Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Loading the Unit Train

Waiting patiently on a side rail track outside of a town near GriggsDakota was a long line of rail cars.
A look toward the elevator told the story.
This elevator has a contract with the railroad to ship grain in 110 car unit trains. That means they will fill 110 individual grain cars as fast as they can. The elevator has 15 hours from start to finish to load the train and send the grain down the line.
Elevators with contracts to ship grain on these trains have push and pull engines on their tracks. This is required to be sure they will be prepared to move the cars around as needed when they are loading. It appears this one is rented from Independent Locomotive Service.
There are three hoppers in each car which are apparent on the bottom of the car.
As the dark car finishes, the train pulls forward.
Once in place, the first cell in the tan car begins to fill.
The elevator contains automated equipment that allows the train to fill quickly and smoothly. 
But some jobs require the human touch. A man comes out of the door and steps onto the train.
He walks out onto the filled boxcar.
He closes the doors on the top of the car.
Elevators must have plenty of grain on hand. A reliable filling system will get the grain going in 15 hours. The efficient methods used, save time and money for the railroad. Some of that savings is passed on to the elevator which invests in efficient equipment. They can offer farmers a higher price to ensure there will be enough grain on hand to fill up the next train. Everybody wins when the system works properly. This is the first step in shipping grain to the west coast and overseas.
Interesting note:  Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad is now owned by Warren Buffett. I watched him speak to students at Columbia Business School on television. Mr. Buffett was on a panel with Bill Gates on November 12, 2009. As I understand it, he invested in the railroad because of the potential of the market with China. There will be goods coming from China and food and materials shipping to China. The railroad is a sound method of transporting these items to and from the ports. 
It is amazing to think that grain from our fields will feed people in China. The world is small and hunger is great. Times are changing, even in GriggsDakota.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Evening Cattle

The girls were out strolling along the lake and enjoying the early Spring evening. Although they are fed hay every day, it seemed clear that they had enjoyed the warmer day and were hoping to find something fresh on the prairie.
It's been a long winter for all of us. Calves are coming regularly now and will continue into April.
The gentle fall of evening reminded us of summer days to come, even though there is still snow in the picture.
I set out to take pictures of the cattle.
But could not take my eyes off the GriggsDakota sky. Looking East across the prairie at sunset is often just as lovely as the sunset itself.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Geese Overhead

On Sunday Spring weather arrived. The temperature was in the upper fifties fahrenheit, sunny and not much of a breeze. As you can see, the sky was cloudless, but it was not clear.
It was filled with migrating geese.
The precision is fascinating to watch and the geese made beautiful designs in the clear blue sky. Their instincts are keen and their process made me a little dizzy as I tried to watch it closely.
They change positions as they fly, so although their structure is usually some form of a V-shape, it is rarely perfect. I believe the imperfect V's indicate snow geese. However, I saw large imperfect V's that contained perfect V's within their hem.  It was evening when I took these photos and I wondered if they had a plan to travel to a certain place or if they would listen for a friendly call from the ground somewhere. I remember hearing local geese call in a migrating flock during the night on our lake. Geese are strong flyers and often fly around the clock.
Changing of the lead position occurs often. That is the most strenuous position in the formation. When the leader tires, it will fall back and others take their turn.
Hunters are tracking the migration through the fly way.
The sky is so big that it is hard for my camera lens to capture the seemingly endless trail of geese heading North to their summer nesting areas. I believe at least some of these geese are snows and blues. I have seen these geese with Canada geese on the ground and I cannot distinguish them very well when they are flying this high. Fall migration occurs in family groups which, of course are specie specific, but Spring seems to be more of a gathering and mingling. 
A few clouds drifted across the western horizon which helped to paint this Spring sunset. A beautiful end to a glorious day.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Thawing Out

When I stopped to take this picture yesterday morning, the temperature was in the low teens fahrenheit and the wind was blowing. It felt very wintery. But this is proof of Spring in GriggsDakota. The sun is rising North of the road. It has come back to where it was Last Fall when it was moving away from us for the winter. 
More geese are joining the flock each day. Their calls sound like music after our long, too often silent winter.
There are eagles in the area, which cattleman Jim tells me are likely responsible for the ever smaller flock of turkeys in GriggsDakota. Now that the snow is leaving, I hope the eagles find other dining options.
Today I heard a radio report that expressed optimism for a mid-April start date for planting in our area. I hope that comes to pass as getting the seed into the ground (warmed and dry - not mudded into cold ground) is linked to harvest success. Next week is forecast to bring real Springtime temperatures to GriggsDakota. We can hardly wait! 

