February 13, 2008

13th Book Excerpts

Another Day on the Farm:

Can’t remember ever being so fed up with cold weather. Must be getting old. If we get much more snow I’ll have to raise the gates to the animal pens. Sure looking forward to spring…working the fields, getting the motorcycle back on the road, putting the cattle out to pasture…

Current Rant:

With this posting, my books are now half posted online. The fact that there has been no feedback so far indicates there is little, if any, interest in my blog. That being the case, I see no reason to continue. So, unless or until I get some feedback comments, positive or negative, this will be my final posting.

13th Excerpt from “Farmageddon”:
(My latest unfinished book)

What Does "Sustainable" Mean?

“Sustainability” results from conducting economic, social or environmental activities in such a way that current needs are met without compromising the well-being of future generations. A sustainable activity does not plunder the present at the expense of the future.

Cars that run on gasoline are unsustainable on both counts. They use a non-renewable resource, one that will be completely depleted at some point in the future, and they pollute the environment. Thus they negatively impact the present-day as well as tomorrow.

In the case of sustainable agriculture, it must sumultaneously provide a living for those who farm and support the general public’s needs, while maintaining the health of the farm’s ecology and its surrounding environment. A sustainable farm produces crops and animals without damage to the farm’s ecosystem. Sustainable agriculture seeks to pass on to future generations a healthy natural resource rather than one that has been exploited beyond repair.

Some examples of sustainable agricultural practices include minimal use of non-renewable chemicals, rotating crops, and choosing crops that suit the climate. Avoiding genetically modified crops would also fit with the sustainable model, given the uncertainty of their potential negative impact on ecosystems and personal health.

Sustainable agriculture has also been characterized as: “Leaving the world better than you found it, taking no more than you need, trying not to harm life or the environment, and making amends if you do.”

Once a farm has passed the transition period to sustainability, it is likely to be almost as profitable as before. The principal reason for this is an estimated decline in input costs by approximately a third below conventional costs. Yields typically decline in some crops, such as corn and potatoes, but often increase in others, such as hay, soybeans, oats, and barley, especially during dry years when the better water holding capacity of soil translates into a production advantage. Statistical data indicates that average yields of commonly grown crops show only a ten percent yield decline when compared to yields of traditional farming practices.
In other words: Sustainable farming may ultimately be as profitable as conventional farming because the decline in production is partially offset by the decline in expenses.

In 2002, north American farmers produced about two and a half times more food and fibre than they did in 1948, even though the number of farmers had fallen steadily. This can be attributed, in large measure, to increased mechanization.

As farms begin to scale down in size, the need for large capacity machinery will also scale down, but there will always be a desire and need for some mechanization. All farmers appreciate labour saving tools and equipment, just as in all other occupations. The key to survivability is having appropriate technology.

When diversification replaces monoculture there will be a switch from monstrous single-purpose machinery to smaller multi-purpose machinery. There will also likely be a transition to more garden sized machinery. In time, I suspect that the competition among farmers to have the largest most impressive machines will evolve into a competition to see who can get by with the least and most appropriate machinery.

With the ending of the current practice of farmers scaling up to fit in with modern agricultural technology, technology and farm machine manufacturers will begin to scale down in parallel with the farmers. Under present farming conditions, technology and farm machine companies are leading the way. I’m looking forward to the day when that will reverse and the farmers will once again take the lead.

Sustainable agriculture must seek small and specific answers to the challenges it faces. As some wag once said, “When the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, all problems tend to look like nails”. Well, if money was your main problem solving tool in the past, the old practice of throwing money at problems, in the hope that they will disappear, is not likely to be an option any longer.

To be continued - if any interest is indicated…

13th Excerpt from “Defying the Odds”:
(The book is available from http://www.publishamerica.com)


It took twenty one days to get to Korea on the troop ship Marine Devil, a converted freighter. There were twenty five hundred of us on board. About a week out we hit a storm. Two men were washed overboard and not recovered. This resulted in an unscheduled stop at Honolulu, to drop off a couple of guys that had been injured in the storm, and also the opportunity to spend a day in paradise, tossing coins into the clear blue water for the native divers. Guards were posted everywhere to make sure nobody jumped ship.

The rest of the trip was uneventful, unless such things as…spending most of the daytime hours waiting in line for a dinning experience in a galley where the deck is so slippery with puke that it must be neutralised with sugar to provide enough traction so you can stand up elbow to elbow at long steel tables with a hundred or more fellow passengers who are suffering from various degrees of seasickness as you hang on to the table with one hand while feeding yourself with the other from a mess kit that is sliding back and forth with each roll of the ship making it uncertain whether or not you are actually eating your own food as you try to curb a powerful tendency to retch and add your own contribution to the ambience…an other amenities of troopship travel count as eventful.

On the twenty first day we anchored about a mile out from the port of Yung Dung Po, in the Yellow Sea off the west coast of Korea. There was nothing but mud between us and shore. Early the next morning a flotilla of marine landing craft came out to the ship, on high tide, and transported us to shore near a railway station.

That afternoon we boarded a narrow gage Korean train and lurched our way to the city of Seoul. Most of the windows were broken in the rickety old passenger cars, allowing the dense coal smoke from the ancient locomotive to waft through, adding yet another coat to the accumulated grime.

From time to time, for the customary unknown reasons, the train would stop for a few minutes and crowds of ragtag Koreans would appear to barter with this latest trainload of na├»ve American soldiers. They wanted cigarettes mainly, but also tried to exchange their money for ours or sell us their wrist watches. As dumb as we were, most of us had sense enough to avoid dealing with them. However, I’m ashamed to admit, we denigrated them by flipping cigarette butts out the windows to amuse ourselves by watching them scramble to pick them up. They would strip off the paper and smoke the tobacco in their little brass pipes.

Just before dark we finally lurched into a siding, on the outskirts of Seoul, where we transferred into waiting army trucks for the final leg of the trip. Seoul, the capital of Korea, was a city of over two million in 1946—the largest city I had ever seen, as well as the most wretched. At the end of the war, Russia occupied Korea for a short time, after running the Japanese out, and plundered the country, taking most of their industrial machinery with them when they left.

We spent the first few days in a gutted building that had once been a paper mill. There was nothing left but broken pipes and burned off stubs of structural steel sticking out of the concrete, where the machinery had once been. This apparently was typical of all the country's industrialised areas

We set up our army cots anywhere we could find a bit of shelter from the cold February wind that whistled through the building, sleeping in our clothing under two light army blankets. There were no showers, just a couple cold water faucets where you could wash off a bit of grime. Drinking water was supplied in canvas Lister bags, heavily laced with chlorine tablets. Meals were cooked in an outdoor field kitchen which the infantry cooks had set up. By comparison, the old wooden barracks back at Camp Roberts seemed like the Waldorf Astoria.

After staying about a week in the paper mill, some of us were moved to an old Japanese girls schoolhouse, where life was considerably better. About fifteen men were assigned to each of the former classrooms, allowing each of us enough room for a cot and a duffel bag. There was a small sheet-metal oil stove in the centre of the room, with a bare stovepipe running to the nearest window. The room, and eventually our clothing, reeked of spilled heating oil and smoke fumes.

