Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Labor Shortage

All of the recent talk of curbing illegal immigration and deportation of illegal immigrants has led to a labor shortage on many produce farms.  Even legal immigrant workers are reluctant to take jobs in certain states for fear of harassment by local law enforcement.  Last year, many produce farmers lost hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of produce that rotted in the field, simply because they couldn't get enough laborers to gather their crops.  This year, some farmers have scaled back on their acreage due to fears of another labor shortage.  Whatever your thoughts on immigration and guest worker programs, the fact is that Hispanics are willing workers in fields that many other members of our society are unwilling to labor in.  A man that is willing to work should be allowed to find a legal means to take a job.

As pressing as this problem is, there is a much more significant issue - a shortage of help in the harvest for souls.  But, you say, there's a church on every corner!  There are preachers all over the radio and TV!  True, but look at all the souls that you encounter every day that do not attend church, or listen to radio and TV preachers. We have the infrastructure in place, but we need more workers.  How many people will die without God today because they have not had an encounter with the true gospel of Jesus Christ?  Just like the rotten produce, there are countless souls being lost due to a lack of manpower.

As Jesus said in Matthew 9:37-38, "The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest."  The key word here is laborers.  We don't need people that only sit in the shade and wait on payday, we already have plenty of those.  No, what we need are laborers, individuals that are willing to work in the harvest.  Real workers, who will toil and sweat and get dirty and exert all the ability that they possess for however long it takes, are a rare commodity indeed.

In John 4:35-36, Jesus says, "Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.  And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal."  Let us lift up our eyes from our own selfish enterprises, and look out at the fields.  Do you realize that there are over 7,000,000,000 people in the world?  Of these, less than 1/3 are self-proclaimed Christians.  Somewhere around 5 billion souls are out there that do not proclaim the name of Christ!  Bring it on down to your country, your city, your community.  I'm sure you will agree that truly, the fields are white unto harvest.

I'd like to leave you with the lyrics to the old song by Lanny Wolfe, My House is Full, But My Field Is Empty.


There is peace and contentment in the Father's house today,
Lots of food on His table, and no one is turned away.
There is singing and laughter as the hours pass by,
But a hush calms the singing as the Father sadly cries,

"My house is full, but my field is empty,
Who will go and work for me today?
It seems my children all want to stay around my table,
But no one wants to work in my field,
No one wants to work in my field."

Push away from the table.  Look out through the windowpane.
Just beyond the house of plenty lies a field of golden grain.
And it's ripe unto harvest; but the reapers, where are they?
In the house!  Oh, can't the children hear the Father sadly say,

"My house is full, but my field is empty,
Who will go and work for me today?
It seems my children all want to stay around my table,
But no one wants to work in my field,
No one wants to work in my field."


Friday, May 25, 2012

Planting Winding Down

Peanut and cotton planting is beginning to wind down here on our farm.  I finished planting peanuts on Thursday.  All things considered, planting has gone rather smoothly with only a couple of significant break-downs.  About 60 acres of our peanuts are probably going to have to be replanted, however, due to poor germination during a cool snap in late April.  As far as cotton goes, Jon expects to get through early next week.  All of our cotton has come up with good stands thus far.


Cotton leaning to catch morning sun

Daddy and Jeffrey, a cousin and most-of-the-time worker for us, are continuing to spray herbicides this week on the peanuts and cotton.  Roundup resistant pigweed is our main nemesis, and we wage a constant battle to keep it under control.  This is our second year of planting cotton on which we can spray Ignite herbicide, which really helps with the pigweeds.

It's also time to begin applying landplaster, or gypsum, to our peanut fields.  This is a form of calcium.  After a peanut blooms, the pollinated bloom forms a peg, which enters the soil to form the peanut underground.  The calcium is necessary to ensure that a nut forms inside the hull.  If the peg doesn't move through calcium in the "pegging zone," then it will make a "pop" - a hull with nothing inside.
Peanuts looking good!

