The Planted Row: A salute to American farmers

Stan Wise Farm Forum Editor
Farm Forum

On Monday, the annual Rose Parade was held, and this year, thanks to South Dakota-based Ag PhD TV and Radio, there was a float with the theme of a “salute to farmers.” The float looked magnificent, and it carried many real farmers from America’s heartland.

When I saw it, I was extremely impressed by the effort put into the float.

Early in the parade, the float broke down and had to be towed. Some people in farm country might feel embarrassed about that, but if anything, it put an even bigger smile on my face. To me, the float became an even more realistic salute to farmers.

When is the last time you were doing something new on your farm, and everything worked perfectly the first time around? My guess is that you can count the number of times that has happened on one hand.

Farmers have to deal with breakdowns, malfunctions, and other mishaps all the time. It’s part of the job.

I’ve been on a tractor when it has caught on fire in the field. I’ve helped build a needed spray rig from scrap metal, an old tank, some rubber hose, and a spare PTO pump. I’ve replaced worn out bearings in the middle of a field. I’ve pulled a transmission at 1 a.m. I’ve had to adjust and readjust implements until I was ready to scream. I’ve had to re-engineer malfunctioning irrigation systems, and I’ve solved more problems than I care to admit with a blow torch. (We called it the “smoke wrench” on our farm.)

I did all this, and yet I left the farm in 2003. I’m certain most of you have dealt with much, much worse.

I can remember after one trying day in my first summer running our family’s vegetable operation. Everything had gone wrong. A tractor broke down. An implement needed repairing. The irrigation system malfunctioned and flooded a field. Black plastic (into which vegetables were planted) was blown loose by the wind, requiring much shovel work by me to get it secured again. I spent the entire day repairing one thing after another.

Finally, at the end of this long, tiring day, I said to my grandfather, “Farming seems like it is just solving one problem after another.”

He laughed and said, “Of course it is.”

I’m convinced that American farmers are the world’s best problem solvers. They might not have the best engineering, math or science backgrounds, but they make up for that in “need to get it done or lose the farm.” They say necessity is the mother of invention, and who has more necessity, who has more on the line than a farmer?

My father and his brother are expanding their row crop operation, and yet they are still working with equipment from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Why? Because they know how to fix it when it breaks down, and they don’t have to spend the money to buy newer equipment. They’re able to remain profitable when other nearby operations are struggling. My dad and uncle have lifetimes of experience solving problems, and when something happens, it’s not unexpected or alarming. It isn’t even upsetting because they have a long history of resolving such issues and continuing with the business of growing food.

They are not unique. They are representative examples of real American farmers.

When the Ag PhD float broke down this week, there was barely a pause in the show. The Rose Parade has trucks on standby for just such an event. They hooked up a truck to the float and towed it through the parade.

A problem cropped up, and the people on hand solved it so the show could continue.

What better salute to the American farmer could there be?