Monday, February 20, 2012

Farm Equipment Show

The best way to attend a big equipment show when you're actually wanting to see things is the way that almost nobody chooses....alone. A couple of Fridays ago Melissa gave me the day off and I set out for my once a decade trip to Louisville to visit the National Farm Machinery Show.

Oh the things I saw ! It was like taking a little boy to a big candy store and telling him that he had the whole day to look around and sample things.

It was a long day; I left the house about 6 am Central time and I arrived at the show about three hours later (but on Eastern actually four hours by the clock) which isn't bad given that Louisville is 230 miles to the northeast of us. In spite of going to the show alone the world of production agriculture is small enough that I didn't stay that way for more than a few minutes at a stretch. Several times an hour I would literally bump into someone I knew and if I had the time I'm quite sure I could have killed several days doing nothing more than visiting. One of my Aggie classmates from Ontario knew I was coming to the show that day and she brought me a couple types of Canadian candy that are unavailable in the US, bless her heart.

The primary reason for attending the show this year was to look at Brillion type seed drills. As farm equipment goes, these things are extremely simple, durable and very easy to maintain. If you know what a cultipacker is, think about mounting a grass box on top of it and you pretty much have a Brillion drill. Because I'm planting into silt loam, I would really like to add a coulter cart and/or a set of rolling harrows on a cart ahead of the drill to scarify the soil a bit first. I don't want a full no-till rig and I sure don't want to tear up my established grass....think minimum till and you'd be getting close. Although I've never seen a rig set up exactly this way I knew that all the manufacturers would have reps on hand and I correctly figured they could advise me on how well this might work as well as what sort of coulter caddy's (there are legions of different kinds) I might want to add ahead of the drill.

It's easy to put a set of blinders on and forget that there is a whole big world out there and I've found this is at least as true in business as it is in one's personal life. In both cases it's important to take the time to reconnect, recharge and perhaps most importantly to constantly re-open your mind to new ideas. Visiting with folks, looking at new equipment and attending seminars with people doing innovative things from all over North America is an excellent way to do this. Now that I'm home here farming full time I might have to figure out how to attend these sorts of events on a more regular basis.

[Boy spell check sure didn't like all the agricultural terms in this post. The whole thing turned into a sea of yellow. I think the best one was that the sole offering it gave me for "cultipacker" was Goldberg.] Tee Hee.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Fresh Turned Earth

I come from the generation of farmers who made the switch from full tillage to no till and I mostly don't regret it. When you have several hundred acres to get over and a limited time in which to get it done, tillage, especially moldboard plowing, is a slow, monotonous inefficient drudge of a job. I've spent my share of time on tractors slurping along in mucky soil trying to get the last field plowed ahead of rain, snow or freeze up with engines maxed out and a weather eye on the sky and mostly what you do is grit your teeth, wince a bit and get it done. I've also spent a bunch of time buried in a dust cloud ahead of a big disc, cultivator and/or drag harrow in the spring and I have to say I don't miss that very much either.

What I do miss is the type of tillage that is as much functional art as anything else. Except for the Amish and a few recluses who never made the change you have to go back at least one generation before me to find folks who really know how to do this right.

Up in Ontario I used to enjoy watching a small dairy near Woodstock that did their plowing with two Farmall M's each pulling an International 2-16 moldboard plow. The family patriarch ran one and his son, then a man in his 50's or 60's ran the other. Their form of crop rotation meant that they never plowed anything but alfalfa stubble and they only had about fifty acres to get over each fall. The whole farm was plowed at exactly the right stage of soil tilth and moisture and each furrow laid over perfectly on the one before along perfectly straight rows. One quick pass with a small cultivator in the spring and they'd be ready to plant corn. I wish I'd thought at the time to take a picture of it.

The picture I never took was exactly the picture my grandfather spent hours trying to pound into my brain. If you take the time to set the plow up right and if you strike out straight AND wait for the right soil conditions plowing can be done easily if not effortlessly and spring tillage can be accomplished quickly and easy too. Too much horsepower makes it easy to overcome brain power as he used to say with a shake of his head.

Two years ago, Melissa and I stopped on a sideroad for a good while to watch an Amishman plowing with two well matched and well conditioned horses. He was fully in tune with his horses, the plow and the soil and he was doing an excellent job of managing all of it which made it pure pleasure for us to watch. It reminded me of someone I know and I wish I could tell him that as I arrive in early middle age I really was listening back then.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Observations About Russia

As many of you who follow our other blog know, Melissa and I spent a week in Moscow back in late January.

Anyway, a little history first. Melissa has spent considerable time in Western Europe but this was my first voyage off the North American continent. I have to say that a ten hour flight that crosses ten time zones is something of a rude awakening to international travel for someone who complains about the change from Central to Eastern time whenever I go anywhere east of Nashville. At any rate, I jotted down a number of observations while I was in country and which I will share for your reading pleasure here. For those who might be reading from Europe, please note everything here is written from someone with a rural North American perspective. Also please be aware that I wrote most of this while I was in Russia on very little sleep, so everything is very fresh but some of it might not make a lot of sense.

