Auction marks the passing of time

The traffic flowing from Lacona, a sleepy town in southern Iowa was unmistakable. Silverados, F-150s and super duty trucks followed each other east out of town in an ad hoc parade of farm trucks.

Two miles east, one mile north and a quarter mile west revealed their destination. It was a farmstead on a ridge overlooking a scenic valley with frozen farmland stretching into the distance. A man directing traffic directed drivers to park in the field and then head to the barn. Snowfall the night before yielding several inches of powder was cleared from the field. Now, nearly 70 trucks were parked adjacent to three parallel lines of assorted implements.

Men look over tractors before the auctioneer sells them to the highest bidder.

Men look over tractors before the auctioneer sells them to the highest bidder.

A short walk from the trucks to the barn revealed the unmistakable sound of an auctioneer. He rattled off numbers in a cadence that could be mistaken for a song. It was auction day and a large crowd had turned out to find deals, visit with neighbors and pay tribute to a lost friend.

Farm auctions are part of the tapestry of Iowa. According to the National Auctioneer Association, they date back to the 1600s and the arrival of the Pilgrims on America's eastern shores. Auction schools came to the United States in the early 1900s. And for farmers who persevered through the 1980s Farm Crisis, auctions occurred frequently, an oratory reminder of broken dreams and tough times for families next door.

Now, on a chilly February day, bidders flashed their numbers as the auctioneer went from hay rack to hay rack selling extension cords, boxes of bolts and even chainsaws. The warmth of the machine shed provided temporary comfort from the cold before the crowd moved to the frozen pasture for the big-ticket items.

Like some auctions, a heavy feeling hung in the air. While people searched for deals and community members and neighbors visited, it was unmistakable that the gathering was predicated on pain of others.

Change is at the root of every auction. Whether it was a retirement, a bankruptcy or a death, farm sales can be associated with broken dreams and the march of time. Today's auction fit the bill. A conversation between neighbors revealed that the owner had committed suicide.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), suicide was the 10th leading cause of death for all ages in 2013. The CDC also noted that males take their own lives at nearly four times the rate of females and represent 77.9 recent of all suicides. Suicide can have lasting harmful effects on individuals, families and communities.

The reasons behind suicide aren't always clear but depression is often at the forefront. Downward economic pressure in the farm economy paired with tight margins in farming can lead to depression for farmers.

To help farmers deal with depression and stress Iowans can call the ISU Extension and Outreach Iowa Concern Hotline, (800)-447-1985. The Iowa Concern website has a live chat feature as an additional way to talk with stress counselors. Agencies and professionals serving individuals and families can contact local ISU Extension and Outreach offices about Iowa Concern hotline number business cards available for distribution.

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As the last items were sold and the auctioneer's voice fell silent the parade of trucks dispersed across the frozen countryside. As one farmer said; auctions are a sweet and sour time where farmers put portions of their life's work up to the highest bidder.

Picture Iowa - Seasons greetings from Winterset

A fresh blanket of snow covers the sidewalks and garland lining a wooden fence near the Winterset town square the day before Christmas. Many Iowan's had a white Christmas after a light storm moved across the state dropping an inch to two-inches of snow. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

A fresh blanket of snow covers the sidewalks and garland lining a wooden fence near the Winterset town square the day before Christmas. Many Iowan's had a white Christmas after a light storm moved across the state dropping an inch to two-inches of snow. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

Moon farmstead

You never know what you will find as you travel through Iowa. Last week on the way to an early meeting I stopped to take photos as the moon made its descent behind a farm house near Granger. Nothing like watching the sun rise in the east and the moon slowly disappear in the west.

A full moon retires into the horizon as the sun rises on a winter day near Granger, Iowa.

A full moon retires into the horizon as the sun rises on a winter day near Granger, Iowa.

Moving Day

By Joseph L. Murphy

Tim Kaldenburg feeds cattle from the back of his truck during his morning chores. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

Tim Kaldenburg feeds cattle from the back of his truck during his morning chores. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

Moving day. If you are like me, a slight chill just made its way up your back just thinking about the word moving. There aren’t too many things in life that are more traumatic. You have to pack all of your possessions, leave a comfortable place and then lug everything to a new space that holds new challenges. I’ve been thinking about moving a lot lately. Two years ago, we packed up our home and moved the family 27.8 miles (I know the exact distance because it didn’t qualify for an IRS tax deduction) to a new home and town. I’m also preparing to help move my mom from my childhood home in Forest City to a new place in central Iowa. In both cases, moving brings with it planning and hard work.

It was no different when I visited a friend last week while he happened to be moving. I didn’t know that’s what he was doing at the time or I would’ve conveniently been “busy” during the move.

You know how it is. Getting drafted into helping a buddy move to a new place somewhere. It seemed like the years surrounding college, I was always helping to move friends across campus. It always seemed like it was up three stories and the elevator didn’t work. Back in those days, the only reward for moving was several cold beverages, a backache and maybe some funny stories.

This move was not typical for me by any means. Not just because my friend has to do it annually, but because it holds an importance every time he does it.

For Tim Kaldenberg, an Iowa Soybean Association member and farmer from Albia, moving day means ushering his herd of 19 heifers and 40 cows through snow-covered pastures back to his farm. This move, like many traditional moves, has plenty of logistical challenges that can only be solved through hard work.

With good weather in the forecast and me in the copilot chair, we set out in his farm truck several miles down a blacktop. While we traveled, we talked about our families and plans for warm escapes from Iowa’s icy plains. When we arrived at the pasture, Kaldenberg stepped out of the truck, opened the gate and jumped back in. It was go time for the move and, with a fluid motion of his arm, he shifted the truck into four-wheel drive while plowing through a snow drift.

“Here cow, hey cow!” Kaldenberg yelled with his head out the window.

His secret weapon for this move was a payload of fresh, wet corn gluten feed. He leaned towards me, almost like he was about to tell me a secret, and said it was like candy to the cattle so he was sure they would follow.

As the truck sped up, Kaldenberg confidently kept breaking through small drifts and deep snow while a chain of cattle followed at a gallop. It was an amazing sight to see with the powdered snow forming a white trail behind them.

After crossing every pasture, we had to get out of the truck and open gates and assess the progress. That gave the cattle the opportunity to grab a snack before the truck sped away again. I found myself just as nervous as Tim was at times. He was nervous about the cattle following and I was nervous about getting stuck in a pasture miles away from a hard-surfaced road.

Tim Kaldenberg opens a gate to prepare for the move. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

Tim Kaldenberg opens a gate to prepare for the move. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

After close to two miles of drift busting and prayers that the cattle wouldn’t stray from the move we finally made it to the last gate.

“I woke up and knew today would be a good day to do this,” Kaldenberg said. “Sometimes you get a feeling that it’s a good time to work with them.”

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The move was over and we both looked at each other and smiled as the gate was closed. The heifers were in place to begin calving season. I went on my way back to Des Moines knowing that I was involved with an important part of Kaldenberg’s farm. I also knew that once calving season begins for him, it will be several months of working around the clock to make sure the heifers, cows and their calves are healthy regardless of the weather conditions.

That was a move for the ages and one that I would gladly sign up for again.

Originally published for the Iowa Soybean Association. Find more great stories at: www.iasoybeans.com/news

Drought conditions persist in Iowa

By Joseph L. Murphy

Iowa has seen its share of snow over the past 10 days. That snow has snarled traffic, stopped commerce and caused headaches across the state. One thing it hasn’t done according to weather experts is help with the drought.

The stream that flows under the Cedar Bridge near Winterset has been at a trickle for a majority of the summer. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

The stream that flows under the Cedar Bridge near Winterset has been at a trickle for a majority of the summer. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

Looking at precipitation amounts across the state and comparing it to the most recent USDA drought monitor, you can see a trend that confirms areas of the state are still in a dry pattern. One of the hardest hit areas according to precipitation data is Northwest Iowa.

“Although this winter’s precipitation has been near or even above normal across the southeast half of Iowa, conditions have remained below normal across the northwest half of the state. There are no significant indications that Iowa’s drought–especially across northwest portions of the state–will end in the coming spring months,” said Jeff Zogg, Senior Hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Des Moines.

Even though much of the state has received near normal snowfall this winter, a significant impact on the dryness is not expected due to the snowfall alone because of the snow’s relatively low water content. “To make a significant impact on the drought, we need several months of near to above normal rainfall beginning with this spring season,” Zogg added.

Mike VerSteeg, a farmer from Inwood is experiencing the drought in northwest Iowa first-hand. He has watched storms pass to the north and south of his farm with only small amounts of rain and snow falling in his area.

“We’re right on the edge,” VerSteeg said. “It makes a guy nervous going into this year with depleted subsoil moisture. We’ve had some snow and rain over the past month, but the problem is the ground is frozen, so it is all ending up in the creeks. I wish there was a way to keep some of it for spring.”

VerSteeg was happy with the performance of his crops considering the lack of rain last year. He recorded an average soybean harvest and slightly below average corn harvest. Looking forward, he plans on planting the same or slightly higher populations on his no-till and strip-till crop ground, while being hopeful that the moisture comes.

“If you plan for a drought, you’re going to get a drought,” VerSteeg said. “We’ll keep things the same and pray it rains.”