Farm Lesson: Sometimes the crop will fail.

November 11, 2016

popcorn field Bubba-Bug Popcorn started four years ago as my answer to the ill-fated country lemonade stand. Honestly, I bought that first packet of seed thinking we’d plunk it in the ground, walk away and the kids wouldn’t think of it again. But think of it, they did. If you’ve followed their story, you know they’ve also planted and replanted it, watered it, attempted to weed it, dried it, picked, shucked, shelled and cleaned it, packaged, delivered and shipped it all across the country.

Thank you for supporting these young farmers.

Entering our fourth year as popcorn growers, we were feeling confident and tried new things:

  • The kids finally consented to planting with the corn planter vs. planting by hand. Praise the Lord!
  • The patch grew by two rows . . . again.
  • Realizing planting with the corn planter didn’t work so well, the kids invested in a garden seeder, complete with a popcorn seed plate. AND we planted . . . again. (But not by hand and that is the positive this mom is holding on to this season.)
  • We ironed out the kinks of harvest and packaging, feeling well prepared for the fall crunch.

Throughout the spring and summer, the kids balanced softball, baseball, 4-H, and lawn mowing. They found time to fret over the thin stand of rainbow popcorn and battle the grass that grew thicker than other years. But, as our summer sprint turned into a marathon, the popcorn patch took a backseat.

In October, the farm boy began checking for moisture content. He picked ears from different sections of the patch, hand-shelled them and ran them through the moisture tester. Popcorn should have 13 to 14 percent moisture content for optimal popping. Leaving the ears on the stalk gives Mother Nature’s blow dryer (i.e. wind and sun) a chance to do its job.

Finally, one morning he came in and said, “Pop this. I think we might be ready.”

That morning the kids also directed me to open their online order form and register for the upcoming winter farmers’ market. They were confident in their crop.

Two weeks ago, picking commenced. Before school and after school, between all the other ‘things’ cluttering our calendars, we picked. For the most part, harvest was good. Long ears filled from bottom to top with plump, white kernels. But we were also stalk-stomping . . . a lot. In certain places, we had stalks but no ears. Or ears, but no kernels.

By this week, a third of the patch had been picked. With rain in the forecast mid-week, My Farmer suggested we pick as much as we could. The kids got home from school at four, dumped their back-packs on the porch and headed out. I joined them at five and posted this picture, captioned: 

“Nov. 1 5 p.m. 73 degrees. We are popcorn picking tonight like crazy. With a pretty certain chance of rain tomorrow the farm kids have decided we pick it all tonight. A little over half to go. Side note: Farm boy says, “Don’t post that. People will see our weed issue.” Just a little problem. . .gulp. . .with grass this year.”

By 6:30, we were picking by the light of the headlights on the Scout. We were hungry, tired and incredibly frustrated . . . because there was no popcorn. See that blue bucket and wheelbarrow in the picture. That is all we filled in three hours of popcorn picking.

The further along we went in the patch, the worse our “weed issue” got and the more stalk stomping we did. But it wasn’t just weeds. Something happened at pollination. Heat? Insects? We found ears but no kernels.

Later that evening, back at the desk, we decided to close the site and fill our current orders.

Each year the kids learn something. This year the lesson involves the risk of farming. All farmers experience it – marketing/selling a crop sometimes before it is even in the ground, not knowing the natural disasters that will hit (drought, flood, heat, cold), not knowing how the markets will respond to unforeseen competition or international incident. The business of farming is a business of gambling. We control what we can, pray about what we can’t and continually seek to do better in the next year.

No pity for my farm kids, though. This crop failure hasn’t dampened their enthusiasm. Ever the glass half-full gal, the next day, the farm princess declared, “Maybe we should plant something different next year.”

Wait . . . what?!!!!

Reposted with permission from The Illinois Farm Girl.

Katie Pratt

Katie and her husband, Andy, are seventh generation farmers. Together they raise two adorable farm kids and grow corn, soybeans and seed corn in Illinois. Katie's family still raises pigs, cattle, goats and horses only a few minutes away. Katie was named one of the 2013 Faces of Farming and Ranching by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA). Read more from Katie on her blog, The Illinois Farm Girl.


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