September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Is farming like war?

By Kelli [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

I recently read an article in the latest issue of National Geographic about the ranchers and farmers living in the Montana Hi-Line area (the northern tier of the state).
An old farmer/rancher, 76-year-old Lloyd Kanning, shared his thoughts about his life with the land.
"Farming is like fighting a war," he said.
The article continued: "He listed the categories of enemy. 'You're fighting the weather to start with.' You wait for the right moment, you put your seed in the ground - but if your tractor and other crucial pieces of machinery are old, you're fighting to keep them functional. Then diseases. Then bugs. Defeat all those, get a good stand of wheat grown and turning amber in the fall, 'and along comes a hailstorm and beats it to the ground.' Or if the hail doesn't find you, the wind does, whipping through your grain to cause 'shelling' (kernels falling out of the heads), so bad you lose half your crop before you can cut it. But no, maybe it ripens fine, the hail and the wind spare you, the grasshoppers miss you, and you're ready to cut it - then comes a wet stretch of autumn days, sogging your harvest, forcing you to put damp wheat into the bin. Now you must aerate that bin and dry the grain, or at least keep it cool. 'And then you've got to fight the price.' If your wheat has low protein content, the buyer at the local elevator may discount you as much as a buck forty per bushel for every percentage point below scale. Say that high-protein wheat is selling at six dollars and you're two points below; your crop might as well disappear."
"It does sound like war," the reporter said.
"It is a war," the old farmer replied.
Well. Doesn't that all sound too grim to bear? According to the article, those homesteaders who managed to survive the harsh conditions of Northern Montana mostly survived because of tenacity.
Tenacious, according to Merriam-Webster, is "persistent in maintaining, adhering to, or seeking something valued or desired."
That doesn't help my image of any of this. Simply maintaining? Adhering? To what?  Adhering to a dream that fails crop year after crop year? They make it sound like there is never a decent harvest.
I have met hundreds of farmers in my life, many in the past seven years right here in Northeast Iowa. I have met many of them who are happy with their chosen vocation, many that are proud of the fact that they help feed the world. They enjoy being their own boss. They love their animals, their families and being outdoors.
I have met very few who were bitter and felt trapped by the land, debt and family obligations. They were tied to something they didn't want to be tied to; they didn't want to farm anymore but they didn't know how to get out.  
But, I could count up those people on one hand.
Farming is not necessarily an easy life, especially with animals as demanding as dairy cows. But to think that every day on a farm is a war ... I don't think there is anything healthy about thinking like that.
We all like to consider ourselves survivors. I know many a woman who likes to think of herself as a martyr, but not many who think that way seem very happy either.
Life does not need to be a constant battle - that just sounds exhausting. Most farmers I know, whether they have the poetic ability to put it into words or not, have moments of harmony with their farms. They feel the earth in their hand and feel connected. They watch a mother cow lick off her newborn and smile. They see their children using their toy tractors to push up piles of silage in the feed alley of the barn and know the future is going to be okay.
I am sure the writer of the article meant well, and the farmer quoted was simply trying to make others understand there are hardships, sometime harsh hardships. But do yourself a favor and don't think of your life as a war.  Find the peaceful moments, for they do exist. Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life.[[In-content Ad]]


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