‘Farming is under fire’

Duarte case has potential to set dangerous precedent nationwide

By Sherry Bunting, reprinted from Farmshine, June 2, 2017

Duarte9983OMAHA, Neb. — “Farming is under fire,” said John Duarte, a fourth-generation farmer with a family nursery business outside of Modesto, California as he recounted the timeline of his 4-year battle with the federal government over — of all things — plowing and planting wheat on agricultural land.

Duarte was a speaker during the Range Rights and Resource Symposium at Bellevue University near Omaha May 19-20. The two-day event was sponsored in part by Protect the Harvest and moderated by Loos Tales radio host and seventh generation farmer Trent Loos.

Duarte is working with the Pacific Legal Defense Fund and the American Farm Bureau is now involved. But it’s not enough. The problem is that the case needs a huge outcry by rural folk across the nation to get the attention it deserves from Congress and the Trump administration to stop this next penalty phase of the case in August.

This week, Mike Conaway (R-Tex), chairman of the House Ag Committee and Bob Goodlatte (R-Va), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter of inquiry to Attorney General Jeff Sessions about the Department of Justice’s role in the prosecution of the Duarte case. They want to know why the DOJ is still pursuing a Clean Water Act case against Duarte. If the penalty phase in August upholds the summary judgment in District Court a year ago, this case will set a chilling precedent that has the potential to make it a crime for a farmer to plow his own agricultural land without a permit.

Duarte started a GoFundMe site (https://www.gofundme.com/Duartestandsup) in part to raise funds for his defense and the defense of agriculture and in part to raise public awareness as the penalty phase of the trial heads to court in August.

At the core

The Obama Administration interpretation of Waters of the United States (WOTUS) is at the root of the Duarte case; however, EPA is not the agency Duarte is battling, but rather the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) and the Department of Justice (DOJ), perhaps because he dared to exercise his Fifth Amendment rights to due process under the Constitution when ACE ordered a cease-and-desist on agricultural land he had purchased on which he plowed and planted a wheat crop.

Indeed, the federal prosecution of Duarte threatens his multigenerational family business as well as his personal home, with over $2 million in legal expenses, and the government seeking nearly $3 million in fines and $15 to $30 million in required purchases of “private wetlands bank credits” to offset his ‘egregious’ act of creating “small mountain ranges,” which were in reality plow furrows that by the government’s own report measured 5-inches from the top of ‘deep ripping’ mound to the bottom of the furrow. Sounds like normal plowing that in reality did not destroy the vernal pools (spring mud puddle) in Duarte’s fields that the federal government deems Waters of the United States (WOTUS). This case clearly threatens American Agriculture to its core.

Private beneficiaries?

These private entities that would receive said wetlands bank credits that the government wants Duarte to pay ($15 to $30 million) are funds paid to private organizations like the Sierra Club that do wetlands restoration and habitat, which said organizations can then freely use this payment to donate to campaign funds of congressional and presidential candidates. This was explained by additional symposium panelists and is a piece of the issue that, alone, should furrow the brows of not just farmers and ranchers, but all Americans.

There is also the concern that other intentions are at play to devalue agricultural land that organizations have their sights set on for cheaper easement purchases if taken out of production.

And then there is the concern that this case puts an even bigger target on the backs of farmers taking land out of the CRP in the future.

The Duarte land involved in the lawsuit was not CRP land; however, the previous owner had not planted wheat there for six years prior to Duarte’s planting, instead leaving it go fallow and grazing cattle — an agricultural choice that reflected the price of wheat over that time, which Duarte showed clearly on a graph.

Furrowed brows

What is astounding is that after Duarte’s tillage, the vernal pools are still there. He had mapped them when he bought the land and can show that they are the same today.

What should raise hairs on the back of every farmer’s neck is that the San Francisco Bay Area California District Court judge agreed with the federal government last August by ruling, in effect, that “if you plow through any depression in America and if some dirt goes from the ‘upland’ to the wetland, you are liable for these penalties,” Duarte said.

The uplands, you ask? That would be the dryland top of the 5-inch high plow furrows (as measured by the government) that created what court documents refer to as “small mountain ranges,” “uplands,” and “drylands” creating debris that could fall into the WOTUS (vernal pool or spring muddle puddle in a poor drainage depression in a field).

Yes, these were plow furrows that ACE came out and measured to be 5-inches tall. In fact, when ACE came out for the measurements, they dug down 23 feet with an excavator – far more egregious than the plowing by Duarte.

They excavated and brought in a specialist to do “pebble distribution counts” to be sure the depressions still drained poorly to hold water in a wet season. These vernal pools, or mud puddles, evaporate, but until they do, they are a home to grassland fairy shrimp (aka sea monkeys) that live and die with the sudden appearance of water, leaving behind eggs for the next temporary rain fill.

