Oh Deer, What Can The Matter Be?



From Our Archives August 2007
GENE LOGSDON (1931 – 2016)
The Contrary Farmer

Thirty years ago, if I saw a herd of twenty or thirty deer grazing in grain fields in our neighborhood, I would have thought seriously about going on the wagon and I don’t mean a hay wagon either. There were no deer in our county then. Today such a sight is common.

Deer are becoming a very big problem but the general populace doesn’t think so yet. Have you ever been at a public meeting where hunters ally with wild animal lovers to lash out against homeowners, biologists, farmers and insurance companies who want to reduce the number of deer significantly? I have. It is not pretty. These people really get angry, shouting and cursing at each other. Ted Williams, my favorite wildlife writer, described in Audubon magazine a couple of years ago a confrontation where a biologist was trying to tell hunters about the depredations that deer were causing to the wild. They “interrupted him by stomping and jeering, … cursed and spat at him, … pushed him and threatened to kill him.”

Just What We Need: Faster Tractors



GENE LOGSDON (1931 – 2016)
From Our Archives June 2007

Ohio’s politicians are considering a bill that would allow giant tractors to go 40 miles per hour on the highway. At present farm tractors are not supposed to be driven over 25 mph on public thoroughfares. The State House of Representatives has passed the bill unanimously and I presume the senators will do about the same. This really cracks me because of a fond experience of my wild oats days. But the law also amuses me considerably just on the basis of its own merits or demerits. For those urbanites who might not divine the reason for this law (if the politicians know, they aren’t spelling it out publicly), farming has become such a wide-ranging enterprise that farmers often rent land far from the home place. The old saying of “trying to farm the whole county” needs to be updated to “trying to farm the whole state.” Getting to the next field sometimes takes more time than getting it planted. Therefore tractors must move faster on the road, (not to mention in the field) or America might starve to death. If that’s not amusing to you, you need to improve your sense of humor.

I wonder if the lawmakers have thought this 40 mph rule through. When behemoth tractors could travel “only” 25 mph, it was easier to pass them in a car than it will be now that they are scooting along at 40. And if they are allowed to go 40, you know for sure they’ll be going 45 or 50 soon enough. That’s one thing but not the whole of the problem. It is daunting enough to see a machine big enough to straddle your car approaching you on the highway at 40 mph., but what if it is pulling some monstrous piece of farm equipment as it certainly will be. Today’s 30 and 40 row planters (or more) take up at least four lanes of highway when fully extended, so of course they have to be swiveled around sideways by the miracle of hydraulic power to be transported over a road. To pass something like that on a highway might take fifteen minutes at legal speeds. Disks and other cultivating rigs are even more daunting. Fully extended, these “tools” are also several lanes wide, so they fold up hydraulically, one wing or arm over the other for road travel. Today’s farm machinery has more hoses on it than a fire truck.

Corn Is For Eating… Or Drinking



GENE LOGSDON (1931 – 2016)
From Our Archives

A hot topic of conversation in our neighborhood is how to teach “them Ayrabs” a lesson by burning corn to heat our homes and fuel our cars. That idea sounds patriotic, but as Samuel Johnson said over two centuries ago, patriotism can be “the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Using corn as a way to heat a home might be economical for a farmer who grows his own corn but even that is debatable and in any event it isn’t going to solve our problems with “them Ayrabs,” any more than that other way to waste corn, making ethanol out of it for car fuel.

The reason that the corn stove business sort of tanked last winter proves the point for both cases. With the government pouring billions of dollars into subsidies for the budding ethanol industry, the price of corn shot up to four dollars a bushel. People who were toying with the idea of burning the stuff to heat their homes did a little arithmetic and not many of them followed through. An average-sized house needs at least two bushels of super-clean corn a day (no cob chaff to float around the house) to keep it comfortably warm for five months a year (estimates vary higher or lower depending on whether the estimator is trying to sell you a stove). If you buy that corn at a grain elevator you will find that it can cost a couple of dollars above market price — for handling, cleaning, and drying. Moreover the new, efficient corn blowers that break up the clinkers formed by burnt corn can cost $5,000 to $8,000. And of course, every time a homeowner opts for corn, he increases demand and the possibility that the price will go up further. It just might be, most people decided, that burning gas was a lot handier and not be that much more expensive. Or they opted for cleaned, pelleted anthracite coal which is what my veteran expert on home heating recommends.

The situation with ethanol is similar. Every new plant that goes on line increases demand for corn. Even when corn prices were $2.00 a bushel, the government was subsidizing the ethanol industry 45 times more than it does the oil industry, says David Pimental, a scientist at Cornell who has studied ethanol for years. At four dollars a bushel, even the government might start having second thoughts, especially when one contemplates the fact that if we put all our annual corn crop into ethanol, it would supply only about 7% of current fuel usage. If we put every arable acre in America to corn, it would make only about 17% of the automotive fuel we consume every year. And what the ethanol proponents don’t like to admit, their plants are being run on coal, gas, and electricity, not ethanol. If that were not true, says Marty Bender (now deceased) at the Land Institute near Salina, Kansas, the lack of profitability in ethanol would be even worse.

Corn is, in case anyone has forgotten, our main livestock feed and is used in other industrial products. Unlike subsidies to farmers for growing corn, which tends to bring the price of corn down, the more corn that subsidized ethanol plants use, the higher the price rises, and so inevitably, the price of meat, milk and eggs too. Somewhere along the way, the consumer may face a momentous decision: shall I eat or shall I drive?

The best use of corn in my opinion is to make good bourbon. At least we might die happy if our civilization crashes like the corn-dependent Mayan culture did. It is a crying shame, but the best Kentucky bourbons are rarely available in my corn belt county and I bet not in yours either. Since ethanol is nothing more than corn whiskey, why not convert all those ethanol plants to distilleries, hire experienced Kentucky distillers to run them, and sell the product at $125 a gallon rather than the measly $3.50 a gallon that subsidized ethanol costs? Farming might actually become profitable.