Phew! I am so glad we have an extra farmhand here this week. Flat Aggie is visiting us to learn about our farm in west central Minnesota. I’ll let Flat Aggie take over to tell you all about his adventures on our farm.
Hi kids, Flat Aggie here! This week I am on a sugar beet farm near Wendell, Minnesota. The farm I am visiting is on the edge of what was once Lake Agassiz, they now call this region the Red River Valley. When Lake Agassiz was formed it left behind heavy clay soil, suitable for growing crops. Most farms here grow corn, soybeans, wheat, and/or sugar beets.
I spent the majority of my week helping with sugar beet harvest. Sugar beets are planted in April and are usually harvested in the month of October. These beets are different than red beets that you might eat at lunch or dinner. Sugar beets are larger and are white in color. The sugar beet farmers I was visiting are shareholders in a cooperative. The cooperative decides when harvest will start and when the beets can be harvested to ensure that they will keep in storage until they are processed. Once harvest has started many farmers harvest all day and all night to get the sugar beets out of the ground in a timely manner. It makes me tired just thinking about it!
The harvesting process can be lengthy depending on the weather and it takes multiple steps to get the sugar beets to their end destination. The first step is to remove the tops from the beets. A tractor pulls an implement that has paddles that spin very fast to remove the foliage from the tops off of the beets. Depending on the region this implement may be called a topper, a roto beeter, or a defoliator, but they are all the same piece of equipment.
Once the foliage has been removed from the beets a machine comes and lifts the beets out of the ground by pinching them. After the beets have been lifted out of the ground a series of rollers helps remove excess dirt before they are conveyed into a truck.
I couldn't believe the size of some of the beets. Here is a picture of me with one:
And here is a picture of one that is out of the ground:
Can you believe it?!
After the beets are in the truck we hauled them to a piling station. They will remain here until they are hauled to the factory to be processed into white table sugar or brown sugar. Samples are taken for each grower throughout harvest to determine purity, sugar content and tare. Some of the beets are stored outside in these piles until March. The best part of the day might have been the home cooked meal that was delivered to the field. I was STUFFED!
We moved back to the farm in April of 2012 newly married with a very narrow vision of the future as far as careers. I was about to celebrate my one year anniversary with a company that I loved but I also knew that commuting an hour one direction was unrealistic in the long term. This became more evident as we found out that we were expecting our first child. There were no sizable towns on my drive so the first question became daycare and the second became do I find a new job?
I’m sure I’m not the only crazy hormonal pregnant lady who breaks down to their husband about these types of solvable problems. I started to search, but jobs in the field of agriculture are hard to find around our area unless you want to be an agronomist or sell seed. I wanted to do neither. I spread my search to banks and other financial institutions with little luck and held onto hope that something would open up with my current company.
Through many tearful conversations with my husband of trying to find daycare we decided that for now we would do what we could. My husband would head one direction to drop off our firstborn while I headed the other direction to work. Extra miles, but it was reality. Fast forward to December of 2012, I was 7 months pregnant and still lost. The uncertainty of it all and knowing how far I was going to have to drive was eating me up. Just as I was about to call it quits, God stepped in. A fellow coworker had the opportunity to take a position in her hometown cutting her commute time from thirty minutes to five. The good Lord helped me through the interview for that position selling and servicing crop insurance. I knew little about the insurance industry, but knew that the change was needed for our growing family. I would say this was a little divine intervention for both my coworker and me.
Looking back the jump from credit to insurance was a little daunting, but would I change it? No, absolutely not. I have been afforded so many neat opportunities while fueling my passion for education through customer outreach and activities like Ag in the Classroom. Know that just as one door is closing or you are not sure that there is hope you need to leave it out on the table. Some things are out of our control. Bless the good Lord that he knew what I didn’t.
When I started blogging I really wanted to share farm life with all of you and I soon realized that in order to share farm life I also needed to share my heart. If you have read some of my previous posts especially this one you know that my roots in agriculture run deep. This passion does not shut off, it does not get old, it only grows.
Attending conferences with other “aggies” only spurs that passion and creates a desire in my heart to share what I love even more. So today step back and think about what pushes you in your life, where does your true passion lie?
Mine is in educating others, specifically women about the wonderful field I get to be part of in my day job and when I get home. Agriculture is much more than farming, it is more than dairy cows, more than farrow to finish operations, more than a man dressed in overalls. The career possibilities are really endless, they can be on a farm or they can be in a high rise in the city. My intended career path was to provide credit to farmers. I wanted to be a banker for farmers. Little did I know God had a much greater and somewhat unexpected plan for me...
We are in a cold spell in Minnesota right now (queue polar vortex) and I am wearing ALL the layers. Thank goodness for autostart and garages. My husband would tell you the same, but he would add a heated shop and tractors with cabs to the items he is thankful for.
