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Auction Anguish

In Gene Logsdon Blog on September 24, 2014 at 8:11 am



I used to love to go to farm auctions. I always hoped to find a bargain that no one else recognized. There was nothing like spotting an old book that I knew was worth maybe $50, and then being able to buy it along with a box of ho-hum volumes, for a dollar. For awhile early in married life I even fantasized about making a living scouting out rare old books and selling them for a thousand percent profit. But lots of other people had the same idea, and rarely was I able to make any profit at all.  But it was fun trying.

Same thing with antiques at farm sales. I’d go to one hoping that no professional antique dealers would be there. It rarely happened. They always knew which of Grandmaw’s old dishes were worth twenty dollars and which were  worth twenty cents.

But it was still fun buying up old farm tools that the antique dealers did not yet have buyers for— I’m talking 1950s and 60s— like hand-cranked corn shellers, seed cleaners, broadcast seeders, barbed wire, jugs, chicken waterers, grain cradles, sickles, scythes, cow leg hold chains, milk stools, corn knives, husking pegs,  More…

Trivia That May Not Be So Trivial

In Gene Logsdon Blog on September 17, 2014 at 8:29 am



Almost every day I observe something on our homestead that is quite remarkable in a humble sort of way. I think maybe I should write about it but then  the big news of the day comes flooding in and I almost feel guilty that I find joy in these little things around me. I should be all hitched up in the nervous regions about how the world is falling apart.  But I am going to ignore the world’s apparent disintegration today for what could be more important events in the long run.

Trivia No. 1: We store potatoes over winter in a plastic bin sunk in the hillside of the backyard. Maybe three inches and the lid stick out above the ground. I went out to clean out the few old wrinkled spuds left over from last year to make way for the new crop. I was taken aback to find a potato plant, about six inches tall, growing out of the lid. Impossible. Carefully lifting the lid, I found a long potato vine had grown up from an old potato under the remnants of straw (we store the potatoes with alternate layers of straw) in the bottom of the bin. Somehow it spotted a hint of light above (can potato eyes see??), climbed up the side wall and squeezed through the edge of the lid and upwards into the sun. I was totally mystified, because the lip of the box is rounded and the lid fits down over that lip, watertight and, I thought, light tight. But then I remembered. More…

Wanted: A Farmer

In Gene Logsdon Blog on September 10, 2014 at 9:37 am



Reading “Help Wanted” sections  in local rural newspapers, I am moved to smiles or tears or both at one advertisement that appears more and more often these days. It goes like this: “Looking for a good, full time, all around farm assistant to drive modern farm equipment and trucks for all farm operations including planting, spraying and transporting crops. Must be self-motivated and willing to learn.  Must take responsibility for maintaining and repairing  equipment. Must be willing to work long hours and weekends during peak seasons. Wage based on experience.”

There is so much irony involved here. Let me count the ways.

Here is the big farm that needs a real farmer that the big farm drove out of business.

Here is the big farm that knows how to get more land or machinery to continue to grow but can’t hire a real farmer to do the work.

How I would love to know what the “assistant” who answers this ad, if anyone does, will be offered  as a starting wage. (As soon as the word, wage, is used instead of salary, you know it won’t be much.) The employer is asking for someone with more brains than banking requires, as much stamina as professional sports demands, almost as many people skills as it takes to run a university and the dedication of a sainted doctor. But here in my neck of the woods, More…

Pssst…. Wanna Invest In a 900,000 Acre Farm?

In Gene Logsdon Blog on September 3, 2014 at 8:44 am



In the early 1970s, I left Marvin Grabacre within the pages of Farm Journal magazine just after he had, in the 21st century, bought out his last competitor who owned the other half of the U.S. farmland. Now he owned it all. Half of the U.S. had not been a large enough economic unit for a farming enterprise, he said. And he was already thinking about buying Japan, figuring he could sell off  Arizona and New Mexico to get the equity in his stock portfolio that he needed to attract that kind of investor money. Arizona and New Mexico would soon run out of water anyway, he figured, so why not get rid of them while the price was still high.

I thought I was being a smartass humor writer, drawing out to its ultimate absurd conclusion the madness of monster farming that pervaded the countryside at that time. The collapse in the land bubble came about ten years later and I thought that would be the end of idiot money farming. But by 2007, it was on the rise again and  my absurdities about Marvelous Marv didn’t sound absurd at all. Huge farms were forming in Eastern Europe, Africa, Brazil and in fact anywhere investors could get their hands on cheap land. (You can track all this with USDA’s Economic Research Service at which does not indulge in droll humor like I do.)  By 2010 Black Earth Farming, in Russia, for one, was running tractors over 1,200 square miles of farmland. (Honest). Farms of 300,000 hectares were becoming ho-hum. More…

How Many People Equals Too Many People? 

In Gene Logsdon Blog on August 27, 2014 at 9:14 am



Agriculture’s most earnestly held article of faith is that if farmers can continue to increase production to meet the ever-rising demands of population growth, future food shortages and the upheavals that so often follow can be avoided. If you care to look at the situation from a somewhat different angle, the opposite is truer. The more food an agricultural system produces, the more it encourages population growth, and the more the population grows, the greater the chances that social stress, war, genocide and famine will follow. One would think that after elegantly feasting on good food, humans would just want to lean back, belch and enjoy their good fortune. Instead they haul off and procreate more people to join the feast.

