Derek Johnson Muses

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Idaho Stops and Observations

DSCN0315

Shoshone Falls, low for this time of year due to low snowfall and irrigation needs.

(First part of the trip)

Monday and Tuesday, my father and I visited our fields in Idaho along the Snake River Canyon, some geared toward next year, some at work for customers now. It’s an important part of the business, to let the people we work with know they are part of our BRH team and that we care about helping them raise the best crop possible.

Go for Green!

Go for Green! (Alfalfa, that is)

Idaho has become a much more diverse place agriculturally speaking. Our dealer told us potato production is down from what it had been, but guys will still move potatoes up in the cycle if the price suddenly goes up. They plant corn, wheat, oats, alfalfa (as a serious crop), soybeans, sugar beets, onions, and even radishes as a rotation crop. Everything is watered to death, but it has to be. It’s either dump water into the foot of earth above the lava rock that is buried under the ground, or nothing grows but sage brush. It is possible to turn some of the unfarmable ground into workable ground, but it requires a lot of time and money.

Many of our foreages are grown in the Snake River Valley near a town called Bliss, which according to our grower, “is a town with a happy name where no one gets along.” He says a third of the people are retirees, a third farm their tails off, and another third wish to do nothing whatsoever. Of the massive sewage facilities located to the north of his farm, he claims they were built in haste years ago before the housing market collapsed, when the city thought  thousands of Californians would immigrate to Bliss in the next ten years. Instead, Bliss’ stated population remains beneath 500, and the only Californians who moved in are trying to sell their huge houses on the river banks for more than million dollars, without takers. If you are going to build a house twenty minutes from the nearest competent grocery store, there are a lot more attractive locales to build it. The Tetons, for example. (Reminds me of other small towns.)

Snake River Canyon

Snake River Canyon

In fact, California immigrants seeking refuge from excessive taxes and high costs of living make native Idahoans quite chatty. The Boise metro area is a mass of urban sprawl, with half-a-million dollar houses next to front yards with goats herds and a single cow together. (Really? You’d think the goats wouldn’t stop bothering the cow.) Our contact near Boise told me that, when the demand for land around Boise was high pre-housing crash, a number of farmers were reluctant to sell, which resulted in the patchy neighborhood structure.  

Thankfully, we also had some time to visit some great places, like the World Center for Birds of Prey (where I had been as a kid), the Idaho State Capitol, and Bronco Stadium. As I did in Madison last year, I got a glimpse of the blue turf, even if the thrill of running through the stadium without authorization was withheld. Boise seems hipper and cleaner than either Lincoln or Omaha (the lack of snow helps), but even with all of the modernites who’ve come from California, the city still looks like middle America from the inside. 

Closest I'll get to the Blue Turf

Closest I’ll get to the Blue Turf

And here’s what I found to be…well, quirky.

Stinker’s gas station-Okay, the skunk mascot is kind of cute, but you’re ripping off Bucky the Banger, the University of Wisconsin’s mascot. The red trim is just insulting. And who would buy gas from an establishment that puts bad smells into its name? Selling gas is the same everywhere; don’t screw it up.

The fake rocks every other shopping center or high end home uses-you’re Idaho, why are you using fake rocks when you could literally go out to any field within a ten mile radius and fetch actual black lava rocks to use in construction? Okay, it looks pretty, but it just blinds everyone when it’s really sunny. Which is pretty much every day.

Yards full of every last truck, tractor, and other farm vehicle the farmer has ever owned-I was told by someone who grew up in Montana that the far West farmer never get rid of any of their old vehicles or equipment because they may need a part of that old tractor when their current tractor breaks down. Okay, I get that, but still, does the world need to look at such a mess in the middle of your yard?

Boise State’s Hipness-I walked into a Boise State fanshop, and it was literally a mantle full of every possible combination of orange and blue. (Does anyone know how much BSU has ripped from the Denver Broncos?) There were not a lot of wall hangings and T-shirts with game dates and opponents on them, like you see in a Nebraska fan shops. Even the wall hangings they had mixed in the orange and blue. Husker Nation, we cling to the past.

Harvest Lessons: Set Goals High

Celebrate Rarely, Grind Regularly -Colin Cowherd

Two weeks ago, the second harvest of silage samples was approaching, and I was facing a dilemma. The first harvest took me three days, plus two and a half extra travel days. Coming off my work days at the gallery, I’d barely had any time to prepare another show I’d agreed to do at the Civic Center in Seward. The thought of losing three more days that week and not getting back until Wednesday weighed on my mind. I planned to leave and stay at Tom’s Sunday night, but as I was doing and redoing routes on Google Maps, I realized that, the total drive time from Omro to Slater was seven hours and the total harvest time I need for the three plots was seven hours. I would be an extremely long day, but I could pull it off if I just went to Omro and started at six. The cost of a hotel room would be less than the gas I’d spend on a second trip.

