Thursday, March 30, 2017




Farm Journal October 1994

May I Speak to a Woman, Please?

Bad habits don't develop overnight. They grow slowly, like the stuff in the back of my mother-in-law's refrigerator. It is only when they reach full maturity that the profound depth of possession they have on your actions is revealed to you. Such a revelation has recently come to me, in an odd moment of personal lucidity. Despite my best intentions, I fear I am becoming blindly sexist in some areas of my business. I prefer to do business with women.

Perhaps it's not all my fault. I have been forced by circumstance to deal with women in business frequently. As a consequence of these dealings, I find myself unintentionally biased toward women. It's not that men don't do these jobs well; it's just that I think my odds for satisfaction will be higher dealing with a women.

For instance, I consider my bank loan officer a valuable asset to my business. I started dealing with her because it was easier to get in to see her when most other farmers were waiting outside the president's office in my small bank, on the assumption that their business was far to important to handled by anyone else. I discovered that the time I spent in the bank dropped drastically, transaction detail errors became almost nonexistent, and the speed at which things got done was breathtaking. "Angela" (I won't use Connie's real name to prevent any professional embarrassment), has expert secretarial skills, and types out documents on the spot, saving a return trip. She doesn't try to tell me how to farm (even when she probably could), and follows through with details as only someone to whom details have been delegated all her career can. We don't spend much time swapping old-boy talk or jokes. She and Jan (my wife), are good friends, so either of us can (and more importantly, will) do the banking. Communication is improved since frank financial evaluations don't involve any loss of macho face.

Another example is the ASCS office. Whenever there is a confluence of paperwork, detail, and multiple options, my instinct is to find someone who has raised children. Most of us will require patience and clear language, not a demonstration of high-speed professionalism. Someone who has taught a four-year old to tie shoes may be able to walk me through a simultaneous farm reconstitution, sodbusting, and rotation appeal without making me feel totally uninformed. My experience again bears me out.

As more and more paperwork complicates our business, finding someone who can handle it accurately is a relief. Taking the time to get to know the secretaries, bookkeepers, administrative assistants, and office managers can pay off handsomely. At the elevator, seed company, machinery dealerships, or most any business, these are not just friends, but business shortcuts. Administrative skills – never my strong point (Jan balances her checking account to the penny, mine is accurate to the first two digits) – are increasingly important and valuable to our business, so I go to the people who possess them.

This prejudice carries over into groups. I notice that committees and boards with women will frequently accomplish more, and almost always in a more orderly fashion (i.e. little actual bloodshed). This is due to at least two reasons. 1) Because the woman is usually asked to be secretary, notes - more wonderfully, legible notes - get taken. This means the next meeting does not start back at zero because nobody remembers what happened last time. 2) The presence of a woman can prevent the disintegration of the meeting into a joke-fest of dubious taste. If the job is critical, be sure one member at least is a woman over 55. I think this triggers a flashback memory of our grade school teachers, prompting exemplary behavior from the overgrown boys that populate our profession. These are rules of thumb, of course, and I don't try to explain them. They just work.

My attitude was most altered when Jan replaced my father in our operation, when he went to Florida and forgot to come home one spring. I have had the usual experience with farm workers, and in fairness, got what I was willing to pay for. We were both surprised with the results. Jan makes no assumptions about her skills, and hence will listen, and more amazingly, follow instructions. She asks questions that tend to illuminate the flaws in my plans [I'm not thrilled about this part, but it stops me from doing some stupid things], and we can correct them early on. She cares about our machinery enough to pay attention to gauges, lights, and sounds. Her neatness evens shames me into cleaning out my cab from time to time. The difference in her strengths and mine helps to make the combination more effective.

I can sense the smirks out there already. I do not object to the fact that all of the people I have mentioned were attractive and pleasant, but for middle-aged terminally married dads, cuteness wears off in a hurry in the absence of competence. Due to the nature of self-employment, the relief from competitiveness that working with a woman often permits can be a welcome experience. Guys are not yet trained very well in teamwork, and our industry tends to reward self-centered effort. For men, this can make everything from community planning to harvesting a competition between life-long rivals. 