I used to brandish Farmers of Forty Centuries as the ultimate last word in sustainable food production and the best answer to avoiding world hunger. I was wrong. That book describes farming in Asia in the early 1900s when more food was being produced  there per acre than anything the gene manipulators or the organic producers today have come close to imitating. All it did was keep population growing so that more food had to be produced. China, especially during its wars with Japan in the 1930s More…

Pseudo Cisterns To The Rescue

In Gene Logsdon Blog on August 20, 2014 at 9:44 am


When I read about the resurgence of rain barrels going on these days, I think of them as part of the urban scene for some reason, not something popular out here where the corn grows tall. So I was more than a little surprised when our local Soil and Water Conservation District began selling them. Fifty bucks.  Here in my neighborhood, more people have farm ponds and cisterns than rain barrels, and those of us who do catch roof water in small amounts have managed to equip ourselves with barrels without, God forbid, spending money for one. If you can’t beg a free barrel, you just ain’t real country yet.

Actually, I would buy a rain barrel if I had to. We’ve always kept one or two  around the place, even back when we lived in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I’ve  used them mainly so that I don’t have to carry water to the chickens. A barrel is certainly cheaper than a pipe line, well, cistern or pond. What I finally did in the suburbs so as to have water handy throughout winter, was to partially bury a galvanized steel stock tank of about 30 gallons behind the chicken coop and rabbit pens, a sort of cheap, tiny cistern with boards over it for a cover, and ran a length of roof guttering from the coop roof to the tank. More…

Love and Hate In the Chicken Coop

In Gene Logsdon Blog on August 13, 2014 at 9:13 am


We are in the process of moving our pullets in with the old hens. No big deal in this case since I am talking four pullets and three hens. The coop is about ten by twenty feet in size, plenty of room for seven chickens. The pullets since birth have lived on one side of a chicken wire fence that divides the coop, with the hens on the other side. All day, all night, since May, they have been able to watch each other closely, smell each other, listen to each other, even able to nuzzle or peck through the fence at each other if they wanted to. The chicks in fact preferred to huddle against the fence, as close to the hens as they could get when I came in the coop. The hens paid the chicks no mind whatsoever.

We all know what happens when you put a strange chicken in with your flock.  The resident birds will attack with a vengeance. I think it says in the bible that humans are the only creatures that will kill their own kind but chickens will too. And even after they have spent a couple months separated by only a flimsy wire fence, the dominant group still attacks the other mercilessly when they are put together. I usually introduce the two groups slowly and tentatively, by way of contact outdoors, where the pullets can escape their aggressors until the two groups get used to each other. In that situation, it always amazes me how the pullets go back into the coop at night with the hens.


Farmers Learned Long Ago How To Handle The Weather 

In Gene Logsdon Blog on August 6, 2014 at 9:21 am


I give Monopoly Farming credit for one thing: it knows what needs to be done to make agriculture as certain of profit as manufacturing can be. Control the weather. That at least would make it easier to sell stock in gigantic farm enterprises. And the kind of mentality that achieves success in manufacturing thinks it knows just how to do that. Turn Big Data loose on weather records so that crops can be planted precisely at the best time and place for profitable yields. All big business thinks it needs are minutely-detailed, computer-collated statistical records on every raindrop, every temperature degree, every whisper of wind, every vortex shift of every pole, every oscillation of every ocean ripple, every zig and zag of every jet stream. Then the farmer will know, unerringly, when and where to plant wheat in Russia, soybeans in Brazil, corn in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, etc. No more guesswork, no more risk. Data will rule. As all successful business people know,  it’s just a matter of having enough facts in your portfolio. The money will roll in. The world will be fed. Heaven will be now.

It is futile to point out to such a glib mentality why that won’t work and how over the centuries farmers learned a more reliable way to deal with uncontrollable weather. If you look at agricultural history the traditional way, More…

The Democratization of Agriculture

In Gene Logsdon Blog on July 30, 2014 at 9:37 am


During the years I worked as a farm journalist, I moaned and groaned over the attitude of agricultural communicators toward the public. We were supposed to write exclusively for farmers, which was understandable, but the definition of “farmer” was limited to those who were good customers of big advertisers. Sheep ranchers, for example, could no longer get a subscription to Farm Journal because they didn’t buy enough farm equipment, something even the Wall Street Journal found amusing enough to editorialize about. If the magazine wanted to charge adverstising rates on the basis of a million subscribers, it had to show that those readers were buyers too, not just people interested in farming. So, perhaps for the first and last time in journalistic history, the magazine deleted thousands of subscribers. The readers who remained became a kind of exclusive club. One suggestion, to charge the “non-buying” group of subscribers more, was not deemed feasible.

This policy could and did backfire on farmers. More…

Old (Farm) Wives’ Tales

In Gene Logsdon Blog on July 23, 2014 at 7:17 am


We are down to only three hens at the moment, thanks to foxes or coyotes exacting their yearly tribute, but we are still getting two eggs every day. One of the two recently was a small, yolkless egg. “Old wives” told me when I was a child that such an egg signals the end of a hen’s laying season until she molts and starts up again. But since that yolkless little egg, we have continued to  get two normal-size ones every day. One might argue, in defense of old wives’ tales, that the third hen started laying the minute she noticed that one of others had laid a small egg. But if something that outlandish could be true then, according to another old wives’ tale, that first egg she laid should have had a little dried blood smeared on the shell which was not the case.

There’s another mystery involved. I asked my sister, the one closest to me in age, if she had heard about this last egg-first egg morsel of folklore and she said no. How could she not have heard what I heard since we grew up together. Perhaps her memory is dimming quicker than mine, although I would not dare say that in her presence. So I ask all of you: have you heard this folklore? Did I just dream it up?

Another quaint belief from the past is the notion that  you should not graze your sheep on red clover because it will cause pregnancy problems. More…