June 17, 2019

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Tell a Tale of Agriculture: Karen Schwaller Shares “The Dirt” on Farm Life

20140513_maxyield_037 (1024x681)“I would rather be on my farm than be the emperor of the world.” —George Washington

A farm is a great teacher of life. The lessons learned there cannot be found in any textbook—they can only be experienced. To Karen Schwaller, it’s all “the dirt” there is to know.

“I’m proud to write about those who dedicate their lives to agriculture,” said Schwaller, a writer, columnist, and speaker who farms with her family near Milford. “By writing about things that are uplifting, I want to help people enjoy life a little more.”

While Schwaller has shared her insights with readers of Farm News and other publications for years, she published her first book, “The Dirt,” in 2013. “My family members have been good sports, letting me write about our lives together on the farm and share these stories with the world,” said Schwaller, who spoke at a MaxYield meeting in Emmetsburg this summer.

Want to know what inspires a rural writer like Schwaller?
Here’s the dirt:

Q: What’s your ag background?
A: I grew up on a northwest Iowa grain and livestock farm about halfway between Kingsley and Remsen. I married a farmer, too. My husband, Dave, and I operate a grain and livestock farm near Milford. I’ve learned a lot about life by living on the farm and raising our three children (Emily, 24, and twins Dustin and Doug, 22) here.

Q: How did you become a writer?
A: I came upon it by accident. I wanted to go to college for photography and ended up taking a course that also included journalism. I always did better in English class in high school than just about any other class, so it was natural to try it out in college. It’s nice to be able to use both of those skills in work and in life. I’ve recorded a lot about our children’s lives as they were growing up, and I’m really glad I did now. I probably wouldn’t have done that if I didn’t enjoy writing so much.

Q: What motivated you to write a book?
A: Other people, actually. It’s not something I never considered doing, but many of my readers asked if I would ever consider putting some of my farm humor and inspirational/motivational columns into a book. I didn’t do it for a long time, because I didn’t think anyone would buy it. I finally decided to try it. It has been a very pleasantly surprising experience. I’ve sold more than 1,000 copies so far.

Q: What were the most fun—and challenging—parts of producing “The Dirt?”
A: Choosing the columns to be included was tough, because I’ve written so many in the last 20 years. The most fun part was getting to hold the first printed copy in my hands.

Q: How have readers responded to “The Dirt?”
A: It’s always gratifying to know that something I wrote made a difference to someone else, touched their heart, or made them laugh. One reader’s favorite story in “The Dirt” is “Grandpa’s
Tractor,” which involves my sons. Even men admit that it touches their heart. I enjoy meeting people who’ve read my columns or books or heard me speak. It’s always fun when people share their own farm stories with me.

Q: What new opportunities has your book created?
A: I’ve started speaking to various groups. Women enjoy hearing stories about the farm family and the ups and downs of farm family life, while the guy audience tends to enjoy stories of the farm itself, along with stories of some of the antics and lessons that happen on the farm. You can often mix the two and still be pretty successful with either audience.

Q: Why do you think it’s important to preserve the stories of rural life?
A: My book has been a labor of love, and I hope for it to be a legacy not only for our children, but for our community and our state. Years from now someone can pick that book up and read a humorous accounting of the way farm life was for families at this time in history. While farming will certainly be different by then, the heart of the farmer remains the same from generation to generation.

Editor’s note: “The Dirt” was published in 2013 by Shapato Publishing of Everly and is available in various stores throughout northwest Iowa. In 2014, Schwaller published her second book, “What Should I Be?,” a story about a little girl who doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up. To learn more about Schwaller, her books, and her speaking topics, visit www.karenschwaller.com.

HEALTHY FOR LIFE: MaxYield Earns “Healthiest Employer” Award

DIANE STREIT AND MAXYIELD comp

Diane Streit (center), MaxYield’s human resources director, accepted MaxYield’s Healthiest Employers of Iowa award from Iowa Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds (left) and Iowa Governor Terry Branstad at a ceremony in June in Cedar Rapids.

When MaxYield Cooperative started its wellness program in 2011, Kathie Ostrander didn’t care for the idea.

