Farm Life Journal - January 2017

By Mark Jackson

Editor’s note: Meet Mark Jackson, a grain and livestock farmer from Rose Hill (a small town located near Oskaloosa in Mahaska County, or about 73 miles from Des Moines). Mark and his wife JoAnn live on a century farm (it’s been in the family for more than 100 years) and have two grown children and energetic grandchildren! Follow along each month as Mark chronicles the events and activities that make farm life different – and similar – to yours!


A few comments to set your mind’s eye as you follow segments of my life working around the farm. We begin in January, a month of transition to a new crop year. We’re actively planning for the coming crop season, moving grain to market, managing equipment, attending ag-related meetings. And, of course, January can be a challenge dealing with Iowa’s variable winter weather while trying to complete our daily tasks and achieve our daily goals.

We farm with our son Michael and his family, raising pigs, corn, soybeans and grandkids. Michael and Mary Beth’s family live in the house and farm the land that his grandmother’s grandfather purchased in 1890, a point of pride in our farming legacy. We are conservation-minded farmers and embrace modern technologies while using our families’ heritage of lessons learned to guide our path of continuous improvement and sustainability.

6:00 A.M.

My day often starts with breakfast while watching the morning news, checking the weather forecast and my never-ending emails/Facebook.

Chores for the day are often flexible in the “off season,” but normally begin in the farm shop. My commute to work is a short walk across the barnyard from the house. Murphy, my black Labrador and constant companion, often leads the way. Grumpy, the shop cat, greets me at the door.

The shop is a gathering point for neighbors and all things farm related. It’s a large, well-insulated, metal structure – warm in the winter, cool in the summer – well-lit and large enough to house a combine and several tractors or planter, with room to spare. It’s a place to perform regular maintenance and/or repairs, as needed. A welder/plasma cutter sits in one corner and an air compressor in another, along with tools of all sizes and shapes. The cost of paying for on farm machinery repairs can run from $125- $175/hour so you can quickly see its value to our farm.

In addition to growing corn and soybeans, we raise pigs. The accurate terminology is “contract finishing” pigs. What that means is we receive the pigs when they are a certain age and weight and then raise and care for them until they go to market. We do not own the pigs but the buildings in which they are raised and receive a monthly payment for providing this service. Michael and I work with a local pig farmer and his two sons who do the daily livestock chores. I don’t miss the “good ol’ days” of grinding endless loads of feed, thawing frozen waterers, loading hogs in the early morning hours, etc. Today we are relegated to building maintenance, where hogs are comfortably warm in modern, climate-controlled and spacious facilities. We are also responsible for the annual removal of manure, a valued nutrient which is literally handled with computer precision as it is applied to our crop fields as a fertilizer to grow crops.

Now, here are some examples of specific tasks I accomplished one day earlier this month…

8:00 a.m.

I made an on-line 811 request. This is a one-call, “call before you dig” website, required by law, which notifies relevant utilities before digging. I will be using my dozer to reshape a grassed waterway in one of my farm fields. Specific location information is required, so access to satellite mapping is essential and this project is trickier than most, as I will be excavating near gas pipelines buried deep beneath the soil surface. I’ve been told these pipelines bring natural gas from Texas all the way to Chicago and beyond.

This reminds me to add fuel conditioner to my dozer, which will prevent the diesel fuel from thickening or “gelling” in below-freezing temps. To have an engine stall in the field, far from home, would not be good, not to mention the added work and time necessary to fix the problem.

I do a once-around check of my John Deere 650 dozer. Since December has been unseasonably warm I’ve been able to complete several conservation-related dirt moving projects, tiling, terraces and waterway shaping. I hope to finish this one last project before sub-zero temps make work too difficult for my liking.

A quick check of my dozer trailer turns up a flat tire. It’s a twin axle with tandem wheels, and of course, the flat tire is an inside dual. Not an easy fix but over to the shop it goes.

10:00 a.m.

A periodic Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) on-farm site visit and review of our manure management plan (MMP) is scheduled today. Michael has all the paperwork spread out on the work table. It provides a paper trail of the past several years of soil fertility tests, annual manure nutrient samples, global information systems field maps, soil maps, nutrient removal schedules based on yield removal, for each field applied and from each building. There are many pieces to this puzzle, but it’s actually not that complicated. And with the high cost of commercial fertilizer, we meter all manure applications with computer accuracy to maximize our crop input costs. In the world of nutrient application and water quality, too much is worse than not enough.

The DNR visit went well. I found it informative and we came away reaffirmed of our decision to expand the integration of our crop and livestock fertilization program. It has allowed our son and his family the opportunity to get established in agriculture while making a good living. He is the sixth generation in our family to farm in this county.

1:00 p.m.

After lunch, and we set up an auger on bin No. 6 as we have a January contract to sell 10,000 bushels of 2016 corn to the local elevator. I have to admit Michael made a good decision on the price, given this contract was made nearly a year ago. Our annual grain selling plan includes selling portions of our corn and soybean crops before planting as well as before harvest. We live within 20 miles of several feed mills and corn milling plants which normally provides competitive bids with a decent “basis” (what we actually get paid for our grain by the local buyer versus what the price is on the Chicago Board of Trade).

A quick on-off test for the unload augers and the grain coming out the bin is clean and bright. We regularly monitor grain temperature and quality in all our bins, which could otherwise be a costly mistake if left to chance.

3:00 p.m.

I stopped by to visit Michael and Mary Beth who live about a five-minute drive toward Oskaloosa and was greeted at the door by Mack, their three-year-old, with a resounding, “Hi! What’s ya doin’, Pa-Pa?!”

Grandpa’s little buddy!

During any free time over the past several years we’ve been remodeling their two-story century home. It’s been quite a father/son project but a very rewarding and cost-effective solution to an otherwise expensive process. At the end of the day we can utilize our hands-on construction skills to modernize a fabulous old home while preserving a family heirloom.

Tomorrow is a new day on the farm and February will be a new month of chores, family experiences and unexpected to-dos. Never a dull moment.

Until then,


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