Lessons From My Father

My father recently spoke to students at his alma mater, McPherson College. After 40 years and several steps up the corporate ladder, my father will retire as plant manager of Johns Manville in McPherson.

My father recently spoke to students at his alma mater, McPherson College. After 40 years and several steps up the corporate ladder, my father will retire as plant manager of Johns Manville in McPherson.

People always comment that I look like my mother. Yes, on first glance we share the same hair and eye color but take a second look and you will notice that I am my father’s daughter. Same smile, long face and same extreme shortage of patience.

I am the first born and inherited many of my father’s personality traits. Some good – the desire to provide for others – and others not great – lack of understanding and patience. My father is in many ways my role model and mentor. We can talk business, politics and about anything else. We may not see eye-to-eye on all things but we are more alike than each cares to admit and for that, I am thankful.

While I have inhabited several offices during my eight years in the “real world” my father has spent his 40-year career with the same company, at the same location. He’s lived the American dream, moving from college to a career, he has climbed the corporate ladder and will finish his time in the workforce this December as plant manager of Johns Manville in McPherson. He’s navigated his 200-some employees through recessions, wars, company acquisitions and technology changes.

He’ll be the first to tell you the route to the top is long and winding with pot holes, abrupt stops and unforeseen dangers. But hard work, perseverance and an ability to adapt to change, will get you far in the workplace. And for him, decades of hard work have paid off. He will retire just after his 62 birthday, trading sport coats for slippers and a laptop for a work bench. My father will tell you his biggest success has been his ability to provide for his family and create a comfortable life for my mother, my sister and I.

Recently my father took time out of his schedule to speak to a class of sophomores at his alma mater, McPherson College. He’s not a fan of public speaking but knows how ruthless the workplace can be and how important a well-rounded education and ability to stand out from the crowd can be. I by no means have taken the same career path as my father but I have picked up several pointers from him along the way and consistently pass along nuggets of advice he gave to me. These are words I live by and use to guide my actions and decision. So you to, I give my favorites:

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

“You have to be willing to adapt to any situation or change.”

“You are known by the company you keep.”

“Always be on our best behavior, you never know who maybe watching.”

My father will soon retire from his corporate job and leave the corporate world behind. He doesn’t yet know what he’ll do in retirement but I know he will continue to succeed and conquer, that’s the only way he knows how to work. And thankfully, he’s be right down the road to debate the newest political headlines and impart advice whenever I need it.

Love you dad!

Elections Will Impact Ag

*This column was originally published in the Fall 2014 issue of Kansas AgLand. For more from that issue, log onto www.kansasagland.com. 

If you’ve watched even an hour of television this fall, you’ve noticed the steady stream of political ads. Yes, the number of commercials has decreased with the primary election now over, but the pitches, partisan finger-pointing and political promises continue and will only ramp up again as we inch closer to the November general election. Sadly, commercials are a part of our modern political climate, and just because you don’t enjoy the smear tactics doesn’t mean you should abstain from politics altogether.

Lawmakers have their hands in nearly every part of our society and livelihood. They are responsible for water-use regulations, tax policy and transportation rules. Say what you will about politics and politicians, but the truth remains that those who represent us in Topeka and D.C. hold the future of our farms.

Nearly every agricultural-based organization sets policy to guide its support or opposition to proposed legislation at the state and national levels. Crafting policy can be an effective means of guiding political action, but it’s not the only step farmers and ranchers should be doing to ensure lawmakers aren’t dimming hopes for future prosperity.

When the polls open for primary and general elections each year, farmers and ranchers should be among the first in line to cast their votes. Voting is your way of expressing your support for a particular politician or political party. It’s the vehicle by which you can play your piece of the democracy game because you know those waging war against farming are already plotting their moves.

