Saturday, October 18, 2014

Typical Year, Average Farm??????

I have often heard other farmers and ranchers say one of the things they like about being involved in production agriculture is that no two days are ever the same. For the most part I have to say I agree with that, the challenge of the unknown is often what makes our job interesting. However, the unknown can also be quite maddening.
I have often said that there is no such thing as an average temperature, average rainfall, average snowfall, well, you get the idea. I am not sure I ever remember a year that was average. Average is the middle between the two extremes and I am quite certain we spend a good portion of our lives closer to the extremes than the average. To be honest it is kind of refreshing in a world where we try to control just about everything to know that the weather is still out of our grasp.
Harvest this year has been frustrating, to say the least. Crops have been slow to dry down and we have had to hit the pause button a couple of times. I like harvest the best when we can start and keep running without any pauses. One of the hardest things I have had to learn in agriculture is that nature has its own schedule and there is nothing you can do about it.
Often I am asked by non-farm people to give them an idea of what the typical farm year looks like. I often laugh and then give very vague answers. Yes, the typical farm year or the typical farm calendar is much like the average rainfall. Everything happens in its own time, especially fall harvest. I have explained that harvest can start in August, but that is often a bad sign. Usually that means drought and bad crops. We have also seen harvest last until November and that is usually a good sign, but it is also much more stressful.
I am not sure that anyone not associated with agriculture truly understands how much we are at the mercy of the weather. I have often heard that farmers are the only business people who don’t know how much they are going to produce or how much they will get paid for what they do produce before the business cycle starts. It takes the faith of a farmer to dive into the deep end of production agriculture.
So what good does it do us to explain all of this uncertainty to our non-ag brethren?  First, it helps to make them understand just a little better how fragile our way of life is. We have no idea when we will be faced with catastrophic weather events and we often are faced with a couple each year. Hopefully, it will help them to understand just how difficult it is to bring them the full shelves they enjoy at their local grocery store.
We also need to explain that the highs and lows in production have been greatly off set by our new technologies. Rarely do we ever see a complete crop failure but we all know it could still happen. However, thanks to technology like gmo crops we usually produce something. That alone is amazing given the unknowns we face.
The Farm Bill and most specifically crop insurance is the best reason for us to help the general public understand the uncertainty we face each year. The promise of crop insurance helps ease the fear of the unknown. Without it I suspect many of my Western Kansas friends would not have made it through their extended drought. Many would have gone out of business and then where would we be? I am not sure but it is something I do not want to think about. Food security is the cornerstone of all great societies and I like to think we are one of them and therefore protecting our food supply should be of paramount importance to us. Crop insurance and the support of it in the Farm Bill is the key to that.
They say change is the spice of life and nothing changes more than the weather. If that is the case, then I guess all of us in agriculture like our lives spicy. Although judging by the heartburn I feel each time I look at the forecast maybe bland wouldn’t be so bad. Who am I kidding? That would make things just a little too boring and boring is not what I signed up for.

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