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If it ain't country

 

Every now and then, somebody tackles the question of what “country” music is, as opposed to other varieties. Does it mean “the music of our country”—meaning America, or just “from out in the country,” as opposed to “city music?” 

I’m no expert on this, but I’d guess that country music is what you could make for yourself in case the need came up. Sort of like everything else rural folks had to do in the days before you could buy “boughten” fence posts and factory gates, much less a pre-assembled school house. Country people made these things, from which we got the words “homemade.” 

Most rural people didn’t make musical instruments, but you could always send off for a guitar, harmonica, fiddle or banjo from Sears and Roebuck—things little and light. Then you could produce “homemade country music” yourself. 

Obviously, you had to keep the weight down for shipping, so we didn’t go in for pipe organs, tubas, accordions, or harps much—and very few trombones because you could put an eye out with one of those. You hardly ever saw a Sousaphone or kettle drum in a parlor, because they took up more room than the piano, heating stove or Uncle Globus. 

In the Ozarks of Missouri, we had additional problems. The steep hills, rough roads and creek crossings made delivering even a mandolin hard, let alone a piano, which would arrive sounding like it had come off a bluff and was full of channel cat, which was sometimes the case. 

So, what we did down here, when the need for music became urgent, was make our own instruments like the smackola—an octave of different-sized chickens played with a hand paddle. We also invented the swinette, which you could make from a young pig and a section of inner tube. And there was the shotophone—a wind instrument played by blowing over the barrels of a shotgun with corncobs in the breech to vary the notes. We used a number of percussion instruments that are still popular, like washboard, spoons, jawbone, knife whetting and slat-clapping. We have come up with others such as the Buford swat (also called the “stop that!” by some musicians), and a fingernail ticking rhythm called “poly-tickin,” which some say was inspired by listening to speeches on the radio. 

I really think that “country music” depended on what we had to play at the time, which would leave out things like those Swiss horns that were longer than a political administration, and, like an administration, played just one note, or high tensioned things like harps that had more wire than a bicycle and were always threatening to implode and hurt somebody. 

My take on the music argument is that if you hum it all day, it’s “country;” if you know all the words, it’s “pop music;” and if the kids like it, it shakes the ground, breaks the windshield in your truck, stunts the crops and sours milk, it’s “city music.”

Longtime Today’s Farmer contributor Mitch Jayne passed away in 2010. We run this column in his honor.

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Waiver may lead to jammed GPS signals

 

Farmers who use GPS, take note of a threat to your signal. The Federal Communications Commission recently issued a waiver to its rules and allowed a new company called LightSquared to fast track a satellite-based network that would provide fourth generation (4G) mobile phone signals. 

The network would use bandwidth that lies next to GPS bandwidth, and some experts fear it may jam GPS signals on existing equipment.

“GPS has helped farmers economically in important ways,” said Charlie O’Brien, vice president of the agricultural sector for the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM). “Would these producers stand by silently while forces in Washington interfere with GPS transmission and reception? It’s time to stand up for agriculture.” 

O’Brien urges GPS users to contact their congressmen to urge more research before the plan moves forward. To help the effort, AEM and key agricultural groups are forming a Coalition to Save Our GPS.

Read more: Waiver may lead to jammed GPS signals

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MFA Oil launches biomass project

 

Alternative energy is nothing new for MFA Oil Company (a separate entity from MFA Incorporated). The member-owned cooperative has marketed ethanol/gasoline blended fuels since at least the 1970s. Now, MFA Oil is embarking on the next phase: producing its own energy from biomass sources.

Earlier this year, MFA Oil Company announced a joint venture with Aloterra Energy to form MFA Oil Biomass, LLC, a vertically-integrated firm that will team up with Missouri and Arkansas farmers to produce a renewable-energy crop to provide a clean burning source for power generation, farm heating and next-generation liquid fuels.

“After researching several biomass crops, including switchgrass and giant reed, we decided Miscanthus giganteus provided the best opportunity for creating a viable energy source,” said Jerry Taylor, president, MFA Oil Company. “As good fortune would have it, Aloterra had done its own research and had come to the same conclusion.”

Miscanthus is a tall-growing, cane-like perennial grass native to Asia. Until recently, it had been grown in North America primarily as an ornamental yard and landscape planting (where it sometimes is called “Elephant Grass”). Miscanthus has been used as a source of heat and electricity generation in Europe for a decade or more. As a crop, miscanthus is stingy with water, requiring only 24 inches or so annual rainfall, and requires less fertilizer than most food and feed crops. It also appears to be resistant to most pests.

Read more: MFA Oil launches biomass project

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Don't Bet the farm on hitting the peak price

Marketing plans help level income

In normal times, successful grain marketing is a complex enterprise, although no other single activity has more impact on showing a profit. And the past several months have been anything but “normal.”

“The trouble with deciphering this market, it’s both supply-driven and demand-driven,” said Melvin Brees, crops analyst at Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri. “That makes for a volatile market and traditional trend lines are broken all over the place. Strong demand in relation to supply bids in stronger markets.”

On the supply side with corn, 2010 produced less than a bumper crop. Missouri growers harvested 369 million bushels, which was 77 million bushels less than in 2009. 

And overall corn demand is strong.

“We’ve cut back on livestock use,” said Brees. “But ethanol use continues to grow [USDA raised its estimate of corn used for ethanol in the past few months] and worldwide demand is still growing.”

Read more: Don't Bet the farm on hitting the peak price

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About Today's Farmer magazine

Today's Farmer is published 9 times annually. Printed issues arrive monthly except combined issues for June/July, August/September and December/January. Subscriptions are available only in the United States.

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