We’ve already witnessed the powerful role politics plays in passing a farm bill and allowing farmers flexibility in animal production. The listing of the Lesser Prairie Chicken to the threatened species list will no doubt affect farmers and ranchers in western Kansas. Legislative action will be essential in minimizing the impacts on the agriculture industry. Those wanting to end animal agriculture and stifle our right to decide which seed and inputs we use on our farms will be at the polls this fall. The agriculture industry must show up as well.

You can waver on the candidates, but the decision to vote should never be something you question or dismiss. Politics at the local, state and federal level has played, and will continue to play, a vital role in shaping farms and ranches across the country.

We all know we must continue to fight the battle of public opinion, but we cannot forget the political war taking shape across our country.

That’s My Farm

In addition to a new full-time job at the college in town, I recently embarked on another first, a role in front of the camera lens as one of the hosts of “That’s My Farm.”

The 30-minute segments features farmers and ranchers from across the great state of Kansas. As a host, I travel to farms and agri-businesses large and small to talk to the owners, learn their stories, share their successes and their hopes and dreams.

I’m still learning and am by no means a seasoned television host but the new opportunity has allowed me to meet some great people, learn a thing or two about cattle and crops and travel to new parts of my home state.

You can check out mine and other That’s My Farm segments at: http://www.thatsmyfarmtv.com/episodes/

Giving Back

The following is an article recently printed in the Hillsboro (Kan.) Star-Journal. Doug is the hub’s father and a great man with a big heart. We will miss Mr. Penner. 

Trojan football players wield machetes for good

Summer weightlifting and conditioning sessions are staples of Kansas high school football. Machetes, however, are not.

When Hillsboro High School head coach Lance Sawyer told the team one morning during weightlifting they were going to be slashing volunteer corn out of a soybean field, Trojans seniors Justus Hilliard, Jakob Hanschu, and David Dick weren’t quite sure what to think.

“I think the first reaction I had was ‘What?’” Jakob said.

“I was kind of reluctant at first,” David said. “I didn’t really know how to respond to it. I didn’t know what to expect.”

The idea for the unorthodox workout came from Sawyer’s father, Doug, a McPherson County farmer. His friend and neighbor, Arden Penner, was in a Hutchinson hospice dying from cancer, and Penner’s soybean field needed one last cleaning.

“He thought it would be a great opportunity for the kids to get out and work together,” Lance Sawyer said.

Four coaches and 21 players left Hillsboro at 6:30 a.m. for the farm, located southeast of McPherson. Doug Sawyer gave them an orientation, and machetes, when they arrived.

“He told us more of why we were doing this,” Justus said. “His friend had developed cancer and he was in the hospital and they were saying he didn’t have that long to live. He said he’s known for having one of the cleanest, best fields in Kansas, and he thought he would like to come by to see his field neatly cut before he died.”

Then the Trojans headed into the field, machetes in hand.

“Half of them had never been in a field before,” Sawyer said. “I guess they didn’t know what they were getting into.”

“It was humongous,” Justus said. “There were two of them, about 150 to 160 acres each.”

Jakob said the density of the corn was deceptive.

“It probably doesn’t look heavy, but it’s spread out, and there’s a lot in that area,” he said. “There were some areas we were hacking left and right, everywhere, and there were times I didn’t have anything in my row for as long as could be. We tried to stay in an even line so no plants would get left.”

“Once we got in the rhythm, it was actually kind of fun hacking away at the corn stalks,” David said.

As the day grew hotter and the players began to tire, another senior put things in perspective.

“Graham Pankratz brought up the fact that we were going to be in the heat the next week in shoulder pads, doing a lot more physical exercise, so we might as well get used to it,” David said.

The team cut corn from 7 a.m. to noon, took a break to eat 20 pizzas ordered by Doug Sawyer, then went back to work for two more hours.

“We did 320 acres in one day, so we walked probably about 11 miles,” Lance Sawyer said. “They loved it. The first four or five hours it was pretty good. Then they got tired.”

As fatigue set in, Jakob and Justus knew it was time for the seniors to step up.

“Walking up and down the rows isn’t the most exciting thing,” Jakob said. “That we kept going showed our freshmen they didn’t need to stop.”

