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Class XIII Curriculum

"Positive Futures for Rural America & Southwest Oklahoma Agriculture"

 Seminar II


October 4, 2006
Scribe: Hope Pjesky

To begin Seminar 2 the class met at Johnson Peanut Company in Hydro at 8:15 a.m. on Wednesday, October 4, 2006. We all got on a school bus provided by the Hydro school district and departed for our first stop. Our bus driver was Chris Slagell and Merlin Schantz rode along as our tour guide. We learned that Hydro was named for its water. The area opened with land drawings in 1901 and 1902. It sets on the Rush Springs Sandstone Aquifer. Irrigation started there in the fifties. Peanuts were historically grown south of town in sandy ground. More recently irrigation started north of town on land that had been used for wheat or cotton in the past. The wheat that has been planted in the area is up and looking good, many of us were envious of the rainfall that they have had recently. Merlin told us that vegetables are also grown in the area including potatoes, spinach, watermelons, cabbage and turnips. Grain sorghum is also grown and cut for silage for several cattle feeding facilities in the area.

Our first stop was Triple S Farms. It is owned and operated by the Slagell family. Virgil, Meribeth, Chris, Dennis and Candice welcomed us to their farm and had doughnuts and coffee waiting for us. They were just finishing packing the last of their Watermelon crop for this year. We were surprised to see old school buses full of watermelons as we drove in. They have removed the seats and converted the buses to use as trucks when they harvest the melons. When the melons come into the packing shed they are checked for damage and shape. Then they are sorted by whether they are seedless or a pollinator with seeds. They get stickers showing the variety and we learned that we should look for the Hocus Pocus sticker, as they are a very good sweet variety. Then they are packed in bins or cartons depending on the time of year. Most of their watermelons are shipped to New York, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Florida. Majestic Produce Sales in McAllen, TX is their distributor. Most customers prefer a 14 –16 pound melon. They produce #1 grade melons; many of the melons sold in Oklahoma are #2 grade. Triple S Farms has 400 acres of watermelons. They start plants in a temporary greenhouse in mid February. Those plants are set out between April 20 and May 20. After that the rest of the crop is planted directly in the field. With seedless watermelons you have to plant some seeded or pollinator plants, the Slagells are currently planting about 20% seeded watermelons. Bees are brought in to help pollinate the plants. Of the watermelons produced only about half get packed and sold. Animal damage is one of the biggest problems with growing watermelons. Beck Johnson, who is Triple S Farms crop advisor, told us that this year’s watermelon crop was cut short by a disease called gummy stem blight, which has become resistant to the fungicide that they spray every two weeks. They some times also have a problem with worm scaring on the melons. Labor is an issue in harvesting melons. A crew consists of 4 cutters and 12 loaders. Eighteen to twenty people are needed in the packing shed. They can pack 250,000 lbs per day.

Triple S Farms also produces 400 acres of potatoes and 160 acres of spinach. They have also grown peanuts and cotton. They grow mainly chip potatoes but have also grown Red, Yellow and Russet varieties. The Potato Board is launching the Mr. Healthy Potato balloon at this years Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and it will have a couple Slagells helping guide it down the parade route. We will all have to watch. Despite the bad publicity that potatoes received during the Adkins Diet craze, they are a very healthy food. Potatoes are high in Potassium and provide 45% of the daily-recommended amount of Vitamin C. The Slagells have been very innovative in adapting and building new equipment for their operation. They built their own self-propelled spinach harvester and a device to pack the spinach in the truck. Their spinach is sold to Allen Canning in Arkansas. It yields about 17-18 tons per acre.

We loaded back on the bus and headed to our next stop with Beck Johnson riding along as our tour guide. That stop was Merlin Schantz farm. Merlin’s family was been farming in the area since 1908. The peanut harvest is late this year but Merlin, his dad Dean and his sons sacrificed some of his runner peanuts to show us the digging and harvesting process. The peanut digger is used to unearth the peanuts 4-5 days before the combine is used to harvest the peanuts. Four thousand pounds or more per acre is a good harvest. New ground that hasn’t produced peanuts before gives a better crop and crop rotation is necessary to reduce disease problems. Runner peanuts are used for candy and peanut butter. Merlin also raises some Virginia peanuts, which are larger and used for ballpark or gourmet peanuts. His peanuts are sold to Clint Williams Peanut Company in Madill. You can bale peanut hay behind the combine and with the lack of hay this year many people will. If peanuts are harvested immature they have more hull and less peanut resulting in a lower grade. Peanut acreage is way down in Caddo County and all over the state.

