Thursday, September 26, 2019
The Shrewd King 10.4: Sometimes, the hardest problems are at home
Rick, Kate and Luke Salazar came into the office together.
They intended to talk reason to Ken and get him to back down. Folks just couldn’t afford the kinds of prices they feared Ken would demand.
Kate agreed to let Rick speak for her. She was too emotionally invested and knew that her voice would start shaking. It wasn’t that she was losing control. Rather, it was that her voice refused to cooperate.
Rick started the ball rolling, “We are here to establish our credit for next week’s bidding. And we are also here to try to talk you out of what you clearly plan to do.”
More than any of the other bidders, Ken saw Rick, Kate and Luke as peers and valued their opinions. It stung that they judged him so quickly.
“From where you stand, what does it look like I am trying to do?” Ken asked.
Kate started to speak but Rick reminded her by placing his hand on her knee to let him talk. “It looks like you are trying to squeeze as much profit out of hungry people as you can get away with.” Rick said evenly.
“Let me tell you how it looks from the outfield.” Ken said referring to the fact that the farms were in the extreme southwest corner of KS-PC-CA.
“I see a bunch of people sitting on their ass expecting ‘somebody else’ to feed them.” Ken said.
“I see huge amount of work that need to be done. I see roads that need to be graded. I see lumber that needs to be milled. I see fields that need to be hoed and weeds that need to be pulled.” Ken said. “I see horses getting fat behind barns because corn is so cheap.”
“Think of it, a man can work one day and earn a bushel of corn...enough calories to keep him alive for two months.”
“Before Ebola, when we had diesel and pesticides and fertilizer and medicine and trucks that ran...did you know anybody who made enough working six days a YEAR to get by?” Ken asked. “Didn’t think so.”
“You know what else I see? I see Kelly and Di literally killing themselves working too many hours because they care too much. I see you three working just as hard and it is only a matter of time before you hit the wall.” Ken said.
“And before you tell me that folks are old or sick, let me remind you that Earl is 77 years old and he is working just as many hours as you are. Where is the justice for Earl? Is it justice to kill Earl with over-work just to GIVE corn to folks who aren’t motivated to work?”
“Getting back to that ‘working six days a year’; We will all starve if most adults around here only work six days a year. Hell, we will starve or freeze to death if most adults only work five days a week.” Ken said.
“Me and Earl and Don talked this over. The only way we saw to get all the players off the bench and into the game was to raise the price of corn and to raise it a lot.” Ken said.
“I ain’t going to pretend to be some kind of saint.” Ken said. “I want my wife to have a ceiling fan that works and it would be awful nice if we could make ice for our neighbors and had a way to refrigerate food.”
“But the big thing is that we are going to have the mother of all train-wrecks if we don’t get people working ‘cause there is an assload of work to do and nobody is looking in their mirror and seeing the ‘someone’ who is going to do it.”
Silence graced the office for half a minute. Ken rarely used coarse language like "ass" and it communicated Ken's desperation and anger more than yelling ever could have.
Then Kate spoke up. “Ken, you have to help me out. I grew up in Holt...about as typical of a suburb as you can imagine. Can you help me see all this work that isn’t getting done. Just give me one good example.”
Then Ken thought for a minute. Farmers are comfortable with silence. When they speak, they want it to be right.
"The one biggest thing we need right now is fertilizer...Nitrogen. The corn plants are all yellow and runted. I don't know if we are going to get ANY corn if we cannot find some fertilizer to spread. And we gotta find it quick because the plants need it NOW." Ken said.
"All those horses I was talking about. Have you seen any of them?” he asked.
Kate nodded her agreement. She had seen some of those horses.
“Everyone I have seen had a manure pile outside the barn. Usually about five yards but sometimes ten or twenty yards in size.” Ken said.
Rick and Luke nodded. Luke helped one of the “horse women” one summer to make a little folding money. Shoveling stable waste loomed large in his memory.
“Every yard of manure has ten pounds of nitrogen in it and that is enough to boost the yield…” Ken did some mental calculations...”a little bit more than ten bushels.*”
“So giving you a yard of stable manure is almost the equivalent of a fifteen bushel ‘lot’ of corn?” Kate said, starting to get excited.
“Hold on, not quite so fast.” Ken cautioned. “There are always losses. IF a yards of horse manure and stable waste were spread evenly over the corn field at the beginning of the growing season, it might increase the yield by ten bushels. It is much safer to estimate half that because all of the nitrogen won't be available this year. But they darned well better get on the stick because the corn will be too tall to drive wagons over in about two weeks.” Ken said
"Thing is, there aren't enough of me to cart the manure here and then spread it on the fields. That is the work, right there." Ken said. "It ain't just the somebody saying I can take it. It has to be spread evenly in the corn field."
"And if they don't have manure, they can cut cattails, nettles or giant ragween in the muck fields." Ken said.
"If they don't want to do that, there are plenty of older folks with manure piles who aren't capable of shoveling it, so they can team up. One can donate the pile and the other can move and spread it."
"Heck," Ken said "lots of people have swimming ponds that are choked with seaweed this time of year. Most of them would be tickled if somebody volunteered to rake out the weeds just so they could have something to spread on the corn fields."