The Planted Row: Having the time to do things right

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Farm Forum

For most of my life, I watched my father try to farm while maintaining a full-time job as a Mississippi State University Extension Service county agent. It wasn’t easy.

He usually had to run out the door in the morning to take care of some things in his office. He’d show up for a few hours in the afternoon to farm, and then he’d have to take off again for an evening meeting. He was always in a hurry. My grandfather would complain that he’d show up too late in the day to get anything done, and when he would try to rush through the farm jobs anyway, he would break something, requiring even more of his time to fix it.

Sometimes these mishaps would end up as funny stories. For instance, one time my dad had an hour in the afternoon between Extension duties to spray a field of peas for both insect and weed problems. He realized he didn’t have enough time to perform two separate applications, so he decided to mix the herbicide and insecticide in the same tank and do one application. He mixed Basagran with Malathion, quickly treated the field, and then went back into town for an early evening meeting.

Imagine my father’s surprise a couple days later when he noticed his peas were suffering from severe chemical damage. He couldn’t understand it. Both chemicals are labeled for peas. So, he looked a little more closely at the labels and discovered a warning on the Basagran label saying it should never be tank-mixed with an organophosphate insecticide. Guess what Malathion is.

The peas survived and made a crop (sort of), but they were ugly. This field of peas sat right next to the road, so it wasn’t long before jokes about the county agent’s farming practices began to circulate. Dad’s closest friend was the manager of the local ag supply co-op, and he left a couple presents for Dad in his office. One was a roughly pea-shaped watermelon. Someone had drawn the eye of the pea on the melon with a black marker and labeled the side “Stanley’s Mutant Peas.” The other gift was a jug of Basagran, but the label had been altered to read “Basathion.”

We still laugh about the mutant pea patch to this day. However, most of the time, my father’s dual commitments left him working late in the evening under less than ideal conditions and using language his mother wouldn’t have approved of as his frustrations grew. I have as many memories of him laughing and telling a funny story as I do of him working on a tractor or a truck with skinned knuckles long after dark.

However, Dad’s life is about to change. Next month, he will retire from the Extension Service.

I wonder what it will be like to see him more relaxed with the time to do things right on the farm. He might even have the time to take up a hobby, but that is doubtful; he once told me his hobby was work.

Now that he will have more free time, he has asked that we send the kids to the farm for a month this summer. He’s calling it Grandpa’s Farm Camp. I’m all for it, but my wife is skeptical. She’s very worried our kids, who were born in Alaska and haven’t spent much time on the farm, won’t know how to be safe around the equipment.

After intense spousal negotiations, my wife has agreed to let our son, age 11, spend three weeks at the farm this summer. Our seven-year-old daughter, however, will have to wait until she’s a little older. Sydney is jealous that her older brother is getting to go, and frankly, so am I.

My son is excited, and I hope he realizes how lucky he is. Much of what I learned on the farm was taught to me by my grandfather, who had the time to be patient. I’m thrilled my boy has a chance to get the same experience with his grandfather.