YouTube here we come!

My sister Karen has been busy creating farm videos in preparation for a FarmFemmes presentation she is doing at the Global Big Data Conference in Santa Clara, CA.  These videos hold a special place in my heart because I know the story behind every picture.  However, these videos are not just great for people who know the dirt that they were recorded on.  Videos are also a great way to help everyone get a glimpse into what modern farming operations look like.  Check us out on YouTube and follow our FarmFemmes channel for more videos as we continue to experiment with our GoPro!

Vallotton Farms 2017: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrHx7S_hXm0&t=5s

Deer Creek Farms Wheat 2017: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RtvpfyZdxCw&t=1s

 

I’ve Moved! The launch of FarmFemmes

I am excited to say “I’ve moved”.  At least on the web.  FarmFemmes.com is now the new place for me, and you, to connect with agriculture. 

At the beginning of this year I set out to be a better advocate for agriculture – an Agvocate.  You will have noticed that the Vallotton Farms website was updated and that I posted regularly about farm life and my farm family on Facebook and Instagram.  In July my family and I attended Hefty Days in Baltic South Dakota, and that further motivated both Karen and I to get more ag involved… and for the last few months Karen and I have been working on FarmFemmes.  We are excited to say that we had a successful launch this week.  We hope that you will help us extend our reach and influence into the world of agriculture.

FarmFemmes.com brings you different farm perspectives on topics ranging from data informed decision making to succession planning.   The site is designed to showcase the fact that agriculture is a great place to be, because of the wide reaching opportunities and potential for innovation.  We aspire to share innovative ideas and address potential roadblocks.  Our goal is to connect people with the modern face of agriculture and highlight the future of ag for all.

Check out our social media posts on Facebook at www.facebook.com/FarmFemmes and Instagram @FarmFemmes and follow our blog for ag insights from the unique perspectives of two farm sisters.  If there are any topics that you would like to see us post about, please comment or suggest them on our social media platforms.  If you know of a great ag related event, site or agvocate, please let us know so that we can connect to them and help spread the message about women, innovation and agriculture.

Red vs. Green?

If you pay attention as you drive around the countryside you will often see “red farms” and “green farms”.  Occasionally you will see some blue or yellow equipment mixed in with either red or green but it is very seldom that you will see red and green existing together on the same farm.  So, why is that?  Well there are some totally logical reasons, and some totally emotional reasons, for this polarized farm equipment environment.

Logically, it makes sense to develop a relationship with one dealership, one sales rep and one service department.  It makes sense to have someone who understands your farming priorities and goals when you are changing equipment.  It also improves efficiency if all of the technology in your equipment plays nicely together; for instance, so that your seeder maps, spraying maps and your harvest maps all talk seamlessly to each other.  Location is also another logical factor to consider.  Often specific dealerships specialize in particular types of crops or specialties in the local area, so location also plays a factor in parts, but also in service.  Often breakdowns happen at time sensitive moments so getting the dealers’ service truck to the field in a timely fashion is critical.  This ties into the last logical factor, which is service.  In some locations there are lots of different dealers to choose from, all about equally close (or far) away.  In that case, service makes all of the difference.  It takes some time, investigation and coffee shop visiting to determine which dealers pay attention to their producers, and how.  So, for some dealers you only get attention if you are rotating a whole line of equipment in three year cycles.  Other dealers focus on maintaining lots of smaller accounts.  The local dealer’s philosophy about service is critical in deciding which equipment to purchase.

However, I would be totally living in an alternate universe if I didn’t acknowledge that there is totally a “culture” associated with being a “red” or “green” farm.  I grew up on a green farm and I am part of a red farming operation now so I would like to consider myself neutral.  And, in actuality, our farm now is an eclectic mix of almost everything, except green… I’m working on it.  If for no other reason that green merchandising rocks!  (So, so, so many cute things for my girls!)  Often we purchase what we know and what we are used to rather than being able to be neutral and evaluate the options based on merit.  It is hard to be able to think about only the factors of function, performance and cost.   In some cases, the color is a reflection of the farming practice, for instance farmers decide between a rotary or conventional combine. In those cases, switching philosophies goes along with switching equipment.  In other cases the “cool factor” plays into effect when function and cost should be the only deciding factors.

I recognize that both logical and emotional factors are at play in both red and green farms.  And at mix-and-match farms too!  Eventually, what I would really hope would happen is that all companies respond to farmer’s needs and incorporate easy-to-use technology that results in greater efficiency and productivity for every farmer. That would be a win-win-win for industry, farmers and consumers, no matter what the color of the equipment.

