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NOVEMBER 4, 2020

A Special Supplement to

2 | Farm & Ranch • Wednesday, November 4, 2020

A Day in the Life of a Ditch Tender

By Anna Genasci


he Agriculture Industry in Stanislaus County is strong, but it truly takes a village. We often think about the farmer, the pest control advisor, and perhaps the mechanic, but what about the dedicated folks who bring you the water? Affectionately referred to as ditch tenders, although their official titles are much more technical, they keep the water moving through our county’s complex canal system. I had the pleasure of spending a morning with Mike Ayers, who has been working for Oakdale Irrigation District (OID) for the past 17 years. According to Mike, being a ditch tender is a “good job,” that has come with a lot of changes in the past few years. While the term, ditch tenders implies spending all day along the canals, Mike spends a lot of his day planning, recording information in databases and calling customers. While some information is still captured in Mike’s “water bible,” he utilizes an iPad for a lot of his work. Mike, along with his OID counterparts, uses a program called STORM. STORM is a program that serves as a customer database to track water usage for planning and billing purposes. “The technology is great when it works,” teased Mike. The other program commonly used controls the Rubicon technology that OID has begun to implement. The Rubicon system allows ditch tenders to operate water gates remotely and saves water. “I can spend up to three hours a day in that system, it allows me to manage our turnouts effectively,” said Mike. With the improvements OID has made over the last several years Mike explained how changes to water allotments used to take 10 hours to adjust, but now with the Rubicon system and the second reservoir, he can respond and make changes in a timely manner. OID’s system is broken into 8 divisions. Mike is a Lead, and has worked in almost all of the divisions. And, while so much of his job calls for him to plan for the next day’s water usage, Mike still finds himself doing some daily task that keep the water running smoothly, like removing debris from grates. Mike works a 12-hour day, 7 days on 7 days off. In order for this schedule to be successful, Mike and the

other ditch tenders have to communicate with each other about when water needs to be turned on, off, and what customers have been notified. Mike’s division has about 300 water customers. The Oakdale District is diverse in its commodities and thus requires different timing of water. “The pasture customers get water for a set block of time, while the tree guys call for water when they need it,” noted Mike. Each division is unique explained Mike, “some divisions you can literally drive the entire canal,” but in Mike’s case, where his division begins near Knights Ferry, the canals meander through rolling hills. May through August, Mike is really busy; this time of year the water usage slows down, and then eventually shuts down until spring. “During our busy season I am running 360 acre feet of water, right now I am down to 160 acre feet of water,” said Mike. When water isn’t running in the canals, the ditch tenders work on maintenance and improvement projects. Mike said he enjoys building new structures that help things run smoothly for the next season. As our morning was wrapping up, I asked Mike, what type of skills should a new ditch tender have? Mike replied, “This job has gotten more technical, so understanding computers is a must, and a background in agriculture and construction is helpful.” I recently was in a meeting where Steve Knell, General Manager for OID, mentioned a historic job posting that required ditch tenders to have a shovel and two mules … a lot has changed since then. Mike went on to explain, that most ditch tenders start with a night shift, so their responsibilities are just to manage the water, then slowly they add the task of the scheduling. I asked Mike what do you love most about your job, “I like the days that are hectic, where something might go wrong and I have to figure out how to fix it.” Mike lives in Turlock with his wife, they have two daughters. Mike said he hopes to work for OID until retirement, and then spend more time hunting, fishing and barbequing. Thank you to Mike and OID for your time and dedication to agriculture in this county.

Stanislaus County Farm Bureau

Farm & Ranch • Wednesday, November 4, 2020 | 3


or the last year I have strolled into downtown Modesto for my weekly “Rodin,” fix. You may recognize the name, Rodin Farms has had a fruit stand on the corner of Oakdale and Claribel for nearly 30 years. But, about five years ago Marie Rodin decided to take her love for farmer’s markets to the next level. A brick and mortar establishment in downtown Modesto. Marie and her family had been doing several farmers markets, taking their fresh fruit and homemade wares to nearly a dozen farmer’s markets a week. And now, you can find all their yummy creations downtown. “At first I thought this place would really be about selling our gift baskets, but it is our snacks that have become so popular,” shared Marie.

