Monday, January 31, 2011

Love Thy Stranger!

In most tribal dialects, the word stranger does not exist. It is not because they know everyone; the word stranger is the same as enemy. I find myself a stranger at times…I am probably stranger than anyone you know.
Living in a small community means that you know quite a few people, their family, and where they live. You have probably been to their house or had a conversation with them during dinner at the local greasy spoon. But do you really know them?
How many people take the time to get to really know someone? What have been the pains and enjoyments in their life? What have been their best accomplishments or total failures? What really makes them tick?
I have lived in the Kendrick community all of my life. It is a small town of 369 people. Three miles down the road is Juliaetta (over 700 people) and the two communities are basically one. There are many people that I know. They either watched me grow up, grew up with me, or I watched them grow up. But do I really know them?
During the last year of my dad’s life, we were working on a field road with a neighbor. The neighbor introduced me as a person who was good at basketball to his hired man. That was pretty much it. It was not meant to be hurtful or cutting, but that I was good at it. I was out of college but still played city league. There was no mention of my love for farming.
After dad passed away, the same neighbor and I were talking one day and I mentioned farm toys. I love farm toys and have a nice little collection (but according to my wife it is too much.) I had collected farm toys since I was a kid and added a few over the years from auctions and the internet.
During our conversation I realized I took the neighbor by surprise. He had always thought of me as a basketball player and nothing else. He didn’t realize my passion for farming was much older than my passion for hoops. He was beginning to get to know the real me.
I have always been competitive and my wife Rhonda shares that same drive. We have passed that on to our two boys and during Wii tournaments (for lack of a better word) everyone is on the edge of their seat trying to beat each other…or gang up on mom for a good laugh.
My competitiveness in high school led to two different times Rhonda heard from people in the surrounding area that “Man, we hated you!” The first time I was coaching my little brother and his AAU hoops team. We were at a tournament in a nearby small town and the scorekeeper said that. She was from the town that was our biggest rival during my time in high school.
It probably didn’t help matters much that I only lost to them twice. My freshman year we beat them in the district tournament in six (6) overtimes to see who goes to state. My sophomore year we lost during the regular season. My junior year we beat them five out of six times, including the 4th place game at state.
My competitiveness prompted me to do something that I look back on from time to time. During the district championship game we had the lead with a few seconds left on the clock. Coach pulled me to put someone else in. Our crowd had a bulldog on a noose (their mascot). I walked over, grabbed the bulldog and twirled it over my head all the way back to the bench. That is what a rivalry is about, so I cannot fault those people for “hating” me.
The second time occurred at the local airport. Rhonda and I were headed to Seattle to watch the Seahawks (her team) and the Raiders (my team). As we were checking in, the person behind the counter asked “Robert Blair? Did you play basketball?” I replied yes. “Man, we hated you!” she said. Rhonda, with her quick wit replied to me “Is there anyone in this area that you haven’t made angry?”
It seems like the same attitude happens in my small community. Not just with me, but with others as well. People don’t like someone because they have not taken the time to get to know them. They haven’t taken the time to find out what makes them tick.
There was a school bond measure last year and it was heated. I felt sorry for the school board members sitting on the gym floor while 250+ of their friends and neighbors looked down on them. They were in the firing line.
Listening to other people talk for over an hour, I could hear the anger in their voices. One  could definitely see where the alliances were. And they were attacking farmers and business owners. We were called big land owners, land owners, businesses, big businesses, etc. You get the picture.
I finally felt it was my time to speak. I thanked the school board, the superintendent, and all those present because I respect their time to address the issue. I then addressed the crowd. “Those of us that farm have been called everything but what we are, friends, neighbors, coaches, volunteers, fans, parents, or a list of other things. But never in my life have I thought of myself as a big landowner.”
I understand that in the heat of the moment or battle things are done that people whish were not, like twirling a bulldog over your head. Things are done that causes regret later on. But, these community members have not taken the time to really get to know the situation or their community members.
This is the same battle agriculture is fighting. People have not taken the time to get to know us. From “Joe Public” to the anti ag activist, they do not understand what makes “us” tick. They don’t understand that if we don’t take proper care of our land or animals we cannot make a profit to keep farming.
Most people don’t understand the long hours it takes to make a small family business like a farm work and be profitable. They also don’t understand that their naiveté about agriculture and their actions from that hurts not only farmers, but the communities that rely on them.
For every one dollar that is generated, it turns over in a community eight times. We purchase food, parts, and other inputs from local businesses. Our hard work is turned into money that supports the schools, roads, and cemetery districts. But according to them we are mean, greedy, rich people...just one step below Scrooge.
Just like at the school bond meeting, they don’t realize who the big landowners are. My wife and I own some land, but not everything we farm. My mom owns land, and works at a grocery store for benefits (and to keep her occupied.) Two other landlords at that time are in nursing homes on fixed incomes. The last landlord is the Nez Perce Tribe and they don’t pay taxes.
So whose fault is it for the misconceptions? Is it the person making the claims or is it us in agriculture not doing our job to get the word our? Farmers are secretive by nature and don’t  like to talk about what they own or how much they farm. But those around us have not done a good job of getting to know us either.
My challenge to those who read this is to reach out. Those in agriculture please invite people to your operation. Invite school kids, teachers, and other people in your community to better understand what you do. For those that don’t farm, just ask and I am sure you will be surprised and learn more than you bargained for. Just don’t be strangers. And to everyone, try not to twirl bulldogs over your head.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Organically Sustainable

