Category Archives: Repairs & Maintenance

Too Many Farmers & Ranchers?

In these slow times made so by inclement weather (snow, cold, ice, wind, mud, rain), my energy level increases because i’m not working as physically hard.  These past couple years, too, i’ve begun going to our local YMCA at 5am to walk and lift weights for a couple hours.  All this contributes to a restless feeling that i’m not accomplishing all that i can.  My children, now grown, are good at reeling in my ambition and crazy ideas a bit, which is good because i have a natural tendency to get too many irons in the fire.

However, the perspective of age has tempered and honed those expansive ideas as either increasing work or increasing investment.  The latter is much more attractive to me now as my physical strength wanes.

All that shared to relate an irony of agriculture in the United States.  Although, some would cry ‘save the family farm’ few actually have a real look at what the family farm is.  Are we dooming the modern family farm by idolizing the farms of the past?  or those small holdings in distant lands?  The reality is that farming/ranching has never been financial lucrative in the sense of ‘getting rich.’  Margins are slim, startup is pretty much insurmountable now, and i never thought i’d say it out loud, but i fear there are too many farmers/ranchers in the United States.  That is to say, that despite the average age of farmers is 58 or 59, farming of the agrarian sort (actually farming/ranching – not some related field) is more competitive than ever!  Outside investors and to an even greater degree, neighbouring prudent and successful farmers with disposable income bid up land to amounts beyond production value which keeps new farmers from entering.  Oh, yes, i know that mantra is that you don’t have to own land to start in farming, that is absolutely true, but at least here in north Missouri, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything to rent – pasture or crop land.  And, to be honest, most of the land in our county is not crop land, yet it’s been under the plough for decades and much has washed down the creek.

How did this happen?  Technology, bigger and better equipment, government support programs, and the never ending pressure to produce food cheaply.  All these contribute to fewer farmers necessary to farm the massive number of acres to produce crops with slimmer and slimmer profit margins.  Often, the only profit is the check collected from the federal government (you, the taxpayer).  But don’t blame the producer!  It’s just our system.

For some time now, interest rates on saved income has been lower than the inflation rate, resulting in outside investors hoping to get some return on their money, whereas farmers buy land to spread out the equipment costs.  Consider that for a row cropper here, land to purchase (it’s a rarity to find) will cost upwards of $4000/acre. (a small parcel just sold in the county next to us for $8000/acre!)

Thank A Farmer Kitchen Farms wheat harvest in Missouri by Finney Aerial Photo

There are a few farms asking less than that, but most are worn out (soil loss, erosion, and fertility may take decades of proper farming/ranching to reverse or restore) and should never have been cropped in the first place (steep slope, poor production indicators, etc).  Yet, the asking price is out of reach for anyone wanting to raise livestock.  One such farm near me would take at least $400/acre up front cost to restore it to even marginal pasture.  Add that to the asking price, and already it’s over $3500/acre! (Racks & Tracks listing)

So, is land more expensive now than in the past?  Consider my property just across the road from the above listing and of similar topography.

1857 – $1.83/acre – Today’s dollars = $53.19/acre

1870 – $13.41/acre – Today’s dollars = $258.87 (this buyer lost the farm)

1872 – $3.90/acre – Today’s dollars = $80.84/acre  (appraised value was $64.67/acre)

1875 – $4.79/acre – Today’s dollars = $110.12/acre

then several surveys and set aside for Morris Chapel Church and cemetery – finally back together in 1945

1945 – $11.97/acre – today’s dollars = $168.17/acre

1949 – $26.95/acre – Today’s dollars = $286.36

1966 – $92.81/acre – today’s dollars = $724.39*

2018 – $3100/acre – today’s dollars = $3100/acre (asking price of farm across the road)

Working backwards – what would a $3000/acre farm bring in 1949?  $282.34

*1966 is when my grandparents purchased the farm, it shows, too, another reason land owners won’t sell property – basis.  Since this farm was gifted to me, the basis from 1966 remains in place.  In other words, if i sold the land for $2100/acre, capital gains tax would be paid on the difference between $92.81 and $2100.  This tax could be as much as 23.8%!  However, if i die and the land passes to my heirs, it can be appraised and establish a new basis.

Tenants compete for acres by bidding up rental fees because of their massive investment in machinery.  Absentee farmers and investors generally accept the highest rent bid (which is usually the one that will least take care of the soil) and hope the fertility and productivity outlives them, then the property will sell.

Change comes one funeral at a time.

Rather than me stumbling about putting together numbers, here’s a great article written in 2017 with sample startup costs for someone wanting to start and make a living farming.