We planted our last watermelons on Monday and Tuesday.  These will be ready mid-late July.  Our early melons are beginning to get ripe.  Harvesting will likely begin next week.  Christy and Jennifer, Jon's wife, have been working on getting our watermelon shed all spic and span.  We're also purchasing a utility building to place at the shed that we will convert into an office.
What a full shed of melons looks like!

The weather has really warmed up this week, with highs of 96 today.  This will make the melons ripen faster.  Cotton also loves hot weather, as long as there is sufficient moisture.  Although it hasn't rained any this week, a tropical system is predicted to move in early next week.  Our sandy soils require lots of rain.  As the oldtimers say around here, we're always only 10 days removed from a drought!  Hopefully we will get some more much needed rain.

Happy Memorial Day, and may God continue to bless America!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Watermelon Fever




We will begin loading watermelons here at Smith Quality Produce in a few days, and watermelon fever is beginning to break out around here.  This is a condition that exhibits itself in daily excursions to the field to bring home the ripest watermelon you can find, then cutting it only to find that it's still green.  The only way to cure watermelon fever is to cut a ripe watermelon of course.

10 more days!

While we're in the clutches of this ailment, I thought that I would share how we got to this point.  It all begins with bedding the ground and laying plastic mulch.  The plastic serves two purposes.  The first is to warm the soil so the plants will get a fast start.  The second is to serve as a barrier to sunlight to inhibit weed germination under the plastic.  Most of our fields are watered with an overhead irrigation system.  If not, we lay drip tape underneath the plastic at this time.
Me riding the plastic machine

Next comes the transplanting of the actual plants.  Workers ride a waterwheel transplanter, which punches a hole in the plastic and puts water in the hole.  The worker manually puts the plant in the ground and firms the soil around it.

The next several weeks bring an increasing amount of activity.  The fields are plowed twice before the vines get long enough to prohibit further plowing.  The plants must be watered often, because we all know it takes lots of water to make a watermelon.  Weekly fungicide applications must be made to prevent various diseases that thrive in the same hot wet conditions that cause watermelons to flourish.  As the vines grow, they must be turned back weekly from access roads throughout the field that will be used at harvesting.

Growing,...
...growing,..

...grown!  Healthy vines make...
...lots of watermelons!
Christy with an outbreak of watermelon fever
All this work is happening during one of our busiest times of the year, spring planting.  Besides the 175 acres of watermelons we grow, our farm also has 1100 acres of peanuts and 1200 acres of cotton this year.  Both these crops are planted simultaneously, and it takes all that Jon, Daddy, and I can do to get them planted.  Luckily, we have an outstanding farm manager for our watermelon crop...and I'm married to her!  Christy grew up on a watermelon farm and knows all the ins and outs of the business.  She does most of the day to day work herself, and oversees the rest of it. If you know her, you know she is truly the watermelon queen!

And all that work combines to bring on an outset of watermelon fever.  It usually lasts for about 10 days, then it begins to subside as enough melons get ripe enough to harvest.  I hope the next time you are enjoying a cold, delicious slice of watermelon, you will think about all the work that goes into growing it.  Then again, if we've done our job, you won't be able to think of anything other than how delicious it is!
Alyssa & Logan enjoying the fruits of our labors!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

On the Farm This Week - Planting In Full Swing

It has been a busy week on the farm. We laid an additional 50 acres of plastic and drip tape for our late crop of watermelons. This entailed breaking the land, applying fertilizer, and actually laying the plastic and drip. It has been so dry that we were almost working in nothing but dust. Luckily we can wet the beds under the plastic with the drip.

Spring planting has also been in full swing this week, other than the days we had to work on watermelon land. I plant the peanuts, and my brother Jon plants the cotton. Daddy keeps the sprayer going, and there's always lots of spraying to do. We spray the peanuts and the cotton between planting and emergence, so there is a timing factor involved. We also sprayed an application of herbicide on our oldest cotton.

Although we have had 7 days out of the last 14 with a 50% or greater chance of rain, the showers have been light and scattered, with hardly any beneficial rainfall on any of our farms. That changed last night. A large portion of our land received from 1 - 2 inches, and we are truly grateful. This will allow us to continue planting and achieve good plant stands.

