Monday, June 13, 2016

Spring Plowing

by Todd Brown
Site Operations Manager, Resource Management Division
Fairfax County Park Authority
VRPS Northern Service Area 2016 Chair

One of a farmer’s favorite chores is spring plowing.  A farmer looks forward to the day he can hook up his tractor to the plow and spend that day traveling back and forth at ten miles per hour turning over the soil. It gives the farmer a chance to reflect, evaluate, plan, organize, and appreciate what he has.  As the farmer checks the tractor’s fluids, drops the hitch pin between the tractor and the plow, and makes adjustments to the plow, he is filled with anticipation and excitement for a new year.

The spring planting is really the farmer’s New Year. It is the time when he puts the past year away and begins his plans for the next year. Plowing is the first step in getting this year’s crops in the ground.  Although the farmer has been working on the crop fields since fall by spreading manure, planting a cover crop to prevent erosion, and taking soil samples to determine the quality and amount of nutrients in the soil, plowing is actually when his plans begin to take root.

As the farmer pulls his tractor out of the farmyard with the plow squeaking behind him, he sees the newborn calves, lambs, and other offspring from the winter’s months playing and grazing in the pastures and paddocks.  The pride he has from the animal production is quickly replaced with the worry, “How am I going to feed all of these little mouths?”  He knows he needs a good crop of corn, small grains, or hay to offset rising farm costs.  He puts those thoughts aside as he approaches the crop field. He knows he has all day to think about all that stuff.

Plowing is a fairly simple task. Well, if it is done right, it is simple. All the farmer has to do is set the plow at the correct depth and at the correct angle for the type of soil.  That insures that the soil will be turned at the correct depth to put weeds and unwanted growth underground while keeping the valuable topsoil towards the top.  Once the settings are correct, he has to make sure the tractor travels at the correct speed. He wants the dirt to be thrown into the previous furrow (ditch) and not back into the furrow the plow just cut. But the most important thing about plowing is to make sure the first row is plowed straight. You will never see a farmer concentrate more than he does when plowing that first row. He picks a point at the far end and stares at it until he gets there.

After the first row is plowed, he picks up the plow, turns the rig around, puts his tractor front tire in the empty furrow, drops the plow, and returns back to where he started. Depending on the size of the plow, he continues this procedure many, many, many times. This is when all the good thinking comes in. He reflects on last year and plans for the upcoming year. Yes, those plans have been made, but now is the time to make critical adjustments. As he turns around periodically to make sure the plow is still performing correctly, he realizes that all of his incredible plans are only one drought, animal illness, or drop in market price away from possible disaster. Still, the farmer and the tractor move on.

As the day advances, and his head goes around and around in thoughts good and bad, he always comes back to the same thought. He is thankful to still have the opportunity to ride on that tractor. New soil now covers his old field. New beginnings now fill the old farm, and new appreciation fills his old heart.  As he returns to the farmyard with a stiff neck and a sore back, he sees all the animals waiting for him like  lost friends. Actually, they want their dinner.  After evening chores and closing up for the day, he sits down for his dinner. His wife asks, “How was your day?” On plowing day, the farmer always says, “Great.”

See our farmers plowing the crops fields at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, VA. Some crops are already in the ground. Corn, hay, and other small grains will be planted this spring and harvested this summer and fall.  These crops produce grain and hay to feed the park’s farm animals. 

1 comment:

  1. Todd,

    To be honest, I've never given my thought to plowing, until now. This is interesting and I like the message of being "great."