There was a communal shower room which featured cold water only. To get to the shower room you went outside and walked down a long open corridor exposed to the elements. After a cold shower in the dead of winter there is a tendency to hustle back to the warmth of your bed in some haste. Picture a group of nude teen aged boys running wildly through a cold snowy corridor, clutching their wadded up clothing in their arms and uttering profanity at every step.

When the Americans first arrived in Korea, they set up a Military Government in the capitol city. Of the twenty five hundred men on the ship that brought us to Korea, about fifty of us were assigned jobs in Military Government. Almost all of the rest were sent to Infantry outfits. After living about a month it the schoolhouse, some officers showed up one day to conduct individual interviews. We already knew we had been to be assigned to Headquarters Company of USAMGIK (U.S. Army Military Government in Korea)…these interviews would determine our specific assignments within that organisation. I was assigned to the National Food Administration, for reasons still unknown to me.

It turned out to be the best assignment I could have hoped for. I was in Korea for a total of eleven months. Having arrived as a buck private, I advanced through the ranks faster than any other enlisted man in Military Government and left as a Staff Sergeant. While working at my job in the capitol building, my official classification was Sergeant Major. Outside of working hours, I was one of four platoon sergeants in Headquarters Company, USAMGIK, of the Twenty Fourth Corps. In other words…just another teen aged kid pretending to be a soldier.

Actually my job in military government was quite interesting and it afforded some unique opportunities. One experience, which I will always remember, happened when ex-president Herbert Hoover came to Korea during his world wide food famine survey. An ex-president is treated with a good deal of respect by military people, if for no other reason than he was the personal representative of their commander in chief.

Although the capital building was crawling with military brass, ranging from a couple of generals down to hundreds of lieutenants, the eminent appearance of President Hoover was a cause for consternation throughout the building, but particularly in the National Food Administration. The entire office staff was preparing for his visit and a fair amount of activity filtered down to my level. I became kind of a personal 'gopher' for colonel Hill, the head of the department. It was an interesting period, helping with the preparation of displays and charts for the coming conference, contacting other offices and just generally doing anything that the colonel asked me to do for him.

When the big day arrived, and the conference room was all set up—military police stationed at every entrance and patrolling the hallways, high ranking officers in their best dress uniforms with all their campaign ribbons and medals, strict military discipline being enforced—colonel Hill said he wanted me to attend the meeting as his personal assistant. As we started to enter the conference room, the MP guard saluted colonel Hill and then informed me that I was not allowed to enter. Colonel Hill just said, "He's with me." and the MP replied "Yes Sir!" and stepped aside. Once inside, I discovered that I was the only enlisted man in the room.

The meeting was actually rather boring, but while one of the principle speakers was giving his talk, using flip charts as an aid, he almost knocked the chart stand over while turning pages. Noticing his problem, Colonel Hill nudged me and pointed in the direction of the lecturer. For the rest of the meeting, I steadied the stand while the speakers gave their talks and I was within a step or two of the president—my moment of glory! Mr. Hoover was an old man and spoke very softly. I must have been one of few that heard every word spoken.

Another event also stands out in my memory. It had been raining for several days, and the ground was already pretty well saturated, when a major rainstorm hit. It rained another six inches in the next twenty four hours. The following day reports started coming in to the National Food Administration about infrastructure damage and washed out rice paddies due to heavy flooding. Anticipating potentially disastrous food shortages, it was decided that an assessment of the damage should be conducted immediately. Three Korean officials from the National Food Administration were selected to make the survey. Army trucks were about the only vehicles that could be expected to make such a trip over washed out roads and muddy detours. The Koreans had no such vehicles.

I was assigned the job of driving these officials all over South Korea in a jeep. I attended every meeting with them, although I couldn't understand a word. One of the three Koreans spoke a little English and he would explain what was happening as we drove to the next village. The Koreans roomed at government facilities overnight and I would hunt up the nearest military outpost. The credentials, which Colonel Hill had provide, never failed to secure me a place to eat, sleep and fuel up.

At one isolated military establishment, about a company in size, I ran on to a good friend who I had taken basic training with. He was now a mechanic in the infantry motor pool. I was actually embarrassed by the fact that he was still a private first class and I was a staff sergeant...embarrassed because my stripes had come so easily and he was working his butt off with no hope of advancement. We had a good visit that night, but I felt badly because he was stuck in such a miserable job and I had it so good. Such are the fortunes of 'war'.

While I was stationed in Korea, the army medics made a survey of a hundred or so prostitutes that they had picked up on the streets of Seoul and found that ninety eight percent had a venereal disease of one kind or another. As a result of this survey, all military personnel were warned of the risks involved and advised that anyone contracting VD would be subject to courts marshal. Although fraternisation with Korean women was not prohibited, they made it clear that the odds of contracting VD were great.

Letters from home came quite regularly. Mail call in the services is always exciting, especially when you're on the far side of the globe. Whenever the announcement, "MAIL CALL" came over the squawk box, it was as though the announcement had been, "FIRE!"—everyone stampeded for the assembly area.

I was one of the lucky ones…there was nearly always two or three letters for me. Usually there would be one from mom, occasionally one from dad or one of my sisters, but most of them were from Shirley. When the last letters and packages had been handed out, the guys with letters generally went straight to their bunks and started reading. The ones with packages surreptitiously place their loot in their footlockers, to be opened later in privacy. The empty handed tended to just wander away or maybe start a poker game.

I always read the family letters first…savouring the ones from Shirley until last. Her envelopes were generally thicker that the others because she often sent pictures— tantalising shots of her in bathing suits or photos of her pretty face. After a quick look at the pictures, I would stretch out on my cot to read her cherished letters.

About two weeks before I was due to go back home, we had a mail call. I don't remember if there was any other mail for me, but there was one letter from Shirley…a very thin one. The single page began, "Dear Floyd", not the usual "Dearest" or "Hi Honey". The two paragraphs that followed informed me that she was married.

That night I got drunk. That one thin letter was to radically change my attitude in many ways.
After spending nearly a year in Korea, it was finally time to go back home. The trip home on the Marine Jumper was uneventful and took only nineteen days…taking into account the day lost in crossing the International Dateline. We disembarked at Oakland where we had our first fresh milk in eleven months and then boarded a troop train for Seattle to be discharged.

I think of most of my military experiences in a positive way. It was one of the most interesting and adventurous periods of my life. A great many firsts happened to me while in the service. I had my first train ride, first smoke, first ship ride, first alcoholic drink as well as my first exposure to regimentation and authority over others. But it was a far cry from the romantic vision of fame and glory I had dreamed of such a short time ago. My fantasies of shooting down the enemy, while roaring courageously through the sky, had been reduced to desk jockey in the bloody infantry. The odds of winning had been slim from the start.

To be continued - if any interest is indicated…

13th Excerpt from “But…What About Tomorrow?”:
(The book is available from http://www.publishamerica.com)

Suppose I'm Wrong…

Let's suppose I'm wrong about the damage that has been done to our top soil by the excessive use of synthetic agricultural chemicals. In fact, let's assume that the only thing that is correct in this entire book is the fact that, according to prevailing evidence, the world will run out of oil and gas sometime in the next fifty years if we continue to consume these resources at the current rates. Aside from the effect that it would have on industry, home heating, transportation and all sorts of other industrial, commercial and domestic consumers of these products, it would also mean that farmers would be forced to drastically change their farming practices. (By the way, wouldn't it be a hoot if, when our oil and gas is about gone, someone discovers a better use for them than setting them on fire?)