There have been many articles and discussions in magazines and on the internet about “sustainable agriculture”. Along with that the word “organic” mixes into the discussion like bacon bits on a salad. When the two are put together a feast is had for the people that do not understand agriculture.
During my lifetime growing up on a farm, I have yet to see any type of food come off of our fields or out of our barns that wasn’t organic. From wheat, lentils, peas, and barley being grown, to the pigs, cows, and milk raised, each item has been able to be consumed in one form or another.
After butchering, the waste from the carcass and innards would be hauled down to the “dump” for scavengers to feast on. These scavengers would be yodel dogs (coyotes to non country folk), badgers, and raccoons to name a few. Even endangered species like bald and golden eagles would help the process of decomposition. The remains are organic, just like the protein that we kept to eat ourselves.
As for sustainable, we have been farming in Idaho for over 100 years. Now that doesn’t seem like a long time compared to farms on the eastern seaboard or in places in the old Northwest, but it is something for Idaho. It is a testament for the hardships that my ancestors encountered and overcame along the way.
They farmed during the Great Depression and survived. Not long after, they produced food for the troops in WWII. How do I know this last tidbit? I have hanging on my office wall a certificate from the United States Department of Agriculture that certifies our farm was producing food for the war effort. "V" for Victory!
Our farm prospered and grew a little before the reigns were handed over to my parents. I remember moving into our big, brick house and celebrating our first Christmas there in 1973. Dad put on a new roof, put in a new well, added grain bins, a metal machine shed and built our shop in a span of 10 years. He also updated equipment during that time. It seems like the farm was sustainable through that transition.
The farm also survived President Jimmy Carter’s grain embargo on the Soviet Union and the recession and inflation that followed in the 1980’s. Through this time I was learning the business end of a shovel in the barn. I remember shoveling organic cow waste out of the barn on Sunday mornings before church while listening to Casey Kasem’s top 40. The shoveling usually happened after I milked two cows, a Holstein and a Guernsey.
I would bring the milk to the house for it to be separated for the cream. We kept what milk was needed and the cream was saved to take to the creamery in Lewiston. The excess milk was fed to the pigs in the form of “slop”, a mixture of hammer milled wheat and barley with milk poured on top. The problem with feeding organic feedstuff to organic mammals is the organic waste that follows. More business end of a shovel was to be had.
On Saturday we would travel the 45 minutes it took to Lewiston and drop off the cream and pick up our cleaned cream cans. I would buy an orange and vanilla ice cream cup for my sister and I, pocketing the rest of the money. We would visit my grandfather and then go roller skating. Mom and dad would visit more with my grandparents and pick us up.
After skating we would go to the grocery store to purchase food for the coming week's meals. The first thing my sister and I would do is grab our free chocolate chip cookie from the bakery. While mom and dad shopped I would be in the comic book section looking for that week’s new ones. I still have the cream receipts and I still have the comics. I turned into an investor before I knew what the word meant.
The lessons I learned as a kid growing up on the farm were fabulous. If you work hard you can have fun when the work is done. Also, if you enjoy your work, it is never work. I learned how to keep a checkbook, how to budget my money, and how to save money. I was learning the lessons of the real sustainability of agriculture.
Because of the attacks from groups wanting change, there is no longer a creamery in our area. My two boys will not learn the fun of trying to keep a cow’s foot out of the bucket or how to give cats, lined up and meowing, a treat while milking. The same type of people that brought about the demise of that agriculture system are working again to bring about more regulations and chaos. Why does it seem that everything I want to do is either wrong or illegal? My crops are not “organic” enough and my farming operation is not really “sustainable” according to “them.”
I do know something about “organic” farming systems in the sense of the people that are crying for it. It is located in most of Africa and other parts of the world. No chemicals, no fertilizer, and … no yields. We see the commercials on TV asking us to give money to these impoverished people that are relying on their country’s “sustainable,” “organic” agriculture.
I am curious to know what these “sustainably organic” people think. What is their plan for doubling today’s world agriculture output by the year 2050? Do they believe not using pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, fertilizer, or biotechnology will solve the problem? Wake up people and smell the anhydrous ammonia in the morning; it will definitely clear your head.
Please visit my farm or the farm of someone in your area. Get to learn what actually takes place on these small family businesses that are the backbone and foundation of America. If you look back at history, every civilization grew and became prosperous because of good agriculture.
The reigns were handed over to me in 2001. That was a big year in my life. The World Trade Center was attacked, my dad passed away, and I joined an ag group. I have learned much from ag organizations and my eyes opened to a bigger world. I have learned that we in agriculture have great knowledge and passion.
It is time for farmers and agriculture organizations to take that knowledge and passion and speak out loud and clear. We need to come together as one voice because we are all facing the same issues. Those in our government need to quit pandering to the “kumbaya” mentality of idealism and face the real issue, strong agriculture is needed in the U.S. and every country to ensure stability and prosperity. I have yet to see a hungry person question where his food came from. To achieve that would definitely be a "V" for Victory and agriculture!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Mentors Make the Difference

