I have been following several people on social media over the last few years about agriculture issues. I have been getting side feeds trying to explain use of glyphosate to the urbanites and suburbanite. Really do I need to see one more video trying to explain 22 ounces of liquid covering a football field? Why don’t the farmers explain it from urbanites and suburbanites perspective and knowledge base. Maybe then, they’ll get it!
First a little background. I grew up in the suburbs of St Paul Minnesota. My mom and dad were raised on dairy farms. After they were married, they moved to the St Paul area and raised their family. My grandparents, on my dad’s side, continued to dairy farm. We would go to their place when I was a child and spend the weekends. My grandparents farm was 160 acres of corn, oats and hay to feed their milking herd of 25 cows and young stock. Part of the acreage was pasture ground and so the managed acreage was about 120 acres. My grandpa’s biggest tractor was 60 horsepower and that’s small by todays agricultures standard.
When I was 20 I moved from the big city (so did my parents and family and bought their own dairy farm) back near my grandparents farm I and got a job on a neighboring farm. This farm was a bigger dairy farm. On this farm we milked 78 cows and had young stock. The farm was about 450 acres raising corn, oats and hay. Some of the acreage was in pasture ground. The biggest tractor on this farm was 120 horsepower. This is the small tractor on todays farms. I worked on this farm for 13 years before I left and went to work in town.
About 15 years ago my youngest daughter took sheep as a 4-H project when she was in her junior year of high school. She moved on with her life and the sheep stayed. At first the sheep were urban sheep. When me and Laurel build a new home in the country we moved the sheep to our new home on 13 acres. We have about 2-1/2 acres of tillable land and the rest is pasture and woods. I manage my land with a 1952 Ford 8N tractor with a whopping 23 horsepower. Most of my feed is raised on my dad’s farm. So there in a nut shell in is my farm knowledge base.
Laurel and I have gardened most of our 35 years of marriage. At first we gardened like farmers then transitioned to gardening on the square foot method. The gardening as a framer we would plow with a tractor and use wide row methods so we could till the ground between the rows of plants. As we learned more about gardening we moved to permanent 4 foot wide raised beds. I would till the soil with a garden fork and the tiller was idled. The beds were planted on the square foot method and mulching of the beds was used to suppress weeds and conserve moisture. At our new home our vegetable garden is the barnyard. Each spring I clean up the manure pack and reset the fence panels to create the garden. Back to the days of plowing and wide row plantings. Today we mostly plant tomatoes green beans for canning. We also grow a variety of peppers and sweet potatoes. We gave up on regular potatoes and squash because of the bugs. We also have a small terraced garden near the house were we plant carrots, beets and spinach. The terraced garden is heavily enriched with compost.
Now I know your starting to think, this guy has a wide base of knowledge. Is he conventional or organic? Is he large scale gardening or small scale farming? Or is he a hybrid of both systems. Dad continues to farm raising corn and soybeans and a few acres of hay for me and a neighbor who bought his beef herd. The corn and soybean seed is Round-up ready, meaning it is GMO seed. A few years ago I got my applicator license so I could purchase chemicals and apply them to the fields. As time marches forward and dairy industry has left our area. The cover crop of hay ground is being replaced with the row crops of corn and soybeans. This is happening to the hillsides where 30 years ago corn would have been planted for one year and the back to hay ground via oats as a nurse crop. The farmers were spreading manure back to the fields enriching the fields. Today the fields are being fed fertilizers to feed the corn and soybeans.
This brings me back to my earlier question. What is your knowledge base? I understand gardening and small dairy farming. But…. Do I understand milking 500 or 1000 cows? Do I understand managing 1000 or 5000 acres of corn and soybeans. How about 10 sections of wheat? Dad’s corn planter is 4 row, and in America’s corn belt farmers are using 24 and 36 row corn planters. Dad just follows a mark in the soil to keep the corn rows parallel. The big planters are using GPS to keep their row parallel when they plant. I have sat in some of the biggest tractors with all their buttons and switches and thought learning to fly a airplane would be simpler. So if I am overwhelmed with the size and technology, what about a urbanite or suburbanite? If they have one tomato plant on their deck why can’t 40 acres of tomatoes be managed in the same way? If they have a grouping of small raised garden beds or a garden 30X30 and they are able to manage after a hard day at work with a hoe and pulling a few weeds so why do the farmers need chemicals? Can’t they manage the crops in an organic way?
I have though about that. Laurel and I are sometimes overwhelmed by our garden that is 30X30 with all the weeding. Lets make the garden bigger. Let say 320 acres. For you that are struggling with size, 320 acres is a area 1 mile by a half a mile. If I wanted to plant a 320 acre field of soybeans and keep it organic, how do I control the weeds? One method is to walk the fields hoeing out the weeds. Let stop and do the math. I first have to determine how wide of a path I can manage weeding. Lets just say 20 feet. So I will walk 1 mile weeding a strip of soybeans 20 feet wide. When I reach the end of the field I will move over 20 feet for the return trip. I will continue this across the field. A half a mile is 2640 feet at 20 feet a time is 132 times I would walk a mile. For all you runners, that’s 10 half marathons! That’s one field of soybeans in America. Who’s going to do this all this walking? You don’t get all summer to weed you maybe get 30 days in the heat of July.
Gardens aren’t small fields and fields aren’t big gardens. Each has their own style of management. If as a gardener you lose your tomato crop you maybe had a financial lose of $100 and will have to buy your canned tomatoes from the store. If a farmer loses their tomato crop there is no paycheck! But the bank loan for the plants, fertilizer and fuel still needs to be repaid.
Back to glyphosate. Why do urbanites and suburbanites think the farmers douse their fields in glyphosate? Look at their knowledge base. As I was watching a commercial for Round-up on television and saw how much chemical the homeowner is applying. He was dousing the poor little plant ensuring its demise. Maybe that is where the public gets their vision of dousing weeds in chemicals on the farm. The homeowner could have bent over and pulled the weed with same results, but that would sell product. If he walked his patio, how many miles would he have walked. At the end of the commercial it shows the homeowner lying in a hammock enjoying the fruits of his weed free lawn and patio. Is that how the urbanites and suburbanites see the farmers? We just spayed our fields with glyphosate and now lying in a hammock wait for the crop to be harvested?
Please stop trying to explain things from a farmers point of view. Break it down to something I can relate to and is in my knowledge base as an urbanite and suburbanite. Maybe that will leave me with a better understanding of your choices as a farmer.
I guess that’s how I see it. Thanks for reading my point of view.