The secret to X,Y and Z


Throughout all of my years as a student, I’ve always found it essential to understand why I needed to learn the subject matter. If teachers could explain why it was important for me to learn what they were teaching, and how it was going to help my future, I could usually pay attention and absorb the material easily. If not, I was likely to be daydreaming.

Luckily, just about all of my teachers in my small, rural community, did a little farming on the side, and appreciated that almost everything I understood – and wanted to understand – related to agriculture. If they could tap into that, they had me.

During my elementary years, I enjoyed the subject of arithmetic. Figuring up how much a calf was worth, based on the price per pound, was a challenge I gladly accepted. I could readily see the importance of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division (even long division), in what I had already decided would be my career. Unfortunately, high school rolled around and my previous success in arithmetic led me to be placed in something called algebra. X, Y and Z instead of numbers made no sense to me, nor could I see how it would ever benefit my success as a farmer.

Mr. Bruffett was my algebra teacher and an ace educator. After only a couple of weeks, he could sense that I was not only struggling with the subject matter, but that I had absolutely zero interest. Mr. Bruffett finally asked me to stay after class. 

“How are your calves doing this fall?”

Happy to talk about anything besides algebra, I replied that they were growing pretty good, but that I was thinking about increasing the protein of their ration to try and get them to gain a little faster. He inquired about what ingredients I was using in my feed, and I informed him that corn and cottonseed meal were the two main ones.

“You know,” he began, “you could let X equal the protein content of corn, and Y be the same for the cottonseed meal, and solve for Z as the percent protein of the total ration; that way, you could play around with it, and find out which ratio works best, and at the cheapest price.”


A couple of years later, my agriculture teacher was looking over my shoulder, as I made out my schedule for the following year. “You’re going to need to take typing if you’re planning on going to college.”

I jokingly replied that only prospective secretaries needed to take typing (this was about 30 years before computers) and I was going to study agriculture.

“Enroll in the typing course.”

I did. It turned out to be one of the most valuable courses I have ever taken. I don’t like to brag, but at 65 words per minute, with no mistakes, I would have been an exceptional secretary.

Jerry Crownover farms in Lawrence County. He is a former professor of Agriculture Education at Missouri State University, and is an author and professional speaker. To contact Jerry, go to and click on ‘Contact Us.’ 


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