On the front cover is a photo I took earlier this summer of Justin and Jacob Davis loading loose hay at their dad's farm in Kennan, Wis. I met their father, John Davis, a couple years earlier at the Julian farm in Medford, Wis., where the Julians hosted a draft horse field day. John was driving three red roan horses put to the new White Horse two-way plow. That photo made the cover of the April/May Rural Heritage, and my interview with John was one of the best parts of the episode I shot for our TV show covering the event.
I was impressed with how well John's horses worked for him and how well John worked with an unfamiliar plow.
More than that, however, I was impressed with John's concise explanation of what he thinks has gone wrong with modern farming in the last half century.
“When the man in the suit tells you that you have to go big or get out (of farming), you know he isn't watching out for your interests,” John said. John refused to borrow money and get bigger. He didn't start buying and renting land and puchasing larger tractors and implements. He simply worked hard to make his operation more profitable using the resources he already had on hand.
John farms only with horses. He plants openpollinated corn from seed he has saved the year before. He plants the corn using a check-row planter so he can cultivate his field in perpendicular directions so he doesn't need to apply herbicides.
He mows, teds, rakes and loads hay on his wagons using horses and older ground-driven equipment. The hay is hauled up into the mow of his barn using hay fork carriers, tracks and pulleys. He fills his hay mow during the summer and gradually empties it over the winter as he feeds his dairy cattle and horses.
Years ago, John noticed that many small creameries had begun selling off their older equipment as they upgraded and expanded. John started buying some of it and eventually cobbled together an efficient little creamery on his farm, thereby taking greater control of his farm-tomarket options. Byproducts from the dairy were fed to a flock of chickens, and John built a laying house complete with a wood-fired water heater to wash the eggs before selling them to the public.
I thoroughly enjoy my visits to John Davis’ farm, and am thrilled to see him farm in the way of small diversified farmers from the 1920s and 30s. And I am especially impressed that his farming choices are made for the sake of profitability and not sentimentality.
“Its a question of scale,” John told me. “Use what you have, to do what you need. If you don't have it, you probably don't need it.”
There are a lot of people like John who work hard, using the tools they already have, and remaining focused on the land and livestock already on their farm. These farmers are succeeding while many of their neighbors slip further into debt.
John will be featured in a couple upcoming Rural Heritage on RFD-TV episodes this fall.
Other shows will feature a variety of people and events I have scheduled to attend this summer and fall, but first I will be riding my bicycle across Iowa again, this time with two of my nephews, one my brother's son, and the other the son of my sisterin- law. They are young, strong and full of energy. I hope to keep up.
After that, Susan and I attend a three-day Programmer's Conference at the RFD-TV ranch in New Mexico. It will be nice to get away and be together . Too often I travel alone.
I will be joining the Deadwood Wagon Train during its second half as it makes its way from Cheyenne, Wyo., to Deadwood, S.D. I am looking forward to meeting up with old friends and making new ones. I will be going to Horsepower Days in Grand Rapids, Minn., in late August, my first time to this event, and look forward to seeing a variety of horselogging demonstrations including a log jammer.
The following weekend will have me at Tom Renner's farm for his 100 Years of Farm History event which promises to be a fascinating look at the evolution of farming.
Then in September Susan and I will visit Ralph and Connie Rice again in Jefferson, Ohio, to film some fall plowing and other farm activities. Next is the Mule Plowing event in Woodbury, Tenn., where they hope to set a world record for the most mules plowing at one time.
Finally, October has me in Virginia for the Suffolk Punch Spectacular one weekend and the Homesteader's Conference the next. Lots to see and film. Thanks to everyone who makes it possible.
If you have an event or activity you'd like to talk to Joe about, shoot him an email at
or give him a ring. 319-362-3027