Tag Archives: Rural America

On a sunny fall day with just a bit of a nip in the air, Andrew Reuschel was piloting the combine, swallowing 200-bushel-per-acre-plus corn on the family farm, near Golden, in western Illinois. In parts of the field, there were remnants of green foliage low to the ground between the browned corn rows.

“There were eight species of cover crop in there that have mostly winter-killed now,” Andrew said. Those species were a mix of oats, cowpeas, hemp, rapeseed, radish, buckwheat, flax and guar (cluster bean). He pointed out a still-vibrant green radish plant that’s a volunteer from the previous year.

“I may plant cover crops three times a year on a field,” 29-year-old Andrew said. “I put down only a third of the fertilizer that (most other farmers) would use, and I might not apply chemicals at all. That’s my goal for most of the farm.” In 2018, the family had a soybean field on which they used an initial burndown but didn’t use any other pesticides for the rest of the season.

Andrew chuckled. “That’s where I go beyond Dad’s comfort zone.”

SOLD ON STEWARDSHIP

He and his father, Jeff, 57, farm 1,300 acres. Neither are strangers to cover crops, terraces and other conservation practices. Andrew’s grandfather, Louis Reuschel, now 89, garnered attention 40 years ago for his conservation work, and they’ve continued a stewardship tradition.

The good-natured tug-of-war between Andrew and his father focuses on their level of experimentation and its potential effects on profitability for their operation, where every acre is important.

“When Andrew came home,” Jeff said, “in terms of cover crops, he started blowing the top off the box like there are no boundaries. I had given up on cover crops generally a few years before but kept building terraces and using less tillage all the time.”

The Reuschels stopped for lunch served in the field from the back of an SUV, courtesy of Andrew’s mom, Theresa (Teri). When Andrew came back to the farm three years ago, he had lots of ideas.

“We just listened to him,” Jeff said smiling. “We let him go; we let him talk.”

Said mom Teri, “We reminded him that we still have to pay the bills.”

TWEAK THE SYSTEM

Obviously, they’ve been won over — within reason. “Andrew is fine-tuning the nutrients the cover crops can provide,” Jeff said. “I’m in them for their value preventing erosion. Now, he has us interseeding cover crops in the corn at the V4 stage.”

Andrew and Jeff each initially had their own plots for this experiment. They interseeded a mix of buckwheat, oats and cowpeas. Andrew’s plot was 60 acres, and Jeff’s was only 10 acres. They’ve both been pretty satisfied with the results.

“So far, I’ve liked the interseeding,” Andrew said. “The cover crops aren’t competing with the cash crops, and they provide erosion control and weed suppression.” He recalled going into the field in the middle of summer on a 100 degree Fahrenheit day.

“I stuck the soil-temp probe into the ground at 3 inches under the canopy, and it was 77F and moist — at 3 p.m.,” Andrew said.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

Jeff remains somewhat skeptical for different reasons. “You have to prove to me the nutrient value over time,” he said, acknowledging that he doesn’t want to stand in the way of the practices and techniques that can help additional generations of his family continue to operate.

Andrew served five years in the U.S. Army after high school — including tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan — before returning home and going to college. He and his wife, Emily, have a 2-year-old son, Everett, and a second child on the way. They also recently purchased and are renovating a home.

Jeff and Andrew have also begun work on a new farm shop that has literally been in the planning stages for decades. The new facility will include a parts room and a fabrication station for Jeff, who has plans to design and build a planter specifically for interseeding. He is keeping his eyes wide open toward the future.

“All my life I wanted a new shop,” Jeff said. “When Andrew went into the military, I didn’t know if he was coming back to farm. There was no use for just me to expand. Now, 20 to 40 years from now, we’ll look back and say we did a good job building a shop.”

Jeff wants to be able to say the same thing about the techniques and ideas that Andrew is now fearlessly bringing to their farm.

“If this (extensive use of interseeded cover crops) is part of the next big thing and really pans out, I want to be there with it,” he said. “I don’t want to be a laggard.”

