Million-dollar farming– will there be a payday?

john-deere-combine-comes-combining-sunflower

A $500,000 John Deere combine comes to the end of a 12 rows of sunflower.

They are million dollar crops in million dollar weather using million dollar machines.

joihn-deere-combine-corn-away-small

Taking advantage of the million-dollar weather, a half-million dollar combine opens a field of corn, making the first pass. The machine “combines” several processes, slicing the corn stalk, removing the ear from the stalk and the kernels from the cob, separating the chaff to blow out the back of the machine.

There’s a lot a farmer can do to produce a profitable crop…and a lot he can’t do — it’s out of his hands.  This fall, North Dakota farmers are reminded as they bring in their crops, they made some good choices on nutrients, timing, crop variety.   They know too, that this wonderful fall weather of no snow and warm temps is helping them get the job done.

combining-corn-john-deer-sunset-sig

Farmers put in long days at harvest, taking advantage of every weather opening provided. If it’s raining or snowing the stalks are too tough and the crop has too much moisture to harvest.

It’s a very expensive job.  One combine, such as the first one above, working a sunflower field, is about a half-million dollars.  That’s just part of the investment.  14992051_10155638816387619_3125389476639882384_nThe immense fields, some a mile-long are too large for a combine to make it across the field and back without emptying. So, the combine operator will empty on the go, continuing to pluck the crop from the stalks while emptying in to a grain cart that carries the crop to a waiting semi truck.

harvest-the-wind-and-the-wheat-sgntre

A tractor and grain cart roll along side of a working combine to receive what is in the combine’s hopper, then carry it back to a waiting truck. North Dakota supplies the world with food and fuel, as the wind turbines in the background create electricity for places such as Minnesota and Wisconsin.

john-deer-and-grain-cart-in-corn

A four-wheel drive John Deere tractor with large dual wheels to prevent wheel depressions in the soft earth pulls a grain cart on tracs. It follows the combine to retrieve a load of corn when the combine’s hopper is full.

Even though the work is uplifting, gathering in the fruit of a year’s labor’s, it can be challenging when the weather does not cooperate. In those years, the harvest is completed in the snow — after the cold-blooded diesel engines on the large tractors get started, which is a huge and frustrating task on most mornings.  That’s another reason this year’s million-dollar weather has been helpful — the machinery is not having to work hard with sluggish oil and brittle components.

Not every harvest takes place in accommodating weather. Most years, this is the view from the tractor pulling a grain cart down the road.

Not every harvest takes place in accommodating weather. Most years, this is the view from the tractor pulling a grain cart down the road.

Despite their investment, it’s possible they will have nothing to show for it this year.  Northern plains farmers, such as these in North Dakota, have millions of dollars invested in their harvest equipment, and millions more in their planting equipment. The weather is only one of the factors outside of their control; prices are abysmal.  Crop prices, such as corn, are at or near the break-even point.

That means that for all the work, for all the investment, it’s likely that many farmers will not make a profit this year.  They will go unpaid for their labor, barely earning enough money to pay the bank for the loans they took out to buy their equipment. Hopefully  they will have enough money to plant next year’s crop.

A Depression-era song that Ry Cooder recorded sums it up:

We worked through spring and winter, through summer and through fall
But the mortgage worked the hardest and the steadiest of us all
It worked on nights and Sundays, it worked each holiday
Settled down among us and it never went (away

The farmer comes to town with his wagon broken down
The farmer is the man who feeds us all
If you only look and see I know you will agree
That the farmer is the man who feeds us all

 

Advertisements

Reasons to see North Dakota in the fall, photo safari — Evening gold Pt 1.

sunflower-gravel-road-and-golden-hour-sig-small

Domesticated sunflowers never rotate with the sun unlike their natural cousins that follow the sun. That’s why this mature field of sunflowers face east with the sun at their back. (One reason I like this photo, besides the leading lines is the hot/cold contrast of ground color and sky color.)

