In Gene Logsdon Blog on March 5, 2014 at 7:21 am
From GENE LOGSDON
With all the talk about robotic farming and robotic everything else, I like to tell how one of my many uncles, on my mother’s (Rall) side of the family, invented a self-driving tractor back in the 1940s. Uncle Lawrence was plowing with his tractor, a Ford 8N, I think, that had a wide front end. He noticed that with one front wheel and one back wheel in the furrow, the plow sort of held the tractor against the side of the furrow and he did not have to do much guiding except to turn around when he came to the end of the field. He thought about how nice it would be to have a field with no ends. Well, riddle me a riddle, how could you manage that? With a round field, of course. Those were the days well before western plains farmers resorted to circle irrigators and planting rigs but since the field where my uncle was plowing was quite a large, fenceless area for those times, he decided to see what would happen. He struck a circle with the plow in the center of the field and round and round he went. Moving along that way, the plow held the tractor in the furrow even more firmly. Finally, Uncle worked up enough nerve to get off the tractor completely, stand by his pickup in case something went awry, and whoop with laughter. Though but a child, I remember that awesome sight of a Ford tractor doing what Mr. Ford never intended it to do. Plowing this way, of course, resulted in quite a mess. The outer corners of the field and the center had to be plowed or disked separately.
Grandfather Rall was still in charge if I remember correctly and he put an end to robot farming for the time being.
After I told that story in my local newspaper column More…
In Gene Logsdon Blog on February 26, 2014 at 9:07 am
From GENE LOGSDON
Our son just installed a new mailbox post for us. The old one was crippled after being wounded repeatedly by Halloweeners and snow plows over the years. What with email and cell phones I wonder if mailbox posts will go the way of hitching posts. The Postal Service says it is going broke but it seems to me all they have to do is make “free” market advertisers and political pollsters pay more for that trash they send our way without our consent and it would be rolling in dough.
Over the years, my favorite daily chore has been walking out the driveway and seeing if salvation has come my way in the mail. I mean that almost literally because before email, I depended on the mail to send out writing I was trying to sell. Then I’d wait hopefully, day after day, for letters of acceptance. And the post office never lost a single rejection slip or payment check in all those years which shows that socialized mail delivery works quite well. Also I lived in 15 different places in six different states in the first half of my life and I looked forward so much to letters from home. People will tell you things in a letter they won’t tell you in person or on Google-surveyed email.
I have been reading old Farm Journal magazines from the late 1800s and they had a lot to say about rural mail and mailboxes and Rural Free Delivery. I would have thought that nothing would have been more welcomed by farmers than to get the mail delivered to their homes free instead of having to go to the post office to pick it up. But no. There is nothing more contrary than country people today or yesterday. They bitched against socialized mailboxes just like they bitch now against socialized medicine. More…
In Gene Logsdon Blog on February 19, 2014 at 7:32 am
From GENE LOGSDON
I just ran into more evidence that farmers who took a deep breath and became certified organic growers a few years ago made a smart move. I attended a meeting of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association Grain Growers Chapter, a group seeking to improve and strengthen certified organic agriculture. I think the meeting was held here (in Upper Sandusky) because it is sort of centrally located, not because there is as yet a lot of local interest in commercial organic farming. Only a few years ago, the general view in my neighborhood was that an organic farmer might have a tinge of commie pink in his or her veins not appropriate for red-blooded Americans.
The farmers at this meeting were sophisticated and articulate and extremely aware of how influential supply and demand can be in farming. One of the main topics of conversation was the high price of certified organic hay and grain. Some prices I heard included oats at $6.88 a bushel, barley $8.60, corn around $12 a bushel, wheat even higher, and spelt at 30 cents a pound. Good quality organic hay was just not to be had. “The phone doesn’t ring anymore,” one buyer said. Prices quoted for good organic alfalfa hay at the farm gate were around $300 a ton which is high but non-organic high quality hay is expensive right now too. Organic alfalfa is almost bound to go higher because of the alarming news circulating about how GMO alfalfa is causing problems in cows. Farmers at the meeting went out of their way to tell me that all livestock producers, not just organic ones, are concerned. They say maybe GMO grain for ethanol might continue, but they are convinced that GMO feeds for livestock are not going to last. One certified organic farmer told me More…
In Gene Logsdon Blog on February 12, 2014 at 8:26 am
From GENE LOGSDON
Farming and gardening have a beneficial effect on society beyond providing food. They make staying at home a pleasure. They could become an effective treatment for travelholism, the affliction that affects people who can’t stop travelling.
