Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Buggy full of GMO Cotton

For harvest season this year, I left my office each day at noon to go run the boll buggy for the Farmer I Kiss.  So why would I go to work early to get my office work done, then drive 40 miles to the dusty, noisy, bumpy, late night job of cotton harvesting?   Because harvest season is the best time of the year.  It means we actually beat the Chihuahuan Desert and produced cotton! 
The cotton harvester puts a load of cotton in my buggy, then I take it to the module builder.
 What's that got to do with GMO cotton you ask?  Running the boll buggy gives me time to think in peace without the mess of papers that clutter my desk back in town.  Being the cotton ginner's daughter and farmer kisser that I am, I sat there thinking about, what else but cotton and how GMO technology has made our industry very different than the cotton industry of just a decade ago. Some people don't understand the science behind the technology, and what you don't understand, you normally fear.  Some people, like the Farmer I Kiss, have embraced the technology and love the wonderful benefits that it has provided.
Our beautiful cotton that contains the genetic trait which makes it resistant to the boll worm.
 Thanks to the genetic trait in our cotton that makes it resistant to the boll worm, we did not spray one drop of insecticide on our fields this year.  Not one drop.  Because we don't have to spray for the boll worm any longer, the beneficial insects are flourishing and naturally control the other minor pests.  Now, if we planted non-GMO cotton, like the farmers in Brazil that Daniel met last spring, we might have to spray our cotton up to 13 times with insecticide.  That's what the Brazilian farmers told him they have to do in order to save their non-GMO cotton crop.  Once they start spraying for the boll worm, then they have to spray for other pests because the beneficials are gone. 13 applications verses 0 applications.  In my book, there is no comparison.

Daniel and some other Texas farmers in a cotton field in Brazil.
Another benefit is how clean our fields stay because of the herbicide resistant trait.  With our fields basically free of weeds, the tractor can stay parked more often.  Daniel uses both herbicides and tillage to control weeds.  This year, he sprayed the entire field once before planting to kill the late winter and young spring weeds.  Then after the spring rains and planting, he sprayed only the parts of the fields that got a second crop of early summer weeds.  This is actually less herbicide used than if he planted non-GMO cotton, because instead of a second spraying on just some of the acres, he would have used a pre-emergant herbicide on all the acres at planting.  He also plowed only around the edges of the fields where weeds love to get started from the roadsides. Other farmers have had the same results as us with different GMO crops.
Daniel and our son-in-law Chris harvesting a clean field of cotton.
 These two genetic traits have cleaned both the air I breath and the water I drink and are preserving the soil that grows my beloved cotton.  Cleaner air since the tractor can stay parked more often.  Cleaner water since there is less herbicide on the surface to run off.  Preserving the soil since tillage has been greatly reduced.  A cleaner product since the insecticide is reduced or even eliminated in some years. That's what thinking time pulling a boll buggy full of GMO cotton will do.  It makes this farmer kisser happy to live in a cleaner world thanks to agriculture's new technology.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

There is no Fungus Among Us: TOPGUARD Fungicide proves effective against Cotton Root Rot

In following up on my blog Serendipity, I am happy to report that the Cotton Root Rot fungus that the Farmer I Kiss has fought for 40 years is no where to be found!  The fungicide TOPGUARD worked and our cotton did not die this year.  For the first time in cotton history, there is a treatment THAT WORKS for Cotton Root Rot.

Not a single stalk of dead cotton!
We took a big risk and invested in applying TOPGUARD when we planted our dryland cotton.  It was a huge investment, considering you never know what the year will bring out here next to the Chihuahuan Desert.  The spring started out very favorable with above average rainfall, so in late May Daniel made the final decision to spend $50 per acre on our best farm and see for ourselves if this newest in a long line of promised cures would work.  IT DID!  Where we applied the TOPGUARD at the full approved rate, we had not one dead stalk of cotton.  (OK, that's not totally true.  The pressure dropped on the spray nozzles and there is a tiny little spot where there is dead cotton.)

