I’ve been a more than casual observer of agriculture for something close to 45 years. I’ve witnessed droughts, floods, and bad policy. I’ve seen hail, hurricanes and other havoc destroy a season’s efforts on too many occasions.
Cold, weeds and insects pose annual threats to profit. Oversupply, contrary trade practices and curious movements by commodity traders defy logic and challenge even the most astute marketer to figure out a reasonable sales strategy.
Yet, except for rare instances, harvest season has brought at least a modicum of optimism to famers. I would pick 2011 in West Texas as one of those exceptions. It didn’t rain. For an entire year, rainfall was all but nonexistent. Crops, if they came up at all, withered in the heat and drought of an unusual west Texas summer. It was depressing.
Most years, however, even when markets were off and yield prospects not up to expectations, farmers maintained a modicum of hope as they lubricated combines, checked cotton harvesters and watched with at least some anticipation as crops matured enough to be gathered.
Sometimes results exceeded expectations; sometimes not. But the thing with farmers is the obligation and the opportunity to see it through; land prep through harvest is a process as old as agriculture.
Crop insurance, for most, offers a safety net of sorts to cover some expenses if conditions prevent farmers from planting or harvesting their crops. It’s kind of like having a much-anticipated football game rained out. No one wins, no one loses, but no one gets to play, either.
Farmers farm to make a living, to provide for their families and, often, for those of a few employees. That’s the dollars and cents of it. But farmers earn more than money from their efforts. I don’t know of another occupation where pride of place, pride of production and pride of heritage play as big a role as on a farm.
The good farmers I’ve met and interviewed over the past four decades seem to have farming in their DNA. They feel as if farming is a calling, not just a job. Some see it as a passion, even when yields are off and markets offer scant opportunity for profits.
I’ve seen that this fall. No one would suggest that commodity prices are anywhere close to where they should be to offer a reasonable chance at profit. No one would claim that 2019 has been an easy year to get a crop all the way to harvest, either. Too many did not.
But a few I’ve talked to recently acknowledge that markets should be better, but some were harvesting some of the best corn they’ve ever made. Cotton and soybeans also held promise.
While riding combine recently with a farmer harvesting corn, I watched him check the yield monitor. And he smiled.