Mule Power!

Farmers in the United States are turning to mule power to fight rising oil prices

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Rural areas in the United States are now feeling the severe and profound effects of the ever rising fuel prices. The fuel price rise is felt more stronger in the countryside than in other parts of the country. This due to the combination of lower incomes and also and especially the heavier dependence on farming equipment, tractors, pickup trucks and vans, which either require gasoline or diesel in order to run.

In addition to other trends (gasoline theft, buying less meat, switching jobs for a shorter commute), the dilemma has led some farmers to turn to less energy-intensive forms of tilling land – or in a word, mules.

According to a recent survey by the Oil Price Information Service, Americans typically spend 4 percent of their after-tax income on gasoline. In rural areas however, such as the counties in the Mississippi Delta, families may spend up to 13 percent on fuel. It is a disparity that may not be so apparent in the Northeastern states, where families generally earn more, drive shorter distances or have better access to public transportation.

Benefits of Mule Power

But with fuel now $4 a gallon, and in some cases over that, some farmers have now switched over by modifying their equipment to shift the weight equally between two mules. Though training the animals to pull the equipment is initially time-consuming, the substitution means that savings of up to $60 a day on fuel can be had.

All the mules need, some of the farmers said, is some hay and a little sweet feed, a little shell corn. “You gotta rub around on them and talk to them,” one farmer said, “stay acquainted with them, where they know you.”

More and more farmers in are now falling back on good, old resourcefulness. Suddenly there is a lot of mule power around in many places. When you get to where you can't afford the gas, you hook the mules up, so it seems.

Modern equipment doesn't translate automatically to older methods. The weights have to be shifted so that each animal pulls equally, for example. But the savings have been immediate.

The way things are going the old methods, the methods that are still being used by the Old Order Amish, for instance, are coming back into their own.

This may not be the thing for every farm, especially not the large ones but, I guess, we will have to see what happens.

The buggy and horse or mule for rural transportation may also come back with the way things seem to be going. The same may be true for the humble bicycle.

© M Smith (Veshengro), June 2008