue to be the differentiator in the future as it is now.  The successful farm business will need to have qualified leaders in the management positions as well have educated technical staff to operate the complexity of the “manufacturing plant”.

Finally, agricultural advocacy will continue to be a challenge with less connectivity between consumers and the farm.  It is the responsibility of our industry to step up from all levels and engage in local and global discussions.  We also have the responsibility of engaging with policy makers to ensure we are helping the food insecure.

Check back here on Thursday to hear more from Kip!

Categories: Agriculture in Indiana, Farming in the 21st Century, The Faces of Modern Agriculture | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What’s to come on this blog

As I mentioned in my previous post, the Indiana State Fair reminded me of some important agricultural lessons: Farmers feed me, agriculture is more than corn and cows, and people are at the heart of farming and agribusiness. 

And those lessons gave me insight into what to cover on my blog.  I have decided to take the lessons I learned at the Indiana State Fair and focus blog posts around them.

Photo by Beeker.

Photo by Beeker.

My first area of focus on the blog will be “The Faces of Modern Agriculture.”  People are at the heart of farming and agribusiness.  I want to introduce you to the people who comprise the field of agriculture.  In the next few weeks, I’ll feature Kip Tom of Tom Farms.  Kip was recently profiled in “Indianapolis Monthly” and was noted for championing private business and his commitment to family.  In addition to farmers like Kip, I want to talk with ag economists, agronomists, commodity specialists and the next generation of farmers.

I will also feature posts on “Farming in the 21st Century.”  If you watch the news, you know that agriculture is more than corn and cows.  As agriculture has grown more complex over the years, the vocabulary has too.  Words like biotechnology and organic are perfect examples of terms that can be confusing.  What do those words mean for you and your food choices?  That’s the question I want to answer.

“From the Field to Your Fork” will look at the products we grow and produce in Indiana, and show you where they can be found in your daily life.  If you visited Indiana Soybean Alliance’s Glass Barn at the fair, you know that you can find the products of local farmers on the shelves of your grocery stores.  Farmers feed us, and I will show you how they do that.

My friends in the Ag community are fond of sharing this quote from Thomas Jefferson: “Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will, in the end, contribute most to real wealth, good morals and happiness.”  While I would contend there are other disciplines we would be wise to pursue (medicine, humanities, etc…), I do believe that agriculture is one area of life in which everyone should take an intense interest.  What and how we eat shapes who we are as individuals.  So join me in this journey of exploring Indiana Ag and learning about the people and practices that put food on our kitchen tables.

Categories: Agriculture in Indiana, Farming in the 21st Century, From the Field to Your Fork, General, The Faces of Modern Agriculture | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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