young farmers

The Unfinished Harvest

Today, my husband made the call. The final call. The call to our insurance agents to come do a write-off on the fields the tornado ripped through on September 20th.

My mood has nose-dived. Tanked. I have been angry. I have been selfish. I have been completely devastated.

In my 28 (short) years of life, I have never not seen a crop harvested on these fields that have been part of my family’s history for over 100 years.

In our last-ditch attempt to harvest some, my husband watched the yield monitor, texting me telling me it isn’t good. Most of the corn is laying in the soil, unable to be picked up by the combine head. Then one snout broke. Too close to the ground trying to pick up a few more ears…any ears.

Well-meaning advice just made me angrier… “Rent a draper head.”  Yeah…not in this situation and the damage to the combine wouldn’t be worth it. “Buy a pick-up reel.” Because we can afford a $25,000 reel to be used on 3 of our 5 fields. “Slow down, you’ll get it.” We’re going 2mph.

Broken snout #2 trying to harvest downed corn.

We’ll try again. Fix the snout, on to the next field. What might have been bad advice by someone to set the head lower in an effort again to pick up more ears, resulted in another broken snout. There are only so many snouts you can go through cost wise before you say, something has to give.

We’ll try it one more time. Go over with the header even higher. Take just what is still standing, or half-standing after all this rain. Try one last time. Insurance will write off the rest. I’m not even going to think about things like bushels, yield monitors, or pretty green screens.

Devastating seems like the right word with all of this. I know, I know we will get an insurance check. This is why we have it. For catastrophic events like this.

But it isn’t the same. We worked so hard all year long…carefully choosing the right herbicides, fertilizers, precision applications. Selecting new varieties that were looking so amazing before the storm. Choosing variable rate seeding based on our different soil types. Installing tile for better drainage to give the crops a yield boost. Harvest is the time we see all that hard work come to fruition.

I’d liken harvesting that first field to a child waking up on Christmas morning. Everyone is eager to get in, to see what the yield is. You take pride in your harvest.

But not this time. This time, I feel like a failure. A crop that was so beautiful and then just like that, gone. We get a set amount, we don’t get to market our crop. We don’t get to put it in a bin. We don’t get to haul it to the ethanol plant. Every task on the farm that was a “job” now seems more like it was a blessing – we were given the ability to do so, now that opportunity is gone.

We’ve been finding random pieces of debris in the field from the tornado.

I have been trying to keep my anger in check. Although I know my husband has bared the brunt of a few of my arguments over all of this. I feel like it is giving up – bowing to the blow Mother Nature decided to deal us. And also this strange feeling of pride of this being land that my family has farmed for so long, that not harvesting it, is somehow dishonoring my family and their legacy. Not being able to have my daughter riding in the combine, combining the same fields her Grandpa did each fall, brings on a new and odd wave of guilt. The emotions with this harvest are running high. I have found too many people think farming is some glamorous lifestyle, and this stuff, the really hard stuff, is something they would never be cut out for. They won’t ever understand it. The struggle of what this life can truly be like is unnoticed by so many. That is okay. I’m not sure I would want them to have to go through this.

Regrouping. Sifting through my frustration, anger, worry and guilt has been a struggle. It still is every single day. I continue to write my grateful 5 each day – searching for the blessings every day instead of dwelling on what I cannot change. We have our house, our family…things could have been so much worse that night.

When your crop is laying on the ground, wiped out by something completely out of your control, taking the next step, moving forward, can be so difficult when all you want to do is cry. Tears come easy, smiles are few and far between, but clinging to hope for next year. Falling and getting back up, scraped knees and all, because you need to. Have to. That is the hard stuff.

-Sara

Is CRP Slowly Killing Young and Beginning Farmers’ Dreams?

The Conservation Reserve Program or more commonly known as CRP has long been touted as a way to remove marginal farmland from production. This was land that maybe formerly was a wetland or just didn’t perform well because it would be a drowned out low spot in the field. The application involved showing that it would be a good field to return to or protect wetland habitat and highly erodible ground, at least for Minnesota. Minnesota’s focus has primarily been on wetland habitat for the last 20-30 years of CRP.