That's it!  One tiny area where the spray nozzles lost pressure.
Now, take those farmers who decided not to invest in TOPGUARD and you can see the difference:

Neighbor down the road who didn't use TOPGUARD (and who asked to remain anonymous)
TOPGUARD was approved for use on cotton this year for the first time.  It is estimated that cotton root rot causes approximately $29 million dollars damage annually for Texas cotton growers.  Beating this disease will mean amazing cotton production when the rain cooperates.  Right now, the process to allow TOPGUARD to be labeled for cotton permanently is underway.  The fungicide has been used safely on soybean fungus and other crop diseases for many years.

It was only because a fungicide was stockpiled for a soybean fungus that didn't hit the U.S. which caused the whole study on cotton root rot because someone needed to do something with all those jugs in their warehouse and now we don't have dead cotton!  Serendipity folks, serendipity.

See our other posts about TOPGUARD:  If Only and Serendipity

Monday, August 20, 2012

Family Farmer: Who Decides?

I Kiss a Family Farmer. 

Some of the land he farms has been in his family for almost one hundred years.  He does all the work himself at this point in his farming career, except for harvest time when two or three other folks have to help.  Often those are even all family members, including his town dwelling wife at times.  (I can pack a pretty tight module if I do say so myself.)  But lately I have come to realize that many of those out there who are critics of farming think that the Farmer I Kiss should not be allowed to be called a Family Farmer.  They think that he has too much land, too many tractors, a barn that is too big...they contend that he is "Big Ag" or "Corporate Farming."

My View of the Perfect Family Farmer
This leads me to look for a definition of any Family Business.  There is a family here in town who own my three favorite Mexican Food restaurants.  Because they own three restaurants does that disqualify them from being a Family Business?  Are you only allowed to own one restaurant to be a Family Business?   Can that family hire employees to bus tables or do only family members have to bus tables?   If the Farmer I Kiss only owned one tractor, would the critics then let him be called a Family Farmer?  Sounds a bit bizzare when you put it in these terms, but often bizzare ideas are quicker to float around the social media world than truths and facts

Is this tractor too big for a Family Farmer?
I recently saw a comment on a blog post which reflected the opinion that most farmland is being farmed by corporations.  I sited the EPA's numbers that show 98% of farmers are Family Farmers.  The commenter promptly said that may be so, but those 98% only farm 2% of the land.  He had no information to site for his numbers, which is pretty common in social media.  Just make something up and throw it out there.  Other facts from USDA show that his comment is completely incorrect.
Do you have to hand harvest to be a Family Farmer?
I have been around farmers and farming since the day I was born.  I have yet to personally know some huge, faceless corporation that farms.  Where are they?  Who are they?  So I started looking at all the farmers I know more closely.  I do in fact know some corporate farmers.  I won't use names, because it's just plain rude to start talking about folks on the internet without their permission.  But for example, lets take a dad and his two sons who farm about 2500 acres with lots of tractors and plows.  They have their operation set up as an LLC, Limited Liability Corporation.  This makes very good business sense, and it provides some protection of their home and personal assets from lawsuits against the LLC.  Now, the dad and his sons do 98% of all the work.  They drive all the tractors, plant all the crops, harvest all the acres (except maybe an extra person or two to build modules at harvest, which most likely is a nephew or the Farmer Wife they Kiss.)  But, since the dad and the two sons operate under "Dad & Sons Farms, LLC," do they no longer get to be considered as Family Farmers?  Are they now a huge, faceless corporation?  No.

It seems to me that a lot of this labeling or refusing to allow a label may be a reflection of the class warfare being waged in our country.  There are those who want to put a limit on what is ok to have or have not.  If Farmer One has too many acres, he is too big, he can't be considered a hard working Family Farmer.  Is it only Farmer Two, who has a five acre garden he handpicks himself, who can be considered a hard working Family Farmer?  Is it really too many acres, or is it that Farmer One apperas to be more successful than Farmer Two?  I hope our country is not going toward a time when the American Dream of running a successful Family Business of any size will be looked upon as a bad thing. 

