by Ralph Rice
Looking out our living room window, I survey the landscape that
makes up our farm. The rain falls steadily on the already soaked ground. As
puddles form and miniature rivers run to the ditches, the spring rain pushes the
grass to grow.Ralph
Rice's column "Reflections" appears regularly in Rural Heritage. This
column appeared in the
Evener 2003 issue.
I watch from my vantage point with mixed emotion.
The rain refreshes all the plants in sight. It provides watery places for the
wild geese and ducks to hatch and raise their young. The pasture grasses turn
lush green as they grow fast and thick. The hayfields seem almost to jump in
height. The ground that is to be our cornfield is wet, much too wet to plow.
The cows wintered in this field have left tons of manure. The manure soaks
its nourishment into the waiting corn ground, made rough by the trampling of the
cows' feet. The rough spots hold water. People tell me the wandering cows
compact the ground. I have found it not to be true, except for limited areas
near the gate. The tracks made by their cloven hooves help level the ground and
prevent runoff. The action of the winter freezing and thawing leaves the ground
friable and ready for the plow.
Like other farmers here in
northeast Ohio, I wait. We are all anxious to begin the tilling and planting
season, but the ground is too wet and still too cold. Some mega farmers must
start early, using big machines and working long into the night. Those of us who
are still sane can afford to wait for better weather and warmer temperatures.
Some of the large farmers will have to replant due to their folly in planting
Even though I plant small acreages, I feel the same pressure as my
large neighbors. The same numbers of warm dry days are granted to each of us.
The time and number of acres are relative. At one point we will each be halfway
done. His remaining acreage may be 600, mine may be 6, but we are both half
My low input methods of farming return more dollars per
acre than his. My neighbor, like corporations and chain stores, works on small
profit margins and relies on volume sales to carry him through. He and his
workers toil under constant pressure and are usually short handed to limit the
number of ways the profits must be shared. My profits are by no means large, but
my return vastly exceeds my expense of production.
In our area 30
years ago, 10 farmers earned a living milking and caring for 30 cows each. Today
one man earns a living by milking and caring for 300 cows. The same number of
cows require the same acreage farmed to feed them as before. The only difference
is that nine men out of 10 are deprived of the opportunity for a quiet and
peaceful life. The tenth man, too, is let down by the system he chose. For him
the romance of farming is only a distant dream or perhaps a faint memory.
The aroma of my freshly poured coffee and the sound of the falling rain
bring my thoughts back to today. I'll plan a little more. I'll recheck my fields
and the acreage of each. I will make ready the corn planter and drill. The
horses will draw the last of the winter manure to the fields as they toughen up
for the work ahead. The warm dry days will soon be upon us and all will be
My large farm neighbor and I will start turning ground on
the same day. He will gobble up field after field. I will plow my fields 12"
at a time with an Oliver walking plow. The sun will warm us both. The birds will
sing for each of us, but I will hear them. My neighbor's tractor roars as he
races for the end of the field, its deafening sound urging him on as tiredness
racks his body. I stop to rest the horses, sip some water, and listen to the
birds sing. My farm is small. My life is full. My heart is happy.