|Jerald Meisner, following in the footsteps|
|August 12, 2016 Frank Marquez|
Courtesy photo Jerald Meisner and his youngest daughter Stacie Meisner.
To get a glimpse of the modern ways of agriculture, I set aside last Friday, August 5, to tag along with 59-year-old Jerald Meisner, a third generation farmer in west Nebraska who has lived his entire life in Gering. His grandfather Alec arrived here around 1906, and his father, Harold, who was the youngest of a brood of about a dozen kids, passed the baton to Jerald and his older brother Gordy, who now manage several fields in south Gering and fields north of Scottsbluff.
Jerald is my wife’s uncle. When it comes to agriculture tips, he is a man whose word is gold. On Friday, our mission was to make spot checks on irrigation, which took about three hours. We got started at 6 a.m., a go-time I usually reserve for the Army. Our first stop was at a 72-acre farm, one of the first places Jerald lived as a boy, which then led into talking about the first Meisners in the area.
Jerald surmised Alec settled in Gering because of the once thriving sugar beet industry, and the widespread establishment of sugar beet factories. There was a time farming was less automated. During that time, one of their first fields, a plot of land where Jerald lived for about 27 years, and another farm – combined fields of roughly 300 acres – was enough to keep three people busy.
Since then, Jerald said, “you now have tractors which can practically drive themselves, and the types of irrigation, which require a flip of a switch,” instead of the manual tubing, which siphoned water from concrete ditches. He and Gordy removed one such concrete ditch this past growing season in favor of more efficient methods of irrigation – drips, gated pipe (tubing) and pivots (mammoth sprinkler systems) linked to timers and computer systems, as are the tractors.
He fills labor demands with a few boys from nearby Gering High School. This year he hired football players Skylar Mueller and Zach Marsh to help lay pipe throughout the fields.
While we drove through the hidden dirt roads along the vast fields of beans and corn, Jerald sipped from a Mountain Dew bottle he frequently refilled with water. The boys used regular bottled water, refusing to refill theirs with tap water.
During the 1960s, the “concrete ditch was the latest, greatest. The government helped pay for that. We prefer pipe. We’d use the pivots if the fields were bigger; pipe is the next best thing,” Jerald said. The drip, requires the least maintenance, but being more expensive, the fields must produce larger yields to remain profitable. Often because of the efficiency of the drip method, they do. Along with pivots, automation has allowed farmers to manage more acreage. “Business is always about volume,” Jerald said.
Light rain and drizzle during the morning drive tempted Jerald to turn off the pivots, which would allow him to use less electricity and water. Passing by the corner of Buffalo Road and County Road T, the conversation meandered between childhood memories, the dozens of farms, and changes to the landscape, where farmers aren’t the only ones who stake plots in the wide open spaces, and include familiar residents, the owner of Pipe Works Plumbing, and Dolbey Custom Cabinets, to name a few. Jerald talked about how farm equipment got bigger, expanding from the ability to plow 12 to 24 to 36 rows instead of just six. “There’s less to plow, and more in minimum tillage,” he said, speaking from years of experience, and sounding as though he picked up the farming trade through osmosis.
Jerald’s schooling began during the time the Meisner family lived at the Ross farm. He attended Cedar Valley, a three-room schoolhouse, from kindergarten to fourth grade just before Cedar Canyon opened to bring in students from the schoolhouses at Cedar Valley, Dome Rock and Carter Canyon.
Jerald’s farming career officially began in Curtis, Nebraska. He followed Gordy, who attended UNSTA or the University of Nebraska School of Technical Agriculture, in 1975-76.
Today, “the boys” (Jerald and Gordy) as they were known, grow about 2/3 of corn and 1/3 beans, which Jerald said is pretty standard. They grew sugar beets too, but not since 1996, he said. Gordy earned an associate degree in Ag production, and Jerald in Ag business. He described Curtis as about the size of Mitchell. “It had one bar, one liquor store and two grocery stores.”
Among farms, Jerald also tends to the Gerhard farm, not far from our start point down Highway 71, and a hop-skip to the Rogers farm, where his dad Harold was raised. The farm is now owned by Roger and Norma Ray, and is where family members, niece Brittney and her husband Brett Farro, now live. The Meisner name is well traveled, partly due to once large families. Farms demanded labor, and children made up a large part of that force.
Jerald also mentioned he put his daughters Stacie and Jamie to work. Stacie was an outstanding volleyball player for the Western Nebraska Community College, and Jamie owns The Mixing Bowl restaurant in Gering, both thankful, Jerald said, for learning the meaning of hard work.
The farms use a wide network of waterways supplied by the Gering-Fort Laramie ditch, and crisscross over the Gering Valley Drain. Jerald recalled that his dad worked the Hilzer farm, the first place Jerald lived, for six years before buying land of his own. In getting around, the family devised an informal way of identifying the farms with nicknames. Among the several farms there was ROY, which stood for Rodney’s Old Yard. Then there was Rogers, Schumbert, and Kent, all bearing the moniker of their original owners. Street signs appear small, and after a while, everything looks the same, but in saying that, I truly believed Jerald could have driven his routes blind-folded.
Planting begins in April for corn, followed by beans going into the ground between March and June. Jerald said he relies on a full-time farmhand, and the two high school boys to lay the tubing and get irrigation and ditching set up in the early part of the season. In between time, it’s a matter of small adjustments and trouble-shooting, removing silt or mud when it blocks the flow of water. Harvest begins the first week of September for beans, and corn not until the middle of October.
During a typical day, it takes Jerald from 6-9 a.m. to get through his route; He’ll break for breakfast, and do some more tweaking, before an early afternoon hiatus. Then he’ll be back out around the fields starting at 4:30 p.m. This happens every day of the week until he and his help clear the irrigation systems from the field
In between growing seasons, he’ll plan for the next one, and work on equipment.
I discovered farming is not a career for me; I’ll stick to newspapering. Though I have gained a greater appreciation for the dedication and commitment it takes to farm.