Duarte’s slides and maps demonstrated he did his due-diligence, mapping all the pools and swales on the property he had purchased and asking the plowing contractor to plow around them. Some he did, others he didn’t. But the bottom line is that none of those depressions or future mud puddles were destroyed. When they fill with water in a future wet season, the fairy shrimp will have a temporary home. Nothing has changed.

Duarte4747.jpgEven the ACE report acknowledged that, so they had to come up with a different ‘crime,’ that of compromising a Waters of the United States (WOTUS) by debris (dirt) falling from the ‘dryland uplands’ (plow furrow) into the WOTUS (dry future mud puddle).

How did the case against Duarte get to this point? Duarte recounted for the Land Rights attendees the sordid details that began in 2012, when he planted wheat in agricultural land he purchased in Tehama County, California.

He went to the county FSA office looking to buy agricultural land, and the land he purchased was identified as such. Its history included both wheat planting and grazing.

In 2012, the price of wheat was profitable unlike the years before it, so Duarte planted wheat in the fall. Four months later in February 2013, Duarte received letters from ACE to cease and desist operations in WOTUS.

Duarte answered this letter with an inquiry of the facts and received a second letter from the enforcement division of ACE.

Duarte filed in October 2013 a due-process lawsuit, exercising his Fifth Amendment Right.

In May of 2014 ACE filed a counterclaim, bringing the DOJ into the act. In August 2016, the District Court summary judgment went against Duarte, and upcoming in August 2017 will be the penalty phase of this case.

One of the findings in the case is that Duarte’s Fifth Amendment right to due process is not deemed to be “a practical expectation” in this case. He was told that the federal government would have to give up its sovereignty on this issue of WOTUS for Duarte’s Fifth Amendment rights to apply.

Meanwhile, “they are valuing the assets of my family’s company, and my personal home, because I was the chief executive of the family business at the time that the field was plowed,” said Duarte, adding that the DOJ prosecution team in this case “is part of the swamp” that needs to be drained.

But it’s not just about Duarte. It’s about every farmer out there with land that can be controlled and rights that can be taken by the administrative interpretation of the federal Clean Water Act, which Congress specifically said will not regulate normal farming. There is a land grab underway and plenty of alligators in the D.C. swamp.

If plowing is not an ordinary farming practice, what is?

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PHOTO CAPTION

Photo caption:

John Duarte and his family have an agricultural nursery business and are well respected for a variety of environmentally-friendly, forward-looking practices and generations of care for the land and water. But their family business, jobs in the community, and John’s personal home, and more, are all at risk because he plowed wheat without a permit on agricultural land he purchased. This precedent-setting case has already cost over $2 million in legal expenses. He continues to pay a mortgage on 450 acres of California farmland that a court has ordered him not to farm. The federal government is seeking $2.8 million in fines and another $15 to $30 million in required payments to ‘private entities’ for wetland bank credits when the case goes to the penalty phase in August. There’s just 60 days left to stop this train from defining a WOTUS impact that can be used against farmers, nationwide, in the future. Photos by Sherry Bunting

Photo caption #2

From Duarte’s slides, this picture may be familiar to farmers, a poor-draining area where water pools until it evaporates. The Duarte case sets precedent for this WOTUS to be used to not only control land, but also rake in funds that can in turn be used by private entities like the Sierra Club in the form of private wetland bank credits. These required payments by landowners to the private entities can then be donated by these private entities to election campaigns.

 

 

 

MILK always wins at the Indy500

Recalling the Race — and the Milk — at last year’s 100th running: Indy500

By Sherry Bunting, adapted from June 3, 2016 Farmshine

Wait for it… The powerful and patriotic blend of freedom and speed that ensues after the recognition of our military, the moment of silence for fallen heroes, the singing of America the Beautiful, the National Anthem followed by the Blue Angels flyover, the singing of Back Home in Indiana, the anticipated “Gentlemen Start Your Engines”, the breaking free of the pace cars as the field of Indy cars passes the paddock with Old Glory in tow!

Then their off. ….. It’s a roar not soon forgotten when the field of 33 drivers rounds the curve to the paddock straightaway and the pace car exits the track. The thrill of the Indy500 is unmatched in motorsports, and the refreshing, replenishing, revered beverage associated with this great race is ICE COLD DAIRY MILK. Thank you Louis Meyer — 3 time winner 1928, 1933, 1936 — for starting over 80 years of “the coolest trophy in sports for the greatest spectacle in sports.”

