Farming Is A Special Calling


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From GENE LOGSDON

All the delightful responses to my column the week before last about favorite farm and garden chores reflected a fact about farming that needs to be repeated over and over again. Producing food is not a job or a business but a calling. Only some of us are attracted to it. Only some of us can really enjoy the physical work involved. From now on when I hear how I romanticize farming too much and don’t tell readers how difficult farm work can be, I will just show them your responses. For us, repulsive is commuting through traffic jams and sitting in offices all day. Even hauling manure is better than that.

Several of you, particularly Jim Henslee said every farm activity, as it comes along through the year, is your favorite. Rick Presley likes to prune orchards. Raking hay is Gary Burnett’s favorite. One of mine too. Dancinghairwoman likes to burn brush in the spring. Me too again. Brian L likes to harrow a freshly disked field, another of my favorites. Amos Turtle likes watching the yellow ears of corn being carried by the elevator chain on the picker up into the gravity box. Reminds me of a story. A neighbor once confessed to me that the first time he harvested corn with a picker-sheller and watched the golden grain funnel effortlessly into the combine bin, he broke out crying, remembering the grueling work of harvesting corn by hand.

Anthropomorphism, A Big Word Getting Bigger


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From GENE LOGSDON

Treating animals as if they were humans or ascribing human characteristics to animals, which is what anthropomorphism means, is gaining more cultural ground every day and giving farmers who produce meat a huge headache. Things have gone so far that some people equate eating any meat with cannibalism.

Good grief. But if the human race decides not to eat meat anymore, what can I say? I am not infallible in matters of faith and morals like the Pope is supposed to be. Come to think of it, I wonder what the Pope has to say about animal rights because the accusation of cannibalism was often leveled at early Christians to make fun of them. Christians believed, and Catholics still do, that, during the communion service, bread actually, literally, not symbolically, transubstantiates into the body of Christ when the priest pronounces the words “this is my body” over it. Critics of early Christianity said that if someone truly believed that, then they were cannibals to consume that transformed bread. Silly, perhaps, but by the same token I could accuse today’s more extreme animal rights defenders of cannibalism for consuming all those tiny microbial animals in the bread they eat.

Your Favorite Farm Or Garden Job?


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From GENE LOGSDON

That’s an easy one for me— burning off the asparagus patch in the early spring. Just something about lighting up the new growing year. After so long staring out the windows at one snowfall after another, we can finally go outdoors and not have the wind freeze our faces. And it takes a bit of knowhow. We wait for the perfect morning. There needs to be a slight breeze, enough to blow the fire briskly over the bed, but not brisk enough to blow sparks into the woods. The dead asparagus stems need to be dry enough to burn readily and completely. We light the dead foliage at one end of the patch and carry burning stems with forks, dribbling fire down the row. Something satisfying about how the fire does all the work while we lean on our forks, or sit in lawn chairs, keeping watchful eyes so no little errant flame sneaks out into the leaves and dead grass bordering the patch. And there are no bugs. The result is not only that many asparagus beetle eggs are destroyed, but the fire leaves a nice black covering on the patch to soak up sunlight warmth and make the new shoots come up a little quicker.

My next favorite job is frost seeding red clover with a hand-cranked seeder slung over my shoulder. Folklore says to sow clover on St. Joseph’s Day, March 19, which is usually about the right time here in northern Ohio.

Farm  Success Brings Farm Failure


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From GENE LOGSDON

After years of belittling organic farming, some chemical farmers are exploring the possibilities of getting into it. Can’t blame them. Conventional grain is selling around $3.60 a bushel and in some cases even lower because of the glut. Alan Guebert, in his excellent national column, Farm and Food File, suggests there is enough corn and soybeans in the bin right now to last us through next year. At the same time organic grain is selling around $8.00 a bushel and some 40% of it is imported. I was talking recently to John Bobbe,  the executive director of the Organic Farmers Agency for Relationship Marketing (OFARM) and author of Marketing Organic Grain about all this. “I am getting several calls every week from farmers looking to get into organic grain farming,” he says. “Some are calling it the ‘rush to gold’.”

So we should all be rejoicing at organic farming’s success, right? Afraid not. The worry now is first of all that farmers wanting into the gold rush don’t really appreciate what they will have to do. Almost all organic certification requires specific rotations that include small grains and legumes that have to be marketed too if the operation is going to be profitable. Most conventional farmers don’t want to go that route (which is partly why there is a glut of corn and soybeans right now). As has been the case so often, farmers who try to transition to organic when prices are high don’t have the commitment that it takes and want to go back to conventional when conventional market prices rise.