I did just that, and it was one of toughest days of my working life. I got back to Slater after 10, and on the drive back to my parents’ apartment, I felt that I was at my physical limit. Although the extra time was irreplaceable, I had serious doubts about doing the same thing for the third harvest. When my father called and told me I’d have to do the third harvest on Thursday of the next week, I had my reservations about doing all three fields on the same day. Sure, it would be priceless if I finished early and could spend Labor Day Weekend relaxing at our lake house, but if I had a major problem, I could really get myself in trouble.

Last Thursday, I rolled into our analyst’s shop at 8 P.M. sharp, with all thirty-six samples from all three locations. I was really proud of myself, more so than I ever have been. I can’t really explain how I finished two hours earlier, except to say that I nailed the routine. With only a couple of tweaks, I did pretty much everything the same as I had the first time. But I did gain time in a couple of areas, some planned, some not.

-I left my motel earlier, while it was just starting to get light.

-I didn’t stop for coffee before starting. I acquired cold water and ice the night before and made Starbucks Via with it. (Side note: the Verona is good, but not as good over ice as it should be.)

-Last time, fog prevented me from getting to the Omro plot in a timely manner. (This time, I started harvesting Omro a whole half-hour earlier.

-Last time at Spring Green, I dropped my plot key that had sample ID’s written on it. This forced a ten minute search, then another seven or eight minutes for me to return to the truck to acquire a back-up. This time I found the dropped plot key and picked it back up.

-At Fennimore, I had previously parked further up the hill because I couldn’t find a way to back down and still get out. This time, I found a way to get further down. This saved at least fifteen minutes, maybe more due to less exhaustion from carrying samples up hill.

-The killer last time was going out of my way in Dubuque to download a podcast at Culvers, which took about forty-five extra minutes. This time, I was content with what I had on my iPod.

Through this experience, I learned a truism that St. John’s consultant for our building project shared with us. It’s fine to take survey and guess your limits, but don’t be afraid to set goals over those limits. Finishing that project a whole two hours early showed me the benefit of putting work first and not worrying about the small stuff. Now I’m writing this at our lake house, and I’m actually kind of proud of myself.

Triumph of the Harvest

Ear samples day

This is the fifth year in a row I’ve driven out to Hastings, Nebraska to obtain ear samples from our production plots. It always makes for a merry two-thirds of a day trip that ends with lunch at the OK Cafe or Valentino’s. Unfortunately, this year I didn’t make it out until the afternoon due to an appointment I couldn’t miss, so my post-pic meal was Runza on the way home, a small sign of how busy I’ve been the past couple of weeks.

Leftover from a field day, 2010

The project is pretty simple: pluck three sample ears from each hybrid and place them on a paper with the hybrid number on it, along with a measuring mechanism. This year, my father designed a special paper that I could print and photograph the samples on. It’s always such a good day for me: last trip out to Hastings for a year, seeing the bountiful (or not, in some cases) harvest that will be on its way to our customers.

54B36

Hastings is only a little more than an hour from Seward, and there’s a Starbucks on the way. The trip doesn’t take up my whole day, although it’s long enough to throw a wrench in it. My dad used to go out to Hastings all the time when he worked for NC+ and they had the plant there, and the Starrs’ remain our last link to the area.

Starrs fields are on the outskirts of Hasting, near the Country Club and a high-end neighborhood that’s grown into their fields. The fields around them are a mixed bag; the worst look really bad. Today happens not to be a good day to get the seed, as I have to dodge leftover water from the pivot.

Well Watered

Starrs’ other field, Plum, is over by the railroad tracks and boarded on the south side by a bad dirt road. Said dirt road is so bad, this year I didn’t even bother to drive on it. It is easily the worst dirt road I’ve ever been on. In fact, I’ve probably been in off road situations that were worse. Only Nebraska. These fields were a gruel: of the eleven hybrids I had to obtain, six came from the two pivots in this field.

Chip of the Iceberg

Railroad Tracks that are the North Border of Plum

Monday evening, I rolled back to I-80 over the near-dry Platte and sped toward home, forced to make calls in the interim because of the wild month I’ve had. The pictures I took will go in my Dad’ file and will be sent to our growers. I’ll likely go back next year, and do it again.

Disposing of Used Samples

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