Editor’s Note: We’re halfway through a six-week trial period for Rosanna Bauman’s column. Rosanna, 24, is a young adult in a German Baptist farming family near Garnett, Kansas. German Baptists are Plain people who are often confused with the Amish, but they come from a distinctly different religious tradition. PHOTO CAPTION: Rosanna’s brothers Marvin, 26, and Steve, 19, fixing a fence on the property. Farm life is full of such chores.
There’s nothing that gets a farm family excited like harvest. I guess it’s partly the fact that you are finally at the goal line after months of work and preparation. Or maybe it’s even that you are so tired of working toward this harvest goal, you’re good and ready to put it behind you so you can think about something else. But harvest is definitely special because of the stress factor. Really, how much fun would harvest be if you weren’t working against time and the weather? The urgency gives us all energy to work crazy hours with our family. Then there’s that teamwork factor- working together in suspenseful circumstances can really make you appreciate your family and/or employees.
This year, largely due to the drought, nearly everything produced poorly, or nothing at all. So, what do you do when you get to the finish-line after half a year of toiling and nurturing, only to find your prize didn’t show up for the ceremony? What’s the joy of harvest when there’s nothing to harvest? The answer to that question is every farmer’s reason for farming. Our year is a perfect example of this principle. PHOTO CAPTION 2: Rosanna’s brother Kevin helps with the hay.
It sounds a little odd, but the best summary for this past year could be said that it was a “terrible-good” year. For every unexpected disappointment we had an unexpected blessing. Our harvest story is not unique to us, but is similarly repeated by farmers all across America – just enough good to save the farm. I think it’s because God really needs farmers to help Him feed everybody.
Well, we planted corn, we reaped silage bales and insurance premiums. (Except for in one freak field, we got the highest yield in a three-county area!)
The soybeans had a similar story. Those old bean plants really tried to produce. They were heavy with pods, but incidentally, the rains didn’t help fill the pods. The pasture grass couldn’t keep up with the cows, so we just turned them out on the bean field since it wasn’t producing. We went ahead and harvested most of our fields, since the commodity prices had risen to tempting levels. Once again, we can’t call the year a total failure because we had a solitary field that yielded higher than the other farms’ around. We needed that to restore our confidence as capable farmers.
Beef prices were high, but our herd was already reduced in size. We thought to make the most of our limited numbers by turning a not-so-handsome steer into freezer beef. That would improve on the already high beef price, plus we’d get some of the burger for our empty freezer before we sold it. Well, the locker plant found a monster of an abscess and condemned the whole animal! We should have just sold that steer for the peanuts we would have gotten at the sale barn!
This year, we really learned to appreciate our scrap pile. We have a scrap metal accumulation like most farms: a disorderly order of metal that quite often saves the day when we need a bit of metal for welding equipment repairs. We don’t usually give the pile much attention or appreciation because it’s relegated to the fence rows where it won’t be an eyesore for the women. Even though we won’t win any landscape contests with our scrap pile, everyone is newly appreciative of it. We had some new rental ground that we decided to hay the waterways. Because hay is a valuable commodity this year, we were pushing the boundaries of the hayfield to get every bit of hay. A four-foot pipe reached out from a cluster of old tractors in a fence row and tripped up that disc mower.” Clunk!” Right on the heels of the pipe-attack of the mower came a sinking feeling… “Whoosh!” A rotary hoe half-buried in the grass simultaneously put quadruple punctures in the front and rear tires! This landlord has old equipment and metal scattered all over the place. We’ve had a record number of flat tires from farming that ground. We were ever so glad that our scrap was in PILES, and not scattered around, taking up valuable real estate.
In fact, we decided the scrap piles were taking up to much real estate. The price of steel is up, the yields in corn are down- why not harvest some steel? So we did. We saved the useful looking pieces, but found an amazing amount of worthless rusting steel, old equipment and vehicles. What do you know, that lowly scrap pile supplemented the income we were counting on from the crops! The good news is, we’re still afloat for another farming season. The bad news is, that was a 7-year accumulation of steel!
“How’s it going?” Our non-farming friends innocently ask out of concern after hearing the national news of the drought. What can you say that doesn’t sound like you are having a pity party? “Fantastic! The ponds have finally dried up so we can clean out all the silt build-up!”
Not that we’re cornily positive, but farmers just instinctively look at the sunny side when they’re talking to the public (or the banker) and the doom and gloom stories come out only when they’re talking to other farmers. (“Coyotes got your calf? Well, I had three of ‘em bring down a cow who was in the middle of birthing!”)
The drought caused an unexpected side-effect of increased predators. By the time we found out the coyotes were paying culinary visits to our turkey flock, they’d already ran off with nearly one-third of the flock. But we told folks who asked about the turkey production “They didn’t eat the big birds, only the little ones!” And we just remembered – you can get some money off of coyote hides! Perhaps we should have harvested some to make up for the loss of turkey income!
What’s the joy of harvest when there’s nothing to harvest? It’s not only by volume, or price or yield that a farmer can measure his harvest. There’s not a season that goes by that we cannot claim to have had a successful harvest. Farmers will reap anything that grows, be it crops, volunteer plants, scavenging wildlife, junk piles, or life lessons. And sometimes we reap simply hope. No harvest is ever a failure. And next year will always be better. CAPTION 3: Chickens cluck around the Bauman farm as a Kansas storm gathers.