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — After 500 miles, 200 laps, 54 lead changes and 13 different leaders, the winning of the 100th Indy500 last year came down to a fuel strategy that put Alexander Rossi — the 9th rookie ever, and the first since 2001 — into Victory Lane at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the sweet taste of victory — the 80th traditional ice cold drink of milk, delivered in 2016 by milkwoman Janet Dague, a dairy farmer in Kewana, Indiana and rookie ‘milkman’ Joe Kelsay with a dairy farm in Whiteland.

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(Kelsay will deliver the 81st cold drink of milk at today’s 101st Indy500.)

Nearly a half million people turned out for the 100th running of the Indy500 a year ago. It was the first time that all seats and the infield were completely sold out in advance, with no walkup sales on the day of the race. As such, the media block was lifted for Indiana so locals were, for the first time, able to view the race on television — live.

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Last year’s customary #winnersdrinkmilk moment was accompanied by the distribution of commemorative bottles of milk in special packaging made available by Prairie Farms, the American Dairy Association Indiana (ADAI) and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS).

Dague, the Indiana dairy producer with the honor of presenting this year’s milk to the winner has been a longtime avid fan of the race, and she had been hoping the winner would be a rookie, or someone who never won before.

“I was so very excited to see our rookie win the 500,” said Dague afterward. “I was jumping up and down, cheering in Victory Circle, when Alexander Rossi crossed the finish line. I even said to Joe ‘I told you I wanted a rookie to win!’

By “our rookie,” Dague was referring to Rossi earning the 42nd Fastest Rookie award given annually by the ADAI at a special dairy-and-racing-focused luncheon on the Tuesday before the race. There, Rossi was honored as the qualifying rookie with the fastest 4-lap average speed on qualification day, at an average 228 mph.

Dague described Rossi as “so gracious about winning. I think because of the rookie luncheon that just took place, he understood how important this was for the ADAI and every other dairy farmer around the world,” she explained. “In every picture, he made sure to take a drink of the milk and even made sure our logo was facing front and center. We couldn’t ask for a better spokesperson.”

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Rookie ‘milkman’ and dairy producer Joe Kelsay’s excitement about participating in delivering the milk to the winner in the 100th running was obvious.

“To have the spotlight shine on the nutrition of milk in this way is just awesome,” he said during the 500 Festival Parade Saturday. “It is an honor to represent fellow dairy farmers who are back home milking and feeding and listening to the race on the radio. It has been a humbling experience so far.”

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“It was so amazing to see the large number of fans that showed up to see the 100th running of the Indy 500,” observed Dague, who has been going to the race for 21 years. “I have never seen such a crowd. People were just happy to get in the gates and sit in their lawn chairs on the Plaza and watch it on the big screen on the Pagoda. They just wanted to be there and share in all the festivities and celebrations of such a special day.”

(Given the unprecedented crowd, traffic was a crawl and even a standstill coming in. Even at 4 a.m., the wait was four and a half hours to travel the last three miles to the media parking lot and once entering the media-fast gate with credentials, the crush of wall-to-wall people made it obvious the afternoon was going to be one for the history books of this largest single-day event in the world of sports and motorsports.)

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To put it in perspective, the largest-ever attendance of the NFL Superbowl was just over 100,000 people. The 100th running of the Indy500 in 2016 clocked in at 350,000 in the gates and another estimated 100,000 outside the gates just wanting to “be there.”

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The traditional military tributes during the 500 Festival parade on Saturday and again in the pre-race festivities on Sunday were awe-inspiring as the Memorial Holiday reverence is always part of the experience. The crowd was visibly moved.

While the pre-race attention on crowd participation in the “milk toast” was reliant on electronic screen messages and announcements over the loudspeaker, fans were spotted mostly on social media Twitter and Facebook toasting with their milk before, during and after the race, versus one large crowd simultaneously lifting their bottles.

Mostly at that final moment, spectators were lifting cameras and either intent on the driver who had just won or attempting to beat the crowd to their cars.

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Certainly, the crew was celebrating — milk in hand and mouth — in Victory Lane. Owners Michael Andretti and Bryan Herta were toasting each other, drinking their milk. Andretti, in particular, was happy to taste the elusive beverage right from driver Rossi’s official bottle while Rossi did his victory interview with ESPN. “The milk in Victory Circle seemed like a time honored tradition to the team, the owner and Rossi,” noted Kelsay. “There seemed to be quite an appreciation for what it means to toast the milk to one another, and many of the crew shared a drink after Chief Mechanic had his sip.”

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Kelsay said the most memorable part for him as a ‘rookie milkman’ was their recognition and appreciation of the tradition.