He motioned to what was a field of no-till soybeans prior to harvest. The soybeans had been planted into a green rye cover crop in the spring. They did the typical practice and sprayed a post-herbicide two weeks later.

“I was thinking we didn’t need that herbicide,” Jeff said. “As it turned out, we didn’t have to do anything else in that field. The weed pressure was minimal compared to other farms, and it was all due to that rye, I know it was.”

Back in the combine, Andrew acknowledged that with two families involved, they will always be on the lookout to farm more land, but that isn’t their primary goal.

“We told our banker that we’re not trying to grow horizontally, we’re trying to grow vertically,” Andrew said. They want more out of the land they have, while not spending as much on crop-protection chemicals and synthetic fertilizers.

“Once you stop judging everything based off of yield and base it off profit per acre, it changes the way you manage your risk and the way you market and the way you look at everything.”

Like track runners, farmers and ranchers in Kansas face several hurdles. Whether it’s unpredictable and unfavorable weather, a volatile market that causes commodity prices to fluctuate or correcting misconceptions about agriculture, farmers hurdle many things.

Yet, hurdle after hurdle, farmers and ranchers run the race because they love what they do. They chose it. They want their operation to continue so the next generation can carry on the tradition. For this to happen, our food and fiber producers need to stay healthy.

A recent national survey shows 65 percent of farm and ranch families believe access to affordable health care options is the number one threat to the success of their operation. In the past five years, net farm income has declined by nearly 50 percent, while health insurance costs have spiraled upward. In Kansas, Farm Bureau members report health coverage costs as the most significant expense in their family budget, at times representing 30 to 40 percent of annual expenses. That is a hurdle nearly impossible for farmers to overcome.

Sherman County farmer Tim Franklin has felt the struggle of finding workable and affordable health care. When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) altered the definition of sole-proprietorship, it resulted in their health coverage carrier canceling their group coverage.

“The logic was that we didn’t qualify for the group plan because we didn’t have employees,” the Goodland farmer says. “My parents are involved in our farm but operate separately and we don’t have nonfamily employees that would qualify us to form a new group.”

The family went to the marketplace for coverage and was hopeful to qualify for subsidies, but never received help. Their health care costs continue to increase while their coverages weaken. Between 2010 and 2018, premiums for individuals increased by 176 percent for ACA plans. The cost to cover a family jumped by 216 percent.

In order to advocate on behalf of farmers like the Franklin family, Kansas Farm Bureau introduced Senate Bill 32, which will authorize it to offer members health care benefit coverage.

This legislation is designed for Kansans who don’t have access to a group insurance plan and make too much to qualify for subsidies under the ACA. Typically, these Kansans are spending a fortune for their own individual coverage or are uninsured. It’s another option provided to cover more lives in Kansas.
Kansas Farm Bureau will offer individually rated plans at a significant savings to similar coverage under the ACA. This new option will allow Kansans to choose health coverage that’s best for them. Some may not receive health benefit coverage, while others may have waiting periods for previous diagnoses. In those cases, plans offered through the ACA are still available to them.

Once members are accepted, and they continue to pay their KFB membership and premiums they will not be denied coverage. The health care benefit coverage plans have no annual or lifetime limits. The benefits may include office visits, hospitalization, preventative care services, emergency room services, maternity care, prescription drug benefits, mental health and substance abuse, and dental and vision coverage. Members can decide what level of coverage they’re comfortable with.

Opponents to the measure, the same large companies that have dictated health policy in Kansas for years don’t like this. They want to maintain the status quo so they can continue to control the marketplace and lock in their profits.  Kansas Farm Bureau believes there is a better way, build on a free market with a goal of serving members.

For Atchison County farmer Mindy Young, affordable health care has meant a smaller farm because her husband has a job in town mainly for its health coverage.

“The big thing holding us back right now is time,” she says. “With his full-time job, he has a hard time finding time to commit to growing the farm.”

Farm and ranch families and small business owners face uncertain economic times, making their ability to purchase health coverage for their families difficult, resulting in more uncovered lives in Kansas and struggling health systems in rural communities. Kansas Farm Bureau’s proposal creates competition and free-market options for health coverage, supports rural hospitals and providers, and keeps families on the farm.

