Illinois Farm Families Blog

Jul 24 2014

Farm Life Opposite

Recently, this blog shared a post about being under 30 and over $1 million in debt. That really struck a chord with me (even though I'm 31).

It served as a good reminder that, in many ways, going from a "normal" life to a farm wife requires a complete shift in thinking. I often find that for all the "truths" that apply to suburban life, the exact opposite is true for farm families.

Non-farm jobs get paid on a regular basis, whether it's weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. Farmers get paid sporadically throughout the year, whenever they sell grain or a contracted crop is harvested. Some years that amounts to three payments in a 12-month period, therefore you have to be REALLY on top of your finances.

Non-farmers are taught that loans are bad and to be avoided, if at all possible. Farmers not only need loans, we RELY on loans. We may only get paid three times a year, but our bills are due every month just like everyone else. In order for them to be paid on time, we get an operating loan. An operating loan can range from tens of thousands to millions of dollars, depending on the size of the farmer's operation. The operating loan is basically a one-year line of credit to fill in during the times we haven't been paid for a few months. The loan is always paid back at the end of the year. Sure, paying interest irritates farmers just as it would any other person but, for farmers, it's simply part of life.

The same goes for credit cards. Most people are taught not to use credit cards for things they cannot afford. Farmers use credit cards for things they really can afford but, due to the timing of our income being varied, may not have the cash for this very second. For example, a new combine costs around $200,000. Not too many people have that kind of cash on hand. And that's just ONE of the pieces of machinery we require. Farming has a lot of overhead.

One thing we have in common with non-farmers is that the majority of people want to live reasonably close to where we work. We don't just live reasonably close; we live where we work. Literally. But we aren't so different. Non-farmers might be checking their work email at 11 pm and farmers might be out checking their irrigators.

One last difference also has to do with our proximity (or lack thereof) to the rest of society. Because we live 35 miles from the nearest city, when we do drive there to shop, get groceries, run errands, etc. we tend to buy more, spend more and do more at one time. This leads to the difference in fuel efficiency as a priority. Most people are taught that they should buy the most fuel-efficient vehicles they can. Farmers still care about fuel efficiency but oftentimes the vehicles with better gas mileage are either too small or not made for the rough terrain. The average MPG of our two main vehicles is 15 MPG. My husband cannot haul grain in a Prius and I can't fit two kids, a golden retriever and enough groceries to survive the apocalypse into a Camry. Not to mention, it's pretty tough to take lunch out to the field without four-wheel drive.

All in all, we aren't so different; like everything else in life, it's just a matter of perspective.

Lauren Shissler
Topeka, Illinois

Lauren is a suburban girl gone farm mom, growing popcorn and green beans with her husband in Topeka, Illinois (better known as Goofy Ridge). She uses her own experiences to blog about farm issues and how they relate to both rural and urban families. To read more from Lauren, visit her blog Growing on Goofy.

Jul 18 2014

Boomerang

Today was Anna's 4H Livestock Show.

When I say I really have nothing to do with Anna's 4H experience, it is no understatement. While she and Joe had headed to the general projects show on Saturday, I stayed at home with the kids (and maybe took a nap). Yesterday, they loaded up to take the cattle to the weigh-in, while I loaded up my kids to the country club pool.

Today, however, I went to the show, loading up my crew and snacks and toys once again, putting on shoes I didn't care about, and herded my friends to the fairgrounds.

The fairgrounds I went to as a child.

The fairgrounds in my home county.

The fairgrounds where my uncle, my dad, and now my girl had/have their hands in the livestock show.

As I pulled into the fairgrounds lot, careful to park in an area that wouldn't have to back up around trailers (have I mentioned I'm terrible at backing up? Even with sensors and a camera? Sheesh.), it hit me.

These are my people.

The people in the stands, the names on the animals were all familiar, if not darned friendly. Name after name after name were of people I knew from towns I grew up around, played sports against, and thought I would never, ever see again.

Ever.

However, I boomeranged.

I'm back in my home county, and now that we have kids involved in county events, it's more apparent that I am truly home. As she took the ring, she did so with a young man from a family who have known me since the toddler years, had my dad as a teacher, went to church with my aunt and uncle.

