Saturday, August 12, 2006

Frahm Farmland

I have spent a fascinating afternoon at Frahm Farmland near Colby. Lon Frahm, who's another person involved with Kansas Dialogue, has been very generous and given us an upclose view of farming in today's world. It's very, very different than the farming I know about from childhood.

They have very little equipment as he does no-till farming. He has 11,000 acres, and the majority of them are in corn. Corn is a very hot commodity these days because of the need for ethanol.

The corn he raises all goes to a feedlot a short distance away. Of course, this makes perfect sense given the cost of transportation. He works with brokers who schedule trucks not only to deliver products, but also fot the "haul back," meaning they return to wherever with another load of something.

We had three sessions this afternoon, one of which was about water. Water is in short supply almost everywhere, and certainly in parts of Kansas.

I'm generally impressed with the overall intelligence of this group, but they have some serious misconceptions about farming. One of the things that's talked about often in Kansas is the divide between urban and rural. Urban people always blame the declining water on the farmers irrigating their crops. Of course, they never consider that they like their golf courses green and the backyard tomatoes watered. And, sure, they're using less water per household, but there's 100,000 households in their town.

It's always so easy to tell the other guy he needs to stop what he's doing, as long as you get to keep doing what you're doing.

And, of course, these are the people who are buying the beef, that's processed down the road at the plant that's pumping money into the state's economy, after beind fed on the corn that's raised with the water.

Corn is a major crop at the moment because it's anticipated that more ethanol will be produced in coming years. I can guarantee you that if there's a market for corn, farmers are going to grow corn, and that's going to take water. So, instead of getting high and mighty about the farmer's water usage, take a look at your own use of the product being made from that corn. If you don't want to eat beef anymore, and there's no need for ethanol and there's no market for corn, farmers will stop growing it. It's very simple, but people are unwilling to take responsibility for their own part in the puzzle.

This afternoon was a prime example of rural vs. urban in Kansas. There were only a few of us in that session who have rural backgrounds, although mine is not in Kansas, and largely we kept quiet, but as one person summed it as we were leaving, "It's easy for suburban dwellers to sit here and say stop doing it. It's not their livelihood."

People use all kinds of resources that are non-renewable (like oil) and create all kinds of negative impact (like pollution), but that's OK because it's their livelihood, not someone else's. I hate the hypocricy of it and, of course, these people would be the first ones to complain about hypocricy.

I did learn something fascinating about sunflowers today. Lon doesn't grow them anymore because they deplete water and nutrients more than any other crop. They also cause combine fires because of the oil that builds up. Apparently they have a very long tap root that sucks water up. Of course, they're essentially a weed, so they're very efficient!

It was a great way to spend an afternoon and the weather even cooperated a bit - it was well over 100 yesterday and at least 15 degrees cooler today. So, that was a bonus.