- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 26, 2005

SISTERS, Ore. - To some, the thought of a farmer patiently working the field behind a horse and plow might evoke pangs of nostalgia for the early days of agriculture. In fact, the practice is making a comeback.

Ol’ Dobbin hasn’t run the tractors out of the fields, but small farmers increasingly are finding horse-powered agriculture a workable alternative to mechanization.

Lynn Miller, whose quarterly Small Farmer’s Journal tracks horse-farming, estimates that 400,000 people depend in some measure on animal power for farming, logging and other livelihoods. He says the number is on the rise.

Many are Amish farmers in Iowa and Pennsylvania who shun mechanization, but some are farmers who have turned to horses because of the bottom line, citing soaring fuel prices and the ability of the animals to produce their own replacements.

They also say the animals are better for the soil and can be used in wet weather when a tractor often cannot.

Mr. Miller, who farms with horses on his own ranch, said the practice began spreading beyond Amish communities about 20 years ago.

“When I started 31 years ago, there were no companies making equipment for animal-powered agriculture,” he said in his office in this central Oregon town. “Fifteen years ago, I could count them. Today, I have no idea how many there are.”

Mr. Miller estimated that 60 percent to 70 percent of those who try horse-and-plow farming stay with it. “It takes a certain personality,” he said. “It’s a craft, not a science.”

He said a farmer with horses can earn triple or more the earnings per acre than one farmed by agribusiness.

Ron VanGrunsven farms about 50 acres with horses near Council, Idaho, and has used horses for years there and in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

“They’re more economical,” he said. “They raise their own replacements, you can train them yourself and raise their feed.”

A mare can produce a foal every year or so, and Mr. Miller says that, if properly trained, one can bring about $2,000 after two years. A plow horse usually lasts 16 or 18 years, he said.

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