This fall, I’ve taken to exploring the last hour of the day with camera and dog.  That’s  easy to do because the golden hour is actually pretty early these autumn days; the colors are warm and the contrasting light is illuminating.  The golden hour, the golden sunset and the golden colors are striking.

mike-gunnar-sunset-prairie

Gunnar the foster dog leaps through tall prairie grasses on our walks. The golden grass, yellow skies and his yellow fur compliment each other

About 4:00 or so, the dog gets pretty alert and by 5:00, he’s ready to go.   He’ll pace back and forth or stand by the back door until I am ready.  Then he gets to the truck to wait for me, and off we go to find an abandoned section line road to explore.

eight-wind-turbines

Even just eight wind turbines disrupt the horizon. Imagine what 105 turbines do to the landscape.

Up until about 8 years ago, there were more opportunities, but more than 100 wind turbines were set up south and east of me.  There’s not much enjoyment in shooting miles and miles of wind turbines.  I find them to be intrusive. So to avoid the wind turbines, now I explore west and north of Wilton, mostly north.  There are not too many golden hour opportunities to the west. The Missouri River is about 8 miles from me, the hills and valleys separate section line roads. I stick to roads and section line paths, staying off private property, so there are not many chances to get out and photograph the area without trespassing on a farmer’s property.  I’ve been heading north of Wilton where there are more gravel roads and abandoned section line roads.golden-sunset-north-of-wilton-corn-and-gravel-road-sig-small

Our routine is similar each night. We drive until we find a good place to stop, then walk, looking for patterns, images to capture. Well, I look for them. The dog, he’s just off running.  It’s his free time.

abandond-house-in-the-middle-of-he-prairie-golden-hills-dark-sky-sig

I couldn’t see any approach roads. It’s just a house in the middle of the stubble field.

Sometimes we come across a surprising revelation. In this case (photo below),  we parked the truck, hiked up over the hill and caught the lower valley beyond the hill. An abandoned house with no noticeable roads or lanes nearby, just sitting in the middle of a small grain stubble field.

mature-sunflower-head-with-bokeh-sig

No longer yellow and green, but still attractive with the nubbly texture of a raw sunflower head.

Other times we walk along a yet-to-be harvested field. As I noted above, sunflowers are some of the last to come off, weeks after small grains and beans.

john-deer-pulling-grain-cart-sig

Hauling roughly a half-semi trailer of grain, a powerful John Deere on tracks not wheels heads to the working combine to unload the combine hopper as it keeps moving down the rows.

Sometimes we’ll be headed down a trail, and can hear the sound of million-dollars of machinery working.  Fields are so large that farmers need a grain cart pulled by a high-powered tractor to collect the grain from the working combine out in the field, and then haul it to the end of the field and a waiting truck.

Drive or walk to the other end of the section and you’ll come up on the combine doing it’s season-ending work. .

combining-corn-john-deer-sunset-sig-small

Sunset behind, the farmer keeps working to finish his cornfield.

It’s not too profound of a statement to say that this is an agricultural area, but that does not mean there are not opportunities to get in to wildlife regions.  I’ll see what I can do to show you that, next time.  Do you have fall hiking areas in North Dakota that you can recommend?  What are section line roads like in your area?

 

Between the rancher's fence lines is what used to be an active road, a section line road laid out on every section on one-mile grids. Most are no longer accessible or visible.

Between the rancher’s fence lines is what used to be an active road, a section line road laid out on every section on one-mile grids. Most are no longer accessible or visible.

 

Horse Play

Eye contact!

Eye contact!

Be observant.

Be ready.

I was halfway there.  I was observant, but not necessarily ready.

One afternoon, I’d gone out to shoot stock photos of the energy industry activity in western North Dakota.  I was west of Dickinson shooting long shots of an oil refinery under construction.  It was a grey sunless day. The diffused light dampened the contrast and color.  So, I didn’t waste much time or effort to shoot grey, lifeless photos of a construction project.  I turned around on the gravel road and headed back to Highway 10.  Then I saw it: life!

