Peggy Sanders: Confluence Chronicles 5-13-13

Peggy Sanders
Oral, S.D.
This corn field was being watered with irrigation tubes which were picked up and moved along the irrigation ditch. Then each tube had to be primed and started by hand. The irrigation dams also had to be moved. Couple all of this with mosquitoes and gumbo soil and multiply it by the number of fields to be tended and you see it was backbreaking work.

In the strictest sense a barometer is used to measure atmospheric pressure, but the word is broadly used to describe changes in nearly any field, including economics. In the 1920s the University of Pennsylvania Wharton came up with the theory that hemline lengths can be referred to as economic barometers or indicators, as shorter skirts reflect the economy is on the upswing. Although this hypothesis is currently out of favor, there are other gauges of prosperity in the agricultural sector.

Historically when grain prices are high, livestock prices are fairly low and vice-versa. That pattern has gone out the window in the past few years as both entities have been financially sound — if you are a seller — and out of sight for buyers. Even if you know nothing about markets but are observant while driving through a farming/ranching area, you would realize that the good times are here and now. In our little community at least one neighbor bought a new and necessary pickup during the winter. Three new hay swathers have appeared. They are machines that cut, condition and lay the hay down in mounded rows called windrows, so a hay baler can pickup and bind the hay through its machinery.

Two new pivot irrigation systems are going in right down the road. They will be powered by electricity and we converted a diesel-powered pivot to be electrically run. These changes required that the electric cooperative install a new three-phase power line. It is less than one half-mile long and it cost $20,000, divided among three neighbors, it made the expense more palatable now.

It used to be ranchers had one payday per year, which was calf-selling day. It usually was a day ranch kids could skip school and go along to the salebarn. Most of the kids owned at least one calf and some received their own check. Others got a check from their parents for the average price of one calf. Either way if there was a feed bill or veterinarian bill, that got paid first and the balance was partially socked away for future use such as college, more cattle or a big trip.

After the sale it was tradition to go out for a steak and do a little clothes or boot shopping on the way home. Now that there is more diversity in agriculture operations the one payday per year is pretty much past and purchases can generally be made as needed throughout the year.

Looking back at the evolution from when I was a kid and individual irrigation tubes that had to be picked up and moved along the irrigation ditch at least twice per day, to the current center pivots, the improvements are akin to the horse and buggy era versus commercial airplane travel; other than nostalgia there is just no comparison. It is next to impossible to say how grateful that makes ag producers. Couple that with good prices and moisture, we are a happy bunch.

Peggy writes from the family farm in southwest South Dakota. You can contact her through ❖