A farmer once told me that agriculture has more emotional ups and down than any other occupation. The combination of erratic prices and volatile weather leads to a constant emotional roller coaster, he said.
He was overstating the case — what about front-line firefighters and surgeons who regularly perform life-or-death operations? — but basically he had a sound point. Modern agriculture is filled with struggle, failure and frustration. But it also brings reward, success and occasionally flat-out joy.
Now, with so many of our rural communities confronting awful drought and COVID-19, the importance of remembering the positives of agriculture, particularly the joys that it brings, is timely, perhaps even essential.
Joy, of course, comes in different flavors and levels of intensity. What's merely satisfying to one agriculturalist may be downright joyful to another. With that in mind, here's my look, in ascending order, of some of the things that can bring joy in ag.
- Successfully incorporating a new farming practice. You've taken a chance and invested time, effort and often money, sometimes over multiple years, into adopting a new farming practice. You succeeded, and your farm or ranch is stronger than it had been. That's cause for at least a little joy.
- A new family member joining the operation. Bringing another family member into the farm or ranch — and strengthening family ties — can be deeply satisfying, especially when he or she is younger than you and part of the next generation. To be fair, a newcomer also can cause tension and complication, partially offsetting the positive. But when things click, having a new family member in the operation is one of the great joys of agriculture.
- Harvesting a bumper crop. You've just finished combining a field of, say, soybeans, and the field has produced more bushels than ever before. A bumper crop! Life is great! What's a bumper and what isn't can be a little complicated in this era of improving technology and rising yields. Nonetheless, a bumper crop brings professional, emotional and financial satisfaction — a wonderful combination for joy.
- Watching crop and livestock prices shoot higher. A big price rally in ag commodities can mean the difference between losing money or generating a profit, between catching up financially or remaining in the hole. It truly is joyous.
- Paying the bills. Farmers and ranchers like to talk about ag as a way of life. It is. But first and foremost, it's a business. Generating enough income to pay your operating costs, with enough left over to pay family living expenses, is a wonderful, joyous thing.
- Receiving the "million-dollar rain." Older agriculturalists, of whom I'm one, sometimes use the phrase "million-dollar rain" — a widespread rain that rescues failing crops, pastures and hayfields from drought, at least temporarily. In my experience, nothing produces more in-the-moment joy than a million-dollar rain. Watch it. Listen to it. Smell it. Feel it on your face. Even dance in it. And with so much of the region ravaged by drought, a million-dollar rain now would bring immense joy.
Thanks to the readers who contacted me. And of course, let's all continue to hope for the million-dollar rain.