“I understood why they were doing it but didn’t want to face my numbers,” said Ostrander, a MaxYield client care leader at Lakota. “After my second year of bad results and an unacceptable weight, I decided Thanksgiving week of that year that something had to give.”

While she enjoyed limited success with some weight loss methods, she decided to go for it when MaxYield offered the Naturally Slim program the next summer. “That program taught me a lot about eating and a lot about myself,” said Ostrander, who lost 87 pounds during the next two years.

While she gained 15 pounds back, Ostrander is using what she learned through MaxYield’s wellness program to start losing weight again. As she works toward her goal of losing those last pounds for a grand total of 100 pounds, Ostrander knows she’s on the right track.

“I have better cholesterol numbers, better blood pressure, and a lot less pain in my knees and feet. My overall health has improved, and my doctor is pleased. Do I have more to go? Yes. Hopefully I can get there.”

Building a culture of wellness
Ostrander is one of many success stories that have been influenced by MaxYield’s wellness program. These achievements haven’t gone unnoticed. In June of 2014, MaxYield was one of nine companies honored through the Healthiest Employers of Iowa award program, which recognizes companies throughout the state that have committed to creating a healthy workplace.

“There are a lot of things in life we don’t have control over, but we can control lifestyle choices like diet and exercise,” said Diane Streit, MaxYield’s human resources director, who accepted the award during the Iowa Association of Business and Industry’s annual conference in Cedar Rapids on June 10. “MaxYield cares about our team members, and investing in a wellness program is important to us.”

A number of factors helped MaxYield win the award in the midsized employer (100 to 249 employees) category for western Iowa, including:
Health screenings. In 2011, MaxYield began paying for nursing professionals to come on-site at several MaxYield locations to check five key risk factors for each person, including blood pressure, weight, waist circumference, cholesterol levels, triglycerides, and glucose levels. MaxYield offers a $500 premium health insurance discount incentive for participating in biometric screenings.

Naturally Slim weight loss. Team members whose test results indicated high risk factors were encouraged to visit with their doctor. Starting in 2012, MaxYield also paid the fees to offer the Naturally Slim program to team members. In 2013, Naturally Slim was required for team members with three or more risk factors. The program offers an educational video and quiz on a weekly basis for 10 weeks. Team members who participate log their weight on a regular basis. “With a lot of health issues, even a small weight loss can yield big results,” said Streit, who added that MaxYield has replaced doughnuts and cookies at meetings with healthy alternatives like fruit, yogurt, and granola bars. “One of our participants who had five risk factors at the start of the Naturally Slim program had zero risk factors at the end, thanks to weight loss and a change of diet.”

Lunch-and-learn programs. MaxYield hosts several of these educational events each year and tailors the topics to team members’ interests.

Additional resources. MaxYield’s wellness program also includes personal wellness coaching sessions from a trained nurse, flu shots, smoking and tobacco cessation programs, and support for team members who want to participate in the Live Healthy Iowa 10-week challenge. “There are many stories of team members being able to cut back or eliminate medications because of
healthier lifestyles,” Streit said.

Thanks to the wellness program, MaxYield’s team members can monitor their health data from the current year and previous years to track their progress over time. Approximately 97% to 99% of MaxYield team members who are enrolled in the company’s health care program participate in MaxYield’s wellness program, said Streit, who noted that all of MaxYield’s wellness programs are offered at no charge to team members.

Living life to the fullest
Penny Marvin-Book credits the company’s wellness program with the tremendous improvement in her overall well-being in the past several years. “MaxYield has helped me become a healthier me,” said Marvin-Book, who is MaxYield’s east area controller in Belmond.

“While I had high blood pressure, was overweight, and had high bad cholesterol, all that has changed after going through MaxYield’s wellness programs.”

Today, Marvin-Book’s blood pressure is normal, she has lost the excess weight, and her blood tests are now in the normal ranges. These changes reflect a healthier lifestyle that’s worth maintaining, she added. “With the education and support from the wellness programs, I’ve been able to sustain these results for more than three years.”

Elaine Wilderman, an administrative assistant at the corporate office in West Bend, also credits MaxYield’s wellness program with her new, healthy lifestyle. “I knew I needed to lose weight, and the Naturally Slim program gave me the incentive to really get serious. I learned a whole new way of eating, which dramatically improved my numbers in my blood panels.”