The man in the ring, guiding the cattle, assisting as needed? He's the dad of kids I used to always babysit for.

The guy cleaning out the chicken coops as the little kids and I walked through, killing time between classes? He's my old neighbor who teaches Ag at my high school.

On and on and on and on I walked around seeing people I hadn't seen in years, and who didn't expect me to be there. I must have made it abundantly clear I was never coming back.

The best part? Our name was pronounced right. Not just ours, my cousin's (Mottaz, my maiden name…I know, I went from bad to worse in the name department) was pronounced correctly. When my girl won Reserve Grand Champion, we had a cheering section, even though my parents are on opposite sides of the country this week. Neighbors, friends, relatives. People knew us. They recognized us. They were supporting us.

It was surreal.

While speaking to a couple I have known all my life, who have been 4H leaders long since their kids have left the hallowed halls of 4H, I spoke of moving home to the "home farm." Pete, the dad, choked up as he spoke of the honor it was to have his daughter and family in the same situation.

I never thought of moving back to the home county in a way that would choke up my dad.

But it means something.

My boomeranging isn't just nice because I have someone to talk to at cattle shows, someone to cheer on Anna as she won Junior Showmanship (YES… SHE DID THAT, TOO!! Proud, proud mama!!), it's nice because it means something. While I never was a huge 4Her, I was a Knox County girl, and am a Knox County girl, and when people know your history, your beginning, that's a big deal. A comfort. A happy place to be when you're sharing your home with your children.

The lure of what's bigger and better and broader is strong. I felt it. I needed to branch out. I'm happy I did, and there are days I wish I could head back, but the boomerang affect is strong. Roots are stronger. Friendly faces and correct pronunciation of names may seem small, but in a big, big world, it's nice to come home to a familiar place.

Today, I truly came home, and I couldn't be prouder.

Emily Webel
Farmington, Illinois

Emily and her husband, Joe, raise cattle, corn, soybeans and alfalfa for hay for their animals in Illinois. Together they are raising their four children to be good stewards of the land. Read more from Emily on her blog, Confessions of a Farm Wife.

Originally published July 14, 2014 on Confessions of a Farm Wife

Reposted with permission.

Jul 15 2014

My Life as a Farming Wife

It’s a commonly asked question these days, “so what do you do now?” I mean, I’ve worked two or three jobs all through college, got married and moved around a little trying to find a good balance between my work life and farming. My response lately is always “I’ve been farming with my husband and his family”. “Oh!” They always reply, then the next question is like clockwork, always predictable. “So like… what do you do all day?” While most people think a farm wife sits in the house, cleans and cooks, that couldn’t be further from the truth. At least not on this farm! The farm wife is always as busy as the farm husband. Things need to be done in the fastest, most efficient manner possible. All summer my husband and I have been working till 8 or 9 p.m. So while we might be near our home, or even working in the yard, we are never actually sitting at home. On second thought, we watch the news and weather every night while we eat supper. But you could almost write that off as a necessity. Weather plays a large role in farming, and because we are working outdoors, we need to be prepared!

So what do I do all day? Basically you could say my job description is Coordinator of Smooth Operations. In other words, I am a pair of extra hands that keeps everything running smoothly. My husband and I work as a team most of the time. If we have to make sure a calf is nursing, I’m grabbing the feed for the momma to keep her calm while he is looking over the calf. If we are outside working on fences, I am holding the barbed wire while he is using his tools to stretch it. If he needs to change the oil in one of our farm vehicles, he is changing the oil while I am grabbing the supplies for our next job. Long story short, I’m always there to help and prep for the next step.

This little arrangement was a bit of an adjustment for me. I myself grew up on a farm, but everyone does things a little differently. While I have one idea in my head, hubby always has his own. Plus I grew up feeding pigs and bottle feeding dairy calves. Beef cattle and crops are an entirely different daily routine. While I thought I knew a lot about agriculture, I am still learning, and that is what makes this lifestyle so exciting. There is never a dull moment and no two days are the same. Technology and efficiency are always changing and we need to keep up. As a business owner, we need to be at the top of our game.

