Production Blog

Now Read This: Ag Books to Consume This Winter

Pamela Smith
By  Pamela Smith , Crops Technology Editor
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What's on your reading table? (DTN photo by Pamela Smith)

My bookshelves are brimming with books to consume this winter. Alright ... who am I kidding? I have piles of reading material. Books tend to collect around me like tumbleweeds in a fence line.

"If you aren't reading these, can I put them in the Little Free Library?" That's a question I am often faced with in my house. I have a watertight, itty bitty, library shaped like a barn along the road in front of my house. Its door is open 24/7 for those in the need of a word fix or if visitors want to leave reading material that they are ready to share.

But like good friends, some books are fine hanging around forever, as far as I'm concerned. It's comforting to curl up on a snowy day (or any day) and revisit them over and over. Can you really have too many books?

I hesitate to create lists because there are many good reads, but here's a few agriculture-related titles I've been reaching for or listening to (audio books are great, too) lately. I've also given the Amazon link to these titles, but would like to encourage shopping at local bookstores and using the library.

If you need some other suggested ag topics, I recommend @AgBookClub on Twitter. The Wednesday night online book club is free and coordinator Gracie Pierson does a good job of cultivating conversations and new titles pertinent to the industry. The February 2022 pick is a new release from Oregon dairy farmer, Derrick Josi with Steve Olivas called An Industry Worth Fighting For. The fourth-generation dairyman writes about the day-to-day workings of a dairy and tackles many of the sensitive industry-wide topics he's debated on social media. My copy is on order and I'm looking forward to reading it as he's one of my favorite Twitter follows.

Having a personal connection with the author makes the reading experience more special. That's the way I feel about Petroglyphs of the Kansas Smoky Hills. A coffee table/photography book, readers can step back in time to observe prehistoric rock carvings tucked away in the Smoky Hills in central Kansas. (See…)

One of the authors, Joshua L. Svaty, is a fifth-generation farmer, served as the Kansas secretary of agriculture, and has contributed to several DTN articles in recent years. Co-authors on the project include Rex C. Buchanan and Burke W. Griggs. Svaty said locations of the finds are not revealed as they are mostly located on private land. Instead, the book provides a way to increase our appreciation of the history while documenting and protecting the fragility of the carvings.

Ride 'N Tie by Clive M. Mecham is a gift to anyone who loves a western tale. Mostly an autobiography, the book details Mecham's life and times from the 1920s through the 1970s in a collection of what began as handwritten histories for his daughter, Josephine.

In fact, this book is a relief for this flatlander who grew up loving Zane Grey novels and episodes of Bonanza. It is proof that real stories can be even better than fictional accounts. Think of it as sitting down with your favorite family storytellers and begging them for just one more story and then, asking for another and another ...

Together with maps and photographs, this personal narrative takes the reader on dusty trails rounding up cattle and tending sheep at nose-bleed elevations. It is a story of hard work and sacrifice set at a time when Utah and Colorado were still not quite tamed, but on the cusp of transition.

But what's special on these pages is the unvarnished everyday detail of life and hints at the emotional ties that bind a soul to the working of animals and land. When hired help is hard to find and Mecham decides to sell his ranch near Aspen in 1958, he penned: "Most of those sheep I knew like the back of my hand. I had raised them from the time they were born. I felt as low as I had at any time in my life." Upon retirement, his was the last sheep outfit running on government forest land in the greater Aspen area.

There's great joy in Ride 'N Tie, too. It is filled with love of a soulmate in wife, Ada, and the family they raise. Reading it made me ache to record similar stories from my own family and wish I'd asked more questions of grandparents long gone. Mecham's grandson, Brett Crosby told me, his mother and brother spent years preparing the notes and pictures to create this charming memorial and a reminder of a life well lived. (See…)

Lives of Weeds: Opportunism, Resistance, Folly by John Cardina stuck to me like a cocklebur and wouldn't let go. I'll go ahead and say it: I got lost in the weeds in a book about weeds.

Cardina's book explores the history of dandelion, Florida beggarweed, velvetleaf, nutsedge, marestail, pigweed, ragweed and foxtail. A professor in the Department of Horticulture and Crop Science at The Ohio State University, he outlines how and why plants become botanical bullies and the human role in the corruption process.

In exploring the tangled history of weeds, Cardina wonders if it is time for us to admit that we've been outsmarted by weeds. This was a great first read and won't be weeded out from my bookshelf anytime soon. (See…)

Also on the reading list is Seed Money by Bartow J. Elmore. It's billed as a history of Monsanto's influence on the food sector.


What's on your reading list?

Pamela Smith can be reached at

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN


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