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A Farmer’s Bottom Line

15 Aug

Everyday farmers make decisions that affect their bottom line.  Being a conventional farmer, I make decisions all the time regarding which chemicals to spray based on what the fields need and what they don’t.  But it’s not as simple as you may believe.  There are many factors at play, and this week I experienced just how complicated it can be.

Matt and I were out walking our green bean field that is due to be harvested this week.  While walking around, we noticed a good amount of spring wheat sprouting.  This wasn’t too surprising since last year the field was planted with spring wheat; these were “volunteer” plants growing from residual seeds left over.  We had both seen the wheat before, but figured that it wasn’t a big deal given that the harvesters would have no problem cutting through the thin stocks.  So, in our minds there was no issue. final-144The grassy looking crop is the spring wheat that has volunteered in the green bean field.

Unfortunately we were wrong.  After consulting with our field man, we were told that wheat is a huge issue because of allergens that could move from the field to the processor and eventually to the end product.  I have to tell you here that this never even crossed my mind, but I’m sure glad someone mentioned it to us!  If there is wheat found in your green bean crop, the processor can reject the whole field. Yes, that’s right; you would have to just leave the entire crop right there, unharvested. As you can imagine, this would be devastating to our farm.

This is where the story gets interesting. After telling us that this is a major problem, the next words out of the field man’s mouth were, “Too bad we didn’t find this last week, you could have sprayed.  But now it’s too close to harvest and the label doesn’t allow it.”

I’ll stop here and mention that all registered pesticides have a label attached. This is a booklet that is on the jug that outlines the rules and regulations behind spraying that pesticide. This is where you go to see the order for mixing chemicals, the precautions to use when handling the product including what protective gear to wear, and how long a person has to stay out of the sprayed area.  This is also where you find the “pre-harvest interval” or the amount of time required between application and harvest.

Matt and I hear this as we are standing in a field of green beans that we had worked hard to raise and take care of, one that would provide healthy food for thousands of people, one that hopefully will give us a good return and one that we hoped we were done spending money on.  And now we were faced with the knowledge that we could take two hours, with minimal cost in chemical, and get rid of the wheat entirely.  But that would not be following the label and would essentially be breaking the law.  Or we could tell all of our employees that they had to walk a field of green beans and pull wheat by hand, the cost of which would be substantial with six employees taking about four days to get this accomplished.  Also taking time away from other important tasks on the farm.final-145

I say this as though it was a decision that we talked about.  But it wasn’t.

The only option on our farm, the only option on farms across the nation, was to pay for the labor to get the job done right.  My point is that these rules are in place for a reason, and we all appreciate and respect that.  While I don’t have a regulator out in my fields all the time, I still follow the rules because there is good reason for them!  And it’s the right thing to do.

This week, when we head out to harvest these green beans, you can bet that my kiddos will be out there right beside us, eating those green beans that are being harvested right in front of them.  They will do that because the beans are safe, because we followed the rules, and because we farm responsibly, like farmers across America, to grow safe, high-quality food.

Decisions made on a farm are based on continuously moving parts.  Decisions made today might change if made tomorrow. Factors, such as the weather, pests, the crop, the timing of the plant itself, all come into play to make a seemingly simple decision to just go out and “dowse” our crops because it’s cheaper become incredibly complicated.  I have experienced this decision many times while farming, but the answer is always very clear: It’s not just about our bottom line, it’s about safe and healthy food. Period.

How Farmers Take Care of Bees

23 May

There is a lot of talk about bees these days here on the farm.  Not only is it the time of year when bees come out to start pollinating the flowers of many of the plants here in the Willamette Valley, but it’s also the time of the year when a lot of pests come out.  This makes it especially challenging for many farmers who are as diversified as we are.  On the one hand as a farmer I need to take care of the crops that do not require bees and have many bugs that are attacking them, but I also need to make sure to protect the bees which are very important not only to our crops and neighbors crops, but to food supply in general (as seen below).

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So how do we do it?  How do I spray a crop with insecticides while at the same time protecting bees?  It’s a good and fair question to ask of farmers.  For us there are a lot of factors in play.  We have choices and I would like to line out a few that we consider.

