It was such a bright spring day outside that it took Dale’s self-darkening glasses a few seconds to adjust to the lighting inside the Hanson farm shop. Even so, he could hear shouting and sense movement in the building in front of him.
As he hesitated in the doorway, a sudden dark shadow flew toward him, hitting the top of his head. His cap was knocked off, and he almost fell over with surprise. Pulling the glasses off his face, Dale tried to figure out what was going on.
“Grandpa’s on our team!” his seven-year-old grandson shouted.
“Come on!” Dale’s son Jeff yelled. “You guys already have two on your team. I’m all alone over here.”
“No you’re not,” their farm employee Mark called out. “You’ve got the dog.”
Dale had walked smack into the middle of a full-fledged game of pre-seeding indoor soccer. He took up a spot in the “net” on Jeff’s side, a space marked off with chalk on a workbench, and nudged the dog out of the way. “I’ll take over here, Buddy,” he said.
But Mark came forward fast, running toward the workbench, then kicking the ball straight through Dale’s legs so it landed square in the middle of the net.
“Bring back the dog!” Jeff shouted. “You’re ruining my stats, Dad!”
Connor crawled under the workbench to get the ball, and the game went on. They played for another 15 or 20 minutes until the door opened again. This time it was Dale’s father, Ed.
“Another hard day at the salt mines?” Ed said, sidestepping carefully around a cat as he made his way to a chair near the coffee pot, in a safe zone away from the main game action. There was no malice in his sarcastic remark. Ed knew there was really nothing more to do on the farm until it was time to get into the field. Jeff and Dale had spent the winter going over every piece of equipment until it was more than ready. Almost all of their seed customers had already come and gone. The seeding plans had already been in place for weeks, calculated and recalculated. Every inch of the shop was spotless. Jeff and Dale had been wandering the yard looking for things to do for the past three days.
Ed drank his coffee as he watched the soccer game, occasionally cheering — usually for his great-grandson or the dog.
“Let’s call a break,” Dale said, out of breath.
“We won! We won!” Connor declared, and Mark held his hand up to meet Connor’s in a high five.
“You’re ready for the season,” Mark said. “When’s your first game?”
Connor turned to his dad for help. “Tuesday,” Jeff said. “I wish the season didn’t run right in the middle of seeding. It would be fun to coach these kids.”
Soon Connor was on his way to his house to see if his little sister was getting a cookie for a morning snack and the men were settled around the coffee machine.
Dale and Jeff rolled their eyes when Mark used the Keurig to make himself a skinny cappucino, then made strong black coffee for themselves.
“At the coffee shop they say Blake Hamilton’s out seeding already,” Ed said.
“He’s always early,” Jeff said.
“Wouldn’t surprise me if he puts that first 100 acres in snow some years, just so he can be the first one in the field,” Dale said.
Dale and Jeff were more than eager to get into the field. They’d been measuring soil temperatures all week, waiting for the ground to warm up just a little bit more before they went out. This last stretch of days before they could truly get to work was always Dale’s least favourite time of the year.
They were silent for a minute, until Jeff spoke up. “I’ve been thinking,” he started.
“Here we go,” Ed said, getting ready to enjoy himself. Jeff’s “I’ve been thinking,” often meant he was ready to suggest a new way of doing things. Now that he wasn’t able to help much physically, there was nothing Ed liked more than a good debate.
Jeff ignored his grandfather. “I think maybe we should speak for some more fertilizer.”
“Didn’t we already talk about that?” Dale asked. The whole Hanson family had gone over their fertilizer rates and how much they’d need in the last few weeks. In fact, they’d done it twice.
“Yes…” Jeff said. “But I wonder if we shouldn’t be a little more aggressive. If we don’t plan for a big yield, we’re not going to get it.”
“Kids today don’t know how to farm in a dry year,” Ed said, to the room in the general. “They’ve got so used to all that rain.”
“What if we spend a pile of money to put down more nitrogen and it doesn’t rain?” Dale asked.
“Wouldn’t that beat the opposite?” Jeff answered. “What if it rains and we’re short? We’d be leaving cash in the field. We can’t afford to do that.”
Dale nodded, remembering the day about 25 years earlier when he’d tried to convince Ed to buy pedigreed wheat seed to see if new genetics could get them a higher yield. Back then, Dale had been the one who wanted to take a risk, and Ed had wanted to play it safe. Dale was becoming his father, one step at a time.
Jeff kept on. “And if the crop doesn’t need it, most of that nitrogen will still be in the soil next year.”
“Not all of it,” Ed chimed in. “Especially if we don’t get some moisture.”
Jeff looked to his father. Dale looked off to the left. Thinking.
Then Mark spoke up. “Why don’t you have it both ways? Plan for a split application — if you need it. That’s what we always did back home on our farm.”
There was silence. Mark stood up and went back to the Keurig machine, mixing himself a second skinny cappucino.
“Why don’t we do that?” Jeff asked.
Ed was ready, holding up the fingers on one hand to count off the reasons as he listed them. “It’s hard on the sprayer,” he said. “We don’t have storage for liquid nitrogen. The sprayer’s already tied up most of the summer.”
But while Ed was listing, Dale and Jeff were thinking. “If we were ever going to think about that, this would be the year to try it,” Dale said.
Jeff shook his head. “I’m feeling kind of dumb that I didn’t consider that when we went over all the plans.”
“That’s why you’re keeping me on the payroll,” Mark said, grinning. “Well, that and my soccer skills.”
Connor came back into the shop, holding up a plastic container. “Mom sent cookies out for everyone,” he announced. He passed the container to Dale who opened the lid and helped himself.
“When you’re done eating cookies can we play soccer again?” Connor asked.
“Not now,” Jeff said, drinking the last of his coffee quickly and taking a gingersnap for the road. “I’ve got to get to my computer. I’ve got some research to do.”
“I’ll play,” Mark said to the boy. “But this time, you get the dog.”