Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Seeding is well underway here at the farm. On the recommendation of one of our farmers, I decided it might be a good idea to come take a look.
I learned that we--the landowners--are called "landlords," which makes sense when you think about it. We own land, but don't do the physical labor ourselves. This seems to increasingly be the case in western Nebraska, where land is expensive and farming not incredibly lucrative. To break into farming at the entry point would be difficult. To run a farm is also expensive. At the same time, the population of these prairie towns grows smaller and smaller, which means that it is an ever tinier pool of people who actually does the labor.
At the same time, we expect our food to be plentiful and cheap in the US.
And we wonder why it is that we in this country can't always understand one another . . .
Here is Damon's tractor (the front part) and drill (the back part). I rather think it looks like a peacock with the tail all fanned out in the back.
We practice no-till farming on our land, which basically means that we do not plow the earth before planting seed. In fact, we avoid ploughing all together. As a result, we have to plant with a drill to get through the layer of stubble and dead weeds which congregate on the surface. There are better and better drills and equipment available to farmers to accomodate this kind of practice, though the drills featured here are not the most aggressive.
The peacock tail has either 74 or 75 (sue me; I didn't count) of these drills, which dig up the dirt. Behind each drill is the slot out of which wheat and fertilizer are ejected from an air pump. It's impressive and looks something like a cylon crossed with, well, a drill.
Actually, I think that looking at farm machinery would be a science fiction fan's fantasy. No, really. Hear me out. The equipment is enormous and unlike what most city-dwellers are accustomed to seeing day to day. It takes skill to know how to operate and repair one of these things.
The technology is also changing. I had a fascinating conversation with Damon (in the very first photo) about corn seeders, which now are now so GPS capable, that the drills will turn on and off if the tractor is driving over land which has already been sown. Not only that, but the tractor will trace the contour of a field on its own. Wheat drills can do this to some extent, but the corn machinery is more sophisticated. All this, of course, does help save on wasted seed so places are not planted twice.
There are only so many things we can control with farming; the miracle of plant life still occurs underground and is up to factors like the weather.
We visited a piece of land which was planted over a week ago. The wheat was sprouting, but there were a few places where nothing had come up.
Under these circumstances, it is difficult to resist the temptation to dig to see if all is going according to plan.
In this case, the wheat was sprouting, but the seed had just been planted so deep, it hadn't caught up with the others seedings. See how the sprout, which was uncovered, is a yellowish color? It hadn't yet seen the sun and so photosynthesis hadn't occurred.
Antelope had been through our field, so I took a photo of their tracks and some sprouts. They don't each enough of the shoots to destroy the crop, but they do tear up the land.
It's kind of hard not to be fascinated by their tracks.
What did we do before cell phones?
While visiting our farmers at their house, a call came in that the tractor would need its seed wheat replenished. So, off to the tractor we went to deliver seed wheat. And so the work went on, as efficiently as all this enormous equipment (and its operators) can make it.