Life on the Farm

Walking in the Shadow of Hope

      The first obvious sign of the season-long flood is a perfectly level, three-foot high ring of dried mud on the machine shed’s siding. Nature put it there and, in time, will likely wash it away.

      Across the road, 100 feet behind a noticeably tilting mailbox, stands the empty, sagging farmhouse of my youth. It […]

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Drainers versus Sustainers

      Not two miles from my central Illinois home, a farmer’s next crop—a dozen rolls of eight-inch, black plastic drainage pipe—wait to be planted several feet deep in this year’s browning corn stubble.

      It’s tiling season in much of the Midwest, that post-harvest period when earth-chewing machines fight weather, mud, and daylight to bury thousands […]

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Ag’s Coming Heart Transplant

If government and private estimates are accurate, hundreds of millions of American farm acres will have new owners in the next 15 years.

      For example, the National Agricultural Statistics Service, the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) survey takers and record keepers, predicts that 100 million acres of today’s farmland will be sold by its current owners by 2023.

      […]

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It Takes a Carpenter

      In the early morning fog the other day, I heard a claw hammer’s tap, tap, bam, bam, bam, boom drive a nail into its place for who knows how many years. A moment later, another six, clear, sharp notes cut through the fog and another nail was set for, maybe, a century or more.

      […]

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Before Silage Season, The Hand-Me-Down Season

      Sometime in mid-August, well after fair season and just before corn silage season, my brothers and I endured the hand-me-down season on the southern Illinois dairy farm of our youth.

      It was just as you suspect. One morning some weeks before school began, my mother watched as we tried on our next older brother’s clothes to […]

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“A Lick and a Promise” Aren’t Enough

      Most American farmers spent the last week of May and the first week of June either driving through mud or stuck in it. Their two farming partners, Mother Nature and Uncle Sam, were little help; one brought threats of more rain and mud, the other threats of more tariffs and bailouts.

      Farmers in my […]

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Talkin’ About My Generation

      It’s a truism in American agriculture that food-growing technology undergoes an industry-shaking metamorphosis every generation.

      When Grandpa (both yours and mine) farmed, hybrid seed corn came in and oat-eating horsepower went out. His sons, our fathers, were early adopters of anhydrous ammonia, 2,4-D, and, whoa, combines.

      Twenty-five years later, our generational farm-changing moment arrived with […]

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Time’s Reluctant Elders

      On an April Sunday afternoon a year ago, the last ancestral connection to the southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth was severed when my mother died quietly and peacefully.

      Her passing, quickly followed by her sister’s death, means that this Easter will be the first Easter in the last 64 that I will not be […]

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Unlocking the Rural Economy Requires Different Keys

Of all the places you’d expect to see a fight between the cold, hard face of ag economics and the warm, tender heart of rural America, that place would not be the corner of West 41st St. and Eighth Avenue in New York City, the home of the New York Times.

      And yet there it was in […]

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Shutdown? Not on the dairy farm of my youth.

There was no “shutdown”—not in the U.S. government sense, anyway—on the southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth.

Come to think of it, there was never a showdown, hoedown, lockdown, or shakedown either. There were, however, machinery breakdowns, endless sundowns and, every now and then, a letdown.

But shutdowns? Not one, not even a “partial” one.

In fact, if anyone […]

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