Marie and her creative employees offer not only ripe, seasonal fruit, but also several fresh, homemade grab-and-go options. Here are just a few of the yummy options, I feel confident in saying yummy, as I have never had anything there I didn’t like. • Homemade lemonade with fresh fruit garnish • Fruit infused waters • Fruit salad, including special custom orders for holidays • Coffee drinks • Salads with homemade dressings, my favorite is the spinach with strawberries • Almond butters • Dried fruit and veggies • Chocolate covered nuts and more …


Beekeeping Supplies • HFCS 55 / Bee 50 Protein sub • Pollination Services Nucs / Queens • Boxes / Frames / Feeders

Most of what Marie and her team sell comes straight from the farm each morning, prepared in the kitchen behind the counter and served with a smile. The items in the store that Marie doesn’t make, she sources locally. “Downtown Modesto has been very supportive so I try and support local vendors too,” smiled Marie. While chatting with Marie, several customers came in and out of the store. It is clear that Marie and her team are a big part of why patrons visit. It is quite obvious that Marie loves what she does and greets everyone with a genuine smile. “I love seeing my regular customers, I get to meet a lot of people doing this job. I will do this forever – I get to be creative,” shared Marie. And it is evident that there are some regulars, the playful banter across the counter is pretty good evidence. I asked Marie and her employee Vanessa, what is your favorite thing from the store. Without hesitation, Vanessa

replied, “Marie!” It is a lovely testament to the fun, creative, hardworking culture inside the walls of Rodin. Vanessa, followed up her statement with, “don’t let Marie fool you, she works 12-hour days to make all this happen.” More than once Marie gave credit to her “really good employees,” and her mom, Francy, who often comes in to help. While customers popped in for their favorite snacks I asked, why do you visit Rodin? Everyone’s response was the same, good snacks and love supporting local businesses. I think Rodin has found their niche. While sipping my fresh strawberrylemonade, Marie offered me one during the course of our interview, I asked Marie, what does the future hold for her charming corner market? “I see us expanding the grab-and-go items, more fresh fruit juices and I would love to do custom order veggie trays.”

Rodin is open Monday thru Friday, 8am to 6pm and Saturday from 10am to 6pm.

1872 Ackley Circle, Oakdale, CA • (209)627-8114

Drop by, pick up a lemonade and a fresh salad with homemade dressing. Or try Marie’s favorite, honey-roasted almond butter and green-bean-chips!

4 | Farm & Ranch • Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Making Money with a Hobby Farm A

full-time farming operation isn’t the right move for many Americans with limited space or capital. Starting a hobby project, however, can help familiarize someone with the industry and lead to a profitable venture. Whether you decide to harvest fruits and vegetables or raise animals, this part-time journey may eventually lead to an even more prosperous opportunity. For those interested in growing foods but are hesitant because of a lack of land, consider investing in a hydroponic setup. The Sustainable Food Trust says that using this method means plants are grown in water or an inorganic fabricated substrate. When searching for a building to house your hobby farm, look for places that offer natural light or low ceilings to hang lighting devices. Here are some other small investments you can make that can create a handsome secondary income.

Raise Chickens Your livestock farm doesn’t have to include expensive cattle or other large animals. Consider getting started with a smaller creature like broiler chickens. According to the experts at Hobby Farms, these chicks are typically ready for market in as little as six to nine weeks. The quick turnaround can be compared to the longer timeframe of egg-laying hens, which usually require about nine months before they’re ready for sale. The broiler chicken breed also takes up little room and can be raised on the pasture or small land area. The quickest way to get started is by buying chicks. If they’re unavailable, consider incubating them from an egg. One thing to keep in mind is that the small birds quickly become prey to cats or coyotes. When possible, try to invest in a sturdy coop to keep predators away.

Grow Flowers A greenhouse or properly prepared bed can be a high growing ground for beautiful flowers. Ask an expert at your local nursery for plants that are in demand in your area and grow heartily in your location. With a little practice and a green thumb, bring your harvest to a farmer’s market or market to your region’s bouquet shops. Use your return on investment to purchase more bulbs and an exotic variety of blooms.