“It seems as imporIndy500-4137tant to the fans as it is to dairy farmers,” he said. “Even one of the police officers mentioned what an honor it was to meet me (the rookie milkman) and he continued by quipping that he would be sure to keep me safe if something happens. We just thank Louis Meyer for starting this trend 80 years ago that we can highlight the healthy choice of milk and deliver that message to a global audience here at the Indy500.”

The main value of this tradition and the expanded ‘milk toast’ for the 100th Indy500 was the opportunities it provided on race day and for months leading up to race day — to share the good news about dairy milk’s superior nutrition.

After all, #winnersdrinkmilk and #milkalwayswinsatIndy500

 

Gratitude, that freedom may live

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By Sherry Bunting, excerpt Milk Market Moos, Farmshine, May 26, 2017

Amid the troubles in the world, and the divisive politics we see, there are bright spots if we look for them and illuminate them.

This weekend as we prepare to observe Memorial Day, let’s choose to focus on what is good and right with America because brave men and women fought and died to protect this, so that we may be free.

Free to discuss and debate our individual rights and collective responsibilities.

Free to lend our perspectives to discussions and decision-making from our experiences as citizens.

Free to vote for change when the pendulum swings too far.

Free to secure the rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

With these rights come responsibilities and with these liberties come the realization that freedom is something that can be incrementally lost if we don’t consciously keep it in the forefront. If we don’t continually look for it, seek it out, hold it up and illuminate it.

In the words of President Ronald Reagan: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children through the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”

And in the words of President John F. Kennedy: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship,
support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty.”

This Memorial Day, as always, we prayerfully and respectfully remember, admire and acknowledge with gratitude the supreme sacrifice of the heroes who have fought and died that freedom and liberty may live and that we as Americans may have the right — even the responsibility — to protect it and pass it on to future
generations.

100 years of vet wisdom

It’s World Veterinary Day today, Apr. 29, 2017

Semi-retired vets look back, ahead at changing landscape, excerpt f/ Farmshine June 2015

VetsPhoto5202.jpgKITTANNING, Pa. — The future of animal care “comes down to how we look at animals in our culture. We have to accept that animals are useful to man and accept our role in protecting and fostering these animals in their service to man. Veterinary work takes compassion, determination and dedication. While the animals can’t speak to tell you what is wrong, they also can’t lie, so that frees you to see what they are ‘telling’ you,” observes Dr. Robert Lash of Kittaning, Pa.

Where would farming, food production, and our purpose-driven companionship with both our working animals and pets be without good veterinarians?

In 2015, I interviewed two semi-retiring veterinarians with 100 years of combined experience providing veterinary care for animals — large animals and small, working animals and pets, food animal and companions.

Dr. Lash — a man of 80 years — knew early in life that veterinary work was his calling.

“I was just three, and my grandmother had a lame chicken. I examined the bird and saw the green age-band was embedded,” he recalls. “I cut that band out for her, and the foot healed up just fine.”

So it began for Lash, and by 1963, he was starting his practice in Armstrong County, Pennsylvania, first with large animals and gradually shifting into small animals as other large animal vets joined the practice.

For Lash’s first partner, Dr. ‘Gabby’ Durkac, the ‘light bulb’ went off at age 12. Raised on a farm with a few cows, one went down after calving. “The vet was called. He IV’d the cow and got her up and I was amazed,” Durkac recalls. “I thought: That’s what I want to do.”

During a spring 2015 visit, the two vets talked of “crazy hours” in those early days of the practice, of almost never having a night without emergencies. Their wives told of husbands nearly nodding off at the most inappropriate times.

Country vets earn their stripes and stars with not only their know-how but also their perseverance. Virtual energizer bunnies, they are.

The two men chuckled good-naturedly at the recollection of 5 a.m. milk fever calls as the start to many a morning, herd checks until lunch, clinic work in the afternoon and very often having to go back out for a midnight or 1 a.m. emergency call and thenagain at 5 or 6 a.m. to start over.

With calls coming in all the time, their practice grew fast. Both men observe how it has evolved with changes in the veterinary field and as farms are fewer and larger with more distance between. Even though the remaining farms are still family farms, they are different today.

“We have half as many farms and roughly the same number of cows in a 50-mile radius compared with the 70s and 80s. Today, producers take care of some of the things we used to get called for, like milk fever,” Durkac relates, adding that it has been rewarding to have worked with as many as three generations of families managing customer herds.

“We have become more consultants and less hands-on. That is the trend, giving advice on how to manage herd health,” Lash notes, explaining that the herd health programs they started years back have provided a more organized and proactive approach, and the newer generation of dairy managers are adept with knowledge not available in the old days.

“We even have producers who can handle a uterine torsion. They’ve learned how to roll the cow to deliver the calf,” Durkac adds. “Often today, we are called for a diagnosis and the farmers do the treatments.”