This last summer the family has started several big projects. They are pictured in the collage. I have been spraying cows to keep the flies away. Flies not only bite and hurt the cows, they also carry disease. We have been clearing trees and brush from fences to prevent the cows from getting out. If a cow were to be on the loose, it could ultimately put itself or others in danger on the roads and highway. We have been fixing tile holes in our fields. Tiles are long plastic tubes placed deep in the ground to help water flow under the crops. We have also been replacing post in our feedlot. Mowing hay is a large summer project. We usually mow about twice a year. Sometimes I drive the hay from the fields to the silo, but usually I just rake the hay. Because this spring we really didn’t get much rain, we were continuously checking crops to see if we needed to replant. Other large projects I get to do are helping fill the planter with corn and soybean seeds in the spring, and disking (breaking up the corn stalks) soil after harvest in the fall.

Rachel Asher
Ursa, Illinois

Rachel is a Western Illinois University Graduate with a degree in Agriculture and emphasis in Agriculture Education. She farms full-time with her husband and his family in West Central Illinois. Keep up with Rachel and her daily life on the farm at her blog, Dare to Dream with Rachel.

Jul 11 2014

Lunch with Grandpa

We love it when our two granddaughters, ages 3 and 18 months, come to the farm! And they love to go to the sheds, climb into the tractors and trucks, beep the horns and "drive". But their most favorite activity is packing lunches to share with Grandpa in the field! Last week we were packing one of those lunches and the 3-year-old wanted to take along some M&Ms for Grandpa and her. Quickly thinking, I suggested that we mix some Cheerios cereal with candy for a special treat. Later, in the field, she began sharing the "special treat" with Grandpa... one M&M for her, one piece of cereal for Grandpa, and so on. Finally, Grandpa asked if he could have a piece of the candy. To which she replied, "Grandma said you like cereal for your special treat. I like chocolate for my special treat."



Donna Jeschke
Mazon, Illinois

Jul 08 2014

One of My Favorite Farm Memories

One of the most fun things Eldon and I have done through the years is have a Memorial Day picnic. Our family always attends our small town (Kaneville) Memorial Service in the morning. Then afterward, some of the neighbors would stand around, wondering what to do next. One year, about 40 years ago, I just said to everyone to go home and see what they might have in their refrigerators which they could share, bring it, and come over for an old-fashioned picnic. I pulled some pork burgers out of the freezer and had about 5-6 families for a fun afternoon. Well, as our family grew up, they started inviting their school friends to add to the party. Then they got married and had families of their own. They invited other families... and you can see where this is going. Our grandchildren now invite their friends. The original neighbors are still attending and this year the head count was hovering around 80. When the weather is warm, there are usually water balloon fights between the boys and the girls, between the kids and their parents and just about everyone gets into the action. There are turns on the tire swing and on the trampoline for everyone. And some always like to pitch a few horseshoes.

We continue to have the pork burgers, but have embellished them through the years. We now put some pulled pork on them, along with a couple strips of bacon and a slice of cheese.

It warms my heart to see all the kids have such a good time. Again, when the weather is warm enough, they will all go through the back field down to the creek and dare each other to go in deeper and deeper. We now know to send some old towels down to the creek with them!

Usually, we have a tour through the barns to see the baby pigs. This year we did not do that because of the risk of the PEDV going around the countryside.

Most families go home somewhere around 6-7:00 pm with very tired, dirty, and happy kids.


Sandy Gould
Eldon, Illinois

Jul 07 2014

Under 30, Over $1M in Debt

If you're not from a farm but have time to venture out for a summer drive along some of the interstates crisscrossing Illinois, Iowa and Indiana - take a look at what might be a record corn and soybean crop. We've had some hot humid days, but for the most part, cooler nights and spoon-fed rains spread out across May and June have setup this to be a massive crop. As I received an email blasted to us bloggers requesting July content, I'm contemplating the beauty in my fields as well as the beast in the crop markets. Apparently, the market knows we're going to have record crops because today (June 30th), the markets turned bearish and started beating down prices. Soybean prices for our current crop are down $0.70 per bushel (~6%) and corn prices are down $0.22 per bushel (~5%). That's one day, after a key USDA report. Given these stark contrasts, I figured 'd touch upon a suggested topic: financial risks and rewards in farming from an under-30 point of view.