In the meantime,  maybe we could forget about red and green and get our pink Steiger in life size!

Sister Love

Family means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.  This year I got the extra special chance to spend some quality time with my sister, who lives in the United States.  For the past week, she and I have been hanging out, getting into trouble, parenting, relaxing, planning and just getting our sister groove on.  In case it isn’t totally clear already – I love my sister!  This summer has been super-fun as we have had a lot of opportunities to hang out.

So, I got thinking (because that is what I do) about why this sister-time, and the cousin-time that goes with it, is so important to me.  Mainly, I think it boils down to the fact that time is a gift because of the experiences and conversations that go with it.  I got to know all sorts of silly details that I wouldn’t otherwise know (like when her carpet got stretched to fix the wrinkles) but we also got to talk about important stuff like raising kids.

Parenting good kids is tough work.  Every mom does it a little bit differently and many moms (but also random people) don’t mind handing out advice.  Sometimes mom-ing can be confusing, stressful and pretty thankless.  BUT it can also be so, so, so amazing.  This summer has had lots of amazing moments and my sister’s boys and my girls have been busy making memories.  My girls are younger than the boys so they pretty much follow the boys around, try to keep up and hope to be included.  Luckily, the boys are super patient and very willing to take the “little girls” under their wing.  Now, sometimes this leads to trouble, but most of the time is just is so super cute! 

This summer my sister and I, and therefore the kids, have been able to do a lot of stuff together, including attending festivals, going swimming, fishing and mini-golfing, eating ice-cream, getting soaked in water fights, and just generally hanging out on a farm.  There have been truck rides, combine rides, and meals in the fields.  We have been able to share our love of farm life with our kids and seen how much their natural curiosity and excitement is contagious.  All of this time together means that they have really gotten to know their cousins, and my girls often ask when they will be able to see “AndyReid” again!  For me, this just makes my heart happy.  The memories that we are making this summer will carry us, and our kids, into the school year, when we won’t get to see each other as often.  It means that when we get soccer pictures in the mail the girls instantly know who is in the photo and want to hang them up.  It means that when we get together at Thanksgiving we can pick right back up again more easily.  It means that my girls have their “protectors” and the boys have their “fan club”.    These kinds of relationships just make my heart happy. 

Sometimes I think it would be easier not to get together, not to pack up and drive, not to match plans and schedules.  But then I think how much fun I have with my sister.  And I see those adorable moments between the kids.  It can be work, but it is so totally worth it!

Drone

Trying new things can be fun and exciting or it can be scary and nerve-racking.  For those of you who know me, you know that for me it is often more nerve-racking than exciting… If you asked people to describe me, I could almost guarantee that “risk taker” would not make the top ten list!  But, I am also a teacher and a life-long learner.  So, how do those things fit?  Well, for me it has a lot to do with being able to select the “new thing” and when I want to try it.  My Dad has had a drone for a while and he has been flying it for fun things but also functional things, like field mapping.  I have seen him flying it a few times, and even flew it a bit myself, but wasn’t really interested in taking it further than that until recently.

A few things finally made the time right for me to be interested in checking it out again.  First, my husband is mildly obsessed with cool farm videos on YouTube.  He usually screens many videos and shows me the coolest ones.  Combine that with my Hefty Days visit and thinking about how I could add my voice to promote ag in ways that people want to consume, and my interest in drone photos and videos was peaked.  This past weekend my Dad brought his drone to our place and shot some super cool photos and videos!  It was an absolutely beautiful day out, our combines were running and his crops are not quite ready yet, so it was the perfect combination for a day to do drone experiments.  Some of pictures were awesome and others were less than awesome, but had fun and learned at the same time.  We had some hiccups along the way, but one hornet sting and one lost, and recovered, drone later here are a few of the things I learned.

1.       I want to be a life-long learner.  I totally admire my dad for being interested and willing to learn at this point in his farming career.  He could easily decide to “coast” for the last decade (ish) of his career, but he isn’t doing that.  He is choosing to continue to be innovative and try new things because they interest him and because that is how farming technology is developed and advanced.

2.       Benjamin Franklin had it right when he said, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”  As with any technology, it doesn’t work like you want it to all of the time.  There were a few hours where the drone was lost and needless to say this was not the most fun time.  But, as I have mentioned before, nothing gets broken when it is parked in the shed, and the same thing applies here.  We wouldn’t have the cool pictures that we do and we wouldn’t be learning how to get even cooler pictures if the drone stayed in the case.

