Tuesday, July 7, 2009


This adventure, this journey, this heart song has spiraled in many directions in the 5 weeks since we came to South Dakota.

In the beginning we were apprehensive but excited to embark on a new adventure. We just wanted to get a start, a business plan, and a feel for an agricultural way of life.

After spending all of our working years in an urban environment in the Seattle area, we didn't know if we were going to live out a dream or if we were making a mistake. We did know that we had to find the answer to that question. The immediate question was how much of our money and time should we invest this first year? And what should be our priorities?

Ever cautious, Jim felt if he could just tiptoe in and test the waters, he would be most comfortable. He thought it would be best to have a neighboring farmer do the haying on shares, and that way, we could post-pone buying equipment. After all we have a well to dig and a wild life habitat and shelter belt programs that begin this year. That was enough, Jim reasoned.

What we didn't expect was how in love with this land we would be. And love is blind as they say. Jim threw caution to the wind and bought equipment. He paid cash for a used Ford tractor and a rake and baler. His cousin, Frank, offered to let us use an old mower, and there we were, fully equipped to work the hay fields.

We made an agreement with the neighboring farmer to cut and bale 80 acres of prime alfalfa on shares, 50/50. And the other 80 acres of crested wheat grass would be cut, raked and baled by Jim.

All farmers were late getting into the field this year due to an unusual amount of rain. When we got into the fields, the grass and alfalfa were beautiful and lush green. The hay would be excellent but now sun was needed to dry the ground for the tractors and to dry the cut hay.

What happened was we had a few days of sun and equipment problems during those days. Each time there was a breakdown on the old equipment, it meant the work stopped and we had to make a parts run, 40 miles to Mobridge. Often, the part had to be ordered and we had to wait until the next day to pick it up.

So, we had highs and lows, ups and downs. When the weather was warm and dry and the equipment was running well, we were exhilarated. When a part broke down after a few passes down the field, work stopped, and progress delayed once again, we were disappointed and discouraged.

The near daily thunderstorms were another factor with which to contend. The Shumakers, who were going to share crop the alfalfa were delayed by the weather themselves. They have a great deal of land of their own and the fields were often wet. We have a time parameter to cultivate alfalfa. It must be harvested when it is a quarter in flower. After that the quality is in decline.
So, there is and has been anxiety about the rain delaying the ultimate goal of baling high quality
animal forage. The alfalfa is our prime crop. The crested wheat grass is second. I t will bring a lower price at market.

A few days ago, Jim was baling the upper 80 acres in the open Ford tractor, and Shumakers were mowing/swing arm raking the lower 80 acres of alfalfa in their high tech enclosed tractor. What a great feeling. What I wouldn't have given for a camera at that time.
At one point when they aligned, climbed down and talked then went back to their work, I had the blissful feeling that we were on the right track. We would get to harvest on time.

Usually, this euphoric state is interrupted by the next thunder storm. Wind, thunder, lightning, pouring rain, and sometimes hail come in rather suddenly and harshly and our beautiful site up on the bluff with a view for miles affords no shelter from the elements. And, once again, we had a storm.

The delays are discouraging. I know we have no control over the weather, but I'm not so sure about the equipment. Over the years, Jim and I have have a difference of opinion about cost versus quality. Sometimes to save a little money, you sacrifice quality and lose money in lost production and declining quality of harvest.

Also, for a few dollars more, we could buy an enclosed tractor and be able to run more during the dark, (cooler) hours. As it is, even with insect repellent, those nasty little biting gnat dudes are really chewing on Jim's ears, causing them to swell and itch.

So, now you have it, many of the discouraging aspects of this venture.

There are many new really positive developments though, which I will share with you in my next blog.

For tonight, I'm invited over to Mother's house to have shrimp salad with the sisties and brother Bill and the nephews. Maybe we'll sit on the screened in front porch after dinner, just like the old days.

Another secret: Sometimes I like to hog Mother all to myself and just sit on the porch with her and have tea. Am I too selfish or what? I am in fact one of eight siblings, so have had to share her quite a lot. But that is another blog.

I miss my children tonight. Wish I could hug them.

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