For decades, I’ve marveled at the gumption and grit my grandfathers demonstrated as they attempted to farm under the horrendous conditions of the Dirty 30s.
Living all my life in eastern South Dakota and hearing parents and other family members recount memories of the 1930s, it was never difficult to imagine some of the challenges it brought to farmers: drought, wind, choking dust storms, dust pneumonia and even food shortages.
Still, as much as we heard, it was always far removed from our own daily lives. Then, our youngest daughter, Lori, married a farmer. Suddenly, all the modern-day trials farming brings were much more personal.
Their first seven years Lori and her husband Jay Kokes farmed they faced many challenges — high startup costs, low crop prices, high fuel prices, drought. At the same time, they had to learn how to be married and how to be parents. My husband and I weren’t aware of many battles they fought. But our hearts were often stung with the recognition of harsh circumstances they faced. Circumstances we had no way to moderate or fix.
We greatly credit Jay and Lori for their fierce determination. It would seem that farming in South Dakota (and maybe anywhere) demands that kind of approach. Still, we know the foes that these two — and all farmers — face are sometimes equally fierce.
During spring 2018, as commodity prices wobbled, we prayed Jay and Lori would have favorable planting weather. We hung on every small report, delighted to hear of successful planting — then disappointed to learn about drowned-out crops.
In fall 2018, we anguished over every day of harvest, knowing high-priced combines can be easily mud-bound and not-so-easily and safely freed from that condition. We stayed in touch with commodity prices to have some idea of the biggest struggles they were facing.
No matter how things are going on the farm, there’s always the quandary of whether or not to ask: “How’s it going?” We don’t want to rub salt into the wound of a bad day, but we also want to be sure they know we support them and are genuinely concerned for the whole family’s well-being.
Throughout all the years I have lived in South Dakota (all my life), we nearly worshipped the rain. It always seemed so scant, often fleeting. So rarely abundant. It seems a cruel irony now that water has become a foe!
To parents, kids are kids for all their life. You nurture and support them as they mature, but you never stop feeling obligated to protect or shepherd. We are so thankful for Jay and Lori’s positive attitude and focus on working through all this one day at a time. While we have no control over the conditions they’re experiencing, we will stand beside them and do whatever we can to encourage and build them up as they go through it.
If nothing else, we have learned that no matter where the coming years take any of us, we are proud of Jay and Lori, proud of all the farmers in our state and nation, and thankful that they follow their passion for providing the food we need in the face of so many volatile conditions.Sorensen is a writer from Yankton, S.D.