1. Some bathrooms are "pay" toilets, except here you pay a lady who sits at a desk outside the bathroom before you enter and you are given three squares of toilet tissue for your trouble. These bathrooms are typically very clean and it's usually worth the time it takes to find one and pay the small change required to enter. It's a real good idea to carry some extra tissue with you just to be safe.

2. When you buy something at stores they do NOT automatically bag it for you. You can get plastic bags, but you have to pay a small surcharge for them. This was kind of a revelation when I schlepped several bottles of water from the store back to our hotel by carrying them in my arms.

3. Most toilets have very high water pressure but they stop flushing when you release the handle and almost certainly use less water and do a more effective job of removing waste than our "low flow" toilets. I was most impressed with the toilets.

4. Fresh fruit, and especially berries are extremely expensive. I assume this is because the cost of importing those goods off season is very high. We are very spoiled everywhere in North America in terms of the year round inexpensive cost and high availability of every kind of produce and fruit.

5. Government offices, hotels, malls and larger stand alone stores almost all have security guards at the door and metal detectors that travellers have to pass through. Oddly, it seems as though you only rarely have to show ID's at these places.

6. In terms of entering the country for tourism, etc, I believe the US and Canada actually have Russia beat for difficulty in doing so.

7. Moscow can be an extremely expensive city for tourists and English is not widely spoken outside the main tourist sites. With a few exceptions, it makes sense to pay for a local translator in order to score better deals on things as well as to understand what the hell is going on around you. Even at $ 100 or more per day the cost of a traslator is worth the money in terms of what you save. Using our trip as a case in point, the rack rate on our room is $ 600 per night and the English bubble hotel restaurant buffet breakfast is $ 65 each which is convenient but EXTREMELY expensive. Two hamburgers from the same English bubble restaurant with soft drinks and coffee cost eighty US dollars as we found out on the night we arrived. A good, knowledgeable local translator can easily cut these costs by 50 to 75 % by showing you where the deals are and by bargaining on your behalf with most of the folks around you that don't speak English.

8. In most Western European countries if you stay on the tourist track, with minimal effort you can usually figure out what basic services are being offered even if you don't speak the language and no one around you speaks English. That is not the case here. We find that the Cyrillic alphabet is nearly impenetrable to our addled and jet lagged Western brains. After four days of trying I can now figure out which bathroom to use and where the exit is and that is the sum total of my knowledge.

By the way, EXIT is BblXOA. Easy, right.

9. Russian business hours are typically 9 or 10 am until 6 pm, making finding a spot to buy an early, cheap breakfast other than McDonalds very challenging. Even McD's doesn't open until 7 am.

10. I have never heard of most of the car models on the road here despite the fact that the manufacturers are the same as those found in the US. Most Russians who drive buy new cars and there isn't much of a used car market here yet.

11. Petrol is sold at very small gas stations....usually four pumpss at max....that might be located just about anywhere but that are most always right along the side of the road. The typical distance from the edge of the road to where the pump is located would be 8 feet or less with no barrier separating the road from the gas pump/station. Petrol cost is roughly the same as that found in the US.

12. Most Muscovites do not have cars and thus services (banks, restaurants, food, pharmacies) tend to be located very close together because the majority of people walk to them. Supermarkets here are tiny. There is no widespread equivalent to Super Wal-Mart/Target/Home Depot/etc and if you are used to having a car and these stores at your instant disposal it is an inconvenience not to have them available.

13. Russians are not big smilers unless they are greeting a personal friend. With exceptions, they tend not to understand that a quick smile from a North American is intended to put a stranger at their ease. Outside tourist circles I have found that it makes people uncomfortable when I smile or greet them on the street as I would do at home . Normally if I am greeting a stranger and I'm not smiling while doing so, that stranger had better be worried.

14. There are no supersize drinks and portion sizes tend to be considerably smaller than those found in the US. I ordered a large Sprite while we were eating supper and it was considerably smaller than a small Sprite found at most restaurants in the US. It also cost ten US dollars and refills are not free. Tap water is safe to drink but does cause difficulties for folks from overseas. Tap water isn't free either.

15. I find it very embarrassing that I can't speak a word of the local language nor can I understand more than a few basic words of script. A Russian who didn't speak or read English would have a much harder time in my neighbourhood than I am having here.

16 Russians speak very softly and it is rare to hear raised voices, sirens or honking horns even in the middle of traffic and pedestrian dense Moscow, a city of fifteen million people.

17. This one is really strange. The whole country....airport, hotel, cars, tourist sites, upscale malls, hell EVERYWHERE.....smelled like boiled cabbage. I like the smell so I didn't find it unpleasant but I'd be lying if I said I didn't think it was very different.