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Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1440

This week on Oklahoma Horizon, we talk with people taking the road less traveled in education and in life.
Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1440

Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1440

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Base Vines & Cattle

OFB-Young Farmers & Ranchers

Kiamichi Technology Center

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Show Details

Show 1440: Oklahoma Horizon TV
Air Date: October 5, 2014



Rob McClendon: Here’s what’s coming up on your “Horizon.” “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference” – those words from the poet Robert frost and our focus today on “Oklahoma Horizon.” We will introduce you to a young couple who may have followed in their families’ footsteps, but are blazing their own path down on the farm. We will talk to a group of young farmers about some of the challenges their generation faces. We will also meet two young ladies whose education is sparking a new career direction. Stay with us for “Oklahoma Horizon.”

Male Announcer: Oklahoma Horizon is made possible by the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education.

Female Announcer: Oklahoma’s investment in CareerTech provides more than nationally recognized technology education and training. It produces solid financial returns for the state’s economic future. Oklahoma CareerTech, elevating our economy.

Male Announcer: And the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, helping good people grow good things. And now, from the CareerTech studios in Stillwater, here’s your host, Rob McClendon.

Rob McClendon: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us here on “Horizon.” Well, there is a looming crisis in farm country, and that is the lack of new farmers to do the work. Over the past 20 years, we have seen roughly a 40 percent drop in the number of Oklahomans ages 35 and younger engaged in agricultural activities. Joining me now is our Andy Barth.

Andy Barth: Well, Rob, here are three numbers I want you to consider: 51, 57 and 155. Now, 51 is the average age of Oklahoma farmers 20 years ago, 57 is the average age today according to the latest census, and then there is 155. That is how many people on average one farmer feeds. America’s farmers are getting older, and fewer and fewer young people are taking their place. Yet there are those bucking the trends, taking the road less traveled and making a life down on the farm. And I spent the day with one such family. As the sun says good morning in Oklahoma’s Blaine County, the base family starts a new day.

Jennifer base: Other foot.

Andy: And as 2-year-old Ilsa watches her morning cartoons, 9-year-old Daphne heads out to feed her bottle-calf, Feona. And after chores, Daphne has school.

Aaron Base: Daphne, bus.

Andy: So Daphne heads off to class, as does her mom. Down the road in El Reno, Jennifer has school herself.

Jennifer: Seventh- and eighth-grade math is what I have.

Andy: This is Jennifer’s first year at Darlington School after seven years of teaching seventh through 12th grade in Geary. Team-teaching, she’s only in the classroom three days a week to give her more time at home on the farm with her husband, Aaron.

Aaron: I like the white faces because when everybody else is running black, it’s like you’ve got them branded.

Andy: The Bases run cattle as part of their operation, but these cattle are hormone-free and raised on grass.

Aaron: They know that when you show up, they’re going to get to go to somewhere they haven’t been and fight over fresh grass. I would do it just for the behavior of the cattle.

Andy: The Bases niche market their cattle to health-conscious people using social media, farmers markets and good old-fashioned word of mouth.

Aaron: There’s that misconception about, tough or lean or something like that.

Andy: But life on the Base farm isn’t all about all natural beef. Aaron still gets out on a tractor.

Aaron: I still do plenty of commodity farming. I’m mainly a commodity farmer.

Andy: And Aaron says both styles of farming go hand in hand.

Aaron: Doing all those other things really makes you appreciate. Sometimes it makes you appreciate the commodities a little more. Because it’s not easy. Direct marketing has its own challenges.

Andy: Something Aaron and Jennifer found out firsthand when they moved an old schoolhouse to their property.

Aaron: Noticed it. Noticed it was in really good shape for its age. And within a month or two we had it set up to move, and there weren’t many places like this around anymore. So we just wanted to see if we could save it. And we’re still figuring what to do with it, now that we’ve saved it.

Jennifer: It started out, we work on it in the winter, is when we took it to studs. So it was a little chilly in here when we were taking everything down and taking everything out. It took a couple years just because we did it when we could. There’s only so much I can do on my own, and then I have to have his help, or we have to have somebody come in and do something. So you’re waiting on people. So it just took a while. We didn’t have a contractor come in and do it for us.

