Son, the older man said, as he remembered the dark Depression year of 1932, you haven't taken a beating on wheat until you've sold it for 18 cents a bushel.
That was in the days, however, the son replied, when a haircut cost 25 cents, or a bushel and a third of wheat. Today a haircut costs more than two bushels. So, Lonnie Arbuthnot concluded, "Dad, don't tell me I don't know what it's like."
Not far away and up the road toward Lamar, john Stulp stared across a feedlot of fat calves at his tractor and calcualted that "Five years ago that John Deere cost 8,000 bushels and this fall cost 14,500 bushels."
From haircuts to tractors , so severe have costs risen and farm receipts fallen that, frustrated, angry and afraid of more years of intolerable losses, Stulp, Arbuthnot and untold numbers of other farmers say they plan to go on strike Dec. 14.
So embitterred are they over the new federal farm bill they say will only ensure more losses, they vow they will buy no more, sell no more and, if Congress doesn't act to raise farm prices, will not return to the fields come spring.
"If we can sell what we've got in the bins now (at higher prices) by not harvesting this crop, it will be worth it," says Stulp in the southeast corner of 120 acres of winter wheat, lusciously green yet dormant and waiting for spring.
While thousands of farmers have paraded their tractors in protest and crowded into strike rallies in almost every key agricultural state in the last two months, it is hard to know how many will join the strike and what impact it will have.
Too, farm strikes and protests have been attempted in the past, and the lesson of history is that more emotion than effect was produced. Moreover, it might take weeks or months before the most widespread strike took hold of supermarket prices.
But this time so may producers -- of wheat, cattle, corn, feed grain, sugar- are suffering that strike leaders see a deeper pool of protest to tap.
For these farmers, the wild swing from boom to bust and back again is older than the discarded and rusted machinery that litters their lots. But today's bust is associated not with crop failures but with a string of successes so great that this nation has two years of domestic wheat needs in storage - and most of next year's crop already planted.
"What's going to carry me through the bad years now if the good years are so bad?" Ask one wheat grower. "When the boom-bust cycle becomes the bust-bust cycle, you're in trouble."
It was here, among the grain fields and grasslands of southeastern Calorado, where German prisoners of war once harvested bristles for American brooms, that the talk of trouble turned to strike action at a gymnasium gathering on Sept. 12.
Today, the strike calls itself the American Agriculture Movement and has taken over the white stucco crop-spraying office on Main Street complete with 10 telephones carrying a babel of strike strategy between Springfield and Washington, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Georgia and Iowa.
The merchants farther up Main display signs in support of the strike and in recognition that their sales rise and fall with farm income. "Farmers are our customers," they declare. Some of the banks that provide the yearly loans that carry farms and farm families from seeding time to reaping time are also in support. In fact, the Grant County State Bank in Ulysses, Kan., has sent two $500 contributions to the strike effort.
From Springfield, the ripples of resentment among farmers have circled out - to McCook, Neb., where a rally drew several thousand farmers and a fully loaded manure truck labeled "farmers" income, "75, "76. "77," and to Pubeblo. Colo., where U.S. Agriculture Secretary Bob Bergland, a farmer, was roundly booed. A spokeman describes Bergland as skeptical of the strike's impact.
Or as an official in Kansas put it, if last year's drought, one of the worst decades, couldn't create shortages and thus higher prices, neither will a "holding action." He adds: "No one truthfully foresees that it is a really effective approach."
But the main target is the Congress; strike organizers chose Dec. 14 to give Congress 90 days from September to act to raise farm prices. And although those in the strike movement here say theirs is not a political movement, at least one Democratic Colarado congressman was jeered at a farmers' meeting, and Arbuthnot takes delight in the reaction in Rep. Thomas S. Foley's (D-Wash.) district.
Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Foley "is known by every name but that - he's Fooley, Folly, Funny, and Foney," Arbuthnot says.
As Bergland's spokesman noted. "It is a successful attempt to call attention to the problem."
That there is a problem is hardly disputed. Wheat and other grain prices have been depressed below production costs by abundance. Wheat, one of the main crops here, is selling locally for about $2.20 a bushel. Lonnie Arbuthnot figures it cost him $3.41 a bushel to grow it, not including a salary for his efforts.
Cattle are turning small profits only because feed grains are selling so cheaply, and sugar is selling for less than it costs to grow.
So strapped are farmers generally that an American Bankers Association survey, to be released next week, found increasing members of farmers carrying their loans over an additional year and widespread cutbacks in spending for new farm equipment. Credit is described as "tight," and two new Federal Reserve studies have found the value of farmland turning downward after years of increases that gave farmers access to additional borrowing.
In addition, a recent Agriculture Department study found that farm income still lags behind non-farm income gains and even stayed the same from 1975 to 1976. In Colorado the average farmer nexted $3.992 before taxes in 1976, but this year it a had dropped 8 per cent to about $8.000.
"If we don't get something done, we're right on the brink now," says Derral Schroder, cousin of Dale and a leader in the American Agriculture Movement. "A lot of family farms are going to be in trouble. It's serious."
What American Agriculture wants is parity - a price for crops that would keep farmers in step with increases in the rest of the economy. Parity is an index of farmers, purchasing power now compared with the years 1910 to 1914. Under it, a unit of production, say a bushel or pound or bale, should buy as much as it did in the 1910-1914 period, with adjustments for technological gains.
Parity price for wheat today would be $5.02. What Springfield farmers like Lonnie Arbuthnot are telling farmers at meetings across the country is that the new four-year federal farm bill sets support levels well below that. "The farm bill is it," he says. "It's the only thing that makes this movement possible . . . This thing has left no hope."
Arbuthnot, 38, rents 6,000 acres of land, and has about 48,000 bushels of wheat in storage under a government loan program that assures him of about $1.90 a bushel.
If he is unable to sell it for more and lets the government take over the wheat, he figures he'll lose $24,000 - a reduction from the $36,000 lose the year before that was made possible only by hard work, reduced spending, religious faith and family labor.
Every six months now, his banker reviews his loans. It used to be every 12 months. Arbuthnot has also been trying to sell a 320-acre section of land he bought for $48,000. But so far he has been unable to get even his down payment of $14,000 - money he earned during the last good wheat years of 1973-74.
John Stulp's operation also has thousands of bushels of wheat under government loan from 1976, and 25,000 bushels from this year. The loan program, which he calls" the only market around," makes low interest loans to farmers while their wheat is in storage. At the end of a year, if prices haven't risen enough to entice the farmer to sell, the loan is called and the farmer either pays it back or keeps the money and forfeits his grain to the government.
The federal government currently has 360 million bushels of 1976 wheat under loan and 420 millon bushels from 1977's near-record harvest.
Stulp says the farm's cattle operations are now beginning to turn small profits after months of losses. The reason is the cheap feed raised at a loss by other farmers. "It's a shame one segment of agriculture has to feed off the other," he said.
But even that cattle money will not offset the great losses at Ragsdale Farms, and John Stuup, whose wife hand-lettered the strike protest signs that adorn his idled farm machinery out by Highway 287, says with some bitterness, "There is no reason we should produce such a valuable product - food for people - and lose money."