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Farm & Ranch • Wednesday, November 4, 2020 | 5

Evaluating a Land Purchase W

hether you’re a seasoned farmer or just breaking into the industry, deciding to invest in land is a serious decision. Choosing the wrong plot or buying at an inopportune time can cripple your operation going forward. Find out what to look for in the market and how to get the best deal when considering extending your farmland. When you don’t have the liquid capital to make a purchase of land in cash, governmental programs offer exceptional benefits for farmers. Consider applying for an FSA Direct Farm Ownership loan. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, this opportunity offers up to 100% financing for: • Enlarging family farms. • Improving or expanding operations. • Increasing agricultural productivity. • Assisting with land tenure to save farmland for future generations. You can find out more information by visiting with a Farm Loan Program staff

member at your local lending institution. Finding Farmland After you have financial backing, finding suitable farmland is another significant decision. The Noble Research Institute suggests that farmers analyze factors like soil conditions, irrigation availability, the local climate and location before purchasing a plot of land. Form a thorough strategy to decide how much ground you require and the steps to make it profitable. Take inventory of your equipment to determine if a more significant operation will need more expensive machines to maintain, as they can be a considerable investment. Buying the Land Much like most property transactions, you should be prepared to negotiate when finding the best value. You may consider hiring a real estate agent proficient in agricultural deals to give yourself an advantage. Once you have a few pieces of land in mind, buyers often benefit from obtaining


a property boundary survey. An expert will ensure that the seller’s potential investment is legally owned to avoid problems with competing farmers in the area. Ensuring the boundaries are ironclad alleviates the risk of adverse possession. This legality is common in


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farming and means that if the land is occupied, effectively use and controlled by someone without ownership, that the law will eventually consider them to be the owner. While an attorney can help resolve the issue, the costs can be a burden during an investment.

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6 | Farm & Ranch • Wednesday, November 4, 2020

HOW TO SUPPORT local agriculture T

this fall

he global pandemic that has upended daily life has exacted a toll on many industries. Businesses have been asked to close or temporarily scale back operations, while organizers of recreational gatherings have been tasked with reevaluating the practicality and safety of annual events. Throughout the United States and Canada, autumn fairs, exhibitions and activities provide revenue for many people. But due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, many of these annual events have been postponed, adversely affecting local agricultural industries as a result. Governments in certain places have responded to the cancellations and offered assistance to local farmers and agricultural industries. For example, the Province of Ontario is providing nearly $1 million to assist organizations that had to cancel fall events due to the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to supporting such efforts, the general public can pitch in to help offset some of the financial losses accrued by local farms.

• Check for virtual events. Some fall fairs or livestock events have been moved to the digital realm. That means competitors who were entering livestock or even home crafts into competitions can still participate. Organizers may ask for videos or photos of entries and then a committee will vote on the winners. This is one way to keep entry fees and even cash prizes moving along. • Support local farms or orchards. Fall is harvest season in many areas, making this a popular time of year to visit nearby farms and to purchase fruits and vegetables directly from the source. Many farms have implemented safety protocols that align with COVID-19 health recommendations to safely welcome visitors. Things may look a little differently at orchards and farms, but smaller crowds and wearing masks should not compromise the fun of picking your own foods. • Explore farm-to-table. Private individuals as well as restaurant

owners can develop relationships with area agriculture producers to increase the availability of farm-to-table offerings. Restaurants can revamp menus to include a greater share of items sourced from nearby farms. Individuals also can rely on produce stands and farmers’ markets to stock their pantries. Some farms may offer delivery and mail-order as well. • Offer financial services. Financial advisors can help farmers who are struggling with finances work through their options. Institutions may be able to

extend the terms of loan repayments, refinance loans, restructure debt, or get credit extensions. Lower interest rates have created some new opportunities farmers may not be aware of. Financial advisors can help farmers navigate an uncertain financial time. Farmers and agricultural organizations are facing greater challenges as fall fairs and other events are being canceled. The public can support agriculture in different ways to offset the financial losses stemming from the pandemic.

