Friday, October 31, 2014

30 Days of Texas Panhandle Agriculture

November: the month of sweet potatoes, sweaters, turkeys and also 30 blog posts.

Now I'm sure you're thinking, "Um, what did you say there? 30 blog posts!" I'm still thinking the same thing myself really. A blog post per day every day of November is a bit, well, ambitious compared to my haphazard past schedule. However, seeing as how I'm always up for a good challenge, when Holly Spangler from Prairie Farmer put out the invitation to join her "30 Days, an agricultural blogging challenge," I hastily jumped aboard... Then I jumped back off, then on, then off, then on until I finally decided I was committed to this thing.

Now we are here on October 31 and for the next 30 days, I'm supposed to write a blog post. Every. Single. Day. I might be crazy.

Despite my anxiety about this, I know I've chosen a perfect topic capable of providing at least 30 days of quality content: 30 Days of Texas Panhandle Agriculture. It is the perfect topic for me as I'm still learning about the Panhandle myself. Why not take y'all along for the ride? Be prepared for a variety of posts, from farmer and crop profiles to cotton stripping demos (Ha! Strippers!). I'll try to find some flashback-worthy topics as well.

I'd love for you to read along with me as I take on this challenge since I need you to keep me accountable. I'd also love to hear any questions or ideas you have about agriculture in the Texas Panhandle!

Here's to a great 30 day adventure!
Update: Like I mentioned above, I'm one of many agricultural bloggers doing the #30Days Challenge. Check out the master list of participants here. There is a little bit of everything from 30 Days of Dairy to 30 Days of Dirt Roads so I'm sure you'll find something to suit your fancy!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Grow Up: Farm Week in Review

"Grow up!" is a phrase I can remember calling out to many of the boys during elementary school. It is also a phrase I use with my husband some days, and it generally goes something like this: "Stop acting like a child! Grow up and pick up your clothes from the floor." In all seriousness though, why is it so hard for men to use hampers instead of the floor? I just don't get it.

On the farm this week, "growing up" has taken a different meaning. Our wheat is coming out of the ground and growing up, thanks to a shot of rain and a quick pass of the irrigation sprinkler. The cotton, despite a very challenging season, is finally beginning to reach maturity. Yesterday, three cotton strippers (yes, you read that right - strippers) drove by my house so someone's cotton must be ready in the neighborhood. We have also been watching the calves growing up, and once corn harvest wraps up, they will be expected to act like real "grown ups" and start their new lives away from their mamas. After the rain shut the planting and harvesting down, the guys had time to fence a field of corn stubble in preparation for the cows once the calves are weaned off. The cows really love cleaning up any corn left behind, and I'm guessing a full stomach helps them keep their minds off their bawling calves.

Much like last week, the middle and end of this week have seen the combine harvesting corn, and the wheat drill running full force. Our early corn should be finished soon (next couple of days). Most of the early wheat will be planted by next week, attempting to take advantage of the little bit of moisture we got over the past weekend. Hopefully, we will have lots of wheat to tell to "grow up."

Hotwire running around a field of corn stubble. The cows will get turned out on this field once their calves are weaned.
Baby Wheat! Baby Winterhawk Wheat to be exact!
We have plenty of emergence left to happen, but so far, so good.
Cotton boll opening up - almost ready for the strippers!
Red Dog Rori in the cotton field. She had to accompany me while I went out to take wheat and cotton photos. Such a good helper!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Red Dogs Do Harvest Photography

Anyone who knows me knows I've got a weird love/obsession for two fur children (also known as dogs). I talked about Rori when I first moved down to Texas so if you'd like some background on the original "Red Dog," read about Rori, the Tractor Copilot.

As for the other Red Dog, Ranger is a half-sibling to Rori and came to live with Royce in February. He is (most days) Royce's dog, and much like Royce, he's a happy-go-lucky puppy who loves to play in poop, cool off in stock tanks, chase sprinklers and cuddle with me. Ok, I'm not sure Royce loves playing in poop, but he does it fairly often. The rest are accurate to both individuals. Ranger is the epitome of "Farm Dog," except for being scared of cows. Apparently he never got the memo that Australian Shepherds are supposed to be herding dogs. Due to his farm-dog ways, Ranger is frequently getting baths, of which he is not fond. Despite his dirt, stink and habit of stealing things, we love this guy to death. And it isn't even just Royce and I (you know that whole "being required to love him because he's yours" thing). The entire clan loves him, so he must be pretty special.

