Minnesota Farmer

A bit misunderstood

How easy it is to misunderstand something that only a few actually do.  Those who left the farm when they were young remember the good times and paint a picture of an idilic life free of care, with dogs, cats, and horses to play with.  Perhaps they remember driving big machinery and they remember that they were happy.

Back when farming was simple, all you needed was a strong back, but even then many could not handle farming.  There was a time when most of the worlds population hunted for or raised their own food.  Back then most people never lived much past 25 or 30.  Those who survived taught those survival lessons to their children, those children managed to live a few years more.  That hard, dangerous life was easy to leave for the city, where now they dream of the simple life back on the farm.529984_495798610485209_1247879837_n

Today in this country we have people who never set foot on a farm trying to tell farmers what to do.  Those folks seem to think that we here in the country live the simple life.  Oh my, are they wrong.  The fact is that farm life is so complex, that there is no one body of knowledge to cover it all.

Back when I was a boy here in southwestern Minnesota, my dad and mom raised corn, soybeans, oats, alfalfa, dairy cattle, beef cattle, hogs, chickens and ducks, plus there was a large garden.  They got by somehow knowing a bit about all of those.  Today the margin of error is so tight that farmers have been forced to specialize.  Today we raise corn and soybeans and I have trouble keeping up with all of the new advances.

I talked recently to Tony who rents our hog barns.  I had been in the business of producing pork for 30 years, but the changes in the last ten years are hard to comprehend.  We used to be farrow to finish, we bred the sows, farrowed the pigs and raised them.  When we gave up pork production it was partly because we could no longer meet market demands.

Today, Tony only raises pigs.  Someone else breeds and farrows the pigs.  Because he only raises pigs he is better able to keep up with the demands of the market.  It is like that in all of farming today.  There are very few who can keep up with the changes in all of agriculture so they specialize depending on what the climate, land and market give them.

Farmers make up less than 2% of our nations population.  Those few folks are further broken down into producers of corn (dent, sweet and pop), soybeans, wheat (spring and winter, hard and soft), cotton, milo, sugar beets, rice (wild, white and brown), sunflowers (confectionary and oil), apples and other northern tree fruits, tree nuts, citrus, the many different varieties of vegetable producers, honey, pork (breeders and finishers), dairy (broken into the many different breeds), beef (breeders and finishers), sheep (meat and wool), goats, chickens (layers and broilers) and turkeys, plus a few that I have forgotten.  There are dry land farmers and irrigators in the mix. These producers can further be broken down into organic and non-organic producers.  Each area of the country that produces a crop will have some unique problems of their own.

As you can see, farmers are a diverse lot who specialize in many different fields.  It has been easy for those who do not know us to think one of us is representative for all of us.  We all know how to get things done on our own farm in our own area of the country, but fall short of knowing the whole story.

So please, when someone who has never set foot on a farm tries to tell you how farmers should do their job, find out if they really know what they are talking about.  I’m sure they will not.  When you need information about what happens on a farm, I invite you to check with your local farmers.  The ones who really know their job will be glad to fill you in, but remember, don’t expect a beef producer to know how to raise chickens or an organic sweet corn producer to know how to produce macadamia nuts.  We all have our specialties.



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