The future is also clear. If you have trouble doing business with women, your life is may soon get more difficult. Other industries are way ahead of us in using female talent, and these are the people we will be working with more often. I suppose this attitude is violating somebody's civil rights or something, so I just hope when the government sends out an enforcement officer they send a woman. Studies show she is more likely listen to my side of the story. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017



Let there be dark


Sometime when I was a child, someone sold a lot of nightlights to rural America, a fact obvious when flying over the Midwest on a winter night.   For a few pennies a day we could make the night like day.   The idea was straightforward enough.   Since criminals, especially thieves, and more especially gasoline thieves, were three parts vampire, the presence of photons in large numbers would thwart their evil designs on our gas tanks.   No one ever checked this premise out.  One thing we do know is a thief didn't have to remember to bring a flashlight anymore.   Mostly, I think, yard lights were used just like a Donald Duck nightlight in the hall- to chase away the scary dark.   We may have just added to rather than decreased our fears.

There is nothing inherently wrong with or evil about darkness.   Indeed, night brings with it wonderful gifts.   We are freed from the tyranny of appearances.   My friends, for instance, all say I'm much better looking in dim light.   In the dark, men don't have to hold in their stomachs, and women don't need makeup.   Wonderful things happen in conversation.   Because you can no longer be guided by visual signals and body language between talker and talkee, words are chosen with greater care, inflection and cadence become more potent, and the power of our language increases.   In the process, communication often erupts.   The dark is unparalleled for telling ghost stories, whispering dreams, or revealing feelings.   It provides a comfortable atmosphere for the silences of friends together, moments full of healing and joy.   It rests tired eyes while expanding our vision.  The dark is a natural tranquilizer for frayed nerves, soothing us with a surrealistic world only slightly removed from our sweetest dreams.   Distances expand, sounds and smells emerge to occupy the foreground of our perceptions, and imagination seems as natural and easy as our slow breathing.

Here on the farms of America, like few other places we have this wonderful gift in abundance.  As a special bonus there is an added treasure we can enjoy in the night.   Over our heads, a cast of billions continues the drama of the stars.   Ambient light steals this pleasure from most Americans, and the contempt of the familiar robs too many more of this wondrous enjoyment.   It never fails to dazzle.   It is an experience that endures repetition and defies analysis for people of all ages.

But if you are still unconvinced, try this.   In early autumn, go for a walk in the moonlight around your farm.   Your dog will love it, and you will see your farm as you have never seen it before.   After a few minutes, you will be surprised how bright it seems.   For hardier souls, do this when there is snow cover, or go sledding in the moonlight.   WARNING!  Moonlight is a suspected source of romantic magic.   Be extremely careful who you are with when exposed..


Above all, take your children with you when you explore the dark.   They need to understand what darkness is and is not.   In the end, we may discover that darkness is simply nature's way of telling us to go to bed.