I have decided to create the definition of a Family Farmer that will apply to this blog site for the rest of the blog's life:  Family Farmer  (noun)  person or persons growing food, fiber and fuel who are actively engaged in the day to day operation and process of growing a crop regardless of the size of the operation or processes.  The person or persons must care for and about the land they use to grow said food, fiber and fuel.  They must go about the growing process in a responsible manner following strict guidelines set forth by the UDSA, FDA and EPA.

I Kiss a Family Farmer.

Follow our adventure on https://www.facebook.com/KissedAFarmer

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Maybe the Most Important Harvest of All: Rainfall Harvesting in the Desert

The Farmer I Kiss spends a month or so each year harvesting cotton.  The other 11 months are spent harvesting something else.  Water.  Every drop of rainfall out here next to the Chihuahuan Desert is precious.  One of the problems with our rainfall is that it usually falls very fast from quick moving thunderstorms.  We seldom get slow storms that sit in and rain for a few days at a time.  So farmers have devised lots of different methods to capture every drop of these fast moving showers.

15 minutes after a fast, one inch rain, the contour rows are holding the water
The method we use is contour farming.  We have a series of terraces built throughout our farms.  These are small, continuous mounds that follow the elevation changes of the field.  Between these terraces, we make rows that follow the terraces early each season by using a plow called a lister.  This all works to even out the elevation changes and hold every precious drop of water that falls.  It also prevents wash out's from eroding away the top soil.  Holding top soil is every bit as important as holding the rain.
The same rows a week later and the cotton is, as Daniel puts it, "Growing like weeds!"
Another method that can be used is called diking.  This is an implement pulled behind the lister that creates small holes or dams within the rows.  This can catch even more rainfall.  The problem with dikes are that you can't run your tractor, harvester or a spray rig down the rows with the dikes.  If you have ever rode your bicycle over the railroad tracks, you will understand why!  So only a few of your rows can have the dikes in them.
Example of dikes from our friend's farm.  Notice how he only diked one row.
Over the next year, the Farmer I Kiss is developing a plan that will allow us to use these dikers in all but the two rows where he will run all the equipment: the tractor, harvester and spray rig.  I will keep you up to date on this plan.  It is very exciting and could greatly increase our water harvest, which we KNOW would increase our cotton harvest out here next to the Chihuahuan Desert.

Friday, June 29, 2012

It's Still Cool to be Grown In The USA: Buying Local Food

Much ado is made these days about buying "local" food.  I was confused at first, wondering why I wasn't buying local food. What was I missing?  Here I am a Texan and I buy my oranges from Florida farmers and my strawberries from California farmers!  After several back porch conversations on this subject with the Farmer I Kissed, I discovered that I do buy local.  It's just that my "local" runs from sea to shining sea.  I buy food from American Farmers.  I consider that about as local as you can get. 
We grow cotton...doesn't make for a really great bar-b-q menu!
What I wonder is when did we all stop being neighbors...when did it stop being cool to buy "Grown in the USA?"  I have traveled a lot and met American Farmers from many different states.  They are all just like the Farmer I Kiss: hard working family farmers.  So when I buy cranberries, blueberries and potatoes,  I buy "local"  from someone like the farmers I have met from Maine or Georgia or Idaho.  It doesn't matter to me if my cranberries, blueberries and potatoes come from their farms, from their friend's farms, or from their brother's farms.  I trust that my cranberries, blueberries and potatoes were raised by American Farmers who love the land, care about my food and adhere to strict, regulated  guidelines while raising that food.  Besides, we are cotton farmers living on the edge of the Chihuahuan Desert!  We can't raise cranberries, blueberries or potatoes.  Someone tell me how the heck you have a 4th of July picnic without cranberry Jell-O surprise, blueberries decorating the cake and Mom's potato salad? 

