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Ask a Farmer

Ask a Farmer

When you have questions about why farmers and ranchers do what they do, who better to ask than a farmer or rancher?

Farmers and ranchers have the same concerns about feeding their families healthy food. But they understand why certain practices are necessary. So please feel free to ask away! Just send your questions to and we'll make sure we share a response on this page!

Do some farmers add animal solid waste to their irrigation systems to be able to water and fertilize their crop at the same time?

Do cows remember/know what time they will be milked if you consistently milk them at the same time?

What is soil sampling and why do farmers do it?

Are dairy cows impregnated to produce more milk?

Do wheat farmers still use Roundup to desiccate the wheat before harvest? If so, how do they justify such a practice?

What is gathering loss?

Why is ground beef sometimes brown in the middle?

How reputable are food apps?

How do you store eggs directly from the farm?

What is grass-fed beef?

What is that green coating on seeds and is it safe?

Do some farmers add animal solid waste to their irrigation systems to be able to water and fertilize their crop at the same time. If so, are there particular animal waste products that are used as opposed to other animals?

Answered by Chelsey Erdmann, Foster County

We do not irrigate so I cannot speak to that. We do however, occasionally, (maybe once every 4-5 years after significant precipitation) need to empty our lagoon from the feedlot. That is done through a large moving spigot that waters the field. There is a solid separator the material flows through before entering the lagoon so there are no solid particles. Most of the liquid in the lagoon is water and snow runoff from pens that has come in contact with animal waste.

I found the following three short articles on the topic and found them helpful:

Do cows remember/know what time they will be milked if you consistently milk them at the same time?

Answered by Nate Schlief, Grand Forks County

A cow will get accustomed to getting milked at a certain times of the day and that schedule is up to the dairy farmer. Some farmers milk twice a day, some milk three times a day and in the case of robotic milkers it's the cows choice when to be milked and how often to be milked. A cow with a high lactation giving lots of milk may choose to be milked several times a day with a robot. It's up to her to decide when she wants to be milked. In the case of the smaller dairy operation with a barn with stalls, the cow will come into the barn, find her stanchion where she usually stands and get prepared for milking. Yes, she will remember where she stands in the barn and knows when it is time for milking.  

Are dairy cows impregnated to produce more milk?

Answered by dairy farmer Connie van Bedaf and a link to a blog post by Carrie Mess

Most dairy farmers (more and more beef producers too) use Artificial Insemination. It's safer and spreads less disease to use AI. Cows are only bred when they show heat, and want to be bred. Some would accuse us of forcing our cows to give birth every year. The same would happen, though, if they would be out in nature.

Link to Picking out a Boyfriend for Norma post from Carrie Mess that explains the process in great detail.

Do wheat farmers still use Roundup to desiccate the wheat before harvest? If so, how do they justify such a practice?

Answered by Sarah Lovas,
Mom, agronomist and farmer

It is legal to use Roundup for a pre-harvest aid. According to the particular label that I read, it isn’t necessarily for desiccation, but rather weed control. If weeds in a field could cause an issue for harvest, Roundup may be applied to dry them down prior to harvest. In the process, the Roundup will be applied to the crop and it will kill the crop as well.

The label mandates the timing of the application by the crop stage and also outlines the pre-harvest intervals (PHI). The label is the law and all pesticides must be used in accordance with the label or there are legal consequences. The purpose of the PHI is to allow for an interval of time between the herbicide application and harvest to give the plant time to metabolize the herbicide. This way the harvested grain does not have unsafe herbicide residues when the grain is consumed. The particular formulation label that I’m looking at mandates a maximum rate as well as PHI – a maximum of 22 oz. per acre with a 7 day PHI.

It seems like pre-harvest applications of Roundup on wheat seem to be decreasing (at least in my area). Over the years, many fields have fewer weed issues and the weed management systems are better, so we don’t have the weed issues in wheat like we used to. However, every now and again this herbicide does get used for this purpose.

Please keep in mind that glyphosate has a relatively low LD50 or median lethal dose (the amount of a substance it takes to kill half a population). The LD50 is used to describe the relative toxicity levels of many kinds of substances so we can understand how they relate to each other. Every substance has an LD50, even water. LD50 is described in mg/kg and the lower the number mg/kg, the more toxic the substance. This table compares the LD50 of glyphosate and many other substances:

You may find it interesting that glyphosate kills plants by inhibiting amino acid synthesis. Glyphosate inhibits the EPSP synthase enzyme and therefore the plant can’t make critical amino acids and the plant dies. Humans and animals do not have this enzyme which is why glyphosate’s relative toxicity is so low for us. Even though the relative toxicity is fairly low for humans, it’s important to remember that it is still a pesticide and should always be handled with respect.

