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OT: Chemicals up close & personal

From: "J.F. Hensler" <hensler@povn.com>


Thank you for letting everyone know that even the commercial gardens can use some common sense. It's a real joy to see education take priority over "image" and thoughtfulness beat out the quick fix. 

My opinions on the reliance of chemicals came from what I saw happen to the wheat farms where I grew up.

I grew up during the time that farmers were changing from "old fashioned" methods of growing crops to using "modern" methods. 

My first memories of my Grandads' fields were filled not only with wheat, but with wildlife. It wasn't uncommon to see a deer passing through or mice darting through the furrows trying to avoid being dinner for the red-tailed hawks or coyotes. Quail and pheasants were a common sight at the edges of the fields where wild roses and sagebrush took over. I can remember pulling tumbleweeds "because that's what kids were for" and my Dad pulling mustard from the back of his horse.

Both of my Grandfathers used horses to pull the machines. The work was hard and long, but horses were self-replicating and provided fertilizer for the fields and garden. Both farms earned enough to support their families plus the extra hands needed during harvest.

Modern methods of farming with chemicals offered increased productivity and convenience and the horses gave way to tractors and self-propelled combines. 

Initially, it wasn't a lie. 

Chemicals provided the plants immediate food and the yields were huge. One farmer could work the same amount of land that 20 had farmed and the dollar return was higher than most could ever remember for the ones who could compete. 

With the huge increase in yield, the price per bushel began to fall. Chemicals didn't add plant material to the soil and it began to lose its ability to hold the fertilizer. Farmers kept pace by fertilizing more often. The roots of wheat don't go as deep as most weeds, and with large fields to protect, herbicides were the obvious answer.   

By the time I was old enough to leave home, most of the wild strips dividing the fields had been plowed under and sprayed in an attempt to rid the fields of weed seeds and bring more land under cultivation to keep up with costs. Signs from the Dept. of Ecology had begun to spring up advertising studies on erosion. Dust storms is some areas were becoming common while the sight of a pheasant was not. Without weeds and native plants in the coulees and on marginal ground, spring runoff began to cut into the soil as much as 3 feet deep each year in some places. With no way to slow the runoff down, most of it never had a chance to soak in. 

The farmers who could afford it were beginning to use irrigation. The soil in most areas was no longer able to hold  enough moisture to feed the wheat. 

With the costs of farming going up and the yields dropping, "farming on loan" became the norm. So did farm auctions.

I tend to see any crop .... wheat OR irises... in the same light. I've learned that there are costs involved whatever methods are used and that sometimes the easiest path leads to a trap.  

Christy Hensler

Newport, WA

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