But, let's go a step further and use a technique used by disaster relief organizations, terrorist security people, and such, to formulate plans for worst-case-scenarios in their particular fields. Let's assume that there has been a little miscalculation and instead of having fifty years, before our gas and oil wells run dry, there's only a ten year supply left.

After debating the situation for a couple months and setting up special investigative committees to figure out who to blame, our politicians finally decide that robust action is in order. Their initial knee-jerk reaction was to declare war on any nation that's in a position to cut off our oil and gas imports. But this plan is abandoned when China subtly hinted that it wouldn't look favorably on any country that decided to take preemptive action against a democratic Iraq or a militarily-challenged Canada, for example. Besides, burning up our emergency oil reserves in the killing of innocent people might not be such a good idea anyway … maybe we might find a better use for it. Reluctantly, warfare is decided against and the robust act of fuel rationing is decided upon instead.

When the demands of the airlines; the entertainment and sports industries; commercial and residential heating; and such are provided for, it is decided that the fertilizer industry should be sacrificed. The farmers needs are ignored because, after all, they only represent two percent of the votes.

After the initial period of whining and toothpick chewing, grain farmers across the land realized that they might actually be better off without fertilizer. Sure, their crops might be half what they had been, but their relative position within the agricultural industry would be unchanged. As a matter of fact, they might actually be better off because poor yields would result in short supply and higher prices. The math is simple enough: half the yield at twice the price equals no change in income. Besides that, if there was only half as much grain to handle, storage and freight costs would be halved and net profits would actually be a little higher.

On the other hand, the diversified farms, with their well established crop rotations and lack of dependence on fertilizer, would see no difference in their crop yields, but their net income would increase because of the higher commodity prices. No longer would they be looked down upon as the retarded step-sisters of the industry. How sweet it is to contemplate!

Of course, the above scenario is a bit flippant but it is not totally inaccurate. A shortage of natural gas will cause a shortage of nitrogen fertilizers. This in turn will result in high prices for the little that is available and it could also mean that using fertilizers at previous levels would no longer be profitable. A shortage of oil would obviously have similar effects on farm fuel costs.

If some version of this scenario were to become reality, then crop yields would drop drastically. In such a case, it is conceivable that North America would no longer be a net exporter of grain and other agricultural produce. Imagine the effect this would have on the countries which depend on our exports, not to mention the effect it would have on our own economy.

Waiting until we run out of oil and gas before preparing for that day is not a sane thing to do. The bountiful crops that we are so accustomed to are not possible without the application of liberal amounts of fertilizers and pesticides. My guess is that North America's agricultural production could be cut by fifty percent without the use of these chemicals. Not only would the yields be drastically reduced, but weeds would have a field day … pardon the pun.

I know, from personal experience, how long it takes to bring soil back to full production once it has lost its fertility and becomes infested with weeds. Although all situations would not be the same, on our farm it took approximately twenty years to make a significant improvement in soil fertility and weed reduction. With a four-year crop rotation—three years in grass and one year in grain—each parcel of land was only broken up five times in those twenty years. Plainly it is only when the land is broken up that the organic matter from the grass phase is incorporated into the soil.

Although I have no proof, it seems that the improvements to the fertility of the soil are more-or-less uniform with each succeeding cycle. In other words, there doesn't seem to be much difference in the percentage of improvement gained from the first rotation cycle or the tenth cycle. There is a gradual but uniform improvement each time, as far as I can see. At any rate, it takes a number of years to make a significant improvement. This is one reason why I believe it is imperative that we prepare for the end of oil and gas long before we run out of these resources.

The transition from a chemical-based system of farming to a natural system must be made in an orderly step-by-step manner. It cannot be done in one swell foop. This might best be understood by looking at it from the view point of one individual farmer.

The farmer's top priority will obviously be survival. He must continue to make a living and pay his bills while making the change from chemical-dependent cropping to quasi-organic (sustainable) cropping. He will likely have to gradually make the change over a period of years. The change will not necessarily be limited to discontinuing the use of synthetic chemicals. In many cases it will also involve some changes in machinery, setting up a long term crop rotation system and starting up a livestock enterprise of some kind. All such changes take time and cost money. If he is to survive the transition, the costs of such changes must be spread over a sufficient period of time. It must be realized that, during much of the transition period, the farmer's income, both gross and net, will likely be reduced significantly. Why? Because it will take several years to bring the soil back to its productive potential.

If I were a grain farmer faced with the problem of converting to a diversified farming operation, I would go about it in the following way … assuming that I have a full line of grain farming machinery and no livestock facilities at all, including fences.

First of all, I would seed from one-sixth to one-forth of my land (depending upon whether I planned to have a six-year or four-year crop rotation) to a grass-legume crop. I would do this by seeding an oat and grass mixture so that there would be a crop of oats to harvest, either as grain or forage, in the year of seeding. The use of fertilizer on this crop would be optional, but herbicides could not be used because they would kill out the under-seeded grass and legume seedlings.

Assuming that I have no haying machinery, I have the options of harvesting the oats as grain; buying a baler and making oat hay; selling the standing crop to a neighboring farmer for hay; or hiring someone to bale the hay for me.

If I choose to make hay of the oats, I have the options of selling it, or buying some cattle to feed it to. Selling the hay is simple enough, but the cattle option will necessitate building some sort of confinement facilities like fences and corrals. Then there is the matter of the class of cattle to buy … feeders or breeding stock being two options. Since I am making long range plans, I opt for breeding stock.

Basically, the pattern for the next few years is now established. Each year I will seed another parcel of my land to grass and add to my cattle herd and facilities and exchange grain machinery for haying machinery as necessary. Eventually all of my land will have been seeded to grass and then the whole cycle will repeat itself and my farm will have been fully converted to a sustainable diversified operation.

For those that opt to continue in a predominantly grain business, but wean themselves from their chemical dependencies, they will have to use a rotation scheme that may only involve grasses in one or two years per cycle. Of course it will take longer to build up the soil this way and the best use will not be made of the grass, but it will help and eventually the soil tilth and organic matter will be improved.

In reality, there are probably as many variations of ways to make the transition as there are individual farms. The main point of the examples given is to demonstrate that, no matter how it's done, it's going to take time to convert to a sustainable long term soil management system.

To be continued - if any interest is indicated…

I would like to hear from you! You may send your comments by clicking either the Comments or the Letter icon below. Thank you…

Have a warm day…


February 11, 2008

12th Book Excerpts

Another Day on the Farm:

Warmed up a bit overnight. The snow plows have been busy today cleaning up the country roads. Had to plow out my own driveways and trails twice yesterday. Drifted back in almost as fast as they were cleaned out.

12th Excerpt from “Farmageddon”:
(My latest unfinished book)

Sustainable Farming

Farmers make up barely two percent of North America’s population and, in my opinion, this two percent is the only segment of society which has a realistic hope of attaining any degree of self-sufficiency, because we are the only ones having the means to feed ourselves. That may be a hard reality for the other ninety eight percent to accept, but nevertheless it is obviously true. That being the case, it follows that unless farmers maintain their ability to feed themselves, nobody else will be fed either.

In a worst-case scenario there could be a huge world-wide population die off. Since the ninety eight-percenters have no hope of feeding themselves, the burden of prodding the politicians into action, before it’s too late, therefore rests primarily on the shoulders of this major segment of the population. Meanwhile we two-percenters would be wise to start looking after our own best interests.

