Family honored for longtime management of farm

Farm Forum

COLUMBUS, Neb. (AP) – The golden grass heads dance in hypnotic rhythm synchronized into a waving, breeze-induced dance and are neatly sliced under Rod Ditter’s windrower. His tractor leaves neat rows of cut green behind it on the pasture.

“This must be pretty boring, huh?” Ditter asked between periodic looks back at the mower, which works silently behind the pane glass of the tractor’s cockpit on the other side of the air-conditioned space.

Ditter notes this whole pasture – a rolling expanse of land about the size of two city blocks – would have taken his grandfather the better part of a day to mow and bale, and his grandfather would have done it with horses drawing a piece of equipment that preceded the invention of the radio, so no chance of any music being on-board.

But the relatively recent addition of the radio inside the tractor, weather ranging from iffy to noncompliant and the absence of regular holidays and time off never stopped three generations of the Ditter family from farming.

The Columbus Telegram reports the Ditter family farm was honored recently with the Nebraska Pioneer Farm Award at the livestock sale, which closed the Platte County Fair.

Sponsored by the Nebraska Farm Bureau and Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben with support from the Nebraska Association of Fair Managers, the distinction is awarded to families who have managed the same farm for more than a century.

While Ditter doesn’t assign any special words to his relationship to farming like “calling” and “purpose,” it’s definitely something that seemed fairly fixed in his future given his early successes in agriculture. Ditter’s help was always a given growing up on the farm, and by age 9 he learned how to handle the family’s tractor.

Later going to school in Monroe, he’d join a 4-H team where his work with cattle would mature into a career with steers. He currently has 70 head, which is low because of drought conditions.

Other than a cursory mention to its severity, Ditter doesn’t spend much time talking about how the lack of moisture has changed the way he works. One gets the sense that his primary driver – the sense that there are things to be done with no compelling reason not to do them – doesn’t really change with the weather.

The trait must run in the family. In the century the family’s had the farm, it has expanded to a current acreage 10 times the size of the 120 acres Ditter’s grandfather purchased in 1910.

And now there are generally more fingers to operate it.

Ditter explained many of the farmhands he saw growing up had an extremity or two missing, not because of carelessness, but because of standard occupational hazards that came with a life in the fields.

Ditter’s been lucky enough to have made it this far with all his fingers and toes.

“But don’t jinx me,” he said with a wry smile.

It may be a wish to hold onto their fingers or maybe a vested interest in weekends off that keep his two children away from farm work, but Ditter didn’t seem worried about the family trade skipping a generation. He leaves that decision to them.

Responsibility for the farm seemed to fall to him after his dad was incapacitated. He picked up the farm with his brother Randy Ditter in 1997, and has been there ever since.

With the exception of some time off and vacations such as his trip to Colorado two years ago where he skied for the first time – an experience he notes he undertook even after watching someone get taken away in a stretcher after wiping out on the hill – the work has been almost constant and unceasing.

As for the future of his farm, Ditter expects to see bigger, smarter and more expensive equipment, he said from the driver’s seat of a tractor that’s got about 30 years on it and still gets the job done. He also sees tighter water restrictions for irrigators and more unpredictable conditions, the same or higher demands of his work as a producer on fewer resources.

Yet, Ditter said his role as producer usually exists for him on the periphery. He doesn’t think about his role in everyone’s food chain. Most of the time, “I’m just focused on getting to the end of the row,” Ditter said.

It doesn’t take Ditter all day to mow his pasture like it would have his grandfather, but the sun has moved during his time in the field. He mentions that he’d once thought of becoming a pilot about three-quarters through the pasture, after which he’s asked if he ever gets bored.

“No, because I’ve got to focus on what I’m doing,” he said with a glance back to his windrower.