Gene Logsdon and Friends

Dead-End Work

In Gene's Weekly Posts on May 27, 2015 at 9:23 am



In a news story from a third world country recently, the reporter referred to farm chores, butchering and street cleaning as “dead end” work. The inference was that progress involved convincing young people to go to school and avoid low-paying manual labor. Never once did the report mention that a good way to turn dead end work into high end work is to raise the pay. 

Why is it that so often society puts down essential work like farming and food production as merely menial tasks that any dumb ass can do. If you teach young people that farming is dead end work, you are guaranteeing food shortages in the future. Or at least that would be the case except that enough people still know how to think for themselves and see opportunities in making successful careers out of seemingly menial work like farming, butchering and street cleaning.

There’s a guy in our town who shunned college, started out as a lowly paid street maintenance worker, and today runs a million dollar business in landscaping and related work. Among the people I know are farmers and butcher shop operators who make almost as much money as doctors do. If you want to talk more accurately about dead end work, how about spending fifty years in an office cubicle doing nothing more than channeling information streaming across your desk from one vice president to another.

I like to shock people by pointing out that I was once a homeless guy from Baltimore. ‘Once’ is the key word here. When I was working for a farm magazine in Philadelphia back about 1967, there was a big fuss over a government effort to train unemployed welfare recipients roaming the streets of Baltimore to pick apples in the commercial fruit orchards nearby. More…

Soil Science Spelled It Out A Whole Century Ago

In Gene's Weekly Posts on May 20, 2015 at 9:47 am



An organic farm marketer brought me a strange book to read and I can’t get it out of my mind. It was written by Cyril Hopkins, an agronomist at the University of Illinois in 1911. Already a century ago, science had committed the wisdom of the ages about maintaining soil fertility (Hopkins quotes Cato, Varro and Virgil from ancient Rome) to the finely wrought analysis and statistics of science. Soil scientists knew very well how to practice sustainable farming a century ago but then as now many people, including some fellow scientists, paid little attention. The strangeness of the book comes from the author’s efforts to write “The Story of The Soil” in the form of a novel, embedding his treatise on soil science in a more or less fictional love story.  He had already written a factual book on how to restore and maintain fertility in America’s declining soils but, surprise, surprise, hardly anyone read it. I suppose he figured that maybe people would pay attention if a little sexual intrigue were woven into his pages of dry facts and figures about manure, lime, rock phosphate and clover rotations and what happens when you don’t do it correctly. I doubt his ploy worked except with those of us who think sustainable farming is a pretty sexy subject all by itself.

At the beginning of the twentieth century there was plenty of evidence that yields of farm crops were in decline, despite all the blazing glory shouted from the rooftops about the limitless fertility of our soils. All that was staving off a clear realization of that fact was that for two centuries and more, we always had new land to move to and repeat the process of mining the virgin nutrients out of it. Hopkins addressed that reality directly, piling up enough statistics and case histories to choke a dinosaur. More…

Speed Farming

In Gene's Weekly Posts on May 13, 2015 at 6:41 am



The farm news (DTN/Progressive Farmer) reports that Finland is boasting a farm tractor that can go 80 mph on snow. How’s that for technological progress? As far as I can tell, the speed is not meant for farming— crops won’t grow on snow.  However, farm machinery companies in both Europe and the United States are touting their latest models that can hit 50 mph on the open road. This is not mere technological fantasy trying to find an outlet: many farmers today spend about as much time moving their rigs from one farm to another as they do in the fields, so having a souped-up road gear makes cents if not sense. Field speeds are increasing too, and that makes even more cents. Farm machinery engineers say that increasing field speed from 10 mph to 12 mph increases productivity by 20%. How about that? With my kind of arithmetic that means that when you bury a monster tractor in the mud and need three more monsters plus three snapped cables plus ten hours to get it unburied, as happened in my neck of the woods one spring,  your productivity decreases (four tractors times zero) to a minus 80%.

The farmer friend who told me about that four tractor debacle has two hobbies, bird watching and monster farm watching. He recently observed an operation in his neighborhood that has contrived a drawbar hitch-up that enables one tractor to pull four anhydrous ammonia tanks at once. Awesome. That rig must need half a township to turn around in. My friend jokes that he tried to get all of this outfit’s machinery, parked in a field one evening, into a single photo but couldn’t because one frame on his camera couldn’t encompass it all. More…