Tag: Stewardship

Kansas Ag Connection
The Farm

Kansas Ag Connection

Kansas Ag ConnectionLooking for a good way to keep up with daily agriculture-related headlines? Give Kansas Ag Connection a try!

Subscribers to On the Range, our weekly country living update (read more), may already be familiar with this site as a source for some of our headlines. There’s a reason for that. Kansas Ag Connection is a clutter-free aggregator of news stories and press releases of interest to farmers small and large across the state.

Kansas Ag Connection offers a way to keep up with the latest stories on:

  • USDA news.
  • Updates from the governor and state legislature.
  • Health issues currently affecting Kansans.
  • KU and K-State research on health, nature, and agricultural topics.
  • Press releases from Kansas-based companies.
  • State and regional crop and weather reports.
  • Conferences and workshops coming to Kansas.
  • Ron Wilson’s Kansas Profile column, featuring Kansas entrepreneurs with rural roots.

Links are also provided to more headlines from neighboring states, across the nation, and around the world.

Highly recommended!

An Introduction to Heritage Breeds
The Farm

An Introduction to Heritage Breeds

An Introduction to Heritage BreedsThinking about starting a farm with heritage breeds? If you are new to this topic, you may enjoy An Introduction to Heritage Breeds: Saving and Raising Rare-Breed Livestock and Poultry by The Livestock Conservancy.

This excellent beginner’s resource starts with the basics—defining breeds in general and heritage breeds in particular. It discusses the plight and importance of rare breeds, as well as the necessity to maintain genetic diversity within these breeds despite their falling numbers.

After a look at how different farming systems call for vastly different breeds, An Introduction to Heritage Breeds moves on to considerations of importance to new farmers, helping them honestly assess what species of livestock will best fit their needs and circumstances. Factors to weigh include:

  • Handling ease.
  • Noise and odor level.
  • Shelter and space requirements.
  • Zoning restrictions.
  • Daily food and water requirements.
  • Predator control.
  • Products.
  • Processing and transportation.
  • Potential markets.
  • Breed associations and other resources.

Next comes information on getting started with heritage breeds:

  • Choosing a breed.
  • Providing for the basic needs of your livestock.
  • Setting realistic goals for your project.
  • Setting up a system of animal identification and record-keeping.
  • Planning to market your livestock or livestock products.

Maintaining a heritage breed requires close attention to the principles of genetics and selection, particularly when the breed is teetering on the brink of extinction. An Introduction to Heritage Breeds provides an overview of this process in nontechnical terms. It also demonstrates that rare breeds can be maintained and promoted through breeding projects with very different emphases:

  • Performance and exhibition.
  • Production only.
  • Production and breed conservation combined.
  • Rescue of rare breeds or bloodlines.

The book closes with a look at how breed associations can either help or hurt a rare breed.

While An Introduction to Heritage Breeds is not a comprehensive guide to breeds, it does provide numerous breed snapshots, distilling the most essential facts about the distinctive characteristics of many breeds.

If you are serious about working with heritage breeds, you will quickly outgrow this resource. We recommend supplementing it with resources specific to your chosen species, including a guide to care, a guide to breeding and genetics, and a breed encyclopedia. If you can find any works written entirely about your breed, make it a point to add those to your bookshelf, as well.

An Introduction to Heritage Breeds is exactly what the title suggests—an introduction, concise and clear enough for a reader with no prior experience with animals.


Helpful Resources

Cattle BreedsCattle Breeds
Our own guide to the history, uses, temperament, health, and pros and cons of cattle breeds, including some heritage breeds.

Horse & Donkey BreedsHorse & Donkey Breeds
Our own guide to the history, uses, temperament, health, and pros and cons of horse and donkey breeds, including some heritage breeds.

Cover Crop Decision Tool
The Farm

Cover Crop Decision Tool

Cover Crop Decision ToolLooking for the right cover crop? Give this Cover Crop Decision Tool from the Midwest Cover Crop Council a try.

First select from one of the following states:

  • Iowa.
  • Illinois.
  • Indiana.
  • Kansas.
  • Michigan.
  • Minnesota.
  • Missouri.
  • Ohio.
  • Ontario.
  • Wisconsin.

Then choose options that take into account your growing conditions:

  • County (for frost/freeze date estimate).
  • Planting and harvest dates.
  • Drainage situation.

Finally, fine-tune your choices by noting your goals:

  • Increasing nitrogen levels.
  • Building soil.
  • Fighting erosion.
  • Fighting weeds.
  • Creating a new source of forage for grazing or harvest.
  • And more!

Once you’ve found a cover crop or two that meets your needs, click on the name of the crop to learn more about about its pros and cons, as well as its planting and termination requirements.

An easy-to-use way to choose the right cover crop for your unique growing conditions!

The Heart of a Leader
The Lifestyle

The Heart of a Leader

The Heart of a LeaderGood leaders serve.

