Author Archives: Alex Wright

About Alex Wright

Alexandra Wright has degrees in agriculture from Cornell University and Iowa State University. She is a Certified Crop Adviser (CCA) and member of the American Farm Bureau Federation's Young Farmer and Rancher Committee.

Christmas for a Country Kid

Christmas in the Northeast is a magical time of year. A time when families get together over warm hot chocolate and home cooked meals to reminisce and tell stories of times gone by. Children build snowmen and ride sleds with their cherry red noses dripping from the cold air. Churches hold midnight services, children put on nativity pageants and we celebrate in our Savior’s birth.  Houses are filled with the smell of fresh gingerbread, the sounds of Christmas carols and the laughter of good company.


While much of America is able to slow down, take a break from work and enjoy a nice respite this time of year, there is one who cannot so much as take a day off: the livestock farmer. In fact, winter is one of the more difficult times in the Northeast, as we struggle with freezing temperatures, blizzards and other challenges. No matter how cold, how many feet of snow, how blustery or how much freezing rain comes down, the animals are priority number one. There are no snow days and no looking at the frost on the windows and deciding to roll back over and pull those covers up a little bit tighter. Cows need to be milked, animals need to be fed, calves are being born, waterers are freezing, snow needs to be cleared from paddocks, and the list goes on.


Despite this, Christmas in the country is always a wonderful time of year. When my brother and I were younger and emerged from our rooms at 6 a.m. to see what Santa had left us, it hadn’t crossed our minds that our father had already been awake for hours doing chores so he could watch the magic of Christmas unfold before our eyes. We knew Santa had been there because he always took a bite from the cookies and had a sip of milk, but we made sure his reindeer were properly fed too! They always left behind half eaten carrots and spilled grain so we knew that they had, indeed, been there. I doubt the city kids had this added layer of proof!

As we got slightly older and took on more responsibilities, it became common place that the animals were to be taken care of every day before breakfast, and certainly Christmas morning was no different. We would wake up, put on our long johns and barn clothes, and go to feed the horses, cows, sheep and ducks. Even the animals got a special treat, be it carrots, apples or molasses in their grain. This Christmas chore time was special as I bonded with my brother, our imaginations running wild wondering what treasures awaited us under the tree. We couldn’t help but sneak a glimpse at all the pretty colored packages on the way out the door! Imagine our surprise when we opened the doors to the sheep barn one year and found a snowmobile with a big shiny, red bow on it! You can only guess how we spent the rest of the day – and it sure wasn’t in the house!

Yes, Christmas in the country truly is a blessing…I hope yours is, too. MERRY CHRISTMAS everyone!

National FFA Convention: Igniting the Fire in Future Ag Leaders

For four days last week, Louisville, Kentucky was engulfed in a sea of blue and gold. At the Kentucky Exposition Center, more than 55,000 students converged for the National FFA Convention. Founded in 1928, the National FFA Organization (formerly Future Farmers of America), is committed to each individual student, providing a path to achievement in premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education.

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YF&R Committee member, Dancey Creel, posing with some FFA members.

Its largest annual event, the National FFA Convention, is an opportunity for high school students from across the country to come together to celebrate the organization they love, as well as the accomplishments of their fellow FFA members. The convention schedule is jam-packed with leadership and career development workshops and events, the best student agriscience fair projects in the country, an expo featuring hundreds of industry-leading exhibitors, concerts and other entertainment, and awards recognizing the top FFA members and chapters in the nation.

As a member of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Young Farmers and Ranchers (YF&R) Committee, I was fortunate enough to attend the convention last week with my fellow committee members and interact with these talented and enthusiastic young leaders. In fact, I learned that, like myself, many of our committee members started their own agricultural leadership experiences wearing the blue and gold jackets so many years ago.

