Around the Farm – Roses & Thorns

February 13, 2019

Did you know farmers account for less than two percent of the American population? We’re a minority and we’re getting smaller, not larger, and with that come some challenges.

When my oldest kids were younger (they’re now in high school) we’d play a game called “Roses and Thorns” during our evening meal. Each person gathered around the table shared a highlight from their day (their rose) and a challenge they experienced (their thorn). It brought us closer and we would celebrate the positives and work together for a solution to the negatives.

I’ve shared some of the roses of agriculture in recent articles. Stories about cooking with my farmer grandmother, the cozy farm to table movement sweeping our nation. It’s absolutely true – farming can be a great way to raise a family and can be a rewarding career.

But, just as you may have suspected, every rose has its thorn. Life in agriculture can be quite thorny.

Inheritance taxes and laws can make it difficult for families to pass the farm down to the next generation. That is, if the next generation wants to farm. Tough times make some question if farming is the right choice for them. Then again, advancements in technology have been enticing some of the college kids back to the farm after graduation.

It’s a double-edged sword.

Those very improvements in technology that interest the next generation of farmers make an immediate impact in our farm life, too. Though apps and computers can be valuable tools for crunching data or forecasting inputs, it also means
higher costs of equipment and maintenance.

For years farmers notoriously fixed their own equipment and they did so with pride. Nowadays, there are computers and technology that either require us to purchase additional equipment to service our equipment, or hire someone from the outside to make repairs. It adds up.

What were once fields of corn and soybeans or land with cattle grazing in pastures, have become strip malls and parking lots. We lose three acres of farmland per minute in America. (Source: American Farmland Trust).

As urban sprawl continues, the land available for farmers to raise livestock and crops dwindles. Scarcity makes it nearly impossible for a “new” farmer to start from scratch or with very little land.

A lot of farming is out of our hands or control.

Then there’s Mother Nature. She’s a fickle one, isn’t she?
While everyone was appreciating the mild December weather here in Northern Illinois, farmers were getting nervous. We’re at the mercy of a good winter freeze to help combat insects later in the year and for the soil nutrients to replenish.

Now you might be thinking, “Why the heck does anyone farm then?” Chances are, a farmer has asked him/herself the same question once or twice.

But if you haven’t noticed, farmers are a resilient bunch.

This time of year is when we analyze our data, crunch the numbers and make cuts where we can. We buckle down to ride things out until markets change or the tides turn a bit.

I can’t speak for everyone, but personally, I can tell you we farm as a family because we believe in it.

We love it.

We strive to be good stewards of the land, our fields, and our crops  –  thorns and all.