Without the cooperation and support of the majority of the population, remedial action in our democratic society is impossible. Farmers alone do not have the clout to force the politicians to pull their heads out of the sand and start taking corrective measures. If and when our leaders create an environment that will enable farmers to convert to a system of sustainable farming, capable of feeding the other ninety eight percent, we will do whatever is required.

The bad news is that there doesn’t appear to be enough time to make a dent in solving the problems to adequately prepare for the coming crisis. To switch from a petroleum based system of farming to a sustainable “natural” system will take years, largely because much of our arable soil has been seriously damaged by “chemical farming”.

In my opinion, the first step toward repairing the damage, mostly done in the last half of the twentieth century, is to change from mono-cultural cropping to diversified farming. A very significant part of the world’s cropland will have to undergo several cycles of crop rotations to rebuild the lost organic material. A complete crop rotation cycle can be anywhere from three to six or more years in length.

On our farm, it took five or six complete cycles to make a noticeable improvement of the soil. Based on a four-year cycle, that works out to twenty or more years, but different farms will require varying amounts of time. It’s only every four years that one gets to see the improvement in the soil brought about by the practice of crop rotation. The changes are glacially slow but noticeable. Over a period of time the change becomes overwhelming. The point I’m trying to make is that the damage done in the last half century cannot be repaired overnight.

Diversifying a farm involves much more than setting up crop rotations, but it is far beyond the scope of this book to spell it all out in detail. However, I will give an example of the sort of things I’m referring to.

To change from grain farming to diversified farming would entail buying livestock, building fences and other livestock structures, purchasing haying and sod breaking machinery, just to mention a few of the major things. It will also likely mean a long period of reduced income while waiting for the first payday from the sale of cattle. During that time the farmer’s family would have to adjust to living on the income from a much reduced grain crop — reduced both in acreage and yield. It will be tough going when income drops while expenses rise. Only the most determined are likely to make it on their own.

Modern intensive agriculture is unsustainable. Technologically-enhanced agriculture has exacerbated soil erosion, polluted and overdrawn groundwater and surface water, and even, due to increased usage of pesticides, caused serious public health and environmental problems. Soil erosion, overstrained cropland and water resource overdraft in turn lead to ever greater use of fossil fuels and hydrocarbon products.

It has been estimated that it takes five hundred years to replace one inch of topsoil. In a natural environment topsoil is built up by decaying plant matter and weathering rock and is protected from erosion by growing plants. In some cultivated soils, erosion alone is reducing productivity by up to sixty five percent each year. Former prairie lands, which constitute the bread basket of North America, have lost as much as half of their topsoil after being farmed for only a hundred years. This soil is eroding thirty times faster than the natural formation rate.

Food crops are much hungrier than the natural grasses that once covered the Great Plains. As a result, the remaining topsoil is increasingly depleted of nutrients. Soil erosion and mineral depletion removes about twenty billion dollars worth of plant nutrients from U.S. agricultural soils every year. Much of the soil in the Great Plains can be likened to a sponge into which we must pour ever increasing amounts of hydrocarbon-based fertilizers in order to produce crops.

Every year in North America, more than two million acres of cropland are lost to erosion, salinization and waterlogged soil. On top of this, urbanization, road building, and industry claim another million acres annually from farmland. Approximately three-quarters of the land area in the United States is devoted to agriculture and commercial forestry. The expanding human population is putting increasing pressure on land availability.

The demand that modern monoculture places on water resources is staggering. For example, a corn crop that produces 118 bushels per acre requires more than 500,000 gallons of water per acre during the growing season. Unless something is done to lower these consumption rates, modern agriculture will soon propel the United States into a water crisis.

Nearly fifty percent of U.S. corn land is grown continuously as a monoculture. This results in an increase in corn pests, which in turn requires the use of more pesticides. Pesticide use on corn crops had increased a thousand-fold before the introduction of pesticide resistant corn. Even since then, corn losses to pests have risen four-fold.

Modern intensive agriculture is unsustainable. It is damaging the land, depleting water supplies and polluting the environment. And all of this requires more and more fossil fuel to pump irrigation water, to replace nutrients, to provide pest protection, to repair the damage to the environment and simply to hold crop production at a constant level.

Presently only two nations on the planet are major exporters of grain: the United States and Canada. By 2025, it is expected that the U.S. will cease to be a food exporter due to domestic demands. The impact on the U.S. economy could be devastating, as food exports earn $40 billion for the U.S. annually. More importantly, millions of people around the world could starve to death without U.S. food exports.

If we fail to develop a sustainable form of agriculture, in a worst-case scenario, we could be faced with a world-wide population die-off from which civilization might never recover. In such a die-off there could actually be a lose of the critical mass of people necessary for sustainability.

We need to ask ourselves if we can allow this to happen and what can we do to prevent it. We need to decide whether our present lifestyle means so much to us that we would risk subjecting ourselves and our children to such a tragedy, simply for a few more years of conspicuous consumption.

To be continued next time…

12th Excerpt from “Defying the Odds”:
(The book is available from http://www.publishamerica.com)


But, my turn finally came! A few days before graduating from high school I went to the recruiting centre in Portland and volunteered for immediate induction. I had received my draft card in April of 1945, just prior to my eighteenth birthday. Although there was a good chance that my number would not be drawn for weeks, or possibly months, from the way the war was going at that time, I was afraid it would be over before I was called and I would miss my chance at glory. I took the preliminary recruiting physical that very day and was ordered to report to the recruiting centre in Vancouver, Washington on the 16th day of August, 1945. On August 15th the Japs surrendered.

Later on I would joke that the Japs had discovered that I was coming, so they gave up. But, at the time, I could only see it as a cruel twist of fate. There was dancing in the streets that evening. The few service men that happened to be home on leave were treated as heroes. It was a wild and happy time for most, but it was one of the worst nights of my life. I had been waiting for months for my chance. I had fantasised about how it would feel to be 'going off to war'—thinking about my last night with Shirley, saying goodbye to my family and feeling very important.

Now, on the very last day, it all changed. The war was over. Nobody cared that I would be leaving early the next morning and I didn't even dare tell anyone. But the worst thing of all…I didn't get to see Shirley. I had been looking forward so much to this evening because it would be our last time together until I came home on my first furlough. She apparently had been caught up in the celebrations, and I never did see her that night. I went home early and went straight to bed so that I wouldn't have to explain to the folks.

The next morning, after tearful goodbyes to mom and my brothers and sisters, dad took me to the recruiting office in Vancouver. I was carrying his old WW1 shaving kit, which he had given me a couple of days before, and I remember feeling guilty because I was ashamed of it. It was old fashioned—not like the ones the other guys would have. But I couldn't let dad know, so I took the kit with me.

He dropped me off at the curb in front of the recruiting office, saying he had to get to work. But, of course the real reason he rushed off was because he saw the other guys waiting there and wanted to avoid embarrassing me by breaking into tears.

An army corporal soon showed up and led his charges inside, where he gave a brief rundown on what we would be doing for the remainder of the day. Not long after, a chartered Greyhound bus arrived. We boarded the bus and left for Fort Lewis, Washington, the same military centre where dad had trained in 1918.

I suppose the bus ride would have seemed pretty boring to most, but to us new recruits it was high adventure. We had left home and were feeling the first freedom from parental supervision. We were on our way to exciting times. We felt like men…temporarily at least.