“But the emergencies do come,” Carolyn Lash observes. On the pet side, there are emergency clinics for after-hours care, but for the large animal side, her husband still takes those calls and gives advice when a large animal vet is not available at the clinic.

Biosecurity is among the challenges Lash sees on the horizon.

“This is a main concern, that of keeping transmissible diseases out of the herd,” he says, adding that today, “in general, herds are getting larger and more expertly managed.”

“They have to, to survive today,” Durkac adds. He sees the animal care side as a challenge due to organizations like PETA always looking for negative situations. “They go overboard with some of this. They must realize these are 1500 and 2000-lb animals. You don’t just pick them up and carry them.”

Lash agrees, but added that the attention to animal care has been a positive outcome. He sees how today’s advances in knowledge and technology are making things better for the animals and those who manage them.

It is a circle of continuous improvement.

As dairies expand and genetics improve — with genomic testing more affordable and able to identify animals that will be healthier and more productive — the challenge will be using the advances in herd management to keep up with the continually improving genetic potential of the cow.

Durkac observes how the decisions in animal care must often balance the science, the emotion and the economic realities of farming — to make decisions that are both good for the animal but also consider the economics farm families face in the cattle industry.

“As veterinarians, we look at the husbandry and working to keep animals healthy at all points of production,” he says.

Producers and their team members have to be willing to trust and share information. Today’s vets and nutritionists consult together about what they see as they observe the cows, according to Durkac.

Durkac notes that with bulls now rated on health traits, even immunity, some of his clients are using genomics more routinely. “It makes sense to use a tool that can tell you the strength and health and productivity of the animals when they are young. Some dairy farms are taking the top 5 to 10% of the herd and breeding them to good bulls and breeding the bottom percent to beef bulls for the beef market.”

While both docs had funny stories — like the time some cows got out of a pasture and into a local’s homegrown ‘wacky weed’ — the memories shared were a mix of the odd, the sad, the happy and the profound.

Most rewarding for Lash after all of these years is the appreciation of clients — both 2-legged and 4-legged. They told about “Andy,” a poodle that had a paralyzed rear leg back in the 1970s.

“We attempted decompression disc surgery, and it was successful, but he still had paralysis so we built a cart for the dog to pull itself around,” Durkac recalled. “The owner wasn’t able to handle that, so we kept the dog and six months later he finally started to walk. It was right around Christmas time, so he was a gift of sorts back to his original owners.”

To aspiring vets, Lash advises the importance of having a good mentor and joining a practice that is accepting associates, if possible. In rural communities of the West, Durkac still reads of young vets starting out — much like he and Dr. Lash — growing their own practices.

“Personality is also big,” adds Durkac. “As a vet, you don’t just work with the animals, you have to be able to work with people every day.”

For anyone considering a future as a veterinarian, both docs advise getting some farm experience before applying to vet school. “Then follow your instincts once you get that farm experience and see all phases of veterinary medicine,” Lash suggests.

To be partners for 45 years, you have to be able to get along and to challenge each other, the two men agree. For Lash and Durkac, they were able to work separately in the practice and also consult together on tough cases.

To be a vet, you have to love animals.

But to be a vet, that love of animals has to know some boundaries.

Both men related some of their toughest calls and how being born into and raised in farm animal culture helped give them perspective.

“The toughest thing to face is when an animal is in trouble, and needs extreme therapy or surgery, and the owner is in the financial situation not to be able to afford to do it, so you find alternative ways to work with that animal,” Durkac relates.

Ranking high on the reward list is delivering a live calf, or any animal. For Lash, the vivid memory was getting a call on a cow with milk fever down in the pasture trying to deliver her calf.

“I treated the milk fever first and then set to deliver the calf, but a giant thunderstorm was underway and that cow was crosswise in a hollow that filled up with water behind her and started cascading over us like she was a dam,” he said shaking his head. “We delivered the calf and got her up. I guess I was just so focused on what I was doing, I didn’t realize how much water was building up behind us. We were lucky to survive that… just another day in the field.”

The ones that don’t end well — even after working up a sweat in zero-degree weather — they also stick with a vet. Durkac recalled a heifer in labor at a farm on a zero-degree night. The farmer’s son had worked with the cow for six hours before calling the vet.

“I got there and the heifer couldn’t get up. The calf was too big for the heifer, so my objective was to save the heifer,” he recalled. “I started working on my knees. There were no lights in the barn, and I remember working so hard I was sweating and looked up as the farmer held the flashlight to see ice crystals above me. I came home to find a foal behind the pony Dr. Lash had given me. We named her Zero and she was around for a while.”

