Moving day is an especially “moving” experience for people involved in farming, ranching, or working in agriculture in any fashion.

The move, whether from one farm to another, to a different occupation, retirement, or to something else, is a highly emotional event for every individual on the farm and even more traumatic when the next home is away from the land.

The changes in living arrangements can trigger significant psychological upheaval. Leaving the farm that has been home brings our attachments to where we live into the foreground.

Memories of important events that took place at the departing home emerge. These memories are unique for everyone, at every age, and the reminisces may be good or bad.

For instance, a farm youth might reflect back on a favorite 4H animal that became more of a pet than a project. A mother might recall fond feelings while feeding her babies at night in the room next to where she and her husband slept. A farm man may remember the sadness he felt as he viewed a field of tangled corn stalks after high winds caused greensnap that wrecked prospects for a bumper crop.

Moving day for farmers during past eras was often accompanied with help from neighboring farm families who loaded machinery and tools onto the flatbeds they usually used to haul hay to barns or shocks of small grain to the threshing machine that separated the grain from the straw. Household items were seldom boxed as they were transported by wagons, trucks and any other available vehicles to the next home for the farm family.

Moves by farm families were community affairs that generated excitement and encouragement from the neighbors and appreciation from the family making the move, even if the move from the farm was brought about by economic hardship or retirement from farming. Nowadays, moves are largely handled by the family and employees involved in the agricultural operation or by paid professionals who specialize in moving farm equipment and households as their business.

Information from the USDA Census of Agriculture that is undertaken every five years, indicates that turnovers of farming operations have always been common and are associated with episodes of economic hardship, such as the 1980s’ farm crisis, while consolidation into ever larger agricultural operations is responsible for the ongoing reduction of farmers on the land. Of note, the 2022 Census of Agriculture is being distributed currently for completion by farmers by early 2023.

Attachment to the land is the driving force that makes moving to new places so emotionally complicated for everyone involved in agriculture. All humans possess some degree of a drive that is called the agrarian imperative.

Like nearly every species, our ancestral hominids were motivated to secure territories that furnished them food, safe places to live, and opportunities to reproduce. The earliest forms of humans gradually acquired capacities through the genetic selection that gave them advantages over competing species, such as the ability to use their hands for making tools and for their vocal systems to form words.

Increasingly modern humans with larger brains than their predecessors in central and northern regions of Africa outgrew the carrying capacity of their habitats; they pushed northerly into Southwest Asia and Europe in search of territories for their communities. Successive waves of ever more sophisticated modern humans spread by land and sea to Australia, the Pacific Islands, and North and South America.

Agriculture gave tremendous advantages to people who adopted farming techniques to produce crops, livestock, and other species needed for food, clothing, tools, and other purposes. With sufficient basic necessities for survival through perils such as droughts and attacks from other tribes, communities could become permanent. Fewer people were needed to furnish the basic necessities, which allowed others in the community to specialize in construction, arts, and crafts, government, education, religion, herbal medicine, and even primitive behavioral healthcare in the form of discussions between troubled community residents and a witch doctor.

Human culture and knowledge advanced over just a few thousand years led to systems of numerals, writing with alphabets, the scientific method, and eventually the basics for the fields of mathematics, philosophy, physics, medicine, and areas of expertise that became the forerunners to many of our current academic disciplines.

Agrarian urges to produce food, materials for clothing and shelter became stronger during the many successive generations of modern humans who flourished after agriculture was invented. The concentration of our agrarian imperative through selection of the most successful farmers explains why it is difficult for people to leave farming for other lifestyles, including retirement.

Farmers want to be useful, especially to their successors. Leaving places to which they became emotionally attached is difficult, even if necessary.

Understanding how our agrarian imperative charges farmers emotionally can help them when undertaking moves, and everyone, for that matter.