Farm Raised

Evan is obsessed with cows so it only made sense that he dressed as a cow for Halloween this year.

Evan is obsessed with cows so it only made sense that he dressed as a cow for Halloween this year.

Former Kansas State University football standout and current Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson was recently profiled by Sports Illustrated. The reoccurring theme of the profile was Nelson’s farm upbringing. And Nelson admits, without the hard work and dedication he learned from the cattle and crops, he would not have made it to where he is today. (Read the entire article here: http://www.si.com/nfl/2014/12/05/jordy-nelson-green-bay-packers)

My husband is the third generation of the Sawyer family to farm in McPherson County. He knew from an early age that he wanted to farm for a living, so the hours, weeks and years accrued on the farm left an imprint on my husband – one he hopes to pass along to our son, Evan. He is who he is today because he grew up on a farm and involved in the agriculture world.

As a farm wife I know there are downsides to the farm life but I also know there are things my son will learn that cannot be replicated within the city limits. Here is my list:

1- Work Ethic: Banks, restaurants, grocery stores all have set hours. The work stops when the doors close. Farming does not. Not only does it often require 12-plus-hour days, but farmers that raise livestock must work 365 days a year – animals don’t take a day off. When the work is there, it must get done, regardless of the time of day or the day of the week. The time clock doesn’t exist on a farm.

2- Appreciation for the land: Kansas always get a bad rap for it’s flat landscape and lack of scenery. But the soils of Kansas are some of the most productive pieces of land in the country and world. My son may not realize it right now, but the land is and will be his most valuable asset – larger than any tractor, animal or piece of equipment. But as Derek and all farmers will tell you, you only get from the land what you put in. Evan will soon come to realize and appreciate the beauty in a wheat field and value of open, flat pastureland. We work daily to improve the land so it will continue to provide for our family.

3- Critical Thinking Skills: Most people would assume critical thinking skills are only needed in a board room or corner office. But being able to problem solve and assess situations is vital to making it in the farming world. When you are on the tractor there are no co-workers in adjoining cubicles to ask for advice or bosses to call with questions. A farmer must problem solve on the spot, find a way to get new parts to the field, a calf to the hour or a broken irrigation system functioning again. There are also the larger issues of analyzing practices to improve yields and testing feed to determine nutritional deficits. Rarely a day goes by that my husband doesn’t have to think on his feet and solve a new problem.

4- A Love of Family: My husband farms alongside his father. Family is what built our farm and family is what has kept it together. It’s never easy to work and live with the same people everyday but it is a valued part of owning a family farm and it’s something I hope my son will have the opportunity to experience. My husband works daily to not only put food on our table but to build a business for his child/children to return to someday. And he hopes to be still manning a tractor and working with cattle when the next generation takes over. My husband appreciates the wisdom and guidance his father provides and I know my son will think the same of his father.

5- A Stubborn Streak: As a mother, the idea of having a stubborn child is not something I look forward to. I have a stubborn husband, I don’t need a stubborn son. But I know it’s that stubborn streak that has allowed my husband to succeed and hold his own in an industry dominated by operators a generation older than him. Whether that’s holding a salesman’s feet to the fire or demanding an answer to an issue with his cattle, Derek’s inability to wave in the breeze means he stands for what he believes in and doesn’t back down easily. I hope that one day my son will inherit that same desire to stick with it and hold his own – I just hope he knows that his mother always gets the final say – and is always right!

6- A Love of Animals: One of my son’s first words was cow. Probably not the most common first word but it’s not surprising considering half of his wardrobe includes a cow and they reside outside our back door. From an early age, we took Evan to the farm to see and interact with the cows. The large, black, loud animals never scared my son. Today when we take him to the farm, he begs to get into the pasture with the cows for a friendly game of tag. Our farm dogs have taught him to not fear dogs – large or small – and our cats are oh so tolerant of his “petting”. If he’s not looking at a tractor or cow book, my son is flipping through pictures of animals. He knows their names and sounds and jumps at any opportunity to pet and meet a new animal – be it a goat, pig, bunny or chicken. Farmers understand and truly appreciate their animals – providing them with food, water and a safe habitat. Growing with the animals and helping during calving season will only strengthen that passion.

A Little Down Time

For those farming only crops, the end is in sight. Most rushed to get the last fields cut before the season’s first snowfall. Those that didn’t make it have only days – maybe hours – left in the field before a slowdown for the holidays and winter chill.

But farmers who raise crops and cattle aren’t winding down for the winter. They’re simply taking a break and catching their breath before winter moves in for good.

My husband and his father manage not only our crops but our growing Angus cow herd. Our cows have returned home from a summer of grazing and will be delivering calves starting in January. A calving season typically lasts three months so the men will be on calf watch until nearly April.

Between now and New Years Day, my husband will keep himself busy hauling water to our cows grazing in our picked corn and milo fields, vaccinating and tagging heifers and steers as they arrive to our farm and organizing feed sources for the long winter ahead.

The mother cows are in their final months of pregnancy with their calves so nutrition and proper medical care – if necessary – is essential. As 2015 approaches, all of our animals will be moved to more secure calving areas that provide protection from the wind and snow. The guys will make daily trips to the fields and facilities to check on each animal and when calves start arriving those trips will become hourly visits to ensure each new calf is up, active and nursing.

The work of a cattle farmer is never done and as some farmers settle in for a winter of maintenance and meetings, my husband and others will be busy battling the cold to care for our cows and their newborn calves.

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