Amazing things happened at church Sunday. I was there, for one. And, even more amazing, I stayed completely awake during an entire sermon.

The reason I know this is that I remember what the preacher talked about. Pain and suffering.

Those are not subjects generally prone to keep me awake, but there was something, the delivery perhaps, that grabbed my attention. And the longer I listened the more I appreciated the point our young minister was making.

Suffering, he said, is a gift, not one we especially want and certainly not one we ask for, but a gift, nonetheless.

Without it, you see, we don't get, or at least can't appreciate, the more popular gifts of hope and joy. It's kinda like measuring the depth of a lake with a ruler. If there is no bottom, we have nothing to rest the base of the ruler on and, ultimately, no way of determining how much water we have.

Pain provides the baseline by which we can measure and appreciate joy. And if we have no pain, where can we find hope? What is there to hope for? More no-pain?

I'm not trying to wax religious and certainly not trying to convert anyone or push any set of beliefs on folks. But it struck me as an important message considering all that has happened to Southwest agriculture in the past few weeks. For instance:

A cotton crop in the Southern Plains that had gotten off to a good start, partly because of good soil moisture accumulated through the fall and winter, was hammered by storms in late May and early June. Farmers stand to lose as much as 1 million acres of cotton.

Storms also hit Oklahoma, some carrying winds of 90 miles per hour. Seedling cotton was sand blasted. Replanted cotton emerged just in time to get clobbered by another storm, this one popping 60 miles per hour. Replanting following that one occurred under extremely dry, hot, windy conditions. The crop will be late, subject to all manner of calamities from here on out.

The Lower Rio Grande Valley will make less than an average crop as farmers watch cotton wither under a drought that has plagued them almost from the outset.

And while the Valley crop was drying up, tropical storm Allison dumped as much as 36 inches of rain on Houston in just a few days. We're still trying to assess how much crop damage occurred in the surrounding area, but the storm was deadly; people were killed. Of less impact will be the staggering property loss from flood damage.

Farmers, I've noticed, bear up fairly well under a weather catastrophe, figuring it's part of the price they pay to stay on the land. Harder to take is the dismal prices they've been forced to accept for the past few years and the apparent lack of any meaningful remedy from the federal government.

Disaster checks and deficiency loan payments have kept many in business, but most prefer legislation that provides a safety net that allows them to make a decent profit. A poor agricultural economy adds immeasurably to the pain and suffering farmers endure from natural disasters.

For most, Freedom to Farm has proven a miserable failure, leaving them at the mercy of a free-trade illusion that has them competing with farmers who are heavily subsidized by their governments.

I'll not push a political agenda any more than I will a religious one. I've noticed that regardless of the party in power agriculture continues to get short shrift when budgets come up for debate and when an issue pits consumer against farm interests. Bet on the consumer every time.

Farmers have been blessed with an abundance of pain and suffering. But most would not trade their jobs for anything else. They find hope in every newly planted seed, joy in a good harvest, faith that hard work will pay off.

For now, they've had enough misery. They need a system that allows them to survive the bad long enough to enjoy the bounty. They've had ample pain to appreciate a little joy.


ron_smith@intertec.com