DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Kellie Blair will tell you there's not a lot of time for soul-searching on a working farm. Crop and livestock chores coupled with kids and the sundry of responsibilities that go with them allow little time for questioning why. You just do.
Still, sometimes in those quiet stretches of the back and forth of fieldwork or late-night numbers-crunching of cattle rations, the question of why can come. What is that inexplicable pull that makes farming so compelling, despite the stress of so many unknowns?
Blair, who farms with her husband, AJ, near Dayton, Iowa, started her career in agriculture with a full-time off-farm job. "I can honestly say I've never regretted the decision to change gears and become a farmer. The chance to build something together with my husband and family and have something to show for our labor makes whatever uncertainties we face worth it."
Ryan Wieck feels that pull of legacy, as well. He followed in the footsteps of his grandfather and father. He tried college, but it wasn't for him. And despite a three-year crippling drought in the Texas Panhandle, he would still pick this very spot near Umbarger to plant seeds each year and will them to grow.
Wieck and Blair have been participating in DTN's View From the Cab project during the 2021 growing season. This week DTN asked them to get philosophical and talk about why they farm.
It turned out to be a tough assignment for the two farmers, who much prefer to discuss crop progress and other production topics. Read on to learn their thoughts and get a harvest update.
RYAN WIECK -- UMBARGER, TEXAS
If there was ever a moment for Wieck to assess his reasons for farming, it is now. He and his father, Randy, have started working on a plan to transition the farm.
A sure sign that it is more than talk happened recently when the two went to re-register the brand that has represented the family's cattle herd for three generations.
"We must register the brand every 10 years in our county. Dad told them it was time to put the brand in my name. That's a big deal," he said.
It has not been an easy crop season for Wieck. Drought is nothing new in this part of the world, but excessively dry conditions have lingered where he farms since fall of 2019. This year's milo crop is evidence of the struggle.
"Overall, milo yields were down by 30% over what we would consider normal. Still, that is better than what we were predicting in early August," Wieck said.
While milo often has the image of being able to sip water, Wieck said irrigation couldn't even keep up with the needs of his crop this year.
"We had some hail hit the crop, but the majority of the loss was due to not being able to supply enough water," he said.
Milo typically makes a good dryland crop in this area, but yields were spotty, he noted. "Those farmers who got small showers early had milo crops that struggled because the plant never developed a decent root structure. When it turned hot and dry in July, the roots weren't there to go find moisture.
"Cotton actually handled the weather stress in my area better this year," he said.
Wieck anticipated he would literally get rolling on cotton harvest this week. The new-to-him stripper baler was loaded with plastic wrap, and he was anxious to get started harvesting the crop into big round bales.
In fact, he filed his report this week from the pickup as he sat overlooking a field of open cotton bolls that filled him with both excitement and pride.
"I have a couple of friends that I routinely talk to, and when we call each other, the first words out are often: 'That's it. I'm selling the farm today. I'm done. I'm tired of this.'
"The running joke is that we'll sell it all off and go work somewhere 8 to 5, enjoy our weekends and not have to deal with the stress.
"So, why do we keep doing it? Because we don't want to fail. We really love what we do. We love seeing the result of our hard work," Wieck said. He added that when he talks to those same farmer friends the next day, things will be great. In other words, farming can be as fickle as the weather.
"I love this as a job because it changes every day. I'm always learning something new -- whether it is how to grow a crop, how to be an electrician, how to be a plumber, a welder, a fabricator ...
"I also get to play with really big toys," he said.
Taking time to appreciate the beauty of nature at work -- whether it is a white field of cotton or listening to a baby calf call for its mama -- outweighs the challenges, he maintained.
"I farm because I love the full circle of planting and nurturing a seed. I love the constant learning and that we are always looking for better ways to do something. I love the fact that this cotton I grow will touch so many people. And while I'm embracing all these new technologies to grow that crop better, I can still look out upon a corner post that I know my great grandfather set."
KELLIE BLAIR -- DAYTON, IOWA
Last weekend when the Iowa State Cyclones football team went on to beat the Oklahoma State Cowboys, Blair Farm was racing toward their own goal of finishing harvest before rain.
"Our kids were not happy that we opted to stay in the field," Blair noted. "But we were able to finish harvest late Saturday night right before a cold, wet rain of 2 inches came."
The fact that harvest started on Sept. 21 and was finished in one month's time is something to celebrate -- even if a few football games were sacrificed, she said.
There is still plenty of work to do: fertilizer to apply, cover crops to seed, corn stalks to bale, and strips to make with the strip-till bar. They have also decided to try to put some anhydrous down this fall if weather conditions allow since supplies and costs for next spring seem uncertain. Troublesome winter annual weeds will get a fall application of 2,4-D in a few areas.
The long-term forecast is for cool and wet weather, so conditions will determine further field work progress. "But given the limited rainfall we saw this year, we are really happy that yields across the board for all crops ended up being at or above the farm average.
"We actually ended up with more corn than anticipated and had to take some to town," she said.
Life on a diversified farm can get hectic. Kids sports, church, school, 4-H and other volunteer activities add to the chaos. There's also the direct beef business she's been working at getting launched.
This is a life she chose. "It's interesting to think back and wonder about other directions life might have taken me. I grew up on a farm and knew that I wanted that kind of a life but wasn't sure it would be available to me when I started college.
"What if I hadn't met AJ? What if his parents hadn't left to farm in Brazil, which opened a spot for him on the farm?
"We are educated and probably could get jobs elsewhere, but that's not the path we took. As young farmers, we have worked hard to get to where we are today. We're finally to the age where we can feel the debt load lighten a bit.
"Why do I continue to farm? Because I/we have worked really hard for this," she said.
"Why do I farm? Because I feel a pride in owning our own business, and I love the independence of it -- even if it means we can't just take off and do things whenever we want because we have farming commitments.
"I also know that 8-to-5 jobs come with commitments too. We can talk about the grass being greener, but there are many that would love the opportunity to farm that will never get the chance. I try not to take that for granted," Blair said.
Pamela Smith can be reached at email@example.com
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