Aaron: Yeah, we have a lot of projects. I don’t think we’ve planned on it in any way shape or form when it comes to diversifying. It’s just kind of happened. We kind of get, not bored, we get one thing done, and we continually have a project that we need to do.

Andy: Like starting their own vineyard, one of Jennifer’s big dreams.

Aaron: So I kind of told her that if we bought the land, she could grow grapes. And I used that as my leverage to get the land. It’s kind of backfired on me a little bit because now we have all of these other projects.

Andy: But Jennifer doesn’t seem to mind the extra projects. In fact, when it comes to grapes, she’s ready to go.

Jennifer: I wanted to grow grapes so I had gotten a few. I started taking classes. I did through the OSU Extension at Perkins, I did that year. And then we put in our acre, and I started doing classes at Redlands, and I did their certificate program for viticulture.

Andy: And while grapes are a large part of the base family’s farming operation, no wine will be made from these vines this year. Thanks to birds and grasshoppers, there are no grapes left. But that’s not stopping the Bases.

Jennifer: The birds, in a matter of hours, took all of the grapes that were there. And there weren’t many, but it was still going to be something at least. I won’t be using my grapes. From the classes that I took at El Reno I’ve got a few contacts on people that I can use for grapes.

Andy: Back at home, Jennifer labels and adds foil tops to her finished product.

Jennifer: We have the syrah, which all of our acre that of course you know we haven’t been able to get in a couple years.

Andy: One of four labels the Bases hope to showcase in downtown Geary, in this old building, still a little rough, with lots of work to do, but that hasn’t stopped them before.

Jennifer: You know when you’re still pretty small, like we are, you can’t hire people. You don’t have the money to hire people to come out and help you.

Andy: But this job can wait until tomorrow, because it’s time for family down on the Base farm. It’s Daphne’s job to pick cucumbers, green tomatoes and the occasional free-range egg.

Aaron: People don’t understand farming. And how do you talk to them, sell them something, make that connection?

Andy: At the end of the day it’s still a family farm, and with this diverse operation it truly takes the whole family. Well now the Bases have preliminary plans to have the new tasting room open for the holidays, and then, start work on the winery. As for the schoolhouse, they are taking reservations for parties, weddings and other events.

Rob: So it sounds like the Base family has plenty on their plate.

Andy: That they do, Rob, and it continues to grow. Aside from the chickens and the grass-fed beef, they’re planning to add free-range pigs for their consumers. And since the winery is taking off, Jennifer is taking night classes for her master’s degree in business administration.

Rob: So by my count, it sounds like each, both Jennifer and Aaron have about three jobs a piece. Is that for typical?

Andy: You know what, Rob, now it is. The young farmers coalition says that 73 percent of all young farming couples have to work outside the farm, and that off-farm income accounts for 90 percent of their overall income.

Rob: All right. Neat family. Thank you for doing the story, Andy. Now when we return, I sit down with another group of young farmers to talk about the future of life down on the farm.

Male Announcer: You’re watching “Oklahoma Horizon,” featuring some of the good things that are happening in the great state of Oklahoma.

Rob McClendon: Well, joining me now is Mason Bolay and Marty Williams who are part of Oklahoma Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers program. Well, first of all, thank you both for being here.

Thank you, Rob.

Rob: If I can, I’d like to share some statistics with you I got from USDA. The average size of a farm is 414 acres across the U.S., and the average farm has a cow herd of about 44 cows, very small for Oklahoma standards. Now, if you figure in that the average acre sells for about $2,000 and the average beef cow sells for about a thousand dollars, when you add all that up, that’s right at a million dollars and that doesn’t even include the cost of equipment. Now my question to both of you is, when you’re talking about that much money, over a million dollars just to start in a business, how do you do it as a young farmer?

Mason Bolay: It’s difficult. Being in the banking industry and the farming industry I can understand both, that when someone comes in and says I want to get started farming, and by the way here’s the list of equipment and the things I want to buy, you have to start small and grow. Things that grow slower tend to grow a little better.

Marty Williams: I was very fortunate. I was very focused when I got out of college, and I went back to the farm and kind of started building some assets with my father. And so the key to my success in building my farm was to borrow when you can the expensive assets. Renting ground to start with is always cheaper than buying. And slowly building a herd, a cow herd, and such as that. But yeah, the capital investment that it takes is really prohibitive sometimes for a lot of young people getting into farming.