The Red Dogs are obsessed with "going," whether it is to work with Royce, to the barn with me, or anything else. They don't mind the method of "going" either, but I think they prefer the ATVs. Just a hunch I have. So when I was heading out to photograph harvest, they obviously wanted to go too. They were even happier when we made the transfer from my pickup to the Polaris Ranger. (Yeah, I know. Ranger rides the Ranger. It's confusing. Blame Royce.) Because I'm a good dog mother, I ended up with almost as many photos of them as I did of the actual harvest. Go figure. Here are some of my favorites.

Ranger: "Uhhh, Mom, those cows are awfully close. Can we maybe move on now? Please?"
Rori: "Get away, you fat cows. Don't make me come out there." 
Ranger (sitting shotgun) and Rori in their wheels of choice, the Polaris Ranger
Angry Ranger.
Rori has definitely reached the point in her life where she doesn't see the need to pose pretty for photos. I am now required to use buzzwords, like "hungry" and "wanna go" to even get one ear halfway forward.
Ranger hasn't figured out the camera thing yet. "Look cute? Of course Mom!"
Remember my mention of the entire clan loving Ranger? Well, here's proof. Granddad lets Ranger ride on his Gator and smiles about it!

Do you have a dog that loves to go? What is their favorite place to visit, or is it really just the journey?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Reaping & Sowing: Farm Week in Review

Autumn. Time for pumpkin-flavored everything and sorority girls exchanging excited "OMGs!" about getting to wear their Ugg boots and leggings while sporting their pumpkin-spiced lattes in their right hands.

Here at the O'Neal farm, autumn is a glorious time for us too, but it doesn't have anything to do with pumpkin-flavored coffee (I do, however, partake in the Dairy Queen pumpkin-pie Blizzards - they are fantastically delicious!). We are bringing in another harvest, and at the same time, sowing wheat in hopes that it will have a favorable growing season. This wheat crop is a little more special than every other wheat crop has been for me for a couple of reasons. First, it is the first crop since Royce and I have been married, like I'm actually invested in this crop. Hello financial risk! Second, I convinced him to give a WestBred wheat variety a try (I work for WestBred so win for me!). Let's hope Winterhawk doesn't let me down. Otherwise I'll never get him to plant another one of my products (kidding... well, kind of).

As for harvest, it is always my favorite time of year, no matter if it is wheat harvest in June, soybean harvest in September, corn harvest in October or cotton harvest in November. The actual harvest process has always amazed me - I must be my father's daughter - and the most rewarding feeling in the world is to look across a field of stubble and know you did your part in feeding, fueling and clothing the world.

Harvest is the perfect time to reflect on the growing season and all of the trials and tribulations the crop has overcome. Even though prices are down this year, it is always reassuring when you actually get to harvest a crop. That is what we as farmers are here for - the harvest. Without a good harvest, we struggle. Harvest is when we (hope to) make money to keep the farm going for another year. Sometimes, we expect a great harvest and our yields don't meet our expectations. Other times, it is the opposite, and we are pleasantly surprised by abundant yields. Either way, harvest takes away a little bit of the uncertainty we face daily with farming. We know how we did, and we can start making a plan on how to prepare for next year. Although like Robert Burns once said, the best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry, like I talked about back in July

This is my first fall-crop harvest in Texas so I'm looking forward to it. So far we are just combining corn, and to be honest, Texas corn harvest is pretty darned similar to South Dakota and Michigan corn harvest. Except it is Texas so it is obviously better (How'd you like that total Texan attitude? Good, huh?). Eventually, we will move on to milo harvest (which is incredibly itchy) and cotton harvest (which involves strippers). I'll provide updates as those happen, but until then, I'll leave you with a few photos of drilling wheat and harvesting corn that I captured this week. Because who doesn't love a harvest sunset? They are my favorite!

Royce does a great job making his tractor look good. He might have been laughing at me as I was sprawled out in the dirt to get just the right angle. #photographerprobs
A closeup of the drill - the disks on the left open a furrow for the seed, which is dropped in and then covered up by the closing wheels on the right. It is a pretty cool process, but to get good photos it requires getting super dusty and having a patient husband driving the tractor. 
And they say Montana is "Big Sky Country." Obviously they've never ventured to the Texas Panhandle.
5 points to anyone who can guess what this is!
Unloading corn from the combine to the grain cart, which will then take the corn to the truck.

Did you guess "corn header" two photos above? You did!? 5 points! Then you obviously know that header belongs on that large green machine, also known as "Greenie the Combine."
Taking harvest photos is a very dusty job. Also, watch out for flying corn cobs! #photographerprobs
See what I meant about harvest sunsets? They are the best! 
The only thing that would make these photos better is a Gleaner combine.
Dad, if you are reading, you can rest easy knowing they haven't totally converted me to Green yet.
Eat that corn, Greenie!
This corn has no idea what is about to happen to it. An unsuspecting victim. 
"Did you just say corn?! We love corn!"