During certain parts of the year I secretly cringe when someone walks into my house. It’s not that I don’t like visitors; it’s more about what my houseguests might see when they enter our home. In the winter and spring, odds are my floors will have some mud deposits that someone tracked in. In the summer and fall, dirt clods and seeds sprinkled around my house are a given.

“It’s just part of life,” I tell myself. Even then, at times it still creates a bit of uneasiness for me when someone comes to visit.

My concerns about my house have had to take a backseat though, as we have an extended houseguest this year. My farmhouse — in all its seasonal, messy glory — has been on full display as we have opened our home to a high school foreign exchange student. She’s a Sicilian from a large city who is accustomed to warm weather, ocean views and pasta. Lots of pasta.

In preparing for her exchange experience, she watched all the Hollywood teen movies to help her formulate an understanding of what life would be like for her in America. There were dance routines, musical interludes, mean girls, study groups and school dance scenarios that she studied.

She made a conscious choice to come to the United States to study and participate in the lifestyle and culture. Little did she know, the images, events and people portrayed in the movies she studied in preparation for this once-in-a-lifetime experience would be very different from her reality: life on a farm in rural, central Kansas.

Our family’s goal is to carry on our business as usual while also working to give her the best possible experience this year. It’s safe to say Hollywood didn’t prepare her for the majority of it.

Common conveniences including accessibility to a mall, a movie theater, a great pizza place and a coffee shop are all still possible, although getting there requires a bit more planning and miles on our part.

She’s experienced  early drives into town to get to school, dirt road treks required to get to a classmate’s house, small class sizes at our rural school where the math teacher is also the cross country and scholars bowl coach, making selections at our small town grocery store and the beauty of a community coming together for a weeknight high school basketball game.

She’s had friendly conversations with folks during a community meal served family-style at a local church, checked out books from our local library, discovered butterscotch, experienced slow Wi-Fi, which affects her Netflix viewing. She’s also learning the beauty of Amazon’s two-day shipping.

She’s watched our farm dog give birth, and she’s held a piglet in her arms. Our local FFA chapter members  welcomed her and then put her to work , and she has experienced the joy (and chill) of traversing the farmyard on an inner tube pulled by a four-wheeler following a recent snowstorm.

While the clothes shopping options are limited, especially for a teenager who usually spends portions of her weekends visiting shops trying on clothes with her friends for fun. She’s beginning to realize that we have to plan our shopping adventures a little more than she would  in Sicily. And, thank God almighty, it only took two trips to Wichita to secure the prom dress!

After multiple video calls with her family and Snapchat posts seeking advice, she has even purchased her own pair of cowboy boots. The girl is committed and living a life she didn’t even know existed. To say she’s adjusted nicely is a huge understatement. She has become part of our small, rural community, and she has fully embraced the lifestyle and all the community has to offer.

While she has learned and experienced a lot during her time with us, I know my family has gained some valuable lessons as well. And for me, allowing her to view our farmhouse in all its seasonal, messy glory is something I’ve been able to relax about. After all, it is just a part of life for our farm family here in rural, central Kansas.

“Insight” is a weekly column published by Kansas Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization whose mission is to strengthen agriculture and the lives of Kansans through advocacy, education and service. 

Anne Hazlett is moving to the White House from the Department of Agriculture. Last Week, USDA announced that Hazlett will assume the role of  Senior Adviser for Rural Affairs in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Hazlett has served as the Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development at USDA since June 2017. In her new role, Hazlett will help shape policy aimed at improving the quality of life in rural America, coordinate interagency efforts on drug control activity impacting rural communities, and build coalitions and grassroots strategies centered on prevention, treatment and recovery. Hazlett previously led USDA’s efforts to build infrastructure for prevention, treatment and recovery in rural communities.

Jim Carroll, who leads the White House Office, says Hazlett has “a critical understanding of the unique challenges facing these communities and is committed to helping them reverse the effects of the opioid epidemic.”