Learning to make the tough calls

The right time to seed, and what can be done with all of these rocks?

I’d like to write about wheat. I’d like to write about how in labs across the world, people who know how to do such things are working on manipulating the crop to withstand Roundup. But I won’t. I want you to think about it, though.

I’m not anti-GMO. I’m not anti-science. It’s not me, one columnist, versus all the progress that has been made in agriculture. That would be rash and weak and easily written off.

There may be a time when all we have left are morsels, breadcrumbs leading us back to that crucial time when farms were pushed to produce more than they thought possible for a hungry market and a growing world.

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If I could look into the future and tell you now with certainty that some of the things we’re doing on our farms are wrong, believe me, I would. I can’t. I also don’t want to. I’m for the things that allow farms to produce more and with less input costs. These things make sense.

But “can” and “should” are not the same. Writing the previous sentence was easy. Very easy. It’s a truism designed to make you think I’m a pretty deep guy. It’s also a truism designed to remind you that the words “should” and “ought” are important ones, no matter what your stripe.

There are things in this world people shouldn’t do, and there are things we ought to do. If we can agree on that, my point is made.

Out in the field

These are the things I was thinking about as I seeded this spring. I have about four minutes and change to explore such concepts before I have to lift the drill out of the ground and turn around. Unless it’s the field I was seeding two days ago. I had about eight minutes on a full mile to plunge the grey areas of agriculture. Except, in this instance, that wasn’t how I was using my time.

At about 1 a.m. I began dozing, for a second or two at a time. I’d wake up, get a grip on where I was, who I was, which field I was seeding, and how close I was to the end. I repeated this until I finished the field and drove the tractor and hoe drill onto our yard at about 3 in the morning.

Right now (as I write this), on May 11, we’ve got about 230 acres left to seed. All of the acres I am renting haven’t been seeded. This is by choice.

Where I live, in Manitoba’s Red River Valley, we were faced with a hard choice this spring. In late April and early May we received above average temperatures. The soil temperature was climbing fast. The conditions were perfect, save for the fact that seeding soybeans in early May seemed outrageous. Many did it. We did it. And the soys we seeded on May 5 were up by May 10.

I elected to wait. Not because I think it’s the smarter decision. Frost could still wipe them out. I waited just to see. When it comes time to harvest, will there be a difference between soys seeded on May 5 and soys seeded on May 16? I’ll let you know.

Our wheat went into the ground in April, and most of our soybeans went in at about an 1-1/2 to two inches in the early weeks of May.

It’s dry, and that is scary. My broken pasture land needs a cultivation before it’ll be ready to seed. It’s rough, but I want to preserve what little moisture remains in the light soil.

I drove my truck over to it the other day, hoping to pick rocks and get a sense for what needs to be done to the land before I seed. Last fall, I broke it with a Wisek disc. I went over it twice. The winter wasn’t extreme enough to break up the remaining clumps, and for reasons that baffle me, there were more large, exposed stones than I remember seeing a couple months earlier.

Rocks are new for me. I went to the field without a shovel, and I didn’t even think about the possibility of finding a rock too big to toss into the back of my truck. There were a couple of these rocks. How do you, Grainews readers, deal with such fields? I refused to let these boulders defeat me so I wrapped my tow rope around the stones, one at a time, and dragged them to the edge of the field.

I remain nervous about my new land. I don’t know how it drains. I don’t know if a roller will be able to push all the rocks down below the plane of our flex header. I don’t know what surprises are in store for me on that field. I don’t know a lot of things.

But that is farming. Farmers, I’m learning, are used to muscling through the things they don’t know, many of them doing so with heads-up optimism, hope, and a smile. There are things we can control and things we can’t, but we have to make moves in this world. If we don’t, well, why wouldn’t we?

If we’re wrong, let’s hope there are breadcrumbs leading us back to where we can try again, and again, and again.

About the author

Columnist

Toban Dyck is a freelance writer and a new farmer on an old farm. Follow him on Twitter @tobandyck or email [email protected]

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