Rob: Yeah. Now you mentioned both of your families. Another figure, 35 percent of Oklahoma farmers are over the age of 65 which means they’re getting close, if they are not already thinking about retirement. Do we need more young farmers?

Marty: I am of the opinion that yes, we definitely need more young farmers. I’m in an area, north central Oklahoma, Noble County, where there have been very few young farmers that have come back to the farm, mainly because of the large farms that were already in place, so the availability of land and the things that you mentioned all the older gentlemen were already more established, well-versed and could rent the ground or buy it and afford to. We definitely need to get more young farmers because I am in a position where I’ve become established and grown. But I’m kind of maxing out what I can do as an individual and even with employees. You can only cover so many acres efficiently and effectively enough and good enough to produce quality crops. And so there needs to be more of us on board and more of us out there to support the amount of acres that are available to farm.

Mason: That’s right exactly. We can’t – it’s just like in any business. Whenever you have people retiring, you have to have someone replace them. Even with technology and the amount of acres that we can cover, everyone has a limit, whether that limits you personally, the amount of employees you have, at home. And basically echoing what Marty said, that yes, we do have to have more young guys coming back and getting involved in agriculture.

Rob: Now we’ve seen much of a rural renaissance in, across the U.S., in rural America with record high commodity prices, but also at the same time, record high land values in part because of that record high commodity prices. Kind of a double-edged sword?

Mason: It can be. Record high land prices, record high grain prices normally equal record high inputs. There’s, the margins are better, but they’re still slim. I mean, there are times right now we’re selling fat cattle for what, we’re buying light weight cattle for what we used to sell fat cattle for. And those kind of numbers, there’s a lot more money at stake. You know, operating lines of credit are growing and, but we’re still operating on the same amount of acres. So, example, rather than a hundred dollars worth of input cost, it’s now costing $200. You’re doubling what it costs, and your margins are still the same.

Marty: The best way to do that, look at economy as scale. If you can take your fixed, your fixed expenses and spread them out over more acres or something like that, that’s the quickest way to become more efficient and be more profitable. But, yeah, it is really tough.

Rob: I want to touch on something that you mentioned and that was about technology in farming. Once again, kind of a double-edged sword. One person like you can do something that it took 10 people to do 50 years ago. What does that mean when it comes to our rural communities with maybe not needing as many people down on the farm to do the job?

Marty: That’s one of the things that has happened. And also you’ll notice that there are a lot of older gentlemen, older farmers that are staying in it longer because of the technology. You know you sit a gentleman on a tractor with auto steer and GPS when he was 70 years old. Looking over his back all the time to make sure he was staying in the right spot in the field, it was hard on him. But now he can look ahead with confidence and set on a tractor longer. So technology has made a difference in what I can do in one day, definitely cover a lot more acres. And new advances in chemicals and computers and fertilizers and the way that we apply those have really helped speed up a lot of the process and how many acres we can cover in a day.

Mason: That’s right, we, you know the technology we buy is expensive but with variable rate, even you know soil testing, those are things that were maybe in the past overlooked. You look at over, you know, GPS, you know, spread fertilizer all day and we ran some numbers on if you’re overlapping 2 feet, we could pay for a whole new auto steer system with the acres we were covering. You know that’s an expensive cost upfront, but with our younger generation coming back to the farm, and we can pencil that out and show Grandpa or show Dad that hey, we need this, and we can save that amount of money by not wasting the fertilizer. And it’s essentially good for everyone, which when we use less, that means that we don’t have any overlap running off into streams, creeks, lakes that essentially end up in the food chain.

Rob: Certainly. Give us some idea of just the cost of some of the equipment we’re talking about here.

Mason: The equipment can vary. You know, today, you, there’s a lot of equipment out there, and a quick search on a tractorhouse or fastline will show you that there are thousands, hundreds of thousands of pieces of equipment, and it all varies. Like Marty said, the economy of scale is how big are you and how can you, or how small are you and what can you afford to spread out over those acres? You know you can look at a new combine with a header you know at a half-million dollars. But, you know, in our operation that’s not cost-effective. So we look at a used combine and go a different route with that. So there’s literally combines from $20,000 all the way up to a half-million.