Can't have a proper 4th of July picnic without this!!
There are lots of folks who want to personally know the farmer who grows their food so they can know how he raises that food.  I think that's cool.  I could get up at 6:00 AM on Saturday and stand in line to buy tomatoes from one of my friends who sells his garden produce at the Concho Valley Farmers Market.  Frankly, I would rather sleep.  I know farmers, I kiss one of them and I trust the kind of people who are out there raising my food and fiber all across this incredible nation.  I also trust that agriculture will continue to adapt and change to answer American's needs and concerns so that once again everyone can feel as good as I do about buying "Grown in the USA" anywhere and everywhere across America. As for right now,  I'm going shopping, to a grocery store, to buy "local" pineapples from the farmer I actually met while I was in Hawaii (or who knows, maybe it will be from one of his friend's pineapple farms.)  I'm going to use it in my frozen drink this afternoon as I help the Farmer I Kissed get our back porch cleaned up for that 4th of July Picnic.

Happy Birthday America!

Friday, June 15, 2012

It will be a circus without the safety net: Crop Insurance under attack

Family Farmer: The Next Generation
The Farmer I Kissed is one of my clients.  You see, I am not only a farmer kisser, I am a crop insurance agent.  I have been in this business for 20 years.  In all those years, 2011 was the most hectic time I have ever experienced.  100% of my clients had losses, and most of those were total losses.  The majority of my clients are dryland cotton farmers, just like Daniel and I.  The seed that they planted in June finally sprouted in September. Until then, they were lying in dry, dry dirt, in the same condition as when they came out of the bag.  With that said, let's visit the Fortune Teller at the circus and imagine yourself in this situation:  Through no fault of your own, you will receive no income for 12 months.  None. 

That's what it was like to be a farmer in Texas last year.  The tight rope broke, and there was no cotton to harvest, no cotton to take to the gin, no cotton to sell to the merchant.  Enter, the safety net:  Crop Insurance.  Crop insurance is not like you homeowners insurance, where you have a small deductible, say $2500, and if your house burns down, insurance pays for the rest to build you a new house.  The deductibles on a crop insurance policy can be up to 50% of your crop.  That means, in 2011, you would collect 50% of an average crop through an insurance indemnity.  So the tight rope broke, you landed in the safety net, instead of zero you have 50% of your income and at least you are not selling the farm. But you have half your income to meet 100% of your obligations AND somewhere in there you have to prepare for next year's crop.  Land leases don't stop just because there was no crop produced.  Equipment payments don't stop.  The land still has to be cared for, to keep it from eroding, blowing or growing up in weeds.  Thank goodness for that safety net!  It's the only reason the majority of Texas farmers are getting to plant cotton this year!

Family Farmer: The Next Generation
What would happen, if that safety net were taken away?  The land will still be there, food and fiber must still be produced (or we will be hungry and naked pretty fast!) Who could start producing our food and fiber on that land without a safety net?  It wouldn't other family farmers, like the one I kiss.  They would be out of business too.  It would be huge management firms, overseas investors, financial institutions.  We don't want to be in the stands watching that three ring circus.  We MUST keep our family farmers on the land.  Everyone needs to understand, there are many different kinds and sizes of family farmers.  But the key is that they ARE "family farmers" and care deeply about the land and about what they produce for the kitchen tables across this country.

Family Farmer: The Next Generation
Crop insurance is a public-private cooperation.  Private companies deliver a product overseen and regulated by the USDA's Risk Management Agency.  It is a highly successful program that has been duplicated in other countries around the world.  Keeping our food and fiber supply stable and affordable is a matter of national security, so the government aspect is essential.  But right now, an assault is being carried out against the safety net by some of those in Congress that don't realize what would happen if family farmers gave way to the circus.  An assault on the farm safety net is a direct assault on the family farmer.  If amendments being presented are passed, the cuts and limits to crop insurance would cut the wires, leaving the family farmer walking the tight rope without a safety net.  When that happens and we see another 2011 disaster, send in the clowns folks, the circus just hit town.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Serendipity: TOPGUARD Fungicide approved for Cotton Root Rot

