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Robert Cox

Writing on the Wall

Robert Cox is a reporter and page designer for Carroll County Newspapers. His email address is CCNnews@cox-internet.com.

Opinion

Hay, look at that!

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

There’s enough little kid in me that I’m still fascinated by big trucks and heavy machinery.

Excavators, bulldozers, backhoes, dump trucks — you name it, I love to see them in action.

Tractors are especially fun. I would imagine some of that goes back to my formative years watching combines tear through the southeast Missouri cornfields where I grew up, making their way across the flat horizon like giant metal beetles, their steel teeth eating everything in sight and never seeming to get full.

I also like order, straight lines and even spacing, both of which translate well to row crops — and hay, as it turns out.

I was reminded of this several times during the past week as I witnessed several hayfields around the county getting cut, usually as I drove by on my way to one place or another.

Watching the workers make their way back and forth was like watching someone else mow the lawn — fun in the way that knowing I don’t have to do it myself makes it fun and yet satisfying because they’re doing a good job of it.

I never got the chance to stop and watch the cutting, but Sunday, I got a good look at the baling process.

There are two hayfields in easy sight of my back deck, and I was happily surprised that I was able to sit out there enjoying the evening while watching all the action.

My mostly unobstructed view was the direct result of Carroll County’s hilly nature, since the hayfields are downhill from the house, and a little uphill from the houses between mine and the fields. That kind of view would never be possible where I grew up.

On flat ground — which most of Mississippi County, Mo., is — if there’s anything in the way, you’re out of luck unless you’re actually next to the action.

Watching the team of balers sweep through the fields, picking up all the cut hay and rolling it into large bales — occasionally stopping to drop one in an even pattern from row to row — was just as satisfying to me as watching those combines when I was a child.

I’m glad I got the chance to see it. When I spoke with family patriarch and cattle farmer Freddie Worley recently after his family was named Carroll County’s Farm Family of the Year, he told me how far behind they were in their haying process.

“We got about a two-week late start,” Worley said. “We should be about a third done, but we haven’t baled one bale of hay this year. It’s been too wet.”

The past week dried things out enough to get going, and judging from what I saw, the going was easy. Straight, smooth and even.

My love of straight lines was overshadowed once, when I watched a rice farmer in northeast Arkansas prepare a field for planting.

Instead of the expected unease, I got a thrill from the sheer novelty and general nerdy excitement as I watched the farmer use a laser-guided system to closely follow contour lines with his tractor as he prepped the field.

When he finished, the field was filled with curvy lines — at an angle to the field’s square shape — but at least they were evenly spaced.

During the past several years, I’ve gotten the chance to see more of how technology has impacted farming, from using computers to track all kinds of information, to laser guidance in the field and to using drones to scout fields for bugs and disease.

All those things are great and speak to the nerd in me. I love the technology and how it’s used to make farming more efficient, but nothing beats watching those big machines eat.