Letter to the Editor: Farming has changed

I read the article in The Grant Tribune Sentinel: “Right on track — Wheat harvest nearly complete”. It is a blessing that the Perkins County area had a bumper wheat harvest this year with dry-land yields of 40-60+ bushels per acre, and 80-100 for irrigated. 

When my late dad John William “Bill” Marples, Sr was born in August of 1910, wheat crops were plowed with horses, mules or oxen; using plain plows / seed drills and harvested with “threshing machines” which separate the wheat kernels from the chaff and straw. 

My dad’s father, John Marples, (no middle name,) had a sage saying that if he had a bumper-crop ONCE every five years, he considered that a “success”. That may seem outlandish to today’s young farmers, but it was true. Just look at the incredible flooding eastern parts of Nebraska suffered just earlier this year. In my granddad’s time, there were floods, prairie fires, grasshopper plagues, and droughts—so his maxim rings true.

My grandfather mainly thrived on dry-land farming near Phillipsburg, Kansas; yet he had ISLEY relatives near Grant and Ogallala. He was able to provide for his family and raised other crops such as milo and alfalfa. On a lesser extent, he grew corn, oats, sunflowers and cane. Of course, he raised livestock too, such as cattle, hogs, chickens and eggs and milk—both for personal family consumption; yet mainly to be sold at market. 

One thing my dad focused on when he regaled our family with “harvest stories”—my dad would say, “It built muscles and character.” One other thing he would emphasize: As noted above, his father farmed with horses and mules and supposedly my grandfather had the gifted talent of verbally saying the words “Gee” and “Haw” to tell the mules to turn right or left, respectively. 

Furthermore, my granddad could even tell the mules how to back a hay-rack wagon in reverse. Draft-animals had talent. Many people claim that animals can’t think or don’t have brains: I respectfully disagree. They are smart. 

And, in bygone times the academic category of “animal husbandry” was taught at many ag universities and colleges. But, it was probably best taught on-the-farm itself. 

I have raised livestock myself. I just wish I had the talent my grandfather did. Back in the 1930s my dad raised goats for goat milk since my eldest brother couldn’t digest cow’s milk. Little did I know that by 2004, I’d be raising goats myself. I only wish my dad had lived to see me perform that endeavor! I had several goats and one was a feisty, yet lovable goat whom I nicknamed, Ogilvie, (since the goat ogled or stared at people). As a cousin aptly described the goat: “Ogilvie was quite a character.”

My point is: Today’s young farmers would be wise to plan for the proverbial rainy day fund. Admittedly, today’s modern combines, wheat trucks and related equipment are more expensive than in my grandfather’s day. Plus, crop insurance exists now; whereas, it was either nonexistent or rarely available in my grandparents’ era of farming. 

Yet, my granddad’s maxim of “planning for the unforeseen bad years,” is wise advice. Good years will take care of themselves. It’s the years of either poor harvests and/or poor harvest prices that today’s farmers must plan for, prepare for…budget for and try to anticipate by saving money, spending on modest equipment and investing well.


James A. Marples

Longview, Texas


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