Farming: Not a Disney adventure

Let me start off by saying this is a clean article. No swear words, I promise. However, a few weeks ago I had a friend tell me she thought growing up and working on a farm sounded fun. She told me how she pictured idyllic days riding on a tractor, soaking up the sunshine, plaid and denim, fields of flowers, and green, green grass. I tried my hardest not to chuckle, and to be honest, her description sounded lovely, but I felt that she got the Disney version of farming confused with the reality of farming. To me, farming involves a whole lot of F words.

Planting season is approaching quickly. Once the ground dries out, our tractor will soon be in our fields sowing seeds, and with planting comes “fear.” We put seeds in the ground and then have to have “faith” that Mother Nature will cooperate, giving us gentle rain and sun when we need it.

Should Mother Nature play her fickle games with us, sending massive thunderstorms, droughts, flooding, tornadoes or even rain when we need sun or sun when we need rain, we stand a good chance of having a crop that is a “failure.” Plants have precise requirements at specific times, and if their needs are not met, they won’t grow well. A failed harvest means that our crop production is feeble and our earnings are small.

Our earnings determine how much maintenance we can do to our farm, the ground, the buildings and equipment. Not being able to take the best care of our land and equipment can hurt our future crops. Farming requires quite a bit of maintenance, in fact, most of a farmers’ time is spent “fixing” equipment. Ideally, in the winter months while it is freezing, major repairs should be made. My brother and I have spent many a snowy evening in the barn with flashlights, coveralls, no heat, numb fingers and our frozen breath clouding the air as we try to make repairs to our planter and other equipment. Yet things still break in the summer. We have had hydraulic hoses break on the planter while trying to beat a rainstorm on Sunday evening at 6 p.m. when every parts store is closed. Knowing how to improvise is fundamental.

Now, don’t get me wrong, not every F word that happens on a farm is a nice F word. I spent six days cleaning out fence rows and could probably spend another two weeks on fence rows. The words that came out of my mouth during a few of those sessions were not always nice F words. Sometimes farming is “frazzling” and “frustrating.” And in between planting and harvest there is a lot of time and every moment of that time is full. It is filled with fighting, friendships, food, family, more fixing and fine-tuning of machinery and buildings, and dreams for the future.

But if the worrying and praying pays off and Mother Nature graces us with the weather we need to raise a good crop, we count ourselves “fortunate” to be able to do what we love for one more year surrounded by the family that we love.

Of all the F words that concern me, it is that last F word, “future,” that distresses me more than any other F word. Farming is fraught with perils from weather, pests, crop diseases and misinformation. Our family grows the safest and best crops using conventional agricultural methods, but farming is still a gamble However, the future of our family farm is fragile but firm.

Clemson is a member of the Trumbull County Farm Bureau and working on her Ph.D. at the Pennsylvania State University. She and her family farm in Mecca.