IL Corn is a member of the Global Farmer Network. This association helps us act as a worldwide community of farmers, advocating for trade and technology that every farmer needs access to, no matter their country of origin.
GFN has started a new series of checking in with some farmers in other countries so we can understand each other better! What a great chance to “meet” an international farmer!!
I am pleased to introduce you to Jane Smith in New Zealand who attended the 2016 Global Farmer Roundtable and farms with her husband and children…
Question: Tell us about your farm: Where is it? What size is your farm? What do you grow?
Answer: We are fourth generation sheep and beef farmers in Otago – the southern end of the south island of New Zealand. We run 500 Angus cattle and 4,000 Perendale sheep on 3,700 acres of rolling hill country. Our farm sits at an altitude of 2,000 feet above sea level and so snow is frequent and expected in winter time here. Our stock are completely free range and pasture raised – and they love the outdoors life – they are bred for resilience – we don’t use antibiotics, anthelmintic treatments or any growth hormones.
Question: Why did you decide to become a farmer?
Answer: We are passionate about our breeding robust, resilient, happy and healthy livestock. Farming families are well known to care for their communities, their farms and their family’s future and these are what we live for. We are proud of the fact that over the past 30 years, our New Zealand farmers have increased their production by running lower numbers of livestock, but producing more per animal – yet still remaining pasture-based and sustainable.
Question: What is the most significant challenge you are facing today?
Answer: Tight biosecurity is our greatest asset as an island nation – we have the ability to remain well secured from a biosecurity point of view – however with the massive increase in tourism each and every year, our borders will need to remain extremely well resourced in order to cope with the ever increasing risk of biosecurity intrusions.
We also spend a significant amount of our time ‘defending’ the place of a farmer in today’s society. We have now changed this approach to a proactive/educational stance, rather than a defensive mechanism. In New Zealand, despite the fact that we are based on a sustainable pasture- based system and that we export 90% of our product, we are held to account by our urban population to a level perhaps unseen anywhere else in the world, especially given that we are highly taxed and we have had no farmer subsidies since 1984 (this we are very proud of). We have taken significant steps to ensure that everything that we do on farm is auditable and transparent – from our high animal welfare programmes to our strong environmental focus, yet the level of regulation that is forced upon us each and every year is increasing. We genuinely want to do the right thing and have a focus that goes ‘beyond compliance’ and we believe that New Zealand farmers are indeed doing this, albeit it with very little recognition and no product premiums to reflect our high regulatory costs.
Question: What opportunities do you see, as a farmer, that you get excited about your future in this field?
Answer: We are excited about marketing our New Zealand naturally produced products to the world. We are proud of our sustainability, our efficiency and our family-based long term view of the role of the farmer. Our next step is to ensure that today’s savvy global consumer recognizes this and is willing to pay a premium for this – to allow us to maintain our extremely high quality assurance standards in producing safe and sustainable food.
I came across this post on Facebook recently and after I thought about it for a few days, I just couldn’t not share it with you. How many of us haven’t been through this?
Little ones are always a challenge, but it is even more important on the farm that they are included and invested in the work farmers are doing. Only ONE PERCENT of the population are farmers. If we want to be able to keep the family farm afloat in the U.S., farmers must invest in their children along with everything else they are supposed to do.
Farmers are the ultimate superheroes.
PUT ON YOUR PATIENCE PANTS, by Krista
This photo was taken while planting last spring but it sets the stage for a story that has been on my mind lately so I wanted to share now. Side note, browsing my May 2017 pictures to find this one I couldn’t help but have conflicting love/hate feelings in seeing how much the girls have changed in the last year!
The machines we use to harvest ours crops have “buddy seats” and large cabs with space for passengers to ride along. But tractors, the machines that pull the planter, have a much smaller cab, so it’s not as easy for extra people to ride along. Plus, planting must be done with great precision and distractions can mean the seeds do not get planted correctly.
For those reasons, we typically do not spend much time in the tractor during planting. But on the day this photo was taken, Brett was going to be planting late into the evening so the girls and I took a meal he could eat on the go. And the two big girls rode one round in the planter with him.
After the crop started growing, Brett came home one day after he had been out to check this field and told me he could tell exactly where the girls got in and out of the tractor. There were skips in the field because he didn’t get the planter turned on and off in the right place. The initial feeling when you see skips in your field is frustration. Isn’t it always frustrating when something doesn’t turn out as you planned?
But let’s be real. Often when little kids are involved the things we do don’t go as planned. Or maybe they take a bit longer, or aren’t done as well as the experienced person would have done, or maybe there’s extra time spent on clean up.
This isn’t just applicable to farming, but everything. I think of this often when the girls want to help with preparing a meal or baking a batch of cookies. Wouldn’t it be so easy to just do it myself? I would get done faster, the finished product would be just how I want it, and I wouldn’t have as big of a mess. This is especially applicable to decorated sugar cookies. Have you used those itty bitty round sprinkles that roll for miles and are virtually impossible to sweep up? Whoever came up with those has clearly never decorated cookies with a 3 year old.
But here’s the thing. If we don’t put on our patience pants and take time to allow the kids to be part of the things we do, how can we ever expect them to want to be involved with those things as they get older? How can we expect them to develop a passion or appreciation for those things?
While it’s our hope that at least one of the girls will want to continue our family farm, we want the girls to grow up with a strong appreciation for agriculture regardless of what they choose to do in their future. If we want to instill our passion for agriculture in them, we have to make them a part of the farm and give them a chance to start taking on roles now.