In the winter farming slows down on our operation in the sense of time in the field. Winter equals time to fix equipment, tax planning, continuing education, budgeting, and researching inputs and their costs for the upcoming growing season. There is no doubt that winter is somewhat slower, but it is busy in its own sense. At our farm we take Fridays off to make up for the long hours worked during the growing season.
Our biggest equipment maintenance for the winter is on our beet lifter. It takes four guys about three days to get it tore down to the bones. We fix what we can on our own and the grab rolls are sent off the farm for yearly maintenance. The grab rolls purpose is to clean the beets and feed them through the lifter. Depending on the workload of the remanufacture business the grab rolls can be off the farm for up to two weeks. Once back they are the last item to get put back on the lifter and it usually takes a day. Winter work is typically slower so there are a few added coffee breaks and side conversations that add to project timelines. Maintenance will continue the remainder of the winter on other pieces of equipment and trucks as well as hauling stored grain to elevators.
I know as grain farmers our winters are slower than livestock producers which makes me appreciate that sector of agriculture even more. Growing up on a small sheep operation gave me a glimpse into how hard these livestock producers work year round. No matter the temperature the animals must be fed and watered. There is no week long vacations or time off. The animals need tending, daily.
More or less all famers work hard regardless of the time of the year. I’m forever thankful for the seasonality and ability to enjoy suppers around a table or in a tractor. The ability to watch sunsets from the top of the grain leg or from our living room windows. In the case of livestock producers, watching new life enter the world during lambing or calving seasons. No matter the season, life on the farm carries on.
It seems as a parent you are trying to live in the moment and you don’t remember what life was like before kids or marriage or college or any of that stuff. Thinking back makes me sentimental and truly appreciate where I grew up. I had exposure to farming since I was very little but did not live on a farm until the fifth grade; little did I know this farm would change the landscape of my future. It would teach me hard work, perseverance, how stupid a sheep can be and how to trim a sheep’s hoof.
Most of this seemed trivial at a young age, but I also knew this was a dream of my parents to be able to raise us on a farm how they were raised. Scooping poop, feeding bottle lambs, and helping the neighbor fill vials for milk testing of his dairy cattle are some of the first jobs I ever had. These were not jobs that paid in money, but rather in character building.
This character can be seen in dirt covered hands, manure covered boots, and exhausted eyes. The dirt covered hands of my parents and neighbors taught me how to drive a tractor before I knew how to drive a car, how to throw a hay bale better than a ball, and how to fix anything with twine.
Today’s farming and ranching population only accounts for 2% of the United States population. So the ability to have the same character building moments that I had are few and far between. The patience to help a lamb latch on for the first time, the skill of listening to directions and taking action, long hours raking hay then later bailing it up in small squares, the perseverance to scoop a pen of manure that is over a foot deep by hand, the list can go on and is different for every kid that has ever grown up on a farm.
It’s crazy to think that when my kids start school in a couple years with 15 classmates they may be the only student that has a tie to a farm. So as a farm mom and wife I take great pride in building similar character and passing on the farming tradition to my kiddos even if it all seems like one crazy whirlwind of a chicken coop.
As I grocery shop I am quick to look at what labels are put on my food, not because I am weary of GMOS, non-organic, etc. I look because I know how much the food industry is making off of these labels even though many of these products are naturally GMO free or their conventional counterparts are just as nutritious as the organically produced products. Truth in the marketplace continues to be muddied as companies continue to add more verbiage to their packaging when what we need in the marketplace is education.
As a producer, farming is our lifestyle. It is not just a job or a career. We wake up with the sun and go to sleep with the moon and sometimes vice versa. Producing a safe product for the marketplace is at the center of our operation. On our farm there are many moving parts to manage to ensure we have plant health throughout the growing season and after. This includes applying fertilizer, fungicides and pesticides. We consult with agronomists and read the labels to ensure that the products we use are safe for the environment and people.
The crops we produce on our family farm go into products my family eats, if our farm commodities are not safe in our eyes we wouldn’t be bringing them to the marketplace. As a mom I look to facts not fear when I make my buying decisions. Understanding where your food comes from and how it is produced is empowering, but look to the right sources for your information. Take the time to seek out science or ask a farmer.
I often feel defeated that our voice is not being heard, but I also know that I am not sharing my voice enough. So today I am challenging myself to seek out more open conversations at the grocery store, the gas station, church, etc. so that others can see my passion for the land and the food we eat. I want our food supply to be safe and nutritious but we all have a different view of what is safe is. I am also going to challenge you today that no matter what side of the table you are on seek out open conversations outside of your normal acquaintances and friends about food and farming. Let’s focus on facts not fear.
Harvest is here. EEK! So exciting as fall is by far my FAVORITE season. Even better the first day of fall is on Thursday. I got the kiddos fed last night and we headed out to see everything in action. Mr. Farmer was at our second bin site unloading soybeans while his dad, brother and hired men were busy out in the field harvesting.
I believe my excitement comes as we see all of the hard word come to fruition. Seeing the combines rolling down the field through the dust at sunset is a sight that everyone should get the chance to see in their lifetime. Can I add to the list of the wonders of the world? Well if it was up to me farming/agriculture would be added. Where else can you see hard work, science, mother nature and God’s hand all play out? This excitement and wonder is shared by everyone when the hours get long. Soybeans have just started for us and corn will not be far behind. Soon enough we will have one combine doing each. Fast forward another 12 days or so and main harvest for sugar beets will be here. That also means September is done. How time flies...
To add to the excitement I am starting a new series called the Tuesday Ten. This will give a little glimpse into what our week is looking like from farming to family to food and all of the other stuff in between. So here we go with the first Tuesday Ten.
1. What's for supper? I guess it was only fitting that we had tacos for #TacoTuesday, I usually make homemade tortillas but we opted for some store bought flour ones tonight.
2. What am I listening to? I listen to mostly country and am still obsessed with Dierks & Elle singing "It's Different for Girls"
3. How's the weather? Fall-ish, starting to cool down into the 70s but spotty rain showers throw a wrench into planned soybean harvest.
4. What are our weekend plans? Mr. Farmer will be farming so the kiddos and I will be fending for ourselves. I want to get more of the garden cleaned up and I'm sure we will venture out to the field for more combine and tractor rides.
5. What are we watching? I'm not a huge TV watcher, but I can't wait for the next season of Fixer Upper to start.
6. Boy mom moment of the past week: Little man is 16 months old and is starting to know animal sounds. So far we know sheep, deer and cow.
7. Girl mom moment of the past week: We are heading out for the morning and little Miss says "today Junior" out of the blue, queue laughs from Mom and Dad.
8.Favorite recipe of the week: I haven't had much time to try out anything new, but I have a hankering for sauerkraut hotdish!
9. What am I reading: Make it Happen by Laura Casey
10. Farm moment of the week: Me "Do you want to ride in the combine with your uncle?"
Little Miss "No, just my dad...he's my favorite guy."
I have been struggling with farm topics to blog about lately which really shouldn’t be a problem at all. There is soo much to blog about, but I tell you what as an off the farm working mom with two young kiddos some days it doesn’t happen. I hate to say there are days that I am not in touch with the farm or my husband. I feel like I am not sharing the story that I was set out to tell. I sit here reminding myself that this is reality.
The reality is I work off the farm and my husband works on the farm. At the end of some days we don’t even talk about the farm or agriculture. I work with farmers in my job off the farm, so I have a good grasp of what is going on in the neighborhood, but sometimes I miss out on what is happening in my backyard.
This is more of an internal struggle so I thank you as you listen to me rant. How do I fix this? I think its letting go of what isn’t important: the laundry, vacuuming, paying bills…okay paying the bills is important but you get the gist! Focus on family and farming and why the two together are important to us. So these are my goals for #harvest16 :
So there it is, #harvest16, I’m coming for you with my big girl pants on!
We are headed into a long Labor Day weekend and have no idea what to do with this extra free time. Anyone else get like this when busy schedules and farming seem to consume your life? We keep throwing out ideas and none of them seem to stick. Do we do the State Fair, Duluth, a lake getaway, or a staycation? We sat in the living room for over an hour last night listing pros and cons of each. You are proably thinking its not that hard people get your poop in a group and go, go have fun as a family. Sounds simple until we start looking at hotel availablity, the cost of hotels, tickets to attend certain events and all I see are dollar signs, BIG dollar signs. Oh and one other thing Mr. Farmer and I are celebrating 5 years of marriage on the 3rd so that sparks one other thought, do we ditch the kids instead and have a weekend to ourselves? More or less I STINK at making decisions on things like this. I should just flip a coin, but then I might just end up reflipping it. So here is to a weekend full of last minute decsions spent with those closest to my heart.
Everyone at the farm is preparing for our sugar beet pre lift that starts next week. Trucks need to be serviced, the lifter and the topper need to be tuned up and drivers need to be lined up. Sugar beet harvest is high time for us as it is a time of high employment on our farm and possibly long hours. Luckily pre lift is short lived and is a time for the processing plant to get the kinks worked out of their system before main harvest in October.
In pre-lift growers throughout the region are given a set of dates to haul in x amounts of beets based on the number of shares and acres they have. This takes much man power as we typically have 5 or 6 trucks running, the topper tractor and the lifter tractor. The topper is a defoliator that removes the tops/foliage from the beets preparing them for lifting.
The tractor pulling the lifter also known as a harvester soon follows. The typical lifter picks the beets out of the ground and sends them through a series of rollers that remove excess dirt and trash from the beets. Roller chain then moves them to the top of the machine where they are conveyed into a truck. After the truck is loaded the beets are delivered to a piler or the plant depending on each producer’s agreement with the coop. I'll be sure to share more on sugar beet harvest as we get into the thick of things!
I'm Lisa, a farm wife, mom and old lady at heart (or my husband tells me so). Agriculture, quilting, and baking were my first loves and now I get to enjoy them with my family!