Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Farm Labor and Red Tape

Immigration is a double edged sword.... we need labor in the US, a large number of Americans do not want to do the jobs in the agricultural industy,we have foreign labor that is willing to do the work need,yet we make it hard for them to do it legally. As a whole, we want people to enter this country legally, I get it! I want them to too! The trouble in the labor section of the farm and ranch industry it is next to impossible to find the quantity and quality of employees that are willing to work long days, an unpredictable schedule, and at times in unfavorable conditions. It is also hard to find individuals that have the care and concern, not to mention skills. So, why make it so hard to hire those that want to work? So what if they come from other countries!

For the past 12 years our farm has employed workers from the country of South Africa. They have come to work on our farm through the H2A program. For the most part this program has worked well, but not without a lot of effort. It takes quite a bit of time to complete the application, interview any local people that may have interest and foreign workers interested, arrange housing, get approval from the consulate etc. It also takes a lot of money. The H2A program requires the employer to pay transportation to the US, provide a minimum salary, transportation once here, and housing. There are also fees related to the application itself and agency expenses for assisting in making contact with potential employees.

In this short video, American Farm Bureau Federation President, Bob Stallman addresses Congress informing them of the need for a change.

This year, one of our perspective employees was denied his H2A Visa. The reason behind it was that he had been granted one for several years and that it was no longer temporary employment. Yes, he had been granted an H2A Visa for several years, but he spent that time working on a variety of different farms, not just ours. We were hoping that he'd be able to return because it means less time training in a new employee. It also means greater effeciency in terms of work completed, assimulation into the community and farm, and overall use of time and money. In addition, his return means being able to build skills beyond a base level within this employee for the betterment of himself, our farm, and places he works when he is in his native country of S. Africa. If we cannot hire people in the US to perform the tasks needed, why not allow him to come back, work hard, contribute both to the US and the South African economy, while contributing in a positive manner to an industry that strives each day to do more with less, leave things better than they were before, and maintian the most stable economic industry in the nation... agriculture. It makes me wonder if those in Washington, DC have a clue what is really needed and why. They need to know the diversity of labor needs and that the age of American entitlement has led us down the path where foreign labor is not a nicety, but a necessity.

So, let's push our representatives in Washington, DC hard to explore options for long-tern agriculture work visas. Ones that are not outrageously expensive or accompanied by excess layers of red tape in efforts to help promote quality employees, document who is in our country, and hopefully provide the employers and employees with a sense of security.

You can find your representative by visiting the House.gove website (click on link)and entering your zipcode. Don't be afraid. Your voice CAN make a difference!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Crockpot Creations

It is no secret that the most used item in my kitchen besides the dishwasher is my crockpot. In fact, I have 3! I use it to make everything from while chicken (raised on my farm by my kids) to roasts to hotdish to veggies to mashed potatoes. When the refrigerator is full if leftover I generally use it to make some sort of "dump soup". Today was one if those days. I didn't have too much, but wanted to start the week off fresh!

This morning I decided to use the left over beef roast. I simmered it in beef broth, onions, carrots and green chilies for about 5 hours until the meat had fallen apart. Then I started dumping! I added some more onion, more green chilies, corn, 1/4 block of Velveeta, corn, 2 cans cream of celery, 2 cans of black beans, chunks of baked potato, and evaporated milk. It simmered for another 2-3 hours amd then it was ready to eat. I decided to call it Tex-Mex Post Roast Soup!

Although my family may never get this exact creation again, as there recipe, I love the fact that left overs do't have to be JUST leftovers. They can be a whole new experience!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

When Does Farming Begin Each Year?

Have you ever wondered when the "new" farming season begins each year? Well, each operation and each year will bring a different answer. Here are some of the most common...
1) A year or two ago
2) Right after taxes are done
3) It doesn't
4) Work begins about 2 months before planting

Why so many different answers? Let's go answer by answer staring with #1.

1) For many farm operations the 2013 farm year really did start several years ago. Farming is a business. If a business is to succeed it needs to have long term goals, a planting and harvest plan, as well as a marketing plan. In addition there needs to be a plan about budget- including machinery purchase, insurance, and employees. Finally, there is also a need for a plan to accomplish all of the goals and plans listed above. None if this can be started and set in place in a short amount of time. They all take time and generally start and are modified anywhere from 3 years to 6 months before they become a reality.

Another reason that the 2014 farming year started quite a while ago is because many farmers sell crop for an upcoming year as early as two years before it is planted. If prices are right and other variables are fairly secure, it is in the farmers interest to lock in a fair price for a portion of their crop.

2) Taxes... Yes, farmers pay taxes. Most of us pay taxes once a year sometime between February and April, depending in the deadline given. Yes, farmers do have some deductions that individuals do not, but it can be compared to many other businesses. Business expenses do reduce the liability. But, I will tell you that I pay my fair share. Deductions are not always in our best interest to maximize and that is where the plans from above come into play. I will also state that I am proud to pay a portion of my income that is reasonable because it is my civic responsibility.

