I don’t know where to start, the product of not knowing what I was doing from the start, having missed much of what was there from the start.
Yet even with this singular lack of know-how, I would do it again.
Sometimes you prepare for life, but there are times when just throwing down the gauntlet works better.
This approach may not have been cautious, but my motivation, if not solid, was nevertheless clean, clear and healthy – free from congestion, fresh and free – to live differently from the way life had been for me.
I had been a student at a big university in a big city for too long; tired of the incessant academic drudgery, I wanted to work with my hands in the open air, to create something real.
I had never been a farmer, so I bought a farm.
Having no idea what I was doing, I had to learn everything and endure the stares of those whose jaws dropped in wonder – all the while having to earn a living to support a family and pay for the operating the farm, I didn’t know how to do Courses.
Those were great years.
Recently, I returned to the farm, mine and my neighbour’s, him with a sense of humor — Myron Smolinski. I was ready to witness the product of an evolution, but, sometimes, a time interval carries more substance than can be dealt with in a brief return.
Myron passed away several years ago. The farm is now run by two of his sons, Mike and Gary, with Gary’s son Alex being cared for as part of the team.
When I was their neighbor, Mike and Gary were in high school, but that was 40 years ago. The Smolinski boys are no longer boys.
What these brothers have accomplished is impressive; their father would be the proudest. I’m sure their mother is. No matter where I looked, I saw the results of hard work and the progress such work can achieve when done well and carefully managed.
Let’s run some numbers:
My corn yield was about 80 bushels per acre.
My biggest tractor was a 55 horsepower David Brown.
I cultivated 70 acres of crops.
The Smolinskis cultivate a total of 2,500 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat and edible beans using two 400-horsepower tractors for cultivation. Their maize yields are double and triple mine. Other equipment – large equipment – and other tractors are used for spraying, fertilizing and planting – some guided by GPS navigation.
Their bean planter – a 40-foot length of steel and a complexity with 31 rows of planting – intimidated me. At the time, seeing a plantation albatross like this rapidly descending into the field would have starved me and my livestock of food for weeks.
The Smolinskis have the capacity to store 120,000 bushels of the crops they produce, providing marketing flexibility previously unavailable.
They perform 99% of the necessary maintenance and repairs on their equipment. Like us, they are delivered the next day — for us, they are shirts and ties; for them, it’s hydraulic hoses and gears.
There are newer and larger buildings housing the larger equipment. New crop handling systems, new fertilizer distribution systems; even the way they till the soil has changed.
I used a plow or an offset disc; both pieces of equipment dug deep.
Now a gigantic cultivator moves quickly and smoothly over the dirt, “ruffling” the top two to two and a half inches of soil, creating a seedbed without degrading the underlying soil structure.
I could go on and on.
I ask Mike and Gary what the biggest changes have been since their dad and I were farming as neighbors. They mentioned two things: weather and plant genetics.
The September frosts — we don’t have any more — they come in October, so the crops don’t dry as quickly as they used to. There is more moisture in corn and soybeans later; the harvest is delayed and more difficult.
Mike told me that the big agricultural companies are continually producing high-yielding, drought-resistant and disease-resistant varieties of plants.
But time has changed and challenged countless generations of farmers, and hasn’t nature favored the evolution of plants for eons?
Could it be that things haven’t changed as much as they seem?
Could it not be that intimidating bean planter or the 400 horsepower tractors underlying the evolution I saw on the Smolinski farm – or the relentless innovation in plant genetics – maybe it is the same underlying power that it has always been:
The mystery of the seed
It was the purpose of the leaf and the root
For this the flower burned its time.
This little grain is the ultimate fruit.
This is the formidable power vessel.
New York Times, 1960
Doug Pugh’s “Vignettes” air weekly on Saturdays. He can be contacted at [email protected]