I just love the word Serendipity.  Basically it means that something good happens that was unexpected.  Who wouldn't love to be in the middle of a serendipitous situation?  That's just where the Texas cotton farmer that I kissed has found himself this planting season with the arrival of TOPGUARD.  This is a fungicide that has been used on soybeans and apples for years.  A while back, there was a certain soybean fungus about to hit the U.S.  In preparation, a lot of TOPGUARD was produced.  The soybean fungus never made it across the Gulf of Mexico, so the TOPGUARD folks started looking for something to do with their product. 
Cotton Root Rot in a field near us
Enter the cotton farmers and their 100 year fight with Cotton root rot.  Since the first cotton was planted in the southern United States, a strange phenomenon happens...sometimes...in different places...under different circumstances...in different fields...to different varieties...(you get the picture) and areas of a field would die.  From a single stalk to acres and acres, cotton plants would just die. 
Notice how some plants are not affected among all the dead plants
But this is not a problem that occurs on a scale large enough to attract any serious research.  It is isolated to just a few areas and within those areas, isolated to groups of farms.   Being a small problem in the scope of the agriculture world, those who fight Cotton Root Rot were left on their own, trying to figure out how to combat the unseen enemy killing their cotton.  Dozens of ideas have been used:  planting later in the season, using a certain mix of fertilizer, rotating the fields with other crops, leaving the field out for a year with no crop at all, and even some slick snake oil-cure all products.  Some things worked some of the time, other things worked other times.  But like the fungus itself, nothing worked everywhere, all the time.  And since Cotton Root Rot seldom occurs at exactly the same place in the field from year to year and with no soil test available for the fungus, it has been almost impossible to study.
Doesn't take a biology degree to see the damage here!

So what the heck is Cotton Root Rot? According to an article in the Southwest Farm Press, Cotton Root Rot is caused by the pathogen, Phymatotrichopsis omnivora. Mary Olsen, a plant pathology specialist, wrote, "Cotton (Texas) Root Rot often causes a rapid wilt and death of the host in the late spring, summer and early fall when temperatures are warm. Dead and dying leaves remain attached to the plant. However, infected plants also may decline more slowly, especially at cooler temperatures and when plants are well cared for. The roots of dying or declining plants are rotted." 
Root "Rott-ed" cotton
Now the serendipity.  An enterprising person at the company who makes TOPGUARD happened to see an article about the plight of the Texas cotton farmers fighting Cotton Root Rot.  Light bulb!  Let's see if all this product sitting here might find a home, so tests started just a few miles from our farms.  Eureka!!  The darned stuff seems to be working! 
Close up of the fungus
Five years, hundreds of tests, and pages of research later, TOPGUARD has found a home.  What this could mean in terms of production is tremendous if you are one of the cotton farmers, like the one I kissed, who has been standing on the turn row looking at fields of dead cotton for decades.  But it is not without it's hurdles.  Cotton planting in our area had been simplified, down to filling the boxes with seed and GO!  Long gone were the huge, bulky water tanks mounted on tractors and the maze of tubes and nozzles forming spray rigs on planters when pre-emergent herbicides were the standard in weed control.  But now, those dusty old tanks are being dug out of the old chicken house and being remounted on brackets that have welders blazing in shops until all hours of the night.  They will hold the water and TOPGUARD solution that will be pumped through the maze of tubes and nozzles which are also back, ready to apply the long awaited fungal cure.  
Daniel building the brackets for the water tanks that will hold the TOPGUARD solution.
Last but certainly not least, the cost is the biggest hurdle of all.  Full rate applications are running up to $50 per acre.  Unheard of for anything on dryland cotton fields.  
Our first cotton planted with TOPGUARD
So with all this hassle, cost and no large scale proof, why try it?  Because Cotton Root Rot has been such a problem for the farmers who have fought this pathogen for a hundred years, that no hurdle seems to high to jump for a field of LIVE cotton plants!
Serendipity has found it's way out here, next to the Chihuahuan Desert, in the form of little white jugs, to the Texas cotton farmer that I kissed, by way of a missing soybean fungus.  I just love that word.
See out other posts about TOPGUARD: If Only and No Fungus Among Us