Sports of all types have been a major component of life growing up and living in our little corner of the world. My wife Rhonda played college volleyball at Walla Walla Community College and I played college hoops at the U of I and at WWCC. To say the least, sports has trickled down (or flooded) to our family.

The picture was taken in 2008 when my little brother, Chris, was on leave from the military and came back for the beginning of deer season. Dillon had a Jr. High football game the day of the picture and Logan was a water boy. Dillon shot his first deer (a dandy) on opening day and Chris shot his the next.

Looking back at my life, I remember fondly the first time I went hunting with dad and he let me shoot the 300 H&H Magnum. I was about six at the time and I still feel the bruise on my shoulder and the humiliation of falling down.

About that time, dad put a basketball hoop in the barn. It wasn't regulation size, but it was high enough to provide a challenge. Along with that first hoop came my first basketball. It was rubber and red, white and blue; the ball used in the ABA before they joined the NBA.

I learned to rebound because of the basket location. If I missed a shot, there was a chance that the ball would get past me, go through a feeding hole, and then end up in the manure. Even though I would have just shoveled the barn, the ball would still be nasty. I learned to rebound because I didn't want to climb down the ladder and smell like cow poop worse than I did.

My parents were not athletes of the sense. I believe that my mom doesn't have one athletic bone in her body. Dad had an eighth grade education and didn’t play sports in school, other than in the sandlots. He was also a weight lifter and could have gone to the Olympics. He got in trouble with a girl and devoted his life to being a provider. He didn't have good social structure throughout his life and for him to achieve what he did in life was amazing.

