Friday, September 29, 2023

A Slow but Traumatic Week at the Farm

The first of the rain arrived on September 19th forcing us from the fields. The following 7 days brought more rain. Not enough to prepare the soils for next year but enough to keep us out of the fields and make it miserable. 

It has been 10 days and we have yet to be back in the fields to carry on with the beans. Had I known it was going to be that long I might have snuck home for a few days. But then again, once I got home, I probably would not have come back!

Instead, we worked around the shop. We replaced a tarp on one of the semi-trailers. A somewhat tedious job as it gave us some troubles. We used the grinder, impact and finally the torch to get some pins out but it is done now. Other than that, it has been a lot of cleaning and organizing.
All in all, it was a slow week. I did get out to take some pictures around the yard. It is amazing what is right before your very eyes that you see every day but really don't see. These pictures were taken within 50 yards of my camper. 
Sparrows on a shake roof
Mushroom in the tree grove  
Fox squirrel checking out why this guy is walking by his home
Old wood hub wagon 
Vintage Potato Harvester
Vintage equipment along a tree grove
The Ash trees are ready to drop their seeds.
As I was walking along, I noticed bugs. Thousands of them on the ground, on the trees and on this stump. Box Elder Bugs. Gross. 

The week took a turn for the worse when Nellie got hit by a truck. Chris and Dylan rushed her to the vet to find out she had fractured her pelvis in several places. The vet was able to give her something for the pain but not perform the surgery. Dylan called all the vets in the area to see if anyone could do the surgery. He called Minot (30 minutes away), Bismark (2 hours away), Fargo (4 hours away), no luck. Bismark said they could do it on Friday (3 days away). That just was not an option. Dylan kept calling further and further out until he finally found a place in Rapid City (8 hours away), who could do the surgery the next day. 

Dylan spent the rest of the day and that night with her in the back seat of the truck. We eventually moved her to the office using a large towel as a gurney. The next morning at 5am CST, Dylan and Farmer Bob were off on their 8-hour trek to Rapid City. They finally made it to the vet around noon MST and dropped her off. 
Knowing she was now in good hands; they made the most of their trip by driving down to our house and visited Barb! Since it was Wednesday night, they met Dan, Bonnie, Earl and Sharon at the Pringle bar for burger night. Of course, they had to send me a picture of them having fun without me. 
Dylan finally got a call around 7pm that the surgery went well, everything lined up, got pinned and Nellie was doing well. They also told him that Nellie did not appear to be pregnant which may be a blessing in disguise as she needs all her energy to recover. 
They spent that night at our house taking off the following morning to pick up Nellie and start home. They arrived just after 6pm. Nellie is still in some pain but is now on kennel rest for the next two weeks before she can put weight on it. 
Nellie's home for the next two weeks
But the week is about to turn around as tomorrow is one of my favorite days of the year. The 2023 North Dakota Waterfowl Opener! I am like a kid on Christmas Eve, I will probably not sleep all night, as I will be peeking at the clock every half hour awaiting sunrise! 

Sunday, September 24, 2023

What's Your Legacy?

 For six generations, over 107 years, the Finken family farms have occupied this homestead. Back in 1916 when Farmer Bob's great-great-grandfather bought this land, he had no idea the legacy his son and his descendants would leave behind. From 160 acres back in 1916, I cannot help but wonder what these previous generations think as they look down on the operation as it sits today. There is no way they could have predicted what this farm has become today. 

These are the thoughts that went through my mind as I watched Chris' youngest son sit on his lap and steer the combine as we harvest the soybeans. If you look very carefully below, you can see Calvin in a red shirt on the right side inside the combine. Although it is not a daily occurrence, it is not unusual for Chris to have one of his three boys in the combine with him making memories that will no doubt last a lifetime for these little boys. 

The boys bring toys with them. Calvin on this day brought (drum roll)..... farm toys! Tractors, combines and other farm machinery. For hours they go up and down the field, he seems perfectly content riding with dad, playing with his toys, sitting on dad's lap and learning at a young age when it means to be a farmer. 

This is the legacy Bob, DeAnne, Chris, Holly and Dylan will leave for future generations just as their ancestors left for them. Who knows how many years this will carry on or what the farm will look like 107 years from now after we are long gone. 