Farming Controversies Are So Complicated


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From GENE LOGSDON

​I read an article on the DTN/Progressive Farming website that once again shows how difficult it is to resolve differences of opinion in farming disagreements. The article was an even-sided discussion of possible overproduction of organic crops, (which I plan to write about soon) but a respondent took the occasion to launch into a rather vitriolic attack on organic farming. He was irritated about the organic stand against herbicides. How could organic farmers consider their methods to be environmentally correct, he wrote, when they use cultivation to control weeds in row crops and shun herbicides. Cultivation increases the severity of erosion and uses more fossil fuel than herbicide applications. That’s true as far as I know. Cultivation also releases CO2 to the atmosphere, disturbs soil life negatively, and breaks up soil particles too much, he argued. He concluded by opining that those of us who cultivate row crops, or use flame throwers instead of herbicides to kill weeds, are stupid.

​But herbicide farmers cultivate the soil quite a bit too, during fall and spring when erosion is more severe. At least here in my neck of the woods, fields are cultivated in the fall, so as to be ready for planting as soon as possible in spring, and then cultivated again in the spring ahead of planting. If a no-till planter is involved, the operation is called “no-till.” Beats me. The big trend now is cover crops overwinter, surely a good idea, but that means either more herbicides in spring to get rid of the cover or more cultivation of some kind to smack down the cover crop.

Milk Is Going The Wine Route


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From GENE LOGSDON

​The increasing interest in artisanal foods is opening up all kinds of opportunities in farming that could hardly have been predicted even a few years ago. Who would ever have thought a good market for small, backyard hen coops would open up. Or hops and malting barley farms starting up close to craft breweries? Or cricket flour discussed as a practical new food?

The controversy over fats and cholesterol has contrarily opened new specialized farm markets for what I like to call artisanal milks. During the scare about cholesterol, Jersey and Guernsey cows, known for milk high in butterfat, declined in number and Holsteins, with less fat in their milk, increased. (A neighbor who milked Jerseys told me once that he kept a Holstein in his herd in case he had to put out a fire.) Then slowly, the attack against saturated fats subsided to the point where books singing their praises popped up all over. People started looking into dairy products with a more discerning eye. Consumers discovered what dairy farmers have known all along: milk is not a generic product, but encompasses many versions with varying tastes. Jersey milk tastes different than Holstein milk. Cow milk tastes different than goat, horse or sheep milk. When we went from milking by hand and cooling in tubs of well water to machine milking with the milk flowing directly from the cow through a pipeline into a cooling tank where its temperature was lowered rapidly, the taste improved markedly. Cows out on fresh green grass after a winter on hay and grain give milk with a different flavor that takes some getting used to. Milk from cows eating mostly corn silage tastes different than that from cows eating hay and grain.

Factual Science and Maybe Science


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From GENE LOGSDON

​I am not against genetic modification but only against the way that herbicide manufacturers are using it to justify patenting any plant in nature that interests them and then, in my opinion, trying to use the patents to gain unfair monopolies in the food and farm economy. So whenever I see research favoring agricultural GMOs that sounds to me like only maybe science, not proven science, you can hear my teeth grinding clear across the room. The latest is some research out of Purdue University being publicized all over and in at least one publication, Farm and Dairy, under the headline “Eliminating GMOs Would Raise Food Prices.” Note well that it doesn’t say “could” raise prices but “would” raise prices, insinuating that the findings conclude with a fact, not a possibility.

​Purdue scientists fed data gathered from worldwide cropland production in 2014 into a computer model which then told them that eliminating all GMOs in the United States would mean a decline in corn yields of 11.2%, soybean yields down 5.2%, and cotton down 18.6%. They then stated, as if it were written in stone and not in a computer program, that 250,000 acres of pasture and forest would have to be converted to cropland to make up for that loss. If not, commodity prices for corn would increase as much as 28% and soybeans 22%. Food prices would rise one to two percent or $14 billion to $24 billion a year.

​Snot. This is not proven science but just maybe science. Maybe it’s correct, maybe it’s not. First of all it is based on an assumption that GMO crops produce higher yields than conventional crops. Plenty of data out there indicates that this is only true when GMOs decrease weed and insect infestations enough so the crop can reach its potential.