Cheers!

tauna

HOW MUCH $ DOES IT TAKE TO BECOME A FARMER?

THIS IS WHAT IT TAKES TO GO FROM ZERO MONEY TO A FARMER.
I was talking with a couple of farmers recently, discussing the barriers to entry for new farmers. Some numbers were thrown out as to how much capital it would take for a young man or woman to get started into farming.“$1 million, $2 million, more” were amounts bandied about. This made me curious, so I decided to drill down on the actual capital requirement.

First of all, we need to decide what kind of farmer we are talking about here. For this article, I’m assuming someone with no family farm who wants to become a full-time grain farmer in Iowa, Illinois, or Indiana.

The first thing a budding farmer might do is get a degree in agriculture, since he/she would not have learned farming on the family farm. This will cost somewhere between $20,000 and $120,000, depending on where he/she goes and what scholarships are available. The average of those two numbers is $70,000, which will require student loan debt for most young people. Of course, a degree is not required, but it might come in handy for convincing banks to loan money or landlords to lease cropland.

The equipment requirement could be an extensive discussion; however, I’ll try to keep it as short as possible. One could buy all new machines, but to get started, let’s assume the acquisition of decent used equipment – about 5 to 10 years old.

The basic list would include: a combine with corn head and grain platform for $175,000; a big tractor for plowing and planting at 125K; a grain truck for 60K; a planter that runs about 75K; a grain drill for 40K; a disk at around 30K; a chisel-plow for 30K; a field cultivator at 25K; a pull-type sprayer costs 35K; a grain dryer is 30K; a utility tractor for brush-hogging/ditching/grading at 35K; a grain cart for 15K; a trailer at around 15K; an ATV for 10K; and a full complement of tools costs 15K.

The building requirement probably includes a couple of metal buildings ($200,000) and at least a few grain storage bins to hold 75,000 bushels, about $75,000. There is no hard-and-fast land requirement. However, the farmers I spoke with said that someone would need at least 500 owned acres and 1,000 leased acres to make a living.

The quality of the land certainly affects those numbers. For this article, let’s assume 150-plus corn bushel-per-acre land for about $7,500 an acre. If you bought 500 acres as a base of operations, the total land cost would be $3,750,000.

Add it all up, and we arrive at $5,157,500. Wow! That’s a big number, and it’s out of reach for most young entrepreneurs.

Because of the cost of land and equipment today, some farmers are concerned about who will be able to follow them into the industry. How will they fund the enterprise, even with family land and equipment?

Because of greater access to capital, more corporate farms are likely.

The problem is not just start-up capital but also surviving drought years and low commodity prices until they turn around. Unfortunately, even though you are already a biologist, engineer, equipment operator, accountant, carpenter, and mechanic, you have to become an expert financier, as well, to get into farming and stay there.

Written by Shawn Williamson, Certified Public Accountant (CPA) MBA in Missouri and Illinois. This article is designed to be a commentary on the amount of capital required for a row-crop farm in the Midwest. It is not meant to be a guide on how to get started in farming. 

 

Pawls are good Pals!

Pawls usually need replacing after several years of hard use.  Buy them from Kencove Fence Supplies.

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All that is needed to replace the broken pawl with a new one are a Phillips screwdriver and a 10 mm wrench.
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This little piece of plastic will save a lot of frustration and time by effectively holding the metal catch up when unrolling polybraid.  
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With the new pawl installed, the metal catch is securely out of the way to keep it from stopping the reel from unrolling.

Shabbat Shalom!

tauna

Another Hot Morning!

Today’s (June 19) chores were frustrating and exhausting – hopefully, i won’t vent too much, but instead methodically record what happened and what decisions to make based on the mishaps.  However, the first of the morning was spent walking in 3 Angus heifers to attach Estrotect patches in preparation for AI (artificial insemination) over the next weeks followed by spraying off 30 gallons of Surmount chemical mix on woody brush at my farm.  Started about 5:30 am.

This late spring I started letting my cows graze the new seeding implemented last fall.  It’s been super, super dry (until today!  already 8/10s of an inch and still gently raining), so using a back fence was not important since the grass wasn’t trying to grow back after grazing because of the heat and dry.

Nevertheless, I’ve been stripping off sections of about 2 days grazing each – no where near what could be considered mob grazing, but i’ve already decided that is a practice which simply won’t work for me.  I had already set up 2 temporary fences of polybraid of about 1/4 mile each.  Anyone who has done this realizes that that 1/4 mile of walking turns into at least a mile by the time the poly is unrolled, then walk back to get posts, then set up posts along the poly and hook the handle into a hot (electrified) lead.

