When I interviewed the Hartung family a couple months ago, Gene said the three biggest influences on their high milk quality were "luck, luck, and luck." (Hartungs receive 15-year milk quality award, Dairy Star, April 24, 2010)
I didn't really believe him. In my mind, successful farming requires more than just luck; it takes hard work, persistence, skill and consistency. It also requires faith and hope.
Since we began farming, over five years ago now, I have developed a strong belief that everything will work out in the end. I have a note pinned to the bulletin board in our kitchen that reads, "We don't just cross our fingers, we fold them together." That faith has helped me over some major psychological hurdles in my career as a dairy farmer (and a mother).
One of the largest of those hurdles was moving to Stearns County. I left my family and the farm I grew up on behind so we could accept a temporary position as herdsmen for friends in need - all while expecting our first child.
The second big challenge was what to do when that year-long herdsmen position ended. We planned to stay in Stearns County but didn't have a place to farm. When we finally found a farm, it was like clearing one hurdle only to face a dozen more. The details of buying a farm, moving and relocating cattle for the second time in year were mind boggling.
In facing these hurdles, I learned to hope. It's possible to make it through just about any challenge as long as there's hope for something better on the other side.
Two weeks ago, our copy of Farm Journal's Legacy Project issue came in the mail. In a blurb about successful farms there's a list of qualities exhibited by successful family farm businesses. At the bottom of the list is luck.
I read the piece and immediately thought of my interview with the Hartungs. Maybe there's more to this luck thing, I pondered.
Then, last Saturday's storm erased any doubt in my mind that luck can play a role in a farm's success. The storm brought wall clouds, rain, wind, thunder and lightening, and every farmer's worst meteorological fear - hail.
Glen's dad and brother, who farm just over two miles west of us, were hit with baseball- and softball-size hail. Glen's brother was hauling meadow hay home when the storm unleashed itself. By the time he made it into the yard, there were six inches of ice between the bales. The leaves on their once beautiful corn were shredded.
Farms all around us were hit hard, too. The line of damage stretched from northwest of our farm to southeast. Corn plants were turned into windsocks and fields of small grains were flattened. One house northwest of here ended up with softball size holes in the vinyl siding on three sides.
All of the farms around here had fantastic-looking crops this summer. And just like that, what should have been a record-breaking harvest has been reduced to crop insurance claims. Sure, crop insurance will help, but nothing can really replace a good harvest.
We heard stories of even worse damage in other areas. Friends of the family who farm north of Sauk Centre have nothing left standing in their fields. Down by Richmond, the field on one side of the road was destroyed and the field on the other side of the road was untouched.
We were in church (the priest's first wedding during a tornado warning) when the storm hit, so we didn't even know it had hailed. Glen's brother called right after church to report their damage and inquire about our crops. Glen rushed out to the fields to check, but, thankfully, had only very little damage to report when he came back. A neighbor told us later that there had been some jellybean size hail in our area, which perforated some of the leaves on the corn but didn't do any major harm.
This was a case where luck was on our side. Had the storm's path extended just a little farther north, we would have found ourselves facing another challenge, relying once again on the faith that everything will work out and hoping that we might be able to salvage some of our crops. Instead, our faith and hope are still waiting in the wings, ready to help when the next major challenge does come our way.
Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 70 cows near Melrose, Minn. They have two children - Dan, 3, and Monika, 1. When she's not parenting or farming, she's writing for the Dairy Star. Sadie can be reached at gsfrericks@meltel.net.