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Paynesville Press - August 20, 2003

Farmers in India and America

By Shujaat Bukhari

Shujaat putting hay in barn with Andy and Sophie The lush green sprawling fields of corn and soybeans around Lake Henry, near Paynesville, did not remind me of the agriculture farms in India, particularly my native state of Jammu and Kashmir in the northern region. This is in spite of the fact that agriculture has a significant contribution in sustaining India's economy.

Shujaat, center on hay rack, helped Andy Mueller, far right, put hay up into the barn. Sophie Mueller is at left climbing on the rack.

It is for varied reasons that a comparison of farming in these two countries becomes difficult. Maybe in other parts of India, the cultivation has its own way and the farmers are more close to technology, but in a place like Kashmir, which is in the lap of a mountanious region, all goes manually. Where can one draw a comparison between a farmer who does his business through Internet and one in my place where he is laden with mud all the time and hardly can feed his family with what he produces?

It is the most advanced technology in a farm field here which makes a farmer to reap a better harvest.

When I landed in the farm of Andy and Kelly Mueller in Lake Henry Township last Friday, it was altogether a different picture. Though I had heard that farmers own a sizable chunk of land to cultivate, that he could own 700 acres was beyond imagination. One who owns a 50-acre piece of land in my country would be at top of the world.

But at the same time, being closer to latest inventions in technology helps farmers here in removing the dung beneath the animals without using his hand. It is possible to hold onto such an amount of land.

At the outset, I could have an opinion that it is only the machine which works here and the farmer is a driver. But to be a farmer does need a high level of motivation and dedication as it not only isolates him from the fancies of the city life but also tells upon him physically. It was amazing to see a fleet of tractors (with air conditioners and radios), trucks, and other machines at Muellers, who have a beautiful house surrounded by high rise sheds and buildings which they use as reservoirs for animal feeds and raising the animals.

Andy, who in a sense inherited his love of farming from his father, works around 12 hours a day, making it possible to have a luxurious life for his family. He has his own workshop to fix the machines and hardly goes out to remove the technical snags.

By any standards in my place, Mueller's have a very comfortable life with all the facilities at their doorstep. At least two computers, with Internet facilities, recreation, and above all a very peaceful life which both Andy and Kelly had preferred when they first met in a local high school way back in 1976. It is a close knit family with five children, leading a happy life. They have an urge to know about the people in other countries and that is why they chose to be a host family for the World Press Institute (WPI) fellows. It is their first year, and they are eager to continue with it in future.

"Yeah, I opted for farming by choice," said Andy.

Shujaat driving 4-wheeler "He loves what he does and fall is his favourite season when he sees the fruit of his works," corroborates Kelly. She has a hard task to devoute at least an hour to laundry each day. "Because Andy and kids get dirty when they are in farm and animals so the another set of clothes has to be ready," said Kelly, who loves to do it every day.

Shujaat riding Mueller's 4-wheeler in of their fields.

Andy said he wanted to be self-employed with no bosses. But had a hard time to take 400 acres to 740 acres. He bought some of this land from his uncle, then father, and gradually added it but not without taking loans.

In a most liberal society like America, both Andy and Kelly are candid in confessing to be conservatives. "We are both conservatives in all respects that is why we get along in such a nice way," says Kelly, a suave lady who talks little. She has played a vital role in Andy's life and business so far. She is the bookkeeper but also helps in manual labour.

Andy is comfortable with the calm atmosphere around him. "I like a calm place and if this one turns into a noisy one, I would move to South Dakota (which is less populated and more calm)," he laughs.

At the same time, Muellers two high school age sons, Jack and Mitch, have been a boon for them in farming especially in the summer months, when the schools are off for holidays. Besides working outside, they make it a point to help their father in feeding animals and lifting bales of hay to the stores. Even eight-year-old Sophie has been a helping hand for them, when it comes to lifting rocks from the field, though she gets a token amount of $2 an hour to do so.

Their eldest daughter Bridget is in college and their second daughter Amy is on vacation from school, but works at a restaurant, making ends meet for herself.

At the time of dispersing for farm families and community media assignments, all the nine fellows of World Press Institute (WPI) expressed their desire to milk cows. Muellers do not raise cows so I was little bit disapppointed. But it ended soon as Andy took me to his neighbour's farm, which is a mile away.

It belongs to Dale and Mary Lenzmeier who have 80 milk-giving cows on their farm. Since it was the time to milk them, I first encountered machines, again high-tech stuff, never heard of back home. My hopes were further dashed as Dale was not milking them by hand but a machine fitted with the sealed containers outside. The milk goes directly there without a single touch from human hand.

The process is really thrilling for an outsider like me. Dale, assisted by his young son Mathew, had the milking unit along with two bottles containing anti-bacterial liquid, which he applied to the nipples to ensure that this and the next would be free of bacteria.

Here I was again reminded of cows in my country who are no less than stray cats and dogs. They could go anywhere eat anything they want.

But the systemic feeding system, then technical removal of the dung that goes directly to the nearby field for use as a fertilizer, is something which makes the farmer of this country different from any other developing one. Dale also has inherited this profession from his father. And Mathew is on way to follow the line. But with a difference. His father wants him to graduate from the college, so that he can manage things in a more efficient manner.

Though the farmers are only two percent in the whole United States, the technological advances have improved the quality and quantity of crop. And that is why the government is paying a number of land owners not to cultivate as the excess food grains are becoming a problem. For a farmer like Andy, the production has gone up compared to what his father could produce. "If it was 100 bushels per acre in 70s, it is now 175," said Andy, adding that better genetics and technological advancements have yielded good results.

But he bemoans about farmers not being a strong political voice in this country. "We are helping to build economy but have no participatory role in defining our own policies," he says.

Muellers were a nice family for me with whom I enjoyed a lot and felt at home.

Shujaat Bukhari is a visiting journalist with the St Paul-based World Press Institute, which brings ten journalists every year from across the globe to study the different aspects of life in the United States. As part of the program, the journalists spent one week in Greater Minnesota with a farm family and a community media, in this case the Andy Mueller family and the Paynesville Press.

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