You’ve probably heard a young FFA-er say – “I believe in the future of agriculture, with a faith born not of words, but of deeds” (National FFA Organization). The opening line of the FFA Creed is not only recognizable, but it is a poignant reminder of the belief that keeps agriculturists going each year. Just like each paragraph of the FFA Creed begins with ‘I believe’, so does each new growing season for farmers and ranchers.
2019 was a hard year for American farmers.
Spring started with flooding and snowstorms; fields were left covered in water or frozen in ice. Summer came along and the crops that farmers had been able to plant stayed very wet or experienced yet another drought year, depending on the region.
Farmers and ranchers approached fall with enthusiasm, only to experience one of the wettest falls on record. Flooding was unprecedented in many areas. Early-season snow storms brought the kind of snow that doesn’t flow through the combine. The wet, sticky snow stuck around, and wet ground wouldn’t stay frozen enough for combines to float over. The whole spectrum of the industry’s diversified production was affected. Inclement weather impacted the harvest of cereals, legumes, corn, and sunflowers; root and tuber crops experienced flooding and freezing, too. Livestock operations struggled to operate in these conditions, whether it be pasture access, sourcing feed, or animal health being oh-so-vulnerable to the weather. It seems the American farmer couldn’t win on either end of the growing season this year, no matter what area of production he or she is involved in.
Farmers are under financial pressure caused by more than just weather events. Commodity prices have been suppressed for years, and net farm incomes have been on a downward trend since 2013 (Washington Post). Negative effects from trade events have outweighed relief packages.
Financial woes are not unique to farming, but the production cycle creates a challenging perspective for farmers. Each growing season is one chance, and “a farmer may only have 40 or 50 opportunities to ‘get it right’ over the length of a career” (Grand Forks Herald). Working sunrise to sunset each day for only a few chances to get it right requires the long-term, ‘approach each season with fresh optimism’ attitude that farmers and ranchers gather from within at the start of each new year.
For those unfamiliar with the true stakes of the agriculture industry – President Ronald Reagan once made a striking comparison saying “‘Buster, [farmers] are in a business that makes a Las Vegas craps table look like a guaranteed annual income’” (Farm Bureau). While this is a humorous approach, most farmers and ranchers know all-too-well the truth that this statement holds.
The bad luck takes an emotional toll. The farm success is not only the family livelihood; it serves as a family legacy. Most farms are multi-generational – families still farm the same soil that their ancestors settled on well over a hundred years ago.
Carie Moore, president of North Dakota Agri-Women, mother of four, and operator of a 650 acre farm with her trucker husband, said that “she has heard more about [mental health in the farming community] in the last 12 months than the previous 12 years” (Grand Forks Herald). Rightfully so, awareness of the issue is at an all-time high thanks to an elevated focus coming from agricultural publications and folks and friends in the industry.
The stress and anxiety caused by bad luck, severe weather, and unfortunate crop failures should never be a personal battle for anyone. Farmers and ranchers are encouraged to reach out to their loved ones as well as to professional services such as the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or First Link at 2-1-1. Both services will help to seek out local resources that are dedicated to addressing and serving mental health needs in rural areas.
Reminders of what matters most are necessary during all years, but especially this one. Arkansas farmer Dow Brantley says “my wife tells me every day my kids have 10 fingers and toes, so, we’re doing pretty good, but I’m ready to get through this year” (AgWeb).
No matter how hard it’s been in the past, farmers and ranchers are known and commended for their perseverance and faith in agriculture. Each spring breathes new life into agriculturists, renewing their endurance and igniting their passion for ‘that inspiring task’ (National FFA Organization). Each spring, a calf takes its first breath, a seedling pushes through the dirt, and an agriculturist pulls on his or her boots, renewed with hope and vigor for the upcoming year.
Many agriculturists might remember a portion of the FFA Creed from their younger years. Written in 1930, the beliefs stated are still held onto by farmers and ranchers today. For those outside of agriculture or further away from the farm, in order to better appreciate how agriculturists are so devoted to such a challenging undertaking, one paragraph, in particular, serves to increase understanding:
Those discomforts are many. Long hours and physical labor in extreme conditions, complete vulnerability to weather, and down-trending global markets are just a couple of those challenges. Yet in times of financial and emotional discouragement, farmers and ranchers plod on. They continue to seek out better practices to ensure optimal health of crops and livestock, new technologies, and more efficient ways to run their businesses. They strive on, with that ‘inborn fondness’ for their lifelong passion – growing the goods for a hungry world. That’s a passion we’re proud to support.