An appaloosa dances while the rest of the herd watches

An appaloosa dances while the rest of the herd watches

Across the road, a herd of horses horsed around. Horse play!  And wow, they were playing!

App dances, white walks away wtrmrkScampering!

Frolicking!

Two appaloosas and a white or albino took turns dancing, jumping, running.  It was like watching kittens or puppies play. Entertaining and joyful.  Their antics were captivating; I forgot  camera settings.

three horses play wtrmrkObservant, I’d caught the action before I drove past, but I wasn’t quite ready.  My camera was still set for the dark images of the construction site.  I stepped outside my pickup and shot. Adjusting the camera between shots just a bit at a time, I monitored the playground to see how these playful critters scooted about.

White and App kick and run

I’m sure the gaiety lasted longer than my short time allowed.  I could have sat for hours to watch the merriment – but alas, I was supposed to be “on the job.”  I had appointments to keep. So, discipline topped enjoyment.  I left the herd in revelry while I headed off to responsibility.  Now, I’m home, I see that why I was mesmerized by the play.  So, I posted the set of images on my website. http://tinyurl.com/pztlyx4

How long would you have stayed to watch?

Street signs and Ranches

North Dakota's ranch country

You don’t have to go far outside of the North Dakota Capitol City to find a different kind of busy intersection.  A local gang hanging out under the street sign, looking for trouble doesn’t have the same meaning in North Dakota as in other places.

Street signs are abundant any where people are moving — they have to know where they’re going.  And that’s true out in Morton County, just west of Bismarck. If you take some of the local roads you’ll find you are directed down the road to households within the same extended family — all building their legacy on the prairie — with the help of mother cow and her calves.  At least I think they were there to help.  I didn’t bother them. That cold icy stare was enough to keep me in my truck.

In this July jaunt through the hills of west river (Missouri River) North Dakota I had no idea where I was going, or where I was and frankly the street signs didn’t help much, so eventually I turned around, but not until I brushed by a bit of isolated civilization in the wide open pasture and grazing of western North Dakota.   It’s a good part of my portfolio, shooting this model I love to photograph — North Dakota. Mykuhls Photography

November 5 North Dakota’s autumn gold

Autumn in North Dakota

Autumn in North Dakota is characterized by warm earth tones of golds and yellows.  At the North Dakota-South Dakota border I pulled off the road and went over to a nearby sunflower field to shoot the colors and shapes of a mature field of sunflowers. (If you look back in this blog, North Dakota 365, you’ll see how sunflower fields have a different hue and color in August.)

Doe and fawn

The same warm earth tones are visible where a fawn waits for its mother in the dense cover of a North Dakota prairie. The air is warm and actually feels heavy on this day. Perhaps that is because of the amount of dust in the air caused by harvest and the material kicked in to the air from the drying plants.

If you don’t think farming, and harvest is a dirty job (that someone has to do) check out the rolling combines along the North Dakota-South Dakota border.  Deep in a sunflower field farmers are taking in the sunflower to be used for oil and other food supplies for people such as you and those on the other side of the world from where you are right now.

A warm autumn day, short lived before the cold season starts. Some people say autumn is their favorite time of year.  How about you?

October 7 Cuttin’ corn

Binder down the dusty road

I could smell it when I drove the back roads looking for a photo of the day.  Somewhere some place, someone was cutting corn silage.  It’s an unmistakable sweet, wet/sweet smell.  Growing up in the Tall Corn State of Iowa, I grew up with the smell, knew it well.

Then I saw the silage truck headed back out to the field to get another load.

Dumping silage in to a truck

Silage cutting

There he went, down the road out in to a field where a silage cutter was taking care of the corn field, getting it cut and chopped to feed cattle all winter.  The trucks drove out in to the field to get a load dumped in to the box from the wagon pulled behind the tractor and silage cutter.

There musta been a half-dozen trucks keeping up with the tractor and cutter, hauling to a silage pile about 3 or 4 miles down the road.