Farm & Ranch • Wednesday, November 4, 2020 | 7

Keeping Busy after Harvest A

fter working through the blistering heat of summer, many farming operations benefit as autumn rolls in. The cooler temperatures offer a more comfortable environment to complete the tasks you may have put off. Not only are the fall-time months important for making outdoor tasks more tolerable, but they are critical to knocking some administrative tasks off your list, as well. Take advantage of the fall temperatures to promote maximum productivity for your operation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost all heatrelated deaths occur between May and September. Consider clearing heavy areas of brush or trimming trees growing over your home or farm structures as fall brings cooler weather. Maintaining Equipment According to the Western Illinois University School of Agriculture, late September to early December is when farmers see the growing season’s reward. The autumn months are also an excellent

time to service machinery before it sits dormant throughout the winter, as the maintenance you do now can prevent bigger issues down the road. With the busy harvest season at bay, it’s beneficial to use your extra time making repairs to equipment that failed and was put aside. If you’re knowledgeable about the unit, use troubleshooting methods to find the issue and resolve it. However, when the repair is too far from your comfort zone, don’t hesitate to hire an agricultural mechanic. Finding a seasoned expert during the autumn is typically easy, as their busy season is coming to an end. Look for Networking Opportunities Farmers will benefit from attending conventions and agriculture meetings in the local area. Experts provide educated predictions of market trends, pricing structures and offer financial assistance information. Absorb the keynote speakers who are tasked with giving advice and discussing oncoming problems throughout the industry. It’s

also imperative to network with your peers, review local problems, and brainstorm how to overcome them. Enjoy Your Free Time The role of a farmer is excruciatingly

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challenging throughout the year. Don’t forget to take a break and enjoy yourself. Reconnect with family and friends, take a relaxing vacation or spend some time indulging in your favorite hobby.

8 | Farm & Ranch • Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Must-Have Equipment


fter a successful harvest, farmers use a portion of their profits to enhance their equipment inventory. When considering new machines or implements to invest in, consider your needs and struggles you noticed in the past. Could you use help in harvesting quicker, or would you benefit from planting at a faster pace? The needs for farmers will vary dramatically depending on the type of operation and its size. Fortunately, for smaller farms, there is beneficial equipment available that’s scaled to meet small - scale agriculture projects’ needs. UTV A UTV or ATV makes traveling around tough terrain seamless and is more costefficient than driving a full-size pickup. While you may not have the same cargo space, these lightweight vehicles are exceptional for analyzing your fence perimeter, tending to distant crops and checking in on livestock. Consider a vehicle with a sizable cargo box so you can bring along the tools you need to complete jobs. Some may be equipped with a hitch that couples to a wagon or trailer for more room.

Compact Tractor Suppose your farm requires more heavy-duty equipment than a UTV but isn’t extensive enough to compensate for a large tractor’s investment. In that case, a compact machine can be an excellent fit. Find one equipped with a quick hitch on the front and rear to accept multiple Category One implements. With a compact tractor, you can attach things like front buckets, mowing blades, a mulch finisher or aerator to enhance your performance and profitability. Post-Hole Digger You will need to repair fence posts while tending to your farm. Whether livestock or weather cause the damage, a post-hole digger takes care of the back-breaking labor. A post-hole digger is also a great companion for odd jobs around the property like building a pole barn, deck or shed as your equipment expands. While you can typically borrow this equipment from a local rental outlet, ensuring one is on hand is great for quick fixes and to avoid an animal escaping due to a downed fence.

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10 | Farm & Ranch • Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Cattle and the Environment R

anchers across America manage profitable operations where wildlife and livestock co-exist. Those in charge of ensuring that the land is suitable for growth face challenges from an everchanging environment. As the property is managed for longterm success, the local climate receives exceptional positive effects. If you have a cattle or dude ranch in your area, try to support their future growth. One way owners supplement their income is by incorporating a unique agritourism program. The public is welcome to tour the property or partake in numerous activities like horseback riding, winery visits or an ultimate camping experience. Consider contributing to your local economy by taking a unique family vacation at the ranch or making financial donations. With community support, ranchers can continue their efforts to enhance their operations and impact the ecosystem’s health. Cattle’s Impact Those who raise cattle on their pastures must participate in numerous

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environmental practices to remain successful. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association offers these benefits of ranching: • Conducting soil samples. • Rotation grazing. • Water management systems.

