Modern farmers must possess many skills

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 (

About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I recently retired from teaching high school agriculture after 25 years teaching with my wife. Until recently I wrote a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper ( I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that can be purchased on Amazon in Kindle format. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone (presently out of print), a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death (this one is not yet published). In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books. I also wrote a romance novel titled Virginia. It is available on Amazon and is a different type of romance from a man's perspective.
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3 Responses to Modern farmers must possess many skills

  1. tonytomeo says:

    Goodness! Try being the last farmer in the Santa Clara Valley, displaced by all those electronics nerds!

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