“They knew they had to push through, and we had to tell them, ‘Hey, we’ve got this, guys,’” Justus said. “You could tell when their heads were getting down, and we were like, ‘Clear that out of your mind, let’s get this done.’”

The seniors may have earned respect for their leadership, but they were impressed with the underclassmen.

“Having done this with them, I think it shows they’ve already proven that they can work hard,” Jakob said. “For us, seeing that people under us are willing to work that hard, that’s going to make us have respect for them.”

Sawyer said the experience was a unique opportunity.

“How many times do those kids just talk for seven hours?” he asked. “They don’t do it. They’re all in groups outside of things like this, they all have their own friends.”

Jakob agreed with Sawyer.

“Being seniors, we kind of stick more to the senior class,” Jakob said. “This helped us reach out to the freshmen and sophomores, people we don’t hang around with as much. It helped us to get to know them a bit more, and that’s good for our team.”

Justus said the experience would help the Trojans during the season.

“I think when we’re struggling in a game we can reflect back on what we did and how we worked together for one goal, and just tell each other ‘Hey, remember what we did, we can do this now, we can win this game,’” he said.

The players never met Penner, who died Aug. 11, but they were glad they did something to help.

“We all felt really good afterward,” David said. “It wasn’t just for us, it was mainly for him. Knowing you did such a good thing warms your heart.”

“I feel good that we did that for him before he passed away,” Justus said.

Sawyer said the experience was all he hoped it would be for his players.

“Those kids get along so well, and chemistry isn’t going to be an issue this year,” Sawyer said.

You can find the article online at: http://starj.com/direct/trojan_football_players_wield_machetes_for_good+0649machetes+54726f6a616e20666f6f7462616c6c20706c6179657273207769656c64206d6163686574657320666f7220676f6f64

Men of Many Talents

One thing that always impresses me about my husband is his many skills and talents. There is little the hubs can’t fix or figure out on our farm. Of course, he’s still scarred of our son’s dirty diapers, but that’s a subject for another post.

No matter what part of the county you live, there is one thing that remains consistent, farming and ranching involves far more than driving a tractor and walking through corn fields. Most farmers are also electricians, plumbers, welders and general contractors.

We let the youngest generation make his mark in the new construction at our cattle facilities.

We let the youngest generation make his mark in the new construction at our cattle facilities.

My husband, his father and farm employees have been hard at work this summer improving various aspects of our farm. That means putting a variety of skills to work. They welded metal fences through the heat of August, poured concrete to created a new water source for our cattle and re-wired combines and tractors to prepare for fall harvest.

He does all of this work to provide better facilities for our cows and calves and leave the farm ready for the next crop and generation. We were lucky to catch some fresh concrete earlier this week and let the youngest generation leave his mark.

Each season bring a demand for a different skill and talent. Farming provides never-ended demands for fixes, tweeks, re-do, re-furbishes and new construction. There is little the hubs and his crew can’t fix and create and that’s what makes him a true farmer and rancher.

The Politics of Farming

Today Kansas residents reported to the polls for several primary election races. Because Kansas is a predominately GOP state, these primary races will essentially find the general election winner.

Farming isn’t often thought of as a highly politicized industry but the agriculture industry has an interest in creating and preserving policies that affect how farmers run their farms and care for their animals.

Rules and regulations created at the local, state and national levels all impact our farms. That means we have to remain informed and involved to protect our industry and interests.

We take time to vet candidates for their ability to protect our way of life and continue the fight for legislation we find beneficial to farming. This year several state positions are up for grabs and we have done our part to find candidates we feel best represent our points of views and interests.

Anti-farming and animal agriculture groups will continue to push for harmful legislation so it is essential that we continue to push for our policies and support candidates that will protect farming, ranching and rural life. We must support candidates who will continue to carry the agriculture agenda and stand for our way of life.


Stickers for all declaring our participation in election day.

Stickers for all declaring our participation in election day.