On a personal note, I am a farmer of wheat and I’m also the agronomist for our farm. I make all the pesticide applications decisions for my farm. I take all of the pesticide application decisions for our farm very seriously. The above comments show you some of the things I consider with each and every application.

What does the phrase "gathering loss" mean and how does it apply to a corn crop?

Answered by Nate Schlief, Grand Forks County

One challenge that every grain farmer has is to be sure and set their combine to get the opportunity to harvest as much of the crop standing in the field as possible.

There are two types of loss for corn harvest. Pre-harvest loss and during harvest.

Gathering loss refers to the losses that occur during harvest with the combine. There are two main reasons for this: 1) Header losses while removing the cob from the stalk and 2) losses in the process of separation the kernels from the cob.

When the combine moves through the field, if the header is not set correctly it can lose cobs by dropping them off the stalk and not going into the machine for the kernels to be removed from the cob. How this happens: each corn row on header has a set of rollers that strip the cob from the stalk and then move into the header, and into the combine. If the stripper rolls are set too wide apart, small cobs can go through and end up on the ground and those cobs are lost from the harvest.

Also, kernels can shell off the cob during the process of removing the cob especially if the corn moisture content is dry or the header is running too fast. Most corn now is harvested at about 20 % moisture in order to minimize the kernels being shelled out in the header and dropping the grain on the ground. If the stalks are down in the field prior to harvest, it can be hard to pick up these stalks and get them to feed into the header as well. This can cause gathering loss as well. Second, once the cob is brought into the cylinder, the process of removing the kernels from the cob starts. If the cylinder width is set to high, cobs can go through the combine without the kernels being removed the cob. The cob is then cut up and distributed behind the combine with the rest of the stalk material to be worked into the ground.

Once the kernels are removed from the cob, the stalk material and the cob have to be separated inside the combine by a fan and cylinder which takes the lighter material and moves it back. Because the kernels are heavier, they move to the auger bed to go up into the grain tank. If the kernels are light in some instances, the fan can blow them up with the rest of the stalk material and it gets distributed behind the combine.

Why is ground beef brown in the middle?

Answered by Marybeth Feutz,
Farmer, vet and blogger at My Fearless Kitchen

We have all done it… bought a package of ground beef at the grocery store. It looks nice and red in the package. You take it out of the package to make hamburger patties or to brown it in a skillet and… it’s brown on the inside, even though it is a beautiful red on the outside. What’s going on? Is brown ground beef safe to eat? Should you eat brown ground beef? Is your butcher trying to trick you?

The short answer is – YES, it is safe to eat. YES, you should still eat it. NO, your butcher is not trying to trick you.

It’s all about science.

Read the rest of Marybeth’s response at My Fearless Kitchen

I use two apps on my phone, specifically EWG's Healthy Living and GoodGuide Scanner, to gain more knowledge about a product I am looking at in the store. It's quick and convenient to pull up the app, scan a barcode and have the health rating of the product at my fingertips within seconds. I have used it for everything from sunscreen to granola bars. My question is how reputable are these apps and do any farmers perhaps recommend an app like this? For a busy on the go mom it's a lifesaver to try and keep my family using the safest items and nutritious food. Or, is there something else I could be looking for while at stores instead of using an app?

Answered by Val Wagner,
Monango farmer and mom:

We live in an electronic age, and I must admit, I prefer my life to be easy whenever possible. Especially at the grocery store! Although I don’t use an app regularly for my cart (except for when I’m at the red-circle store, if you know what I mean!), I appreciate wanting to have all of your food information at your fingertips.

I reviewed the two apps that you mentioned specifically, and although some of the information was accurate, some of it was marketing. Doing a little research, I found that both apps charge companies to be listed. They determine what is/isn’t worthwhile purchasing, but in order to be listed you have to pay to have the privilege. I always question when you have to pay to be listed as “good.”

But that brings me to your next question – how do you know? And as a farmer and rancher, that’s the tough one. Maybe someday soon they’ll have an accurate app that doesn’t charge people an arm and a leg to find out what information on the label is truly accurate information, and what is just marketing. But maybe it’s also time for us to start demanding that our labels have less marketing?

For instance, I've seen labels that state water is GMO-free, when water has no DNA in it. And what about a gluten-free watermelon label? Or chicken labeled hormone-free, when chicken naturally contains hormones and it’s illegal for chicken to be sold with any added hormones (which you’ll find in small letters on every package – check it, it’s there)?

So why do the items in our grocery cart have to have so much junk on the label? Why can’t it be simple? Because labels sell. And because there’s so much competition, it’s almost like they’re shouting at you from the aisle. But rest assured, no matter what item you choose, the food raised and sold in the United States is some of the safest, most affordable food you can find – and you don’t have to pay for an app to tell you that.

