Agvocacy Sets it Straight

My family recently experienced an “agvocacy” win. These wins are rare and special, because all too often, a non-farming person’s interest in crops or livestock is limited to a couple of hours, maybe some social media interaction or “likes” on Facebook pages.

Agvocacy, like what we do here on Ask the Farmers, is intended to dispel myths, misconstrued facts or outright misinformation about agriculture. Sometimes discussions get awfully heated and I find people can be real jerks when they’re relatively anonymous on the Internet. Some of our other volunteers can handle ag questions posed in fast-moving social media with far more equanimity than I can, but I love email questions. For one thing, I find people are usually serious and friendly in email. Email also offers the luxury of time. It takes me a while to distill my thoughts, then compose and edit a query or response.

When the group got an email question from a Nebraskan asking Nebraska crop questions, I was excited to have an opportunity to answer.

Omaha resident Leslie Kwasnieski wrote in August, “My husband and I just finished a rather long drive across the state of Nebraska where the only thing we had to talk about was the crops we were passing. It was a wonderful time but we have so many questions!

They had taken Highway 2 from northwest to southeast, along the Sandhills, as part of the Nebraska Passport Program. The 2015 program included 80 stops scattered across the state, easily 3,500 miles. A web search helped Leslie find Ask the Farmers online as a place to ask questions. She wrote to ask about irrigation practices, corn plant stature and aerial chemical application. I’m no agronomist and, in fact, a farmer’s wife and not a farmer, but these are things I can speak about with confidence.

I’m pretty sure Leslie didn’t expect my 1,000-word response. I might be an introvert, but I’m sure a wordy introvert.

Kelly Anderson starts the cornfield visit Oct. 23 with an explanation of how the Drago cornhead and Case IH combine work. From left are Kelly, Leslie and Mark Kwasnieski, and Jeremy Nelson. (Photo: Karen Nelson)

Hosting a Visit

On October 23 — 2½ months and 26 emails later — Leslie and her husband, Mark, pulled into our front yard.

Our corn wasn’t quite dry enough for picking, but my husband Jeremy’s longtime friend, Kelly Anderson, and his dad, Eddie, were picking corn at their home place north of Loomis and were glad to have visitors for the afternoon. Mark climbed up in the combine with Kelly and Leslie got in the truck with Eddie. After a couple of hours, they traded places.

Kelly and Eddie are great people to visit if you have questions. Their longtime family operation includes crops and a small feedyard and it currently supports three generations of Andersons. Kelly explained how the cornhead and combine worked and Eddie talked about the grain leg at the bin site and the cattle in the feedlot.

At the end of the afternoon, the Kwasnieskis came back to our house and we shared a meal and talked crops, cattle, canning, gardening and kids. They have two sweet grandbabies in Omaha. We agreed to meet up again the following day, before they headed home to Omaha, for a quick tour of a pasture near Smithfield where my husband’s cows and calves graze for the summer.

Eddie Anderson explains to Leslie Kwasnieski how the grain leg at the bin site works.

Kelly Anderson points out parts of the grain separation system on the Case IH combine to Mark Kwasnieski. (Photos: Karen Nelson)

Open to Learn

Leslie supervises a science lab on a Metro Community College campus and teaches night classes, while Mark works in telecommunications at West Corporation and also is pursuing an IT degree. Although their jobs are not ag-related, our visitors are not strangers to south-central Nebraska. They visit Crane Meadows or Rowe Sanctuary, or both, each spring during crane migration season. Leslie is a Nebraska Master Naturalist and teaches for that program as well.

They knew where to find answers to questions about nature and wildlife, however, their curiosity extended to the machines and the crops they saw only as passers-by. Meeting them was an immensely rewarding experience for me, my husband, the Andersons and the Kwasnieskis.

The cows and calves on summer pasture, just a few days before moving to cornstalks.

Kelly Anderson unloads corn into the grain cart. (Photos: Mark Kwasnieski)

To have people with genuine curiosity and interest in the agriculture in their backyard to the point of taking two days out of their lives to come see it — what good fortune!

We see Nebraska agriculture every day and experience the plant-grow-harvest cycle every year. Showing it to others reinforces how fortunate we are to have the opportunity to grow crops and cattle, and to have our children involved in an agriculture background.

In Leslie’s own words:

“We are so happy to have a contact in the farming world. We had almost as many questions as a chatty 4-year-old and are thrilled to have a contact close enough to visit at harvest or planting time. Yes, we are planning to come back! The things that most impressed Mark were the equipment and how the objective of the day was to keep the combine moving, not stopping for more than a second.

For me, it was the details like weighing the grain truck and keeping track of the total amount of corn and its moisture. Kelly (Anderson) and I also had a discussion about what time to start harvesting in the morning. Things we had assumed —don’t all farmers start work at 5 AM? — turned out to be far more purposeful decisions, such as waiting a bit until some of moisture transpires out of the corn and the husks open a bit to allow it to be more easily harvested, and were based on getting as much corn harvested as possible for the day.

It was great to spend such a beautiful, sunny day harvesting mountains of corn with people that gave so generously of their time and welcomed us into their cornfield.”

This article previously appeared in the Nov. 14-15, 2015, Kearney (Neb.) Hub newspaper and is posted by permission. See the original at www.kearneyhub.com.

About Karen Nelson

Karen Nelson lives in south-central Nebraska, where her husband raises corn and soybeans and has a cow-calf production herd. They have five young children and a generational interest in good stewardship. While Karen’s main job is taking care of her household, she also works from home as an editor and designer for print publications. It’s her position that there is room in agriculture for producers of every niche, and that our job as producers is to promote all agriculture.

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