Regardless of their talent level, they were always there to pitch, rebound, catch, give praise, challenge me (which happened more than the praise thank goodness), and spend money and time running me to practices and games during my school years.

There are four distinct times in my life: K-12, College, After College, and 9-1-1. The truly successful times in my life have been K-12 and 9-1-1. College and after college, I was just kinda there.

What was the difference between these times in my life...MENTORS! Going through school I had some great mentors. My mentors were both in the classroom and in sports. From high school coaches to AAU coaches, it is interesting looking back; I never had the same coach all through high school or college. What knowledge I received, but that is for a different time.

Success didn't just happen, I had to work. My 8th grade year I was the only kid outside of Lewiston and Clarkston to be on the AAU basketball team. I pretty much sat the bench while working just as hard as the other players did in practice, practice that I either had after my Jr. High practices or before. I was tired.

I didn't want to sit the bench anymore, so I worked hard. I worked hard that summer in the shop shooting the ball from everywhere. I worked so hard, I now shoot better left hand lay ins than I do right, and I am right handed.

Along the way, my parents never gave up and padded my ego, especially my dad. "You can be better" was always what I heard. He was not much for praise, but when I really deserved it, it was there. That was the common theme from my mentors: Challenge yourself!

I went to state all four years of high school, winning 4th place my Freshman and Junior years. I won state my Sophomore year (1985) at Kendrick and Senior year at Lapwai (1987). Both of those teams were special as far as Idaho hoops go.

The 1985 team still holds two Idaho State Tourney records for highest point average per game at 85 and most points in a tournament at 252 in three games. My Lapwai team holds the state record for most wins in a row at 81 games and it started my senior year. The last two years in high school I was first team All-State and my senior year I was first team State Tournament.

Why was I successful, it was due to mentors. People that believed in me and challenged me to be better. That piqued the imagination in my mind to want more. People that would play against me in my shop for hours on end during their summer break from college. These people knew there was more to me and saw the desire in my soul. I became successful.

During my college and post college years I didn't have mentors. My life almost became a waste. I became down and there was little motivation in me. Away from home, away from friends, and away from people that challenged me also shaped my life. This was a critical time in my life that I survived and look back on for knowledge of what I don't want in life.

I did meet my wife and we had kids. That takes up considerable time and all of my devotion was to them. There was also the farm. These became constants in my life. This was my life. I was wanting more. I wanted to challenge myself again in some form. Then came my opportunity.

2001 was a big year. My dad had an operation, leaving me completely in charge of the farm. I managed pre-harvest activities, did the harvest with help, and I did all of the fall work by myself. I winterized the equipment and farm and he passed away on December 1st.

In October I was asked to be a member of the Nez Perce County Grain Growers organization. I went to my first meeting and was elected as the State Director from our county to serve on the Idaho Grain Producers Association full board. This is the transition from a down turn in my life to where I am at today.

Going through IGPA gave me new life...and new opportunities. I made new contacts and learned about a bigger world. I also had new mentors. These mentors have been watching me and giving suggestions either bluntly or subtlety.

It also led to having new mentors through the Eisenhower Fellowships. The conversations with former USDA Undersecretary Jim Moseley have been insightful and inspiring. The phone calls from previous Fellows have helped me to understand the network I have joined. It has also proved a point that I try to live by: GIVING BACK!

A common trait of successful people is they enjoy helping people become successful. I understand the sacrifice that my mentors had from their family and free time to help me. Now I am in a position to be a mentor.

I am the "C" squad coach at Kendrick High School and in a position to be a mentor. I am also in a position to be a mentor to new members on the IGPA board. While learning and trying to push myself to new heights and challenges, I hopefully will be a mentor to others.

Looking back, I was awkward, uncoordinated, and didn't fit in. However, there were people in my life that made me challenge myself to be better. They lit the inner fire to be successful and were there to pick me up when I was down and to step out of the way when things were going great.

