Rural Reflections: Learn by learning new words

Farm Forum

How many languages do you know? I took some French classes in junior high and a some Spanish when in college. If I work hard, I can figure out some of the phrases on items written in those languages, but I’m far from fluent.

I remember an incident where the importance of languages brought me a great deal of unease. I was at a concert near Washington, D.C. Friends went to get some refreshments. To the left of me the language sounded like French; to the right of me, Spanish. In back of me, a young couple spoke with their three little girls, in a language I didn’t recognize. In observing them, I couldn’t understand what they said, but a smile went a long way in enjoying the situation.

Since then I’ve traveled more and learned a great deal more. No matter what language is spoken, we learn a lot from each other. I tagged along with some journalists from Europe last week as they learned about agriculture in our state. We had a lot in common and a lot to learn from each other. It helped that many of the foreign visitors speak English very well, and we understood many of the same agricultural terms in our interactions.

Many areas of agriculture have their own terms which in many ways make up our language. In the cattle industry, CAFOs are concentrated animal feeding operations; a heifer is a young female cow before it has a calf. Average daily gain is the pounds of live weight gained per day.

In precision ag, the term precision refers to the repeatability of multiple position measurements of the same object or condition. A data file is an electronic data record collected during a field operation and typically saved in the storage card.

In interacting with farmers, ranchers and experts, I’m often at a loss to understand what terms mean. I have to ask a lot of questions to get to the point where I’m comfortable. I think a lot of the farmers who attended the workshop and field day at Pierpont on saline and sodic soils felt that way last week.

Flocculation was one of the many terms I hadn’t heard before. That word refers to the process during which particles of soil dispersed in a solution contact and adhere to each other, forming clusters, flocks, flakes, or clumps of a larger size.

Land in the James River valley in Brown and Spink counties has one of the highest percentages of sodic (claypan) soils in South Dakota. The farmers at the meeting took the advice offered seriously. Being able to see into the soil pit to examine the layers of soil provided a great learning experience, in any language. And looking at plots showing how soil amendments can improve permeability of soils made a lot of sense.

The story I wrote this week about the field day captured only a tiny part of the information that is available to help producers. The experts at the Plant Science Department at South Dakota State University, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the South Dakota Corn Growers can provide a whole lot more detail. With commodity prices dropping even lower this week, it is a good time to take care of problem areas in the field.

No matter what language is used, farmers want to be the best stewards of the land that they can be.