Carrying Water

Dad started farming in the 1940’s. I’m not sure what year. I think it was after the war. Grandpa had told him he could rent a farm if he could figure out how to farm it. He began on a farm not a mile away as the crow flies. It was one hundred twenty acres that an older brother of mine has been farming since the 1970’s. Dad started out farming using an old International Harvester McCormick F-20  with a cracked head on the motor. He used to go out to the field carrying a cream can full of water because the cracked head would slowly leak the water out. He said that the cream can full of water would last until noon when he would come in for a meal and more water. The same thing in the afternoon only then it was a light lunch. His was a three can a day operation. He claimed the tractor wouldn’t let him get hungry. It was always thirsty.

I have been shipping out corn using an old International Harvester 1066 hydro that I bought cheap. The reason being it had a motor that had a hole broken through it where a rod bearing’s failure caused the connecting rod to smash through the side of the block. I had an old IH 915 combine with the same size motor. I switched out the tractor motor for the combine motor. That was three years ago. About every seven thousand bushels or so I need to add two gallons of antifreeze/water. That’s about four or five hours of motor run time. I think I’m losing as much water as Dad’s old F-20. It took me thirty years of farming but I’ve finally caught up to the old man in something. As long as it’s carrying water to an old worn out tractor.

I started out farming in 1984 with a little brother for a partner. We were told Dad would rent us the farm if we could figure out how to farm it. We were allowed to use Dad’s old IH model “M” tractor that he’d kept back from the machinery sale he held after he’d quit farming in “76. I was only fourteen back in 1976 and my little brother was only ten. Needless to say we never knew what we were doing. Neither one of us had a clue. We were going to both work in town while we would sow the whole farm down and raise cattle. We never planned to make farming our livelihood. We had both Dad’s blessing and encouragement.  An older brother talked us out of it. He said Dad’s advice would bankrupt us. He said this was called the corn belt for a reason. He said cattle belonged out west where the grass was. So our plans changed before we ever got started.

The fact that we were able to tool up to grain production (Dad had everything we needed to raise cattle and hay) and pay off the machinery in one year during what is now called the greatest farm crises of all time is something we were both proud of. I had even made enough extra money to buy my first tractor, an IH 856 diesel. When I suggested we go for it and try to farm a thousand acres my little brother balked. He had only promised Dad he would give it two years. After one he wanted out. He kept his word though and gave it another year. He’s worked and lived in town ever since. And that older brother who told me we would go broke? He sold out and started hiring the farming done for him. The government paid him to sow down the farm he’d paid too much for and twenty years later when the feds were done with that program he was rich. If government cheese is rich.

We all have to live with our conscience. I don’t even like being in the USDA’s production program. Getting a farm from them would ruin me. I’d be racked with guilt. Dad said his dad said anyone that needs the government to buy them a farm has no business owning one. Back in the day he had figured out how to get the government to pay for a farm using the federal government’s old land bank program. Grandpa would have no part of it. I think I would have liked Grandpa. When I think about it if giving away farms worked everybody would still be on the farm that there great grandfathers homesteaded. Most of them folks are back in town. The railroads that were given the right of ways have mostly all gone broke too. I don’t think you can give away anything without ruining the one your giving it to. Our egos demand that we earn it.



Opportunity’s Knocks

Replacing road fence. On the north farm. It is a farm with a mile of road fence. We have to replace all but the fence along the building site. We don’t own the building site thanks to a brother that sold it off after he built a new house on it. The main reason my father would never sell me the building site here on the home place. We tried that with your older brother and it didn’t work. I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard that growing up. You can’t go out for band, we tried that with your older brother and it didn’t work. It’s a wonder I was asked to farm. But I was. Two years before I started. My dad had a way I could get started without using much if any money. How often does that come along. Once if ever.

The only problem is I never took the offer. It was 1982 and Congress had just adopted Reagan’s new PIK program to help rid the US of it’s surplus corn stockpile. After Carter put the infamous great grain embargo on the Russians for invading Afghanistan we were getting quite a pile. It created a lot of knock on effects. America had been planting fence row to fence row corn in the Midwest to meet the Russian demand. Puling the rug out from under the (other) farmers, Carter reshuffled the whole world grain trading deck and America was losing out the most. Payment In Kind paid farmers in grain to not grow grain. A kind of genius way to let livestock producers have their cake and let their animals eat it too.

Dad wanted to bid the farm into the new program 100%. We would have to sow the whole farm program’s base acres down to oats and hay. Then the government would give us a PIK Certificate we could take to a delegated reserve elevator (one approved to store Commodity Credit Corporation crops) to trade it in for the number of bushels of the commodity grain we were eligible to receive. That figure was determined by how many acres of the commodity you had in your farm’s crop base. A number determined by your cropping history on that particular farm. All you had to pay for was the trip home with the corn. All we had to do was promise not to grow corn and they would give us corn for free.

According to Dad it was a no brainer. Sow down the farm to a non program crop. Buy a bunch of heifer calves to run on the sowed down farm. Fatten the cattle up on the corn the federal government doled out. Either sell the cattle as beef when done or, if they weren’t worth what we had into them by then we would keep them for breeding. There was only one catch. I would have to have faith in the federal government. After two years wrestling with the US Navy trying to get the degree they promised me I was no longer going to trust them crooked bastards in the federal government. I told Dad I didn’t trust them. I further told him if he did then I couldn’t trust him.

Needless to say we waited a couple of years before we started. The program had been modified by then to something that wasn’t workable in the sense Dad had designed his system. We still had Payment In Kind but the program was so successful at clearing out the surplus it was scaled way back and became a fraction of it’s original size and scope. So I got started the hard way. The only saving grace was my timing. I was going in when everybody in was going broke. I was able to buy farm machinery on the cheap. I’m still able to buy machinery from that era cheap. Over production of corn led to the over production of machinery.

Especially when the feds idled 30 million acres permanently into the Conservation Reserve Program at about that time. The number thirty million was significant. That was how many acres it took to feed the horses that used to power the farms and transport across rural America. Ever since the adoption of tractors, cars and trucks that 30 million acres had been excess production. Handy to have during the second world war but other than that, not needed. Twenty five million of that is still in reserve. Four dollar gas didn’t even make hardly a dent in it. 13 billion gallons of ethanol production hasn’t made too big of a dent in it.

World hunger ???