Marty: In my operation, you know, we’re able to justify a $200,000 combine, a harvester or a $250, $300,000 sprayer and fertilizer applicator. But we can’t justify a $200, $300,000 tractor, which, they’re available. So, so we downgrade because they get a lot less acres now in the no-tillage system that we’re in. And we focus more on, you know, our $100,000 planter is much more important to us and, it can be pulled by a $30,000 tractor.

Rob: Before you came here, I was looking at a survey that your own organization did about the things that young farmers are concerned about. And No. 1 was red tape, and No. 2 was the availability of land. What else are you concerned about?

Mason: There’s a whole long list. I would say health care. You know, we’re just like everyone else, farmers out there. Fortunately in my job we offer that as a benefit.

Rob: Your job as a banker?

Mason: Yes, that’s correct, and so that’s one of my limiting factors of going back. Health care is so expensive, and the cost of it to pay per month to have a family because we all know everybody needs a doctor. And that would be one of my limiting factors.

Marty: The red tape and the bureaucracy of the individuals making our laws on Capitol Hill that dictate our farm bills and such. We have some great people up there, but there are very many of them that are so far removed from the farm, it scares me. They don’t understand what’s going on, just – they’re making decisions for what I do on a farm. I’m not trying to make a decision for what they’re going to do in a high rise building in New York. And so that’s a broad statement, I guess, and kind of radical, but it does concern me. The other thing that concerns me, I am concerned about health care. My family, I have to provide insurance for myself, I’m self-employed and you’re looking at a thousand dollars a month just for a small family to have health insurance. And that’s very tough. I’ve got employees that I can’t offer health insurance to because it would costs me a lot, and they’re having a tough time paying for that even at what we feel like are good wages that we can give them, so that, that really scares me. The availability of land doesn’t really bother me that much because I feel like there’s a time when all of that is going to shift from the older generation to the younger generation. There’s going to be a few good operators, that are probably in their 40s and 50s now that may miss out on that land shift. But the land’s available, I feel like.

Rob: And Mason, how do you work, having a daytime job at the bank and then farming at night?

Mason: Like Marty said, there’s always something to do. In our family we say, if you can’t find anything to do then you’re not looking hard enough. I mean, there’s always bearings that need checked, fence that needs fixed, and so I typically start, you know, in the morning, we get up around 6:30 and go feed cattle, come back, change clothes, go to the bank, work at the bank. And then in the afternoon, I go back out to the farm and stay. And that was one thing, I also, like Marty, married someone who was not from a farming background but enjoyed the idea and maybe didn’t quite fully understand it. I don’t know that anyone can really grasp what we go through as a farm family until you actually get out there. There’s some things that – I say the best part about our job is farming with family and the worst part about our job is farming with family. You know, I farm with my dad and my brother and his brother and my grandpa. And we all have, you know, Sunday lunch, Christmas dinner, but we’re also all business partners. And that can be really stressful on a family, and I don’t know that my wife really understood that. The same with the time commitment. You know, there’s grain that needs to be harvested and cattle that need to be checked and that essentially affects our bottom line, that if we don’t go and take care of those animals or don’t go take care of those crops at timely, even if it’s on the weekend whenever the rest of our friends are going on vacation or going to the movies, going to the ballgames, you know, we’re, we’ve got to go take care of our, our business. And a good story on that is, when my wife and I were dating, her family asked, they said, “Well, don’t you ever take a day off?” And she said, “Take a day off? They work on Christmas.” And so we, you know, there’s just times there that the farm calls.

Marty: It’s tough to schedule a vacation. You know you mentioned that. We schedule our vacations around rain. If it rains one night, we’re ready to go. We don’t make hotel reservations. We go on vacation. One thing that’s different between Mason and I, I was a horrible employee. I tried to work outside of the farm for a, six months. And I had a hard time going to work at 8 and shutting off everything. I’m not saying you shut it off, but it’s hard to shut off and work another job, and you’re worried about what is happening on the farm and your assets out there and what is going on. So I admire Mason. He’s able to get up, go to work, shut it off for five, six hours, eight hours, and then go back to it. And that would be tough. That’s why I chose to get out of that and stick with the farm.

Rob: Well, gentlemen, I certainly appreciate what you do. And I appreciate both your insights. Thank you so much.

Thank you; you bet.

Rob McClendon: Well, you can keep up with us throughout the week. Just head to, where you can see more of any of our stories, read our reporters’ behind the scenes blogs, see what others are saying about us on Twitter and fact the facts with our regular updates. So reach out and touch us anywhere and anytime.