The national competitions for the many FFA award programs are a major part of the National Convention schedule. One of these award programs is Career Development Events (CDEs), with contests ranging from public speaking and ag sales, to agricultural mechanics, to dairy and soil judging. The American Farm Bureau Federation sponsors one of these CDEs: the Extemporaneous Public Speaking event. Fifteen years ago, I stood in front of a panel of judges at the National FFA Convention giving my own extemporaneous speech at the national level. So, I was honored to have the incredible opportunity to be on the other side of the fence this year, serving as a judge for the finalists of the competition in which I had previously competed. I was blown away by their passion and ability.


The awards ceremony on stage for the Extemporaneous Public Speaking contest


Zach Hunnicutt, YF&R Chair, with the four National FFA Extemporaneous Public Speaking finalists

The Expo is where colleges, FFA sponsors, ag industry representatives and various businesses and organizations set up their booths to interact with the thousands of FFA members rolling through the aisles. Using a commodity that’s not often thought about but enjoyed by many – popcorn – we worked with the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture and the AFBF Public Policy Department to create a whole Farm Bureau experience in our booth. The Foundation featured a My American Farm kiosk with educational games about corn, while the Public Policy folks highlighted the importance of advocating for policies like improved transportation infrastructure to make sure that popcorn (and other commodities) can get from the farmers’ fields to the consumers’ hands. The YF&R Committee tied it all together with an opportunity to win prizes by answering popcorn and agriculture trivia. As these FFA members showed off their hoops skills and enjoyed some fresh popcorn (donated by Preferred Popcorn and grown on the farm of our very own YF&R Chair, Zach Hunnicutt), YF&R Committee members encouraged FFA-ers to continue pursuing and advocating agriculture after their high school careers come to an end. We really had a great time interacting with these future ag leaders.

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FFA members line up at the Farm Bureau booth

It was an incredible few days. The FFA members I met last week are brightly shining lights for agriculture, and they give me no doubt that the future of agriculture will be in good hands!

Field of Stripes

Have you ever taken a nice country stroll and noticed that some corn and soybean fields appear to have perfectly even stripes occurring all the way across them? It is as though the landscape has been draped in a beautiful quilt. Have you ever wondered why some fields look this way?

There are actually a number of scenarios that could be taking place, but most likely it is the result of farmers being curious individuals. They are constantly striving to improve their farms, and part of this involves doing research on their own fields. As an agronomist (crop and soil scientist), one of my favorite jobs is helping farmers set these trials up for success.  Each farm is a little different, so farmers want to see what works in their soil types, with their tillage practices, their pest struggles, their planting and harvest window, what their crop will ultimately be used for, etc.

One way they do this is by constantly comparing their current corn hybrid or soybean variety choices to the hundreds of new ones being released every year. Not all corn and soybeans are the same. For example, some varieties may grow faster or require less water or some combination of various characteristics that would be desirable. Farmers will choose to plant multiple varieties in the same field to see how each performs under the same conditions. When it comes to the actual planting, they simply split the two varieties – putting one variety in half the planter and the other variety in the opposite side of the planter. Since these varieties have different characteristics, such as plant height, maturity (the time it takes the corn to grow), tassel color, or (in the case of soybeans) color variation from light gray or tawny hairs to dark brown hairs, they look different growing in the field. Larger planters allow farmers to compare three or four varieties at a time!

With modern technology, it is very easy to harvest the different varieties at the end of the year and analyze their individual performance because most combines can calculate yield maps (which show the volume of corn or soybeans harvested in each part of the field) from GPS on the go.  Furthermore, the strips allow several replications throughout the field to account for variability, giving a truer picture of product performance.

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The top photo above shows two similar corn hybrids, but they are slightly different maturities. The yellow strips show one hybrid that is starting to tassel and closer to being ready for harvest. Its neighbor is still growing vegetatively and is farther behind in maturity.  One hybrid also has greater resistance to Northern Corn Leaf Blight, a common leaf disease in the northeast (recognizable by canoe-shaped lesions in the bottom photo).  When I sit with the farmer later this year to analyze the harvest results, it will help us determine how bad the disease issue is and whether we need to be choosing hybrids that are more resistant to the blight.

So the next time you see those strips you will know: farmers are researchers, too!