Four windmills out my back door

This is the view now from my backyard. Fields — and four windmills.
Photo: Richard Oswald

LANGDON, MO — Thirty years ago, an oil company purchased leases on a majority of the land around my home. Being a struggling young farmer, I just knew I’d hit it big. The $2.50 per acre lease was no money-maker, but oil, if found, would turn things around. Bad as farming was for us then, I thought the pony in the room full of manure had just materialized. As it turned out, the company was only signing the leases to take advantage of tax credits. We had no oil and the lease payments stopped after only three years.

There was no pony. Crop prices were poor. It seemed that the only things that held the droughts at bay were the floods. I was on a one-way street headed for ruin. But through it all, I knew that things had to get better.

biofuels are a big deal in Rock Port, Missouri

Optimism is as much a part of farming as hayseeds and corn stalks. There’s not a farmer alive who doesn’t know that things will be better tomorrow, next month, or next year. When the demands of ethanol finally pushed up corn prices last year, it seemed too good to be true. Now soybeans have caught fire from the new demand for corn, boosting those prices too.

My ag supplier in Rock Port is now in the alt-fuels business. Rock Port may soon be the first city in the country powered completely by renewable sources of power. Photo: Richard Oswald

It’s all about energy. Our food/industrial products, those tiny time capsules of life that we call grain, contain energy stored from the sun. And even as seeds turn to plants that create more seeds, the wind blows across the heartland — and the wind is another crop to be harvested. We’re turning it all into energy. I feel that I’m living in the Home of Renewal

Just over the hill east of Langdon, in the city of Rock Port, it’s all about renewal. When Cargill closed the meat packing plant in the “˜80s, the search for jobs and industry took on new importance. For a while the school was the largest employer, but enrollment was falling like a rock. The town annexed the truck stops out at the Interstate highway to gain a little needed revenue, and across the river, Cooper Nuclear Power Station continued to operate and provide jobs in spite of rumors that it might shut down. Then the local telephone co-op hitched up to the internet boom and started hiring.

We were holding our own.

Right now Rock Port is a hub of activity. Wind Capital Group is building windmills on the edge of town, and Rock Port is headed for being the first 100% renewable energy powered town in the nation. Four windmills will provide the equivalent of all the power used by residents. And they also promise to power the newest home grown industry out west of town near the site of the old Missouri Beef Packers plant, Heartland Biodiesel. That, along with ethanol, means optimism about even more markets for the seeds of power grown in the fields around Rock Port and Langdon.

banking co2 in notill fields

I’m now selling carbon credits from no-till fields. See the corn residue among the soy beans? Photo: Richard Oswald

Meanwhile, back at the farm, a carbon credits program sponsored by National Farmers Union is paying farmers to sequester carbon in no till fields — the same fields where feed stocks for our newest industries are being produced. Carbon credits are purchased by carbon emitting industries to offset the CO2 that they release into the atmosphere. By no-tilling, I can bank the fire so to speak, keep carbon stored in my crop residue from becoming even more CO2, holding global warming at bay, and be paid about the same as my old oil lease.

Whenever a farmer feels that things are too good he tries to temper his optimism with a few realistic thoughts. Right now the cost of producing crops is growing like a weed. And competition for land is stronger than ever before, raising the bar as high as an elephant’s eye for acreage prices and rents.

Big corporate farms are on the increase, and did I mention interest rates? Farmers borrow like there is no tomorrow, and interest costs are rising too, along with all the other things farmers buy, like petroleum, fertilizer, seeds, implements, you name it. For every farmer there are 10 suppliers standing in the background, making a living from selling to farms, and 10 purchasers who want to buy, as cheaply as possible, what farmers grow.

Livestock growers lack clout with government and corporations to gain power in the market place, which limits fair market opportunity. Trading partners across the oceans jump at the chance to turn down our exports but compete with us here without barriers.

Through it all, young farmers just scratch their heads and wonder how they can be optimistic about doing something that already has them priced out of the market.

But that’s the way it is here.

Optimism will prevail.

How could it be any different in the Home of Renewal?

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