Saturday, October 1, 2016



Make Mine Oughta-Steer

Farm Journal 2005

You can’t swing a dead cat at a farm show any more without hitting an auto-steer salesman. Plus they won’t let you back into the farm show either.
Hey – I love unneeded technology just as much as the next farmer, unless he is my friend John. This guy gets all the gadgets two weeks before they are invented. He has his own MRI, for example. In fact, you could be on the cutting edge with his hand-me-downs.
In fairness, I depend on John to blaze a technological trail to the future. The problem is that inevitably I begin to hope that once, just once, I can get the jump on him. Once I got a replica of a Star Trek communicator badge. He saw it immediately and asked, “Is that what I think it is?” “Oh yeah”, I replied, “This little baby can teleport me anywhere in the galaxy”. He smiled gently, “They are super, aren’t they? The new ones can be implanted.” He pointed to a small scar on his arm, as I whimpered piteously. My life is a geek tragedy.
So I have pondered the ads, pored over the paid testimonials and university studies [which are getting harder to tell apart, by the way], and actually fondled the components. I have even gone so far as to ask the price. As is typical for such items that I need to be truly and spiritually fulfilled, it was about 3.5 times the upper absolute limit of my most optimistic budget if I have 5 consecutive bumper crops and above-average prices. So money really isn’t a factor. I’m just not sure that auto-steer is an upgrade my farmware can support.
If I understand the mechanics of these widgets, we are on the verge of reducing the “active” portion of our career to something about as aerobic as flossing. One advertisement even boasts that operators (and I am using the term in its most inactive sense, as in “slot machine operator”) can be freed up to attend to other pressing tasks. Like watching TV.
‘Scuse me? Have you watched any TV lately? Did you wash your hands thoroughly afterwards? I can’t recall one USDA official urging more daytime TV as major part of farm policy. Unless you could get a LDP doing it. The idea that auto-steer will free up time is reasonable; the idea that time will be used productively is laughable.
For example, proponents urge auto-steerers to fill in the empty hours talking on their cell phone. There are two problems with this concept. First, most rural areas are not saturated with good cell coverage. My phone works OK except when I am 1) at home, 2) in a tractor, or 3) am late to meet Jan. In fact, if I do have a grabber somewhere on my farm, my survival will likely be determined by the sunspot cycle.
Second, who are we going to call? Everybody else is busy driving, because they don’t have auto-steer, right? So the most likely conversations are two auto-guys jabbering away between turns. This will last for about 3 rounds, I predict. After weather and markets, what is left to talk about? Feelings?
Of course, we could all be on the phone with our commodity brokers. My experience however, is that during high stress periods like planting and harvest when I am way too close to the problem, a direct link to margin-call-generating opportunities is a bad, bad thing. Doing business at 7 mph. may work for some, but I need to be standing stock still when buying options. In fact, when trying to execute some of the more complicated spread schemes, it might be best if I was lying down with a cold cloth on my head.
Another popular fantasy is that we will all take a laptop computer out to the cab with us. Oh, goody – more time in front of a computer! I yearn for spring and fall so I can get away from my office – not take it with me. So far I have identified exactly ZERO office chores that will be done well in a tractor cab. Except FreeCell, of course. Show me a tractor cab with a laptop and I’ll show you some DVD’s stashed away in the operator’s manual pocket.
On the whole, I just don’t believe that steering a machine is a waste of my time. Consider the “idle hands” syndrome. Jan is always relieved during working seasons, since she knows where I am and what I am not doing. If I am in the combine, for example, I cannot be wiring a singing bass to the doorbell.
Steering is admittedly closer to channel-surfing than a triathlon in terms of physical effort, but farmers running around in Speedos is not a pretty picture anyway. At least, having to steer a machine puts a premium on remaining conscious during the doldrums of the day. Anyone who has come to with a field cultivator miles from home in strange field – and who of us hasn’t, eh? – can testify to the power of that memory to prop open traitorous eyelids after lunch. Oh sure, auto-steer devices could assure alertness with howling alarms at the end rows, but who wants to terrified awake fifty times a day?
Besides, after thirty years I have finally gotten passably proficient in self-steering. During corn harvest, for example, I have a game of trying to get the combine heading tweaked to cover a half-mile through without touching the wheel. My record is four consecutive passes, with a Mulligan for the tile hole.
Furthermore, if any nincompoop can push a button and plant perfect row, where’s the sport in that? How will we pick out operators to ridicule in a supportive, loving way?
Word: If we start letting computers drive our machines it won’t be long before they take over lying about the yields. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015



A tractor tenor's Top 10

April 1996

Tenors are handmade by God. Basses and baritones you get in twelve-packs at SAM'S. This profound truth is acknowledged by me and all my tenor friends. For musically challenged people, a tenor is defined as a man in love with the sound of his voice - and for good reason. Tenors are always the good guys in opera, and despite my personal experiences, should always get the beautiful girl in the end.

One of the best things about being both a farmer and a tenor (almost too much good fortune for one man) is being able to practice my art while on the job. Not only is this a pleasant pastime, but since hitting the really high notes is marginally easier if done loudly to very loudly, it seems to be a popular place with my family for me to sing.   

