Progress can’t solve all farmers’ burdens

Progress can't solve all farmers' burdens By Bob Karolevitz With all the talk about the farm crisis these days, it seems appropriate to take a backward glance at the way things used to be.

Farming in the Horse Age was more a way of life than the hard-nosed, cost-accounted industry of today's computer era. Oh, the farmer of yesteryear was interested in making a good old American buck, of course, but generally he was more concerned about subsistence for his family and his horses than a profit-and loss statement.

He organized his crop rotation to have enough oats and hay to get his equine helpers through the year. His wife's chicken flock had to have feed. And he had to plan for his hogs, his milk cows and his sheep.

Then, if there was anything left over, it went to market. The philosophy was very simple: produce what you need and sell the surplus!

Hogs � then the great mortgage � lifters were generally raised for cash return, but first, one or more of the porkers were home butchured to provide hams, bacon, lard and headcheese for the family table.

A farmer was considered a lazy ne'er-do-well if he didn't keep a few cows to milk, not only for the milk itself, but to make butter, cottage cheese and on special occasions hand-cranked, calorie-crammed ice cream.

Beeves were butchered, too, but in the days before refrigerators and deep-freezes, preservation was a serious problem when it came to large quantities of meat. Drying, canning and smoking were necessary processes to avoid waste.

Fruits and vegetables were "put up" for winter. Soap was made out of extra beef tallow. A few farmers even tanned their own leather, and some wives spun wool for yarn. Those who could stomach them pickled eggs and green walnuts.

Then, after World War I, it all began to change. It was gradual, of course, like the switch from horses to motors which it paralleled.

In the process, the farmer who sold his team had to raise marketable grain or alfalfa on the acres no longer committed to producing horse feed. The profits went to buy gas, oil and pneumatic tires. When he began to specialize in hogs or cattle or poultry or field crops, the farm operator found himself too busy to fuss over time-consuming sidelines.

Cow-milking as a non-commercial enterprise was the most confining of all rural chores, and it was the first to go. When his family started buying milk and butter in town, or from a neighbor who capitalized on the new opportunity, the farmer had to get more cash out of his specialty to make up the difference.

When his wife quit baking bread and when they let the chicken flock go, he found himself facing even greater demands for money.

So it was that agriculture underwent its far-reaching transformation. Upgrade, improve, expand and specialize became the bywords. Labor-saving devices were promoted by farm editors and government experts. The scoop shovel � back breaker that it was � rated high on the list for retirement.

The farmer and his wife, of course, had a lot to do with the change. They simply were not satisfied with their drudgerous lot. They wanted in on the luxurious life � and washing all those discs in the cream separator or hand-pitching a small mountain of steaming manure before sunup certainly didn't qualify as luxurious living. They wanted less work, more income, softer hands and fewer backaches.

Finally, when old Dobbin plodded off into the sunset of history, he took with him a rejected way of life. The modern agricultural producer emerged, and the day when each farm was an island unto itself was gone forever.

Admittedly, this is an abbreviated, generalized view of the agricultural evolution which has led to today's dilemma. But few farm folks want to turn back the calendar; and Phyllis, for one, has made it clear that she'll NEVER go back to washing those separator discs again.

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