We tend to associate the term with autumn, but it's now harvest time on the north Texas prairie. Quarter-million dollar combines churn through the fields, taking up to 45 bushels an acre of golden grain. In an area where wheat fields are routinely several hundred acres apiece, there's some serious Wonder Bread potential going on around here.
I stopped a grain hauler for a minor equipment violation, and as men who are a little bored of an afternoon will do, we got to chatting.
"What're y'all doing with all that wheat straw that I'm seeing baled out in the fields?" I asked him. "Surely there's no nutrition in it for hay?"
"Naw-- it wouldn't make very good feed," he guffawed. "It's the damndest thing, though-- we're getting $22 a large square bale for it, plus $12 just to haul it!"
"Okay. . . what are they using it for, then?" I pondered.
"Two things: they use it in mushroom farming, so long as it's clean and never rained on, like this straw," he said, gesturing toward the field of giant square bales next to the road.
"And they've got this plant --you're never gonna believe this-- where they make insulation out of it," he said.
"For what?" I actually was surprised.
"Mobile homes and trailer campers," he said. "Now I know what you're wondering, and I asked the same thing."
"Yeah: isn't that about the most flammable insulation a person could put in their walls?!?" I asked.
"Like I said, I thought the same damn thing. Apparently, they've got this process where they compress it into wafer boards, and affix a fire-proof coating on it, and if a spark ever does get inside, it's so starved for oxygen, it can't burn. They claim that it can last for 8 hours to a wood flame and not catch," he said.
"No kidding. I never would've guessed," I proclaimed.
"Me neither. And for us, it's like selling trash off the ground. This stuff was just cast aside or tilled under, before, and now it's a supplemental crop," he said.
"Does it make any difference with the quality of the earth, now that it's not being tilled under?" I asked.
"Naw. We quit tilling, anyhow, " he said. "We've got this new method that drills the seed in and covers it up. That way, the soil holds water better when it's dry out."
You can learn a lot from a farm trucker, if you'll take the time to listen. I'd never heard this stuff before.