I wish someone would do a psychological study on the optimism of the American farmer.  For as long as I’ve been alive, I’ve watched farmers endure every imaginable weather extreme, market catastrophe, political upheaval and personal tragedy that any human should have to experience and, almost without exception, they each look forward to the next year.
I’ve watched my crop farmer friends suffer through growing seasons where their production was almost nothing resulting in coming perilously close to losing everything for which they’ve worked their entire lives.  And yet, this time of year, one can find them planning with the loan officer to squeeze in one more crop because they’ve “got a good feeling about the prospects for the coming year.”
My dairy farmer buddies, who are always bemoaning low milk prices and high feed prices, keep on doing it year after year because, “milk just can’t stay this low forever and when prices come back, I’ll be sittin’ in the driver’s seat.”
My fellow beef producers are no different.  The cowboys anticipate the prospects of the next calf crop with much the same excitement as an expectant mother.  They seem to know that next year, they’ll have a higher percent calf crop, heavier weaning weights, and, most certainly a better price for the calves because, “with higher feed costs, the price just has to go up.”
Growing up on the farm, I watched my own parents work harder than anyone should ever have to, sacrificing so many of the luxuries that most of us take for granted these days, just to keep doing this thing we call farming.  Dad never wanted to do anything else and Mom, well, she wanted to stay with Dad so they survived.  But, I often remember my father cursing the trials and tribulations faced by farmers.  He was always complaining about the weather (it was always too much or too little), insisting that “big money” was keeping our commodity prices too low, or simply bemoaning bad luck every time a calf or pig would die.
Once, when I was in college and still extremely stupid, I admonished my dad by asking him, “If it’s really that bad all the time, why don’t you just sell out, pay off all your bills and live comfortably the rest of your life?”
He replied that he just might do that if this next year didn’t turn out better than the last, but he “had a real good feeling about the coming year.”
When I quit teaching eleven years ago to pursue my lifelong dream of becoming a full-time farmer, I always told myself that if I ever became negative and didn’t like what I was doing, I’d quit.
Well, last week, I had to do some serious soul searching.  Three of the last four years have seen incredible drought here at the Crownover ranch.  I’ve had to reduce cow numbers because I couldn’t sustain my past numbers with either pasture or hay production.  Last January, we were hit with an ice storm that was called the “storm of the century.”  In August, we had a flood of biblical proportions that washed everything away, but did nothing for our soil moisture because it all ran off.  I confided to my wife that I thought I had it figured out to where we could sell all the land and cattle, auction off the machinery, pay all of the debt on the farm, and have plenty left to live a pretty comfortable life from here on out.  She told me she would support whatever I decided.
Saturday, I went out and bought another bunch of cows.  I’ve just got a really good feeling about 2008.
Jerry Crownover farms in Lawrence County, Missouri. He is a former professor of Agriculture Education at Missouri State University, and is an author and professional speaker. For information about his books or to arrange a speaking engagement, call 1-866-532-1960.


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