If you need a bit of guidance or motivation in your dealings with others, you may enjoy reading The Heart of a Leader: Insights on the Art of Influence by Ken Blanchard. This little book is packed with pithy quotes to help you learn how to be a leader who serves.

Just to give you an example:

People with humility don’t think less of themselves, they just think of themselves less.

How about this one:

Good religion is like good football; it isn’t talk, it’s action.

The ideas are not particularly novel, but they are phrased well. Each quote is accompanied by an explanation of the principle, illustrating how to put the other person first in your interactions.

And, yes, we are all leaders, because we all influence others.

The Heart of a Leader could be a very quick read if you just sat down and worked from cover to cover. However, this is a book you really ought to savor to appreciate fully.

Great reminders for us all!

The Agricultural Adjustment Act in the Great Plains: Part 1
The Sunflower State

The Agricultural Adjustment Act in the Great Plains: Part 1

The Agricultural Adjustment Act in the Great Plains: Part 1Between 1929 and 1932, the net income of the average farm operator fell 69%.

Prices for agricultural products were at their lowest since the 1890s. Wheat sold for only 25 cents per bushel.

Much of this drop in prices was due to an agricultural surplus. Harvests had been bountiful before the drought hit, and a considerable amount of grassland had been converted to cropland to meet the demands of World War I. No sooner had the war ended than the prices for crops had dropped sharply. To cope with their reduced incomes, farmers scrambled to plant more acres and sell more bushels, driving the prices down still further. By the time the Great Depression and the beginnings of drought hit the Great Plains, the farm economy was already in a state of crisis.

But Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in 1933, promising Americans from all walks of life a New Deal. Regulation and government support could bring stability to the economy, FDR claimed.

Agriculture promised an excellent way to test this fundamental principle of the New Deal.


The Goal

FDR’s stated purpose was to return prosperity to the farm by bringing the farmer better prices for his products. The theory was simple. When the supply of a commodity falls short of the demand, the prices rise as purchasers compete to obtain the scarce commodity. Thus, if consumers had to compete a little harder to obtain commodities, farmers would receive more income for those commodities.

How much of an improvement was sought? Nothing short of parity. In this case, parity meant that any given commodity would have the same purchasing power that it did prior to World War I.

Accordingly, the Agricultural Adjustment Act was passed in May 1933 during FDR’s first 100 days. This act created the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) with the responsibility of planning the farm economy. The ultimate plan, as stated by FDR’s secretary of agriculture, Henry Wallace, was the “ever-normal granary.”

The AAA established a system of “domestic allotments,” which in practice meant that the AAA set the amounts of commodities that the country would produce annually. Initially, seven commodities were targeted:

  • Corn.
  • Wheat.
  • Cotton.
  • Tobacco.
  • Rice.
  • Dairy products.
  • Hogs.

Additional commodities were added to the list in 1934 and 1935:

  • Grain sorghum.
  • Rye.
  • Barley.
  • Flax.
  • Peanuts.
  • Potatoes.
  • Sugar beets.
  • Sugar cane.
  • Cattle.

Beginning in the fall of 1934, the AAA also started buying up poor cropland. This acreage, ruined by the Dust Bowl, was to be converted into demonstration farms to illustrate how to conserve soil by planting drought-resistant grasses. After the damage to the land had been fully repaired, these areas would be leased as pasture.


The Agricultural Adjustment Act in the Great Plains: Part 1Adjusting Crop Production

To reduce agricultural production to the AAA-desired levels, a new tax was placed on food processing. The money obtained from this tax was used to pay subsidies to landowners who would leave farmland idle. Lawrence Svobida noted in his memoir Farming the Dust Bowl (read our full review) that he had to agree to remove 15% of his total average acreage from production. The total average acreage was determined by averaging the number of acres that he had planted the last three growing seasons. (Thus, farmers who had previously let land lie fallow received considerably less money than their continuous-cropping peers.) Payments were calculated based on the county average yield per acre.

Of course, there were abuses of this system. Some farmers attempted to cheat the AAA and overestimate their total average acreage to receive more subsidies. To prevent this scenario, the averages reported by farmers were published in local newspapers to give others an opportunity to report fraud. In the words of Svobida:

This provided a unique opportunity to the spiteful, the revengeful, the envious, and the righteous, and most of the culprits were exposed in their trickery, and were compelled to correct their figures.

Unfortunately, by the time the AAA came into being in May 1933, the growing season was well under way. Farmers receiving AAA money could not harvest their grain, so perfectly good crops were destroyed or left to rot. This included 10 million acres of cotton, some of it grown in Plains states such as Oklahoma. Over 87,000 farmers in that state alone plowed under their cotton in exchange for over $15 million.

