The Planted Row: Everything breaks eventually

Farm Forum

I got my first pocket knife when I was five years old. It was given to me by a traveling chemical sales representative who visited our farm. It was a little, cheap folding knife with a single blade and the logo for some snake oil printed on the side.

I was a fidgety kid. So I was constantly opening and closing the blade of my new knife. In the car. In the house. In the field. Everywhere. Finally, my dad said, “Son, that knife is going to open and close only so many times before it breaks.” He was right. It finally broke, not immediately, but sooner than if I had just used it when I needed it.

So it was a quick end to a bad knife. I only remember it because it was my first knife and my dad used it to teach me a lesson.

The things we make are going to work for only so long before they break. It only takes a walk through my family’s old farm shop to know this is a basic truth of agricultural life. Its walls are lined with tools of every kind, spare parts (some of it dating back to the 50s), old bolts, nuts, washers, gaskets, sprayer nozzles, gauges, hoses, rubber belts of every size, disc blades, plow bottoms, engine fluids, scrap metal, and more. I don’t think more than a couple of days went by without us digging through these parts to find something we desperately needed to keep our equipment running. Something was always breaking down.

In today’s Farm Forum you’ll find a story by the Associated Press about a recent hearing of the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission to determine whether or not to reissue permits to TransCanada Corp. to build the Keystone XL pipeline. It’s a divisive issue. Proponents of the pipeline cite the boost to our economy. Opponents cite the risk to our environment.

On Tuesday, I spoke on the phone with Mark Cooper who works in TransCanada’s Communications/Media Relations department. He said that TransCanada’s current Keystone system had 12 leaks associated with startup in 2010 and 2011. He said the leaks did not occur in the pipeline itself but in the aboveground fittings and pump stations. According to Cooper, the system lost a total of 450 barrels. Since then, he said the existing Keystone pipeline and related systems have had no leaks. While I’m aware of allegations of shoddy workmanship on the Keystone system, those 12 initial leaks aside, I’d say the pipeline’s record since then has been pretty good.

I don’t know what the future will tell us about the Keystone system’s safety rating, but I know everything breaks eventually. With part of the Keystone XL’s planned route taking it over the Ogallala Aquifer, which is both vital and likely irreparable if contaminated, I think the PUC has to ask itself if the Keystone XL will break before it moves all the Canadian oil sands at its source to market.

I think that’s a tough call for anyone, and I’m glad I don’t serve on the PUC.

Contest winner

This week’s Farm Forum 50th anniversary cash giveaway contest winner is Richard Jensen of Aberdeen, S.D. He will receive a replica windmill and is eligible to win the $5,000 cash grand prize. Prizes are mailed at the end of each month.

Setting It Straight

On page 79F of the June 26, 2015, edition of the Farm Forum, Alicia Davis’s name was misspelled, and her hometown, Bath, was misidentified.

We regret the error. The Farm Forum tries to be fair and accurate. Errors discovered by our staff or our readers will be corrected in this space. If you find an error, email