A reflective harvest

Getting ready to unload on the go

Harvest is a tremendous time of year.  Growing up on a farm, and now working in town, harvest is an annual event I so look forward to.  It gets my mind clear.  I love the open air and space, I love reconnecting to a unique and wonderful group of people who grow food for all of us.  These people are the salt of the earth.  Their values, their caring for each other,are a tremendous boost whenever I’m there.

So, when our tenant called last Friday morning and said the corn dried out earlier than predicted, and they’d be in our field in the afternoon, I called my wife, we loaded up, and headed to the farm.

As we happily drove, with excited anticipation of being on the combines, tractors and trucks, watching the culmination of the miracle of growth of a crop, we saw some sobering sites.  As we passed many fields on the way to our own, we saw that this year would be different.  Farming in SC Kansas, we were on the edge of the severe drought that hit the Midwest this year.  We saw dryland and irrigated crops that didn’t look like year’s past.  We knew what that meant.  Many farmers would struggle this year.

Making room for more

What we also knew was ours was far from the worst.  Further west in Kansas, and into Oklahoma and Texas, many farmers had nothing.  The further we went, the more we reflected on our fortune.  No, we wouldn’t have the crop of past years, but we were blessed to have what we did.

We made it to the farm, rode the combines, tractors and trucks, and watched the corn flow.  It was still a wonderful harvest, but we did take time to talk about and ponder what could have been, and what was reality just a few miles west and south of our farm, as well as some who were not as fortunate right in our area.

Farming can be a teacher for all aspects of life.  When we think we don’t have what we want or all we’d like, we should consider others, who would be ecstatic just to have what we have.  We always try to count our blessings.  This year some of those blessings came in small yellow kernels a lot of good people didn’t have.  Take some time to count your blessings.  I’m betting you have more than you think.

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Food with Integrity? Maybe Not

Sometimes I think agriculture is falling into a well-conceived trap.  We’re told we should market to the consumer, provide what the consumer wants, and it’s the only way to be successful.  While there clearly is merit in that belief, even to the point that it may be hard to survive without doing it, it begs a question of what has happened to that consumer, and where are they getting their information?

Before I continue, I must say that I believe one of the greatest words in the English language is ‘balance.’ So understand that I believe there is room for all kinds of agriculture.  I just don’t like it when one group misleads the public about another to boost a self-serving agenda.  Yes, I realize not all do, but some with large pocketbooks certainly are.

Just today, I learned of a new video from Chipotle, the burrito-making bunch.  It has some great music (though it’s sad Willie Nelson is drinking the cool-aid) with a well-done animation of a farmer, who is putting animals in fences and buildings, then sees the ‘error of his ways’ and releases them all, into this nirvana of open pasture, much to the delight of Chipotle.  The purpose and message behind the video and the Chipotle website is what they call ‘Food with Integrity.’  Well, to make their claim, they say, or imply, you must never use hormones or antibiotics, fencing or housing animals is not caring for them, and a host of other agenda-driven hype.

I can spend a lot of time talking about science-based and practical reasons why housing animals save many of their lives annually, especially this year during the heat and drought.  I can talk about predators, prudent use of antibiotics, the ‘natural’ presence of hormones, and a lot more about animal welfare and food safety.  But my real concern goes beyond all this.

I am concerned that the consumer is getting inaccurate and misleading information on purpose.  If  ‘modern’ or ‘traditional’ agriculture isn’t torn down, then other forms cannot be nearly as successful.  So, at whatever the cost, the public is being misled by some to believe that if a hog is housed, the farmer doesn’t care about its welfare, when actually just the opposite is likely true.  Hey Chipotle (and others this applies to), lying about food production hardly sounds like ‘Food with Integrity.’   It seems before we blindly accept ‘marketing to the consumer,’ we must continue and improve our effort to provide the consumer the truth.

Will grow food for rain

Drought is something farmers and ranchers deal with from time to time, though it can vary in degree.  This year, in some parts of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas the degree is high.

Our family has a farm in SC Kansas.  We grow corn, soybeans, wheat and milo.  About half of the farm is irrigated, the other half dryland.  It can boggle the mind of some not familiar with agriculture to grasp the investment, and risk, our tenant and others like him have made in equipment, seed, inputs, etc.  just to put in a crop.  Depending on the size of the operation, it could reach millions of dollars for tractors, combines, irrigation systems, planters, trucks, grain carts, etc. etc.  That does not include hired help, fuel, and the many other expenses included in operation of a farm.  If all is perfect, can he make some money?  Yes.  But take a look at the pictures here.  That’s far from perfect.

This year, many farmers in the areas mentioned above will lose a substantial amount of investment.  Not only that, their loss will translate into less for grain handlers, trucking companies, livestock operators, local groceries, local machinery dealers, local pickup and car dealers, local charities, and the list continues.

It’s been estimated by USDA and others that nearly 20% of the nation’s workforce through processing, packaging, transportation, retail, etc. is directly tied to agriculture.  That’s why urban residents can go to the nearest grocery store and have a bountiful supply of food ready to simply put in their cart.

It’s easy to take our food, and the people who grow it, for granted.  It’s worth taking a minute, especially this year, to understand many of those dedicated farmers will not have a successful year, that their investment has literally burned up before their eyes.  While much is already lost, much more could be if the rains don’t come soon.  You see, even irrigated crops need rain, and it’s so dry in some areas, even irrigation isn’t enough.  And high prices for crops don’t do much good if you don’t have the crop to sell.  So, remember these struggling farmers and ranchers this year, and say a prayer for some rain, they really need it.