Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Great Wheatlage Debacle of 2017

CA and I argued over the best way to utilize the wheat that we planted just to keep the hillside from eroding over the winter because the beans didn't come out until almost October and everyone said that that was too late to plant grass seed then. Well, except for my dad who didn't chime in on the subject until after it was too late to plant the grass seed and use the wheat to protect it. Which was brilliant, and would have worked SWIMMINGLY, but we didn't know. 

Dad also suggested using a slit seeder to plant the grass over the wheat, but no one that I could find had one big enough to plant 40 acres with; but that was okay because Mark (the professional farmer who rents my parent's row crop ground) said that what we really needed to do was frost seed it anyway. Which was great, except that you do that in January, and it was February already; oh and BTW, didn't you know? You really need to plant grass seed in August, not the spring. And definitely not just disk up the wheat and plant it in grass like I had discussed with him in the fall.

So, CA and I are staring at the lovely wheat field with tiny baby grass and clover being choked out by the foot high wheat and we get the idea to hay it since using it as pasture would hurt the new grass. (Which I have to baby the shit out of because it was planted too late.) So we think about, and agree that haying it is the way to go. Even though neither of us has ever seen anyone bale wheat before as anything other than straw. The farmer's hereabouts usually either let it go and harvest it or spray it with a desiccant and plant over it.

It is April and too wet to technically hay it, so we will have to rent or borrow someone's equipment to "haylage" it. Which is where you take wet grass and bale it, and then wrap it in plastic wrap to let it ferment and become silage. It requires heavier duty balers as well as a special bale wrapper. So I call up Mark and ask him if he knows anyone who might be able to rent our their equipment or possibly just pay to bale and wrap it.

And wouldn't you know? According to Mark wheatlage is great for cows and the dairy he used to work at always made wheatlage. But he hadn't shared that information with me previously, I guess presuming that I knew with some innate farmer wisdom in my blood that wheatlage would be cow crack. I didn't spend weeks thinking I must be crazy, because I had never seen this done before. No, not at all. That didn't happen.

You know, everyone talks about the barriers to entry of farming and they always talk about how damned expensive it is or how hard land is to get, and that is 100% true; but sweet mother of God what about this awesome pool of knowledge that isn't being shared? 

I read articles where authors are chastising my generation of farmers for treating permaculture and other farming practices as things that they just discovered and I get it. We are a bunch of egotistical millennials. Perhaps we do have a lofty idea of ourselves, but do you want to know why we feel like we just discovered the best farming practice ever? That we must be the originator? Because no one is telling us about them. In many cases we are having to constantly reinvent the wheel, and we shouldn't be.

I have grown up on a farm. I have great mentors and resources at my disposal and I still feel like I am having to pass some sort of weird initiation where all these older farmers are testing my farming instincts in order to give access to their knowledge. I can't even imagine how hard it is for my peers who haven't been blessed with that background. It seriously wouldn't surprise me if I happen to slop my way up a mountain sized pile of cow manure to talk to some old timer about my sea kelp research only to have him tell me that it is great and he has been using it since 1975. Well h-e-double hockey sticks, why didn't I know that already?

All humor aside though fellas, I know you're not doing this on purpose; but please realize that "you don't know what you don't know" and the next generation of farmers needs you to teach us. Desperately. Yes, some of us (myself included) have weird a$$ ideas about grassfed, and organics; but those things don't change the basic knowledge that you can share. We need you to have a conversation with us. When we tell you in September that we want to plant grass seed, instead of just saying that it is to late, tell us about cover crops that could work. Or try something like, "Hey, you know cows, but you don't know much about row cropping. You just said you are worried about erosion, have you thought about this annual crop (corn/soy/sudan grass/freaking rutabagas) that we could plant after the winter wheat; but have out before August so that you can plant the grass for your future hayfield in the best time frame? I know you want forage for the cows. How about wheatlage? Cows freaking LOVE wheatlage."

And you guys and gals, the next generation, my generation? Don't discount others just because they're using Round-Up and spreading nitrogen. Don't turn off your ears the minute you hear row-crop. They have been doing this a long time and just because they don't farm the way you and I do/want to doesn't mean that they don't know what they are doing, or that all of their knowledge is somehow flawed. It is time that we all stepped up to the table and swapped stories. The agriculture community as a whole will be much better off because of it if we do.

Me? I think I'm going to start hanging out at the local Farm Bureau's pinochle night, or maybe Hardee's at breakfast, and hope that I might overhear something new. If nothing else at least the great wheatlage debacle of 2017 did do one thing. It showed me how much I don't know.

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