Countless benefits would flow into society if we could cure travelholism. First of all there would be plenty of good food around— maybe so much that lots of it would be free. Secondly, unemployment would be reduced. Thirdly, with more people realizing how enjoyable and challenging it is to make the place where they live a homey little paradise, there would be less temptation to anti-social behavior. Fourthly, there would be no counting how many gallons of fuel would be saved. We could stop global warming in its tracks maybe. Fifthly, hundreds of thousands of people would not die or end up crippled from traffic accidents.
If someone started a blogsite called Travelholics Anonymous, it would probably go viral. Travelling is as much a part of our culture as the pursuit of sex and money but more and more people are realizing that it is just not that much fun anymore. But they can’t help themselves. Just as drunks understand the misery of hangovers but still keep on drinking, so travelholics keep on driving even though it means spending grueling hours on big highways fearfully staring at huge semi trucks lurching along on all sides.
Travelholics need to be able to call for help when they are suddenly seized with the urge to go some place. They need to talk to a garden farmer about the joys of staying home. More…
In Gene Logsdon Blog on February 5, 2014 at 7:36 am
Photo by Rory Paul
From GENE LOGSDON
How quickly business picks up on innovations that waft the odor of money into the air. The idea of using unmanned aircraft in agriculture has been so completely embraced that there are already experts out there warning farmers of possible shysters who will try to sell them the wrong drone for their operation. Good grief. There aren’t any proven right ones yet.
I am trying to imagine this innovation positively but it’s not easy. I can see, or almost see, drones delivering to our doorsteps all that stuff we are purchasing online. I suppose it will take some kind of receptacle next to the garage for the drone to deposit stuff into ($$$), or perhaps special bags or crates ($$$) that can be dropped gently on the lawn, in which case there will have to be some kind of safeguard ($$$) to keep thieves from stealing the packages. Maybe the drone will just hover over the roof and drop packages down the chimney.
But when it comes to using drones profitably in farming, my imagination puckers up. The sales pitch right now is that Big Data will need drones to collect unending reams of electronic information to help “you” farm better. There is an assumption here, I guess, that farms will be so vast that farmers will no longer have time to eyeball crops and animals from their pickups or leaning over the fence. More…
In Gene Logsdon Blog on January 29, 2014 at 7:51 am
From GENE LOGSDON
That sounds like a title for a creepy mystery novel but I mean it literally. I have spent countless hours walking along creeks and rivers doing little more than looking and thinking. There is just something fascinating about watching water move in a natural stream and all the natural life that flourishes in and around it. It is watching time flow by. I have also spent many hours fishing, boating, swimming, skating, and nearly drowning in creeks and rivers in Kentucky, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Minnesota, but it is the little creek here at home that I have, for so many years, enjoyed the most. We call it a crick, of course, or rather THE crick when I was a kid, because as a source of entertainment, it was the best thing on the farm.
No toy or pastime can equal a creek in recreational potential for children. Our crick was a little small and shallow for swimming but perfect for wading. Children love to walk in water, — much more miraculously fascinating than walking on water. And in winter when we tried to walk on water, we were forever breaking through thin ice and have to retreat to the warmth of Dad’s workshop to dry our feet. We called our dilemma “leaky boots” but they didn’t leak. We just hoped that Mom would scold less if we blamed it on that.
Among the other games we played in or beside the crick, the most popular was something we called splashing. The idea was to have a good sized rock at the ready, and when a companion got close enough to the water, plop it in and drench him or her. Turnabout then became fair play, and everyone went home soaked. More…
In Gene Logsdon Blog on January 22, 2014 at 7:53 am
From GENE LOGSDON
I call him Joe Commentator because he spends much of his spare time commenting disgustedly on the news. When he gets really irritated about what’s going on, which is often, he calls me to vent his displeasure. This started because I write a local newspaper column. He uses me the way a horseshoer in the old days would hire the village idiot to stand by and take verbal abuse while he was shoeing a recalcitrant horse. Much safer than taking out one’s ire on the horse. I’m an especially appropriate village idiot because I sometimes make the mistake of voicing slightly liberal points of view in my column. This is a neighborhood where the New York Times is considered more dangerous than the Communist Manifesto. But Joe has finally decided I’m okay, just slightly deluded. He keeps calling even when he agrees with me. His calls are one way I get grist for my columns. Joe knows it and has threatened more than once to send me a bill.
