Phipps: Lather, Rinse, Repeat

August 25, 2015 04:22 PM
Phipps: Lather, Rinse, Repeat

My life as a farmer can accurately be summed up as doing the same jobs for 40-some years. For example:

1. Load the truck.
2. Drive the truck.
3. Empty the truck.
4. Drive the truck.
5. Go to step No. 1.

Yes, I do have this written down on a sticky note in the cab. Why take chances? My point is, after a few decades, it dawns on you that you are in an endless causality loop, just like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.
Economists speculate such tasks are ripe for automation. More than a few of these chores are on the rapidly shrinking list of “things Dad can do without major damage.” Surely a robot would be more accurate and efficient. Well, duh. But if you think old guys are going to vote on their replacements at the family budget meeting, you’re not thinking far enough ahead in your career. Take away his menial farm work, and he’ll just mow the yard more often. Beginning in February. Or drive aimlessly around the neighborhood at 18 mph, creating a charming but still deadly rural road hazard.

Somewhere along the line, most of us begin to battle against the repetitive boredom of such tasks, if only to remain conscious. This is often done in typical male fashion—by making a game out of it, even if only in our heads. This is why smartphones have a stopwatch feature, right? We measure or time our performance, imagining an Olympic event—or better yet, an entire professional league with all the endorsements, performance-enhancing drugs and scandals pertaining thereunto. For instance, “fantasy middleweight truck unloading” is one in which I compete, if not dominate. (Well, that’s how I define “middleweight.” You can do what you want in your league.)

Like other highly trained athletes, we scrutinize each move for precise execution, subjecting the contest to almost scientific analysis to raise efficiency and enhance our prowess in the seemingly mundane task of backing up a tandem to the auger, firing up the tractor, dumping the truck and getting back to the field before the imaginary competitors. Or, as I think of them, losers.

Sure, it can be embarrassing for an unnoticed visitor to hear us feverishly delivering an imagined play-by-play commentary—not to mention making the crowd noise when we inevitably, but deservedly, win. Our self-choreographed “winner dance” can provide an awkward moment when witnessed by perplexed bystanders.

I always thought this practice was the product my own febrile brain, but if you listen carefully, farmers will pepper their work narratives with odd statistics never found in the Guinness Book of World Records. “Yup—I can change the bale wrap in 4½ minutes” or “From the moment I pull in the field to grain in the tank is less than 92 seconds, including resetting the yield monitor and autoguidance.” Visiting a neighbor’s farm, you might encounter competitive gimmicks to shamelessly augment his inferior talents.

The imaginary trophies are impressive too. Our humblebrag press conferences after the ceremonies are touching. As foolish as this might sound, at least we’re prepared to handle global acclaim instead of generating YouTube ignominy. Seriously—it could happen. You should practice.

While imagination is doubtless a gift of our human genome, centuries of boring toil have honed it into an escapist tool that allows us to endure long hours using about 25 neurons at the base of our brain stem. Don’t tell me my ancestors picking up rocks from the fields weren’t sailing with Nelson or mining gold in the Yukon in their minds. We’ve just added special effects, explosions and cheerleaders to our daydreams.

Besides, after entering into the “age of wisdom,” you realize truly interesting and engaging jobs are really hard.

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