* “Farming is all about Defying the Odds” was written by my husband, Farmer John (aka @CanManFarm). Since he had a farm accident and is off his feet for the next 8-10 weeks, he’ll be contributing a lot more to the farming section on this blog. *
At a distance, farming seems like an easy job to do and to make money with. You just plant, grow, and cultivate, and then harvest the money afterward, right? Or you just feed, take care of and sell a few head of livestock and make loads of money, right? Actually, farming is all about defying the odds.
Many people will say that farmers are very conservative. Actually, we’re some of the biggest gamblers going. We always believe that next year will be the good year. In some ways, you can say I’m an addict to farming.
When I grow a crop, I’m getting the ground ready for planting. It’s all about getting crops in at the right time and in the window of opportunity. Sometimes the weather doesn’t give you very much time to plant. You can’t have it too wet or too dry. You need to have the weather cooperate with you.
Farmers do all kinds of things to help make that window of opportunity bigger. We use no-till or conservation tillage to create a higher organic matter in our soils, which allows us to go in a field when it’s wetter than traditionally done in the past.
New types of equipment allow us to be more flexible in the time as well. When I was a kid, I used to plant with an 8 ft seed drill and the ground had to be like powder – very soft and loose. Now, I plant with a no-till drill and can plant five times the acres in a day with far less disturbance of the soil.
It doesn’t mean the job is easier, but it means you have to pay more attention to what you’re doing. If you do it wrong, it costs you a lot of money!
Farmers have gotten bigger to be able to cover more acres in a shorter time window. The first tractors I used had a steel seat and today I have a tractor that has an air-ride seat. It allows me to work a longer day in much more comfort so that I can do it again tomorrow. When I was done working (with the steel seat), there were days that I could barely walk after working a long day.
You can see that farming is all about defying the odds. We have forces beyond our control to contend with like the weather, markets, illness or disease in crops or animals, governments (red tape or trade), and so on.
Farmers have very little impact on the markets. Prices go up and down not because of what the farmers do, but because of speculation in national or global markets.
Image via Pinterest here.
Markets are always demanding higher quality, especially when it comes to products for human consumption. If weather doesn’t cooperate and you can’t get a good harvest, the money you would have made for products for human consumption now fall to the level of animal feed – and that may even be at poor animal feed, and may not even cover the cost for growing it. This happens more than people realize. Generally, if you can get three good years for every five, you are doing wonders.
People often complain about the rain or snow, and hot temperatures and cold temperatures, but farmers need them all. We would just like them metered out in a more desirable way. For example, I like rainy weekends so I can have time off in the Summertime with my family, but at the same time, I like nice warm, dry days when I cut and harvest hay.
Having a cold Winter is very beneficial to me because it kills off bugs and insects that may affect my crops in future years. For example, -20 for a week gets rid of a lot of negative pest problems.
Also, one of the worst things for livestock/cattle is having big swings in temperature. For example, if we go from +5 Celsius to -20, and back again within a few days and repeating, it creates a lot of stress on the cattle and there is potential for respiratory problems. I would much rather just -10 and for it to stay that temperature for the entire Winter. There would be a lot less potential for respiratory issues for cattle if that were the case.
If I don’t get enough rain, I will not get a good crop. If I get too much rain, I won’t get a good crop. Everything needs to be ideally in the “Goldilocks zone”. Not too hot, not too cold…just right.
If I plant grain when it’s too wet, I get a lot of hair-pinning or failure to have the slot close. This means the seed to soil contact is not a desirable environment. You want the soil to fold in around the seed and be close to the seed to create an ideal environment for the seed to sprout and to produce fully. Likewise, if it’s too wet, there is potential for mold and disease, etc.
No two years are the same. Every year has a different combination of weather. Growing a crop one year (a new variety) is not always comparable to what you grew last year. There are so many things to take into consideration.
If I’m growing two types of barley, I need to grow them side by side to see what the real difference between them is. Some years, one variety might outdo the other.
It’s all about the money. Not.
I’m currently running a farm that has taken many generations to grow to where we are now. We’re running a multi-million dollar operation, but we are making a very small living out of it. If I were just doing this for the money, I’d make much more money working as a teacher, construction worker, etc. The only time I will see a big pay day is when I “sell out”. The only reason I have that pay day is because the value of this operation has been handed down from previous generations.
Farming is very rarely a business that one starts in their own generations. Most family farms have taken many generations to get to where they are now. Unless you are small scale or product specific, such as in the horticultural business, starting up a farm has huge upfront costs with a long payback period. That’s if everything goes right and you defy the odds.
People often ask, “Why do you farm?” I refer them to a quote I once heard. “If you can do a job you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” My wife says, “Are you kidding? It’s a lot of HARD work EVERY day.” My response is, “It’s in my blood and I’m drawn to the land and the animals.”
There are so many more areas we can get into when it comes to farming. Readers, what would you like to know?
Feel free to connect with Farmer John here on the blog or on Twitter!
Featured Farm Blogger: