Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Minute Means Money... or maybe not!

There is never a minute that we should take for granted. I really do mean never taking a minute for granted in all aspects of our lives! Over the past few weeks I have had a crash course in grain contracts. Overall, I have learned that each commodity's contract is unique and pretty much just tells the seller that the elevator will take a specified amount of commodity.

On our farm we have been hauling wheat fromt he field to local elevators. Most of it has been contracted. These specific contracts bind both the elevator and producer to deliver and buy a certain number of bushels of wheat at a baseline price. Our elevators use 14 protein for their base contract price. This means that if you bring in a load of wheat you would get a bump or a premium above the price for proteins higher than 14 and a discount on the price if it is lower than 14 protein. Generally, once a producer brings in a load of wheat on a contract the price is set until the contract is filled. Some days a producer will fill several contracts. All of which will have the same premiums and discounts for protein because they are delivered on the same day.

Examples of how premiums are paid out are:
If 14 protein wheat is $4.00/ bushel for each .2 protein increase between 14 and 15 protein the producer would be paid an additional 20 cents. So, 14.6 protein wheat would be worth $4.60. When protein reaches 15 protein the producer would receive the 20 cent premium for each .2 and then an additional 75 cent bump. So 14.8 protein wheat would be $4.80 and 15 protein wheat would be $5.75. But, if you had wheat that was less than 14 protein you could be discounted 30- 40 cents. So if you had 13.2 protein wheat at a discount of 30 cents .2 protein then you would receive a discount of $1.20 for a price of $2.80 per bushel. ( Note: premiums are different at different elevators and on different days. They are generally set by supply and demand.)

Well, about 2 weeks ago, things as we knew them changed. We hauled a few loads of wheat into the elevator filling one of our contracts. Like I said generally the base price and premiums are set from open to close each day and do not change during the day. About 45 minutes after filling one contract, we hauled in another load. During that short period of time (thank you cell phones and technology :-)) the elevator had been given notice that South Dakota (a typical low protein state at about 12 protein) had shipped a load of wheat to Minneapolis that ended up being 16 protein. Thus causing an immediate decline in the need for higher protein wheat and the elimination of premiums for it.

So, when we went to dump on a new contract, we no longer had a premium for our high protein wheat. WAIT A MINUTE.... IT HAD ONLY BEEN A FEW MINUTES.... WHAT DO YOU MEAN? Needless to say there were a few unpublishable comments and several phone calls made to get to the bottom of the price difference. Yes, we know that premiums are a bonus, but they are important when we work hard to raise and plan for a certain percentage of our wheat to be higher protein. It is also important because producers often blend higher proteins with lower proteins to improve their price at market.

You may ask, "What really is the big deal?". Well, let's pencil it out.
If a field produces 45 bushels per acre and a producer raises 1000 acres of wheat that means there are 45,000 bushels of wheat.
Here is the price difference for the above protein premium scenario for the 45,000 bushels of wheat if 14 protein wheat were to be $4.00:
14 protein -$4: $180,000
13 protein-$2.50: $112,500
15 protein- $5.75: $258,750
WOW! That's a lot of money!

Ok, Ok, Ok. I know that not all of a producers crop would get the exact same price, but for princple, the difference is powerful. Many producers raise more than 1000 acres of wheat and do get quality premiums for raising higher protein wheat.
For our farm, literally the matter of just a few minutes, brought a deduction in income of over $30,000. More than I made working all year off the farm. I know I should know that nothing is for sure in farming; but, we get so comfortable with the way things are and have been that we often forget that they can change unexpectedly (and it is not always Mother Nature's fault)!

So, no matter what you think you know, what has historically been done, where things are trending in the markets, a simple change in supply and demand and circumstances out of your control can change the way you operate at any time.

Be thankful for what you have and never take anything for granted!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Impact of Ag Scholarships

So, today I have been procrastinating A LOT and came across commentary and discussion on (http://www.rodeoattitude.com/facesofag/category/loos-tales/), that features a response to a question regarding, "whether or not a scholarship to a farm kid means they don’t return to the very rural community they grew up in".