Over the next week, we will continue planting and spraying. Barring the unexpected, by this time next week I should be almost finished peanut planting. Christy, my wife, will oversee the last transplanting of watermelons on the plastic we just laid.

Have a great day!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Just Sow!

Jesus taught the multitudes in Matthew 13 with parables, three of which are directly related to agriculture.  Here is a farmer's perspective on the first one, commonly called the Parable of the Sower.

"Behold, a sower went forth to sow;"  The sower went forth to sow, without regard to the conditions of the field in which he sowed.  As we see in the following verses, he sowed on rocky ground, among thorns, on good soil, and in this instance, on the way side.  We Christians should all be sowers of the gospel, indiscriminately sowing in the field God has placed us. Our job is to sow, letting the seed fall wherever God wills it.

"And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up."  This is a common farming problem even today.  Geese, crows, and other animals such as wild hogs can wreak havoc on a newly planted field.  They will eat the seed before it has had time to sprout and root down.  Jesus interprets his own parable later in the chapter.  In this instance, he says that when some one hears the Word and does not understand it, then Satan comes and catches away the seed that was sown.  Satan loves to confuse the minds of those that may have had a seed thrown their way. By doing so he will often snatch away the thoughts that have turned to eternity before they have time to take root.

"Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: and when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away."  Seeds that are planted on rocky ground are often the fastest to come up, because the rocks catch the sun's rays and warm the soil around them.  However, rocky ground doesn't hold much moisture, because it contains a higher percentage of rocks and less soil.  Therefore, in times of drought, crops on rocky land will die quicker.  Jesus says that he that receives the seed in stony places hears the Word and receives it with joy.  However, he has grown too quickly for the amount of root that he has; and when trials and tribulations arise, he is offended.  How often have we seen new converts spring up, try to grow up too fast, and then quickly wither away under Satan's fervent heat because they have no root!

"And some fell among thorn; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them."  This is one of the toughest battles farmers are facing at this time.  Certain weeds have become resistant to herbicides, to the point they are being called superweeds.  Planting in the weeds is a big mistake, because the weeds will grow faster than the crop and choke it out.  Jesus says that he that receives the seed among thorns hears the Word and understands it, but the cares of life and the deceitfulness of riches choke it out, and he becomes unfruitful.  These two weeds in particular, the cares of life and deceitfulness of riches, must constantly be guarded against.  If we find them arising in our lives, we must pluck them out immediately or risk becoming unfruitful.

"But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit."  This is the ground that we love to plant in.  It has been properly prepared, is weed free, and has plenty of depth.  You never know how much the yield will be, but it will bring forth a good crop according to the growing conditions it encounters.  Jesus says this is he that hears the Word, understands it, and brings forth fruit.  I want to be a fruitful Christian, what about you?

Once again, I come away from this parable with the thought, "Just sow!" It is not for me to judge the soil. It may be in better or worse condition than I can discern. The seed may take hold and bear fruit even if I don't see the possibility. However, there will never be a harvest if we don't at first sow the seed. So let's get out there today and do some sowing!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Dinner at Mama's



Just before I dig in
Picture this: fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, creamed corn, fried squash, green beans, and a yeast roll.  Not your thing?  What about a low country boil, or maybe fajita nachos?  You never know what's on the menu when you come in from work to eat dinner at Mama's.  Just to nip any confusion in the bud, our three meals are breakfast, dinner, and supper.  Lunch is something you eat out of a pail or on a picnic.




Mama in action


Mama's talent in the kitchen is something to behold.  Many a day she has walked into the kitchen at 11:30 and turned out a mouthwatering meal by 12 o'clock.  That 12 o'clock mark is very important too.  There's something about us Smiths, we like to eat at noon on the nose.  We know she will have it ready, and she knows we will be there or be on the way. Most days she calls around mid-morning to see who all she needs to cook for that day.  It ranges from just her and Daddy, to around 15 hungry mouths during watermelon harvest.  That's besides those that may just drop by or get invited to dinner by Daddy.  Many a crop insurance agent, tractor mechanic, landlord, and preacher has put his feet under Mama's table.  She always seems to have just enough.


