Handing Down the Farm
by Helmut Emmert of Kamloops, BC
The old farmer was sitting on the bench in front of his farmhouse, waiting for customers while enjoying the sunshine. He was thinking of the past, all the people in the village he had been with as a kid and as fellow farmers later on. Until recently he had had close contact with most of them, but lately many had shut off (kind of); they were not interested in what was going on in the world anymore, in politics, culture, sports, etc. Not even farming and all the new inventions still interested them. Some had died, most of serious illnesses, but others just of old age, as it was said. The farmer himself was convinced they died of boredom, no purpose in life, nothing to do anymore. He himself was a bit tired most days but still felt very much alive.
He had given the farm and all responsibility to his youngest son. The oldest son had studied computer science and had moved into town. The old farmer still helped whenever he could. The son had helped him as a kid already, as it is on the farm when the old farmer is still in charge, and had learned all the basics of farming. But then, once he had graduated from high school, he had gone to university to study agriculture. When he came back to take over the farm, he improved everything, brought it up to standard. The old farmer had operated the small farm all by himself, eight cows, a couple of pigs, chickens, and the horse. That was it. The horse was needed whenever something had to be pulled: the wagon, the plow, or anything else. The farmer’s wife took care of the kids, did the cooking for the family and the pigs, the laundry and also worked the house garden in the back with all natural Bio-vegetables on account of the cow manure. In the early years she had milked the cows, but later, as more children arrived, the old farmer took on that chore too. Milking them twice a day, taking them out to pasture, and working in the fields in between had been the farmer’s life. But not anymore.
Everything was different now. There were 80 cows, not just eight, and fifteen calves. The cows and calves had chips implanted under their skin instead of names like Elsie or Ami as it used to be. The calves had them too. All part of a new computer system. The calves would have liked to drink their mothers’ milk but were trained to walk up to a spout to drink their special calf food mix. When the computer program figured they had enough, they got no more. When they didn’t eat enough, the young farmer knew they were sick and called for the vet to have a look.
Milking the cows was also fully automated. They walked up to a special milking station whenever their udder was full and hurt. The suction cups of the milking machine automatically clicked on to the cows’ differently shaped udders and teats. Needless to say, the computer also registered the amount of milk per cow. When there wasn’t enough anymore, she was in trouble. The horse had also been in trouble after the young farmer bought a tractor to pull stuff, but the old farmer insisted on keeping his buddy of many years. All that automation left enough time for the young farmer, with some occasional help, to work the fields also with new machinery.
You might wonder what the old farmer was still doing in such a fully computerised operation. Well, there was the day of the power outage. The cows were screaming and had to be relieved by hand. That was something the old farmer was used to, if not for so many udders. But together, the whole family did help out. The computer failed too, every so often. Luckily, the grandson knew how to fix it but, in the meantime, it was all hands on deck for the family, with the experienced grandpa upfront.
Several times, the old horse got his chance to be of use, whenever the shiny new tractor got stuck in the mud of a field. He managed to pull it out every time, although it often took him longer than in his younger years.
The young farmer had learned in university about some benefits of untreated milk and had started to sell such milk to the villagers. That made for some extra income. One day in fall, the farmer’s wife had some extra vegetables in her garden and asked the customers coming by for milk, if they wanted to buy some. Those without their own garden did, and again, it helped financially. Some of the milk customers with a garden of their own did not buy anything, of course. They said they had too much themselves and would sell it if they could. Well, the farm was already a store of some kind, and grandpa offered to sell it for them. For a fee. He made up a sign saying, “Milk and vegetables for sale. All natural.” and put it up on the road.
Some days in the evening, the old and the young farmer discussed what the weather would probably be like the next few days and if they should wait with the harvest or start now. In Spring they watched what was happening on the board of trade in Chicago. The young farmer had to decide what to plant. There were prices for corn, soybeans, oats and much more. And they all went up and down. All kinds of decisions had to be made. For instance, there was an offer from a bio-gas company to buy all their corn to make methanol gas for cars. They declined. Corn was food, not gasoline.
In the end, all decisions were made by the young farmer, but the old farmer felt good to still be included and also sometimes able to help with additional income. After all, there were new kids born with all kind of needs. The next generation had to be brought up to take over the farm eventually.