Monday, September 27, 2010

Farmers and Optimism

Want a little insight into the ever optimistic mind of a farmer? Today, even before we know how this year will end financially, Dad and I ordered seed for next year. Yes, the soybeans are still in the field, we don't know how well they will yield or what price we will get for them. Yet, we have already ordered seed for next year.

Farmers and ranchers have to be the most optimistic people I know. Isn't that who you want in charge of producing the food you eat? Oh sure some of us are gruff and may seem pessimistic on the outside but inside we are optimists to the core. Think about it.

We plant our crop, milk our cows, watch over the calves, etc..... without ever knowing whether we will make money. We contend with things out of our control like the weather and never once, seriously, consider quitting. It never even enters our mind.

During the bad years we are already planning for next year because it has to get better. Raising food is what we do, it is who we are and we cannot picture ourselves doing anything else. Hence, the eternal optimism. I guess that is the kind of person it takes to be in farming and ranching, to not know what your income is going to be in any one year but knowing without a doubt what you will be doing.

So with any luck tomorrow we will start combining soybeans, already secure in the fact that the planning for next year has started. That is why you can feel secure in the knowledge that the food you depend on will be there next year and the years after. Because, just like the land we live on, those of us who farm and ranch aren't going anywhere.

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Life Dedicated to Producing Food

The news came as a jolt this morning, hitting our farming community hard. One of our own was killed last night in a tractor accident. Farming and ranching are very dangerous occupations, ranking right behind coal mining but it is different when you can put a name and face with the statistic.

Fred worked for our local COOP and applied herbicide and fertilizer for many of us. In fact, in many cases, farmers asked for Fred when ordering herbicide and pesticide. He truly was one of the best when it came to his occupation. He took great pride in doing his job well and single-handily kept business for his employer. You knew when Fred was in your field the job would be done right.

I always marveled how Fred could remember where every field is, how many acres were in it and who owned them. We have some very small fields and he always remember each one. What's more he always remembered who I was. Let me tell you, my operation is very small and not very memorable but Fred made me feel like I was one of the big operators. I always appreciated that and I always enjoyed talking to him. Fred was one of the many people I rely on and probably one that I should have gotten to know better.

Fred's death hit me pretty hard, because in a lot of ways I could identify with him. Like me, Fred loved agriculture enough that he spent his entire life working in agriculture, then he went home and farmed. He worked many long days taking care of other farmers before coming home and working on his own farm. Long, hard days at work often turned into long, hard nights of work back home in his own fields.

I don't know anything about the accident but I would guess that the long hours had something to do with the accident. Farming is dangerous enough but when you have fewer hours to work, often times in the dark and after a full work day, it is even more dangerous. We will never know and that is not what we should focus on.

The focus should be on a man who dedicated his entire life to feeding us. He took pride in his "day job" and was recognized as one of the best by those in the business. Then he spent his time away from his full-time job pursuing what I suspect was his real passion, farming. He, like many who bring you the food on your table, viewed farming and ranching as a way of life and not a part-time hobby. It is something that is a part of men like Fred and lives down in their bones. So as you sit down to supper tonight, take a moment to think of Fred and his life dedicated to producing the food you are about to eat.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Harvest Paradise

Last week we were in the middle of corn harvest and my job is to drive the truck into town with the grain. I wish you all could join me for harvest because there is something about the rush, hard-work, and sweat that make me feel more alive. It makes me love the life I have chosen and the place I live even more. I had this epiphany as I took the first load of the day in one morning.

That morning I started down the highway into town with a mug of coffee on the dash and my arm out the open window. The air was cool enough to be refreshing and warm enough to be pleasant. I drove down the road enjoying the crisp wind in my face and the fresh, heavy smell of fields and pastures. I watched as neighbor's fueled and serviced their equipment, waving at all of them along the way.

The great thing about our grain trucks are that they move at a slower pace than normal traffic. It is amazing how much you notice when you drive 15 to 20 miles an hour slower. You see cattle grazing on native range, kids waiting on the school bus and deer meandering through the fields.

Then I made the last turn into town. My hometown in one of those great small towns with a main street that is still very much alive. Early that morning I saw people heading to work with mugs of coffee, as with many of our Midwestern small towns they had time to stop and talk on their way to work. I wish you could all see my hometown come to life like I did that morning.

My destination was the local coop elevator (this is where we store and sell our grain). Greetings were exchanged with the employees and fellow farmers. The truck and the grain on it was weighed and the moisture of the grain was tested. I sat in line to dump my load of grain.watching other loads dump and slowly dissolve into the unloading pit. Then it was my turn to unload, weigh the empty truck and head to the field for another load.

This was my day as I repeated this 8 more times. The final load I marveled at the sunset as I drove back. The air was returning to the refreshing chill of earlier that morning, the heavy cool air intensified the earthy, clean smell of the countryside. The cattle and deer had returned to their feeding in the pastures and fields. The sun was setting in an awesome display of oranges, reds and yellows back grounded by the soft blue of the sky.

That is why I love what I do, and why agriculture is a way of life more than an occupation. I just wanted to share my experience on this perfect day during harvest, I wish I could have had you in the seat next to me. This experience is shared by all of my fellow farmers and ranchers as we bring you the food you eat, the fiber you wear and the fuel that powers your car.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Waiting Impatiently for Fall Harvest

I spent this morning helping Dad get the combine ready, we thought today might be the day we tried testing picking some corn. However, it was soon determined that we could not get everything ready in time to get a good start, so maybe tomorrow. It is probably OK that we waited because I can remember very few years when the crops were actually ready the first day we tried them. The moisture content of grain must be at an acceptable level or lower so it can be stored without spoiling.

I guess it is easy to be too anxious when your whole year's work (not to mention your paycheck)is riding on a few weeks work that can be ruined by one bad storm or a prolonged period of wet weather. Farming can be maddening when you get up each morning and look at a crop that is ready or close to being ready to harvest.

I guess that is why we usually jump the gun and try to harvest before the crop is ready each year. We know that the next hail storm or wind storm can wipe out a once promising crop in just a minute or two. Just as devastating would be a prolonged period of wet weather that could ruin the quality of the crop making it worth less money or even destroying it.

Sure there is crop insurance but crop insurance only pays enough to cover most of our expenses (notice I said most). In agriculture, farmers and ranchers pay themselves last and that is what we live off of for the next year. We pay for the seed, fertilizer, herbicide, equipment, rent, interest and all the other expenses first and if there is anything left over that is our paycheck. No wonder we are chomping at the bit to get into the field.

However, as with many things, the timing of harvest is out of our hands. The grain must dry down to a level at which it can be stored and the fields must be dry enough to hold up our equipment. So the only thing we can do in the weeks leading up to harvest is to prepare our equipment for the rigors of harvest and pray for a window of good weather.

The forecast for next week calls for rain off and on for three or four days. That gives us a window of three to four days (we need at least three weeks) to get as much out as we can. Hopefully tomorrow will dawn a good day, the grain will be dry and we will be able to start our fall harvest. If not we will anxiously have one eye on the fields and one eye on the weather forecast.