Before getting to today’s topic, let’s discuss the weather a bit. The area received beneficial rains of 1.5 inches or so. The rain couldn’t have fallen any more perfectly and seasonable temperatures should get most wheat off to a good start. Unfortunately the forecast is slim on the chance of rain so temperatures need to stay cool and it would help if winds weren’t too strong. But at least we stand a chance now.
Sometime ago in the media an article described everything a stay at home wife/mother did, what skills were involved, and what they should be paid based on these sills and tasks. Needless to say, the value was quite high. The point was to point out the skills and work involved in just “staying home.” Similarly, many in our society have the view of farming/ranching as a fairly straightforward task, producing crops and livestock and maybe waiting at the mailbox for those government checks. And many, especially in more urban areas, are laboring under the misconception that farmers are rolling in money. So what skills/hats does it take to be a farmer/rancher in today’s world? While hardly complete, the following list is at least an overview.
• Biologist – whether crops, livestock or both a farmer must possess a basic understanding of the living things produced. How to grow/produce them. How to recognize problems. How to address those problems. When to call in an expert.
• Chemist – no matter the operation, a practical knowledge of the chemicals used. How to safely use and store materials. The effects of these compounds on production. Must be able to understand, interpret, and implement the results of soil, plant, and water analysis.
• Soil scientist – knowing how to effectively manage the soil for production. How to correct problems within the soil environment to optimize production and protect the environment. How to maintain/correct problems with the soil chemical environment (pH, fertility). And much more.
• Economist – must be able to navigate the labyrinth of purchasing inputs and selling outputs. Must be able make sure whoever is doing the books gets it right. Must have a working knowledge of the tools involved with forward contracting and crop insurance.
• Researcher – most farmers “try things out” for their operation to see how or if it makes sense. They evaluate crop varieties and hybrids, pesticides, and fertilizers. They experiment with new crops, crop rotations, equipment and most aspects of their operation.
• Computer programmer/operator – computers are involved in everything from finding out where you are and what you yields across a field are to the brains that operate most equipment. Bookkeeping and correspondence require familiarity with computer programs.
• Mechanic/technician – must have a basic understanding of the equipment used, how to maintain it and basic repairs since you can’t call the implement dealer every five minutes. Must be able to properly set equipment for farm/ranch use.
• Trucker – this one’s pretty obvious.
• Hired hand – except for very large operations, I don’t know many farmers that haven’t performed physical labor during the day.
• Management – responsible for the day to day and long-term decisions of the operation as well as managing the help. The help is often related which can make this even more fun.
• Student – anyone in Ag is constantly attending updates, field days, tours, seminars and other events from everyone from Extension to major seed and chemical companies and everyone in between.
There’s much more that could be added to the list but you get the idea. What may appear to be a fairly simple is extremely complicated when done properly.
Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207.