Oddly, singing in the shower, that old cliché, has fallen out of favor in my house. One evening not long past I was vigorously attacking "Una Furtiva Lagrima", an emotional tenor aria, using my own personal version of Italian, whilst pursuing my nightly purification. After several near misses at the dramatic high note, I called to my beloved bride in the adjacent bedroom, "Dearest, did that sound like "C" to you?"  "No, honey, it sounded like "L" to me," she replied. I did not have the heart to tell her that the scale rarely goes past "J", except during heavy metal concerts. 

So for many of us, our finest musical moments are lost to our fellow human beings because we are out in a cab somewhere, accompanied by the radio.   To enhance these lyric occasions I would like to offer the following list of Tractor Tenor Top Ten Hits. If you have a tape deck, you could create a collection such as this to bring hours of singing pleasure to yourself and your greatest fan (also yourself). 

  1. "Crying" by Roy Orbison.  Almost any song by Roy is great tenor stuff, but you can't match this one for cool background accompaniment.
  2. "Bridge Over Troubled Water" - Simon and Garfunkel.  This is not only groovy to sing, it will probably bring back memories of girls you always wanted to date, but never had the nerve to ask.
  3. "Cool Water" - Sons of the Pioneers. Drift back to those golden Saturday mornings of yesteryear, watching horse operas on a black and white TV. If you can manage the lilting "water" echoes of this song without sounding like a vulture dying of thirst, you're a real man, my son.
  4. "The Eagle and the Hawk" - John Denver. This mercifully short, but vocally brutal ballad can sprain all but the toughest of larynxes.
  5. Anything by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap (i.e. "Woman, Woman"). After years of study, I have discovered that Puckett really only had one song in his brief career, and just kept singing it over and over - the same melody with the same words about the same thing.
  6. Anything by Ann Murray. On a good day a first-class tenor can sing most of her songs as written, although I was shocked to find she could hit low notes beyond me. 
  7. "Hallelujah" from the Mount of Olives  - L. Beethoven. When sung in a four part men's arrangement, this vocal obstacle course opens with a savagely high and loud series of hallelujahs, making it one of the most fiendishly difficult tenor pieces to do at an Easter Service. Don't even think about trying this at a sunrise service.
  8. "Along the Way" - The Association. This short poignant ballad sung quietly with just piano was a rapidly forgotten cut from a rapidly forgotten group, but if you can sing this with sensitivity and feeling without hurting yourself, you are a major tenor.
  9. "How Can There Be Any Sin in Sincere" - Buffalo Bills (From the Music Man) - just a short barbershop song with an aeronautic tenor part made famous by the Broadway musical. As a plus you will probably continue on through the soundtrack to chant the "Trouble in River City" monologue. 
  10. "Nessun Dorma"  - from Turandot by Puccini - This is the aria which has been dang near sung to death by the world famous "Three Tenors" (Luciano, Placido, and Harpo) that you will see approximately 8-10 times during your local PBS station Money Grubbing Week. Despite that, it may be the three best minutes in a tenor's life. Every time I come close to getting this right, I cry. When I don't everybody else cries. Music like this is what vocal cords are for. It is thought that this aria was almost the last thing old Puccini wrote. That would be like cashing in your chips right after harvesting 500 acres of 350 bushel corn.
  11. (Special Bonus Selection) - "The Star Spangled Banner" - F.S. Key.    This tune was originally an old British drinking song, which would explain the melody. Be that as it may, it is still a challenge for any tenor to sing well. Judging by what I've heard lately before championship games, we'd better all start singing it before nobody remembers how it really goes.

Many may notice that I include no Country and Western music here.  Despite years of listening to C&W in order to hear the markets, its manifest charms elude me. But if you enjoy listening to music sung through the nose by ear, and many do, I would commend to your attention works by Larry Gatlin or Jimmy Rogers. 


One last note: The greatest possible experience in an agritenor's life is the opportunity to sing in an empty Harvestore. Grain bins are OK, wells have a certain ambiance, and steel water tanks are not without their charm, but the Big Blues can do things for you voice that will make your family have to drag you out of the thing. I recommend "Santa Lucia". 


