About a year ago, I made a decision — I needed to learn more about farming and ranching.
Some of you may know that my dad was a farmer in Northeast Kansas back in the day. Though he didn’t farm his entire life, I still grew up hearing a lot about agriculture. And I grew up in a farming community, which made my exposure to agriculture even more diverse.
However, after working at an agriculture publication for a couple years, I realized my experiences with agriculture had really just brushed the bare surface. It wasn’t exactly like I was a big city kid seeing a live hog for the first time, but it skirted too close to the ol’ “You know nothing, Jon Snow” for my comfort.
So I made it my mission to incorporate agriculture into my personal life whenever I could, to learn, understand and ultimately benefit both my home and work life overall. Ag conferences and meetings are fantastic places to learn, I’ve been inundated with ag education at each and every event I’ve attended, but I really wanted to get right into the thick of it. Hands-on. Down into the trenches.
I started with some research during the winter. Let’s call it, “auditory and visual exploration of hypothetical agricultural analytics”.
Yeah. That sounds good. Way better than saying I watched “The Ranch” on Netflix.
Which, I might add, didn’t end up helping all that much. I already knew that people like to have a drink and shoot the breeze on their porch at night, and sometimes cattle get out when they aren’t supposed to.
In Netflix’s (and my own) defense, though, they did tackle some broad themes important to 21st Century agriculture — succession planning, marketing livestock, even calving and AI.
In truth, when I saw Ashton Kutcher shoulder-deep during the AI episode, it was kind of a nightmarish, PTSD-fueled throwback to each Labor and Delivery hospital room I’ve had the misfortune of spending an entire day in, and in my mind, I kept yelling, “Exactly. EXACTLY!” So, I thought that would be a useful, if not fascinating learning experience for anyone who hasn’t either given birth or been raised on a farm.
Eventually, I conceded that the television experiment wasn’t helping anyone, so I shoved the show aside and moved on to Phase 2 that spring.
Phase 2 was getting my hands dirty. Micro-farming, as I like to call it. Others might call it gardening. But I think that’s an unnecessary reductive term.
Micro-farming was a mixed bag this year. I planted several different crops, most of which I’d never had any experience growing. And I learned quite a few things that I think were of benefit.
For instance, turns out sunlight is kind of important to plant growth, or so the pumpkin plants that were stuck in 50% shade conveyed to me. Also, no amount of thinking that your micro-farm is beautiful, unique and the best in the greater 20-block area is going to stop insects from eating your cabbage.
I was initially all about manual tillage and weed/insect control, until I got pregnant enough that the summer heat made my micro-farm a no-loitering zone, and then I was happily all about Sevin.
Sadly, the pesticides still weren’t enough for the cabbage. R.I.P. cabbage.
I probably learned the most valuable micro-farming lessons from Dad’s tomato garden, though. He didn’t just reinvent the cattle panel support system this time. Oh, no. He added precision irrigation to the panels with PVC. And the plants were six feet tall and still trying to grow while ripening fruit to the very last second before the first frost. Meanwhile, for about three months solid, my cabbage was continuously gasping for air on its deathbed, which was, of course, encircled by a pathetic littering of its own holey leaves. Ridiculous.
I still helped Mom can a bushel of their tomatoes, despite my eyes being green and my thumbs less so. I suppose I say that flippantly, but was it really a bushel? Maybe it was more. I’m not really sure. I would investigate it, but I don’t really want to know. It’s a sore subject. Moving on.
I’m happy to report that my next project in micro-farming is going much better. Too good, maybe.
I have a versatile array of crops, no issues with sunlight reaching my field, and no shortage of irrigation methods. I don’t fight pests or diseases, of any kind. Which is kind of weird, I guess. Weird, right? I can grow everything year-round, too. I didn’t think you could do that in the Midwest …
I’ve learned a lot about marketing crops and other agricultural products, though. It was really a struggle at first, being able to afford what I needed and still make enough profit for positive growth. It was slow going, and I learned to carefully watch my bottom line.
For instance, I know that I can’t just plant my corn seed — I need enough money from the previous harvest to cover those input costs in addition to purchasing that new Holstein I need, to meet demand in the new dairy market I just accessed for my operation. And now that I have another cow to feed, I need more alfalfa, which means I really need my commodity crops to sell expeditiously, at a good rate.
Good thing the market is stable, so I always know what prices to expect. Really stable. As in, “it never changes” stable … Suspiciously stable.
Alright. I’m 85% sure my new micro-farm might be a video game.
Let’s start over.
Hi, my name is Jon Snow, and you are?
Katy Moore is a Kansas native and the daughter of a farmer and a cowgirl. A professional journalist since 2008, she is editor of Midwest Messenger and its subsidiary agriculture publications, covering Nebraska, Kansas, western Iowa, northeastern Colorado, and southeastern South Dakota. She can be reached at email@example.com.