When the doctor asks the patient for advice

Figuring when I should sell

Is a game I don’t know very well.

When it comes to such grain

And the loss and the gain,

I’ll see what my patient can tell.

Synopsis:  I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa.  In May 2010, I left my position of 23 years, and honoring my non-compete clause, traveled for a year doing locum tenens work.  In June of 2011 I joined up with the Community Health Center, which provides care for the underserved.  I’m now working part-time, which, for a doctor, means 54 hours a week.

The best single investment I ever made, aside from my wife and my education, came in the form of a land deal.  My next door neighbor and real estate agent, Michelle, found a 120 acre parcel owned by a motivated seller when land prices bottomed out, and I became the owner of a piece of Iowa.

A section of land, a square measuring a mile on each side, has 640 acres; one quarter-section extends a half-mile on each side, comprising 160 acres; my parcel would be a quarter section but for the ¼ mile square taken out of a corner. 

The federal government, under the Conservation Reserve Program, paid me not to farm.  I made enough of a down payment that the government check paid my mortgage.  The price of corn fueled rising farm rent prices, and at the end of the 10-year contract, I rented the land out to farmer eager to till the land, even when the rent tripled last year.

Real farmers would have considered my piece of ground a respectable farm three generations ago, and a small farm two generations ago.  Nowadays it ranks as tiny compared to most agricultural operations.  Still, my land ownership got me into the game, and brought respect from my farming patients. 

I bought another piece of land with Dolf, my good friend, who grew up next door: a flat 160-acre parcel of Missouri River flood plain a half hour from Sioux City.  Dolf bought equipment and went into farming this year.  For a silent partner, I talked a lot.

Dolf put the crop in early.  My pulse quickened when Dolf told me the corn was up.  The stalks came to knee-high by the fourth of June, and then the rain stopped.

With the worst drought on record, we saw the phenomenal growth slow before tassling, and worried when the ears appeared.  No clouds darkened the beautiful blue skies when the silk came forth from the ears, which failed to fill in the heat and the dryness.  Then the dirt cracked open, and we shook our heads along with the other farmers and hoped for the best.

Despite the drought we had to wait till the corn in the field dried down to under 15% moisture.

Even when precipitation doesn’t favor your land, even when I had no part in the planting, nor the contracting of the combine crew, harvest time brings excitement.   Dolf and I drove down to our farm Friday.

One of the combines had sucked in a rock the size of a pillow, ruining a section of conveyor chain, and our first stop checked on the progress of repair.

Dolf and I walked the remaining rows.  We saw where the early pooling of water stunted the plants, giving ears barely a palm’s breadth in length when, 10 feet away and three inches higher in elevation the ears filled out a foot long.  We talked about getting GPS enabled earth work done, to take out lows and highs and let water drain gently.  We picked up other rocks from the abandoned railroad bed. 

I rode in one of the combines which left the detritus (called stover), and separated corn from cob.  When we arrived at the edge of the field I thrilled to watch the golden stream of kernels pour into a grain wagon.

My share of the harvest came to 8000 bushels, roughly 20 tons.  Now I start into the uncertain game of selling it.

I think I’ll call up one of my patients and ask for advice.


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