The cashflow that ate Toldeo

Mid-March 1996

I remember clearly when it all started. My banker leaned across his desk and handed me a large yellow sheet of paper covered with columns and lines.  "John", he said, "We'd like for you to fill one of these out this year."   I eyed him suspiciously. It hadn't been that long since the infamous Tap Dancing Incident, whereupon at a similar time he had asked me to do a short soft-shoe number in the lobby while yodeling a show tune. I was halfway through what I thought was a rather charming rendition of "My Baby Just Cares For Me", when I realized he was kidding, inasmuch as he was laying on the floor holding his sides with tears streaming down his cheeks, and quivering like a dog on the way to the vet.

Despite the fact that he sort of apologized ["Jeez, John, I never thought you would actually do it!"], and that I did appreciate the pocket change tossed by the other patrons in the bank, I had since sagely adopted a “you-can't-fool-me-more-than-six-or-seven-times” attitude. I carefully examined the document while he explained what a cashflow projection was. Farm magazines were plastered with helpful articles about this sort of analysis tool at the time, so I gingerly picked up the paper and dutifully trooped home to smear my figures across it.

Much to my surprise, I kind of got into the game. Even though I wasn't farming much, and the dollar numbers were minuscule compared to today, I found the exercise both helpful and revealing. I totaled up columns and rows and discovered I had actually created a sort of window to the future. If my numbers were fairly accurate, then this over here would be how things would come out. Cool!

The hook was set. The next day dawned and with it new ideas and plans. I decided to change some tentative spending and selling decisions before turning the form in. No problem. Just erase a few entries - but wait.  Changing this number meant changing all these, and these over here, and all the totals, and so on. Soon eraser holes began to appear all over the later months and annual totals. I applied multiple layers of correction tape until the document resembled a sort of financial chocolate chip cookie.   

My banker was not amused when I handed my homework in, but sympathetically declared my offering sufficient. His reaction was no longer important to me. I was now obsessed with the power and possibilities of a cashflow to tell my future. Meanwhile, as fate would have it, in a garage in California, young nerdlings were hard at work inventing the Tool of My Undoing.

The first time I saw a spreadsheet on a personal computer was like the moment in seventh grade when I realized that Phyllis Bishop was not just a lumpy guy. I knew I was looking at something great, but couldn't quite figure out what to do with it.

This was the turning point in this sorry saga. Once planted on the fertile soil of a spreadsheet program, my cashflow took on a life of its own, like a Crystalline Entity on Star Trek, expanding and evolving its way to sentience.  No longer a simple across and down table of estimates, it began to demand more detailed input numbers from me before it would spit out the prophesy.   As the what-if possibilities unfolded, separate versions became necessary, spawning entire families of possible futures. My time at the Keyboard Altar of High Technology soared, as raw data requirements grew exponentially.

Hardware, software and time passed. "Big C" was now on multiple pages and consumed continents of hard disk space. Not just content with an estimated price for future sales, it now could calculate the most probable number from weather, political, and consumer attitude data. Would the Republicans get the budget balanced? Was Madonna dating Bigfoot? Insert a probability and calculations for interest rates, beef consumption, and ski-lift prices responded appropriately, altering the outcome of ratios measuring everything from Debt-to-Equity to Waist-to-Inseam. 

Every morning it would call to me, hoping to be fed fresh data. I began reading the paper to it, typing in statistics from orange juice prices to turnover ratios. In the evenings, I would calculate new relationships, enabling Big C to estimate the influence of fluctuations in the pfennig on the rainfall in central Missouri. The sheer size of the program became prodigious - lights across a six square mile area would dim as it went into recalculation. 

But the futures it revealed! Big C became my Delphic oracle, revealing possible outcomes ranging from absolute financial disaster to (my favorite) my eventual buyout of Bill Gates and subsequent enthronement as Absolute Monarch of the Galaxy. The present became a pale pathetic shadow of a splendiferous future. Big C started sucking info straight from the Internet, creating more and more accurate predictions. I was hurtling across the line between foreknowledge and predestination, not so much seeing the future as actually creating it. We were becoming invincible. YESSSSS!!!