While many intentionally or unintentionally, leave a legacy behind, many others of us do not. Barb and I are travelers. With 6 residences in our 37-year marriage, we have never stayed in one place for more than 10 years, with several years of that be totally homeless and traveling. So, what is our legacy? If I were to answer that today, I would say it is our property and our house that we built with our own two four hands (with help of Kevin of course who is leaving a legacy of dozens of houses in Wisconsin and South Dakota). 

I have a feeling we will be here for more than 10 years, God willing, more than 20. It is nothing like the legacy being created here, but we are proud of it nonetheless. We have never been ones who felt the need to leave a permanent mark on the world. Jessica and Forrest are enough of a permanent mark for us. 

Thinking back, other than their children, I cannot think of a legacy my grandparents or parents left behind. My dad was a successful businessman who helped furnish many libraries across the Twin Cities, but I am sure most, if not all of that has been replaced over the years.  So, what would you consider your legacy? Do you even care?

But back to farming.....While breakfasts are often eaten back at the farm, lunches and suppers are eaten in the tractor or combine on the move. We usually pack a lunch, but supper is often delivered to the field by Holly. It is always a welcome sight to see her white suburban traveling across the field with what will no doubt be a delicious meal. 

We do stop once in a while though...

As you might have surmised, we got started on the soybeans this week. With almost 700 acres of beans to harvest and only two days before the forecasted rain we hit it hard going well into the night.

My role is to cart, driving the tractor next to the combine while they dump into the cart. Holly found a very funny Facebook post which accurately describes the role of the cart driver.

The rain came sooner than expected and we only got about 1/2 of the crop in before we were forced off the field. 

These beans bypassed the farm and went directly to the elevator. While I was in line at the elevator, I made another observation as I watched the farmers in the trucks ahead of me unload their grain. That observation being that I bet I could walk into any restaurant and pick out the farmers and ranchers just by how they got up from their table and took their first few steps. They all pretty much walk the same, the same way I have been walking the past few weeks. I get up, walk a few steps bent over, groan (internally or externally), and slowing straighten my back until I am walking fully upright. Farmer after farmer unloading in front of me walked the same way, although some of them, having lost their ability to stand upright, stay bent over the entire time they unload. Such is the fate of the farmer or rancher. 

This week's quiz involves Soybeans.

Which of these products come from the Soybean?

A) Soy Milk

B) Soy Sauce

C) Astro Turf 

D) Crayons

E) Hydraulic Fluids

F) Gum 

G) Spray Foam Insulation

H) All of the above.

The answer of course, is H: All of above. Who knew?!?!?

A few days before that, before the beans were ready, I was in the field harrowing. Harrowing involves pulling a 70' drag of sorts that lifts the residue from a harvested field making it easier to plant the next year. It is best done on a dry, windy day to blow the residue away. Here is a short video of what that looks like. 

Pretty boring, I know, but I actually enjoy going back and forth through the field at about 9mph. Speedy compared to the 2mph for Canola and 5-6mph for beans. The monitor said I did about 700 acres over two days, but I don't think it was that much as there is some overlap. 

Row, by row, I go across the field listening to the radio, watching the hawks dive on the mice that scatter as I approach. There are sometimes 10-12 hawks withing 100 yards of me scooping up the mice. It is interesting how they have learned that a tractor going across the field means food. I will try to get some pictures of them one of these times. 

But then, the rains came 5 days so far since I took that first picture. 5 days out of the field. We've been doing some cleaning and organizing, but overall, it has been pretty quiet around the farm. 
This is the view outside my camper this morning. By the time we get back into the field, it will probably at least a full week of down time. 
It will be a month tomorrow since I have seen my Barbie. I hope it dries up soon, there is more work to do!

Monday, September 18, 2023

The Farmer's Share

 Do you ever feel like your computer or phone is listening to every word you say and then tailors your ads to fit what it interprets you talking about? Sometimes, I swear to God, it can read my mind. Like when I was thinking of getting a new computer, even before I mentioned anything to Barb or started my first search, I was getting pop up ads for new computers. 

It is almost like the Great OZ is manipulating my computer, like he knows my hinge was scheduled to break and started sending me ads days before it even broke. 

