What Do You Do About the Neighbors?

Published on: 07:27AM Jul 02, 2008
Vance Ehmke

This year’s wheat harvest brings up an age old question. What do you do about the neighbors? In our case, they cost us $46,000 in lost grain yield because last fall their uncontrolled volunteer wheat infected our crop with wheat streak mosaic virus.

If there were just two people on the planet, there would always be the risk of one’s actions interfering with the rights or privileges of the other. In farm country, it’s things like a neighbor’s cattle getting in your crops, their fall weeds blowing into your windbreak, or their uncontrolled noxious bindweed invading your land.

For us, however, the wheat on our best field was infected with wheat streak mosaic last fall after planting. Our county Extension agent looked at the field and said without a doubt, the cause for the stunted, yellow and sickly wheat was WSM virus.
The virus is transmitted from infected volunteer wheat to the new crop by way of the microscopic wheat curl mite which is carried by wind from volunteer wheat to the new crop. Once on the newly emerging wheat, the mite roots around on the leaf surface and, while feeding, it infects the new crop.

Results can be a mild yield loss to absolute devastation. The wheat on our field yielded l8 bushels per acre—lowest on the entire farm. With a yield range of 35 to 65 and an average of 50 bushels per acre, we conservatively lost 32 bushels per acre—if the infected field had made only an average yield. With a price of $9/bu., against a yield loss for the l60 acres of 5,l20 bushels, our loss was $46,000.

We had several other fields where we had yield loss from neighboring fields of volunteer, but nothing on this order.

Some farmers leave volunteer uncontrolled out of ignorance. In other cases, the farmers have cattle operations and see volunteer as a source of cattle grazing.

So what do you do about the neighbors? It’s not like any of us are perfect. Whether we want to admit it or not, we’ve all caused loss or at least aggravation to our neighbors. That’s a bit of tempering reality.

But while some neighbors can be worked with, others are irresponsible and will never change. And if you do anything at all, you run the risk of them trying to set the neighborhood against you.

For those individuals, an old Texas farmer once told me in regards to boundary line problems, the simple solution is to just buy the adjoining land. Leave it to the Texans!

For people who can be worked with, their ignorance has to be overcome—and there are a number of ways of doing that. For instance, by promoting Extension programs which talk about the problems with volunteer wheat. Or having a talk with the neighbors. There are other partial solutions like using resistant varieties when planting near their land, planting those fields late or by planting resistant crops like triticale or rye.

Other farmers I’ve talked with have called the farmer and offered to spray or till a buffer strip to protect their land. Undoubtedly there are a number of tactful and creative ways for dealing with neighbors—short of taking them to court. Now in your case, how do you handle these issues?

And finally, your words of wisdom for the day: If every sock in your drawer is black, you’ll never have a problem finding a matching pair. You will now be able to pick out your socks in the dark while your wife sleeps.