Thursday, December 20, 2012

Good-Bye Doug...Huh....What?

So what's this?  Grilled steaks for lunch at the NCRS?  In the (almost) winter?  Is this some sort of special occasion?
 Now what?  Everyone at the NCRS all posed around Doug, who is holding a cake?
And does that cake really say "Best Wishes Doug"?  Well it's all true.  This week is the last week of Doug at the NCRS.  I can't believe I'm even writing these words, but Doug is moving on to another job within the growing world of Agro-Liquid.  He will become the company's first Fleet Manager.  It seems that with the increasing numbers of trucks, trailers, tankers, cars, railcars, etc in various states, someone is needed to help keep them up to speed (no pun intended) as far as licensing, maintenance schedules, new purchases, and probably lots more stuff.  Doug has been at the farm for over 16 years, and well, when opportunity knocks....
Let's take a look back at Doug's career at the NCRS.  He started there in the spring of 1996, which was the third season of the research farm.  Back then it was just Doug and me and a couple of high school students in the summer.  But that was the start of what the NCRS is today.  Below is Doug in 1997 with our new Kinze planter that he designed for plots and did all the plumbing and electrical hook ups.  Doug gained a reputation for being able to build anything.  (Hard to believe all the time we spent back then doing rate calibrations with graduated cylinders and stop watches.  But we didn't know any different.)
We would regularly try something new, often brought up by Mr. Cook.  Below we see Doug in 1996 using a weed wiper filled with fertilizer being wiped onto soybeans.  Hey, you never know till you try. 
It's hard to believe the way we did things back in the day.  The picture below is from 1998.  Before we had our sugarbeet lifter with a beet tank, we used a 2-row home made lifter that fed them into that green basket, and we would use the loader on a tractor to lift it onto our old grain weigh wagon to get the plot weights.  It used to take forever to harvest sugarbeets.  But again, at the time, we didn't know different.  So I think going through all of these experiences back in the "old" days makes you appreciate all of the modern ways of today.  And it was Doug that brought us to what we have today.
So we all wish Doug the best as he makes the transition. Thanks doesn't do the job of expressing my gratitude to Doug for his dedication and friendship.  His leadership should have us prepared as we move on in the research future. (You know, looking at all of these old pictures, Doug hasn't aged a bit!  One of the many wonders of the NCRS.)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

At the Almond Conference

So the second half of the week I was at the California Almond Conference also in Sacramento. It had a lot more attendees than did the Alfalfa and Grain Conference.  There were a couple thousand there.  Agro-Liquid was not only an exhibitor, but also a Sponsor.  Below we see our booth at the trade show with Armando, Alan and Jim at the helm.
Alan is 'splaining the ABC's of crop nutrition to some FFA visitors.
I enjoyed visiting with almond growers, seeing other exhibitors booths and attending some of the presentations.  I don't know what is wrong with me as I didn't take very many pictures at the show.  I did, however, take a picture of the capitol building of California on my walk to the convention center in the morning.  It is a nice looking building and I enjoyed seeing the palm trees.
I also saw this duck earlier in the week with a funky hair-do.
Anyone who has ever attended a trade show knows the fun of obtaining information and trinkets from the other exhibitors.  Well I got something that I have never seen before and that is a stuffed E. coli bacteria doll.  Evidently almonds need to be processed to be rid of any threat of bacteria, and there are various types of equipment available to do just that.  I would like to extend a laurel, and hardy nod to the log5 corporation for their clever marketing prop for their pasteurization and sterilization process.  I mean a bacteria doll, that is genius.  Well to me anyway.  I have already added it to my Christmas tree at home.  Quite a nice ornament.  Are you with me!?!
I didn't know E. coli had eyes.  That's spooky.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Touring the Delta