As I continue my life's journey, I hope that I can be a mentor to my sons. I believe that Rhonda and I have done a good job of that and will continue to our dying days. I also hope that those who want to be better and want more will truly open up to learn and not shun away help.

Success is not just what one accomplishes, but what one passes on. I can honestly say that I have been successful on many levels and a big thank you goes out to everyone who was a mentor. Now it is my turn. I am looking for anyone who wants to be successful and wants to learn. Applications are now open for me to be your mentor.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Power of Social Media

I find it kinda funny how people think that farmers don't  do anything after fall work is done and only  get busy when spring comes around. Hibernation is thought to be an inherited trait amongst us.

My schedule seems mundane at times by going to meetings at the local, state and national levels, being a husband and a father, the "C" squad basketball coach, and following the markets. I love to work in my shop and play with the toys in there, a necessary job to make sure the equipment works properly for limited breakdowns.

One other job that I have taken on is using the computer. I fondly remember a time when all communication was either by letter or a phone. Not many people had a fax machine and if you did it was considered a luxury.

I use my computer to watch the grain markets, budget, analyze data from my yield monitor, and of I was finishing college when the personal computer, the World Wide Web, and email were making their debut. Ebay was a great website with lots of neat toys to offer.

As for email, I thought it was stupid. Not many people other than students had email. The forms of communication that I liked in order of preference were face-to-face, telephone, and then a letter. I like the personal interaction and to see the person.

Today there are many options for communication with email being at the top of the list for me now. It is quick and you don't have to listen to elevator music while waiting for a reply (unless that genre of music is you.) It is relatively free and covers the globe at light speed.

I enjoy Facebook and the ability to see what friends are doing all over Idaho, the U.S., and the world. I can see their face and make a comment on their post if I want to. I have learned about achievements and heartache that sometimes I would not hear for months.

This weekend I started doing more work on finding people to visit while in Brazil and Argentina for my Eisenhower Fellowship. I had received a LinkedIn update from the Precision Ag group I belong to. I decided to bite the bullet and log in.

After posting in my group "I need help. I will be in Argentina and Brazil and need on the ground contacts" I received a reply from the administrator of the group who lives in Argentina. He put the word out to some of his friends and as of this writing I have at least six contacts in those countries, all of whom said they would be happy to meet.

Also on LinkedIn, I saw a picture of a friend from Monsanto. She ran the WILOT (Wheat Industry Leaders of Tomorrow) program that I went through in 2002. I sent her a note regarding my Fellowship and the need for contacts and five minutes later I was talking to her on the phone. She gave me some names and sent an email out through her Monsanto network to people that have been to both countries.

A couple of week ago I met with a good friend, Jake Putnam, who works in the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation media relations group. I was needing his advice on how best to document my Eisenhower Fellowship journey. I was almost overwhelmed.

"The trick of maximizing your exposure on the web is to have as many links back to your name as possible" said Jake. For instance, he said one of the best things is to be in Wikipedia. This is the ultimate in exposure because your name goes to the "head of the class" in a search engine.

He also said "You will want to have pictures and video to document what you are doing and for others to gain a visual understanding of what you are experiencing." "You need to get a Flickr and YouTube account set up." Flickr is for pictures and YouTube is for video.

Jake also showed me the proper way of doing a "camera edit" for video with my point-and-shoot camera. The reason, to save time later on for posting it to the web. These little tips and pointers are great.

Right now I am "blogging" about my experiences and have put my thoughts on subjects out there. Paul Schrimpf, group editor for Meister Media and Precision Ag, gave me the advice to start blogging as a way to document my journey.

Going through the process of finding what type of social media is right for you is like being a connoisseur of wine, it has to be what you like. I prefer Facebook over LinkedIn because of its simplicity and who uses it. LinkedIn is business based and has many advantages over Facebook because of that.