Wilderman no longer suffers from back pain, can walk more than three miles a day, and feels energized by her new outlook on life. “If MaxYield hadn’t started the wellness program, I’m no sure I would have lost the weight and become healthier. The program continues to give me the incentive to keep eating right and living healthy.”

Looking forward
To keep the momentum going, MaxYield is exploring mental wellness programs for 2015, said Streit, who is excited about opportunities to enhance MaxYield’s wellness program. “I was proud to represent the ag industry and the cooperative system at the Healthiest Employers of Iowa program this summer, because we have just as much to offer as any other industry.”

Although healthier team members help MaxYield benefit in the long run through reduced health insurance claims, the primary benefit is being able to do the right thing for team members.

“It’s all about putting people first and making life better for our team members,” said Streit, who noted that the wellness program receives strong support from the board of directors, senior leadership team, and MaxYield team members. “It’s our desire that everyone at MaxYield remains healthy to enjoy their lives, and to be around for their children and grandchildren for years to come.” ■

 

MaxYield is on a Mission

20140723_maxyield_528 (1024x681)People sometimes ask us what we look for in a MaxYield team member. Imagine the kind of person you’d want in your own business.

You’d probably want a fast learner who can take the initiative and handle important jobs with very little supervision. You’d also likely look for a person of integrity with a positive attitude. It’s a plus if the person is a good communicator—especially a good listener.

It’s the same at MaxYield. We hire people who fit our culture first, and then we look at the skills they offer. There’s a certain kind of person who will live MaxYield’s non-negotiables of integrity, safety, professionalism, client focus, accountability, and teamwork.

These “people skills” are key. We can teach you various technical skills related to agronomy, grain, or other areas of our business, but you need to come to us with people skills. That’s why we don’t have job descriptions at MaxYield; we have job missions. A mission reflects a sense of purpose, far beyond just showing up and putting in the time.

A mission means we strive for a work-life balance, even though the cyclical nature of agriculture means this can be challenging at certain times of the year. When it’s go time, we do what it takes to take care of our clients.

A mission also means we’re always looking for good people to join MaxYield’s team. We look at every resume and job application we receive and evaluate which candidates might be a good fit. We also conduct a pre-employment drug screening.

Mentors help MaxYield meet its mission

Part of our mission also involves year-round recruitment, which has proven to be very successful for MaxYield. A big part of this involves internships, on-the-job training opportunities, and summer work experiences for college students. Starting on page 6, I encourage you to read about the ambitious, talented young people who’ve contributed to MaxYield in countless ways this summer.

While developing this talent takes a lot of effort and good mentors, MaxYield is up to the challenge. Through our roles as mentors, we’re reminded that we don’t have a corner on the market of good ideas. Students look at the world through a different set of eyes and offer fresh perspectives. We learn from them as they ask questions and remind us of the basics of why we do what we do.

While we can’t hire every intern who works with MaxYield— and we know the cooperative system won’t be the right fit for every student’s career goals—we do offer valuable learning experiences for every young person who comes here. As we work with more students each year, our pool of potential hires grows, giving us more talent to pick from. This offers a distinct advantage in today’s competitive ag job market.

I’m also pleased that some of these students have come back to join us as full-time team members. Together, we’re on a mission, and we see more in your fields.

Diane Streit
Human Resources Director

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Palo Alto County 4-H Membership Dues Decreased

PA County 4-H 2014 (1024x680)

Angie Strohman (left) and Julie Naig accept a contribution from MaxYield that will decrease the cost of 4-H membership in Palo Alto County.

MaxYield Cooperative presented Palo Alto County Extension and Outreach with a contribution aimed at decreasing the cost of enrollment in 4-H youth programs.

“We are continuing our support of local 4-H and our commitment to our youth,” said Chad Meyer, MaxYield Client Relations Director. “Recently, we presented a contribution for $10.00 per 4-H member in order to decrease the cost of 4-H membership.”

Meyer said the cooperative has two goals in providing the program. “First, we want to make 4-H an affordable youth program for local families, especially families that have multiple children enrolled. Secondly, by paying a portion of each 4-H member’s enrollment fee, we are able to continue our mission in supporting 4-H so that each member benefits.”