I learned this was a neighborhood cutting bee. The owner’s wife was gravely ill and he was spending his time and money on her and her medical treatment.  So, the neighbors got together and  did the farmer’s work for him.

That’s the way it is out here.  We may not agree on everything, and sometimes downright disagree, but doggone it, when someone needs help, we’re there.  That’s what these neighbors did…they were there for the farm family. Not only did they supply material relief and help, their involvement in their neighbor’s plight musta been an encouragement to the farm family.

Would you agree? Sometimes it’s not what you do for someone, but just the fact you did something that really counts?

September 29

Producing for the world

A pastoral scene in the center of the state says more than just that it’s pretty out here.  Much of the world depends on the quiet activity of North Dakota producers.  Here, the farm with livestock buildings, the small grain field and the giant wind turbines tell a story of hard work, industry and support for others.   The wind turbines send power to Minnesota and points east.  The livestock and grain go worldwide to feed others.

On this autumn day, I was headed down the road about 30 miles south of the geographic center of the state when I topped a hill to catch the juxtaposition of three of the state’s leading industries — small grains, livestock and energy. Photographically, I like the colors, the peace and the  cleanliness of an image such as this.

Just out of curiosity, what is the sense you feel when you see a pastoral scene such as this?

September 28

 

red bulls

 

They’re not exactly an energy drink these red bulls, but if they were running toward me, I’m sure I’d find enough energy to stay ahead of them.

Two of North Dakota’s largest economic sources are in this image — food and fuel; beef and electricity.  The Northern Plains has long been known as an essential part of the breadbasket of the world producing small grains and beef for the world.  Now in recent years, the Northern Plains has also become an increasingly essential part of America’s energy source.  The coal, gas and oil production of this region is legendary.  One of the largest oil plays in the nation is under ground west of here, the Bakken oil formation.  Now, add to that the hundreds of wind turbines dotting the prairies and the region’s importance to the lives of other Americans continues to grow.

September 26

 

North Dakota traffic hazard

 

Unlike high-traffic areas where drivers are alert for other drivers, trash and lost loads on the highway, here in North Dakota, we look for different obstacles — livestock on the road.    All it takes is one loose string of wire on a fence and some agile calf will get through, leading others to the other side of the fence — even if the grass is no greener.

Fortunately here in North Dakota, your sight distance is great enough that it’s unlikely that you would come up on something like this without a lot of  opportunity to see what could be ahead.

On highway 36 near Wing, North Dakota, these calves calmly went about their exploration, milling about the ditches and highways.   I drove through the small herd, then turned to get this image up the hill from me.  They were politely cooperative.  I got my shot and headed on away from them.

If any other vehicles had approached I may have flashed my lights to warn them of the impending traffic hazard.  But again, as is typical in North Dakota, you just don’t see a lot of traffic out here.  Most of the moving vehicles, at least along this road at this time of the year, is off to the side of the road. A lone combine gobbles up grain that will move by truck from the field to the nearby storage at a farmer’s grain bin or at the nearby elevator.

It’s a pastoral, quiet lifestyle here on the Northern Plains.  Safe too, if the greatest danger is not road rage, but highway heifers.

September 22

beside still waters

A sight not often seen in North Dakota — sheep on a hillside.  In fact, I can more quickly show you herds of domestically produced elk than I can flocks of sheep.   Even just down the road from this flock of sheep is an elk herd that I’ve attempted to photograph but have been unsuccessful.   In fact, every one of our neighboring states raise more sheep than does North Dakota.  Wyoming, South Dakota (4x),  Montana (3x) and Minnesota (2x) all out-produce North Dakota.

Yet between Wilton and Mercer is one flock of sheep that keeps the pasture tamed of most noxious weeds.  The sheep graze freely near an abundant water source, and I’m reminded of Psalm 23, “He leadeth me beside still waters.”

It was an overcast day when I shot this, the sun somewhere behind me which gave me about as good of light as I would get on this cloudy day.  It provided good even lighting with only natural color contrast and very few shadows.