Friday, September 14, 2007

Lords of the Land

By Kevin Duling

To farmers, landlords are like noses. Everyone has one, some are straight, some are crooked, and some tend to drip all the time. Twenty years ago, there were at least a dozen farmers in this area, now there are three. Some of the exiting farmers sold their places, some turned them into bird hunting parks, and some rented their land out to other farmers.

We have the privilege of having five different landlords. Three are ex farmers, one is an electrician in Seattle, and one is a doctor from California. As you can imagine, we get five different opinions on everything we do.

As a kid I remember Dad squawking about a landlord who complained about the appearance of the summer fallow. After a record yield one year later, the landlord gave Dad a promise to never critique his farming practices again.

In our farming operation we have what’s known as the “James factor”. Every time we are in a hurry we will get “caught” by James and be forced to spend a minimum of 30 minutes visiting. Understanding it takes two to visit; the James factor became a wonderful way to have an excused break. Is this an annoyance or perhaps a message to us stating our pace is too fast? We enjoy the visits, but it’s hard to slow down.

When James farmed, he was a perfectionist. Weeds were absent on his farm, the barnyard was always in flawless order, and little inventions to make things work easier were found everywhere. James, now 90 years young, farmed during a time when a living could be made on a small farm. Today, his place is known to us as a “two and a half day” farm, speaking of the estimated duration of each farming operation.

There are two kinds of landlords: Active and inactive. An active landlord will become involved in everything you do. He will be there to hand you the shovel as you squeeze your way into a grain bin. He will be there to inform you there is a wet spot exactly where your tractor appears to be stuck. Of these active landlords, some will tell you how you can do no wrong. Others will say everything you do is wrong.

One of our landlords is a little too active. If I make a small mistake, he’s there. If I make a large mistake, he’s there. If I jump off the tractor for a quick restroom break, his wife is there.

A few years back, I can recall a cool, moist, early August morning when the wheat was too tough to harvest until noon at best. As we entered the field at eleven to start fueling and greasing, we were besieged by an angry landlord shaking his fist and holding his camera.

Apparently, farmers are supposed to be mounting their mighty combines at dawn with the sunrise creating a beautiful photographic backdrop. According to him, some of us farmers like to work “banker’s hours.”

The worst kind of inactive landlord is one who raises livestock. I received a disturbing voice message from a particular inactive landlord the other day. It went like this: “Kevin, I got an amazing deal this weekend. The man said I could purchase one llama for $200 or I could purchase all five for $200!”

Water rights can also be a bit sticky in the case of landlords. Irrigated land leases become much more complicated than your simple dryland lease. I had a nightmare last night where I agreed to a lease from an old man with no teeth and a small straw hat. He wanted me to put all his acres into alfalfa. His water system was updated during the 80’s, and I don’t mean the 1980’s.

“So you want me to put everything into alfalfa, plus swath, bale, stack, load, and irrigate all four cuttings, plus pay for the fertilizer and the water right? So I assume the split will be about eighty/twenty tenant to landlord?”
“No, the split will be feefty/feefty and you will also feed my five llamas all winter!”
“I don’t believe this is a deal I can sign on.”
“One more word from you and it will be forty/seexty!”
“Ok, fifty/fifty it is.”

Kevin Duling is a wheat farmer and freelance writer from Maupin, Ore. His stories will be posted on the Capital Press blog every Friday. Comments are welcomed at

Copyright, September 2007, Kevin Duling

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1 comment:

tim relf said...

Great post - made me laugh a lot. If it's any consolation, landlords are very similar over here in the UK, although we have quite a few "absentee landlords" - those that made a lot of cash in the money markets, bought a big chunk of land and then only visit it once a year!

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