1. Timing. Bees like many insects are not always out and about.  While they are “busy” by nature, the times when they rest or stay in their hives can be timed and worked around.  This gives us windows of opportunity to make sensitive applications.  For instance spraying at night or during the cool morning hours when those little workers are in their hives.

2. Where the bees are located. This is important because even if you spray an insecticide at night, you should always avoid spraying chemicals that could be harmful to bees on crops that have blooms.  This is when reading labels on your insecticides is so important.  Knowing if the chemical is harmful to bees and how long that time period will last is essential in knowing that you’re not causing harm to bees.  Many times this can also mean moving the bees out of the field for a time period in order to safely protect your crop and the pollinators.


3. Insecticide Choice. There has been a lot of research done in the area of bees.  Bayer CropScience has been a leader in the recent past showing that they believe there are advances in technology that help us find safer products for bees.  They also have been on the forefront of new technologies that have lead the way in helping to make bees healthier, make crops safer sites for them to thrive, and make farmers rest assured that they are not hurting these important insects.

4. Not spraying at all. Of course this is an option and I will say one that we take seriously.  Many times we will select a timing of spray that minimizes risk, say early in the morning, and then will take it a step further and leave a buffer (an unsprayed area) between any blooms and the insecticide.  While this isn’t the best for the crop we are trying to protect, we also understand that sometimes there is just no silver bullet and you have to triage how you manage all your crops across the board.

See…the bees love this farmer!

As farmers I can’t tell you enough how aware we are of the importance of bees for our crops.  These are just four important factors that we take into account when the time comes that we need to make a decision about spraying insecticide.  This list of four, it’s only the beginning in a long line of decisions that we have to make.  I have to admit it would be a lot easier to farm without an entire ecosystem in mind, but as a farmer that is a luxury that I simply cannot afford.

To learn more about bees and how the relationship between them and farmers is being taken care of here in Oregon and across the nation, I urge you to check out these great blogs:
Oregon Green – How a bee is born
It’s MomSense – Hold on Honey, What’s the Buzz about Bees?
Bees Please: Cooperation Needed to Protect a Vital Food Supply Link

Also Bayer CropScience has an excellent website dedicated to bees. Another great place to learn more!
Facebook Page – Bayer Bee Care Center
Website – https://beecare.bayer.com/home

A Farmer’s Earth Day Story

22 Apr

  Today is Earth Day.  A day that since 1970 has been celebrated as a day to recognize efforts to reduce waste.  While it started as a movement against water waste and improved air quality, it has turned into a day when everyone can take the time to plant a tree, pick up some litter, and make more of an effort to recycle. So what does a farmer like me think about on Earth day…the phrase “Every day is Earth Day for Farmers & Ranchers” tends to come to mind.  So here is this farmer’s Earth Day story…

If you ask me to plant a tree, I would smile, because last year I planted 500.

If you asked me to just wait until they get bigger and think of all the oxygen they will produce.  I would smile again and point to the 10,000 trees that this farm has planted in the past 20 years.


If you asked me to help with soil erosion, I would smile and point to the crops we have growing on hillsides to keep the soil where it’s meant to be.

If you ask me what I’m doing to help our precious bees.  I would smile and mention the acres and acres of food that I create for bees every year.


If you asked me to help keep our water clean, I would smile and point to the grass that we grow, which filters not only soil but pesticides and fertilizer.

If you asked me to decrease emissions, I would smile and point to our GPS equipment that helps us do more with less. 

If you asked me how I know our farm is sustainable, I would smile and introduce you to the 4th generation on our farm.  A small boy who is already learning what it means to take care of the land.If you asked me to celebrate just one day where we took care of the earth, I would smile because quite frankly as farmers we have been doing that forever.

The legacy of helping the earth didn’t start for my family on this land in 1970 along with Earth Day.  It started the day that my grandpa took a handful of soil and decided to start growing food and fiber for people all over the world.  And it continues now, decades of knowledge of how to take care of what God has given us, along with technology to continue improving on that legacy for generations.  So yes today on Earth Day I’m smiling, because when I look around, it’s true that this land is our office and our home.  This land is where we sweat, cry, and rejoice.  We are here to protect this land on Earth day and every day!

To read another blog from another farmer check out this one! 

Earth Day Thoughts from a “Modern” Farmer. https://daughterofatrucker.com/2016/04/18/earth-day-thoughts-from-a-modern-farmer/

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