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Summer field day provides rare chance to get away

On-farm field days are rare in the age of COVID-19, and I appreciate them now more than ever.

Chris Torres

July 28, 2020

4 Min Read
Farmers gather for an No-Till Alliance on-farm field day
COMING TOGETHER: On-farm field days are a rare sight during the pandemic, but their value to farmer education is unquestionable. Chris Torres

I’m a people person. I like being around people, I like talking to people.

By the way, this a good skill to have when you’re a journalist.

It’s been a trying time for all of us. COVID-19 has turned our world upside down many times over. I’m anxious for my kids to get back to school. They’re already asking about their friends, and I want them to be able to see them. It’ll also be nice to have a little peace and quiet in my basement so I can get some work done.

Speaking of friends, I’ve made quite a few in this industry over the years. Many of them I’ve met at either a winter meeting or a summer field day, or maybe even during a farm visit. Of course, COVID-19 has made doing any of these things — except for an on-farm visit — impossible.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand the risks of getting together in large groups right now. I’ve been locked up in my home for the better part of half a year, and I wear my mask everywhere I go.

Still, nothing can replace talking to farmers under a large tent on someone’s farm to discuss grazing cover crops, or relay cropping soybeans and wheat, or commiserate about the dry weather. I don’t care how good Zoom or Skype are, it’s just not the same.

So, when the Pennsylvania No-Till Alliance decided to hold its summer field day on Mark Rohrbach’s farm in Catawissa, Pa., I was there. I thought to myself, there are three, maybe four good stories on this agenda, not to mention the chance to take photos.

I wasn’t sure the field day was going to be held. COVID-19 cases are going up in Pennsylvania, again, and the governor recently tightened restrictions on gatherings. Almost every big event — fairs, equipment shows, carnivals — was cancelled this summer.

Nevertheless, the farmers gathered. It was smaller than past No-Till Alliance field days, but it was still a good crowd.

I wasn’t disappointed. I walked away with at least three good stories that you’ll be reading about in the coming months. One on a North Carolina farmer’s transition from conventional tillage to no-till and cover crops; one on grazing cover crops; and another on relay cropping soybeans into growing wheat.

But the best part was seeing familiar faces that I haven’t seen in a long time. In any “normal” year I see many of the same faces — not that it’s a bad thing — at field days and other events throughout the year. I see some people so much that a simple “hello” is usually enough.

This field day was different. The conversations were longer and richer. We not only talked about how the growing season was going, but also about our families, and how we were coping with our “new normal.” I don’t own a farm, but I have a lot more in common with some farmers than I thought. We’re all anxious right now wondering if our kids are going back to school, or when a vaccine will be approved to get us all out of this misery.

We’re all eager to get back to life as normal, so we can go back to just complaining about dairy prices, the bad weather and the crops that weren’t able to be harvested on time. We’re all eager to go to the county fair or local equipment show without thinking about social distancing or wearing a mask.

But for one hot and humid day in late July, in the middle of the worst health crisis in my lifetime, I didn’t think about returning to normal, I just enjoyed the conservations and the education.

We were all reunited, and yes, it felt good.

Your Take

Editor’s note: This is a letter American Agriculturist received in response to a previous My Take column, “Take a Moment to Listen”:


Kudos to management and editorial staff for your article "Take a moment to listen." 

Heaven knows there is strong divisiveness in the ag community these days, and listening is that important first step to moving forward. Thanks for making that point so well.

In addition to learning to listen, I am concerned about the groups we need to listen to. The image that is projected by yours and other monthly publications for farmers seems somewhat monolithic. 

Let's start with who we are. We are diverse in many ways. Yet images published are mostly of those of us who are descendants of European ancestors. Where are the images of Black farmers, Native American farmers (remember where corn comes from!), Hispanic farmworkers, or Asian growers in the poultry industry? And how about that growing group of "urban farmers,” and the more traditional Plain Sect farmers?

I'd suggest when it comes to diversity, we farmers and our publications have a lot to celebrate. What do you think?

John Krick
Aberdeen, Md.

About the Author(s)

Chris Torres

Editor, American Agriculturist

Chris Torres, editor of American Agriculturist, previously worked at Lancaster Farming, where he started in 2006 as a staff writer and later became regional editor. Torres is a seven-time winner of the Keystone Press Awards, handed out by the Pennsylvania Press Association, and he is a Pennsylvania State University graduate.

Torres says he wants American Agriculturist to be farmers' "go-to product, continuing the legacy and high standard (former American Agriculturist editor) John Vogel has set." Torres succeeds Vogel, who retired after 47 years with Farm Progress and its related publications.

"The news business is a challenging job," Torres says. "It makes you think outside your small box, and you have to formulate what the reader wants to see from the overall product. It's rewarding to see a nice product in the end."

Torres' family is based in Lebanon County, Pa. His wife grew up on a small farm in Berks County, Pa., where they raised corn, soybeans, feeder cattle and more. Torres and his wife are parents to three young boys.

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