Most of my pop-up ads are pretty predictable "Best rifle for deer hunting" "Can't miss waterfowl decoys for 2023" "Top 10 Victoria Se... (well, that one's not important). Anyway, you get the idea. Well today my pop ads have me a little concerned. And this is no lie, as I scrolled through the ads, 2 were for easy lift stair chairs. You know the kind you sit on, and it rides you up a chair? Another three were for mobility wheelchairs! 5 out of my 10 ads?!!? I think the computer Gods must have me confused with Dino.

I do not know what the Great Oz has in store for me this week, but I am going to be extra careful. Frankly, it has me kinda nervous!

During harvest, every day starts with me fueling up the service truck. It is a one-ton Dodge dually with a 450-gallon auxiliary fuel tank on it. It also has an air compressor, generator, toolbox and a welder. Most everything one would need to repair equipment in the field. 

The auxiliary tank is filled with "red" diesel. Also known as dyed diesel and can only be used in tractors and other "off-road" equipment as the cost does not include the $0.23 North Dakota fuel tax associated with road vehicles.  Before you go thinking they are saving a ton of money not paying this tax, consider this..... When I fuel up the combines, it is not unusual to put 200 gallons into each combine every day. So, 400 gallons between the two combines, then there is the tractor, and the two semis. Thousands of gallons each week. 

In addition to the fuel, I also fill the DEF (Diesel Exhaust Fluid) in each combine every other day. See that white tank on the back of the truck? That is DEF, they order it in 265-gallon totes. The expenses farmers incur would boggle the mind of the average person. It is not unusual for a farmer to have $200-$300 expense into each acre every year after planting, and $500 per acre is not unheard of. (seed, fuel, fertilizer, land and equipment expense....) Many farmers, but not all, must get loans each year to cover these costs. Interesting thing about a farm operating loan is that there are often no payments required until the fall or winter after the crops have been harvested. 

On the flip side, they get very little of the $'s the end user pays for say, a loaf of bread. On average, the farmer only gets $0.18 of the cost of a $4.49 loaf of bread, $0.64 of a 5# bag of flour, $0.09 for a box of cereal, and $0.02 of a bagel. The more hands that touch it, the less the farmer gets from their crop. If you want to see a complete list, follow this link to an article from the National Famer's Union title The Farmer's Share. 

With huge expenses and low margins, few farmers could make it without government subsidies.  Farm bills are vital to the success of the American farmer. As a matter of fact, Farmer Bob was in D.C. this week meeting with legislatures discussing some of the challenges and initiatives of today's farmer. 

This week has been somewhat slow on the harvesting front. Rain has brought the harvest to a halt. Just the briefest of rains could stop the harvest for 2-3 days while the grounds and crops dry up enough to get back in the field. Instead, I have been cutting back tree rows whose branches have crept their way into the field. 

I have also been cutting down and moving whole trees to make room for the farm equipment which seems to be getting larger and larger. 

For those of you who have followed my farm posts for several years, you will remember that this area is littered with dozens of missile sites. When they move one, they are accompanied by about a dozen Humvees (machine guns and all) and a couple of helicopters to look for threats from above. Well, this helicopter circled me twice deciding if they should blow me up as I was moving this tree along the road as they were moving a missile. A somewhat unsettling feeling.

We did eventually get back into the field to finish of the last of the canola fields. Canola is an interesting crop and not one a lot of people think about. If you have ever driven by a vibrant yellow field in the summer, it is more than likely a canola field. This is what they look like in the fall when they are ready for harvest. 

Each plant grows to about 3' and has numerous pods that contain canola seeds.

Number of seeds in one pod
Imagine how many seeds it would take to fill just one bottle of cooking oil. While most people associate canola with cooking oil, did you know that it is used in margarine, breads, crackers, cooking sprays and even biodiesel? It is the second largest source of protein meal in the world. 

In this week's segment of Dirty Jobs, I bring you the air filter off a combine. At about 24" tall and 10" in diameter, this is one huge air filter! I blew it out and I swear it was a more than a pound lighter when I was done!
Back in South Dakota Barb has been busy cutting and splitting more firewood getting ready for winter. Kevin and Cheryl also came over one afternoon to help Barb grout the stone on the outside of the house. They got about 35' done, 90' left, but it is a start!
Lastly, here is a picture of the girls. Barb put a small fence around the gazebo to contain Zoey so she can actually relax out there instead of constantly keeping one eye on her. 
So far, we have the peas, wheat and canola off the fields. The only thing left is the soybeans, which are not quite ready yet. We have about 10 days to do other things until we get them off the fields!

