The Planted Row: Doing the right thing

Stan Wise Farm Forum Editor
Farm Forum

I’ll never forget the time my father, in a rush due to his Extension job, decided to mix a herbicide and an insecticide in the same tank to spray a field of peas. Both products were labeled for peas, so there should be no problem, right?

But there was a problem. Those young peas were badly burned, and though they survived, they didn’t yield very much.

My father had just learned an expensive lesson — always follow the label. While both products were labeled for peas, they weren’t labeled to be mixed together.

This story has been on my mind lately.

I follow some farming groups on Facebook, and lately I’ve been seeing photo after photo of soybeans and other plants damaged by dicamba that drifted, in some cases, for miles. The number of complaints in Arkansas has been so high recently that the Arkansas Plant Board was forced to take a vote recently on whether or not to ban dicamba in the state. They didn’t ban it, but if farmers don’t start using the product more responsibly, they may have to vote again.

Many people with experience spraying crops know that regular dicamba vaporizes easily and drifts for long distances. There are new formulations on the market; however, that are much more manageable — if the applicator follows the label instructions exactly.

Unfortunately, not everyone is following the instructions. My father said he went to a crop meeting this spring and spoke to a producer who said he had no plans to change his nozzles or the pressure of his sprayer, both actions required on the label. That kind of thinking is just damage waiting to happen. In some cases, the fines for misapplication of the product are lower than the cost of doing things properly.

This issue has me thinking a lot about larger questions of social responsibility.

What are our responsibilities to the other people who live on this planet? To the people who will live here after us? Why should we do the right thing when it is often cheaper and easier to do the wrong thing?

As a 13-year-old boy, I asked my dad a question because we were always working, and my friends had time to go do fun things. I asked my dad, “Is the point of life just survival? Work your whole life to stay fed and then die? Is that it?”

My dad didn’t like the question much, so he told me in a stern tone that brooked no further discussion, “Son, a man is his work.”

I thought about his answer for a long time. I started to see how much of my father’s work was to help others. He worked many late hours helping farmers figure out their problems or providing them with useful information. He worked to help 4-H’ers gain the skills needed to succeed in life. He worked to help the people in the community who were too old or disabled to adequately provide for themselves.

All of that work usually came at the cost of spending time with his family. But it also came with rewards. He is loved in his community, and when he has needed help, the people who love him have done so without hesitation. He derives his entire sense of who he is in that give and take.

So when I look at his life, I see a lesson in why people should do the right thing even when it’s cheaper and easier to do otherwise. It’s because doing the right thing, even when it is difficult or uncomfortable, provides a sense of meaning and love to our lives.

Stan Wise