They took my computer away the other day. Jan tricked me with my favorite dessert while a Dweeb Swat Team immobilized Big C. Time and massive amounts of medication have started my healing process. I'm feeling much better now. Besides, I knew they were going to do that.


No, it's not a purse!

March 1996

It started with the cellular phone. They were being marketed like crazy and like most habitual technoconsumers, I suddenly found my life empty and horribly inefficient without one. So I whined and pouted, and, with these time-tested instruments of unassailable logic, convinced Jan I needed one.

I soon found out, however, that a phone was just the beginning. For instance, with my randomly accessible memory, how could I call someone without a number? About 50% of my bill was for calls home to get a number I really wanted to call. Add the problem of making notes when you are talking so you won't forget the conversation. I mean, if the call was important enough to make out in the middle of the field, it is probably important enough to remember.

So now I needed a phone list, a note pad, and a calendar to write down appointments/deadlines/due dates I had just agreed to on the phone.

Enter my good friend Steve. Steve is a nice guy, and, other than the fact that he is a farm manager, a really smart dude. We were together at a meeting in Chicago and I noticed he was carrying around a little notebook, into which he inscribed notes sporadically. I, of course, gave him a hard time about this, the approved "Guy's Response to New Things". Steve has a thick skin, arranged oddly, and shrugged off my jibes good-naturedly.

"You really ought to get a day planner", he opined, "especially considering your organizational skills". He showed me his little volume, explained vaguely how it worked, and before I knew it, I was in a store, plopping down an obscene amount of money for a similar device. To make matters worse, in a moment of foolishness, I also let loose of a not inconsiderable sum of money for a Course on how to use it and bring Meaning and Purpose to my so-called life.

When I arrived home and sobered up, I began to try to get some use out of the day planner. I entered a few phone numbers, started making notes in it, and in general, tried to replace the sticky-note empire that I had built. Having more hard info with me that (unlike my brain) I could revisit when needed soon became a welcome change to my heretofore normal state of agriconfusion. My phone bill skyrocketed with meaningful dialogues, all duly chronicled.

The best was yet to come. The Life-Changing Course was coming up and I was anxiously awaiting the Deep Secrets (prepaid) that would be revealed to us true believers. On the appointed day, I gathered with the other sincere neophytes. I could not help but notice the crowd consisted, with three exceptions, of young (25-40) women, earnest and well-dressed, each fiercely clutching her little book. The thought that Steve had set me up ran uncomfortably through my mind.   

This lopsided ratio troubled me. What if day planners weren't "guy" things?   What if being organized is somehow, well ... you know? About then the perky young woman next to me introduced herself, occupation, and vision-of-life in a single sentence. "What do you do?", she asked sweetly. "I'm a lumberjack." I snorted. She nodded and slid discreetly to the far end of the table.

The audience must have been typical, because when the instructor entered, it was apparent that he was the right bullet for this target. This guy exploded into the room with more teeth than Charleton Heston and Major-League Hair to boot. Within seconds he had induced more sighs and soft looks than all my Valentines gifts stacked on end. He was good. And he knew it. I genially hated him. Ignoring the three men completely, he proceeded over the next hours to imprint a SYSTEM on our lives, bringing ORGANIZATION and hence, FULFILLMENT and DEEP PERSONAL MEANING to our inept lives. In fairness, some of the stuff did help, but heck, 3x5 cards stapled to my forehead would have been a major improvement.

I began to use my day-planner more and more, discovering ways to adapt it to farm use. Crop maps, cash flows, repair lists, beeper/fax/phone numbers, and all kinds of be-here-at-this-time-or-be-in-trouble info started filling its pages. The planner itself, however, was taking a brutal beating from being thrown on the floor of the pickup/tractor/combine, splashed, smeared, and generally treated with the same tender care I give all my working tools.


I discovered the answer in the weekly Overpriced Catalog of Day-Planner Attachments: a genuine cordura-skin cover that zipped up and protected my planner, plus gave me pockets to hold keys, checkbook, M&M's, fuses, floppy disks - all kind of debris that go with work. It has a handle that makes it easy to carry, and looks a little like...well...sort of a....OHMYGOSH - I'M CARRYING A PURSE!

