12 Most Notable Things You Didn’t Know About Farming
I am so excited to be writing my first 12 Most post, and even more excited that I get to tell you about my passion and career of choice.
Everyone is touched by agriculture every day, but not everybody gets the opportunity to be in production agriculture. It’s a great way to make a living as well as a great way to live.
Here are the 12 most notable things you didn’t know about farming:
1. Farmers are online and they want to talk to you!
There are a growing number of farmers and ranchers on social media and they want to talk to consumers. Farmers of all types can be found on about any social media platform. They’re blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, and all the rest. If you’ve got a question about food or just have an interest in agriculture search these people out because they’d be glad to chat with you. Some of them might even let you see their farm in person if you’re in the neighborhood!
More and more of us are adopting smartphones including myself. They have so many uses on the farm. I’ve even been known to participate in Twitter chats from the tractor cab. Personally I’d like to have a tablet with me in the tractor by the time spring rolls around.
2. Family owned
Most farms in the United States are family owned and operated. There are all types and sizes of farms that farm families make a living on. It all depends on what type of operation you are running. It’s not uncommon for family farms to have employees either — we have one full time employee who works with us.
Geographic location and weather patterns have a lot to do with it too. We have relatives in Hawaii who have 20 acres of lettuce and onions. Our farm in Indiana consists of 2,300 acres. Some farms are technically corporations but are still run by a family. They incorporate for tax and legal reasons.
3. Farming is high tech
Farmers have always liked gadgets and neat tools. That hasn’t changed in the 21st century, but the gadgets have gone high tech. Many operators are employing precision agriculture systems on their farms in order to increase productivity, efficiency, reduce costs, and create more detailed farm records.
Using GPS, we are able to use yield and soil test data from years past to create prescriptions for our fields. This information is then loaded into the monitors in field equipment. This means we can apply seed, fertilizer, pesticides, or just about any other input at varying rates throughout a field. With the right setup you can even have portions of you application equipment shut off whenever part of it overlaps an area that has received an application. This is were you can really start saving money on input costs because if you didn’t know, most fields aren’t square nor are they an exact multiple of the width of your equipment. Even the fields that look square you’ll find to be a little off. This technology can also be used for managing water by creating waterways and underground drainage systems.
And of course the best part is not driving the tractor. Via GPS they can drive themselves now, freeing the operator to monitor other things. Trust me, it’s great. And it’s accurate within a few inches — less than 1” if you’ve got the right gear!
4. It’s a global effort
Like any other industry, agriculture competes on a global market. As technology and infrastructure improve the world grows smaller. I can best relate with the main crops on my farm: corn and soybeans.
Just like stocks, the commodity markets fluctuate over time, going up and down even during the course of a single day. A seemingly endless number of factors play into this. For example, right now the markets are being affected by poor weather during the growing season in South America. The volume of crops and livestock produced and consumed overseas affects prices here at home. And it’s not just supply and demand for commodities that drive prices up or down. — oil prices play a huge role as well since they affect transportation and production costs. You can’t pick up an ag publication or check the markets online without the price of oil being mentioned.
Farmers are pretty well tuned in to what’s happening in the world because global events have an effect on how we will market our own products. Markets help us decided how much of what crop to grow in a given year.
5. The average farmer is 57 years old
My dad is 58 so he’s pretty close to the average. On the surface that might sound bad, but I like the spin put on the situation by John Phipps of Farm Journal in this column. He says, “Other than picking your parents well, there are as few “fast tracks” for farmers as there are for the boy wonders on Wall Street. With the growing capital intensity of agriculture, we should no more expect to see 25-year-old producers running million-dollar operations than we do to see bank presidents of the same age. At the same time, the disappearance of midsize farms eliminates the rungs on the ladder that are necessary for steady advancement. There are fewer 80-acre steppingstones and more 400-acre brawls.” I’m 31 and based on that quote you can put me somewhere between picking good parents and climbing the ladder. I come from a farm family, but my wife and I are buying our way into the business.
There are a lot of young farmers, though. There are several similar to me in our area, and there seems to be a trend of young people who have never farmed trying their hand at smaller operations. Don’t worry we’ll feed you!
6. Not all of us get up before the sun rises
I bet most of us don’t have a rooster that wakes us up at dawn either. Some still might. I have an alarm clock and I hit the snooze a couple times each morning.
