As I’ve mentioned before, I really like being a tobacco farmer because it is steeped in traditions we don’t see as much with more modern agriculture. One of those traditions is manual weed control. We do cultivate between the rows, but weeds growing within the row need to be managed another way. There are limited herbicides that can be used, so the best way to tackle these weeds is with a garden hoe or pulling by hand.

Lee karen
Managing Editor / Progressive Dairy

Thanks to COVID-19 and no sports, fairs or other regularly scheduled summer activities, there was plenty of time to spend in the field. Not only did we significantly cut down on weed pressure this year, but there were a lot of good takeaways from this activity.

It happened that this task was being done as I was pulling together the articles for this issue so, as I walked the rows, I thought about how the two intertwined.

The first thing I noticed was: It was a job that didn’t need to be accomplished in a single day. I could spend an hour walking some rows and then pick up where I left off the next day. In farming, there is always more to be done, and knowing when to quit can be worthwhile. Ontario dairy producer Ben Loewith talks about this in a recent Progressive Dairy podcast. A consistent quitting time is something he learned employees value and makes for a better work environment. You can read excerpts from the podcast (read 3 open Minutes with Ben Loewith) or listen to it entirely online (Ben Loewith: 100 pounds of milk per cow per day).

Speaking of podcasts, they are great to listen to while doing any sort of repetitive task like hoeing tobacco. You can catch up on the podcasts we’ve produced at the website above, and at the bottom there are links to subscribe to our podcast through one of your favourite listening platforms.


Whether listening to a podcast, music or the birds chirping, I found respite out in my tobacco field. It was a place to step aside from the demands of work, the house and, even sometimes, the kids. Read the article Panel of farmers address mental health and wellness, I recap a mental health and wellness panel discussion among farmers, and they each stressed how important it is to find those moments within your day to take care of yourself. I was able to let my mind rest, and the extra physical activity didn’t hurt either.

Just the other night, I also learned it’s good to have the right tool for the job. I started using a hoe with a thin, narrow blade that sliced through the dirt and weeds well. Then, on a night when the kids came to help too, my oldest daughter asked to trade, and I got her hoe with a wide, thick blade. It was the newest hoe in the pack but ended up being much harder to use. The Equipment Hub article Nutrient application and the 4R nutrient stewardship principles, revisits the 4 R’s of manure application and how important the right source, right rate, right time and right place are for a successful outcome. After my experience, I’d add a fifth R for right tool.

The best moment in the field was when my two oldest daughters were out helping, and they each asked within a few moments of one another, “When does school start again?” My mind immediately jumped to Tim Moffett’s column on Summer vacation that shares the finer points of summer vacation for farm kids. I still don’t know what the start of school will look like this fall, but I do know that thanks to hoeing tobacco, my farm kids are ready and willing to see a classroom as soon as possible.

I hope you, too, are finding good lessons and joy in the simple tasks you’re doing in our unusual summer.