Like finding contacts in Brazil and Argentina, deciding which social media outlet to use is important. I asked myself "What is it I want to do?" The answer is "I want a quick way of showing pictures and what I am doing, a way to make an album for pictures, a place for videos, and an outlet for experiences that I believe need more coverage." Hence Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, and my blog.

On my journey I will have a computer, camera (for stills and video), and my Blackberry. These are the tools of the trade for anyone who plans on doing social media. I have included a quick YouTube video explaining the technology that you might enjoy. It gets somewhat technical in terminology, but I believe it is worth it.

Technology and the evolution of computers has made the world a smaller place. We can reach almost anybody almost anywhere at almost any time. I got to thinking on how daunting the task would be to find contacts in a country I have never been in and how much time it would take, even 20 years ago. In my life, the technology has had a positive effect.

Granted, doing this is time consuming and a person can get caught up in the fine details. However, I believe that the best thing that we can give to the world and those around us is our knowledge and experiences. Using social media will give those back home a way to follow me and to share in some of my experiences. However, I have yet to "tweet", but I am sure that is around the corner.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Obama's Promise

Last week I was in Washington, D.C., the land of milk and honey. I am the newest member of the Idaho Grain Producers Association (IGPA) executive board and we were attending the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) winter meeting.

Farmers and friends from different states were doing their job in committees and on the full board to prepare for the annual convention in March at the Commodity Classic in Tampa, Florida.

Both organizations are working on their policies for all issues concerning wheat farmers. This is how the troops work in the trenches of politics. We are preparing for "battle" with another Congress and are looking towards another Farm Bill.

While back there the newspaper that was delivered to my door was the Wall Street Journal. I can't afford to purchase a subscription (I am too cheap), but try to read it any chance I get. On the front page was a teaser block highlighting an article about the President's "Mandates on Regulation Review" on page A3.

The article "Obama Launches Rule Review, Pledging to Spur Jobs, Growth" came as a surprise to most of us attending NAWG. Quoting the WSJ: ...Mr. Obama said he intends to issue an executive order initiating a review to "make sure we avoid excessive, inconsistent and redundant regulation" focusing on rules that "stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive." WOW!

This is great news for agriculture I am sure (insert sarcasm here.) Will my farm or farms around the country be considered a "business?" And who gets to decide which rules and regulations are "excessive"? Is this just another great press op speech, or just a ploy to relax the Republican controlled House?

I can think of a couple of agencies that have excessive rules and regulations. The first one is the Environmental Protection Agency. I will say it here, They Don't Like Agriculture! The rules they have made since their creation in the Nixon administration has targeted agriculture which 99% consists of family businesses.

The EPA exploits anything to do with water, emissions (dust), and animals. The endangered species act seems to be their "weapon of choice," but they use all of the tools in their bag. The intent from Congress is butchered when it get into the hands of EPA "surgeons."

The second agency is the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). Their charter is to provide technical assistance to farmers and ranchers to incorporate better conservation practices on an operation.

I experienced firsthand how they "help" farmers by going through the Conservation Security Program (CSP). They did everything humanly possible to keep me out! I was successful in appealing through the labyrinth of bureaucracy and have one, if not the only, 2007 CSP contract in the U.S.

The third agency I will pick on is the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). As some of you know I am into Unmanned Air Vehicles and believe that there is a future for commercial use. Quoting a friend who has spent over 20 years on the "Hill": "...I have dealt with all agencies in DC, but this was the rudest one I have ever encountered!"

Following the FAA rules that cover commercial flights I would have to: 1) Have a pilot’s license with instrument rating,  2) Pass a flight physical, and 3) be in a full sized aircraft following the UAV. I am talking about something that would weigh less than 20 pounds and has a wing span of eight feet; the size of a goose.

If "Little Johnnie" were to purchase a hobby helicopter, put a camera on it, and knock on your door to see if you want your gutters checked, he could not take any money from you. I applaud "Little Johnnie" for his entrepreneurial spirit, but if he takes a penny he is now a law breaker.