In my Sunday School Class (I was "promoted" to Junior High!), I brought up the concept of praying for peace (Philippians 4:6-7). My example, since I know that big numbers and personal examples get through to my "tweener"-aged youth, was on how much money I lost as an opportunity cost while helping with our Vacation Bible School last week. I figured that the stresses of life distilled into a dollar figure would warrant a good example of how prayer in my life gives me peace. One of my other enterprises is crop scouting for area farmers. While I'm winding that part of the business down, trying to harmonize it with our family insurance agency and make more time for our new son, it still is a profit center and is still a source of some stress at busy times. Rough figures, attending Vacation Bible School "cost" me about $2,500 in lost revenues. The reality is that as my scouting has slowed by design, I didn't much "lose" anything (I did lose some dignity and sanity while getting hit with pool noodles, tackled inside inflatable bounce houses, and portraying the evil villain in morning skits; but who goes to VBS to be a diva anyway?) - but it did serve an example of how and when one should pray for peace. I sure needed reminded of what mattered most last week when I wasn't at the farm 50% of the working hours.

But for purposes of this blog, the first response from one of my older youth (I have 6th-8th in our Junior High setup) was: Are you rich? It didn't offend me, but it did jar me a bit that that was their first reaction instead of what I was trying to teach. I suppose one of my wife's favorite quotes - she's an Ag-Communicator by trade - s true: You're responsible for what you say as well as what they hear.

So, am I rich? It's funny that this all came up this past Sunday. Peace from prayer was not only a good topic for my class, but also for me. And it was also my birthday. While I'm not at the dreaded 30, being my first birthday as a father, I did have some surreal thoughts running through my head that day. Asking myself if I'm rich was another good question for reflection.

By balance sheet standards, yep, I'm rich. Not many 28-year-olds in the world over have over a million in assets though when I read Forbes, The Economist, or some other business literature, I sure feel like I'm the outsider there. While I'm not going to do formal research for this blog, suffice it to say that I know I'm probably better off than 99% of the under-30-year-olds in the entire world, financially.

But with great rewards come great risks, luck, skill, and (in my case) large doses of humility. Humble enough, I hope, to warrant not being part of the stereotypical 1%. Most of my assets are tied up in land and farm equipment. Let's take a look at each in brief from a young farmer's vantage:

Land is the best "real" investment as it doesn't truly depreciate or wear out, in general. But this makes it so attractive and, given that less than 1-2% of the nation's farmland transfers ownership in a given year, it's a relative scarcity - so it's overvalued. In fact, I read once that there was never a time, except for the last few years of the 80s and first few years of the 90s, when farmland cash-flowed by itself. This means that no purchase of land paid for by itself, rather, it was paid for by an already established land base. And this one exception in the 80s/90s was more than likely luck - who saw depressed land prices slowly rising as interest rates moderated and commodity prices skyrocketed in 1994/1995? Very few. But many, who were willing to take the risk, benefited. They were the opposite of the risk-takers in the 1980s. That farm financial crisis led to many, many farms going bankrupt. So what does this mean to an under 30 farmer? Think of your competition. The average farmer is 57, and survived the worst time in the last 50 years to farm in the 1980s and has an established land base to help pay-off land purchases. While my land assets look good on paper, they're still not without great risk. If the land I purchased tanks in value (unlikely, but certainly not impossible), I could easily be in the same situation as consumers with underwater mortgages. The problem is that if that happens, it likely means that corn and soybean prices have went into multi-year declines or interest rates have increased... or both. Since young farmers don't have the land base to dilute the price of newly purchased land, a downturn is particularly damning. If this sounds like the plight of other young entrepreneurs, it is. Farming might be different for all the unique challenges of Mother Nature, but a business it still is. I can relate with young entrepreneurs in this economy quite well. And the long-term liabilities of my balance sheet from land purchases show it.

