Tradition runs deep in Missouri's River valley

Langdon , MISSOURI, October 9, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- Terry Anderson, Bullseye Midwest News: Rick Oswald is a self-admitted farmaholic.

A trip last March for Oswald and his wife, Linda, included attending the final arguments in the Picket v. IBP trial in Montgomery, Ala.

"My wife puts up with me," he smirked while he maneuvered his six-row combine through a field of Waxy corn.

She's done that for more than 35 years; they were married right out of high school.

Rick has never lived in another house. When Rick and Linda got married, his parents moved out and Linda moved in.

And, from a quarter section of land, they and son Brandon now farm about 2,000 acres of corn and soybeans in the fertile Missouri River valley in northwest Missouri .

Rick isn't college educated - "I maybe should have taken the time," he said. "I managed to not get drafted; otherwise, college would have been in Vietnam ."

But he has stayed on top of the massive technical and government changes that have taken place in agriculture.

His first combine was one that two previous owners thought they had worn out. Of course, that was better than the mules his dad used.

Rick said his dad lived long enough to see field monitor equipment but died a year before Roundup Ready soybeans were introduced.

"I think he saw more technical changes than we have," Rick said. "And Brandon is more open to new things and different ways of doing things."

Although harvesting in a temperature-controlled combine cab is good, Rick isn't necessarily convinced the technical changes are all good.

"When I started, we averaged 240, maybe 260 acres. When you take our acres now and divide by the two of us, it's still 1,000 acres apiece.

I've replaced five farmers, not that I wanted to."

"Biotechnology has done more to enhance the corporate profits. We just have higher operating costs," he said. "And they've enabled machinery to replace a lot of farmers.

"The biggest corn head used to be four rows, now I have a six, next year I'll have an eight. When I started, we averaged 240, maybe 260 acres. When you take our acres now and divide by the two of us, it's still 1,000 acres apiece.

"I've replaced five farmers, not that I wanted to."

Rick said they started planting Roundup Ready soybeans two years ago. Although yields have been good and more consistent because of weed control, he said the top-end yields haven't improved.

The government has programs, he said, "because they want production, and that's what they get. But everything is geared toward the large producer.

"If the government wanted a lot of farmers, it would cut payments. If we had a government in place to preserve the rural community, it would be more toward the individual farmer. That's the opposite of the way it's done now."

Rick and Brandon both see more organic food production in the future.

"People are willing to spend more for it, for health reasons," said Brandon, who has a 40-cow herd where he lives about six miles north of his parents.

In its third year, the crossbred cows are paired with registered Angus bulls. Brandon said he sees a good future for the operation, partly because he thinks it's less risky than buying feeder cattle.

He can also take advantage of some niche marketing with organic beef, and supports the pending Country of Origin Labeling legislation.

"If the government wanted a lot of farmers, it would cut payments. If we had a government in place to preserve the rural community, it would be more toward the individual farmer. That's the opposite of the way it's done now."
"If I grow and produce it, I'm proud of that," he said. "It's a benefit to all of us, though there are some people who say the opposite."

Brandon also has followed his father's footsteps by being elected to the Rock Port school board. He is working on a plan for a countywide rural water system, too.

Brandon, 32, and his wife, Kathy, have four sons and a daughter.

His older brother, Tim, 35, is manager of a grain import elevator in Houston . His son Ryan, 9, lives with Rick and Linda.

Their daughter, Amanda, 29, and her husband Chad live a couple of miles away in a pre-Civil War brick home.

While on the school board, Rick was president for six years, during a major construction project. He currently serves on the rural road board and is active with Farmers Union.

Linda, when not busy on the farm, is active in church work and with family and friends.

One of Rick's enjoyments is writing, in particular opinion letters to publications. He said he's still waiting to get published in the New York Times.

But the center of his life, he said, is his family and the traditions carried on by multiple generations around Langdon, a one-time flourishing resort town on the Nishna-botna River.

"I'm proud to live here and proud of the children for staying here," he said. "If we had followed the government corporate model, we'd have been shipped off somewhere."

Rick farms land in the fifth generation. Brandon rents sixth-generation land from his cousins. Rick said there's value in traditions set by families who helped organize towns and build roads.

"To me, it's an anchor that this nation is in danger of losing," he said. It's like those things don't matter anymore, but I think they do."


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