In Lewiston, Idaho last fall, two little kids less than eight years old were hassled by the city for selling pumpkins off of their front porch. This is ludicrous and wrong. We are over regulated by bullies with tenure that "we" employ! 

What about the teenager that wants to make some money for college and learn a good work ethic? He/she has to wait until  their 16th birthday and can only work so many hours in a week. Why not let that person who wants to do something other than play video games get a jump start on life?

When I was growing up there were more hay jobs than kids. We did "dummy blocks" (small square bales weighing around 70 pounds) and it was a great way to make money in rural America. Now the attitude is that mommy and daddy will just give me money, maybe even Uncle Sam.

On the other hand, not all agency employees do this. I have a great relationship with these people from the local to federal levels. Actions of people are the same whether in government or in everyday life, it gets magnified when it happens to you. They are people.

I am hopeful that something good will come out of the President's comments and executive order. I am hopeful that Congress will hold the President to his words. And, I am hopeful that agencies will utilize common sense and consult with those of us in the "public" that normally don't get consulted with.

Agencies were created to help the public, to protect them, to ensure that some protections for things were Incorporated into everyday life and business. But, am I not part of the "public"? Are small businesses, farmers, and ranchers part of the "public"? It is a shame that parts of the public are harassed and shunned because of bureaucrats or agencies with an agenda. I just wonder if that will happen with "Re-Publics?"

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Next Generation

Agriculture is a tough and demanding profession with limited financial rewards. Long hours and short pay is usually the norm. We are in the process of losing a generation of people who grew up on farms, have expertise in farming operations, and love to work.

That generation has been the backbone of agriculture for the last 40 to 50 years. Their work ethic will probably never be matched again. Along with that, they grew up on a farm (that was probably absorbed by those of us still going) and brought knowledge that is hard to replace.

I fear for the up and coming generation of farmers that won't have the same base of people to fill the gaps on their operation. It seems like today's society is filled with entitlement without wanting to work. Society "owes" them.

This morning my wife, Rhonda, was on the computer and came across a website . She was so excited about an organization about farming created by young people that I became infected.

Those involved are mainly based in California, the most productive ag land in the world. I applauded these young agriculturists for their enthusiasm and determination to not only take on the challenges of being in agriculture, but to do it in a state that has a history of cruelty towards this crucial industry.

I know that there is 4-H and FFA, but these young folks took it upon themselves to create something new. Their message is great and I believe that their direction and vision is what is needed for tomorrow.

I challenge everyone out there to join them through their social media links and to support them in any way possible. Besides, young minds that can take "WTF" and turn it into something meaningful like "Where's the Food...Without the Farmer" need your support. Keep up the good work.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

2011 Political Season

Another round of politics is taking place again, both in Idaho and for the greatest country on the planet, the good old US of A. Whatever your persuasion or leaning, it is your duty as a citizen to take part and keep track of what is happening. So many sectors of our lives are run by the government, a person cannot afford to be ignorant.

Sitting and thinking about the content reminds me of a joke. If you break the word "Politics" down it means 1) Poli = Many and 2) Tics = Bloodsuckers. While this might be true to a few politicians on both sides, we are fortunate in Idaho to have the representation that we do, both at the State and National level.

Idahoans are extremely fortunate that the Legislature is still strongly tied to agriculture and the rural communities. By having elected officials with an ag background (or a good understanding of it), common sense and family values come to the forefront. Face it, Idaho is predominantly a natural resource based economy (farming, timber, mining) that makes up over 50% of the GDP. It can't be ignored.

Agriculture is a stable economic contributor with minimal swings up or down, unlike technology (Micron layoffs) or other business sectors, agriculture is stable...and often taken for granted, especially by the general public. How many people that live in town, even a small rural one, make it to a farm? Not many.

A couple of weeks ago I was heading to the Kendrick High School boys basketball practice and was pondering over the points I wanted to make. Dedication, hard work, tradition. After thinking about that last point, tradition, it occured to me that there were only three boys out of 24 who's father's played sports at Kendrick. That is only 12.5% of the players.