After arriving at Ft. Lewis that afternoon, having had our first free meal at a bus stop along the way (which somehow surprised me because it had not sunk in until then that the Army would henceforth be paying for everything). I noticed that the corporal spent a good deal of his time counting us. He counted us again as we got off the bus and later when he turned us over to another enlisted man. The new guy ushered us into a large room, where he told us to wait, and said we could smoke if we liked. This was the beginning of a whole new way of life.

That night, after being counted a few more times, we were assigned to a barracks; told about mess hall hours; and instructed to be at our cots at 6:am for further instructions.

By that time I had become acquainted with a couple guys in our group and we spent the evening wandering around the grounds…but not too far from the barracks because everything looked the same and we weren't taking any chances on getting lost. We did manage to stumble on to the PX though, where we got the surprise of our lives. The PX had more candy, gum, beer, soft drinks and the like than we had seen for years—the stories we had been hearing from our older service friends were true after all!

The next morning we were sworn in en masse. From that moment on things took a turn for the worse. We had suddenly turned into brainless hard-of-hearing morons with a very limited understanding of the English language, and only then when spoken very loudly. We were issued our first uniforms—the worst looking uniforms imaginable. There was nothing uniform about them. The pants and jackets didn't match. Some shirts were winter weight and others were summer weight. All of the clothing, except for the underwear (which was a pukey khaki colour too) was used—much of it mended—and it smelled of mothballs or some other pungent chemicals We were the sorriest looking bunch of soldiers imaginable—although I suspect that all the recruits prior to us had looked just as crummy. I would have been ashamed to have been seen by my family and friends at that time. It was humiliating.

After spending a few days at Ft. Lewis, several hundred of us were assembled in a large staging area beside the railway, early in the morning. We formed into groups of about forty or fifty…enough to just fill a railway passenger car. The groups were not randomly selected however, we were called by name and then assigned to a group. Then we boarded the train, which had been standing there, with the steam engine puffing quietly, when we first arrived.
Upon boarding we were allowed to choose our own seats but were told not to leave our assigned car for any reason. Shortly after that the train pulled out—we had no idea where we were going.

As I recall, it took three days to get to our destination…Camp Roberts California. Although the train travelled very slowly, and stopped frequently for no apparent reason, we didn't mind. It was party time aboard the train. Crap games and poker went on all day long. Three times a day we were escorted through the other cars to the dining car, which always involved a lot of heckling and prodigious usage of filthy language. We were a bunch of kids enjoying our recent freedom from parental supervision and we just didn't know exactly how to act.

On the third day, after transferring to Greyhound busses somewhere in California, we arrived at Camp Roberts around noon. The busses all drove through the main gates in a long line and parked in a rather isolated area beside a huge asphalt field. Someone apparently knew we were coming. From the moment the busses stopped we started doing things the army way.

The instant the busses stopped, the drivers opened the doors and a sun-tanned, drill hardened NCO bounded into each bus and demanded, "ATTEN'HUT!" These guys looked tough, acted tough, and spoke…no, bellowed…tough. Their uniforms were absolutely perfect. Their haircuts were absolutely perfect. There bearing was absolutely military. There was no doubt who was in charge. Nearly every sentence they uttered began with the words, "You WILL".

We then re-formed into bus-sized groups and marched to our assigned company areas, where we were very officially turned over to the cadre personnel who would be our instructors, surrogate parents, and wardens for the next seventeen weeks.
I was assigned to Company A of the 82nd Infantry Training Battalion, where, according to the army, I and my fellow trainees would become soldiers and men. One of the first things we were told was: "There are three ways of doing things; the right way, the wrong way, and the army way. Life will be much easier for those who quickly learn to do everything the army way".

The army has been making soldiers of civilians for a very long time. It has evolved an effective system. It starts with the assumption that every new recruit is nothing more than raw material to be moulded, brainwashed, badgered, scared, tormented, trained, and tested until he becomes an obedient reactionary robot dedicated to following orders without hesitation, performing heroic deeds of courage and honour, defending the flag and democracy, and the like.

However, the system is imperfect because the trainees were not recruited soon enough. They had already developed a few undesirable characteristics. Some of them had learned to think for themselves. Some were uncooperative. Some hated the army. Some were stupid, clumsy, shy, disinterested, or misfits. The net result was that, in the majority of cases, the system didn't quite succeeded in producing the desired product. It tended to produce individuals of increased self-confidence, better fit for combat, trained to kill, and also with a certain amount of loyalty, pride, dedication and patriotism, but, in most cases, it failed to convert civilians to soldiers. It merely succeeded in training boys to act like soldiers.

Although the war was officially over, it took time for changes to set in. Basic military training, for instance, was conducted as though there was still a war on. We went through the same training that hundreds of thousands of soldiers had experienced prior to us. It was seventeen weeks of marching, shooting, obstacle courses, and all the rest, except for the fact that we knew it was all for nothing.

I was in good physical condition going into the army. Many were not. About half, or more, were smokers. A few were in their thirties and a few were fat. Those minorities had a much tougher time in training than most. For the average kid, fresh out of high school, most of the training was strenuous but not too difficult. During our seventeen weeks of training, it was estimated that we walked about a thousand miles, much of the time with field packs on our backs and over rough terrain, sandy river bottoms, steep hills, in semi-desert conditions.

At the end of basic training I had my first leave. It was at Christmas time, the perfect time to be going home. Although I was excited about seeing my family and Shirley again, I hated the thought of them seeing me in my embarrassing uniform. I had spent very little of my army pay, primarily because of the lack of opportunity, so I had about a hundred dollars saved up. The Post Exchange sold a variety of military apparel, which I had been admiring, but it was relatively expensive. But, as the time to go home drew nearer, I finally decided that it would be better to go home broke than in disgrace.

A day or two before leaving Camp Roberts, I went to the PX and bought a new 'Eisenhower jacket' and a decent looking shirt and an infantry cap. Most of the rest of my money went for cartons of candy bars for my sisters and brothers and some little gifts for mom and Shirley. I was nearly broke but my pride had been salvaged.

While home on leave, Shirley and I were together at every opportunity. We even went to church together one Sunday. After the church services, I noticed another army uniform in the group of people that were talking outside. It turned out to be a high school classmate that had also just completed his basic training, but at a different army base. As we shook hands, he commented that my uniform sure looked a lot better than the ones they had been issued. I told him what I had done and he wished that he had done the same thing.

In January I reported to Ford Ord, California for further basic training. Within two days of arriving there, we were all issued brand new uniforms. This time we were carefully measured and issued properly fitting clothing, including brand new Eisenhower jackets. Everything was brand new, from the four sets of underwear and six pairs of sox to the overcoat and field jacket. Nobody had previously worn any of it—even the duffel bag and mess kit were shiny new. Everything matched and fit perfectly…we could finally take some pride in our appearance.

After four more weeks of advanced infantry training, we were at last ready for our first postings. At the end of January we boarded another troop train bound for our port of embarkation near Seattle. The usual routing of repeated stops for no obvious reason eventually got us back to familiar turf. As the train moved slowly through Vancouver, Washington, two or three of the guys passed within blocks of their homes. One kid actually pointed out his house, as he strained to see if any of his family happened to be outside. Ironically, that kid never made it back home—he died in a freak accident while in Korea.

