Awful weather, like we have endured much of the year so far, can make farming severely trying. We experienced one of the worst springs ever, with late snows and cold temperatures in the middle part of the continent, dry hot conditions in the West, floods in the Dakotas, and far too much rain in parts of the eastern Corn Belt and Southeast.
Many tornadoes have occurred already this year. There are early indicators of a stronger-than-usual hurricane season later on. As I write this on May 5, only about half the intended oats, spring wheat and hay legumes have been planted because the frost was late coming out or soggy conditions made ground preparation impossible.
A cattle producer in western Iowa whom I know has a 22 percent calf loss so far this year, due mostly to cold damp weather. He also blames not having enough feed for his cows after last year’s hay ran out and the pastures were not yet growing.
What can a farmer or rancher do? We can’t give up, given the need by many producers to pay for recent purchases of land and equipment. Moreover, people need the food farmers and ranchers produce.
We have been through tough times before. Read the 2006 book, The Worst Hard Time, by Timothy Egan or watch Ken Burns’ latest public television production, The Dust Bowl, for accounts of hard–and often depressing–times due to weather.
Learning about the past can give us perspective about what we are dealing with currently. My father told my brothers and me as we were growing up how he temporarily became an electric and telephone lineman during the 1930s because winter and summer storms tore down transmission wires. He and other farmers helped the company crews with repairs.
Dad showed us his pair of high-topped boots with spikes clamped to the soles to jam into the wooden poles he climbed to reattach wires. Less than a decade later he bought the farm Marilyn and I live on, and paid for it in two years as corn prices rose to the equivalent of $18 per bushel today. Food was needed to feed hungry people in Europe during the latter part of WWII.
We must have faith. I have written earlier about how essential core beliefs are to farmers (July, 2012) and how bad things happen to farmers (March 2013); this is about faith.
The dictionary definition of faith is to have complete trust in something, even if not proven. Faith is a belief.
Nearly every culture since modern man emerged has developed beliefs in higher forces than humans. Typically, they called these higher forces God. They figured God controlled nature, or they worshipped nature as God.
Sometimes preceding cultures devised elaborate and harsh rituals, even human sacrifices, to attempt to communicate with God, especially when unfavorable weather events occurred, such as droughts. They figured God wanted them to struggle and penance would earn God’s favor. They could observe in all of nature surrounding them that life requires struggling.
Knowledge of the laws of nature and religious practices have advanced since the days when ritual sacrifices were practiced. But we don’t have enough knowledge–and never will–that our own inventions through science will get us through.
We have to ask for God’s help. We have to believe this is what God intends. This is what faith is about.
Faith heals. It gives us courage. Faith is being able to say “I accept whatever is offered.”
We can endure anything when we say and mean that. We become adaptable. It is a frame of thinking that has enormous strength. Faith that God will protect us, nurtures us.
It doesn’t mean we quit trying to do what we know is useful to get us through tough times. It means we keep trying, for that is the implementation of faith.
When the rows of planted corn and other crops at last emerge in patterns that look like they belong on a quilt, it is testament that we have not been abandoned. Even if things don’t materialize as hoped, being able to say “I accept whatever God offers,” and mean it, has survival value. For sometimes, even more adversity follows when we think our trials are over.
There is a beautiful hymn that says “Be not afraid, for I am with you always.” Replacing what we want with acceptance and openness to adversity, and generosity toward others who are struggling, are behaviors that enable us to continue on.
So don’t be bitter or afraid that the weather adversities we are going through will harm us. They are meant for us to adapt and become better farmers. We aren’t alone. A higher force is watching out for us.
Dr. Rosmann is a Harlan Iowa psychologist and farmer. Readers can contact Dr. Rosmann at the website www.agbehavioralhealth.com.
By Mike Rosmann, Ph.D.