Dinner at Mama's means a lot more than just good food.  It is also a time of talking and laughing.  We all catch up on what's been happening that morning on the farm, how the crops are looking, and what the chance of rain is for that afternoon.  Mama tells us what's going on with the rest of the family.  The kids show us their latest trick, and we all laugh and tell them how great it is.  What a great blessing it is for our family to get to share this time together almost every day.


Then, before you know it, dinner time is over.  The dishes are put in the washer, the scraps are carried out to the dog, and the leftovers are put in the refrigerator for supper.  It's time to go back to work on your tractor.  As you start back down the row, you wonder why we can't all take a nap after dinner every day like Pa did when we were little.  You feel like you will never be hungry again, but at the same time you wonder if tomorrow will bring grilled pork chops or lasagna.  Whatever it is, it will be good.


Happy Mothers Day to my mama, Janice!  We love you!






Now it's your turn!  Do you get to eat with your family often, or do you have memories of meal times in the past?  What about your Mama, is she a good cook?  Not all Moms are, unfortunately!

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Power Is Out!

We recently had some severe storms in the area that knocked our electricity out.  Our house is at the end of the line for the local electric co-op.  That means we're the first to lose power and the last to get it back.  It's the price we pay in return for living out in the country.

I remember as a boy the excitement I would feel when the lights went out.  It meant that my brother and I got to pretend that we were back in the "old timeys" as we called it.  The big thunderstorms always seemed to roll through late in the afternoon, and if we were lucky the power would stay off until after we went to bed.  No power = no water, so we didn't have to take a bath.  As it would begin to get dark, Mama would light an old hurricane lantern, and she and Daddy would sit around and tell us "old timey" stories.

In the early 90's, we had what the media labeled "The Storm of the Century."  This was a blizzard that made it all the way into south Georgia in early March.  I don't remember there being a lot of snow, but the wind was at hurricane levels for about three days.  And cold!  It was unbelievably cold.  The electricity was off for several days, and our home became the defacto meeting place for our extended family due to one simple fact - Mama had the only gas stove, so our house was where the food was!  What a great time we had, sleeping in a frozen little house under piles of blankets and quilts.  School was canceled, so it was one big play time for us children.

Of course, as I have gotten older, the novelty of being instantly thrown back into the 19th century has worn off.  The lack of almost every modern convenience, even for a very short time, gets old in a hurry.  We're so accustomed to air conditioning, refrigeration, and lights that we hardly know how to function without them.  You've heard the old Ben Franklin saying, "No one misses the water until the well goes dry?"  Let me offer you a new one.  "No one appreciates a light switch until the power goes out."

Now it's your turn! What does your family do when the power goes off?  Do you have any memories of extended power outages?  Thanks again for reading, and I look forward to your comments.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Drought

Have you ever been in a drought? We're in the middle of a severe drought right now in south Georgia. Summer water restrictions haven't kicked in yet, but they will shortly without significant rainfall.

Drought is the result of a prolonged period of little to no rain. It is often accompanied by extreme heat. Reliable sources of water such as ponds, creeks, and even wells can dry up. Crops suffer and don't yield at their usual levels. Extended drought over large areas of land can even bring famine, starvation, and even death.

As detrimental as this can be, there is a different kind of drought that is even worse - a drought in the soul. Our nation, many of our churches, and individuals that we know and love are in the grips of a drought right now. Ever been there? Yeah, me too.

A spiritual drought is a prolonged time of not feeling God's presence. It is often accompanied by Satan "turning up the heat." Reliable religious routines are insufficient, and in turn the soul gets weaker from lack of water. If the drought engulfs enough souls, spiritual famine will ensue.

How can we make it through a drought, whether spiritual or natural? By seeking out more water. Dig a deeper well to tap into unused water. Pray more earnestly, fast, read more of God's Word. Keep the faith. Bring an umbrella to the prayer meeting. Lastly, simply endure. Rest assured that at some point, it will rain again. Who knows? Today could be the day that the heavens open up and bring the droughtbuster we so desperately need.

Isaiah 58:11 And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.





