How to Handle a Ruined Crop (or pass the pipe wrench)

There was a time in my life when I liked to discover stuff. Hate to say it, I’d actually get excited to learn new things. But as a farmer, I’ve become completely anti-discovery–and for good reason. Last year, for instance, I was driving down the road, eyes straight ahead, diligently trying not to discover anything, when I noticed something shadowy in the periphery. “Good gosh,” I thought, “what now?” I tried to resist, knowing that, generally speaking, shadowy things are bad, but my willpower failed me once again: I turned my head to look. 

“Holy smokes,” I said, “my whole field is black.” If only I hadn’t looked, my crop would still be green and vigorously growing, like it had been days earlier.

Most of what’s written on this blog should be taken with a big block of red mineral salt, but you can absolutely trust the following piece of farming advice: if your crop suddenly turns black, something is wrong, bad wrong. 

Amnesia: Ruined-Crop Cure All

The best solution for a suddenly black crop is either a stout pipe wrench to the head or bottle of hard liquor down the hatch. Either one, when applied quickly enough, can cause a bout of amnesia that erases the discovery of the ruined crop, allowing you to reawaken in the blissful state of prediscovery. Hopefully, you scribbled a warning on your arm for when you reawaken, or else you’re likely to go right back and rediscover the ruined crop, which can lead to a repeating pattern of pipe wrenches to the head and a severe headache.

And hopefully said warning wasn’t something specific like, “Don’t check milo crop because millions of sugarcane aphids are sucking the life out of it.” Discovering a statement like that scribbled on your forearm can cause shock and leave you convulsing on the floor. Thus, with warning notes scribbled on your personage, it’s better to be rather vague and nonchalant. For instance, a sufficient warning written across the forearm might read, “No need to check milo crop. All is well. Everything green (If by chance you do check, keep pipe wrench handy).” 

P.S.: another useful bit of farming advice: If you write the warning on your forehead, remember to write backwards so you can read it in a mirror. Also, if you want to grow a great pollinator plot, plant a field of milo for grain, let sugarcane aphids infest it, and every known species of stinging insect will descend on the field to suck up the honeydew. 

12 thoughts on “How to Handle a Ruined Crop (or pass the pipe wrench)

    1. I’ve planted a lot of pollinator plots over the years from buckwheat to crimson clover, etc. But I’ve never seen as many bees as I saw in that failed crop of milo, and I did that completely by accident.

    1. Some people call it grain sorghum, but most farmers in the south just call it milo–not sure why. I think it’s basically cane sorghum that has been bred for grain production. But the sugarcane aphid has made it nearly impossible to grow now in the South without spraying.

      1. I’m not sure why it’s called milo either. There are three general types of sorghum, milo, raised for seed, forage sorghum which is a variety that grows very tall and the whole plant is chopped and used for silage. We used to see forage sorghum being planted around here back in the 1950s and 1960s but it isn’t seen any more around here. The other type is sweet sorghum which is pressed for its sweet juice and used to make rum, syrup and molasses. Milo is generally used for cattle feed, but the seed is also used to make baijiu in China and some parts of Asia, a rather potent liquor.

        Around here it’s started to become more common because Kaytee, the bird seed manufacturer, is located here and it contracts with farmers to produce it. We must be far enough north that the aphids can’t survive the winters up here so we don’t have much of an issue with them. But we do get HUGE flocks of birds hitting the fields in the fall of the year.

        And supposedly you can pop the stuff like popcorn.

        I do understand your train of thought, tho 🙂 I’d do something similar when it came to our heifers that we kept pastured at the far, far end of the farm. Telling myself I didn’t need to go way the heck back there and make sure the fences hadn’t come down in a storm or some idiot hunter hadn’t cut the wire and I had heifers scattered across half the county was – reassuring. Besides, even if they did get out, they’d come home by themselves. Eventually. Right?

      2. Same here, It was planted a lot in the 50 and 60s when farms ground their own feed for farm use. About five years ago, however, a big feed mill in eastern NC that supplied the hog houses started buying milo and there was a lot of hoopla to start growing it again as a more drought-resistant alternative to corn. At that time the sugarcane aphid had yet to appear. Of course, a year or so later it appeared and took everybody by surprise and ruined a lot of fields. Now everybody is gun shy about planting it because of the aphid, though they have approved a chemical on it for aphid control.

        My cows have only gotten out twice this spring and summer (which is good for me), but each time they’ve gone to my neighbors new Japanese maple and devoured it. I’ve had to pay for two new Japanese maples, and who says farming isn’t profitable?

    1. I do enjoy farming, but for me it’s mostly a hobby so losing the milo crop wasn’t that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. If my whole livelihood depended on it, I’d be in trouble.

      1. It seems farming almost has to be a side gig anymore. I don’t know many who can make a living at it, although I think the advent of CSAs and farmers’ markets has helped somewhat.

      2. The full-time farmer is definitely a dying breed. We’ve sold at our local rural farmer’s market for several years and you’d be hard-pressed to make a living doing it. I know a couple of farmers doing the farmer’s market gig full time, but they go to city markets where there is a lot more foot traffic and people are willing to pay higher prices.

  1. Even if you consider yourself a hobby farmer, the loss of your effort in establishing that crop is discouraging. in north Missouri, there is starting to see more sorghum planted as part of a cover crop mixtures for grazing or to protect soil and will later be terminated for cash crops. not much is grown for seed anymore. farmers are literally a dying breed with ranchers average age right at 60 now. land is far too expensive to purchase unless you have money to burn and get a tiny return because there is nowhere else to park money. Land is more expensive than it ever has been in this country – much greater than it’s productive value. too bad.

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