Thursday, March 25, 2010

In the Air

Why do these boys look so impatient as they pose next to their grandmother?
I found the answer!
Because love, like spring, is in the air
And they feel like dancing!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Geese Return!

As the snow continues to shrink, the river valley has filled with water. Although there is some flooding, it does not seem to be disastrous this year. That could change with additional rain or snow, but so far, so good.
A sure sign of Spring is the return of Canada Geese to the area. These geese gone for a few months every winter, but return faithfully as soon as there is open water. Man-made Nesting Structures have been important to the repopulation of this majestic water bird which was nearly extinct in 1920.
Pairs of geese will begin to nest soon. Since they return to the same area yearly to nest, we will have several nesting pairs close by. Spring is definitely on its way.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Letter of Thanks

In a place where producing food is our primary focus,
Where there are thousands of acres that produce
An abundance of so many things
Where we have raw food products in such great quantity,
It is easy to forget that the dark cloud of hunger still exists.
There are people who run out of money for food even in this rich agricultural area. AdFarm made a contribution to our local food bank on behalf of the farmers in GriggsDakota.
The Bread of Life Food Pantry sent us a letter of thanks and we are truly grateful for your generous contribution.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Progressive Thinking

Spring has arrived, according to the calendar, and farmers all over the Northern Plains are finishing plans for the 2010 crop.

This past week, Farmer Fred had the privilege of visiting with outstanding farmers, Wayne Ordahl and his wife Judy. Wayne and Judy farm with their family in northeastern Montana. The warm hospitality provided by Judy and three plus hours of visiting, mostly with Wayne, caused Fred to evaluate this business of farming.
So what makes an outstanding farmer? He has a passion for progressive thinking. In farming, like other industries, operators can fall into the trap of doing things the same old way. Farmers like Wayne recognize that change is certain. They know that the same old farming methods won’t improve results. Farmers who want to see better results year after year must be progressive in their farming practices. Outstanding farmers are constantly asking themselves, “What’s next?”  This question applies to every facet of their operation. 
The plains were broken with oxen and horses powering the equipment needed on the homestead.  We still measure the power of our tractors, trucks and combines with a tribute to that pioneer method when we say, “horsepower.” The days of horses pulling  plows or grain wagons are gone. Thank goodness! In those days a single farmer fed about 10 people per year with his work. Each farmer today feeds hundreds. How did it happen? Technology, equipment development, and a passion for doing things better have made this possible.
This historical view confirms that today’s solutions will not solve tomorrow’s problems. So how does a farmer decide when it’s time to change his equipment?  Like other outstanding farmers, Wayne is always looking for a better way.
Progressive thinking means asking:
Can we do that on our farm?
Can this improve our ability to grow a profitable crop?
Can we be more efficient?
Can we get more done in less time?
What’s the likely payback of this investment?

Farming, like every business, has a finite budget for investment in what is new. Farmers must prioritize. They read, study, attend farm shows and ask questions to learn what’s new. Some respect risk and innovation. These are the farmers that will be leaders in finding a better way. They'll experiment with new crops or crop rotations. They will research, educate themselves and adopt new technology as quickly as possible. These farmers force themselves outside of their comfort zone and off the path of farming the same way as last year. The drive to find an improved method has made it possible to feed many instead of few. It has taken progressive thinking and the courage to change.
Progressive farmers like Wayne Ordahl are never satisfied with today’s accomplishments.   These leaders ask,  “What’s around the corner?"  And by the strength of their will make the world a better place.