So I hope you are sitting down as there is a lot to cover today.  The title says I'm touring the Delta.  But there are no Dixieland bands playing here, for I am in the Delta region of California.  This is a region formed by the convergence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers and their tributaries and covers some 738,000 acres.  Back in the late 1800's, using mainly Chinese immigrant labor from building the railroads, a system of levees was built to drain and control the water in the Delta, giving rise to thousands of acres of rich farmland.  It is also a wildlife habitat.  And most improtantly, and controversly, it is a supply of clean water.  There is already diversion of water all the way to Los Angeles, and pressure is on to divert even more. It's a mess.  But anyway, around a hundred of attendees to the California Alfalfa & Grains Symposium in Sacramento loaded three big busses and started our all day tour of the Delta. 
First stop was at the Lima Ranch near Lodi.  It is a family owned dairy farm that produces milk for cheese.  Below the owner talks about the operation of feeding the cows based on where they are in life (i.e. heifer, cow, dry, hospital, beef).  He also described how they flush the cow corrals, allowing the manure to settle and then composting it.  The composted manure is used for bedding and also a fertilizer source for area vineyards.
Below is some of the different components of their mixed rations, including alfalfa silage and hay, corn silage, distillers wet and dry grain, cotton seed, canola pellets, corn grain and almond hulls.  Now that is complicated for sure.  But they seem to have it down.  He said that diet is important, but what really increased milk production was having good bedding in the stalls.  They want the cow to be either eating, being milked or lying down comfortably.
His wife gave us a tour of the parlor.  She too said that comfort in the stalls was key to getting good milk.  Remember the dairy ad on TV that said California cows are Happy Cows?  Well she told how PETA brought a lawsuit to stop that because it is misleading since it couldn't be proven.  I found that hard to believe and looked it up.  Sure enough they did, but just last September a sane judge threw it out.  (So it must be true since it said so on the internet.)
So it's good to know that the CA cows can be happy again!
Next we went to an processing plant for compressing hay for export.  It was owned by ACX company and
this is their Stockton location.  (Hmmm.  Isn't there another famous facility being built in Stockton?)  They export hay to countries in the Middle East, Japan and China, plus some others.  These countries either don't have the water resources to devote to growing hay (like Saudi Arabia), or the land (like Japan) or the quality (like China).  So a business opportunity was born and is under management by the third generation of the founders family.  (That sounds familiar.)
These are some of the guys who manage buying hay from farmers.  There are several quality checks that are performed.  If it is a regular supplier who is known by foreign buyers, they will post a picture of it on the internet and it can be sold right there.
The hay is brought to Stockton and then tarped until it is brought in for processing.  It is usually dry there anyway, so they don't really have to worry about spoilage.
It is brought into a barn next to the presses and sorted.  Here we are shown some sudan grass.  This particular variety is of high quality and in demand.
A customer will say what he wants his hay mix to be, like part sudan and part alfalfa.  Or if the price of alfalfa is high, like it is now, they may mix it with something else like rice stalks.  But the machine below is the hay press.  The bales are ground up and mixed and then carried to the press.  Look at the size of those hydraulic hoses needed to generate 5000 psi of compression force.  The pressed bale comes out and is wrapped at the lower left in the back.
This one is just out of the press.  This bale weighs around 1000 lbs and is really solid now.  That's what you have to do to ship it around the world. 
We had lunch at the Robinson Farms Feed Company, also in Stockton.  This company was started back in the 1930's when they built the big feed mill on the second level in this barn.  It mainly blends alfalfa, grass and molasses.  It is some sweet feed.  Their top selling brand is their All-In-One Mix. The current operator is the son of the founder and he told us all about how the state is trying to take their water away.  They are already taking more than their own study said was safe to do.  In fact, with the export of so much fresh water, there is salt water coming in in stronger concentration from the ocean.  He got pretty worked up and I feel bad for this battle of farmer against the government. 
Last stop was pretty interesting, as they all were.  But the 1000 miles of levees have formed islands, and the largest one is called Staten Island.  Below is a waterway in a levee.  Looks normal enough. 
But in the picture below, that is the levee on the left, and the farm ground on the right.  So there is about a 10 feet or more difference.  We were told that most of the farm ground in the Delta is now below sea level.  This is because after drainage, there was settling.  And also there was shrinkage as tillage oxidized the organic matter, causing some of it's loss as well.  So this is common in the 100+ years of farming here.
It is still necessary to pump water out, especially in the spring.  And other times of the year water is pumped back in for irrigation.  Here is a pipe for that.
Now as I understand it, the Nature Conservacy bought this whole island some time ago, but still allows it to be farmed to mostly corn.  They bought it to prevent development and other crops like tree crops and vineyards.  But a main goal is to use this as a demonstration on how farming and nature can co-exist.  The farm manager said this isn't a charity project as they are expected to make a profit, and use crop protection chemicals and GMO traits.  But every fall after harvest they flood portions of fields for wildlife habitat as seen below.
The most numerous bird was the Sandhill Crane.  They were all over the place, and flying as well.
So it was a good experience to learn about an important agricultural area that I had not even heard of before today.  Plus I understand the many challenges faced by area growers are more than just planting and harvesting.  And it is in the backyard of our soon-to-be production plant, so heads up everyone.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Week in Review

