Farming is hard work. More importantly, farming requires many skills that casual observers driving by at 65 mph may not even begin to realize that modern farmers need to be blessed with. While I make no claim to be a farmer in terms of what most people would define a farmer to be, with animals and hundreds of acres of crops rotated each year, I do make claim that our tiny little farm in Church Hill is our own little piece of heaven on earth where we are able to practice the skills necessary to grow Paulownia Trees. Our farm fulfills a need for timber which is most sought after for its unique qualities, Paulownia Tomentosa, used in stringed musical instruments, and a need for our own global health, which includes absorption of carbon dioxide gases from the atmosphere.
Farming requires an understanding of all the tools that are required to do any specific task in farming. Small engines must be maintained and the equipment, such as tractors, skidsteers, loaders and chippers all have small engines that must be repaired when they don't work. Any successful farmer may not be able to "farm out" this type of work, for lack of funds, and it becomes one more skill possessed by the farmer when a diagnosis is achieved and the rythym of said mechanical device is once again restored. Additionally, farming often requires brute physical force of individuals, and it is for this reason that I consider farming to be part of our fitness program. As we continue to become more successful with the propagation of our paulownia trees, I have witnessed through the years, the countless number of blessings bestowed upon farmers in our own neighboring communities.
It can be without question that many of the first racing car drivers and enthusiasts of racing were farmers. This is because successful modern farmers are very dependent on productive equipment, which requires knowledge and understanding of its workings just to successfully operate it. Part of the daily life of any modern successful "producer" is the proper maintenance of some very large and expensive equipment which is clearly on the scale of heavy equipment. A combine is absolutely necessary for effective and efficient harvesting of crops, and it may cost upwards of $250,000 for a newer one. Equipment used behind the tractors to prepare the soil for planting, and to plant seed is not cheap either. All of this equipment must be understood and not destroyed during its operation. A modern producer simply cannot afford to make mistakes and the blessings of learning how to maintain farm equipment clearly explain how so many race car drivers were born on a farm.
Modern farmers of "row crops" such as wheat, soybeans and corn depend on a series of steps to be performed properly in order to be profitable. The first step that comes to my mind is the knowledge required of what to plant, what type of seed, and what chemicals or fertilizers will be required to plant a crop that can be expected to grow in the local area successfully, with a minimum of input costs, maximum output, or yield, of a crop that can be expected not to be consumed by insects. This knowlege can only be achieved through years of experience, close counsel with extension offices and peers, and the local providers of chemicals and fertilizers, whose combined knowledge dictate "what is working" in their area. The modern farmer is both a mechanic and a chemist, or agronomist, by virtue of his close association with the professionals whose lives depend on providing productive seed, chemicals and fertilizers. On today's productive farms, I would venture to say that it would be nearly impossible to be productive and profitable without a thorough understanding of the chemicals being applied and what they are being used for. The proper amounts of chemicals to be applied, and when to alternate, or use another chemical in order to avoid having insects develop a tolerance for said chemical, must be understood in order to avoid overapplication, which can be costly not only in terms of input costs, but in costs to the environment as well.
Modern farmers must always be focused on production and the productive use of their time, or they will not be successful producers. Part of the challenge to modern farmers is an understanding of markets and the impact that current bids for any given commodity have on their planting strategies. It is not so simple as just to plant the same as last year. Because bid prices for commodities constantly change, as well as the input costs for successful production of said commodity, it becomes abundantly clear that it is the farmer who can so easily get squeezed in a difficult market environment. If the bid price for a commodity dictates that a specific crop should be planted instead of another, the input costs of the chemicals required to successfully grow that crop must also be calculated to determine ahead of time if that were the best crop to plant. In the recent past, prices of diesel fuel and fertilizers were ramping up right along with the bid prices of commodities, but if the bid price of the commodity were to fall while the input costs are still being paid by the farmer, it would not take long before the most adept, financially conscious farmers may realize it makes no sense to even attempt to plant a crop. This type of scenario creates a cash flow problem for the producer, as he or she is often required to put up the cost of chemicals and fertilizers long before he or she is paid for the crop they hope to harvest. This is also why the most successful farmers have long had a strong need to store their products, in hopes of capitalizing on more advantageous market conditions for the sale of their crops. Even if a farmer has the capability to store commodities, it still becomes part of their skillset to know when to sell how much of their product.
While we may all enjoy the ride along the rural highway that displays such activities that seem to be without any care in the world, modern farmers face a myriad of challenges that make me have the utmost of respect for successful farmers. There are so many decisions to be made and so many ways to fail that to even make it to harvest is actually quite an accomplishment. As beautiful as the scene from within our car windows may appear as we pass, we must never forget that every successful society has always had an effective, efficient agricultural base at its heart. Without successful farmers, our modern society would soon fail. It is incumbent upon all of us who understand the difficulties which face modern farmers to remember that farmers were the first environmentalists and they may have much more understanding of the delicate balance of our environment than many are prepared to acknowledge. One should never assume that a farmer only sits on a tractor and six months later drives his crop to market. If it were that simple, everyone would want to do it, and it probably would not be worth doing.