I’m a row crop farmer. No livestock here. Those are the guys and gals that get up early to feed and care for their animals. They need to be checked on during the weekend too. And holidays. And in all types of weather. I’m not saying all farmers without livestock sleep in; it’s probably more personal preference than anything. We used to raise hogs so we used to be early risers at one time too. When it comes to the sun coming up and going down during planting and harvest it doesn’t really matter what time it may be. You’ve gotta go when the conditions are right!
7. One farm can feed a lot
With a little bit less land in production each year due to urban expansion and a shrinking rural population (about 2% of the U.S. is involved in ag production) it takes more production to feed an ever-growing world population. Today the average American farmer produces enough food to feed 155 people. Fifty years ago that number was closer to 25. This presents both challenges and opportunities for farmers, and I think we’re up for the challenge!
8. Farmers wear many hats
And it’s not just because you get a free one almost every time a salesman comes to see you. Believe me when I say we see a lot of salesmen in the course of a year.
I’ll run down a few of the things I might do in a given day: obviously, you’d find me in the field operating equipment at the right time of year. Other roles farmers have to play include accountant, truck driver, etymologist, plant pathologist, animal welfare specialist, deal negotiator, employer, marketer, student, environmentalist, landlord, and more. I’m the unofficial VP of IT on our farm. A jack-of-all-trades. Master of some. Add husband and father to that list as well.
9. The average U.S. farm size is…
418 acres according to the 2007 Agriculture census. Of course, farms vary widely in size depending on the type of operation and many other factors. Some people think our farm is huge at 2,300 acres, but I’ve got a couple neighbors covering two or three times that acreage. We have neighbors farming much less too. It takes farms of all types and sizes to meet our needs.
10. The price of corn isn’t the price of corn
The same goes for any other commodity. With grains, every load you deliver is tested for a variety of factors and all of them can affect the price. When you take a load in you are either getting that day’s market price or a contract price that was determined previously. That’s the starting point. If your product is too wet or too dry you can get docked for that because moisture will have to be added or removed. We have drying facilities on our farm, but it can be expensive and time consuming so you have to weigh the benefits of storing or delivering at harvest as the crop comes in. Non-crop material, bugs, damage and more are all things than can be cut off the original price per bushel.
11. Farmers don’t necessarily own all the land they farm
My wife gave me this idea. Before she met me, she thought farmers farmed whatever they own. In fact recent data shows farmers only own 60% of what they farm. Lots of farmland is rented or leased from landowners.
Why don’t farmers own all the land? Many times the current landlord is either a retired farmer or a relative who was given or bought the land. For some farmland is purely and investment. There is some concern now about too much non-ag investment in farmland. When you own the land you are in control of it, but for most it just isn’t economically feasible to own everything you farm. Farmland that is for sale or being offered to new renters goes fast and the competition can be intense. You’ve got to know what you can and can’t afford so you can make a move when the time comes.
12. Farmers don’t go to Florida in the off-season
That’s not entirely true. We do go on vacation just like anyone else, but we do work when we aren’t in the field planting and harvesting. I think some people actually do spend a few weeks in Florida. If you’ve got livestock vacation time can be a little tricky.
“What do you do when you aren’t in the field?” is probably the question I get asked the most by other people. There’s plenty to be done. We fix things that were put off during the busy times. We also make improvements to our equipment and facilities. There’s a good chance of buying, selling, or trading equipment too. In between planting and harvest you need to scout your crops for pests, weeds, and disease and then decide if any management solutions should be implemented. If you have grain storage facilities on site this is the time you market and deliver the crop. Farm auctions abound in the summer and winter. Farmers retire, go bankrupt, and yes they die too. When that happens there will undoubtedly be an auction or sale. Anything and everything can be for sale from wrenches to tractors, and even buildings and land. Next month I’ve got to study and go take a test to qualify for my pesticide applicator license. There are meetings, shows, and field days put on by various organizations and agribusinesses where farmers can learn about new products and techniques. Keeping up on the latest information is important to any business including farming. Oh, and don’t forget taxes! Ugh. Got to do taxes and prepare income statements for the bank.
So, now it is your chance to ask ME some questions! Let me have it in the comments section below.
If you liked this article, please give it a thumb up in Stumbleupon. Thanks!
Featured image courtesy of Brian Scott & tricky ™ via Creative Commons.