How should I store eggs I receive directly from the farm?

Answer by Heather Lang, 
Sterling farmer and mom:

To store farm fresh eggs in the fridge or leave them on counter?

For us personally at our house, we leave them on our counter and don't wash them until right before we use them. Why? Because we go through eggs quick enough, that there is no need to store them in the fridge, plus with all these beautiful colors (everything from white, shades of brown, hues of blues and greens and even pink) why wouldn't we want people to see them - they are a piece of art!

Colorful farm fresh eggs

But why don't we wash them right away? Washing them actually invites bacteria into the egg because you have washed away the membrane on the outside of the egg called the bloom. Now, it may be a little bit until we will be using the eggs (say a couple of weeks) then we will put them in the 'fridge, but still only wash right before use.

What is grass fed beef and where can I puchase it in North Dakota?

Answer by Val Wagner,
Monango farmer and mom:

That's a great question! But the truth is, the answer isn't so simple. Do you mean grass-fed or grass-finished? Let me explain by telling you a bit about my farm.

We raise cattle for beef, meaning we're raising hamburgers and steaks and other meat cuts. Right now we're in the midst of calving season, which means that we check our cows at least every two hours around the clock for the next month or so to make sure that the calves are warm and healthy. Our hope is to have every calf born in the barn, but since we don't have that big of a barn, we cycle in the cows that are calving and after a few days move the cows and calves that are now dry and healthy out to another part of our farm.

In about May or June, depending on the spring and the weather, we move all of our cows and calves out to pasture. Which means that for the next 5-6 months (again, depending on weather) they are eating a diet of mainly grass. We do add supplements in feeders that they can eat as they wish, which helps make sure they have all the minerals they need to be healthy, since sometimes the grass can have different nutritional values based on the amount of rainfall we have, the type of grass, how much it's grazed, etc.

Once snow falls or the weather starts to get questionable, we wean the calves, or separate them from their cows, so that we can start to feed the calves to be sold in January. Then we also bring our cows back home, where we feed them a mixture of grass and corn. Again, this mixture depends on the feed value of the hay (grass), the condition of the cows and what the weather pattern may be for winter. Once we take all that into consideration, we come up with a "recipe" or ration that makes sure our cows are getting enough vitamins, minerals and calories in order to make it through our tough ND winters without putting them or their new calves at risk.

When our calves are sold, some go to places that feed them for grocery stores, some go to other farms to become cow herds for the next generation and some may go home to just be part of someone's local herd, we don't always know. But we know at that point that the calves we have grown were fed the best diet we could give them in order to promote health and growth. Were they fed grass? You bet! A whole lot of it! But that wasn't all that they received. And that just happens to be how our farm works.

Now, there are farms that feed only grass. Or farms that buy calves from farms like mine and feed grass up until the calves are ready for market, which is called "finishing."

Which is best? That's up to you to decide. Some prefer the taste of a regular-finished beef, some prefer grass, some just prefer it as cheap as they can get it. It's all good, no matter how you look at it!

As far as where to purchase it? There are local farmers in many communities that are willing to raise a calf in the way you wish it to be finished, if that's what you're looking for - but just be aware that it's not the same price as supermarket meat. There's a lot of time, work and energy that goes into that.

But as I tell all my non-farm friends, the meat you buy at the store is likely grass-fed as well, just may not be finished solely on grass. The beef I feed my kids comes from our farm, most of the time. They're finished with a mixture of grass and grains, including corn - all which we've grown ourselves. And it's some of the best beef I've ever had. But, of course, I'm biased. My recommendations are if you're looking for truly grass-fed-only beef, to get to know your local cattlemen and find someone that will feed what you're looking for, or else get to know the butcher at your store and ask for special cuts or types to be brought in. If you're just looking for grass-fed beef, then look no further than any meat section at your local store. I can almost guarantee, without a doubt, that it has all been grass fed.

Thanks for the question! Hope to answer more in the future!

What is that green coating on the seeds you plant and is it safe?

treated seed
Answer by Dana Dagman,
Enderlin farmer and mom: 

"We plant corn seeds that have a thin coating of green treatment that is a combination of insecticides and fungicides to protect the future baby plants from insects and prevent plant diseases. Mixed with the green seeds are purple seeds. The purple seeds are simply a different color treatment by the seed company to differentiate that those seeds do not have the insect resistance trait, and thus help to prevent insecticide resistance (and give the bugs some plants to eat). These treatments are used to help grow healthy plants in the early stages of life. The colored treatments will not be a part of the mature plant that is harvested."