For the dairies Durkac has served over the past 45 years, the calm demeanor and knowing ways will be missed. “You can’t beat him,” said Lara Wilson Shields of fifth generation Le-Ara Holsteins, where her parents Dick and Shirley are the third generation. “Gabby has been our herd vet since I was six. He has saved cows here so many times, including the cow on our sign who lived to be over 18 years old.”

Not only was ‘Sprite’ the 27th among a handful of cows to go 6E in the Holstein breed and with over 200,000 pounds of lifetime milk, she was Lara’s special cow. “I bought her when she was three days old. Doc took good care of her, and when she went on her own, we got a sympathy card from the office,” she says.

As Lara puts it, good country vets are reliable. “Gabby has gotten me out of a jam many times. He has been a savior.”

Both Durkac and Lash keep a hand in veterinary medicine and have local farms of their own — with livestock, of course. Lash reduced his time at the clinic to half days and looks forward to having more time on his tractor at the farm. While none of his four children went into veterinary practice, Ericka has delivered lambs at the farm a time or two when her parents were away.

Durkac does a handful of herd checks once a week and some consulting. While he has developed close relationships with clients, who are “like second family,” he is looking forward to traveling with wife Rosemary to Washington, D.C., Colorado and Illinois, where he has children and a grandson.

 

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Dr. Robert Lash (left) and wife Carolyn and Dr. Gabriel “Gabby” Durkac, flanked by wife Rosemary (left) and dairywoman Lara Wilson Shields at the Wilson family’s 5th generation Le-Ara Holsteins, Worthington, Pa. Lara credits the docs for the care their Holstein “Sprite” received for over 18 years. Pictured on the farm sign, Sprite was the 27th cow to go 6E in the Holstein breed. “Gabby has been the vet taking care of our cows since I was six years old. He is the best,” she says. Photo by Sherry Bunting

 

 

 

 

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Dr. Robert Lash (left) is flanked by daughter Ericka and wife Carolyn and Dr. Gabriel “Gabby” Durkac by wife Rosemary (left) and dairywoman Lara Wilson at the Wilson family’s 5th generation Le-Ara Holsteins, Worthington, Pa. Lara credits the docs for the care their Holstein “Sprite” received for over 18 years. Pictured on the farm sign, Sprite was the 27th cow to go 6E in the Holstein breed. “Gabby has been the vet taking care of our cows since I was six years old. He is the best,” she says. Photo by Sherry Bunting

 

A world without cattle?

Growing the Land

By Sherry Bunting, published April 22 Register-Star (Greene Media)

A world without cattle would be no world at all.

GL45-Earth Day(Bunting).jpgThe health of the dairy and livestock economies are harbingers of the economic health of rural America … and of the planet itself. Here’s some food for thought as we celebrate Earth Day and as climate change discussions are in the news and as researchers increasingly uncover proof that dietary animal protein and fat are healthy for the planet and its people.

How many of us still believe the long refuted 2006 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, which stated that 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, worldwide, come from livestock, and mostly from cattle?

This number continues to show up in climate-change policy discussion even though it has been thoroughly refuted and dismissed by climate-change experts and biologists, worldwide.

A more complete 2006 study, by the top global-warming evaluators, the Intergovernmental Panel…

View original post 1,062 more words

Road to recovery

KansasFire4.jpgBy Sherry Bunting April 7, 2017

If there is one thing to come down the road of recovery from a tragedy in agriculture, it is the sense of community that agriculturalists make business-as-usual. It is the matter-of-fact way in which people are prompted to help each other, and the humility with which help is offered that allows proud and self-reliant fellow farmers and ranchers to accept.

All know that livelihoods and legacies are on the line, pending the external forces that cannot be controlled, and that, in an instant, a storm, fire, or other natural disaster could change everything.

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While driving through Ashland and Englewood, Kansas on Saturday heading back to Pennsylvania from other work in the Midwest, the post-wildfire realities stretched for miles.

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Intermittent wheat pasture is credited with saving hundreds of lives.

It was a rain-soaked day, just what the land needs to recover. New life was springing forth, adding lushness to the intermittent wheat pastures that had provided refuge – credited with saving hundreds of human and animal lives as they interrupted the fires that spread rapidly through the dry grasslands and provided a safe haven for evacuees when roads were blocked during the fire.

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Timely rains are softening the charred lands with emerging hints of green, red and gold, framing the wildfire zones as the Painter slowly re-fills this empty palette. Residents say that the rain has helped a lot, and the grasses will explode within the next two weeks in some areas. The hay being sent has been a godsend. And the move by the Trump administration to authorize emergency grazing on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands located in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas – the three states which were most heavily impacted by ongoing wildfires – will help.