Farm equipment is double-edged sword. Failure to invest in technology leads to a slow death of stagnation in any business. But equipment depreciates, needs to be maintained, and is constantly outdated by the latest upgrade. It costs more than what a price tag lists. I don't own all the farm equipment, rather I own units in our family limited liability company. We formed it to hold the equipment for accounting purposes. But each year the value of those units declines. It sure looks good on paper, but it is like dry-rot in your house. If you don't maintain your house and make occasional upgrades or full-blown renovations, you're hosed. Farm equipment is the same. The intermediate-term liabilities on my balance sheet show it.

And both of these assets are intermediate or long-term. What about the short-term? The risk there is in weather and price. Going back to my opening paragraph, think about today's price decline. $0.70 per bushel of soybeans is quite a bit, and $0.22 per bushel of corn isn't insignificant (my Grandpa's generation barely saw prices move more than $0.10 the entire marketing year!). If one hadn't sold any production ahead or done any futures and options hedging, a typical 1,000 acre farm (500 corn @ 180 bushels per acre and 500 soybeans @ 50 bushels per acre) would have lost $37,300 - that's ONE DAY. Now that's a bit over dramatic - farmers don't keep their heads in the sand, oblivious to price or weather risk. That's why we hedge. And the opposite could have happened too - what if the market went up that much? Sounds great. But the counter to that scenario selling ahead and missing the benefit of the price increase. In any case, today is a good point on risks we face. If you're under 30, then the average farmer at 57 has 27 more years of experience. Agriculture is evolving and youth has its advantages - but I take experience over college education when I'm on the fence (that's why, among other reasons, I still need my Dad).

Our family just bought a farm on June 20th. Over a million dollars. I'm rich right? Go to the courthouse - the bank, technically, owns it; they're just renting it to me on their terms for the next 20 years. And what if I'm buying at the high? For the record, I really think we are buying at the high for at least the next 5-10 years. Dumb investment, right? Not in my opinion. I'd rather be a fool to my peers and a genius to my heirs or charities. The real challenge of being under 30 and over one million in debt is in taking the long view. That's where the rewards accrue if you can manage all the current and intermediate risks. On my 28th birthday, upon reflection, I didn't really think I had accomplished much in my life. But then I remembered, my Grandpa didn't make his first big land purchase until he was 40. I guess I'm at least 12 years ahead of the best man I ever knew - financially anyway.

Back to the main point on rewards versus risks: am I rich? If I am, it's muted by the risks I bear along with others my age in farming. If I am, it's if one turns a blind eye to the liabilities column of my balance sheet. If I am, I'm not taking enough vacation time to enjoy the spoils of my riches. In light of all this, I still don't consider myself a success yet. At least, not financially. I have a wonderful wife, an amazing 7-month old son, wonderful and supportive parents/business partners, a great sister and brother-in-law, and many supportive friends. My faith, my work give me purpose. I really am rich. But it's only because I remind myself of what I really have not listed on a balance sheet. The greatest risk I bear is in forgetting that. Under 30 and over a million in debt isn't so bad; my riches aren't in an account.

Andrew Bowman
Oneida, Illinois

Andrew is a fifth generation Illinois farmer. He and his wife Karlie have one son, Ryker, and farm with Andrew’s parents, Lynn and Sally Bowman, in addition to serving farmers through insurance and consulting enterprises.

Jul 04 2014

Food, Farms and the Fourth

Well, a new flag is back up on the grain leg, the yard is mowed and the friends are invited over. It's just about the Fourth of July and although I didn't grow up in a family that did a lot of celebrating – isn't there hay to bale around here? – we try to mark the occasion with friends and fireworks.

Tonight, we'll have ice cream with a few friends before heading into town for fireworks. And tomorrow? Well, tomorrow is a little bigger. There's a Fourth of July tradition in the greater Avon, Illinois, area, and it centers around Bill and Elaine Kramer's back yard. And pasture.

The Kramers are farmers in the Avon area; my husband went to school with their kids and our kids go to school with their grandkids (Hi Mazie! And Nate! And Callie!)


Every year, they invite a couple hundred of their closest friends and family for an evening of food, fun and fireworks on the farm. The conversation is good, with lots of talk of corn and soybeans and weather and family. The kids run around and we don't see them until they're hungry. And the food. My, word, the food. The Kramers provide the meat, and everyone else brings a dish to pile on a tables-long buffet. It's like every recipe out of one of those classic rural cookbooks. Delish.