This time, he is angry at farm machinery manufacturers. He is a true curmudgeon and very contrary. In an area where corn is often viewed as the Second Coming if not the First, he has been known to plant all soybeans some years and lived to brag about it. He is so upset today that he can’t even complete sentences. I put all his words over ten decibels in caps.
“I’ve just been thinking about how this whole crazy… I don’t even know how… you just have to stand back and… it’s no wonder the country’s… have you ever just really thought about all this new machinery?”
“What you getting at, Joe?” I have no idea what’s coming. More…
In Gene Logsdon Blog on January 15, 2014 at 8:07 am
From GENE LOGSDON
That’s the title of my new book soon to be out. It is sort of a testimonial on how living close to nature can give comfort to those facing the inevitability of death which is all of us. I also try to work in a little humor about the futility of trying to avoid the inevitable. The sub-title says it better perhaps: “A Contrary Farmer’s Thoughts On Living Forever.” I started writing it after I found out, much to my amazement, that I was not going to live forever. I had cancer. I was not taking bets on whether I would see the book published or that I would even get it finished but it seemed like a good time to write about things like immortality. If I upset some readers, they could go stomp on my grave. But modern medicine worked its wonders and the cancer went into remission. The docs now think something else will kill me, probably an irate religious fundamentalist. But getting over cancer became something of a story line for the book, running under the main topic about the meaning (if any) of life everlasting.
As I looked closely into how society faces the subject of dying these days, I learned that there are a growing number of people who are not satisfied with the usual religious attitudes about death and are looking for something that makes more sense to them. You may have heard of death cafes and death dinners where people gather together in a sort of party mood and mode and talk about dying. More…
In Gene Logsdon Blog on January 8, 2014 at 9:14 am
From GENE LOGSDON
If I am ever asked for highlights of my “career” I will answer unhesitatingly that one of them was how my book, Holy Shit, became a textbook in a university. The book was not used in an ag course, as one might expect, but for a course in anthropology and sociology. This is the sort of thing I have most wanted to see happen as a writer: recognition that food production is not just of prime concern to agriculture and farmers, but to social science and human culture as well. The intrepid professor involved is Dr. James William Jordan at Longwood University in Virginia. His course, Anthropology/Sociology 322, is titled “Sustainability: Prehistoric, Colonial, and Contemporary People On the Northern Neck of Virginia.” That’s him in the photo with his grandson, Jack, on his daughter and son-in-law’s farm, helping with the farm work. I shake your hand from afar, Jim Jordan, and bow to you.
I found out about him and his course from his son-in-law, Brent Wills, who visited us recently. Dr. Jordan is at the moment teaching a course in archeology in England and I hope to interview him when he gets back. More…
In Gene Logsdon Blog on January 1, 2014 at 8:27 am
From GENE LOGSDON
Thanks to Big Ag and Big Data, our worries about the weather are just about over. There is the possibility, another one of those blessings that is “just around the corner,” when we will know exactly which day to plant which field to which crop to be assured of abundant yields. The long-awaited paradise of guaranteed weather is almost here. And if, God forbid, it doesn’t always work out, Big Insurance will cover our losses. You can’t lose. Sell those stocks, ditch those derivatives, off that money in offshore accounts. Buy up every last acre of farmland out there.
I hope I’m joking, but maybe not. If what I read in the New Yorker (Nov. 11 issue, 2013) comes true, it could happen. Or at least some people think it could happen. (It is interesting that I keep finding really detailed articles about agriculture in big city newspapers and magazines these days.) Monsanto has just bought something called the Climate Corporation for a billion bucks or so. The Climate Corporation is an insurance company mainly selling crop insurance to farmers at around $40 an acre average, according to the article. The reason this seems (to some) to be good news is that it will make farmers better producers because crop insurance companies like to hedge their bets. For instance, car insurers want cars to be as safe as possible to minimize payouts. Crop insurers want to minimize crop losses for the same reason Climate Corporation has this brilliant notion that Big Data can supply them with enough climate, weather and agronomic information to avoid most catastrophes in the farm fields. Everybody will win. According to this article, Climate Corporation’s scientists More…