Attending the Dry Land Field Day at Lind on June 13, 1985, brought back memories of other guided tours at this Research Station. It was 50 years ago when I first visited this spot for educational purposes. I remember that year well. I felt quite mature because I became [an] uncle for the first time. It got me to thinking that I was getting past my prime, and certainly old enough to get married. I had no intention of staying celibate for life.
Since nothing that June turned my head romantically, a maiden trip to this Research Station was in order, as it kept my mind on farming. There were 50 to 60 farmers that arrived from every direction. It was called visitors day then. We toured all over this experimental farm. They showed us improved farm methods, and new varieties of grains that would shell out more wheat.
At noon it was sort of a homey affair. I believe it was some Grange ladies that served us a semi-dinner from a wood burning cook stove. The doughnuts could have been imported from Lind.
Most of the afternoon was spent in discussion. In those days plant ailments were scarce. Heavy stands of wheat had not arrived yet to bring in a host of diseases. The year of 1935 was one of the dryest in the history of the station. It zonked out the spring wheat, but the winter wheat plots that were seeded early yielded above normal, which was at that time a surprise to the average late seeders.
Fertilizer then was only known as a waste product from a lot of horses and cows. Once a year the manure was hauled out, and scattered so the barn could once again be seen, and put back into more efficient use. An old bulletin printed in the early 1920s stated that there never would be a need for adding nitrogen in the dry land farming belt of eastern Washington. If that prophecy would have been right, there probably would have been no surplus wheat, or no fertilizer dealers, and maybe no farmers.
It’s interesting to note that back when the station got into gear, they experimented with press wheels on drills. Example: four year averages without press wheels, the wheat yielded 8.6 bushels. With press wheels, 9.1 bushels, an increase of half a bushel an acre! A big deal in those days of low spring wheat yields. It did lead to the beginning of advanced seeding methods.
This experimental station has the lowest rainfall of any research station devoted to dry land research in the United States. For years a lot of us local farmers figured if a new breed of wheat was able to survive at Lind, it should spring forth with surprising yields where rainfall had a tendency of falling in heavier doses.
Seems like you don’t have to be in physical shape to get a job at this Dry Land Station. They got a sign up in the office stating: “This department requires no physical fitness program. Everyone gets enough exercise by jumping to conclusions, flying off the handle, carrying things too far, dodging responsibilities, and pushing their luck.”
Dick Hoffman from Rocklyn is the farm manager for this station. He is in excellent physical condition regardless of their no health program. Research Technologist, Dick Nagamitsu is still one of the main cogs in the wheel of things at this place. A large subsoiler, and a heavy duty fertilizer rig, both Wilbur, Wash., products, were lined up by a huge eight tired tractor. A far cry from the. farm equipment I saw there 50 years ago when a tractor of proper size was on display. That early day tractor could be sheltered nicely from the sun by the shadow of today’s four wheel monster.
The new Sheaf Building easily held the 350 tour* guests that were there. The loading docks went straight out from the hall, serving as a walk-in to the truck beds, where we were hauled away like cattle to the field plots. All the varieties grown in those plots have a history of how they will respond to certain growing conditions. The trick is to figure out which new variety will make you happy be supplying the most bushels for you.
The next stop was something new. A Russian thistle plot with rows of wheat in between. Some farmers down there must grow a combination of wheat and thistles. This plot gave them the idea of whether to spray or not to spray for the Russians. There is a chemical for cheat grass control in wheat. The name is too long to spell. It’s tricky to use successfully. The field tour speaker said he gets very emotional when the chemical wipes out the cheat.
To till or not to till was not much of an issue for the farmers in that locality. The crop was devastating on the no-till wheat. What puny wheat and weeds that were left wouldn’t supply food very long for the field mice that have moved in on this patch of unmolested soil.
There were 20 plots of barley and spring wheat this year that are trying to finish out their growth under tough dry conditions. None has given up the ghost as of June 13. Information was dished out on how to handle paradise crops.
In recent years, a wheat queen has been added to the noon program. It was a privilege to visit with retired plant breeder, Orville Vogel. Someone mentioned that when times are not so hot, crowds as large as this one usually turn out.
Alan Pettibone, Washington State Director of Agriculture was the guest speaker. The 12,000,000 bushels of wheat that are laying on the ground in the State isn’t such a hot idea, according to Pettibone. He sounded logical when he referred to getting the strength of the dollar in line with world wide trade. He’s disgusted with anyone using embargos for political purposes. Ten years from now, things could be turned around, but that’s a heck of a long time to wait.
