Friday, August 27, 2010

Corn harvest 2010

Sabbath eve, August 27, 2010

Corn harvest is near done and the end can’t come soon enough. I am seriously considering not planting corn again as a commercial crop. Like many that have studied sustainable agriculture, I decided to get away from genetically modified grains. So the corn we planted was non-Roundup-ready corn. Not only non-Roundup-ready corn, but also a non-hybrid. The idea was to grow corn from which I could keep back my own seed.

Our fields lie along the banks of two rivers, the San Marcos and the Guadalupe. We had an unusually wet spring and early summer this year, a good thing. Actually, too much of a good thing. Every time we cultivated the field it rained and some of the weeds survived the disruption. After the third pass through the field, we had a single day rain of ten inches and much of our field land was flooded, particularly the 120 acre field bordering the San Marcos. By the time the ground had dried, the corn was too tall to cultivate again.

It’s a common practice to apply atrazine, a pre-emergent herbicide to a field in these parts to reduce weed populations. I did not use any. After the flood, careless weeds, blood weeds, sunflowers, cockle burrs, Johnson grass and tie vines (morning glory) came up amongst the corn. I could have sprayed the whole field with roundup after the corn had matured, but that seems to defeat the purpose of avoiding herbicides.

So, I had a royal fucking mess on my hands when harvest time came. Quentin Holtz, the guy that owns the combine wanted to whip my ass for the first couple of days. By the time we got done on the San Marcos place, I had eight men wielding machetes and one young man riding the combine with Quentin to unstop the header when it clogged. Couple that with temperatures well above the century mark. Despite being mad, Quentin persevered. He doesn’t understand and he won’t be back again if I plant this kind of crop next year.

My right arm and hand is so sore I can barely make a fist and my back hurts to the point that I grimace with each move. I know each and every one of my helpmates is exhausted as well.

For all of this we harvested about 60 bushels to the acre, while most people that grew Monsanto’s best harvested between 120 and 140 bushels to the acre. They didn’t work half as hard as we did. Half hell, one-tenth as hard. Their crop is worth as much or more per bushel than mine in the local market.

There’s a reason farmers use chemicals and genetically modified grains. People want cheap food. Farmers want to make money growing food. Oh, you’ll hear talk about organic this and that or natural this or that. Bottom line: at least 95 out of every 100 dollars worth of food sold in this country is produced by industrial agriculturalists. You cannot grow good wholesome food for those prices. Period. Every goddamned advance in efficiency or productivity over the years has been met with a price cut in the value of the commodity produced.

The hell of it is, I still remain convinced modern industrial agriculture will fail, probably catastrophically. During the first Great Depression, almost half the people in the land lived on a farm or in a rural area. Now farmers make up less than 2% of the population.

In foreign lands, subsistence farmers have also been broken by industrial farming techniques. Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, China, or India. It doesn’t matter. Hand labor can’t compete with fossil fuel powered machinery.

Quentin left a few acres of the field un-harvested. I plan to send men in to pull the ears by hand. Past experience has taught me that if I pay them the value of every grain they can collect, they will earn less than minimum wage. So I will take my loss and smile. Or try to, anyway.

But we will have sacks of corn. And it will be good corn. My horses will eat it. So will my chickens, goats and milk cows. And so will I, good Lord willing.

An old joke goes something like this: A man asks a farmer, “What would you do if you inherit a bunch of money?”

His reply: “I’ll farm until the money is gone.”


  1. The thing that worries me is you using seed for next year's crop--if you decide to plant corn again, that is. I've seen accounts of Monsanto suing farmers who reuse seed, even if the crop that seed came from was not grown with Monsanto seed. They've won in most cases. Majority of wins are simply because the farmers can't afford to fight them, but a few have been because Monsanto was able to prove that some of the seed was theirs. And with cross pollination and such...could you guarantee 100% of your seed is actually yours? This is a pretty screwed up world we live in.

    By the way, you may find this song interesting. Decidedly not your genre, but the message is good.

  2. Found your blog over at Good stuff here. Gave you a plug at my place.

  3. >The hell of it is, I still remain convinced modern industrial agriculture will fail, probably catastrophically.<

    As I watch the mammoth tractors with their 30 row planters, the 20 row combine heads, and sprayers of every shape and size, I agree, our agricultural system will fail, because these machines drink cheap oil. When that is gone, what next?