What is your favorite part about autumn/fall? I promise not to make fun of you if you say "pumpkin-spice lattes," or do I?? :)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

6 Realities of Marrying a Farmer

Last Thursday, I could've been at a cocktail party in St. Louis, networking with coworkers and my agency team and knocking back a couple of drinks.

Instead, I went to Thursday night dominoes at my husband's Granny's house, ate fajitas, drank iced tea, won $50 at dominoes and lost $3 at the card game, 31. After getting ousted from the card game, I drove the 2 miles home, washed a load of laundry, gave Ranger the dog a bath, and sewed missing buttons back onto Royce's work shirts. It was a good night, but much the opposite of what I could've been doing in St. Louis.

Here's the thing though: when I started dating Royce, I knew eventually (if we worked out like I thought we would) I would end up in the middle-of-nowhere in the Texas Panhandle. That's what happens when you get involved with a farmer - you move to where they live. I understood this fact well, but reflecting on it now, I didn't necessarily realize all of the implications that came along with my cotton-farming husband, even though I came from a farm background myself.

For example:
  1. Career "Freedom" Now that I'm happily married to my farmer, I can have any job I want in the world - as long as the office is located within a 40 mile radius of our farm or I can work from my home. It just so happens I chose a career in agriculture. How very convenient! While I was looking to relocate to the Texas Panhandle from Michigan, my company didn't have any sales territories open in this area. In fact, they didn't have any jobs open in this area. Luckily, I convinced them to give me a chance at working from home. So far, so good, but in the event an opportunity arises to "go inside" to our St. Louis campus, I'll either have to 1) decline or 2) convince them I can do it from my Texas home again.

    Now, don't get me wrong. I've been extremely blessed to have the opportunities I have so far. I also know many women who marry farmers give up their careers because of their location. Just think how successful an actress or fashion designer would be from the farm in the middle-of-nowhere Texas... My guess is not very.
  2. Ability to Relocate This is a no-brainer. Obviously, I won't be packing up and moving my family anywhere any time soon. Like ever. That's right. I'm stuck here in Texas - forever. Good thing I love it!
  3. Financial Freedom Growing up on a farm, I understood slightly the financial struggles of being a farmer. Now, being married to a farmer, I feel the emotional drag of being tied to a farming operation that circulates hundreds of thousands of dollars. It's petrifying. As in shaking in your boots scary. We are doing good right now, but my personal financial freedom is limited considerably. My major shopping sprees are regulated a little more carefully (plus the mall is over an hour away - not very convenient.) I'm pretty sure this financial "ownership" is a marriage thing, but I'm still coming to terms with it. Did I mention that my husband's farm account scares me... a lot?
  4. Fashion I am by no means a fashionista, but this summer I lived in Nike shorts and T-shirts. You know why? I work from home, and it is as hot as the blazes of hell outside! When I go grocery shopping (which is one of the few times I go out in public during the week), I generally go covered in dirt and smelling of horse sweat. You know why? I spend my evenings at my in-laws where I keep my horses - which is 12 miles from my house and only 5 miles from town. For the sake of fuel consumption, I'm obviously not going to drive home, shower, change and drive back to town for some groceries. Therefore, fashion is reserved for Sundays at church, occasional trips to Amarillo, and my work trips. Fashion was definitely an unknown victim.
  5. Friends So in case you couldn't gather from my first and fourth point, I work from home, and I'm married to a farmer. In other words - I don't get out much. I've been successful in making a total of maybe 4 friends since moving to Texas. I also rarely see my best girl friends because they live all over the damned place. Iowa. Michigan. Oklahoma. Oh and Texas! But it is a 6 (yep, 6!) hour drive to see her. One of the many struggles of marrying a farmer.
  6. Work-Life Balance Two words to describe "Work-Life Balance" when you are a farmer or are married to one...  not happening. Work is life, and life is work on a farm. While this is one thing I understood very well as a farmer's daughter, I still find myself getting frustrated on a regular basis when we can't commit to attending a wedding or an Oklahoma State football game. I have to give Royce credit though. He stands firmly behind his mantra of "Family First. Farm Second." As long as there isn't a farm emergency, he makes time for important family functions. Much to my dismay though, an Oklahoma State football game doesn't constitute an important family function. 

Even though I've had to face some harsh (and at times, terrifying) realities of being a farmer's wife, I wouldn't trade the life I have for the world. I'm blessed to have a wonderful husband, supportive family, friends who are willing to talk to me on the cell phone, and colleagues who believe in my ability to operate from a home office.

To the farmer's wives, fianc├ęs or girlfriends, what are some shocking realities you've had to face as you learn to deal with the farm life? How have you dealt with them?