Even in subsequent years there were difficulties. Svobida cited the story of a neighbor who was able to raise a good wheat crop in 1934, only to discover that he had made an error in his arithmetic and had planted 80 acres more than was allowed under the provisions of the AAA:

This farmer had been honest in his intentions, so he was embarrassed as well as amazed; but, now that the mistake had been made, he wanted to go ahead and harvest the excess eighty and turn the wheat crop over to the county commissioners, to be distributed to the needy.

You will be able to guess what happened, if you have had any experience of small men elevated to petty office. The local allotment committee was made up of men who found great satisfaction in administering their office, and they were the ruling power in such matters, from whose decision there was no appeal. They would not consider the farmer’s sane and philanthropic suggestion for the disposal of his surplus wheat. He was ordered to destroy it.

The effect of fallow land on the Dust Bowl is still debated by historians and climate experts. It is certain that a state of drought existed prior to the AAA. The first dust storms hit in 1932. However, the years 1935 to 1938 were among the worst in the history of the Dust Bowl. By this time, millions of acres were lying fallow due to the influence of the AAA.

Ironically, some Dust Bowl farmers did not use their AAA money as anticipated. According to agricultural and Western historian R. Douglas Hurt, some subsidy recipients left their poorer, dust-destroyed lands fallow and used the federal aid to buy or rent new cropland to plant. This way, if the drought ended, they would still be in a position to bring in a crop despite their participation in the AAA program.

Meanwhile, the cropland-purchasing program met with mixed results. AAA employees did manage to restore some poor land, either to native range or to drought-resistant plants such as sudan grass. The program could be rather exasperating to landowners trying to sell out, however, as they received low prices for their land and the checks were inevitably slow in coming. Nevertheless, some grasslands established under the AAA remain to this day, such as Cimarron National Grassland in southwestern Kansas.


Next week: Part 2


Helpful Resource

Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933
Full text of the original act.

Buffalo Jones
The Sunflower State

Buffalo Jones

Buffalo Jones

From left to right: Pawnee Bill, Buffalo Bill, Buffalo Jones

There are many reasons why Charles Jesse Jones could be an interesting person to read about. He grew up on the Illinois frontier when Abraham Lincoln was still a backwoods lawyer. He became a pioneer, a cowboy, and a rancher, but still lived a remarkably clean life, never touching caffeine, let alone spirits. He was a founding member of Garden City, Kansas. He rubbed elbows with Teddy Roosevelt, who eventually appointed him Park Warden at Yellowstone. He even spent a while capturing big game in Africa—with a lasso!

But none of these things gave Charles Jones his claim to fame. His nickname, “Buffalo” Jones, says it all. He has the distinction as being one of the first and most dedicated to save the bison from extinction.


The Inspiration

Incidentally, Buffalo Jones, the rescuer of the bison, started out as a buffalo hunter himself.

Jones had been studying at Illinois Wesleyan University for two years when a bout with typhoid fever changed the course of his life. His poor health convinced him to give up his studies and move west to Kansas. In 1866, he moved to the town of Troy in the northeastern corner of the state, where he married, started a tree nursery, and taught a Sunday school class. Jones was evidently cut out for adventure, however, so while in Troy he decided to try his hand at hunting buffalo.

Selling buffalo hides was a profitable pursuit at the time, so Jones moved his family and his nursery business to Osborne County, arriving on New Year’s Day, 1872. Here he could be close to the great herds of bison. Besides hunting buffalo, Jones earned extra cash by capturing mustangs and taming bison calves to sell at county fairs.

In 1878, Jones moved still further west to help lay out Garden City, and was subsequently elected as the new town’s first mayor. In addition to his duties as mayor, Jones became involved in architecture, real estate, irrigation, and railroads. One would think that these diverse projects would leave little time for thinking about bison, but even then Jones enjoyed training buffalo calves to pull his wagon through the streets of Garden City.

Terrible blizzards hit Jones’s part of Kansas in 1886, killing cattle by the thousands. The catastrophe proved to be an epiphany for Jones. He suddenly realized that bison would never have perished in the cold. At that moment, he also recognized what the West was losing. He appreciated the historical significance and iconic symbolism of the bison. By 1886, Jones was sorry that he had ever become a buffalo hunter.


The Market

Buffalo Jones

Buffalo Jones donning his buffalo fur coat

Jones’s friends regarded him as a visionary, and indeed he was. But he was also a man of action. Buffalo Jones did not waste time lamenting the fate of the bison—he set about to reverse that fate.

Jones recognized early on that if ranchers were going to be interested in saving the bison, the bison was going to have to make himself useful in return. So Buffalo Jones worked diligently to identify potential markets for buffalo.

One potential produce that bison could provide was fur. Fur could be collected without killing the buffalo, and it had many uses, ranging from socks to blankets.