We spent about a week at the port of embarkation. At the first opportunity, I phoned home to talk to Shirley. She was a senior in high school at the time and I had not taken into account that she would be attending class at the time I placed the call. Finally, when there was no response from her home phone, I realised she was probably in school. So I phoned the high school principal and told him I would very much like to talk to her. Without hesitation he said, "I'll go get her right away Floyd", and within a minute or two I heard her excited voice.

The principal left the office so we could talk privately. After talking for a few minutes, Shirley said she was coming to Seattle to see me, if there was any possible way. But, it was not to be. Cooler heads prevailed. I presume her parents, quite rightly, pointed out the folly of the plan. Three days later we were on our way to Korea to join with the occupational forces.

To be continued next time…

12th Excerpt from “But…What About Tomorrow?”:
(The book is available from http://www.publishamerica.com)

A Personal Rant…

Every once in a while I have to get a personal rant out of my system. This is one of those times.
The notion that anyone can farm is certainly wrong and it is equally certain that there are many who are farming that should not be. A true farmer, and the only kind of person that should be allowed to farm, is one that places the long-term viability of his farm above short term profits. A true farmer will not mine his soil for the sake of profit. Such farmers remind me of England's Neville Chamberlain's famous statement, "Peace in our time"…"Profit in our time."

Obviously a farmer must make a profit if he is to remain in business. No business in a capitalist society will exist for long if it is not profitable. On the other hand, no business in any kind of economy can survive if it squanders or destroys its resources. The soil is, either directly or indirectly, the primary asset of every farm. The very word farm evokes visions of expansive fields, although there are many farm enterprises that have relatively small land bases … chicken and hog farms, for example. But even those enterprises are totally dependent on the soil of other farms for the feed their animals must have, as well as for a place to dispose of their waste byproducts.

In my opinion, the worst crime a farmer can commit, with regard to soil husbandry, is to abuse his soil for the sake of profit. Doing so out of ignorance might be forgiven, but to knowingly do so is unforgivable. However ignorance takes many forms. The purely uninformed type of ignorance is common enough but , as I see it, informed ignorance is much more prevalent. By the term informed ignorance, my own term, I am referring to the practice of blindly following the foolish advice of so-called experts. Far too many of those experts have been advocating the very practices that have contributed to many of the problems that farmers are now confronting … problems which threaten to become worse in the future.

On second thought, an even worse crime, that a farmer can commit against nature, is the sale of his top soil. The practice of skimming off the top soil from a field and selling it for profit to landscapers, for use on suburban lawns and gardens, is unforgivable. Any farmer that would do that is not worthy of the name "farmer", he is an unconscionable plunderer who should not be permitted to farm.

One of the perks of being a farmer is the big impressive machinery we get to drive. I am convinced that if it wasn't for the self importance derived from the monster tractors and huge combines, as we proudly drive them back and forth past the presumably envious eyes of our neighbors and passer's by, a lot of the satisfaction of farming would disappear. Believe it or not, this fixation on machinery and absurd loyalty to a particular brand of machinery has reached the point where some farmers actually fly the company flag of their favorite machinery manufacturer. Of course the same sort of swaggering, pretentious, self-important boasting can be seen elsewhere—farmers don't have a monopoly on ego.

The pathetic thing about this addiction to impressive machinery and fawning loyalty to a particular machinery company, is that it plays into the hands of the machinery dealers. Any machinery sales-person, who is worth his salt, can recognize one of this ilk the moment he walks into his office. Advertising brochures and magazines cater to and blatantly promote this big-shot image that we farmers are so susceptible to. The words used to describe the advantages of the newest model tractor or combine may appear to promote such things as greater efficiency, but the subtle hidden messages, that hook the vulnerable, have to do with bigness, impressiveness and appearance. It works because we farmers are human too.

Now that I've got that little rant out of my system, I'd like to make a more cogent point. I'm afraid that our tunnel-vision focus on ever bigger machinery is enslaving us to the machinery companies. The companies are right … big machinery does get the job done quicker and comfortable machinery does make the job more pleasant. But, once we succumb to this philosophy, it can have some far-reaching consequences such as; huge investments in machinery; perpetual debts; having to trade-up to get a good deal; finding buyers for the used machines; and the need to buy a whole new line of machinery to fit a bigger tractor.

Focusing on bigness tends to mesmerize us. We begin to think in terms of bigger being better, but this is not always true. Take the case of seeding equipment for example. The present trend is toward huge combination tillage and seeding machines that get the entire job of seeding done in one pass. The behemoth chain of machinery, maybe twenty feet wide and sixty or seventy feet long, typically consists of a huge tractor pulling a cultivator equipped with both seeding and fertilizing attachments which is towing a wagon with tanks full of seed and fertilizer, and finally a soil packer or harrows trailing along behind. The entire ensemble might cost a half-million or more.

The obvious advantage of such an outfit is efficiency ... one pass and you're done. Assuming a speed of seven miles per hour and width of twenty feet, such a machine can seed approximately fourteen acres per hour or one hundred forty acres in a ten hour day … with a couple pit stops to fill up the seed and fertilizer hoppers. The time spent in seeding probably works out to about five minutes per acre. (All of the above are ball-park figures only … I have no personal experience with such monstrosities.)

Now, by contrast, the seeding system which we have used very successfully on our farm for the past forty years, consists of a medium sized tractor pulling a broadcast type fertilizer spreader. This small outfit seeds twenty feet per round at a speed of ten miles per hour, or approximately twenty acres per hour. Since we only seed grain one year out of four, and only then as a companion crop with a mixture of forage seed, the grain and grass seed are mixed together as they are loaded into the spreader. The spreader holds enough seed to seed fifty acres before having to reload. After broadcasting the seed, the field is then harrowed and rolled, in two separate operations. The total time per acre seeded is approximately one quarter of a man-hour (three minutes per acre to seed plus one and a half minutes per acre to harrow and ten minutes per acre to roll). The entire investment in seeding machinery, including the tractor, is approximately a hundred and fifteen thousand dollars. Our yields are comparable to those using the five hundred thousand dollar outfit. For example, oat yields in excess of one hundred bushels per acre … bearing in mind that we use no chemical fertilizers or herbicides.

A side benefit of using a broadcast seeder is that we never have to clean the seed. It goes straight into the seeder as it comes from the combine … a few bits of straw, leaves and other foreign matter are not a problem with a broadcast seeder.

But this kind of farming is not impressive. It does not appeal to the hot-shot grain farmers who compete amongst themselves for the glory of being the envy of their peers and the most prized customers of the machinery dealers. "What fools we mortals be."

To be continued next time…

I would like to hear from you! You may send your comments by clicking either the Comments or the Letter icon below. Thank you…

Have a warm day…


February 10, 2008

11th Book Excerpts

Another Day on the Farm:

Another cold windy day. The wind is from the south, indicating that it may warm up a bit. The driveway and yard trails need to be plowed out again. Luckily the snow blower doesn’t leave ridges alongside the plowed lanes or the drifts would be too deep to handle by now. Don’t like to use the Dozer because a good part of the gravel either ends up on the lawn or in the ditches. Have mixed feelings about snow: It’s pretty and provides spring moisture but it’s a pain in the butt otherwise.