Scratch An American, Find A Farmer


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From GENE LOGSDON

​Old sayings like “scratch a Christian, find a pagan” or “scratch a Russian, find a Tartar,” have a counterpart in agriculture: Scratch an American, find a farmer. There are a whole lot more people involved in farming than generally meets the eye or gets counted in the demographics. For instance, reading the latest (Spring, 2016 edition) Draft Horse Journal, I learned that Leroy Van Dyke, world famous country music star (his “Walk On By” has been named the most popular country music single of all time) lives on a farm and raises mules . He remembers his youth on his father’s 3000 acre farm, where, he recalls, “in 1936 we planted 650 acres of corn with mules.” So much for my notion that horses and mules are only practical on small farms.

​This issue also carries a story about Andy Mast, an Amish artist and farmer who is now receiving national recognition for his amazing pencil sketches. Then there’s an article about William Busch, the fourth generation of the Busch family which made Budweiser beer famous. Growing up, he worked on the family farm estate and learned to like farming and breeding horses, which he is still doing. In addition, now that the Anheuser-Busch beer business has mostly been merged out of his family’s control, he has started his own new craft beer business, brewing a brand he calls Kraftig.

​I personally know a doctor who maintains a working farm and grows open-pollinated corn. We’ve traded ears of our corn. I just got a letter from another doctor in Idaho who farms and writes newspaper columns too. He has “a few cows, sheep, chickens, dogs and horses including a team.” He is in the process of acquiring a hay loader for putting up hay loose, that is un-baled. Anybody willing to work that hard is a real farmer, I don’t care what else he does. Reminds me of the article I wrote for Farm Journal in 1965:

Shall The Meek Inherit The Earth After All?


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From GENE LOGSDON

​I’m not what you’d call a Bible thumper, but I do like to quote it on occasion, inserting an appropriate passage into the conversation in a sonorous voice that makes me sound wise. The passage that I have found most hopeful and most unhopeful at the same time is about how the meek shall inherit the earth. It’s in Psalms and evidently important enough that Matthew repeated it in the New Testament. However the only people I’ve seen inheriting the earth have been the wealthy whom I would hardly refer to as meek. As a young man I realized that what I wanted most out of life was a farm of my own, but I was so poor that only meekness would work for me. That made me fond of the biblical saying. However I was out of luck. I could hardly ever bring myself to act humble no matter how broke I was.

​But as I now try to make an argument for a future in which small garden farms and pasture farms replace the huge acreages of industrial agriculture and animal factories, I am cheered to have the Bible on my side for a change. What I’ve been writing for the last 30 years without actually realizing it is just that: the meek shall inherit the earth. How can I be wrong with the Bible on my side?

​As I read the farm news closely every day, the signs are everywhere. Industrial agriculture is losing its grip on the land. It just is not cost effective, if it ever was, and subsidies play more of a role in keeping it going than ever before. Industrial economics requires ever increasing expansion to keep up with the built-in increases in costs and ever increasing number of consumers. Years ago I wrote, in Farm Journal magazine, about Marvin Grabacre who grasped the situation perfectly.

New Age Farming Is Not About “Going Back” To the Land


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From GENE LOGSDON

One of the prejudices about artisanal, small-scale food farmers is that they are “going back” to the land. The truth is, they are going forward to the land. For several generations now the older people in our preponderantly urban population have handed down to their children an image of farming based on experiences that date back to the early 1900s. The hard life they described of lonely, boring days without electricity, running water, television, radio, central heating furnaces, and fathers who overworked their children in a vain effort to keep up with mounting industrial farming costs, got imbedded in the subconscious minds of urbanites even though they know it isn’t true anymore. These old images have left a prejudicial residue on urban minds that scents the mental air with the notion that farmers are somewhat backward and less intellectually aware of what is going on today. When we were trying to get a new doctor or two into our rural county as late as the 1970s, some prospects, or more often their wives, did not want to come here because they figured rural communities were intellectually narrow-minded and uninformed and our schools not good enough for their precious children. People infected with this kind of bias unconsciously think that going into farming today are “going back” to the clodhopper days of the past.

​It has been left to my generation that stayed in rural areas and whose lives have spanned the years from the old farm culture to the new, to try to convince urbanites that there are no clods to hop anymore.