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November 20, 2014

Farmers Endangered

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Farmers the Endangered Species

I heard a sad story the other day about a farm family and a set back in their farm careers. A young family man who had been building a great cowherd had to sell all his cows. I will let you speculate a while as to the cause of the disaster. Let me describe the family. The couple met at one of our great land grant universities.  He from one of the small places in our country, so small even those in Forgottonia think it is small. She considered herself a city girl, but actually she was from a very small town.  They were from dedicated educated families, the best of farm families. The kind that head up church events, Farm Bureau committees, local volunteer groups, school boards; the Paul Harvey image of farm families. Paul Harvey’s farmer tribute dusted off for a Dodge Ram Super Bowl commercial is a little more centered in 1950’s -60’s than today. It is still true that many of those solid family farmers do exist, just many fewer of them. The full time farm population is about 500,000, depending upon how you define full time, in today’s America of 300,000,000. Many farmers in my boyhood farmed on 200 to 400 acres, now 2000 to 4000 acres is more typical of full time farm families. This young family seemed to be making it work, even in an age where fewer are offered the opportunity to choose to farm.

They are strong active members in their local United Methodist church. I know this family best through their active participation in our church. He has once again become an ag-educator; she still continues her witty blog while taking a leave from her job. She has new twin daughters, a month old, to take some of her time along with four other children. All six children are under ten, possibly less than 8 years old. Time moves along children grow up fast.  It is hard to keep track. They were wonderfully farm: 4-H, FFA, Farm Bureau, and Extension types.  A couple so picture perfect; ag-corporations would salivate to be able to use them as props for their ads.

I just need to insert I do not think Monsanto is evil. I think the GMO debate is mostly nonsense. I think corporations are amoral; they love to hide behind real people in ads and in their lobbyist's arguments. They will twist science for profit, this is why independent fact based regulation is essential.

FBAntiReg_EPA Truth


Some of us who grew up on farms and did farm just never fully embraced showing livestock at fairs, bragging over pick up trucks, liking both kinds of music: country and western.  This couple had none of the critical farm flaws people often point to as reasons to change course, no prairie restorations they mowed their road banks. What happened to the college educated, hard working, fully embracing the farm/ranch, church, community, couple to cause them to sell out? I suspect depending upon your preconceived political inclinations you have already singled out a culprit in your mind. I am sure many want to suspect the government had a hand in it. Either by conservation additions to protect land or water restrictions to protect streams, or some instance of out of control government strangling agriculture. Others may suspect corporate agriculture buying up all the land forcing family farmers off their land.  Maybe a few of you are as crazy as Senator-elect Joni Ernst and think UN Agenda 21 is forcing American farmers off their land.  Maybe you think the loonies at PETA or the anti meat crowd got to them. All threats you are likely to hear pontificated on at the small town cafes throughout rural America. None of these did them in.

“ … the individual family here in the state of Iowa, and what I've seen, the implications that it has here is moving people off of their agricultural land and consolidating them into city centers, and then telling them that you don't have property rights anymore.” Joni Ernst  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/05/joni-ernst-conspiracies_n_6104820.html


Here in Forgottonia and throughout the Midwest, farmland is mostly bought by farmers. The current record high prices do not change this fact sometimes accelerate the trend. Although those opposing regulation cast the darkest of forecasts for potential government actions usually the implementation is a process of compromise and adjustment to the practicalities of real situations.  The black helicopter crowd and the all vegan all the time groups are too fringe to really affect change. I still enjoy local beef raised on local farms by people like my young friends. It is a great part of my very well balanced diet.  I think there are healthy sustainable models for increased local producer profit, but will not delve into that now.

I am not involved in the local small town farm community here as I am when I go back to my hometown. I will just say everyone eventually knows everything about everyone in these communities of long connection and historical interactions. Often there is a mix of confusion in the reticent stoic types in rural communities.  Often combinations of envy, greed, and pride affect the course of events. Sometimes things do not continue in a way that would be best for everyone. An attitude can substitute for judgment.  I know this farm couple’s careers were endangered by a threat more prevalent than government. The farm couple succumbed to the more ominous threat of people in their own farm community.  When an arbitrary landlord pulls the plug, you pack up and go home.


I will relate a story from my grandfather’s life with similarities to selling of the cowherd. It was a misunderstanding between landlord and tenant. He was farming during the 1940’s. He was industrious and good at making money on a farm. There were many difficulties during the war, but it was a profitable era in farming. One day a nephew of the landlord came by and told him he would be farming the farm the next season. My grandfather had been through many setbacks, the floods taking out his crops on bottom ground, the crash after WWI, the crash of the Great Depression, he arranged a farm sale and sold out. The landlord was an absentee landlord. My grandfather assumed a man was as good as his word; he hadn’t contacted the landlord. The landlord came to the farm after the sale, said he had no intention of renting the farm to the nephew. He wanted my grandfather to continue, it had been the best partnership he had had with a tenant. It was too late; everything was sold. The nephew never did rent the farm, but my grandfather moved on.  I should point out, if he had continued farming that farm, my father would not have met my mother, and our family history would not exist.

Everyone has their rights; any individual can only do what they can do.  In the case of this couple as has been true for generations a farmer’s biggest threat is not government, corporations, or loonies. A farmer’s biggest threat remains others in the farm community. Farm decisions are too often driven by perceptions about others, often misconceptions. Successful farmers tend to their own business, and do what is right for their families.  As long as you are a tenant your career harbors uncertainty. This awareness of uncertainty motivates farmers to own land. You cannot lose it when you own it and owe no one. Unless, you are crazy enough to believe people like Senator-elect Joni Ernst and fear the UN, but surely no one is that crazy.

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Forgottonia is a place where you can endlessly wander the lonely roads, and never once miss the fast lane. The name Forgottonia captures an image of a region, off the beaten path, which is very true of Western Illinois.

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