Friday, May 4, 2012

Morning Rounds

There is no such thing as a typical day here on our farm. Our routines vary greatly from season to season and even day to day. So, let me give you a snapshot of my rounds this morning before I climbed on the tractor for another day of planting peanuts.








We are irrigating our watermelons, and had left the center pivot irrigation system watering all night.  The first order business then is check that everything is still functioning ok with it.










Next it's off to take a look at the cantaloupes since I haven't had the chance to check them all week.  They are blooming heavily, and a few are setting some fruit.















On the way around the fields I pass the beehives, where the honeybees are just beginning to venture out for the morning. Bees are essential for pollination for our watermelons and cantaloupes.












Finally, on the way to the peanut field, I stop to check on some emerging cotton. Last evening, it was only cracking the ground. This morning, it's up.



All the preliminaries out of the way, I get on my tractor for another long day of planting peanuts. Have a great day!





Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Tractor Time

America is on the move.  Ever think about how many cars you meet on the road on a daily basis?  Ever figure up how many hours a week you spend behind the wheel? 

It's a little different scenario for me in some aspects.  I don't do much driving right now except behind the wheel of a tractor.  Even then, I have an automated GPS that does all the driving for me.  I just have to turn the tractor around at the end of the row. So, like many of you, I have a lot of time on my hands.

Modern technology has enabled us to make this time productive if we so choose. In my case, since I don't have to keep my eyes on the row, I use my smartphone to stay in touch with other farmers, keep up with commodity markets, and many other useful things. I can listen to audiobooks, podcasts, and radio from all around the country right from my phone.

If we're not careful, however, we allow this time to become endless hours of mindless entertainment. When I first started driving tractors, if the radio worked at all I only got a few local stations. I therefore spent a great deal of time singing to myself, praying, or just thinking. Now, if I don't like what's on the radio, I have endless other "productive" options to occupy the time, and my mind.

In this busy, always-on-the-go society, we have become afraid to be alone with our thoughts. In otherwise still and quiet times, we turn to our gadgets to keep up the noise. Don't get me wrong, I'm not anti technology. I'm just saying we will have more to offer others if we will just spend a little more time with ourselves. So I think I'll put down the phone, turn off the radio, and just listen to me for a little while. What about you?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Another Sunday Down South

I'll be eternally grateful to my parents for many things.  One in particular is the teaching that Sunday is a day of rest.  The only time I ever remember working on Sunday was in March 2009, after a 6" rain on Saturday night that nearly destroyed a field of plastic mulch to be planted in watermelons.  The proverbial ox was in the ditch, and if we didn't get the edges of the plastic covered with dirt, the high winds that day would have destroyed the field by Monday.  Not only did we work all day with shovels in our hands, about 75 neighbors and church family turned out to help us too.

That, however, is the exception to the rule.  We go to church twice on Sundays, so it's not like we lay around in the bed all day.  Matter of fact, some Sundays wind up being as busy as any other day.  Get the kids ready for Sunday School, go to Grandma's after church to eat lunch, maybe take a little Sunday drive or a nap, get ready for church again, and then hurry home to get in bed before another busy week.

Still, with all the busy-ness, Sunday has a different feel to it.  There is a slowing down of the state of mind.  There is no rush, no deadline, nowhere else to be, nothing else that absolutely must be done.  For many weeks out of the year, Sunday is the only day of the week that we get any actual face time with our friends.  It's a day to spend some much needed time away from the farm; to realize that there are other things to think about besides how dry it is, how high fertilizer is, and how cheap prices are.  It's a day to actually spend some quality time with your wife and kids.  Most importantly, it is a day of worship; a time to reflect on the many blessings of life and be thankful.

I feel a certain sympathy towards those who choose to work seven days a week, and those that have no choice in the matter.  When do they recharge their batteries?  How do they make it day after day without a break?  I've never known that feeling, and I hope I never do.  Let me encourage you; if at all possible, take a break this Sunday.  Go to church, go visit your family. Just slow down a little, sit on your front porch, and drink some of the nectar of life (flavored with lemon).  That's how we do it Down South.