Our little dozer

Current Rant:

The Blogsphere is filled with posts espousing all sorts of back-to-the-land schemes and surviving in the post peak-oil era but very few of them seem to understand the lead-time requirements for such undertakings. Assuming that a Back-To-The-Lander (BTTL) actually has some rudimentary understanding of gardening and animal husbandry, to actually reach the point of independence and self sufficiency can take several years.

Let’s assume that the BTTL is a city dweller (most people are) and that they have purchased a parcel of farm land in the country. First of all, it’s highly unlikely that the land will have a suitable set of buildings, fences and other structures for small scale farming. So, before any livestock can be kept there will have to be some facilities built for them. Then there is the question of the BTTL’s experience and competence with farm animals. Learning on the job will take time and mistakes can be costly.

But, the biggest problem may be the fact that Mother Nature has her own time schedule. It takes time for an orchard to mature. It takes 9 months for a cow to produce a calf. Takes time for a garden to grow. Takes time to train a horse. Takes time to acquire farming tools and equipment. Takes time to learn new skills and it takes time to recover from mistakes.

The point is: If you have aspirations to go back to the land, you had better get to it and at it, because time is not on your side.

11th Excerpt from “Farmageddon”:
(My latest unfinished book)

More About Gold

Gold is a unique commodity because it is the only one that I can think of that is produced primarily for stockpiling or hoarding. All other commodities are produced to be consumed. Although gold is a rare element, almost all of the gold that has been mined throughout history is still in existence.

The worlds entire stockpile of mined gold totals about 155,000 metric tonnes, or about 8,000 cubic meters. To put that into perspective, in one day, twenty-times more steel is smeltered than the total weight of gold mined throughout history.

The price of gold is determined by the laws of supply and demand, the same as all other commodities, but the comparatively small amount of new gold that is mined each year, less than a two percent increase in the total stockpile, has very little effect on price fluctuations. A gram of gold mined today is exactly the same as a gram of gold mined during the Roman empire.

As money, gold is the only currency that does not depend upon some one’s promise to exchange it for some other form of currency. Gold is hoarded because its greatest usefulness arises from those features that make it a sound form of money. It is money that cannot be devalued by creating more of it by government fiat, nor from some other element by alchemists.

The U.S. dollar is in trouble because it is being devalued, inflated, by the government printing new dollars to fund the growing federal government budget deficits and other public and private debt. As this insidious inflation erodes the purchasing power of the dollar month after month, I expect more and more people to turn to gold for their security.

It used to be that the dollar was “as good as gold”. The dollar achieved that distinction because it was formally defined as a weight of gold under the system known as the gold standard. Under that system, which ended in August 1971, gold and dollars were interchangeable, and essentially the same. But that is no the case anymore. By some estimates, the dollar has lost more than ninty percent of its purchasing power since it was taken off the gold standard.

Despite the deterioration the dollar has suffered, it continues to circulate as currency. The Federal Reserve’s pro-dollar, anti-gold stance is aimed at maintaining the illusion that the dollar is reliable money. Consequently, in contrast to their interdependent and complimentary role under the gold standard, gold and the dollar have become competitors. In fact, gold is the dollar’s only serious competitor. It is competitive demand that determines their relative rates of exchange, or what we call the “price” of gold.

The relative demand for gold and dollars also explains the importance of dollar interest rates. High dollar interest rates are needed to seduce people into accepting the risk of holding dollars, instead of buying gold. But it is only “inflation adjusted” interest rates that matter. Nominal interest rates are not important. That is to say; if dollar interest rates are 10% and the inflation rate is 10%, then real interest rates are nil, making gold more attractive than dollars.

In order to get a better understanding of confusing problems, sometimes it’s helpful to look at them from a different perspective. Rather than viewing gold’s price as rising, think instead that the purchasing power of the dollar is falling. This can be seen clearly by looking at the prices of goods and services in terms of dollars as well as gold and then determining which medium will buy the most goods.

Gold’s value comes from its usefulness, not from manipulations by central banks. It is the world market that gives gold its value, though central banks would have you believe otherwise. Central banks would like us to think that they control gold’s price, since that perception makes it easier for them to bolster the demand for the dollar. The reality is that the market determines gold’s price, just like every other commodity.

By keeping the price of gold low, central banks make the dollar look better — make the dollar look worthy of being the world’s reserve currency, when in fact it is not. The gold price is a kind of barometer that measures whether national currencies are being well managed.

Central banks have some influence on the price of gold but their influence has been diminishing since they started divesting themselves of gold holdings. They now hold a relatively small part of the total gold stock. Right after WWII, about sixty eight percent of the worlds gold stock was in the vaults of central banks. Now it has fallen to about ten percent.

Having less gold means that they have less influence on its price, which is one of the reasons central banks have lost much of their former manipulative powers.

Gold has been rising since 2001, and the many problems national currencies are suffering mean that it will likely continue to rise. Some predict that it may hit as much as eight thousand dollars per ounce within ten or twelve years.

Today it takes about ten dollars to purchase what one dollar would purchase back in the 1970’s. From the 1980’s until the turn of the twenty first century, the price of gold rose from thirty five dollars to over three hundred and fifty dollars. If history should repeat itself, the same mathematical ratio of gain in gold’s dollar price could theoretically reach eight hundred dollars within the next decade.

If the dollar’s purchasing power continues to decline at its present rate, then it is not unreasonable that the purchasing power of gold could climb to the equivalent of eight thousand dollars within the next decade. But, to repeat myself, the reality is that gold is not rising in price, the dollar is loosing value — inflated

Now, before you sell the farm and rush out to buy gold, you should first count the “if’s” in that last statement. Nobody can predict, with any degree of certainty, what will happen to the price of gold, myself in particular. But, neither can anyone buy gold retroactively if it’s value should skyrocket.

Rather than viewing the value of gold in terms of dollars, it is interesting to evaluate it in terms of the amount of oil it will purchase. Sixty years ago, an ounce of gold would buy a barrel of crude oil. Currently, it will buy sixty barrels of crude oil. But, the big question is how much crude oil will it buy as the global oil reserves are depleted.

While discussing the progress of this book with my wife, she asked me what I would invest in if I had “lots of money.” Without hesitation I replied, “Gold!”.

But, I don’t have lots of money so it’s easy to make such a statement. Nevertheless, I think it would be a prudent thing to do because of the alarming problems the dollar and other national curriencies are currently facing.

For those who do have money to invest, gold offers a means to diversify and hedge the risks inherent in national currencies. But don’t make the mistake of buying gold certificates. Make sure you buy only physical metal, not paper. There is a world of difference between owning metal and a paper promise to pay metal to you at some future time.

Physical gold can be purchased in the form of coins, bars and jewelry. Paper “gold” can be purchased as gold certificates issued by banks and mints, futures accounts, etc. By investing in these products you will own a piece of paper rather than gold itself. There is a risk of default attached to the paper products, meaning that you may not be able to get your metal when you need it sometime in the future. That, obviously, is not a problem with physical gold.

After reading my rants on both oil and dollars, hopefully the link that I’ve tried to make between these two factors, as potential contributors to an economic collapse, has been made clear. Although these two factors may turn out to be rather insignifant when compared to the devastating effects of global warming, I chose to focus this book on something that there may still time to do something about.

