~ Riceland Meadows ~

Hope for Progress
by Ralph Rice

Horse Progress Days is a measuring stick designed to mark the progress of horses and modern equipment. The emphasis, I think, is on the progression of farm equipment and the teamsters who use it. The horse has not changed much. Yes, old breeds are coming back to the forefront as teamsters rediscover the characteristics that endear them to one breed over another. Some horses, like the spotted drafts, are being bred for their hardiness and endurance. The Suffolk is loved by many for its compact, powerful body and easy keeping nature. Belgians and Percherons were well represented. Fjords, Shires, Brabant, Clydesdales, and others that were once near extinction are bouncing back as farmers and hobbyist reach to old-time wisdom to solve modern problems.

The biggest problem is farm profitability. The wisdom is reaching for the low input, value added aspects of farming. Since the mid 1940s the battle of horse versus tractor has been fought around many an American dinner table. Friends and foes still square off regularly in certain circles.

The madness created by cheap money in the 1970s caused the USDA and many land grant universities to adopt the "get big or get out" attitude, which led directly to the demise of the family farm. This behavior resulted in a large shake-up in supply and demand causing milk, meat, and grain prices to plummet and become more cyclical than ever. Some farmers sold horses and bought tractors; others traded in small tractors for bigger ones. Soon more cows were needed to service the debt created by purchasing the tractors and larger equipment needed to keep up with an ever-expanding and demanding cow herd. Prices continue to fall while divorce and despondency among farmers becomes commonplace. Whoa!

How could we have taken the noble and blessed occupation of farming, a vocation that touches every family member and reaches far beyond neighboring fences, and turned it into a despised commercial venture? We did it by apathy. All of us want quality goods at cheap prices. Every one of us searches out low prices and selection, and in doing so often drives past the freshest, highest quality goods available anywhere. Shame on us.

Here in these rolling Ohio hills is a living, breathing farming community. The members are dependent on each other. They work together to overcome the same obstacles that burden us all. Their support of one another stimulates the local economy—money earned in the area stays in the area.

As I viewed the progression of teamsters and equipment, watched the demonstrations, and listened to the seminars I observed a hungry crowd. They had come to feast on new ideas, devour new concepts, and store wisdom offered by craftsmen and teamsters. Conversation, advice, and sweat flowed freely. Laughter echoed in these Ohio hills as farmers, along with their city cousins, reflected on how far we have come and how far we have yet to go.

Ralph Rice's column "Reflections" appears regularly in Rural Heritage. This column appeared in the The Autumn 2003 issue.

24 January 2004