Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Lessons Learned Farming

This is the time of year when farmers all across North America are in their fields, preparing the soil and planting seeds that will grow into the food products that will feed their families, their communities, their nation and the world. With more than 309, 600,000 acres of harvested farmland in the United States and another 167,000,000 acres in Canada, the task of preparation and planting is huge indeed. Yesteryear's single-bottom, walk-behind plow pulled by a mule has been replaced today by huge contraptions like the John Deere 3710 10-Bottom Plow pulled by a monster tractor complete with GPS, air conditioning and satellite radio. Still, regardless of the machinery farmers use to work the ground, farm families typically shares traits of honesty, hard work and respect.

Sitting on the seat of an open-air Allis Chalmers D-19 plowing rich bottom land at sunrise is one of the best memories I have. The rich, organic smell of the soil being turned over as it mingles with the diesel exhaust forms a memory that brings a sense of peace and contentment. Knowing the land would soon yield an abundant crop instills a sense of purpose to do the best possible job. The solitude of the field and the simple mechanics of the task naturally lead to some musings about the lessons one could glean from farming.

Make hay when the sun shines. This oft-repeated axiom reminds us we must do the task at hand when the time is right -- not before and not after. Trying to cut and bail hay in the rain is not only difficult, but destructive in the long run; warm weather with dry clover makes for bails that will feed animals throughout the winter. This phrase also reminds us we must prioritize our tasks. Cut hay that's waiting to be bailed takes priority over most anything else.

It's hard to straighten a furrow after a crooked start. No matter how much effort, the first furrow needs to be accurate. It must be straight and true since each furrow thereafter will take its shape from the first one. We must always start our tasks on the straight and true for everything else is built on that first pass. It is true for plowing, and it is true for most tasks: we must build on a firm and true foundation. This works with relationships and raising children, too; we must start right.

Don't count the chickens until the eggs are hatched. Once a friend of mine shared he had a 120-bushel-an-acre corn growing, just waiting to be harvested. The only problem was his crop was sitting in five feet of water. His harvest was lost to a late summer flood that prevented him from getting the crop out. Another friend shared with me he lost his entire soybean crop to a severe spring, complete with storms, hail and wind that stripped the leaves off his plants. He had to write off the crop and try something different. Storms, water, wind and lack of rain can all turn a potential bumper crop into a total disaster. Knowing the harvest only counts when it's in the barn keeps one focused on the important things. Each of us can learn to not count on the "what ifs" and "if onlys" we encounter, but instead work for the harvest that lasts.

A little hard work never hurt anyone. A day filled with hot sun and hay bales will stretch muscles that one never knew one had, and makes for a deep night's sleep. Hard work is something not to be avoided, but to be embraced as a way to accomplish great deeds.

Thanks to all who work the land. We pray you have seasonable weather and good crops.

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