3.       The best part of losing the drone was finding it!  Or rather, the process of finding it.  The whole family team was involved in the hunt and it was truly an intergenerational process.  Credit goes to one of my nephews who used the iPad to track the downed drone.  All of us adults should have just put the kids on the job right away – lesson learned!

All in all we had a great day: we got some really great pictures and learned a lot in the process.  Trying new things can be scary for me, so I am glad that I have family members who can give me the little push I need to get out of my comfort zone – not only in flying a drone, or even farming in general, but in all aspects of my life.

How do you decide?

In the last few weeks we have had a lot of new information coming our way and we have been thinking about the future.  None of us can know what the future holds, but we are asked to make decisions – big decisions – based on the information we have right now.  Many years ago my Mom suggested that I read the book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz; it is a short book but it has a lot to say.  The Fourth Agreement is Always do your Best.  It explains that our best is constantly changing and evolving, but that we must always do our best with what we have right now.  In the last two weeks on our farm I have been doing my best to get on my creative thinking hat.

As with any farming operation, the land base is the key to many other decisions.  So, when we are facing decisions about our land base we have many other ripple-effect decisions to consider.  There are the tangible decisions like “What action do we want to take?” but those decisions reflect deeper questions like, What kind of farm do we want to run?  What kind of neighbours do we want to be?  What is our dream farm – our vision for our long term plan?  These aren’t light questions.  These aren’t small, or short term, or cheap decisions.  And, it is harvest time, so our heads are full of daily operational details.  How do you step out of that mode and into big picture thinking?

As I have mentioned before, running your own family business makes things complicated.  Personal and Business decisions run together and the lines blur.  Every farm family has faced these decisions at some point or another and the specifics are less important than the process and the factors that we should be considering when we try to make our plan.

First, our job is gather as much information as we can.  This is where the Fourth Agreement comes in.  We can do our best to gather information in order to make informed decisions, but just as quickly as the information is current, it can change.  We do the best we can with the information that we have.  We can only make good decisions if we have open lines of communication. 

Secondly, we need to get organized.  It is good to gather information and brainstorm, but then there needs to be a point where we collect our thoughts.  For me this means writing them down.  I process things by writing, so I need to write down the options from our brainstorming, so that I can have a process for prioritizing and investigating.

Lastly, we need to actually do the investigating.  It can be hard to choose which option we think is best when there are unknowns and un-know-ables.  Our job is to take what we know and consider the three aspects of sustainability: environmental, financial and social.  Doing the best we can means considering all of these aspects of sustainable farming.  Although they are all important being socially sustainable is the most important – you need a family to be a family farm!

So, how do we make decisions in the middle of crazy times?  The answer is that we don’t.  We will just have to sit and percolate for a while.  We will have to wait to see what the next month of harvest brings and then make our best decisions from there.  Sometimes waiting is hard, but this month really won’t feel like waiting because there won’t be any time to think – it is getting to be “go time”.  We have a few hundred acres done – in a month that will be a few thousand.  Today my decision is to just give it time; to slow down and enjoy today.

Our Kids Love the Reps

The past week has been dedicated to highlighting what we loved about Field Day 2017.  We will end the week with a Fun Friday post. 

Karen

My boys list of highlights was much shorter and focused a lot on what they saw as “better than Halloween”…. Thanks to all of the companies that made their day, and all the amazing reps who answered their gazillion questions.  In no particular order, their favorites were:

FarmLogs camo hats| AgPhD green soak-em towels| CaseIH Steiger Tractor Posters

FieldView Hats| Farmers Edge coozies

 

Teresa

My girls are too young, or too shy, to barrage the reps with questions – yet.  But they caught onto the “better than Halloween” notion in no time flat.  They may have picked up a record number of items for their orange bags, but their favorites were:

Xtend Soybeans extendable flashlights (batteries optional – extendability was the key)

UPI tractors (in both red and green)

Hefty Adjuvants waterproof cell phone pouch (aka rock collecting pouch)

 

Thanks to all of these amazing companies for helping grow the love of farming for the next generation!

Hefty Field Day - Swiss Style

If you have been following my blog, or even just checking out the site, you know that we are a teaching farm and that each year trainees from other countries join our family farm to learn about Canadian Ag.  Michael came to Canada in February for English school and joined our family in April. Here are his reflections on the experience...