And then they blow stuff up. Like watermelons (see below). The kids try to catch water balloons, perhaps for a candy prize. Everybody loads up on hay racks for a ride down the road, over the pasture and through the actual woods. Before long, it's dark and the kids collect glow sticks. We all haul our chairs around the barn and past the bins, lining up on the edge of the pasture. (Watch your step. Also, the fence.)

Let me just say, these are not your average fireworks. The local small-town fireworks I mentioned earlier? The Kramer fireworks are every bit as impressive. I hear they may be downgraded a bit this year due to some licensing thing, but I suspect it'll still be a great show.

Regardless, it's a good time. And wherever you might wind up this weekend, wishing you and your family a Happy Independence Day!



Holly Spangler
Marietta, Illinois

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois growing crops and producing cattle as well as raising their three children. Holly is an associate editor for Prairie Farmer magazine, a publication dedicated to sharing information about farm life and farm business. Read more from Holly on the Prairie Farmer blog.

Originally posted June 3, 2014 on The Prairie Farmer

Reposted with permission.


Jul 03 2014

Getting the Buzz About Agriculture

Despite living my entire life in a county comprised of nearly 90 percent farmland and driving past miles of crop fields each day on my drive to work, I know very little about what is growing on the land around me.

As a full-time nurse and mother to three young children, I've heard a lot of buzz about GMOs (genetically modified organisms), farming pesticides and organic versus non-organic foods. In terms of what’s best for my family, I didn't want to rely on the opinions of others.

On May 16, I had the privilege of visiting Dan and Pam Kelley’s farm as part of the Field Mom program through Illinois Farm Families. The program takes moms like me who are interested in learning more about where their food comes from and gives them a firsthand look at the farming process from spring planting to fall harvest.

On this tour, Mr. Kelley spent three hours talking about their 3,500-acre corn and soybean farm. He enlisted the help of various specialists, including a seed expert to discuss the process of bringing GMO seed to market, an agronomist to talk about the importance of quality soil and a farm equipment representative to talk about technology used in farming practices today.

I was looking to the experience for reassurance that the food I was providing to my family was safe and of good quality. The thing that surprised me the most was the extensive process it takes to bring GMO seed to market from start to finish. We learned from GROWMARK Seed Corn Product Manager Matt Free that all new GMO seed varieties require regulatory approval through the Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and USDA -- an up to 13-year process! This means there is more regulation in place for GMO crops than organic crops. GMO crops allow farmers the efficiency of providing larger quantities of affordable, sustainable food to meet the demand of our growing global population.

I also learned that farmers have nothing to hide. They are parents and consumers just like us. Seeing their farming practices firsthand gave me the reassurance I needed in order to be confident that the crops being produced on our local farmland is not only safe for my family, but protective of the environment we are leaving for future generations. I’m grateful to be a part of the Field Mom program and look forward to the next farm tour where we learn about livestock and fall harvest.

Devon Flamming

Devon Flammang is a Field Mom from central Illinois who, like Chicago moms, is visiting farms to see firsthand how food is raised.

Jun 27 2014

Cattle and Life: Ask, Don't Tell

Sometimes, great advice comes at the least likely moment, like when you're hot, dirty, tired and holding a heifer.

We spent this past weekend in Lincoln, Ill., showing cattle at the Illinois Junior Simmental Preview show. It was a couple days of fun, friends and cattle, plus three inches of rain on Saturday (not that we're about to complain about rain; we're just glad it fell at home, too).

After the heifer show was over, the kids competed in showmanship. And as we stood there and listened, Rensselaer, Ind., cattleman and judge Brad Hanewich dispensed a bit of wisdom that has increasingly struck me as profound.

At the end of the junior division, for kids 8-10 years old, he told them there are two basic ways to show cattle.

"You can ask your animal to do something, or you can tell it to do something," he said.

Asking the animal to move a foot means you're guiding it at the halter, pulling forward slightly when you want a foot forward, and pushing back when you want it back. You ask it to do what you want when you gently pull it into position, working with the animal.

You tell them to do something when you poke at their foot with the show stick. "And I don't know about you, but if somebody stands and pokes my foot over and over without helping me understand what they want, I'm gonna get pretty aggravated," Hanewich said.