So, now onto the answer you have been looking for.... For many, farmer or non- farmer, when the taxes are finally prepared, liability determined and then paid, there is a feeling if relief and new beginning. That is why some day that the 2013 farm year starts after taxes.

3) It doesn't.... A year only starts when the previous stops.... Some years a farmer is functioning with some things from two years prior and looking and planning two to three years ahead. They all mesh together... which is exactly why detailed records are so important!

4) No farmers don't just park the combine in the shed in the fall and walk into the tractor cab and pull the seeder/ planter into the field and start all over again in the Spring. Farmers are constantly finding new equipment, searching for parts, attending trainings, and repairing and modifying equipment.

Repairing equipment can take as much as 8-10 weeks of regular full-time work. Many times parts and supplies have to be picked up from over 250 miles away. Some of the modifications require slow and steady welding and research in order to get things just right. The majority of farmers also have to truck their crop to local markets or elevators during the winter months. The time between harvest and Spring's work can be a bit slower and perhaps more flexible, but it is never dull!

In short, the coffee drinking donut eating days do not happen very often. If they do, they are not days they are a brief hour or so.

If I were to steal and modify a well known saying... It could be said, " A farmers work is never done." Just look at the text and call record of any farmer's cell on a given day.... I bet there is no less than 20 recorded calls or texts regarding the farm and perhaps percision farming software!


Friday, February 22, 2013

Chris Cracks Me Up!

This morning, yes it is only 7:10am, Chris, my 5 year old, has been so funny! (Names omitted to protect the innocent- :-))
" I want to go to my friend's house because he has a cute sister. But you know another girl told me that this girl broke up with me. You know what? She never told me though. I never got to talk to her. I better get over to her house today and get to the bottom of it. Maybe that other girl just wants to date me. Life is so crazy!"

He then immediately switches to talking about farming and trying to tell everyone to be quiet so he can watch Ag PhD and tell his dad what is new and figure out the weed of the week!

He is just so much fun! Never a full moment when he's around!

Monday, February 18, 2013

A White Weekend

Snow, snow, more snow, and still not enough. At least that is what my kids are saying! The big snow blower is saying it too- I think. Spring and summer bring beauty to the landscape in rural North Dakota like none I have experienced anywhere else. BUT.... It is the bright crisp winter days that share a new kind of beauty and invite kids young and old to dig a hole, build a hill and appreciate the the simple entertainment that Mother Nature blesses us with for about 5 months each year!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Connecting with the Community

Last week I was forunate to have the opportunity to represent ND Farm Bureau at the McLean County Ag Show in Garrison, ND. We were blessed with the presence of the My American Farm online agricultural game and activity kiosk. In addition to demonstrating the games for attendees at the show, we also held drawings, gave away farm safety coloring books, My American Farm activity books, and Young Farmer and Rancher postcards sharing each families' agricultural story.

After a full day, talking with over 100 people and businesses in the county, I was exhausted! Yet, I felt energized. I know a bit of an oxymoron?! I guess we can just say that the experience was invigorating, enjoyable, and inspiring and that vastly outweighs the amount of tiredness I felt and my sore feet! A few smiles and a chance to hear and share a few stories is always worth the time!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Tax season... Ahh!

Well the first part of winter has been good! It has also gone VERY fast! It seems like just yesterday I was sitting down to a Thanksgiving turkey and finalizing purchases for Christmas presents. I can hardly believe that February is half over except for the fact that tax season is upon us!

I have to say that if I would do everything right each month throughout the year, my annual visits with our accountant and farm management consultant would be much less stressful!

It seems like I spend about 5 days and numerous sleepless nights immediately prior to these meetings making sure I have all my numbers correct and documentation in place. Each year I promise myself I will do better, but I seem to have fallen into a routine and comfort zone.

This week we have had what could be called the "come to Jesus" meetings. Now, I am one that believes that if you make it you pay it, but that you shouldn't give your hard earned money away. I also believe that going into tax season not knowing what tax laws/ deductions etc will be in place should be a sin. It's kind of like playing a game with only half the pieces or with a two year old who makes the rules up as you play.

Being that I was functioning on minimal sleep and had a brain of mush, I feel that the meetings went well. I only had 3 small issues that could be corrected within minutes! This was a first. The tax laws presented opportunities to secure a bit of operating security into the future while contributing significantly to the federal and state tax departments as responsible US citizens do.
For the first time in 12 years I feel good about what I have been able to do on our family farm to provide a quality product to market while contributing to the economic position of our state and nation. Taxes are not something we can run away from, but should acknowledge that it is our responsibility to pay them. If we make it, we need to pay it! After all, it is not what we "lose" (pay), it is what we "gain" ( take home amount/ experience/ etc) that makes us rich!