My initial reaction was," No!” But, then I got to thinking. I guess it all depends on what the scholarship is for. I am a true believer that scholarships and grants are increasingly becoming a necessity for students to attending college. In fact, my husband and I even have a small scholarship set up at Dickinson State University in efforts to help students attend college. We set our scholarship up to require that the recipients be enrolled in an agricultural related course of study. We did not restrict it to a major, a minor, or a certificate program in a specified career because we believe that part of supporting agriculture is supporting the entire industry, not just production agriculture. We wanted to perhaps provide support to those who were active in agriculture in a non-traditional way. Anyway, I strongly feel that scholarships are a must in given the dynamics of our current economic situation and the increasing cost of tuition.

With that being said, I also believe that scholarships can guide people towards or away from various careers, living locations, and life choices. Ok, so what in the world do I mean? What I mean is that scholarships can be created with guidelines that support specific fields of study, living locations from which one was raised or is willing to reside in once graduated etc. This can draw people into specific fields and also support those already interested. The down side is that people may not be able to enter into a specific field if they do not receive financial support.

Do I think that scholarships deter individuals from returning to their rural communities....? I still say, "No", but, perhaps for different reasons. I feel that the PERSON decides whether they return, scholarships may open a door that wasn't before, but ultimately personal interest, job availability, and individual characteristics and circumstances decide whether a person returns "home".

So keep the scholarships out there, make personal connections with those we want to come "home", and help support the decisions that individuals make while leaving the "door" to the rural community open.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Entertaining the Conversation

Over the past 8 months I have been doing a lot of thinking about keeping an open mind and acknowledging that my knowledge and opinions may hurt me more than help me when it comes to promoting things that I am passionate about...Education and Agriculture.

I have heard and studied with my husband about "Foodies" and "Locavores". Listened to my husband partake in deep discussions about Urban Ag and worked with people that promote the Farm to School program. I have also been fortunate enough to partake in conversations about organic farming and GMO crops. Ultimately the best conversation regarding agriculture was with a dear friend at the dinner table about why we need GMO seed, what our responsibility is to the world, the long term effects of our current technological advances, the disruption of the natural cycles in nature and most importantly what the Bible says about agriculture. Now I must say that our conversation was not near long enough (several kids running around). But, it was one that really made me stop and ask, " What would happen if..." and how do all the different farming and ranching practices fit together to supply the demands of our towns, cities, states, country and world.

It was amongst and after all these opportunities to learn and the excitement that I saw on my husband's eyes as he listens and speaks with many people from a variety of backgrounds that I decided to become better educated and interested in the big picture of agriculture. I had spent the last 12 years of my life learning about our operation’s ins and outs that I had spent little time reading, listening and speaking with others in the field and people (actively involved in ag and those who aren't) with things to say. I realized that no matter what they have to say we both have things to learn from each other.

Among the things I have learned to date I have learned that organic is not the enemy of conventional practices. Infact, organic commodities are a fabulous way to connect with the consumer and enter into conversation about choice. Nutrient value is generally equal with both options; it is simply a matter of cost, availability, and lifestyle. Organic is not an option for all, but it is a wonderful way to make the connection between producer and consumer.

Urban agriculture is also growing. Now I must say that it is VERY different from what I have come to know, but none the less it is still is an important sub-culture within the agriculture industry. I have found that some of my biggest challenges when trying to talk about agriculture come from the urban population. Many times it is because the hustle and bustle of the city lifestyle has not provided time for consumers to think about how the food gets to their store, where it comes from, availability, price, quality etc. The urban ag movement gets people, groups and even companies involved in knowing about the food they consume, the effort that goes into producing and perhaps helps them stop and think about the entire (or part of) the complex and advanced agricultural system in the United States.

