Is there a trait that is common to farmers that explains why they farm?
After some thought, I believe it is the idea of independence that draws a person to farming.
After graduating from college, I went to work for a large corporation, but discovered that it seemed top heavy in management and slow to move. I felt like a very small cog in a very large wheel.
I left that job to work for a business owned by one man. It was easy to get answers because I was always talking to the boss.
It was a good job, but I realized at age 29, since I was not married to the boss’s daughter, that this was as far as I was going to go in that company. My future was limited.
I remembered the conditions my dad worked with as a farmer and that was when farming started looking like that was where I belonged.
I could be in charge of decisions and especially my day. No one would be looking over my shoulder.
My uncle, who was farming with his brother, was alone since his brother’s death. He needed help and said he could use me on his farm, the family farm where my dad grew up.
I hadn’t been there very long when I knew I was where I was meant to be and would never leave.
That was 40 years ago and it was one of the best decisions of my life. It took six years to figure it out.
After my uncle’s death in 1998, I was in charge of my day and everything around me with a mortgage to go with it.
Anyone who is self-employed, whether it is on a farm, a construction business or a hardware store or anything else, values their independence as one of the conditions of their job.
Because farmers are independent minded, it does create some disadvantages.
One of the problems is getting farmers to organize as a group. Workers can form unions, industries can have trade groups but getting farmers to band together is not that easy. They do not want to have someone telling them what to do.
In the early 1960s my dad was approached to join the National Farmers Organization. They said by joining he would agree to raise a set number of hogs as determined by the NFO to control production and keep prices up.
He asked, “What if someone wants to raise more hogs anyway?”
He was told, “They won’t raise any more hogs because they will be satisfied with what they are making.”
He didn’t join. Nobody was going to tell him how many hogs he could raise.
Farmers do not make for very good employees after leaving the farm. They do not take orders very easily and, when told to do something they disagree with, will ask their boss, “What do you want to do it that way for?”
No boss wants an employee who believes he knows more than the boss.
It is no secret that the biggest obstacle to anyone wanting to farm is the large amount of money needed to buy a farm.
I remember hearing in my high school vocational agriculture class as a freshman in1961 that the surest way to be a farmer was to marry it or inherit it.
That was when good farm land was selling for around $300 an acre. Of course, corn was a dollar a bushel and we were 10 years away from crossing the 100 bushels an acre threshold in corn yields.
It was bordering on impossible then, and nearly impossible today without a few breaks for a lucky few.
And with my generation of baby-boomers retiring or dying, a large amount of farm land will change hands in the coming years, moving to the next generation of family members or absorbed by a neighbor who is looking to expand the farm operation.
It’s a great life for those who can keep everything together.
Rye is a Farm News staff writer and farmer from Hanlontown. Reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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