Ross and Marcie Bishop not only produce beef and crops on their Washington County farm, they also produce fun, facts and memories.
The couple welcomes about 400 fourth-grade students to their farm each year as a part of the Washington County Farm Bureau's Ag in the Classroom activities.
Students are prepared before they get to the farm because the Bishops and about eight other Farm Bureau members head into schools to do an hour-long program that provides the basics of agriculture.
Then when they get to the farm the students see first-hand what the volunteers described and they even get prizes - a farm hat - for giving the right answers.
When the Bishops hosted the tour recently one of the questions Ross posed to the class was, "How many people do you think this farm feeds?" Hands went up and students guessed and finally a confident student stated "One-hundred sixty five."
Ross awarded the student a prize but the teacher was a bit disappointed. "Come on students," she stated. "It was a question on the test you just took. You should have all known that."
FOR MOST KIDS
The students were excited to be on the farm. As soon as they got off the bus they were immediately greeted by several friendly farm cats. When the petting subsided and the cats wandered away, the education began.
The steers were also popular with the children who had lots of questions about their feed, housing and size.
Then the students splits into two groups. Some of the students went with Marcie and some with Ross. After about a half hour the groups switch.
Before the group arrives the couple measure out what a steer eats in a day and let the kids touch and smell the feed. With permission, some even taste it.
Both Ross and Marcie, who have had many years of experience with these tours, explain everything in terms children and non-farm chaperones and teachers can understand.
They describe how they get the animals when they are 500 pounds in November. By August each animal is ready to sell at 1300 - 1400 pounds, translating to about three pounds a day gain.
Visitors are surprised to learn that a nutritionist figures out a balanced diet for the animals and vitamins and minerals are added to make up for what is not provided in the feed, "just like the gummy bear vitamins you might take at home," Marcie says.
Visitors are also amazed to learn that the TMR mix sometimes includes commodity ingredients like cheese sauce or pudding from a nearby dairy processing plant, lettuce that has lost its freshness and even sweet tarts.
Students also learn about ethanol and its importance to the country's fuel supply and they see the by-product of that industry, distillers grain, that Marcie says the cattle really like.
The farm has a variety of ways of storing feed including a bunker, plastic bag, steel-sealed silos and large round bales. Children particularly enjoy looking into the empty silo, hearing the echo of their voices and getting an idea of just how big it really is.
Children giggle when they learn the items that Marcie shows them were made from parts of a cow or steer. Among them, facial make-up, leather work shoes, even school glue. "Why do you think there is a picture of a bull on the label of this glue bottle?" she asks.
Meanwhile, Ross is showing students how many foods and non-food items come from crops like soybeans and corn grown on the 700-acre farm. He shows the students the line of machinery needed for his no-till crop management system.
Then he introduces some farming history to the students when he takes them in the back of the shed to see a 1920's model McCormick Deering tractor with steel wheels.
"Before tractors like this were used farmers used horses with their farm implements. That's why corn rows were 40 inches apart back then. The horses had to fit between the rows. Now we plant the rows together and we can get a lot more from an acre. That's why farmers can feed so many more people today than they did many years ago."
IS IN FARMING
Bishop has been farming since 1983 at this Jackson location. He started out managing a farm owned by Floyd Berggren, whose primary interest was raising beef cattle on the farm and the land was used to support the livestock.
Over the years, Ross and Marcie began renting additional land in the area and operated their own cash grain enterprise along with managing the farm.
Then two years ago they had the opportunity to buy the farm from Berggren. They recently moved into the home on the farm.
Both Ross and Marcie grew up on farms. They agree the tours are important because they show that farmers are good stewards of the land and work to produce food that is safe and healthy.
The Farm Bureau gets help with the tours from co-sponsors Washington County Dairy Promotion and the Washington County Land and Water Conservation department.
One of the presenters, Stephanie Egner, is a project technician for the Land and Water Conservation department but she is a farmer at heart and works part time for the Bishops as needed.
During the school year Washington County students also learn about agriculture from Barb Kluever, the county's ag ambassador, who brings agriculture to students in the classroom.
She saw more than 3,500 elementary students in the 2010-2011 school year alone. Her position is a joint venture between Washington County Farm Bureau and Dairy Promotion.
Fourth graders also toured a near-by dairy farm the same day.