Typically these acreages would often range in the 1-5 acre range for what a farmer typically wanted to remove from production. After all, the entire field wasn’t necessarily marginal, but sections of it may have been.

After speaking with several area farmers, and experiencing it firsthand, farmers would often apply to have those smaller tracts removed from marginal production and put into CRP, and would find themselves denied. Reason? Not because it wouldn’t be a good candidate for the program, but FSA wanted more acreage. Often asking for tracts of 15-35 acres to be removed from production, or even an entire field.

CRP has a time frame on it. Once you put land in the program, it stays in there for 10 years. 10 years is a long time in a cyclical farm market, when many are choosing to place their land in CRP simply because crop prices are low and the CRP program is paying very high

CRP program payments are currently well above average county rates. In my county, average rates hover in the $225-$250 rate for farmland. CRP payments are in the upwards of $100 to $150 per acre more than what farmers are able to cash flow.

This is a problem.

This is a problem because it is encouraging people not from the area to purchase land, reach the 2 year farming rule, and place land into CRP before giving actual farmers that live or work in the area a chance to rent that land or purchase that land. Often we see people from outside of these rural communities, that may live in a metropolitan area, purchasing land, hiring someone to custom farm it for the required two years, and then putting it into the CRP program at rates that will pay them twice the amount of what they might get in rent or what they could be losing by farming it themselves. Hey, you can’t blame them I guess IF money is their only object.

Young farmers are trying to return to their rural communities, but accessing land can be very difficult.

In the meantime, young and beginning farmers who keep getting told they have tons of governmental options to rent land (one example – Minnesota passed legislation offering tax credits to those renting to young and beginning farmers last year) are literally fighting against one section of the government while supposedly getting help from the other to find land to farm. A young and/or beginning farmer can’t afford a $350/acre land rent, and I actually doubt most farmers who have been farming a long time could actually cash flow that right now with current crop prices. But somehow, the government can. The government can pay over $300/acre for CRP contracts for the next 10 years.

We are seeing entire fields get removed from production that will more than likely lose their previous farmable wetland designation when they come out in 10 years. We are seeing productive crop land removed from production and placed into the CRP program simply because landowner can get more for it through the program then they could by renting it to a local farmer. We are seeing entire fields go into CRP because they are overlooking smaller marginal tracts that may be a better fit for the program’s original intent. Beginning farmers are losing out on the ability to potentially cash flow some marginal land while looking for other ways to improve the soil through cover crops, variable rate seeding, or even smaller grains such as barley, oats, and wheat as part of their rotations or other specialty crops such as hops and grapes.

So why aren’t we paying young farmers $300 an acre in land rent to keep farming? To build a continued, sustained, farm operation in rural communities? To give them an opportunity? We can say we are speeding up access to funding from FSA and increasing the cap, but it is all a little too late when land rates for purchasing have continued to stay high despite low commodity prices.

I know, I know. CRP is all for the sake of wildlife habitat. But when do we finally say enough is enough and that a balance is there? When do we finally admit that maybe preserving farmland to feed people, to fuel our vehicles, and create a million other items is important too?

When do we start to put a preservation status on our agricultural land? When do we start to preserve the farming lifestyle that some choose

Preserving farmland for future generations and for food security is important.

as their business and profession? When do we get to put out a big metal sign on a piece of farmland and say that this piece has been preserved as agricultural farmland for the entirety of its life, like we do for wildlife habitat?

Some of you will read this whole post and come away purely saying she’s against wildlife, but definitely not the case. We have a wetland area in the back of the property we own that is in CRP. We have 40 acres of woods that are part of a piece of land we farm that is just that way because we enjoy it. We hunt pheasant and deer. However, at the end of the day, there has to be some push back when we have beginning farmers that can barely get 50 acres to start and then have to compete with the government on top of it.

-Sara