Friday, September 8, 2023


I survived the week after disclosing a little more about the secret farmer's code. Farmer either did not read the blog or is trying to sweeten me up as he bought donuts (see what I did right there?) for us this week! They were delicious!

I got a couple of comments saying that they just did not get or understand the Farmer's Code. Those of you that have read our blog for a while know that I can sometimes get carried away with my story telling, stretch the truth one might say. Well, I am a fisherman so that goes without saying. 

Truth be told while many farmers may not share their yields or other information. Here at Finken Farms they share pretty much everything. As a seed dealer, they want everyone to succeed, so they share as much information as possible. I overheard several phone conversations this week where Chris or Dylan were talking harvest results with other farmers. Talking specific varieties, yields, residue, protein levels and other detailed information. And by golly, they were telling the truth!

Speaking of which, there is so much more that goes into raising these crops than the average person will ever know. It used to be, you planted the seed and pray to God it rains and will comes up. Well, that actually has not changed. What has, is what to expect from the crop. Protein, weight, moisture all plays a key role in the value of a specific crop. 

View from my office

When they take a crop to the elevator it is not only weighed to see how much they bring, but also analyzed to see how much actual protein the specific grain has. The more the protein, the more the value. Why does protein matter? Protein is what keeps us going. 14% is the standard protein for wheat. Although it varies from year to year, this year you get docked $0.50 a bushel for 13% protein but you will get a $0.50 premium for 15% protein. This is based on sliding scale up and down 11% is worth a lot less where 16% is worth a lot more. 

Most breads are made from wheat with an average of 14% protein so that the nutrition label on the bread is consistent. This is the ideal number for the markets. There are hundreds, if not thousands of varieties of wheat out there. Some designed for high protein, some for low protein. Some farmers will grow high yield, low protein wheat hoping to make money by volume while others will grow higher protein (which is typically lower yielding) and make money on the protein premium. The best-case scenario is high yield and high protein which the ticket below shows.

It is also analyzed to determine the moisture content. If a seed is too wet, you are "docked" because the elevator does not want to pay for the extra weight of the water, and it affects how long the grain can be stored without spoiling. 

Who would ever imagine the work and analyzation that goes into just this one little seed. 

NDSU has a whole division that does nothing but analyze and try to improve seed quality. The height, the number of seeds on a stem, the protein, the disease resistance, the residue left after harvesting. These are just the few that I know about. There are other elements that go into the analysis as well, but it is a far cry from the farming of yesteryear. 

Could you imagine what our grandfathers and great-grandfathers would think if they walked around todays planting and harvesting equipment?!?!

But this is not what I wanted this week's blog to be about. Sitting for the tractor for hours on end, you have a lot of time to yourself. Time to reflect, think about the world, and life in general. When I had heard that Jimmy Buffett died, I got an unexpected pit in my stomach. I was not a Jimmy Buffett groupie, but I did enjoy his music. His music reminded me of summer fun. Sun, sand, beaches, being at the lake, no stresses and just loving life. There are two periods in my life that I would love to relive or two periods in my life that I would not mind being stuck in. The first is anytime in the 1988-1990 era when the kids were young. We were somewhat newly married, broke but very happy. Forrest would have been 1-3 years old and relied totally on us for everything, we were his world. Jessica would have been 7-10, our little baby girl, playing with dolls, going to dance and gymnastic lesson, with no stresses of adulthood. The other period is well before that and is the one that came to mind when I heard about Jimmy's death. It was when I was 14-17 spending summers with my dad on the lake in Shell Lake Wisconsin. Not a care in the world, just enjoying the summer with a speed boat, sailboat, motorcycle and the Shell Lake Municipal Beach. Then came August of my 17th year when I knew my days at the lake were numbered and adulthood had caught me, saying goodbye to friends that I knew I would probably never see again. That carefree lifestyle is what his songs were all about. It is almost fitting that he died in late summer/early autumn where the last vestiges of summer and his life were coming to an end. 

But it was another song I had heard this week that summed up the stresses of adulthood in one simple verse. I'd heard the song 100+ times but when I really thought about this verse it totally made sense that this should be every parent's goal in life. 

