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Tales of a Hay Hauler: ‘Looking for a crystal ball’

Brad Nelson Published on 30 May 2011

I finally gave up and shelled out hard cash for a GPS. It’s wonderful, considering that it’s not very smart. I’m wondering if I should have sprung for more than the entry-level model.

Some time back, I got directions to a haystack from a young man who did not know the name of the last two roads.

I finally drove to the home of another grower a couple of miles away to try for better directions. The grower wasn’t home, but his son was.

I got the directions and found out I’d missed the place by one turn. While there, I noticed a jacket that was not mine on the back of my pickup.

I called Jim, who had helped me with the directions, and established ownership. We had gone over a map of the area on the back of my truck and that’s where his jacket got left.

When I returned it, the owner noted that all of his keys were in the pocket, so its loss would have been a big problem.

The turn across the railroad tracks on the way to the haystack would not have been compatible with a hay truck.

There is another way that is not the direct route but is hay truck-compatible. The GPS would not know this. Again, technology is wonderful, but the operator needs to understand some basics before trusting the computer.

I caught a recent article in another publication talking about the current state of engineering. The comment was made that the results of hands-on testing of materials for strength have been entered into powerful computer programs so that, in most cases, tedious testing has become a thing of the past.

The big downside is that the rising generation of engineers are only computer jockeys who do not have a hands-on understanding of the basic physics of the materials they are working with. To me, that’s kind of scary.

You hear about kids in school who cannot do simple math without a calculator. Then, at the store your bill comes to $10.97 and you hand the young cashier a twenty and a one.

More often than not, the young person will look at you and say that it’s only TEN-ninety-seven. First, it’s easier for them to make change, and second, I would not have a pocket full of ones. It’s not just blondes that this befuddles.

I am meeting hay growers who are getting up in years. Most of them do not have younger family members who are still on the farm.

With the healthy lifestyle that comes with farming, it is not unusual for a man to be able to farm well into his seventies.

If this man’s sons are 20 to 30 years younger than he is, then when he needs to slow down, say at age 75, his sons are between 45 and 55 years old.

If the farm operation has not been large enough to keep them on the farm, they are at the age and experience level to be of most value in whatever line of work they are in.

If they wanted to, it would be difficult to leave in the middle of a career and go back to the farm. This leads to a situation where the farm is leased out to larger neighbors.

It eventually becomes a rental farm owned by absentee landowners and up for sale to the highest bidder.

When one commodity has a price spike, like wheat and corn are doing now, the hay and forage grower can easily lose the lease to what may be a one-year deal.

This reduces the stability of the numbers of acres growing hay, grass and silage. This makes financial planning a nightmare for those feeding any class of livestock.

I asked a young farmer with a number of soon-to-retire farmers in his area if he intended to lease those farms to increase his hay production.

He replied that he actually was looking to reduce the amount of hay he grew. With acreage down a third in some areas, looking into the crystal ball for guidance only gives you a vision of a once-in-100-years storm.

When areas that once had over a hundred dairies in a county now have four, the hay moves to other markets.

Areas surrounding “pet horse” country moved to making horse hay. As a result of the big crash of 2008, these areas are seeing a dramatic decline in the numbers of pet horses.

This has left hay growers with unsold hay. The problem with this is that much of it is stored in such a manner and in places that are not accessible to hay trucks to market it elsewhere.

Other areas that were once a source for hay for several market areas have had a number of very large dairies move in and use up most of the local supply.

Add the need for corn silage for the dairies, and the market for most feed has become local. Do the math. A dairy next to a hay field can out-bid other buyers because everyone else will have to add a hefty trucking bill to the cost of the hay.

This leaves those who once bought hay from this region having to find another source.

It seems unbelievable how many people have no idea where food comes from. I saw a copy of a newspaper article from California, reputed to be from the home district of Nancy Pelosi.

It berated hunters for killing animals for meat when “they could buy meat from the supermarket, where it is made without harming any animals!” I did NOT make this up.

I need to find a source for the bumper sticker I’ve seen that says, “Did you eat today? Thank a farmer!”

Most of the leadership of this country has never held a job in the real world. Most have never operated any form of a business (including a farm or ranch).

Most do not have a clue that the vegetables and fruits we eat are grown outside in the dirt. Is there any wonder Congress and our state legislatures have such a time getting a grip on reality?

I never dreamed I would live at a time when a sizeable portion of the citizens in this country actually do not know where their food comes from.

Years back, I heard a fellow talking about a wilderness survival trek he had been part of. College-aged youth in small groups hiked a designated trail carrying with them basic necessities with the food and water being cached along the trail.

The trek took several days to complete. Each group had someone with them who had enough experience to keep the rest from getting hurt.

At one spot where they were to spend the night, the food consisted of a live turkey tied to a stake. As was the plan, the guide disappeared until the turkey was ready to eat.

If you could go to the electronics store and buy a crystal ball, I’m afraid it would have the same limitations as the GPS.

It would do well at telling you where you are today and what roads or markets and market trends used to be there.

If you get the entry-level model, don’t expect it to tell you that you need to teach your grandchildren how to grow their food in a garden and how to butcher a pig or turkey or cow. If things really go south, the pet horse may end up in the freezer.  FG