Friday, July 10, 2015



The end of approximate farming

Mid-February 1996

A skill I have long been polishing is about to become useless, buried under an avalanche of technology. I refer, of course, to approximate farming. This actually comprises several different skills developed to answer the age-old agricultural question, "What's the score?”  

It used to be a world of round numbers - 80 acres, $2.00 per bushel or 1000 pounds. The first hint of change was the governmental accuracy of the now relabeled ASCS. Fields that we always thought of as 40 acres became 38.8 acres. For a while we continued to think of it as 40, since it was an easier number to work with, but eventually we started multiplying and dividing by 38.8. After all, hadn't we all just got our Electronic Calculators for $39.95 that displayed SIX digits?

Bookkeeping was done on seed corn pocket notebooks, using numbers like 250 or 45 - not 38,750 or 6600. We could figure in our heads what a 5 bushel yield increase would mean at the end of the year and come close.  Small calculations were found on the backs of envelopes and crib walls - cute little numbers that look like my son's sneaker budget now. Actual annual profit was revealed by our tax-preparer in February, like a doctor announcing the results of an operation. Amazingly, the system was sufficient for the day. 

Feed was measured in number of scoops per trough, not in hundredths of pounds per pound of gain. Chemicals were added by "glugs" per tankful.   Seeding rates were crudely adjusted by sloppy mechanisms, but the actual result was unknown anyway, since we had estimated the amount of seed as we scooped it from the bin.  

The most painful leaps of accuracy were yet to come. The first I encountered was the shaft speed monitor on a combine. One of the few good byproducts of combine seat time was being able to recognize what THAT sound meant, and what THAT vibration warned of. The combine became an extension of our own sensory system. The readings were actually feelings - THAT vibration meant the fan was too slow, and THAT rumble meant grain was probably going over the sieves.

But then a small box made the most inexperienced operator just as capable to detect something amiss. Symptoms were announced with numerical precision, bombarding us with data. Alarms sounded, lights flashed, and digits danced, eliminating any need for experience or intuition, leapfrogging the inexperienced to new levels of competence.

One of the most difficult skills to master was applying anhydrous ammonia accurately. Watching the gyrating pressure gauge, estimating speed from the jiggling 4020 mph indicator, and measuring volume by the wonderfully accurate (if even operational) tank gauges meant if you came within 20-30 pounds per acre you were a master operator. Wild fluctuations in temperature when applying really added that element of chaos necessary to make this job a guess when done right, and a breath-taking fertilizer bill surprise when done wrong.  

The cruelest blow to hand-grenade agriculture came just recently when I saw a demonstration of yield monitors. Of course, being on the trailing edge of technology (the cheap edge, I would also point out), I am years away from actually owning one of these electronic dazzlers. It still made my rule-of-thumb blood run cold.

Over the years, my faithful combine, Lou Ann, and I have developed various yield estimating axioms. I quote from my painfully researched notes: "Half-mile rows - drilled beans - no end rows - 1/3 up the cab window (bent bolt) per round = 53-54 bu/acre." Armed with that kind of empirical accuracy, I could do all kinds of long division (do they still teach that?) in my head and make an Official Field Estimate soon after opening it up. The actual accuracy was not very high, of course, but I could constantly recalculate, adjusting for assumed moisture, guessing test weight, number of light poles passed, etc. to get some kind of yield guess. Meanwhile Jan was estimating truck loads by how the springs handled the bump right before the bridge.  

These techniques were applied to sprayer tanks (halfway between the seam and the paint splatter is 300 gallons), fields (the fencepost just east of the splice is almost 20 acres), and bins (if you can't climb in the bean bin, there is at least 3450 bushels). All these yardsticks were obtained at cost of brutal experience, and now all can be duplicated by any dope who can read a digital display.


I don't think that is what really bothers me, though. What I really miss is being able to arrange to get the answer I wanted (or wanted to publicize).   Instant accuracy is hard on wild-eyed dreams.