"The best showmen ask their animal to do something."

And then? He said that piece of advice goes beyond the show ring, too. "You'll get a lot further in life if you ask someone to do something instead of telling them," he added.

Well, then. I'd say that's pretty accurate, on both counts. Solid advice for life, in and out of the show ring.

PS: Jenna and I are off today for the Illinois Beef Association's first-ever EDGE Youth Conference, where I'll be talking with young cattle producers about social media...and why their voice is important. Maybe we'll see you there!


Holly Spangler
Marietta, Illinois

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois growing crops and producing cattle as well as raising their three children. Holly is an associate editor for Prairie Farmer magazine, a publication dedicated to sharing information about farm life and farm business. Read more from Holly on the Prairie Farmer blog.

Originally posted June 9, 2014 on The Prairie Farmer

Reposted with permission.

Jun 13 2014

Farmers and Faith

Faith and patience…have you ever sat quietly and thought about the definition of these two words? The dictionary tells us FAITH is “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” And PATIENCE is defined as “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.”

My name is Diana Ropp and I still live on the family farm where my Uncle Ray and Cousin Ken milk approximately 60 purebred Jerseys and farm about 400 acres of corn, soybeans and alfalfa northwest of Normal, IL. I am proud to say I am the off spring or product of a 6th generation dairy/grain farm family.  

Even if I hadn’t grown up in a farming family, I believe I would still have tremendous respect for farmers. They exemplify faith as they have complete trust or confidence that the rains will come and the sun will shine just at the appropriate times as they plant those tiny seed kernels in the rich black soil each growing season. Their utmost patience is tested as they accept the overabundance of rainfall during the spring or the lack of precipitation when droughts prevail as there is nothing they can do to change the course of Mother Nature.

As a kid growing up on the farm there were jobs or tasks which we all were expected to handle to help out every day. And many times you were just thrown into the mix of extra hands depending on the time of year (planting/harvest/show season). One of my primary tasks from the time I was about 10 to 16 years old was feeding the baby calves with a bottle. Running water for heifers or dry cows in pastures and distributing hay was a common chore, too. During show season there was extra ‘hands-on work’ with the heifers as we broke them to lead. We brushed and curried them for shiny slick coats and lead them around the circle drive so they could learn to walk slowly in the show ring showing off their best attributes.

Some of those days would be long and hard as my family, grandparents and extended family worked quickly planting the garden after the rest of the chores were done; many times under the light of a car or truck to beat the incoming rains on the horizon. Having faith the plants would thrive and flourish as soon as the rains came – as long as an escaped cow or heifer didn’t find its way to the garden trampling the tender plants, or the rabbits wouldn’t eat all the fruits of our labor.

Nowhere on earth is faith and joy more apparent than in the appreciation of the miracle of life so evident on a dairy farm, where baby calves are born on a regular basis. Nowhere on earth can you see the miracle of nature and God’s plan as you watch the eyes of baby kittens slowly open many days after they have been born.  Nowhere on earth can you see/realize the sadness of a loss when a calf is still born, or the cow you raised from a bottle and walked around the show ring breathes its last breath after a job well done. Or the family pet dog or cat comes to a quick demise when the milk truck tires are too much to overcome. In many ways being part of life/death through livestock or pets makes the death pill easier to swallow when it’s time to say goodbye to family or friends when their time comes and are called to heaven above.

When an individual or family is struggling with disease or an untimely death, it’s the neighbors from miles around who team up to finish planting or harvesting the crops to support one of their own. It’s a humble example of faith in action, hope for tomorrow and the unfailing love of our heavenly Father played out as the tractors or combines make round after round to finish the job, bringing comfort and peace at a time when there seems to be none.

These men and women we refer to as farmers, ranchers or producers are the salt of the earth, hearty stock. They are truly products of faith, hope, patience, love, and endurance generation after generation.   

Diana Ropp
Normal, Illinois

Diana is a commodity broker/risk management adviser in Illinois. While she is no longer involved with the family farm raising dairy cows and grain, Diana has stayed close to the agriculture industry by helping farmers manage their risk. She is the mother of three and has two grandchildren.

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