Rob McClendon: Well, females make up a very small percentage of the construction trades. Yet there are those whose career pathway are taking that road less traveled. Joining me now is our Alisa Hines.

Alisa Hines: That’s right, Rob. For women going into a career like construction, or welding, it’s a nontraditional field to say the least. But for those who do, it’s a road they can’t wait to travel down. Pulling up in a truck she rebuilt with her dad, Cheyenne Bailey is a girl who does things a little differently, including her choice of career, which her mom blames on her dad.

Cheyenne Bailey: Well, my dad taught me everything that I know. He’s the reason that I’m here at Kiamichi and trying to get my welding certificate. And I think after I finish here I’m going to go weld for him for a little bit and see where that takes me.

Alisa: And don’t even think about telling her she can’t do it.

Cheyenne: Everyone always tells me, you know, you’re a girl. You can’t weld, or you shouldn’t do this, or you can’t do that. But I do my best to prove them wrong.

Alisa: And it’s that kind of attitude that keeps her doing what she loves, welding.

Cheyenne: You get to build stuff. I mean, if I want to build a deer stand or build a gun rack or something, a rack for the four-wheeler, you can do anything with it. You can build anything. If you can think it, you can build it. And with welding it’s just like you know the possibilities are endless, because if you’ve got metal you can make whatever you want.

Alisa: Now, her welding instructor, Dennis Thomas, says Cheyenne is definitely a go-getter and success is in her future.

Dennis Thomas: She does not hesitate a lick. I mean, she’s always very attentive in class, she’s very attentive out in the shop, and she never really has a dull moment. I think the future is going to be very bright for her. I think I can probably see Cheyenne welding in the trades a couple of years, going on to college and then probably going to a higher level, maybe construction management. I would like to see her go into welding engineering.

Alisa: But Cheyenne is not alone. At Tri-County Tech Center in Bartlesville, welding instructor Scott Sutherland says females are an important part of his class.

Scott Sutherland: We actually recruit in a lot of different places around. And, you know, I don’t, I have three daughters myself so I try and encourage the girls to go out there and do that kind of stuff. Actually girls make better welders than boys anyhow.

Alisa: And for student Monica Wiersig, another female is one of the reasons she’s taking Scott’s class.

Monica Wiersig: I’m a single mom, and one of the only single moms that I knew growing up was a welder. And she started that back in the 1980s. And I met him, and we hit it off, great friends, and they went all over the world. He knows seven different languages, and I wanted the same opportunity for my son. So when I got the opportunity to come to school, welding was an option, and that’s what I chose.

Alisa: While Monica likes all aspects of welding, what really appeals to her is the ability to show off her mastery of the craft.

Monica: It’s very creative. It’s all your own technique and what you take from it. In the end it all ends up the same, it’s all weld. But it lets you be you and kind of show your own artistic ability in it.

Alisa: And when you ask Monica where she would like to go in the future.

Monica: Anywhere and everywhere. Wherever it will take me. I want to travel, be it in the United States or outside of the United States, all over the world. I just want to travel and see what everything is out there to do.

Alisa: So don’t stand in the way of these girls because they are on fire to do what they love. Now, Cheyenne recently won the Breaking Traditions Award at the 2013 SkillsUSA convention. And incidentally, Rob, she is also a volunteer firefighter and sometimes rides along with an EMS team. And she likes it so much that right now it’s a toss-up between volunteer firefighting and welding.

Rob: So how much can someone coming out of a welding program like this, how much can they expect to earn?

Alisa: Well, it really depends on the job. But they can earn anywhere between $18 and $30 an hour. And currently welders are in high demand.

Rob: They certainly are. Thank you so much, Alisa.

Alisa: You’re welcome, Rob.

Rob McClendon: Educational outcomes are a growing concern in the state. Next time on “Oklahoma Horizon,” we meet some Oklahomans who believe our focus in the classroom could be misplaced.

We get tremendous success. Those stories, again get pushed down because all we’re focused on is math and reading scores and how that affects the A to F report card.

Rob: Educational success stories on Oklahoma’s show for the heartland, “Oklahoma Horizon.”

Rob: Looks like we are out of time. I am Rob McClendon. Thanks for watching. See you back here next week.