Column: Farmers’ luck is wrapped up in IFs

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By: 

Roger VanHaren

Most of my readers know that I grew up on a farm on Konitzer Road south of Oconto Falls. Because of that, I have great respect for farmers and their philosophical approach to life. I have always felt that farmers are the world’s biggest gamblers. It’s a crap shoot every year for them. Luck plays a major role in their lives. They have to be willing to gamble that the work and expense they put into their farms will pay off. And if it doesn’t … there’s always next year.

In John 12:2, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

That little word IF in that statement is pretty important, isn’t it? There are lots of IFs in a farmer’s life. IF it doesn’t rain enough; IF it rains too much; IF it doesn’t get too hot; IF it doesn’t get too cold; IF it doesn’t hail; IF there is no tornado; IF the weeds don’t choke out the crop; IF there’s not an early killing frost; etc., etc., etc.

Each spring, the farmer waits for the frost to leave the ground so he can till the soil and plant his crops. If the spring thaw is late, maybe the season won’t be long enough for the crops to ripen. If the spring rains are too heavy, maybe he can’t get in the fields to prepare the soil, so the season won’t be long enough.

Maybe the season seems ideal, so the farmer plants his seed. And then it doesn’t rain, so the seed just lies there and doesn’t grow. Maybe it rains too much, and the seed just molds in the wet soil.

IF the seeds do germinate and the plants begin to grow, there’s always the chance of an infestation of insects or grubs to chew away the plants or the roots. Or IF it rains too much again, the plants may drown in the fields. The same conditions which make the plants grow well also make the weeds grow well, and the plants may get choked out by the weeds.

Corn borers and grasshoppers, spittle bugs and leaf hoppers, corn smut, and rust: IF you’re lucky, you don’t get hit by them. Growing a crop is all luck.

Suppose your luck is good, and you get a good crop. What happens if it hails or there’s a heavy windstorm before you get the harvest in? What if there’s an early frost? What if you get the hay cut and then it rains for several days in a row, and the hay gets moldy and unusable? Or it rains a lot and the fields are too wet to get in to harvest the crops? It’s all luck!

When that kernel of wheat (or oats, or rye, or corn, clover, alfalfa, buckwheat, whatever) falls on good soil and dies and grows into a new plant, it produces hundreds of new seeds – IF the luck is good. IF the luck is bad, the farmer loses his shirt.

These are gambles that all farmers take every year. They are the biggest gamblers there are. And yet, I don’t think farmers – at least the ones I knew when I was growing up – ever talked about the luck or the gambles they were taking. Instead, they got up every day, went out and did their jobs and took whatever fate the laws of nature dealt them.

I am in awe of farmers for their fortitude and their resilience.

Contact Roger VanHaren at rjmavh@gmail.com.