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Pete Conkle sections off new pasture for his cattle.

Thanks to those who make farming look simple, even when its not

A few years ago my uncle got a new farm truck. He searched long and hard for a new model with as few electronic gadgets and gizmos as possible. No power seats, windows or locks, or AC. The truck has standard transmission and certainly no heated seats or heated steering wheels. He even has to turn the knob on the radio for goodness sakes. Why would anyone purposely subject themselves to such personal calamity?

The answer: all that fancy stuff breaks, and it can’t be fixed in the farm shop. Power windows, for example, are very convenient until they happen to go out when you are trying to pay at a drive-through window in a torrential downpour. Then they are frustrating, unpleasant and expensive to fix (speaking from personal experience).

As I get older I continue to gain more appreciation for non-fancy, basic stuff that really works the way it is supposed to. In my years I have had all too much experience with home improvement projects where you end up working on the dysfunctional tool used for the project rather than the project itself.

So, when I find something really works the way it is supposed to, I find it very satisfying. I couldn’t help but feel this way as I strolled the winter pastures with Pete Conkle on his grazing operation nestled amid the rolling hills of Columbiana County, his roll of poly tape in hand. He is this year’s Ohio Cattlemen’s Association Environmental Steward Award winner.

Throughout the history of agriculture, mankind has fought (and lost) many battles trying to force square pegs of food production into the round holes Mother Nature provides. One thing I truly enjoy about my job is getting to work with many farmers who have found ways to make the specifics of their situation work in relative harmony with the realities of maintaining a viable agricultural operation.

Now, Pete, I am sure, would be the first to tell you that plenty goes wrong on the farm on a regular basis and that some days it definitely may not seem like things are working the way they are supposed to, because they aren’t. But, at the same time, it is hard to argue with the simple pleasure (based on years of hard work and management) of watching cows rush into fresh, new winter pasture and begin luxuriously feasting after Pete sections off a new area. When you watch it, it is clear that things are working the way they are supposed to. God grows grass, animals eat it, and man manages it all in way that produces food — appealing simplicity.

Of course, anyone who knows anything about intensive grazing knows that the reality of doing this is anything but simple. Last month the Ohio Forages and Grassland Council (OFGC) held their Annual Conference at the Ohio Department of Agriculture and the program covered topics including research into the value of irrigating pasture, the benefits of reduced lignin alfalfa in increasing digestibility and the use of nitrogen inhibitors in pasture.

All of the components of the program were to help attendees piece together a plan for better managing their pastures in the future.

“Every day you have to manage it. A lot of people I work with want me to give them a cookie cutter method to do it this way and you’ll be good for this year. Every day you have to think about when you should turn them into a new pasture, when you should take them out of the old pastures. The problem we have in the spring is that we have more forages than livestock, and then in the summer we have the opposite — we have too much livestock and not enough forage. We have to take the extremes out of this equation. We can do that with management,” said Gary Wilson from Hancock County, with the OFGC. “You have to think through that because it involves your resources, different species, your soil type and many other factors. It takes planning and every day you have to think about what you want to do.”

When gizmos and technology get frustratingly complex, especially when they decide to not work, something simple like mankind harnessing the combination of plants and animals to produce food is very refreshing. This, I believe, is true whether you are a farmer, a consumer, or an ag journalist.

But, at the end of the day, achieving such simplicity is not so simple, and I appreciate the folks who understand that, but make it look simple anyway.

 

 

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