There were so many highlights I don’t really know where I wanna start. Let’s start with crossing the border. I know it isn’t really in relation with Hefty Days but that was one of the big adventures. I’ve never been in the States not to mention to cross the border. I was relived as they said it’s okay I can pass. We never know what they are doing on the border so that was good. North America looks pretty much the same than Canada so that was nothing special. Well it was just a border we crossed, what I’m expecting?

Okay, let’s start with the highlights:

The order doesn’t matter.

1.       I was very surprised about their organization. Even the names were ready so that anybody knew from where each other is. Some asked me some questions where I am from. My hometown’s name sounds like somewhere not on this earth. Gibberish. Anyway I had some interesting conversations about Switzerland and some of these guys told me it’s the furthest away country they have seen at the Hefty Days. So that was kind of cool the be the, I suppose, only one from Switzerland.

They had water bottles all over the place, it was such a hot day. Great hospitality.

2.       Of course, the air show was great. I watched it out of a combine. Two great things combined 😊 They flew pretty close to each other and showed us some great figures. Inclusive a heart. That was beautiful.

3.       Case revealed the new Steiger Case with the new transmission. I could make a joyride and they explained me very good how it works and what is the difference to the ‘old’ transmission. Basically, it’s a vario transmission. That means without shifting gears. I’m not a mechanic but it was fun to drive.

4.       I have been listening to some speakers. Very informative was the talk about make the agriculture more efficient. Due to test of the soil every couple acres is it possible to increase the yield with the exact amount of fertilizer. No wasted fertilizer and perfectly used on certain spots which need more or less. On one hand, it makes sense to protect our precious fields and environment like rivers and animals against fertilizer which doesn’t need to be sprayed in oodles if it’s not important. On the other hand, it is good for the wallet and at the same time to increase the yield. Sounds like a win-win situation. I was impressed how much more yield they could just because of take care to the fields. It’s kind of the money is there we just have to harvest it. I know easier said than done but in my opinion, it’s a good start.

5.       I liked to compare agriculture Canada to Switzerland. What are the big differences? Are there even thing which are the opposite? In my opinion, agriculture can’t be invented again. It’s basically all over the world the same. We try to do our best to grow grain, corn or other crops and the other part we have no influence is the weather. What is good that we have no power to change it. This day might come but I hope that is after I enjoyed all the great things here on earth.

For me as a Trainee, it was such a great experience all together. The drive, the conversations and talks we had, the Hefty Day itself, the drive back, the border, the time together as a family.

One of the best opportunity I had here in Canada and I’m so thankful to all the people who made it possible.

Hefty Days: Farming & Big Data Collide

After leaving Hefty days I knew this would be my next post topic, but I also knew that my perspective couldn't fully capture the day so I asked my sister to add her perspective.  We wrote our posts without comparing so it was fun to see our similarities and differences.  Karen is amazingly smarty, funny and articulate - here is her take on the day.

I will start this out by saying that my parents have been asking me to go to Hefty Days for 3 years.  This year I did – and it was worth taking 3 days of vacation.  It energized me, not just about farming, but it gave me ideas to bring back to my own job in Big Data at one of the coolest companies ever – look me up on LinkedIn if you’d like to know where that is!  It didn’t hurt that my two boys were so excited that my youngest decided to change his future job from “billionaire” to “farmer”.

Here were my top 5 highlights of Hefty Days:

5.  The energy and excitement around farming was unbelievable.  From the moment we walked in the gates to the moment we walked out of them you could feel the buzz that happens when people are passionate about what they do and want to share their expertise.

4. Talking Big Data with two companies I’ve been following.  To get to talk to both FarmLogs and Farmers Edge at one venue was well worth the entire trip.  The opportunities in Big Data that both present are really compelling, and I look forward to continuing to talk to both companies!  FarmLogs I am very impressed with your follow-up email campaign, awesome to get a personalized message to set up a phone call!

3. To hear “Data Science” mentioned while I was eating lunch beside my Dad.  He knows I manage a Data Science team, but to hear my job mentioned at a farming event was priceless for me!

2. The introduction of a female track of speakers was really exciting.  After following FarmHer and multiple farming podcasts it was great to see Hefty Days elevating the conversation to include a track in the event.  My sister and I are now talking about how we can add to this space, in bringing more voices and different expertise to the conversations already started. More to come on that I hope!

1. The fly by and the smoke heart were the feelings I couldn’t put into words.  I love farming, always have, always will.  There is absolutely no better way to spend a day than learning about something you love with the people you love.  Thank-you to my family and the wonderful people I met, it inspired me to see just how I can contribute to the future of farming.

Karen Hildebrand