This morning we made a family trip to the poll to cast our votes and do our part to shape the political landscape and legislative agenda. We only have one vote but that vote could very well make an election. Voting is an easy and free way to protect our way or life, our industry and our future.

Building a Base

*Read more about beef production and beef as fuel for running on the Kansas Beef Chat Blog

Derek stands amongst his ladies as he inspects and condition and health of our heifers out at pasture this summer.

Derek stands amongst his ladies as he inspects and condition and health of our heifers out at pasture this summer.

For most runners, summer is spent on long runs, tough track workouts and sweat sessions that build character and stamina. It’s the time of year you build your mileage base, expand your CO2 capacity and simply become a better, strong runner. It’s also the season to clean up your diet by enjoying more fresh fruits, vegetable and lean proteins – hot off the grill. Hard work and dedication in the summer pays off on race days in the fall.

We see the summer as much the same for our cattle. No, they’re not running laps in the pasture or really doing much of any type of workout, but they are building their base and lean muscle mass through the consumption of nutrient-rich grasses in the Kansas Flint Hills. Many of our cows become pregnant in the spring, which means they spend their all-important first trimester out at pasture. The grasses provide enough calories to allow both the new calf and the mother to thrive and grow. We supplement the grass with minerals essential to a growing baby and mother and ensure the animals always have access to fresh water.

Allowing our cattle to graze throughout the spring and summer months pays big dividends in the winter. Our mother cows are healthy and strong enough to care for a newborn calf. And the calves that have spent their first summer with their mothers in the pastures are healthy, strong and ready to be weaned.

The summer grazing season is an essential part of our cattle’s lifecycle and our feed regimen. And the summer running season is vital to feeling confident on race day each fall.

Where Has The Time Gone?

The hubs checks the monitor of one of his sub-surface drip irrigation systems while the kiddo splashes in water. Sometimes work errands make for great family trips.

The hubs checks the monitor of one of his sub-surface drip irrigation systems while the kiddo splashes in water. Sometimes work errands make for great family trips.

It’s been nearly a month since I’ve updated my blog and I promise my absence isn’t a reflection of inactivity on the farm. Far from it! It has been a month of wheat harvest, milo planting, family trips and all the other things that make life busy for my family of three.

There has been much publicized about this year’s wheat harvest. It was definitely one for the books but not because of devastating drought as spring headlines predicted. Much the opposite. A week of nearly continuous rain brought much-needed moisture but also halted harvest. My hubby and his cutting crew were out of the field for nearly a week waiting for things to dry – that meant lots of daddy-son time! When they did get back to work, it was easy to see where the tractors had treaded as ruts and mud piles now mark the fields. Even yesterday (July 12) my husband continued to cut wheat – cleaning up low, muddy spots and corners.

When the combines weren’t cutting, the planter was at work planting soybeans and milo into wheat stubble. With continued moisture, we could see a spectacular fall harvest of all crops.

The cows remain at pasture in the Flint Hills and are thriving on the lush, green grass. We continue to visit our animals to ensure all are doing well and this week we will check our cows to see which are pregnant with the 2015 calf crop. One of the reasons we continue to calve in the winter and early spring is because our pregnant mother cows can take advantage of the nutrients provided by summer grazing. Grass is an excellent food source for cows and one that we strive to utilize as long as possible.

Finally, despite the June rains, my husband and his father remained this week busy starting irrigation systems. We were fortunate enough to convert an old, in-efficient pivot into a sub-surface drip irrigation system earlier this year. That means fewer breakdowns and more efficient irrigation. It also means more family time because my husband is less likely to have to spend his evenings getting a pivot un-stuck or changing gates on a flood irrigations system. Technology is great for many reasons, including it’s time-saving efficiencies.

This week, will be spent planning for a farm tour that will visit our crops next weekend. I’m excited to welcome a group of Central Kansas ladies to our farm – through the Kansas CommonGround organization – and answer their questions about food and farming.