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But it is the Sandhills of southwest Kansas that catch your breath. The Starbuck fire — that claimed over 500,000 of the total 711,000 acres burned in Kansas the first week of March — had burned so hot, sinking down through the sandy soil like a sponge, that many wonder if the grasslands will come back more than spotty at best in areas where windswept sand dunes present a desert-like appearance. There are areas with nothing on top, leading to lingering concerns about feeding surviving cattle.

Firefighters noted this was unlike anything they had seen in their 20 to 30 years. They described driving 60 to 70 mph, and being outrun by the fast-moving fire, seeing it move right past them.

Only time will tell how some of the acres will respond to the timely rains.

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One thing is for certain, the help of fellow farmers and ranchers via donations of hay, fencing supplies, work crews, orphaned calf care, and fundraising — all of it represent blessings beyond measure.

As Ashland resident Rick Preisner put it: “Everyone here was shell-shocked at first. Everything changed in an instant. It was difficult to know where to start. Then the help came pouring in and it lifted this community up.”

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Ashland is ‘home’ for Roddy Strang with sister Rhonda at Gardiner Angus, where their father worked 26 years.

“No one here is saying no to the hay that’s been coming,” said Roddy Strang. “They know they will need feed for a while here.” Strang trains horses and lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania with his wife and children, but he grew up in Ashland around the Gardiner Angus Ranch, where his father worked for 26 years.

Not only did he fill his livestock trailer with 250 compact alfalfa bales and some fencing for the trip “home” to the annual Gardiner Angus production sale Saturday (April 1), he helped connect the dots for Lancaster County dairy farmer Aaron Hess of Hess Dairy in Mount Joy and his neighbor Arlyn Martin. Martin drove the 1500 miles last week with a load of 36 large square bales from Hess, along with 1800 fence posts and 91 rolls of barbed wire the men procured with funds they had raised and with many companies offering equipment and supplies free or with discounts.

They worked with Kevin Harrop, of Harrop Hay and Bale, Exton. Harrop grew up on a dairy farm and today runs a hay brokering and custom harvesting business in southeast Pennsylvania. Between Harrop and James Hicks of Meadow Springs Farm, they filled another truck with 42 large square bales. Harrop and Martin set out for Kansas early last week, delivered the hay and fencing to Ashland Cooperative Feed and Seed by Wednesday, and were home by Saturday.

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For Strang, the mission was personal. He stayed for the Gardiner Angus sale Saturday, where a few cows were purchased for the return trip to Virginia.

For those involved with the donations from southeast Pennsylvania — as for the numerous others organizing convoys over the past three weeks from Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, northwest Pennsylvania, and more — the mission to bring hay to fire-torn regions in four states was something they didn’t really think twice about. And it is something they don’t want recognition for.

The only fanfare being given to these hay donations is the sentiment of “God Bless America.” As Harrop explains it: “We saw it the Facebook posts, and we knew people out there, so we called to see what was going on and to figure out exactly what they would need,” he said in a phone call from the road last week.

Harrop put it best when he explained that people helping out do not want publicity or pats on the back for their own sakes, but they sure don’t mind if others share and publicize what they are doing for the sake of showing the world how farmers and ranchers network and move forward to get things done.

“In a small way, we just want to help keep this network going,” said Harrop. “The need is great in the wildfire zone. The mainstream media and the government are ignoring this. Farmers all over the country have responded.”

In fact, hundreds of trucks with hay and fencing and other needed supplies have poured into the affected areas of southwest Kansas, eastern Colorado and the Texas-Oklahoma Panhandle region. While some areas are saying they have enough hay, for now, southwest Kansas is particularly hard hit in this regard, and people are thankful for the trucks that continue to come – 200 of them, in fact, last Saturday, alone. The list of states represented is too numerous to be sure to acknowledge them all. Relief organizers say they have received calls from over 20 states. Plans are also underway for moving 1000 large bales that have been donated in Greene and Washington counties, Pennsylvania in the near future.
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“That is their lives out there. That’s what they do, and it’s not like they have a lot to fall back on,” said Aaron Hess after securing a load of large bale hay from his dairy onto Arlyn Martin’s truck. “I was just seeing the posts on Facebook, so I called up the Ashland co-op and they put me in touch with the guy in charge. I just felt like it was the right thing to do.”

Teams of volunteers have helped remove damaged fencing. Crews, tools and materials to re-fence perimeters are the priority now.

Strang notes that the recipients are amazed by the outpouring of people wanting to come out to the middle of nowhere and help. “It is emotional,” he admitted. “There are some good people in a bad way. They aren’t going to ask for the help, but we see the need and we know if it were us, they would help.”

Even in this time when agriculture is taking such a severe economic hit, people step up. That’s how agriculture rolls.