The cooperative contributed over $1400 to Palo Alto County Extension and Outreach and will contribute more than $18,000 to 4-H in seven Iowa counties annually.

“We believe that 4-H is one of the cornerstones in developing youth and 4-H provides an excellent foundation to build strong families. 4-H also provides a great way for young people to learn more about agriculture and its exciting future,” commented Meyer.

MaxYield Cooperative is a local farmer-owned cooperative serving members and clients in northern Iowa, southern Minnesota and Riga, Michigan. Founded in 1915, MaxYield Cooperative is headquartered in West Bend, Iowa. More information about the cooperative can be found online at www.MaxYieldCooperative.com and at www.FromTheField.com.

 

Got Propane?

20111005_farming_314 (1024x681)Big Changes Can Impact the Supplies You Need, When You Need Them

We won’t soon forget last winter, when propane prices soared to more than $5 per gallon.
A number of recent events have severely tested the capacity of the propane delivery system, and we want to give you a better understanding of how our area might be affected.

“In the propane industry, April 1 through September 30 is a key time to determine summer fill/allocations,” said Chad Besch, MaxYield Cooperative’s energy team leader. “We’ve noticed that the summer liftings through the pipeline are higher than normal.”

This is linked to big changes with the 1,900-mile Cochin pipeline, which used to carry propane from Canada, through North Dakota and Minnesota, across northeast Iowa, and into eastern Illinois. Its owners, Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, shut the pipeline down to install new pumps to reverse the pipeline’s flow and move a petroleum product called light condensate from the Midwest to areas in the north, where it’s used in the oil drilling industry.

Since the Cochin pipeline quit transporting propane, each terminal that supplies propane to companies like MaxYield must serve a much wider trade territory. In addition, it’s the pipeline company that sets allocation requirements if propane supplies get tight. Those allocations are then passed on by suppliers like Cenex. Allocation is a form of rationing to prevent long lines at
the terminals, Besch noted. Suppliers typically ration only to customers who purchase propane regularly, he added.

“When you go on allocation, the pipeline company looks at how much product you pulled from April through September to determine how much you get during allocation. If we go on allocation, we could get fewer propane gallons than ever before.”

Redistributing slices of the allocation pie

This situation is not unique to MaxYield, said Besch, who noted that other companies in the area are also facing the same challenge.

Consider the terminal in Sanborn, which supplies MaxYield with propane. “Let’s say this terminal typically sells 100 loads of propane during the summer-fill time,” Besch said. “If we get 10 of these loads, we get 10% during allocation.”

Now consider the shutdown of the Cochin pipeline. “Let’s say Sanborn sells 400 loads instead of 100 this year, since each terminal must serve a much wider territory. If we still take our 10 loads, we’ve dropped from 10% during allocation to only 2.5% on allocation.” As terminals serve a wider area, crop conditions across a wider geographic region could affect our propane supplies here. “When you get north of Interstate 90, they are likely going to dry a lot more corn,” Besch said. “This makes propane supplies for the fall grain drying season that much more of a wild card.”

Finding energy solutions

To address this challenge of allocation, MaxYield started going to Ogden to purchase propane and build some allocation at this terminal, too. MaxYield has also promoted its propane tank storage program this year.

“Our lease-to-own program for 1,000-gallon tanks is one of the most affordable options to keep your grain dryers running this fall,” said Besch, who urges clients to have 48 to 72 hours’ worth of capacity for propane storage.

MaxYield also continues to look at additional propane storage options. “In addition, we’ll add an extra LP transport this fall for internal use to go to the terminals and provide you with timely propane service,” said Besch, who urges you to visit with your MaxYield energy solutions specialist for your propane needs.

Fill Up with Diesel

The challenges emerging in the propane market today are similar to issues that started transforming the diesel fuel sector 10 years ago.

“Make sure your diesel fuel tanks are full before going into fall,” said Chad Besch, MaxYield Cooperative’s energy team leader. “We don’t foresee any local supply issues, but if there’s a disruption in the Middle East, the situation could change quickly. Also, basis typically goes up in the fall, so fill up and be ready to go.”