The following is about shenanigans. My shenanigans. But it is also about folklore versus science; coffee-shop advice versus better judgment; the devil on your shoulder versus the truth.
Specifically, though, this is about crop planning. And by the end of this piece, I hope we both will have learned something. Because, contrary to the familiar and anecdotal tone this column affects, I do conduct research for each article and learn something in the process.
When Grainews editor, Leeann Minogue, posed the idea of me writing about crop planning for this column, my initial thoughts were, “no way.” But then I thought about it some more, responding with, “That could be a story. I’m ashamed of my cropping plans, but I’m guessing I’m not alone.”
I’m ashamed because I’ve grown nothing but soybeans since I started farming my own land in 2015. In fact, I’ve grown nothing but Syngenta S007-Y4s.
But there are lots of us out there, who, having considered a myriad of options and potential consequences, decided that seeding soybeans on soybeans is the best decision for the 2017 growing season.
Soybeans are a new thing, and I’m a slow learner and I’m stubbornly skeptical of authority.
In effect, soybeans have become my holding pattern until I figure this farming thing out.
There is the agronomic knowledge and expertise I’m surrounded by in my nine to five. And there is the anecdotal knowledge and expertise at the coffee shop.
Learning how to farm in my 30s has been tricky, interesting and a slow process. For the first two years, from 2012-14, I mostly observed.
I was eager and excited about how quickly machinery operation came back to me. I could seed, spray, cultivate and drive truck, all without supervision. This felt good at the time. And it felt good because at that particular point in my commitment to take over the farm, this very basic set of skill is all that was expected of me. I was knocking it out of the park.
But these things alone don’t make up what it means to run a farm. And I knew that. The honeymoon was almost over. I began feeling prodded to move on. Not by any one person. I knew it was time to take a step. My attention and gaze started to bend towards the cognitive life of the farmer.
I became immersed in agronomic theory through my job at Manitoba Pulse & Soybean Growers, but I’m jumping ahead. That was 2016. By that time other heady things were in the works.
It was 2015, and I would be growing my first crop on my first piece of rented land. I grew 110 acres of soybeans that year. (If you remember, they did well, but were slightly set back due to hail.)
This process required some rudimentary knowledge of farm budgeting. These were small acres, so the financial learning curve wasn’t steep. Nor was it representative of keeping the books for this entire farm. But the process did introduce me to some of the theories that, when scaled up, will apply.
These two things — money management and agronomics — occupied 2015 and 2016, and will take up most of 2017, as well, I imagine. They have existed as largely theoretical for me. Putting the things I have learned into practice hasn’t really happened yet.
I have a basic understanding of farm books, but have yet to implement a good system, and develop efficient routines. I have a developing understanding of basic agronomics, but I have yet to make any moves to substantiate that claim.
It takes me a while to act on what I know. This is either a part of my nature or a natural part of the learning process. I can’t comment.
But now, right now, I feel the prod to move on. I recognize it. I felt it in 2014. It’s scary. The first steps rounding an unfamiliar bend usually are.
Taking the first steps
In some ways, those first steps have already been taken. The farm is in the throes of developing bookkeeping practices that involve me and my wife. I am quite busy off the farm, and these practices take that into account. We’re sharing the load, and we’re both happy to do so.
Crop planning is next. The decisions that have been made on my land have been my own and nobody else’s. But they are decisions I feel are delaying the inevitable.
I’ve been eyeing other crops. I’ve met enough farmers who have had good luck with edible beans or oats to try them out. I’ve been thinking, but I have to move beyond that. I can’t stay safe forever. I’ll have to make a move, or a move will be made for me.
Monocropping is not a sustainable practice. Science says so. I’ve met farmers who say otherwise. So have you. I don’t have the answer for the folklore vs. agronomics debate. We make our own decisions, but we should be wary of their existence and how they fight against each other.
I enjoy farming and all that it seems to entail. Growing something new and unfamiliar sounds like the kind of shenanigans my wife and I could get behind.