We also got to see the beginning of turnip harvest. Merlin has 50 acres of turnip roots. The tops of the turnips are mowed off close, sometimes even cutting into the turnips, and then the roots are harvested using a potato digger. These are very large turnips. There were some disease problems early this year but the crop looked good. When turnips are canned the turnips roots are one variety and the tops are a different variety. Bill Gebhardt with Allen Canning joined us. Most of the vegetables grown in the area are contracted to Allen Canning. They have three plants in Arkansas. They contract on the number of acres not on the yield. There are some quality standards that are required. The growers get support from the company during the growing season. They also employ crop consultants and take advantage of Extension research. Allen canning is looking for growers to supply them with southern peas and black-eyed peas. Peas sell for 24 1/2 cents per pound and yield 500 – 1100 lbs per acre with about $18 per acre in input costs. Marlin has also grown other vegetables in the past including carrots. Dean said the biggest changes he has seen are in irrigation and harvesting equipment. On the way to our next stop we drove by a field where Merlin has test plots of cabbage and beets.

Our next stop was Johnson Peanut Company. Ronnie Johnson showed us around the Peanut Company. He said that he encourages farmers to make sure that the peanuts are 17 percent moisture or less when they bring them into the Peanut Company. If they are higher it costs too much to dry them. Peanuts are weighed green (wet and dirty) when they are brought in and moisture is tested. The government requires that peanuts must have 10.49% of less moisture to be sold. Ten percent is best; if they are drier they start to split. After being weighed the peanuts go up elevator legs to a cleaner to get the dirt off the hull. A lighter colored hull results in a better grade. They are then put into a trailer and each farm is kept separate. The trailers are put into a shed that has 4-inch gas lines running to it with 30 lbs pressure. It takes 8 – 10 hours to dry the peanuts depending on the humidity. The dryer trailers have false bottoms where the heat comes in to dry the peanuts. It is important that the moisture level be below 10.49%. If it is above that when the sample is sent to the graders a $30 fine is imposed. Next the trailer is taken to the sampler and probed 5 times. You want 10% or less foreign matter. The sample is sent to the federal graders in the office. The graders are paid by the government except of overtime, which is paid by the company at the rate of $30 per hour. Of that $30 the grader gets only $9 - $10 per hour, the government keeps the rest. After grading the trailer is unloaded in a warehouse with an elevator leg and auger. The warehouse we looked at can hold 16,000 tons of peanuts. Different types of peanuts are kept separate. There is a glut in the market right now. The peanuts are sold to Clint Williams Peanut Company in Madill. Inside the grading station we saw the equipment that is used to divide, sort, remove foreign material and loose shell kernels, size, shell and shake the peanuts. After the shells, other kernels and splits are weighed what is left is the percent grade that the farmer gets paid on. There is a small payment on the other stuff. Freeze damage or aflatoxin in one peanut can cause the loss of the whole trailer. Mike Kubicek, the director of the Oklahoma Peanut Commission, told us that they hope to establish peanuts as a source of oil for biodiesel and that the byproduct would be high protein livestock feed.

We loaded the bus headed to P-Bar Farm and lunch. Farm Credit and Allen Canning provided a cookout lunch. We enjoyed visiting with many alumni from the area during lunch. After lunch Charlie Wieland introduced all the alumni in attendance and the folks who made lunch for us. Karen Krehbiel distributed goody bags that the alumni had prepared for us.


October 4, 2006
Scribe: Dale Lemmond

P-Bar Farms

After a great lunch Loren Libscher told us about P-Bar Farms and some of the activities that are conducted at the farm. Most of the visitors are field trips from various schools. Not only are the kids allowed to play and go to the petting zoo they are also instructed in the differences between a farm 100 years ago and one today. The other big attraction is the Maize, Oklahoma’s official centennial maze. This is a 100 acre maze cut out of corn and is a replica of the centennial seal.

The next stop was SS Farms that is owned and operated by Dean Smith (Class III). Mr. Smith showed some of the production from his 3,000 acre farm, which consisted of teff grass, love grass and chili peppers. The love grass was grown for seed, the teff was also grown for seed but the seeds were milled into flower. The most interesting was the chili pepper production. The chili peppers are harvested, dried and ground in sacks that are the sent to a mill to have the oil extracted. SS Farms is the paid on the Scoville unit, how hot the peppers are.

After the SS Farms tour we had a brief stop at Double K Spraying Company. Double K Spraying is a 3rd generation aerial spraying company. Mr. Richie King took time to answer any question and to explain the challenges they face in today’s environment.

The next stop was Horn Canna Farm in Alfalfa. Class members commented that they had ever seen anything like the canna farm. We were meet by the current owners Dustin & Nikki Snow and were shown a video about the farm. Horn Canna Farm has been growing and selling cannas since 1928. Cannas are planted in the spring and the bulbs are harvested in the fall. Horn Canna Farms start shipping in November and ship until April. Major customers include retail and mail order.