To be continued next time…

11th Excerpt from “Defying the Odds”:
(The book is available from http://www.publishamerica.com)

I Have a Dream…

My dream was to enlist in the Air Corps and become a fighter pilot. From my sixteenth birthday on, I tried to convince my parents to give their consent to my enlistment. It must have been very difficult for them. No one knew how much longer the war would last. Mom and dad knew that they would be unable to stop me when I became eighteen, but undoubtedly they were hoping the war would end before then. As more and more of my friends enlisted, and came home with all their exciting stories, the more I pled for permission to join up. Dad, of course, was more sympathetic than mom. He had served in the Army in WWI and understood my position, but he also knew the obvious risks.

Reluctantly, my folks finally agreed to sign the consent papers if and when I passed the examinations for the Navy Pilot program. I immediately made an appointment to take the tests on the next scheduled examination day. On the appointed day, my sister, Lois, and I took a Greyhound bus to Portland, where I was to take preliminary qualification tests at the US Navy enlistment building.

It was a very impressive place. Everyone was in uniform and it was very military. Right from the time we entered the door I was treated as someone special. In their eyes, I was a man and they made it clear that good men were scarce.

One of the female navy personnel escorted Lois to a waiting room and I was taken to a testing area. I was first given a very comprehensive written examination. There were also about a dozen other 'men' of my age taking the test. We were seated at widely spaced intervals in a large room. An officer handed out the test packets and informed us of the rules. It would be a timed test and there was to be no talking or leaving the room once the test started. The military atmosphere was intoxicating. The test proved to be very tough—I believe we had an hour and a half to complete it. The pressure was intense.

After completing the written exams, we were given very thorough physical examinations and then escorted to a room where Lois and parents or friends of the other 'men' were waiting. The atmosphere was quiet, but tense, and there was already a sense of camaraderie among the group of strangers who had just gone through their first trial together.

After what seemed a very long wait, an enlisted man came into the room and called my name. I answered, and he instructed me to come with him. He led me back to the medical section, where I was instructed to lie down on a cot. After a few minutes, a nurse came in and took my blood pressure again. As soon as I saw what she was going to do, I became worried. After taking the reading, she told me to try to relax and she would be back in a few minutes. After she returned and took another reading, I was taken to another room where I was told that I had failed to pass the medical exam because of high blood pressure. I could not believe it. The disappointment was unbearable but I managed to fight back the tears because I was a 'man'.

When I got back to the waiting room, I saw that my sisters eyes were red. We left immediately. We had some time to kill before catching the bus back home, so we just walked until we came to a park bench. Lois told me that she had been informed more than an hour before that there was a problem with my blood pressure. They also told her that they were holding up a bus that was to take us directly to Seattle, where we would be sworn in to the Navy. The reason the bus had been held up for more than an hour, while trying to get an acceptable blood pressure reading, was because I had passed the written exam with one of the highest scores they had seen. That made me feel both better and worse—I could no longer hold back the tears.

By this time I was beginning to fear that even the army wouldn't want me. The draft board had several different categories, or classifications, that were assigned to individuals according to the results of their physical and mental examinations. The highest classification was 1A and the lowest was 4F. Men who were classed 1A were subject to immediate induction. Those in 4F would never be called because they were physically unfit for the armed forces. In between the two extremes were various classifications that indicated exemption for a number of reasons, ranging from working in a job that was essential to the war effort, to student exemptions for those enrolled in universities. Anybody with a 4F classification was considered to be either a draft evader, who had purposely failed the exams, or he was physically useless to the army. My worst nightmare was to be classified 4F.

I eventually gave up trying for special programs and resigned myself to finishing high school and working at the shipyards. My grades fell considerably in my last year, mainly from lack of interest in school. I was afraid I would miss out on the war altogether.

To be continued next time…

11th Excerpt from “But…What About Tomorrow?”:
(The book is available from http://www.publishamerica.com)


The natural world should be viewed holistically … agriculture is an integral part of nature and must be thought of as such. The wildlife endemic to a particular farming locality must be taken into account in farm management plans. In our region there is an abundance of wild animals … moose, deer, elk, coyotes, black bear, beaver, etc. … which are looked upon with varying degrees of favor or disfavor. The moose and black bears are nuisances—the moose for their destruction of fences and the bears for their destruction of bee hives—while the coyotes and beavers are beneficial. Coyotes are scavengers and clean up dead carcasses, both wild and domestic, and the busy beaver can be a farmer's best wild friend.

Beavers have been damming creeks and streams for eons and they are directly responsible for the creation of the rich bottom land on many farms. Their dams not only slow the velocity of water and help prevent erosion but they also store water that would otherwise drain off to the nearest river or lake … water which is vital to cattle farmers.

Under ordinary circumstances, wild animals are not a major problem to farmers. If left to natural regulation, control by normal attrition and predation, wildlife populations seldom get out of hand. It's generally when man imposes his will on the regulation of wildlife that problems arise.

One of my pet peeves is interference from people who don't know what they're doing. It really rankles me when some Hollywood starlet or cute little air-headed celebrity suddenly becomes an expert on wildlife preservation and uses their celebrity status to influence public opinion. The damage they can do, and have done, far exceeds their good intentions. Take the issue of seal pup killing for example. The net result of the animal rites advocates—including some well known television and movie celebrities who lacked any real understanding of the net effects of their actions—was the devastation of the entire fur business. Not only did the price of just about every kind of animal fur drop to the point that it is no longer profitable for trappers and hunters to harvest these pelts, but the populations of many of these animals has grown to the extent that many of these animals are now threats to the ecology.

Seal populations have expanded to the point where they are decimating the already endangered cod fish populations. Beavers have proliferated to the point where they are causing damage by excessive tree killing and farmland flooding. As a result it has become necessary to destroy many of their dams, which often results in them starving to death over the winter, or systematically killing them and letting them rot. I cannot understand how this is preferable to controlling their populations by harvesting their pelts and allowing trappers to make a decent living. I only wish some of those well meaning Hollywood starlets could see the rotting beaver carcasses that are the direct result of their interference in something they knew little about.

But this is the sort of thing that is bound to happen when a group's influence surpasses their intelligence. It is even more problematic when the uninformed make the rules. Unfortunately in a society where the ninety eight percent of the population who are not farmers control the ballot boxes, they, in effect, make the rules and determine agricultural policy.

By the way, for what it's worth, if local changes in wildlife numbers and species are an indication of global warming it seems to me that there might be a good bit of evidence to that effect on our farm. The populations of endemic species of birds and animals normally fluctuate from year to year but there appears to be an extraordinary change taking place lately. Although the number of deer is abnormally high this fall, changes in bird species is especially noticeable … Canada Geese in particular. Until about five years ago very few, if any, wild geese nested on the streams and beaver ponds of our farm. About that time the first pair of Canada Geese, that I'm aware of, made their nest on top of a beaver house within sight of our farmhouse. As I recall, they hatched six goslings.

The following year, two or three more pairs nested in the same area … possibly members of the original family. Every year since then more and more geese have chosen this area for nesting. This year there were a hundred or more hatched here.

It is the tail end of September as I write this. Looking out of my window I can see upwards of a thousand Canada Geese in the oat field across the way. They have been gathering here, fattening up on our oats in preparation for their migratory flight south, for the last week or so. This would not be unusual, except for the extraordinarily large number of the critters. Probably it's just a blip … things may return to normal next year. Hopefully that is the case because if the goose population continues to escalate as it has for the past five years, we'll soon be up to our knees in their calling cards.

To be continued next time…

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Have a warm day…