What’s the advice from the Lind district that year? Well, keep your nose to the grindstone, and hope to gosh that the world will start needing more wheat before you go broke.
At the Dry Land Research Station this year, 1986, it was educational going around and getting into group discussions. One thing everyone agreed on is that it takes a lot of money to farm now days. You got to go out and make more money than you spend, or spend less money than you make. Another thought that got tossed around was that a sound economy cannot be based on anything it cannot control.
This year, no farm can safely be considered a home for the financially shaky farmer. Tillers of the soil have strong emotional ties to their work and place, ties that can only be broken at a high psychological cost. During the depression days of 55 years ago, the thought of being kicked off the farm gave me the jitters.
Most farmers attending the Dry Land Station this year didn’t look too bad for the wear and tear they are going through. But you can spot the ones about to go broke by the way they look and act.
I spotted a depressed farmer on the second test plot we stopped at. He was looking at the varieties of wheat with empty eyes. When I asked him a question, he just grunted. When the question was repeated, concentration returned after he reached down to snap off a wheat head. Instead of answering my question he said, “What difference does it make, better varieties just add to the surplus.” He smiled temporarily, knowing his answer was just an expression of feeling helpless.
There certainly is more than one rookie farmer caught with his pants down. After the morning tour, I got to visiting with a retired farmer that I usually see at Lind. He told me he turned his lease over to his son-in-law several years ago. Son-in-law was able to get quick loans at the drop of a hat. He hadn’t learned to creep before he walked. Instead he started out in overdrive so he could catch up with the established farmers. Now since wheat prices have gone to pot and last year’s crop wasn’t so hot, son-in-law is starting to hint for father-in-law to come to the rescue. But here is father-in-law’s problem; if he tries to save son-in-law’s farm set-up, it would endanger his hard earned savings.
Finally it was time to go inside the large metal building for the noon program. Once again this year proved to be a day worth spending at the Experiment Station. Jim Walesby from Almira, president of the Wheat Association had loads of interesting things to say. Another speaker was asked to say something positive. His answer was, “I’m glad to be here. Have you any questions?” Michelle Nelson, Washington Wheat Queen is a cutie. A farmer told her, “I face the end of my rope, but I’ll tie a knot and will try to hold on a little longer.”
Sam Smith, President of Washington State University, looked very much like a farmer with a Wheat Growers cap setting on top of his head. Sam bragged on the research they are doing and stated we have to move our produce. “Japan works on its production problems, while we like to guess, and go for broke.” So says President Smith. While he was at it, he also added to his speech, “Farmers have to face things in a business way...We need the best of students from college to carry on the future load.”
The field tour continued into the afternoon. What plots looked too good to be real? Well, it was where part of Lind’s ancient volcanic soil got soaked with lots of deep well water, and a large dose of nitrogen. Except for the expense of irrigation, and the trouble of getting all that extra wheat to market, there is very little for the irrigator to worry about, like roots running out of moisture and shriveled kernels.
The dry land farmer doesn’t have it so lucky. He has to look up to the sky for his moisture and a guy can get a stiff neck from doing that. This year is no exception. Usually in the fall it’s so dry down in Lind, moisture can only be found way down there below the deep mulch. Although not the best yielder, Moro wheat is about the only variety that can successfully find its way to the surface without getting lost. A lot of fields around the station are seeded to Moro for that simple reason.
The volunteer cheat grass is doing exceptionally well this year. It still has the habit of taking over wheat fields. But the picture is different in the Palouse country. We have been doing some running in that area and got to look things over. If the weather behaves itself in the Palouse, there will be some mighty good crops harvested in those crop covered, treeless mountains.
Familiar faces popped up here and there at Lind that day. Well known Agronomist, Kenny Morrison looks real good, after losing a small part of his body through surgery so the rest of him could live. Retired wheat breeder, Orville Vogel looked OK too. Orville is still at it, matching one dollar for every $20 donated by growers to replace dwindling Federal money for wheat research.
Let’s dream that by next year all those stacks of wheat have been shipped out. And that every farmer that was going broke, didn’t quite make it to the end of the rope. After all, if you are molded to be a farmer, it’s hard to change horses in the midstream of life.
"Field Days at Lind" Kik-Back Country, page 77 (home) (thread)