Stepping out of the role of “Farmer’s Daughter” and into the role of “Farmer”

It was an early July afternoon. The air smelled of fresh rain and freshly cut wheat. We had been harvesting wheat before a storm had rolled through. It had rained just enough for the straw of the wheat to soak up the moisture making it too tough to continue harvesting. My dad had sent the harvest crew home for the evening. A few hours past, the sun came out and the temperature warmed up. My dad had decided to try the wheat to see if it was dry enough to continue harvesting. Instead of calling back the crew, he decided I was going to be the crew. I was around 12 years old at the time. I was daddy’s little girl, I went with him everywhere and was no stranger to the farm, but I had never driven a heavy piece of equipment before. I would later learn that this opportunity would be a life lesson, it would teach me skills I would use throughout the rest of my life.

We arrived at the field and my dad took me to the tractor. Instead of him getting in the driver’s seat he made me get in. He made sure I was capable of pushing the brake and I got a very quick description of what they were and how they worked. Onto the controls, my lesson on the controls was simple, this is your gear shift, this is your throttle push them forward to go faster. This is your wheel, make sure to keep your front left tire in the far left tire track of the combine. Keep your speed even with me (in the combine) and you will do fine. As he crawled out of the tractor I had to pick my jaw off the floor. That was it??? That was all the instructions I was going to get??? I didn’t even get a ride along or example? Needless to say, I did what he said and I did ok. I didn’t crash the tractor and that was a start. This is the day I learned that if I wanted full instructions I was going to have to watch and learn. There would be no descriptive lessons, no ride alongs, just quick overviews and a “go”. I also learned that my dad trusted me and had faith I would succeed. He knew there would be bumps along the road, but each bump was going to be a life lesson no matter how tough that bump was, he knew I would take that opportunity to learn from it.

Here I am 25 years later and I have since moved back to my hometown after several years in the city. I have been working for him again for the last 5 years. He finally decided last year that I was ready to take the plunge into farming my own ground. I signed a farm lease with him, went to the government offices and signed the paperwork, went to the bank and took out a loan and dove right in. I decided I was going to plant all 430 acres I was farming to corn. I could have split the fields and planted millet and corn, that was my original farm plan, but after a wet spring, I decided to throw all my eggs in one basket and go for it. I planted my corn in May and was absolutely giddy when my first sprout of corn peaked through the ground. As the weeks went by, the greener my field got. The rain came when it needed to and I was growing a lush corn crop. Then I got my life lesson on farming. July came, the rain stopped, and the ground started to dry out. My corn entered a crucial stage of pollination when it needed wet, cool weather, yet that’s not what we were getting. No rain came and the temperatures reached high 90’s with no change in the forecast. All I could hope for at this stage was that there had been enough spring moisture for the corn to root deep enough and find the moisture. Weekly check-ins on my corn showed some corn was drying up and some continued to hold on. I was aware throughout this whole process that this was the lesson in farming my dad was trying to teach me. He wanted me to understand, not only the money aspect, but he wanted me to understand the stress of farming. We are dry land farmers, so our crops are 100% reliant on mother nature. There is no water to give the crops when the weather doesn’t cooperate, no water means little to no crops.

October finally arrived and my crop was finally ready to harvest. I had stressed, I had ran numbers on a daily basis trying to figure out if I was going to be able to succeed my first year of farming and be able to pay my expenses, or was I going to fail and let my dad down. We pulled the combine into the field and harvest was underway. I farmed for my dad when I was in high school and I had been working for him for 5 years, but harvesting your own crops is a whole new, exciting feeling. I felt such accomplishment seeing the yellow corn roll into the combines. I watched as the combines filled up and as the trucks, one-by-one rolled out of the fields. That was my corn, I planted those seeds, I watched them grow and now I got to watch them succeed just as I had.

When all was said and done I did ok. I was able to pay all my bills and still have enough left in my bank account to start over for next year. My dad asked me if I was going to continue farming now that I had been on the other end as the “Farmer” and not just the employee. My response was a definite “yes”! I love farming, it’s not just a job, it is a passion for me. I know there are going to be extremely tough years to come, but I also know there will be very successful years as well that will override the tough ones.

Mind the Gap

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