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• Conservation tillage. • Planting trees. While caring for their livestock, ranchers positively impact the surrounding wildlife populations on private and public land. It is shown that their contributions to water improvement, and individual pastures

and feed supplies directly increase the big game population on federal property. Carbon Sequestration Numerous practices required to run a farm or ranch efficiently can lead to the release of dangerous greenhouse gases. According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, agriculture operations are responsible for 11% of global emissions. Effectively managed ranches are efficient in limiting the severity by practicing carbon sequestration. Carbon sequestration is defined as the long-term capture and storage of carbon from the atmosphere, typically as carbon dioxide. Experts at the Ohio State University’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources suggest that the number of cattle grazed per acre, fertilization and prior land use will affect how much carbon is stored. Ranchers use rotational grazing methods to ensure their beef is fully grassfed while promoting positive conditions in the soil.

Farm & Ranch • Wednesday, November 4, 2020 | 11

Sustainable Ranching W

hen it comes to protecting our wildlife while also incentivizing farmers to engage in more sustainable farming practices, there are many organizations focused on making a difference. The World Wildlife Fund is one such group, as it developed the Sustainable Ranching Initiative in 2011. But what is this initiative and how does it specifically help our ranchers and farmers in their daily work lives? The versatile project works with landowners, corporations, governmental agencies and industry groups to protect native grasslands. One of the primary benefactors is private ranchers who preserve open space and wildlife habitats. The Northern Great Plains — a region spanning more than 180 million acres, five states and two Canadian provinces — is one of four remaining temperate grasslands globally. The WWF states that more than 94 million of these acres are privately managed and necessary for the re-emergence of bird species in a steep decline. Ensuring these grasslands are managed properly promotes cleaner streams, less fertilizer runoff, more plant pollinators and carbon in the soil. Check out how the relationship between the Sustainable Ranching Initiative and American ranchers is impacting the preservation and recovery of grasslands.

1. The WWF’s goal is to reach no net loss of grasslands through restoration and decreased plow-up. 2. In 2014, the Great Plains lost more acres to conversion than the Brazilian Amazon. 3. Between 2009-2015, plow-ups resulted in 3.2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions being released into the atmosphere. This is the equivalent of 670 million extra cars on the road. 4. Trillions of gallons of water are filtered through the plains, providing drinking sources for millions of people and supporting healthy fisheries. 5. Each unplowed acre of water in the Great Plains can store thousands of gallons of water. 6. Pollinators are responsible for one out of every three bites of food that is produced. 7. One of four species of the North American bumble bees is at risk for extinction. 8. Nearly 6,000 acres of potential Monarch and pollinator habitat is lost each day in the United States due to development. 9. Grassland songbirds have declined 80% since the 1960s, primarily due to habitat loss. 10. Between 2014-2015, the Great Plains lost 3.7 million acres to conversion.

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12 | Farm & Ranch • Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Finding a Farm Dog W

hile dogs are often considered family pets, hard-working canines are quality companions for farm and ranching operations. These dogs are bred specifically for herding or guarding the property. Work dogs can play many roles on your property, including being a pest control solution. If you’re considering adding a new four-legged friend and coworker to your business, consider finding a reputable breeder who uses socially acceptable ethics. If possible, try to adopt the canine as a puppy to help familiarize him with family members and those who will frequent the property. Due to their protective nature, farm dogs may become aggressive when they feel someone is a threat. Herding Breeds According to the American Kennel Club, of the 196 registered breeds, 31 are herding group members. Here is a closer look at a few of the breeds that make excellent working dogs.

Akita The courageous breed originated in Japan in the 17th century. Early history shows that the dogs were hunters used to take on big game like deer and bears. The dogs’ strength and dignity were so well regarded that only the imperial family and its courts could have them as pets. Boxer The boxer is an energetic breed with plenty to offer farm and ranch operations. They were initially bred in Germany in the late 1800s and were produced down from dogs used to run after, catch and hold down predators. In modern times, boxers are a versatile breed who are excellent companions for farmers, police officers, the military and guide dogs for the blind. Great Dane Often called the “gentle giant,” the Great Dane is known as a loyal protector and for their tall stature. Their size makes them exceptional guard dogs, as many predators or other threats find them intimidating.

The breed was originally created in Germany, and dogs were tasked with hunting wild boar alongside noblemen. Leonberger Interestingly, the Leonberger was

bred to serve as a companion for European royalty in the 19th century. However, since their inception, they prove to be excellent working dog candidates because of their prodigious strength.

Farm & Ranch • Wednesday, November 4, 2020 | 13


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