And you know what happens when the kids become involved and have a chance to participate in the things you are doing? They improve. They learn what the next step is. They pull ingredients out of the fridge. They open the gate to the barn. They grab a rag and clean a spot off the floor when they spill. They color quietly during the Church service. All are a work in progress, but you can see improvement when they are excited to be included.
And you know what happens to parents when they let kids become more involved? You realize how helpful little ones can be. You find ways to simplify and eliminate frustrations. Like using the long bar sprinkles “jimmies” instead of those little round sprinkles.
I admit, I still have a great deal of improvement to make in this area myself. When I begin to feel a frustrated about something, I remind myself that sprinkles on the floor or a blank spot in the field are pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things. If that’s the cost for building passion in the girls, that’s a price I’m willing to pay.
Cows and chickens, fields of corn, a big red barn, green tractors and dusty jeans – these are just a few of the images that come to mind when people hear the word “farming.” But for today’s farmers, there is much more to agriculture than meets the eye. We spoke with three farmers for their insights on how and why they’re committed to producing safe, nutritious and affordable food.
Here are five things we learned:
1. Most farms are owned and operated by families.
The 2012 Census of Agriculture shows that 97 percent of the 2.1 million farms in the United States are family-owned operations. Most farmers would tell you that working with their family is key to why they are so passionate about what they do.
“The biggest misconception I’ve heard would be that, as farms have gotten bigger, they have been labeled as factory farms. That we just use the land and move on. Yet, every farmer I know is very family-oriented. I love that our farm is something I can pass on to my family, a legacy, a business and a way of life that my kids love,” said William Layton, a third-generation Maryland farmer and owner of Layton’s Chance Vineyards and Winery.
Jenny Rhodes, University of Maryland Extension Educator in Agriculture and Natural Resources, who owns and operates a grain and broiler chicken farm with her family, said, “I love the whole family aspect and wanted my children to grow up the way I did. Instead of rushing home to spend a few hours with my family, we can spend time together working together. We are all family farms and at the end of the day it’s families working.”
2. Farming is efficient because it is high tech.
Farmers use technology to make advances in producing more food that is more safe, affordable, and produced more efficiently than ever before. Layton said, “Many people have an idea of the old-fashioned farmer, but in reality I spend half of my time in the office making GPS maps for what is going on in the field at any given point. We also have tractors that drive themselves, so we are very technology-based, and technology creates efficiency.”
“Everything you do in farming has to be efficient and sustainable and I love working to improve the resources on our farm so that we can do that,” explained Jenny Schmidt, a registered dietitian and Maryland farmer, whose family produces corn, soybeans, wheat, barley, hay, tomatoes, green beans and wine grapes. “When I talk to people about pesticide usage on our farm, I explain that our sprayer for our tomatoes, green beans, wheat, corn and soybeans sprays at the rate of 15-20 gallons per acre for herbicides. It is a 750-gallon tank so using 15 gallons per acre, this sprayer can cover 50 acres per tank – that’s only 0.04 ounces per square foot. This type of efficiency wouldn’t be possible without technology. Also, many people think we are dousing our fields with pesticides, but that would be inefficient. Spraying isn’t dousing.” Learn more about how the “dose makes the poison” in pesticide usage in “Should You Be Concerned with Pesticides On Produce?”.
3. Farmers are passionate about producing food.
“The thing that I love most about farming is working hard and seeing the results of that hard work. At harvest, I love quitting at dark after a 14-hour day and seeing all that I’ve harvested right in front of me. It’s a great feeling to see that,” said Layton.
“Farming is a passionate job and requires patience to weather through the ups and downs. Ultimately, I love being able to care for the soil and land with the available resources and set the stage for the next generation,” said Schmidt.
Farming is a lifestyle, not just a job. It is 24 hours a day, seven days a week and every day of the year! (Yes, this means vacations are nearly impossible to take!)
4. Farmers use a variety of production methods.
Debates about “organic” and “conventional” crops suggest there are only two ways to grow food: a “good” way and a “bad” way. But an important question to think about is, “What is the best way to feed a growing population, while reducing the amount of resources required?” To address this, farming will need multiple approaches, not just one.
“Many farmers don’t want to be seen as one thing; for me, I want to be seen as both holistic and sustainable. For example, there are trade-offs with all production methods. And each provide different benefits: it’s not an either/or, it’s more about melding the practices together,” added Schmidt. Want to learn more about organic versus conventional? Check out “Organic versus Conventional Foods: Is There a Nutritional Difference?”.
5. There are many ways to become involved with agriculture.
Farm and ranch families make up just two percent of the U.S. population, while most people are at least three generations removed from agriculture. However, the farmers we chatted with all agreed that getting involved in agriculture is for everyone.
Rhodes said it’s important to know what your goal is: Do you want to learn more? Do you want to own your own farm? “After you figure out your goals, then you can decide how to reach them through things like farm tours, working with different national councils, talking with your University extension programs and, of course, talking with the farmers in your area.”
“Social media is a great place to start and to seek out transparent farmers if you have questions about food. I love sharing information about my farm and interesting news articles that are related to the happenings on my farm,” Schmidt added.
Layton concluded, “Agritourism, corn mazes, farm stands, community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs, farmers markets – these are all ways to connect with farmers. Talk with the farmers – they are happy to chat with you! I give tours twice a day every day at the winery and people ask questions not only about the grapes and wines but about our crops, too. I love answering these questions.”
Our food supply is abundant, affordable overall and among the world’s safest, thanks in large part to the efficiency and productivity of America’s farm and ranch families. Want to learn more about growing food? Reach out to a local farmer or let us know and we can connect you with one!