People often see the high dollar equipment that farmers have, the number of acres they farm, the size of their sheds or grain bin systems and think they must be rich. It’s understandable that you would think that. After all, none of us can fully know something if we’re not involved with it or experienced with it. I’m not mad at you for thinking that. But, there is a large disconnect between perception and reality here.
Sure, some farmers are rich. But a lot of farmers are asset rich and cash poor. Yes, they drive equipment that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars because it is a necessity in order to farm today. And a few years back, the corn and soybean markets were pretty darn good to farmers. But prices like that happen maybe once in a farmer’s career . . . if they’re lucky. We are currently in a very difficult market place where margins are extremely tight. I don’t say this seeking sympathy by any means. I say this simply to give perspective.
Farmers are rich, indeed. But I’m not talking about the Benjamins. I’m referring to the second definition of rich: plentiful; abundant. Trust me, there are far easier ways to make a living than farming. Farmers don’t do it all for the money. They do it because it runs so deeply in their blood and there is no flushing it out.
Farmers are rich in heritage. The average farm has been passed down for generations. If you pay close attention, you can often see a “Century Farm” sign in the yard signifying that the farm has been in the family for over one hundred years. Farming is a family business. Through thick and thin, farming families know how to stick together and survive. Family bonding time might take place in a barn, in a field or on the tailgate of a pickup truck but at least they are together. The memories made on a farm last a lifetime and are cherished by all whether they continue to farm or not.
Farmers are rich in pride. They take great pride in leaving the farm in better shape than when they found it. There is tremendous pride in taking care of the land, livestock and facilities so that it remains a sustainable business. Every farmer wants to leave a legacy to the generations to come; one that they will also be proud of.
Farmers are rich in stress. Being responsible for carrying on a business that has been able to make it for generations brings with it tremendous stress and pressure. Two of the largest determinants of a farmer’s success are completely out of their control; Mother Nature and commodity prices.
Farmers are rich in knowledge. Today’s farmer has to be knowledgeable in so many different areas. They have to play the roles of an agronomist, human resources manager, accountant, veterinarian, mechanic, data analyst, marketer, janitor . . . you name it. A farmer’s knowledge does not come from a classroom. It comes from living and learning over a lifetime of experiences. There is no passing grade; you either make it or you don’t.
Farmers are rich in optimism. To be a farmer, you almost have to be an eternal optimist (although I know a few who have a funny way of showing it :). You have to plan for a successful crop regardless of how bad commodity prices are, how bad the weather forecast looks or how much work there is to be done. And no matter how hard the times can be or how hard the work ahead is, there is still nothing else they would rather be doing.
Yes, farmers are definitely rich. The farming lifestyle is plentiful and abundant in ways that money can’t buy. And our lives are richer because of the work of farmers everywhere.