Sunday, January 25, 2015

Five Reasons why Farming is Still Hard

According to my other blog post, Farming is Easy. Although we can all agree that farming is much easier than it was fifty years ago, today's farmings is not without its challenges. These are my top five reasons why farming is still hard.

1. Actually steering.
Even with the modern technology, most farmers still steer their tractors occasionally. According to John Deere, their base system is accurate within 4-8 inches. I have seen it change that much over lunch break. It takes a big chunk of change to switch to full auto steer and most applications aren't worth it. I always steer when doing the edges of the fields, making my turns, and around obstacles. It isn't as easy at is seems. I drive an articulated tractor, which means it pivots in the middle rather than swivels the tires to change direction. That means I have two pivot points to factor in when trying to drive straight. If I turn my wheel to the left to avoid an obstacle on my right, the equipment will initially become closer to obstacle. This may result in a foot long gash in the service truck. Another factor to consider is pitch and roll. Our fields are not flat by any means and trying to run the edges requires constant compensation. My tractor may be leaning to the left, but my equipment may be sliding to the right. Add a concrete post in there and you have some excitement. The last factor I have to include is how far away and wide my equipment is from the tractor. I may run a 70 foot wide harrow and then switch to a 30 foot disk. The pivot points and turning radius are widely different and I still have to maintain an accuracy within inches. For example, if I am coming to edge of the field and I am doing a turn with the seventy foot harrow behind me, with a paved road and a slight downward pitch and a roll to the left, I better not be drunk.

2. Obstacles.
There are many obstacles in the fields and I discovered that everyone frowns upon me running them over. There are two main types of obstacles. Man made obstacles include fences, buildings, concrete posts, wells, corrals, signs, culverts, dams, roads, telephone poles, and high tension power lines. You might get away with flattening a metal fence post, but not flattening a fence that is holding a pasture full of cows. Natural obstacles include trees, rocks, cliffs, ditches bigger than your tractor, rock piles and scab rock. Some of these natural obstacles may change or remain hidden until too late.  One obstacle, the neighbors wheat fields, falls into the middle of manmade and natural. When doing the edges between the two fields, it is important to get as close as possible. Weeds can grow 8 feet tall in a six inch strip between fields, which robs important moisture and nutrients. However if your weeder slides a foot into mature ripening wheat, you will have unhappy relationships with your neighbors. The last obstacle to avoid is a bit more tricky. Vehicles, whether parked or on the roads must be avoided. You can bet your last dollar that someone's insurance company will become involved if you accidentally run over a vehicle, even if you have the right away and your tractor is ten times larger than that Prius.

3. Breakdowns. Even the best maintained equipment suffers breakdowns and failures eventually. Farm equipment is under a lot of stress and any contact with articles under point number two will result in things breaking. There is also the normal wear and tear that requires parts to be replaced. The important factor in breakdowns is too catch the problem as soon as possible. A broken bolt can soon result in losing something important and become much more involved than two wrenches to fix. If things are not easily fixed, it may then result in the painful writing of a very big check to the local equipment dealer.

4. Technology. I may have claimed in my last article that technology makes farming easy. Still true, but it can also make it a pain in the posterior. The most obvious problem is when it isn't working. Our GPS may suddenly drop in accuracy and drive my tractor into the neighbors field. The height sensor for the combine header may suddenly slam the header into the ground and fill it full of dirt and rocks. Those are fun times. There is also the problem of software and hardware upgrades. Recently we had to replace two touch screen monitors, which wasn't a problem until we switched them to the combines. They required an upgrade before they would work with my harvest programming. Its not much fun when the combine drivers are glaring at the person they feel is responsible for holding up the start of harvest. It kind of makes me feel bad sitting in the air conditioned cab while they sweat in the beautiful triple digit weather outside.

5. Fatigue. Its not the 12-16 hour days that make you feel fatigued. It's not a week of long days that causes fatigue. That is just being tired and exhausted. It is the week after week, month after month, year after year that causes fatigue. It is when the job you love, combined with the newest problem of the day, and years of hard work causes one to want to give up. Its when farmers are attacked by people that don't appreciate how much they care for the land and their animals. Its hard to fight that, but I remind myself farming is a lifestyle and not a job. I don't think I could handle a commute where I am not driving the largest vehicle around. Plus I love the views from my cubicle.

Farming still requires hard work, skill, and dedication. Plus it takes a special kind of person to go back  to work the day after they screwed up and broke something. Because in all likelihood, something will go wrong again.
PS: no actual Prius's were hurt in the writing of this blog

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