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Be Careful What You Wish For

There is a saying I have heard farmers repeat all my life:  It's always too wet and it's always too dry.  Well, low and behold, after the driest year on record out here, we are now at twice our normal rainfall.  This morning's front page story says that instead of the 6.2 inches we normally have received by this time of year, we are at 12.6 inches. 

Before the rain came last week, Daniel and I were in one of our back porch discussions about how early to start planting.  Being a scientist at heart, I have a theory for everything and when to plant is no exception.  My "Volunteer Cotton Theory" contends that the first day we see the volunteer cotton sprouting out of the ground, get in the field and roll!  Volunteer cotton is seed that will sprout from locks of cotton that were left in the field from the last harvest.  It always seems that those rogue plants load up with way more bolls than the cotton we plant in the rows.  So I say do what the rouge plants do!  Daniel calmly starts to shoot holes in my theory as he points out that those plants are out in the middle of the rows, or along the side of the field, where they can spread out their roots all they want.  The poor little guys we plant in the rows have to compete all year with their next door neighbors for food, water and sunshine.

Since there was not a harvest last year, there will most likely be no volunteer cotton for me to point at and say "See, those guys know it's time to sprout!" and Daniel will get his way.  He likes to plant later, so that the cotton is not trying to load bolls during the very hottest time of the year.  The drought and the rain BOTH helped his cause this spring.  First he could tell me he couldn't plant yet because it was too dry.  Now, he can tell me he can't plant yet because it's too wet.  Looks like he will plant at just the right time, like he always does, in spite of my brilliant "Volunteer Cotton Theory."  

Now that Daniel's choice of planting time is fast approaching, instead of looking up and hoping for clouds coming over the horizon, we are looking up hoping for a few days of sunshine.  Those old farmers are right, it's always too wet and it's always too dry! 

Picture from the Standard-Times May 16, 2012 taken just east of San Angelo at Nine Mile Creek

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Farmer I Kissed

Kissing was not an approved activity as I grew up in the office of my Dad's cotton gin.  I was especially NOT supposed to kiss a farmer!  But what girl ever listens to her Dad?  So, I Kissed A Farmer, and I liked it.  That lead me here, to San Angelo, Texas and the edge of the Chihuahuan Desert, with the farmer I kissed.  We grow dryland cotton.  I never realized that most of the world doesn't know what "dryland" really means.  We use no irrigation.  The only water our cotton gets is from the sky.  And being out in West Central Texas, just miles from the largest desert in North America, you can only guess that we get very little water from the sky.
Daniel, the farmer I kissed.

So "Why do it?" is the question I keep hearing. Why fight the desert to try and grow cotton out here where it can go for months with out raining and months over 100 degrees?  When the real answer appears, you will be the first to know.  In the meantime, just know that I have learned by starting this Social Media Journey that what we do out here is extraordinary.  We actually grow the fibers for the fabric of your lives out here on 10 to 12 inches of rain during a normal growing season, about 24 inches for the average year.  That's not much.
The shirt I stole my name from...Kissed A Farmer
In this first ever post of Kissed A Farmer, I just want to invite everyone along as you and I watch the farmer I kissed during a year of this extraordinary thing he does called dryland cotton farming.  Mother Nature will have to be along for the ride, or it could turn out like 2011, when there was no dryland cotton grown.  That happens when our water source takes the year off due to La Nina.  That could be interesting too, but right now, the prospects look good, La Nina seems to be put back to bed and we have just had 3 inches of water from the sky.  Planting will start within a couple of weeks!  You can also join the adventure on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/KissedAFarmer