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(Above) “From the Ashes” artwork displayed Saturday by Joel Milford of Fowler, Kansas from a photo captured by Cole Gardiner as he found this cow and her newborn calf a day or two after the fire. Milford’s painting was auctioned Saturday during the Gardiner Angus production sale, raising $35,000 and prints are still being sold for $200 each to benefit the wildfire relief efforts of the Ashland Community Foundation. Nearly 100 prints have been sold thus far. To purchase a print for wildfire relief, contact Jan Endicott, at the Stockgrowers Bank in Ashland, Kansas at jan@stockgrowersbank.com or 620-635-4032. Prints are $200 plus $15 shipping and 6.5% Kansas state sales tax. 

How you can help

Wildfire relief organizers are indicating that the best way for distant donors to help is to provide monetary donations for transporting nearby hay and resources to the areas affected by the wildfires.

Supplies and funding for the volunteer care of orphaned calves is also requested. Follow the progress of 4-Hers and other volunteers caring for these calves at Orphaned Calf Relief of SW Kansas.

In addition, auctions are being organized to benefit wildfire funds. For example, a heifer donated by Oklahoma West Livestock Market was auctioned 105 times on March 8 to garner $115,449 with proceeds going to the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Foundation Fire Relief Fund. Similar ideas are creating a ripple response throughout the agriculture community and can be replicated anywhere. Visit Livestock Marketing Association  for these auction notes and efforts.

Trent Loos at Rural Route Radio is helping to organize this idea to fund the recovery and rebuilding efforts in the fire-ravaged areas of the High Plains through means of raising cash. For information about how to participate in this and to find a list of upcoming auctions, as well as how to set one up, contact Trent Loos at (515) 418-8185.

To give supplies and trucking or to donate funds to foundations for direct wildfire relief, contact the state-by-state resources below.

Kansas

Monetary donations: Ashland Community Foundation/Wildfire Relief Fund at www.ashlandcf.com or P.O. Box 276, Ashland, KS 67831. The Kansas Livestock Association/Wildfire Relief Fund at 6031 SW 37th St., Topeka, KS 66614.

Hay, trucking and fencing donations: Call Ashland Feed and Seed at (620) 635-2856. (Ashland Feed and Seed is also taking credit card orders over the phone for feed and milk replacer or other supplies for ranchers in the area.)

Texas

Monetary donations: Texas Department of Agriculture STAR Fund.

Hay, trucking and fencing donations: Ample hay has been received for two to three weeks, so call to see if and when more is needed. Fencing supplies are needed, which can go to the Agrilife supply points. Contacts are J.R. Sprague at (806) 202-5288 for Lipscomb, Mike Jeffcoat at (580) 467-0753 for Pampa, and Andy Holloway at (806) 823-9114 for Canadian.

For questions about donations or relief efforts, contact Texas A&M Extension at (806) 677-5628.

Colorado

Monetary donations: Colorado Farm Bureau Foundation Disaster Fund at 9177 E. Mineral Circle, Centennial, CO 80112 and visit http://coloradofarmbureau.com/disasterfund/

Hay, trucking and fencing: Contact Kent Kokes (970) 580-8108, John Michal (970) 522-2330, or Justin Price (970) 580-6315.

Oklahoma

Monetary donations: Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Foundation Fire Relief at P.O. Box 82395, Oklahoma City, OK 73148 or www.okcattlemen.org.

Hay, trucking and fencing donations: Contact Harper County Extension at (580) 735-2252 or Buffalo Feeders at (580) 727-5530.

Other states organizing deliveries

Several states outside of the wildfire area are organizing assistance and deliveries. Find those resources at http://www.beefusa.org/firereliefresources.aspx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ode to long days, warm sunshine… see you next spring.

Ode to copious doses of vitamin D, long days, warm sunshine and rural life.

Growing the Land

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As I sort photos for a newspaper story… flipping past those randomly shot from the road, it seems a good time to share a collection of random thoughts recorded while driving through America’s Heartland from deadline to deadline the last few summers. Much of it, the things I see, but don’t have time to stop for as I’m always running late for the next deadline. Enjoy this ode to copious does of Vitamin D, long days, warm sunshine, and rural life… 

Birds of flight soar between tufts of congregating clouds. Snowy white egrets glow sunset silver above crystal blue lakes… Appearing out of nowhere, they punctuate the landscape and reflect the vivid sky.

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Working metal parked by barns take on the rust red hue.

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Birds dance atop fields of corn … a burst of orange Tanager, brilliant Blue Bird, the acrobatic, ever-present Swallows, A woodpecker’s crisp white-wing slices  the air…

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and swallow-like … the sweeps and turns of the yellow crop-duster —…

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