Another possibility was breeding buffalo to cattle. Jones hoped that a buffalo/cattle hybrid would provide a profitable beef animal with superior hardiness to range conditions. He also hoped that the “cattalo,” as he called them, would retain the docile temperament of their domesticated parent.


The Rescue

After scouring the area around Garden City for buffalo, Jones was alarmed to realize just how few bison were left. Clearly, there was no time to be lost.

Starting in 1886, Jones began making trips to the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles to capture bison calves. After four trips, he had collected 57 buffalo. These calves were released on his ranch in Garden City. In 1889, Jones added to this herd by purchasing 83 head from Manitoba—nearly all of the bison that were left in Canada at that time!

Jones subsequently collected another large herd at a ranch in McCook, Nebraska. This ranch lasted from 1890 to 1892 and was home to as many as 100 buffalo.

Jones used both herds to supply all who shared his vision of preserving the bison. Some buffalo went to zoos, while others formed herds on private ranches. Ten of Jones’s bison were even shipped to England.

Meanwhile, Jones also worked on breeding cattalo at his Garden City ranch. Here he met with limited success. For one thing, the cattalo were usually sterile. For another thing, they seemed to partake strongly of the wild nature of the bison.

Unfortunately, Jones did not have the means to continue his great rescue. The McCook ranch proved to be a financial failure by 1892. The rest of Jones’s money was lost in the Panic of 1893, so he took part in an Oklahoma land rush that same year, hoping to restore his fallen fortunes. However, in 1895, Jones was forced to sell off his Garden City bison to ranchers further west. Jones next spent some time as a legislator, a railroad promoter, a prospector in the Yukon, the author of an autobiography, and a game warden at Yellowstone National Park.


The Result

In 1906, Jones once again owned a ranch, this time on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Here he resumed his experiment of crossing bison with Galloway cattle, with about the same success he had experienced in Garden City. Cattalo never became very popular among ranchers.

But Jones’s broader purpose—saving the bison from extinction—was a resounding success thanks to the breeding stock that he sold around the country. His bison provided the genetic foundation for most of the buffalo alive in the United States today.


Helpful Resource

Charles Jesse Jones
An old photo of Buffalo Jones himself driving a team of buffalo—“Conquered at Last.”

Luster Leaf Rapitest Soil Test Kit
The Garden

Luster Leaf Rapitest Soil Test Kit

Luster Leaf Rapitest Soil Test KitKnowing the state of your garden soil is handy, but if your garden is for personal family use only, you probably don’t feel justified in ordering a professional lab analysis. Fortunately, inexpensive test kits are available online.

This kit by Luster Leaf seems to do a fair job. It tests:

  • pH.
  • Nitrogen.
  • Phosphorus.
  • Potassium.

As you can see, only the bare basics are included. The tests focus on NPK, not trace minerals. Fortunately, it is fairly easy to keep trace mineral levels in balance by regular applications of compost and organic matter.

Using the kit is easy. Complete instructions are included, but the basic procedure is:

  1. Prepare the soil sample.
  2. Dilute the soil sample according to the directions.
  3. Put the solution into the test container.
  4. Add the appropriate powder to the solution.
  5. Compare the color of the solution to the color chart on the container.

Did you detect a problem with your garden soil? The instructions offer advice on how to remedy the situation.

One word of advice: The powder may lose some of its efficiency over time. Keep the powder capsules stored in the included airtight bags in a cool, dry, dark place. Try to use the tests within about 18 months for the most reliable results.

Simple and inexpensive—perfect for the budget-conscious gardener.

Get Ready for January 2017
The Lifestyle

Get Ready for January 2017

Get Ready for January 2017January is a great time to plan for a new year! Take some time to shape your philosophy and develop a farming or gardening approach.

  1. Plan a garden.
  2. Discover community-supported agriculture.
  3. Learn the pros and cons of gardening in Kansas.
  4. Study the farming practices of the Plains Indians.
  5. Define sustainable agriculture.
  6. Preserve Kansas heritage.
  7. Evaluate the interstate highway system.
  8. Find out how compost gardening works.
  9. Examine your horse’s conformation.
  10. Read about the peopling of the plains.
Get Ready for November 2016
The Lifestyle

Get Ready for November 2016

Get Ready for November 2016Hard to believe that November is already just around the corner!  Take some time on those chilly fall evenings to learn from nature and pull inspiration from innovative farmers and gardeners.  And while you’re sitting at the table with family this Thanksgiving, remember to give thanks for the simple things.

  1. Learn lessons from the bison.
  2. Discover that you can farm.
  3. Eat your egg yolks.
  4. Explore the world of horse and donkey breeds.
  5. Witness the life of the tree in the trail.
  6. Pull ideas from the All New Square Foot Gardening method.
  7. Search for the roots of cattle driving.
  8. Try out 10 time-saving tips for the farm.
  9. Weigh in on the ongoing GMO debate.
  10. Give thanks for the simple things.