When i arrived this morning, the cows had blasted through both of them!!  I was not a happy camper to say the least.  Thankfully, i had brought along another 1/4 mile roll of poly braid and I pushed the cows sort of back where they belong and i unrolled this tape.  The grass and weeds were tall, so it just sort of laid on top and looked like a fence the cows didn’t want to bother.  Testing the lead, i found that there was no electricity.  Ah ha!  all the polybraids were ‘dead’  and with baby calves running around, it didn’t take long for them to run through with mommas right behind.

But why was the fence dead?

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I know this tree doesn’t look very big in this photo, but it was about 18 inches in diameter where you see here.  But my spinning jenny was not hit and, although, the post was pushed over a bit, it was still strongly in place.

I had spent some time at that very spot repairing some wire and gate just 24 hours before.  Why did the tree not fall while i was there?  Only by the grace of God.  Not only that, but my spinning jenny  was unharmed and the end post was still in place!  Only one gate handle and the top hi-tensile wire was busted.  Easily repaired that.  Plus, the tree fell in such fashion that i didn’t even have to move it or cut it up.  (thank goodness because i didn’t have my chainsaw on this trip).  I simply repaired around it.  It will have to be removed when i have time.

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The daisy wheel wire tightener was the go-to some 20 years ago and still is for many.  There might be 2 or 3 of these left on my farm, along with a couple Hayes tighteners.  When i redesigned and built my new paddock system, i used only Gripples.  They are so easy to use, remove, splice, etc.  Nevertheless, because of the extra wire stored on this tightener, i had enough to splice the broken line with a Gripple.  I don’t carry the proper tool for Daisy wheel in my Gator, so had to pull this pin and unwind by hand, which was  a bit of challenge, but not insurmountable.

But this also is a prime illustration as to why forests, timbers, draws, need managing!  Treehuggers take me to task for removing mature and junk trees.  But without management, trees can become diseased, can’t compete for sunlight and nutrients so they can die and are a major hazard.

Anyway, back to my morning winding up.  Once all was said and done, i’d walked at least 5 miles in tall forage, scratched through dense brush, and crawled in and out of deep ditches to retrieve all my temporary fencing and posts, finishing the morning installing a new rain gauge, checking my replacement heifers, and resetting an end post.

Dragging back to the seed plant, refueling the JD Gator and using forced air spraying out the seed heads from the grill (this must be done to keep the Gator from overheating), unloading the reels of polybraid and a bunch of posts.  I forgot to take water with me and by noon (got home), i had lost 4.2 lbs.  Goodness, that is 1/2 gallon of water sweated out!

This was another reminder of why mob grazing with multiple shifts per day will not fit with my schedule and quality of lifestyle.  It’s just too stinking much work – i sold off the sheep to get away from so much exhausting work.  With tall grass (not complaining), deep ditches, long stretches of temporary fencing, dense brush, and baby calves not trained to electric braid, there are simply too many bugaboos to make this a happy time.  The mob currently has about 20 acres to relax and graze.  It is what it is – i do the best i can.

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Can’t believe i took this blurry photo and, worse, actually posting it here!  But that is a medium sized Gripple which is used on hi-tensile electric fence.  Easy on, easy off.

 

 

Progressive? Marginally.

Why the mass exodus of young people from farming?  Here is another example of  one of several problems – well identified – yet apparently laughed off by the current generation of farmers and ranchers left scratching their heads wondering why junior is leaving for good.  Sad, very sad.

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Copied from The Progressive Farmer – April 2018

Trees and Timber Management

The benefits of managing trees and timbers far outweigh the tree-hugger (an environmental campaigner used in reference to the practice of embracing a tree in an attempt to prevent it from being felled) concept of saving all or specific trees.  Biblically, we are instructed to tend and keep the garden – not let it run rampant into total chaos.  Work is not a four-letter word in the negative sense and it behooves us all to manage for effectiveness, efficiency, helpfulness, integrity, and beauty.

As Greg Judy shares, there are two ways to establish silvopasture or savannah.  One way is to clear out dead or unproductive trees in existing timber or to plant a diverse mixture of productive and valuable trees.    Planting and establishing a new timber will take decades before reaching its full potential, but if you didn’t start decades ago, might as well start now.

Unmanaged timbers will eventually become worthless – full of scraggly crooked trees which will never grow if the older trees are not harvested at their peak of quality.  The heavy canopy old tall trees prevent youngsters from reaching their full potential.  Even though the old fogy’s will eventually die, the young trees may never recover and the timber itself will fail.  This may take a millennia, but why not manage it, sustaining, regenerating, as well as taking off a cash crop to help pay the bills.