The last stop of the day was Blue Canyon Wind Farm. We were meet by Jamie Curtis and Jody Hardesty who gave a short presentation and a tour of one of the turbines. The first phase of Blue Canyon began commercial operations in December of 2003. The first phase consisted of 45 turbines. The second phase consisted of 83 turbines. The turbines are a total of 328 feet tall and weigh 231.1 tons. The foundation for each turbine consist of a hole that measures 21x21x17 feet that holds 30 trucks of concrete.

The evening meal was at Saddle Mountain Store and was sponsored by Planters Cooperative. There were several alumni present for the meal and Dean Reeder, retired ag educator, gave some history on the store. After dinner the class traveled to Altus and checked into the Best Western Hotel.


October 5, 2006
Scribe: Joe Locke

Tuesday morning we all meet in the lobby of the Best Western to prepare for a very busy 2nd day of our tour of South West Oklahoma. We departed for Altus Air Force base home of the 97th Air Mobility Wing (Command). On arriving we loaded on to buses and proceeded to the command headquarters where we were given a brief history of the base and its changing scope of responsibility. The base started in 1943 in a cotton field with tents has grown to become the primary base in regards to training and supporting our nation’s air lift support systems training approximately 3000 new pilots and support personnel annually. Assistant base commander Col. Mike Mendonca then answered a few questions before we were split into two groups for our morning actives. We were given the opportunity to talk with and try out the equipment of the personnel that train all pilots and support crew in survival, from parachutes to night vision, and chemical, biological agents. The other stop was on the runway beside a C-17 GLOBEMASTER III the primary cargo plain of the 97th and the USAF. After standing inside and in the cockpit everyone agreed that it was a phenomenal piece of equipment. This concluded our morning at the base; one that most of us will never forget and upon leaving extended our gratitude to our host for not only the tour but for the job they do every day.

Lunch on Tuesday was at the OSU Southwest Research & Extension Center south of Altus, Shane Osborne Assoc. Extension Spec. Gave a quick overview of the scope and purpose of the center prior to lunch. During lunch we were introduced to Tom Buchanan, Manger of the Lugert – Altus Irrigation District, Mr. Buchanan talked about it’s beginnings in 1946 with a grant from the federal government and eventually paid for by the members ( Farmers ) of the irrigation district, to the challenges of today ranging from discussion’s of who’s water is it, water needs for growth, becoming more efficient users of water, and questions of how long will the district continue to be allowed to use the permitted 83,000 acre feet they have today and the possibilities of adding a chlorine control system on the salt fork river to add usable water to the region. The presentation was wrapped up with a discussion of how important it is for us “Agriculture” to tell our story and work proactively with change instead of being frustrated by the things we think are unfair.

We left the extension office and proceeded to the Muller farm where we were introduced to Matt and Kelly and there operation which started when Matt was 15 years old. Matt walked the group through the various stages of the growth of the cotton plant and talked about the differences between the Cotton Stripper, which we looked at there in the shop, and the cotton Picker witch we saw demonstrated in the filed. From there we looked at several fields discussed the impact that bowl weevil eradication has had as well as drip irrigation, it’s positive impact on water utilization, and the use of tail water pits.

Once the cotton is harvested it goes to the Cotton Growers Cooperative Gin in Altus, the Gin is owned by the cotton growers and its purpose is to clean the cotton and remove the seeds. Our tour guide was the coop manager Mike Berry who is a third generation cotton gin manager. Mr. Berry explained that once they clean the cotton a sample is pulled from each batch by grower and is sent to Lubbock Texas for grading, the grade determines the base payment for each batch. The Gin makes it’s money by marketing the seeds witch go to Oklahoma City to be made into feed, oil’s etc. Once the cotton is baled at the gin it is then moved to the compress owned by the Oklahoma cotton coop association for storage and marketing. Jay Cowart manager of the compress said that even though they do not compress and cotton today that it was called that in the old days because they would compress the cotton into bigger bales once it left the Gin.

After a much need quick break at the motel we then headed for Holder’s ranch in Creta for a cowboy cookout. Before dinner we were able to visit the hunting lodge and cabins that are in the process of being built by Tanner and Tara Holder who are starting a guide business on the property called Rio Rojo Outfitters. A great time was had by all and fitting end to a very busy and interesting day. Holders cooked a quail and steak dinner for the class and also had ‘cowboy poet’ recite some of his poems. This was a most enjoyable and fitting way to end the day.