So as usual the week flew by, but it was a very busy one.  First here is what it looked like this Saturday morning.  We got snow that covered the ground, but it won't last due to above freezing temps.  Hopefully it is a sign of things to come after last year of hardly any snow.  I didn't know that there was a sign up now telling you that this is Farm 12.
And here is what last Monday morning looked like.  Monday it was really warm in the low 60's and set a record high for December 3.  I'll say it again that Mother Nature is a maaaad scientist.  But she does make nice sunrises.
This week was also The Great Lakes Fruit and Vegetable show in Grand Rapids.  Agro-Liquid is a regular exhibitor at this show.  I like to go because of all of the good food and drink samples.  Like apples, jellies, cherry juice and much more.  I always come home with Blueberry Salsa from the Michigan Blueberry store.  Don't judge until you try!  And this year I got also got some Blueberry Barbeque sauce.  Never used that before but can't wait for a winter cook out.  Below is the new show booth staffed here on last Wednesday by a variety of Liquid folks.  Remember new SAM's Jeff and Bruce from last week?  Well they were in Michigan this week for orientation and paid a visit here to the show.  They are in the background talking to Dr. Brian. 
Friday was the Annual Liquid potluck in St. Johns.  This year all of the builders working on the new office out back were invited as our guests.  With a big crowd of over 100 expected (including employees from town and farm), there were roasters and crock pots all over the office using wall sockets.  Here is Colina giving a stir of her cotribution in her office.
Not to be outdone, Albert makes sure that his macaroni and cheese don't become burnt offerings in his office.
But no dish is as anxiously anticipated as my annual dish of weenie wraps.  (Insert your own joke here.) They look almost good enough to eat.
It's almost noon and time to get everything all set out.
The builders got to go first and really enjoyed the meal.  No one went away hungry and there were even leftovers. 
However there were no left over weenies!  (There never are.)
On a serious note, this year Agro-Liquid participated in the local adopt-a-family and drew names of three families having hard times.  The word was sent out to employees for contributions, and we were able to raise over $1400!  So gifts will be going to some kids who will have a Christmas to remember.  I felt proud when they told this.
It was back to work for the builders after lunch.  Here we see the excavation of what will be a pond in front of the current office.  Wait, how many heads are in that cab?
Well it's never too early to learn how to dig, right David?  Watchful father, Nick, kept an eye on this, no doubt thinking that this would be a nice addition to the Liquid equipment line now that he has a trained operator.
As usual, it is quite dark when you leave work these days.  The new building really glows at night.  All wrapped up for winter, so that they can keep going on the interior, it looks more like a greenhouse.  See that colored light on top of the building center?  That's a Christmas tree that the builders put up, like on all high rises.
So next week I am off on what should be an exciting fertilizer mission.  I should have plenty to report.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Way Out West

So last week I flew to Montana, got picked up by Regional Sales Mgr. (RSM) Stuart, and headed South to Wyoming for a couple of grower meetings.  Sounds like a reasonable thing to do.  One thing common to the whole area is how dry it is going into winter.  The reservoirs and rivers are all low, and irrigation is key to growing crops on much of the land.  And they can grow high-yielding crops too.  But water is so important.  There is a pivot in the picture below in an area that doesn't look like it should be able to grow much, but they do. 
We spent a lot of windshield time going to our meetings in Riverton and Torrington.  I always enjoy driving through the Wind River Canyon on the way to Riverton.
After our meeting in Torrington, we went to see a new planter equipment arrangement by one of our long-time Liquid users.  Wouldn't you like for a flock of fertilizer salesmen to decend on your farm? (Not sure what the official term is for a group of salesmen.  How about a "coercion" of salesman?) Below we see new Sales Account Manager Jeff and a nosey dog, Area Manager Alan, customer Larry, RSM Stuart, and another new Sales Account Manager Bruce.
Here is what we came to see.  At the front is an eight row Schlagel strip till machine.  Schlagel is a well known manufacturer headquartered in Torrington, not too far from where we were.  The big tank is mainly for applying UAN, or in this case High NRG-N through the shanks at two depths behind the cutting disks.
And attached behind the strip till unit is a Kinze planter.  Notice it has ditching units on it for making furrows for irrigation.  Larry says he likes to use ditchers for 22" row spacing on this 30" row planter because it doesn't throw so much dirt, I mean soil, in front of the planted row units.  So what's missing?  Row placed fertilizer applicators of course.  Larry says that is next in the plan.  So just think.  In one pass you can do strip tillage, apply your nitrogen, plant your corn, dig your furrows and apply your row fertilizer as well.  That is a lot of monitors to watch.  Plus with auto steer, watch out for the end of the field.  You may not get much texting done with that operation.  Stuart is impressed, and that dog is still nosing Jeff.  (I hope he's not looking to mark his territory.)
To make it to our meetings on time, we even had to leave before sunrise one day.  A new concept for me, but it was pretty.  That is an oil well there.  Oil and gas drilling are big businesses in Wyoming.
You could go a long time and not see any other people if you wanted to.
This is back in Montana north of Livingston, and there is snow in the mountains.  But it will take a lot more than that to get out of the moisture deficit.  Around here there is a fair amount of wheat, barley and pasture all fertilized with Agro-Culture Liquid Fertilizers.  Pretty scenery and well fed crops (in the summer that is.)
So it was a nice week.  I look forward to getting back out here next summer.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Last Harvest

So today is Thanksgiving.  But we were kind of busy yesterday, and I was kind of busy last night and didn't get this posted.  But anyway, Phil has some farmland, and uses Liquid fertilizer (of course).  He had some test strips that we wanted to harvest, so Ashley and I went to the Phil Farm to see what happened.  Phil had his combine decorated for the Holiday.
Ashley finally got a chance to pilot the tractor...
...while I assumed the position in the cart.  We are chasing Phil this time.
I always like to multi-task.  So I thought I would get the turkey stuffed for the big feast on Thursday.
A tradition is to watch the Macy's parade in the morning on Thanksgiving Day.
And here is Santa.  So the Christmas season has begun says the TV.
Well I have a turkey to smoke (charcoal not gas).  So I will also say Happy Thanksgiving.