When I look at the whole Kendrick/Juliaetta school district, there are only seven kids who have parents that farm. Seven out of roughly 200 students (3.5%) is not very much, but it is still bigger than the national numbers of less than 1%.

When looking at my little corner of the world and the rest of the population of Idaho and the U.S., it is easy to see why agriculture gets overlooked. The general public is too far removed from agriculture. And no, chocolate milk does not come from brown cows.

The needs and wants of the general public are completely different from their agrarian cousins. The general public wants to be taken care of while those in ag  would love to be left alone. Case in point: I had 23 trees that blew down or had tops taken out in the November wind storm, and the government never showed up to clean up the mess. It is completely up to me and that is how it should be.

So what is on the plate for politicians? Money (or lack of) as always. There will need to be cuts made in all places because of the economy. There are those that say we need to raise taxes to keep programs. My question is why? Why do we need the government to support us? Why do we need the government to tell us what to do?

The U.S. Constitution ensures us Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. It does not call for taking care of everyone or everything. Government needs to get back to basics (thank goodness Idaho gets it), especially in the realm of Federal spending. Government employment does not create wealth, it bleeds it dry. Small businesses create wealth, individuals create wealth, and agriculture creates wealth from the land.

Take a look at California and New York's situation. They are the most government dependent states in the Union and have the biggest deficits. Their high taxes government policies have driven business and people away to other states and countries. Businesses and people that could pay some taxes. But tax income isn't the problem.

Spending is the problem. As any business owner or family knows, you cannot spend more that you make. If you do the banker or other institution that you owe money to will come knocking at you door. That is a great check and balance. Where is the check and balance for government overspending? Who will make the call when the debt is too high? I hope not China.

As we go into the 2011 political season, keep in mind your agrarian cousins and utilize the values that they bring forth every day and every year. Hard work, independence, and self reliance. These same values are the backbone and foundation of this country, not taxes. If my memory serves me right, our country was founded because of taxes. Tea Party anyone?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A New Life Chapter

As this year starts out I have a new and exciting chapter in my life that I will write about. I was chosen in the fall of 2010 as an Eisenhower Fellow for Agriculture ( and will be traveling to Brazil and Argentina. The program I am designing to study encompasses precision ag, remote sensing, Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs), and policy.

I don't know what to expect yet, but you will be able to follow me through this journey all year from the planning stages to the presentation ceremony that will take place in 2012 by General Colin Powell. How exciting it will be to participate in a roundtable discussion with him and other Fellows.

During the planning stage I have contacted previous Eisenhower Fellows for help in making contacts in the countries I will visit. Today I put out feelers to the folks at Ag Leader Technologies ( and Nick Ohrtman was kind enough to provide me with some possibilities. I also contacted Doug Devries from John Deere ( Doug serves on the agriculture steering committee for Eisenhower Fellowships.

Last week, on the way to visit the in-laws located in Walla Walla, WA the family and I stopped in Dayton, WA to visit Bill Warren who is the 2006 Eisenhower Fellow for Agriculture. It was a pleasure meeting his family and to learn from him some pointers for this new adventure.

So far I have a couple of conversations with former USDA Undersecretary Jim Moseley. Mr. Moseley is the chairman for the Agriculture Fellowships and is a great mentor as well. In the little that we have communicated I have gained tremendous insight to a bigger world, not only abroad but within U.S. agriculture and life.

Another exciting opportunity involves the Nuffield Scholars ( The Nuffield Scholars are similar to Eisenhower Ag Fellows, but they live in the "Crown" Countries of Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, etc. Just by becoming a Fellow the world has already become a smaller place with unlimited opportunities for friendships and knowledge.

I will be posting pictures on flickr (, videos on youtube (unmanned farmer or blair farms), and will update my facebook page (Robert Blair). I am currently working on a website for Blair Farms and hope to have that up and running in a month or so with links to all of this.

As Forest Gump says: "That's all I got to say about that." Please follow me through this journey and don't hesitate to contact me or provide help. We will catch you on the flip side and keep 'r between the fence rows.