Occasionally I hear someone refer to an individual as a dumb farmer. It really irks me. Farmers of today must be on the cutting edge of technology, proficient in math and experienced in marketing.
In our area we have farmers with degrees from Duke and NC State. Most folks could never gain entrance to those institutions. These people could have pursued other professional careers but farming was their passion.
Farming large acreages means managing huge sums of money. Calculating fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals must be efficient. Farmers must know their algebra to apply proper rates. For that matter they must be proficient in geometry to know how big the field is in the first place. Probably most important is that farmers use math to manage their time.
That’s just the beginning. Modern machinery is so technologically advanced that it’s mindboggling. The cab looks like something out of the space program. The average person couldn’t even start a modern combine let alone run it without significant training.
Reading the land is a skill not often appreciated. How wet is too wet? Farmers might not be able to explain it to you but they know.
They also know how to interpret pest damage data and make cost analyses. Sometimes insect or disease damage will cost them less than treatment will. Again, math skills weigh heavy here. They won’t spray if pests will depress yields by about fifty dollars per acre and treatment will cost more than that. However, they know what the breaking point is.
Farmers understand the concept of growing degree days. They keep track of the weather and know when crops should be ready for harvest based upon how much favorable weather we’ve had. That’s why sometimes you see a field of corn harvested in August and in other years in late September.
Precision agriculture is a term foreign to farmers years ago. Now many of them can break down a large field into different management zones to derive the most production possible.
Livestock farmers have special skills too. Knowledge of animal nutrition is critical to healthy herds and flocks. It’s not a one size fits all approach either. Various stages of growth have different nutritional requirements.
Estrus synchronization is also something livestock farmers might discuss. They want all their calves, lambs or kids born at the same time, so they can manage them better. This is especially true in the dairy industry or any time artificial insemination is employed.
Using their brains to solve problems and make money benefits farmers. It also benefits everyone. Every time we take land out of production to build a housing development, shopping center or solar farm we cut down on our ability to feed the world’s people.
Farming is the backbone of our local economy. Our farmers deserve our respect and I think often times they don’t get it. They keep clothes on our backs and food in our bellies.
I’ve seen farmers design modifications to equipment that make it work better and last longer. On the other end of the scale I’ve seen them use wire and duct tape to keep something together and get through the day and back to the shop in one piece. Both cases represent innovation at its finest.
In short, farmers aren’t dumb. To paraphrase a monologue by Paul Harvey, “the world had a need, so God made a farmer.”
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (firstname.lastname@example.org).