My biggest challenge has definitely been the concept of spirituality and agriculture. Part of my challenge is not knowing what all the Bible has to say and part of it is a struggle with responsibility to supply. How do my personal values and morals co-exist in an industry that no longer (not for a long time now) is a self sustaining lifestyle. U.S. agriculture is a worldwide life sustaining business that is always moving ahead. Where does my balance come within farming practices, desire to get a few more cents per bushel, relationships with business partners and landlords. I have stated several times that I will not become someone that I am not comfortable with to move up the ladder, but when does livelihood and need to compete compromise that statement? I have not had to deal to heavily with that as of yet, but I know my day will come and I will need my faith to pull me through. I hope that as time goes on that my dinner conversation with a dear friend will continue for she is very knowledgeable, has a different perspective than many in our community and is a wonderful listener!

So, I guess the moral of today's message is that no matter what the theme or topic of the conversation is, listen, ask questions, and share. You will always learn something; even if it is just a better understand of the other person or perspectives that are out there!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A House Cheer Up that Smells Good Too!

So, I love to be outside working in my yard and garden. Infact, I think that I could spend most of everyday there. I also think about what I am going to change, rearrange etc. on a regular basis. But, sometimes I have to focus on the inside of my house too. During the summer, I can certainly say that the inside of my house definately gets neglected!

Anyway, I hosted a Vintage Couture clothing party last night. ( AWESOMELY CUTE STUFF I MUST SAY!) This meant that I had to venture inside and clean/ tidy up the inside of my house and hide the things that I knew I was not going to get put away. I tossed a few things in closets, a few things in baskets and cupboards and the rest found semi- correct resting places. But thenI realized I had tables and counters without the regular piles and collections on them and my house felt "empty". So, I ventured outside to see what I could find to brighten and fill up the space..... I was able to find a few lillies still in bloom and some other flowers that I am not sure what they are. Oh yah and sunflowers! So I tossed them into a few vases and set them out. It is amazing what you can do with a few glass jars, river rock from the landscaping and the last of the flowers....
As I got started finalizing my "cleaning" I found one last table that needed a little something. So, I decided that I would try out a herb bouquet.

A bit of Rosemary, some Basil and a pom of Hydrangia and I had a cute little very fresh smelling arrangement. Not to mention a living room that smelled wonderful!
So, enjoy all that the great outdoors has to offer, treat it with care and it will repay you with lots of enjoyment, entertainment and beauty.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Zucchini Time

It is that time of year when there are a few things that grow in abundance no matter how many seeds you plant. For me it is zucchini. Whether I put in 5 seeds or 50 it always seems like I end up with the same amount...too much!

The other day my husband, oldest son and I took full advantage of our supply and experimented with a few new recipes. The two that ended up to be winners were Cheesy Italian Layered Zucchini and Zucchini Funnel Cakes. I should have known... who can't resist cheese and a good tasting funnel cake!
Here is my best shot at the recipes... as you may know, I don't use recipes very often and of course I didn't write anything down as we went along.

Cheesy Layered Zucchini
1 large or 2 medium zucchini sliced thin
mozzerella cheese
parmesean or parmesean/ romano
asiago cheese
1 -2 sliced and patted dry roma tomato
8x8 or 9x9 pan
Cooking Spray
Layer ingredients beginning with the zuccini in the pan. Use one kind of cheese then place a layer of zucchini. When you use the parmeasean replace the zucchini with the tomato. Top the zucchini bake with parmesean and fresh or dried italian herbs.
Bake uncovered at 375 for 45 minutes. It will get good and bubbly and golden brown on top.
Let sit for 3-5 minutes before serving. Serves 4.

Zucchini Funnel Cake
chopped or minced zucchini
3 c.pancake batter
1/4 c. honey
dash of cinnamon
water(to make batter pancake/waffle consistancy)
powder sugar

Chop or mince your zucchini.

Mix first 5 ingredients.
Let sit while deep dry oil is heating. When oil is hot, drizzle 1 cup batter in. Allow to cook until edges are golden brown (about 90 sec- 2 minutes) then flip and cook for about another 90 secs.
Flip fried dough out onto a plate covered with paper towels,
sprinkle with powered sugar and let cool for 1 minute-- if possible :) Eat and enjoy!

We enjoyed experimenting and hope that others do too! If all else fails, when you find yourself not knowing what to do with the plentiful produce coming from your garden, bundle it up and deliver it to a neighbor, but don't forget to include a recipe!