October 6, 2006
Scribe: Pat Regier

Our final day in Southwest Oklahoma started with a visit to the Phelan Ranch north of Roosevelt, OK. John Phelan came home to the ranch in 1973 and leased it in 1981. There are 2,800 acres of native rangeland that has never been plowed. In 1981 he purchased a cow/calf herd and soon determined it was not economically viable. He then switched to a stocker operation. In the mid 80’s he was introduced to new range management practices. In 1998 there was a drought and he changed his management again. He quit owning cattle and began taking in cows for a fee per head per month. The yearlings he takes in on a cost per cwt. per day. The cattle are not taken in on gain. He has a service-oriented business and offers his labor and his grass. He has added 300 ewes to the grazing operation. Using one to three herds of multi-species for grazing is beneficial and he focuses on sheep, cows and steers.

John shared that his primary goal is to take care of the ranch. He does not put the cattle before the land. Grass is his livelihood, not the cattle, so this is where he centers his energies. John sees the need to manage the land and harvest in the most sustainable way.

He had a drought plan as he saw it coming last winter. Therefore there are no cattle on the place now. He has grass but not adequate drinking water. His concerns now are about his wells keeping up. In addition to grazing, he has a hunt club. Six people pay him a fee on a contract basis that gives them full access to the ranch and the farmhouse. He does not conduct guided hunts.

We were shown the tools to manage the grazing. He uses poly wire and posts to subdivide the ranch into paddocks. More paddocks are better. He has 25 permanent paddocks using steel line fences. At times he will have up to 50 paddocks on the ranch. John also shared the extensive charts and records he keeps to plan and tracks the grazing.

In 2001 John began his watering system. He has 10 tanks placed around the ranch where water will be needed. He manipulates the grazing paddocks to include the needed watering source. He also has some ponds. Having the water where needed is a constant challenge.

Diversity of the plants on the ranch is very important. He is very cautious about herbicide use and only uses it to control mesquite trees. The grass has not been sprayed in 20 years. He frequently puts up his polywire fences to protect particular plants species in an area. John destocks completely in August to allow the native grass to rest. Late summer and fall are the best times for the grasses to reproduce, as they are getting ready for winter.

It is important in this operation to stay out of a pattern. Diversity and complexity are important in all aspects of management. Flexibility is key. He burns for the eco system and has a 10-year plan by burning only 10% of the farm each year. He works with the Refuge that is neighbors on the burn plan. However, burning is a tool, not a cure-all. He stated that continuous grazing on native range equals abuse.

John stressed that honesty is very important in custom grazing. His reputation must always be above reproach.

We then traveled north to Windmill Winery where Russell and Dawnita Allard were our hosts. They planted their first vines in 2000 and in 2004 opened their boutique winery. The Allards planted grapes to diversify their operation. The decision to open the winery was a later thought. They have 7 acres of vineyard on 12 acres and have been planting in 2-acre blocks. The vineyard is planted on 10’ rows with the vines spaced 6’ apart. Russell received his viticulture and enology degree at Grayson County College in Dennison, Texas.

Three varieties are growing in the vineyard: Tempranio, Syrah, and Reisling. They are all grafted on a rootstock chosen to help the plants take in more water. The vineyard has a drip irrigation system to supplement the rain. He uses a windmill to pump water from a nearby creek into a reservoir where he also collects rainwater, and then the water is pumped through the irrigation system. He has an emitter at each plant that will put on 1 gallon per hour. He water 12 gallons/plant/3 days if he has good sub-moisture.

Some of the obstacles Russ faces in the vineyard are water, chemical drift, insects and fungus. He explained that you could grow grapes anywhere; it depends on how you manage them. He chose his location because it is where he lives, it is by the highway for the tourists, and he is out of the freeze pocket.

Russ then gave us a tour of his winery operation showing us the crusher/destemmer, explaining that it was the combine for grapes, the hydraulic press, and the tanks and bottling operation. He explained that the white grapes are pressed as soon as they are harvested and the red grapes are fermented with the skins and seeds to add color, flavor and tannins. Yeast fermentation creates wine; bacterial fermentation creates vinegar so cleanliness is important. He utilizes the services of a wine consultant out of Fredericksburg, TX. In Oklahoma, ABLE Commission was formerly solely in charge of oversight of wineries but they are now also required to apply for a manufacturers license through the Health Department.

Russ then shared his wines with the Class in a tasting. He explained that a good wine is one that you personally like. His personal goal is to find a great $6.00 bottle of wine. He issued several warnings throughout the tour that there is a lot of pretentiousness in the wine industry. He expressed how food and wine compliment each other and the more we taste wine, the more complex our tastes will become. He recommended keeping wine at the correct temperature. If it is too cold, we will taste the acid instead of the fruit.

We ended with a wonderful lunch, provided by Western Equipment Company, on the patio and an opportunity to purchase wine.

Session II ended with Synthesis where class members shared things they learned from the seminar and what they plan to take back to their every day lives.