Farm kids at home may have long-term benefits

Some eternal optimists claim there’s good in everything. While it may be difficult to find much positive in a global pandemic, one side effect may be farm kids with a whole new appreciation for the farm and the work their parents do.

This is a broad generality, but kids raised on cow-calf operations tend to be more involved in the day-to-day activities than many kids raised on grain farms. On grain farms, seeding has always occurred while kids were busy with school work and various extracurricular activities.

With school moved to online learning and with sporting activities cancelled, kids are stuck at home, reduced to visiting with their friends on various chat platforms. Some kids who never paid much attention to the farm will be gaining a whole new appreciation.

Formal education is now less structured, but countless learning opportunities exist in day-to-day farming operations, particularly during the growing season.

If you want to deliver a math lesson, have a kid work on seeding and fertilizer rates. If your kids are a bit more advanced in their skills, the math problems could be the seeding rate calculated using the thousand kernel weight.

The glyphosate has 540 grams of active ingredient per litre. We want to apply 360 grams per acre. How many litres are needed for an 80 acre tank? AIM is being used as the tank mix partner and we want to apply 25 grams per acre, so how much do we need of that?

And why do we need a tank mix, when the glyphosate alone should be controlling all the weeds prior to seeding? The answer is genetic selection and the development of herbicide resistance, a biology lesson.

Programming the computer software and guidance systems on the seed drill and sprayer and understanding how everything works is an exercise in math as well as engineering.

Most of us could provide only a rudimentary explanation for why pulse crops are inoculated with rhizobium bacteria before seeding, but kids can look this up for themselves and get a full explanation of the biology involved in nitrogen fixation. You just need to whet their appetite.

Younger kids who would normally be in school five days a week are now more likely to be riding along part of the day. This can be a safety concern and kids can get bored if you don’t keep them engaged.

Older kids can help with a number of tasks. A land roller is often the starting point for teaching field operations. It’s more forgiving than the seeder or the sprayer with less chance of complications. As well, a dozen other little jobs exist from fueling and greasing equipment to packaging used chemical jugs for recycling.

In some cases, university students have returned to the farm to help out because other job opportunities have evaporated. The farm suddenly has a whole new attraction.

Years from now and even decades from now, people will refer back to 2020, the year of the global pandemic for how it changed history and how it affected the course of their lives.

In that mix will be farm kids who will remember missing their friends and missing their normal activities including sports. But these kids might end up knowing a lot more about the farm than otherwise and there could be kids who end up as farmers when that wouldn’t have otherwise been their career trajectory.

Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at kevin@hursh.ca.

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