By Glen Cope, Former AFBF YF&R Chair
When I was a young man, my father and I took our old farm truck to visit one of our relatives. He was an old man who had been a farmer his whole life, and my father liked to stop in from time to time to check up on him. The old man always did most of the talking which was fine by me. I loved to listen to his stories of days gone by.
It was hot the day we visited, very much like the day he recollected for us. He told of being a young boy when his father, his brother and he were hoeing corn in a field next to the dirt road where he lived.
He recalled that it was a Saturday afternoon in the 1930s, and like most farming of those days, much of the work in the fields was done by hand. While they were working, neighbors began to pass by one by one on their way to the local one-room schoolhouse for a community picnic.
He and his family were planning to attend the event, but his father seemed to be in no hurry to leave their work to go to what he considered something less important than the task at hand.
The two boys, however, were eager to quit for the day and join their friends for the activities and the good food that would be awaiting them. After listening to his boys complain, their father calmly stated, “Boys, those folks may beat us to the picnic but they won’t beat us out of bed of a morning.”
I laughed as his father’s words reminded me of my own father, who is a workaholic in his own right and always prioritizes tending to the cattle and improving the condition of the farm before any recreational activity.
This is the mantra of all farmers. Our responsibilities are centered on making sure things are taken care of on the farm before anything else is attended to. Livestock require adequate feed and forage as well as clean water. Cows that are calving need to be checked regularly to prevent potential calving problems.
Fences must be maintained to prevent livestock from getting into the hayfield. Weeds and pests must be reduced as much as possible to maximize yields for the crops.
I am six foot, five inches tall, so when I started the ninth grade, the high school basketball coach was persistent in trying to recruit me for the sport. I attended a very small school, so a boy of my stature was a coveted prize for the basketball team, though my skills were more developed in the realm of farm work than handling a basketball.
When I finally had the blessing of my parents to join the team, my father explained to me that he would not be able to attend many of my games because duties on the farm came first. So at my games, many times the seat next to my mother was empty. Yet, I appreciated and respected his sacrifice because I knew he wanted to be there.
This is the sacrifice many farmers must make in order to make a living on the land as well as to feed a growing nation. The spring-time planting season requires long hours to get the seeds in the ground before a rain that would make field conditions too muddy. The cows on a dairy farm must be milked twice a day regardless of inclement weather, children’s school activities or even the farmer’s desire for a day off.
Since I’ve returned to our family farm and have a son involved in school activities, I now understand how my father felt missing out on my activities because of the requirements of the farm.
My sweet wife has been understanding on more than one occasion when we would have to postpone our anniversary dinner date because hay needed to be baled and put away safely in the barn before the rain.
Now, I’m not complaining. I chose this life and am content to live with the restrictions that are a part of the lives of all farmers. I am, however, grateful for all my fellow farmers and their spouses and children who, without complaint, continue to sacrifice every day on behalf of all Americans who depend on them to provide sustenance and the necessity of food and fiber.