Farm leadership moves to next generation
By Larry Dreiling
Reading stories of farm operations progressing from one generation to another is nothing new. To see generational change in farm leadership--to see new generations take on work in farm organizations--is a little more rare.
Nick Midcap and his father, Jack, of Morgan County, Colo., are a case in point.
As Jack Midcap was chairman of the Colorado Wheat Administrative Committee in 1984-85, Nick is now serving as the immediate past president of the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers.
The Midcaps, along with Jack's brothers, Mike and Wayne, farm about 8,000 acres. About 3,000 acres are under the family's direct management. The key to having four people farm all that land is a long-standing policy of using no-till production techniques.
"Nick's just the first of the next generation so far," Jack Midcap said. "If we farmed the old-fashioned way, there's no way there would be the three of us farming this, let alone Nick."
The Midcaps have been no-tillers for over 20 years. They say they never cease to be amazed at how good their soil structure is, even in the driest of seasons.
"We have some ground that's almost 100 percent clay. It's really dark soil, almost black," Jack Midcap said. "When we farmed it conventionally, it was the kind of ground that in the morning it was too wet and in the afternoon it was too dry.
"When you planted it, you could never, never get the wheat up because, when you opened the ground, it would get so dry. You'd planted it and hoped you'd get a crop. Now, there's always moisture and it's so productive."
As any no-till proponent might say, the structure of the Midcap farm's soil has radically changed.
"You would not believe how many earthworms we now have in our ground," Jack Midcap said. "It's unreal.
"It's amazing how some people have adopted this and some haven't. There are those who don't want to learn and change. It's expensive to change but, in the long run, it's worth it."
The Midcaps recall when they first tried no-till in 1988, experimenting with a patch of ground tucked far beyond any country road.
"We tried it in a patch so only one neighbor would see it. I'm sure he talked to other people about it," Jack Midcap said. "I can't even remember what chemicals we used back then, because this was pre-Roundup. Along came Roundup, though, and, boy, we jumped on that immediately."
The long-standing no-till operation has paid off in many ways, especially in years such as the drought-plagued 2007-08 growing season. The drought season quickly turned into a wet season, when Midcap's farm went from being 10 inches behind average moisture in July to up to 8 inches above average by the end of August.
This created a bit of a trial for the Midcaps with their millet crop they raise for birdseed.
"We weren't expecting to harvest any millet on Aug. 1, it was so dry," Nick Midcap said. "The rains came three weeks late. We usually try to harvest our millet after we're done with wheat planting. The millet was still wet and wouldn't dry down. We couldn't lose a point of moisture, even in 80-degree weather. So we had to lay it all down with a windrower, then pick it up.
"We then got somewhere between 35 and 40 bushels. It has its share of nine lives, just like wheat, I guess. On a farm we manage east of here, we all but wrote off the crop. It was averaging 50 bushels. It's amazing how tough that millet crop is."
No-till played a role in the consideration of waiting two weeks for some sort of drydown to windrow the Midcaps' millet crop,
"In our decision not to lay it down we cost ourselves two weeks to get the work done," Nick Midcap said. "The reason we waited was we wanted to save the stubble. Stubble is important. Thankfully, the crop turned out a lot better than we thought. We had yields up to the 50s down to nothing.
"We didn't finish the second week of October and we had to fight a storm that put snow on the windrows. It just kind of drug on, but we finally finished. We've also had decent snow in December, which brought everything up nicely. Any blowing snow was caught by the stubble in the fields."
This bit of excitement is accentuated by the Midcaps' emphasis in creating a diverse operation. They raise certified wheat seed, cleaning it themselves. They also clean millet seed at wholesale to birdseed retailers and to exporters.
"All these different things really help out in being profitable," Nick Midcap said. "I guess you can say we've vertically integrated as much as we can."
A voice that counts
The leading approach to production extends to the Midcaps' leading role in the wheat industry. Colorado, with its early and successful approach to agency integration, has become a model to other states looking to be more responsive to growers who support those agencies.
"We're smaller than many other wheat states (Colorado usually ranks eighth among U.S. states in wheat production.), so we have to be progressive. It seems to work," Nick Midcap said. "We continually have to work at it. There are fewer people showing up for meetings. There's less and less time for people to show up for meetings. It's hard."
Jack Midcap adds: "I think that there are a lot of people who don't think their voice counts. A lot of it is just apathy."
The elder Midcap recalls when he served on CWAC and was able to make direct contact with legislators in Washington.
"We had (current University of Colorado leadership professor) Hank Brown in Congress at the time. He was a wonderful congressman. I think the world of him. One Friday, we found ourselves flying back to Colorado on the same plane. He tells me, 'Hey, Jack. Let's sit together on the plane.' That was really great, to have that kind of direct contact," Jack Midcap said.
Sign the survey
Meanwhile, the younger Midcap reminds wheat producers across the country to answer a petition survey, commissioned by the National Association of Wheat Growers to gauge grower support for biotech trait commercialization in wheat, that has hit mailboxes around the country.
The survey is targeted at producers who have at least 500 acres of wheat and at least 1,000 total acres in production. Growers receiving the mailing will get a packet containing a cover letter, a copy of petition language and a response card they should mail back as soon as possible. The response card asks if the grower agrees or disagrees with the petition language.
"NAWG is trying to measure the depth and breadth of support for biotechnology among wheat producers," Nick Midcap said. "It is intended to help answer a question posed to NAWG by private technology developers: "Do producers want the choice of biotech tools in the wheat variety toolbox and will they do what is necessary to obtain that access?"
NAWG officials say U.S. wheat acreage has been on a steady decline for the past 30 years as other crops that have access to biotech traits are now competing for producer interest and delivering greater returns. NAWG and many other groups in the "wheat chain" believe biotechnology will be a key component in the future competitiveness of wheat as a crop by providing a variety of agronomic and, eventually, consumer advantages.
Nick Midcap said producers can learn more about the mailing by accessing NAWG's biotechnology Web page at: http://www.wheatworld.org/html/info.cfm?ID=21
"I'm all for biotechnology," Nick Midcap said. "We are falling so behind on acreage producing wheat and on yields, compared with other crops in the last few years. We need every advantage that corn and soybean guys have. Let's move forward and get it done."
Larry Dreiling can be reached by phone at 785-628-1117, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.