Some of my fondest memories are etched in the harvest activities of fall. While I’ll forever cherish harvest lunches and driving the grain truck as a (much too) young child under my grandpa and uncle’s guidance, the combine and tractor rides today have taken on new significance.
I’m not an active farmer or rancher, but I surround myself with people who are to stay rooted in the values and experiences that continue to shape who I am. Today, harvest rides are for catching up with the farmers in my family to listen in at the field level for agriculture and business insight. During a recent ride with my dad and cousin, the conversation turned to soybeans and how the crop with strong yields is literally saving a few farms in our area this year. Three decades ago, that wasn’t the case.
Through the years, new domestic and export markets, science-based feed rations for food animals, technological advances and new farming practices have all fueled the potential of soybeans. In a depressed commodity environment, innovation provides opportunities for farms to continue.
During a recent combine ride, my dad brought up China and the country’s demand for soybeans despite an uptick in U.S. production. His dad’s generation used to feed animals corn and barley but today 96% of the soybeans grown in the U.S. are consumed by the livestock industry. Times change, and so must individuals and industries to adapt.
It’s good to reminisce about my fondest farm memories, but riding along with my dad and cousin give me reason to champion real-world agriculture and the memories yet to come.The public perception of agriculture tends to be a romanticized snapshot of yesteryear. But the yesteryears weren’t good ol’ days. They were tough. Yes, it might have been simpler times, but simple doesn’t always equate to sustaining farms and ranches for generations.
I can ride in a combine on a crisp harvest day and know the season of 30 years ago was different. First, if we were combining in October it would have been sunflowers not soybeans. All the corn was chopped for silage.
Today, the number of farmers pales in comparison to three decades ago.
The yesteryears didn’t preserve our family farms, yet the families who are still farming, which is about 1.8% of the U.S. population, are working diligently to conserve and sustain in new ways to ensure a future for many generations to come.
In order to make way for a next generation, such as my cousin, we need advancements in agriculture. We shouldn’t be doing it the way it’s always been done without knowing why we do it and exploring better options.For those of you who are farmers, have you taken the time to learn about new advancements in agriculture, outside of what you already know? Read publications, take an online course or attend a winter educational conference.
For those not involved with agriculture, ask a farmer or rancher if you can visit. Listen to what they’re experiencing at the farm/ranch level, how global agriculture impacts their operation and how government regulations have changed or could change their ability to farm. Ask them for their point of view on concerns you have about food or ag issues.
(This originally appeared as my Agweek column.)