Earlier today I had the privilege of speaking to the Richardson, Texas, Rotary Club. The invitation was open-ended so I was able to speak on pretty much anything I chose, related to agriculture, of course.
I picked the importance of the family farm. I thought you might be interested in my observations so I’m publishing it here as a longer-than-usual blog.
The family farm is alive and well.
It’s not 40-acres and a mule any longer and it’s not a matter of raising enough beans and greens to feed a family and sell what’s left to buy necessities. It’s not a yard full of chickens, a half-acre of vegetables and a milk cow.
The family farm, like most business ventures in the 21st Century, has evolved.
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In Texas, a family farm may be a 30-acre plot growing vegetables for local markets or a 20,000- acre diversified enterprise with cotton, corn, wheat and grain sorghum—and 200 head of cattle. It can be a ranch that’s bigger than some counties. And most are incorporated, as are most small businesses, for asset protection, tax advantages and other reasons.
But it’s still family.
Most of the farmers I know are actively engaged. I don’t see many who farm from the seat of a fancy pickup and send the hired hands to do all the work. They plow, they plant and they harvest. They are as hands-on as any business I know. They take few vacations and never at planting or harvest time.
I’ll give you an example.
Farm Press sponsors a peanut award every year and takes our winner to a resort in Panama City, Florida, for four days of fun and some education. This year’s winner was from South Texas and the meeting occurred in the middle of corn harvest.
“Can’t go,” he said. “I’ll be cutting corn.”
That’s not unusual. I have never met a group of businessmen—and that’s what they are, agricultural businessmen—more devoted to taking care of business.
And the farm almost always passes from one generation to another. Sometimes it’s sub-divided among sons—and some daughters—and sometimes I see three generations working together on a farm. It’s usually a seamless transition, though problems do crop up occasionally.
That happens in families.
Farmers work hard, harder than most any occupation I’ve ever heard of. They work long hours. I know many who start planting corn in early March—February down in the Rio Grande Valley—and spend more time on the seat of the tractor than they do in their homes—until the crop is in. Same goes at harvest time. Timing is of the essence and delay can be devastating.
They are up at all hours of the night checking irrigation systems, pregnant cows and wild hogs in the peanut fields.
They despair over drought that saps their energy as it destroys their crops. They pray for rain but fear the hailstorms that often bring it. Wind-blown sand can destroy in minutes plants that took weeks to coax out of the ground and up to a point where making a crop seemed possible.