Trees and timber are so important in our environment – for people, livestock, wildlife, soil.  Shade is the first benefit which often comes to mind.  Evapotranspiration is the ‘coolest’ sort of shade there is – much better than that provided by a shade cloth or roof.  Additionally, we harvest fuel, wildlife, forage diversity, shelter, lumber, and a beautiful landscape.  But management is more than harvesting, it also requires protection from overuse by livestock and even wildlife, yet on the flip side, excluding animal use will allow brush overgrowth and a buildup of fire fuel, which during a dry hot spell could catch fire and destroy your timber in a matter of moments.

Trees which are allowed to grow large around ditches, draws, and branches destabilize the banks.  Their large roots won’t hold the soil as well as millions of deep rooted grass plants, so it’s best to keep those sprouts cut out so grass can grow.  My observation is that once trees are removed, sunlight can reach the bank which allows the grasses to grow, especially with the ready supply of water!  Include timeliness of livestock impact (to knock down the steep eroded banks) and grass will quickly cover those leveled areas as well.  This all works together to hold soil, reduce erosion during what we call gully washers and slow the flow of water across the landscape.  It’s a beautiful thing to watch the land heal.

Spring 2013 (1)
Note how the left side is devoid of trees and the bank slope is less steep and covering with grass while the right side had a fairly large tree grown into the bank.  It could not hold the soil which has washed out from under the tree and it is falling down and will become another liability not to mention the loss of potential lumber or fuel.

A word of caution in all this!  It will not work if you hire a bulldozer and push out trees – roots and all.  This moves too much soil which may cause a lot of erosion and make the scarring even worse.  The trees must be harvested leaving the roots in place.  I find it more attractive to cut the stumps fairly level to the surface, plus the convenience of not having a stump to run into, but it probably doesn’t make any difference from a soil saving aspect.

The final argument to address is to define my use of the word ‘management.’  One way to manage is to bulldoze, another is to clear cut, but i’m referring to managing for regeneration.  Sustaining my unmanaged timber is not smart – improving for the next generation (regeneration) is more respectful all around.

Create something beautiful today!

tauna

12-8-use-existing-water-sources - Alan Newport
These grassy banks will hold against much erosion around this pond.  However, the roots of the trees on the right will grow through the bank eventually causing the pond to leak as well as shade out soil saving grasses.

 

 

 

 

Winter Sunset

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I’ve removed all the old gates and panels from the old corral my grandpa used for decades.  Dallas and Brett had the tractor up at my farm, so we took advantage of that by pulling up the old hedge posts and clearing this whole area.  I still have a huge wood pile of posts, etc to burn.  This place is known as the Bowyer Farm and is where my grandparents ‘went to housekeeping.’  Sometimes, i struggle with taking out and changing the old stuff, but barns, facilities, houses, become not only an eyesore, but dangerous.  The memories are only mine now – all others who would have sentimental thoughts are passed away.  

Unexpected “Treasures”

For some reason, farmers of old (and, sadly, probably some still) thought that throwing old metal farm implements, myriads of rolls of barbed wire or woven wire in ditches, along with old hedge posts would somehow magically make the ditch stop washing.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  However, it could be said that throwing trash in the ditch answers men’s idea of ‘cleaning’ sort of the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ that women simply cannot fathom.  It’s still there for goodness sake!

Blessed with incredibly fine weather and a wee bit of time and some great help last week and after owning this property for about 26 years, this 50 foot stretch of ditch had the metal pulled out.  Because of the junk, the water simply pools and won’t allow healing.  Once I graze the pasture down this winter with my cows, I’ll burn all the wood trash and cut down as many rubbish trees as necessary to allow this ditch/draw to grass over and heal, so erosion will STOP!

What a surprise to find these fine implements stacked alongside the ditch – most are in decent working order, though too antiquated to be useful except as yard ornaments.

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Numerous heavy rolls of woven wire with farm implements loaded on the back.  It took the three of us with pickup, machinery mover, tractor and loader about 3 hours to clean it out of the ditch.  Environmentally, it’s the right thing to do, but putting a pencil reveals high costs and no income side to this type farm improvement project.
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Son, Dallas, loads the old horse drawn seated one bottom plough.

 

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Two antique harrow sections; one of them is in excellent condition.
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Cute horse drawn cultivator.
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This is likely a walk behind one bottom plough.  It’s missing the wooden handles.
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One of at least 20 big rolls of woven wire buried in the mud and muck, this one even had small trees and multiflora rose grown up through.
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Brett and I worked together to wrap log chains through the center of each roll, Dallas pulled them out with the tractor, then smashed them flat with the front end loader.  Later, we would pack two or three of them in the loader and Dallas would load them onto the machinery mover (trailer).