The song is A.A. by Walker Hayes. It is really the second verse that resonated with me. Here, listen to the song first, if you have not heard it. I think you will love it. Walker Hayes song AA

Here are the lyrics for the second verse and how it relates to my life:

And I'm just tryna keep my daughters off the pole, And my sons out of jail  ( I was successful on one of these two things, I'll leave you wonder which one)
Tryna get to church so I don't go to Hell (The forests and fields are my church)
I'm just tryna keep my wife from figuring out, That I married up and she married way, way down, (If she has not figured this out by now, maybe she is not as smart as I give her credit for)
In Alabama where they love Nick Saban, Tryna write a song the local country station will play (This line has no relevance in my life whatsoever)
Hey, I'm just tryna stay out of AA (So far, so good. One day at a time)
Walker has a couple of great songs, his most popular being Fancy Like.
I am happy to report that I had no spills or accidents this week. We finished harvesting the wheat on Sunday. What a pain that was. The last field was a breeder seed field which is the highest pedigree of seed for resale. 
It also means that you need to clean all your equipment before you enter the field to prevent cross contamination from any seed that is stuck in the combine, tractor, cart or semi from another field. Several hours of very, very dirty work blowing out every crack and crevice on the machinery. 
Dylan and Chris checking their fantasy football teams while I work.

The picture on the right is one I took for Barb, but I thought I would share it here as well. I was a dirty, dirty boy.
          Dylan cleaning out the combine hopper                                      Me, after cleaning
Farmer Bob, fixing a couple broken sickle sections.
 After that field, we moved onto Canola. Moving the combines takes up the entire road. The hope is not to run into any traffic. They pull into the ditch for both oncoming and traffic going the same direction as these things top out at about 25mph. 
Fuzzy picture through a dirty windshield
The next canola field was 400 acres, and it took us 3 days to complete. Well, 4 if you count the rain day.
Typical canola field ready for harvest
Now, your answer to the quiz from last weeks post. .....A few of you guessed on what this is. Harry was the first one to correctly guess, it is a seed sampler used to collect seed. They collect samples from anything they are going to resell so they can maintain them should they ever need it in the future. 
Better than sticking your hand down near the auger!
Since I did not post any dog pictures last week, I thought I better do it this week. Here are the dogs of the farm.... Nova, Remington and Nellie. For gun enthusiasts you will notice that each of these dogs are named after shotguns as these dogs are specifically duck and pheasant hunting dogs. Throw in the occasional racoon and porcupine. Nova (3) and Nellie (1) belong to Dylan. Remington, 12 years old, belongs to Chris. 

Remington is just a hunting machine and is the rules the farm (just ask the UPS man), while Nova and Nellie are basically just pups and want to play all the time. In the picture below you will find Nova on the left. That is Nellie in the kennel and Remington on the outside. This is where Remington has been for the past week as Nellie is in heat. Well, except twice when we found Remington INSIDE the kennel! How long he had been in there each time is unknown, but we are guessing hours. One time we know he pried himself through the door that was bungeed closed. The other time be may have wedged himself under the kennel, but we are pretty sure in a few weeks there will be more dogs on the farm. More than likely named Ruger, Winchester, Ithaca and Weatherby. 
In other big farm news, Calvin started school this week! I don't know who was more excited Holly, who will now have some alone time, DeAnne, who got to drive him, or Calvin, who got to ride the bus with his two brothers. I am going to go with Holly who probably enjoyed the few hours of peace and quiet. Anyone want to guess how many kids will be in Calvin's graduating class if nothing changes over the next 12 years? 5, Calvin and 4 others. Now, that is country living!
Gavin, Chase, DeAnne and Calvin

And before I forget again, do you remember our friend Jeannie who visited us a few months ago and was practicing to swim the 2.1-mile trek from Bayfield Wisconsin to Madeline Island? Well, she did it! That is quite a feat, there is no way I could have ever done it. 
Jeannie, center, back

I will leave you with this picture. We found this after opening the hood on a tractor that had been sitting all summer. I do not know who was more surprised, us or the bat!
I have nothing to report from Barb this week. If she is having fun back home, she is not sharing it with me. So, I'll just be up here working away, trying to stay out of A.A. ever thankful that our daughter's dance and gymnastic lessons were never put to use!