Horse Sense in the 21st Century

It is a hot and muggy Saturday afternoon. I was out in my garden early this morning and worked until the heat was unbearable. After lunch I took a nap. Just an hour nap is enough to recharge me. I’m waiting for it to cool a bit more this afternoon before heading out to the garden again. That’s my idea of a perfect summer day—up early and in the garden, then take it easy for a few hours before heading back out until dark.

The siesta time gave me a chance to read some of my latest issue of Small Farmer’s Journal(SFJ). The oversize quarterly publication is devoted to farming with horses. But even a guy like me, with no horses, and no farm, can get a lot out of SFJ. There is enough gardening and other homesteading information to make the subscription worthwhile.

Besides that, I really enjoy seeing and reading about agriculture that is sustainable in the most successful sense of the word.

A highlight of each issue of SFJ is the editorial by Lynn Miller. Here is an excerpt from his latest:

With every passing day the food supply is thrust deeper into uncertainty what with wars, famine, pestilence, weather changes, corn ethanol, fuel prices, banking insolvency and government meddling to name but a few concerns. The agribusiness community, as orchestrated by multinational corporations and the USDA, continues to mess up farming in ways which can only be described as stupidity and shortsightedness feeding greed. The result? Big farming is collapsing in on itself. So the truly independent small farmer, with increasing success supplying his or her own needs while selling direct to local markets, is in the catbird seat.

Rather than to technological or biological innovation or industrialization or to commercialization, the future of agriculture belongs to mastery of the craft... It is virtually impossible to realize mastery of the craft of farming from the position of large-scale industrialized agriculture. Appropriate human scale is of paramount importance, scale and independence. The truly independent small farmer is the new farmer.

Those are the righteous words of a contrarian farmer. To many, Lynn Miller and his fellow horse farmers are akin to half-baked Don Quixotes tilting at windmills. But the stories in every issue of SFJ are not pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking. They are stories from and about people who have been, and are being, successful at the craft of farming, without being dependent on BigAg. Here is another excerpt from Mr. Miller’s editorial:

I recently heard a Midwestern commodity farmer speak of the phenomenal potential this year’s crop had to either make him rich or destroy him. Growing corn, soybeans, canola, and wheat, he needed 25,000 gallons of fuel for the year’s tractor work. He had contracted for $3.79 a gallon. And he spoke of his chemical fertilizer bill going from $400 to 1,100 a ton, “If the crop does well and the prices hold up, we’ll make a lot of money. If anything goes wrong, we’ll be destroyed.”

...If he does well, he will be able to pay down the farm mortgage some, replace the pickup truck, and payoff his enormous production credit loan. His corn was all being sold for ethanol even though he thought this was wrong and worried about the world food supply. And the pressure to do well was causing him to reverse certain soil conservation practices he believed in.

Measure that story against the organic horsefarmer who, on his 160 acres, maintains his crop rotations, plants his own seed, does all his field work with six home-raised Belgian horses, and measures his purchased inputs in the hundreds of dollars rather than the tens of thousands. This man knows, with current commodity prices and whatever weather mother nature throws at him, that he will be able to paint the barn and house this year and help his son get a start with a farm of his own. A true applied definition of prosperity.


Robert Mullins said...

I do the exact same thing. In the garden till about 1:00pm then its ridiculously hot and humid. In for a quick bite, some sherbet to cool down. Then a light nap. About 5:00pm then back into the frying pan for a bit. I seem to get much more done from 5-9 anyway.

mark said...

I have never understood why any farmer, would want to get THAT deep in debt, in something as chancy as farming often is, in hope of the harvest paying off. If you want to bet that much money, go to Vegas. At least you would be honest about what your doing. Instead of working so hard, and going broke, go broke standing at the blackjack table. Farming, traditionally was an extremely financially conservative game. The farmer would rather die, than get in debt. Now many farmers throw around as much money as a high roller.
Thewriter of that article is right. We need to to start treating farming more like a craft, than a crap game. He might not make as much money at one time. But I bet he sleeps better.

Northern Farmer said...

In a strange way I welcome the huge price rises for inputs on the farm. Even though we use a fraction of what the really modern farmers use. The way I look at it, it'll force us to become a more prosperous farm! What was once a dream or a vision has to be put into affect or else!
For me I can only see true farming returning as this is all happening, and I welcome it. At least I can say that I lived in the oil age until it ended, (which I believe has happened), and now welcome a new era of prosperous family farms, growing healthy foods and healthy families.

tc said...

Glad to see that you are a fellow-subscriber to SFJ! I mentioned awhile back how I came to find out about SFJ: Back to Basics and Farming with Horses

How did you come to find SFJ?