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.


RuckusButt said...

The International Plowing Match http://www.plowingmatch.org/ipm2011/index.php was held in my neck of the woods last year - in fact much of it occupied land my family owns. You would have been impressed with some of those furrows! :)

Jason said...

It's always a treat to go to the plowing match though I haven't been since I moved down south. I had a look at some of the pictures....your family has some GOOD land. Was that match held near Chute a Blondeau/Hawkesbury by chance ? Sure looks like it from the pictures and that is the best land in Prescott-Russell for sure !

RuckusButt said...

Ha ha, you know your dirt! It was a stone's throw from Hawksbury. I often wonder what my life would be like if they were my immediate family and I grew up there from birth. I like to think I'd be farming right now :) There is so much history in the Cass family name, it would be neat to be a part of that in a more immediate way than the kid of a second husband :)

Still, I love it there and Alex and I go and help out whenever we can.