Production Blog

A Tough Country

Pam Smith
By  Pam Smith , Crops Technology Editor
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The summer has been filled with challenges, but hope comes in holding on to simple things. For Julia Smith, it's a homegrown ear of sweetcorn. (Photo by Pamela Smith)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- It was the small John Deere tractor cross-stitched onto a piece of fabric stretched across the walker that caught my eye. Most of the other residents in the nursing care facility I was visiting were gathered to greet guests. Marjorie watched from afar.

I was a bit of an outsider in this environment myself. My golden retriever and I recently certified to enter such facilities to offer comfort. I was observing and learning how other pet partner teams interact before I begin volunteering.

"Are you a farm girl?" I asked, pointing to the tractor. She nodded as I kneeled to wheelchair level. She told me she originally came from Oklahoma.

"That's a tough country sometimes," I said. She nodded again and haltingly told me her oldest brother had perished in a tornado there.

Silence. She remembered. I processed. The last three to four months have been filled with weather worries on my home front. I've watched my own siblings struggle to get a crop planted between rains that went well beyond what we classify as "frog-stranglers." Wheat still sits waiting to be harvested after a new combine was buried in the mud after things supposedly "dried out." The value of what was expected to be a bumper crop has nearly vanished with the delays. Baling hay has been a nightmare. This week brought more rain, wind damage and tornado warnings.

Last week as I drove across northern Missouri I marveled at the number of fields that were empty of everything but failed attempts to manage marestail. I saw some two-leaf corn and soybean planters rolling on the third week of July.

This week, I've sent urgent Facebook messages to friends in the Cameron, Ill., area where tornados touched down and destroyed much of the village.

Meanwhile, my inbox has filled with reports of various pests on the attack -- among them the warnings that sugarcane aphids are dining on the sorghum planted by farmers as an alternative to depressed corn prices. The number of crop dusters flying overhead has caused a flurry of phone calls from non-ag friends asking what's up? It's leaf diseases, of course, and they have come on with a vengeance in some of the healthiest of cornfields.

Part of my job is to ask questions that help growers make better agronomic decisions. No two seasons are the same and that's part of what makes this profession so interesting. However, I'll admit the responsibility of trying to find answers to the many problems this year has been clouding my thoughts.

That's where Marjorie comes in. Perspective is a powerful thing and I'm worn out on negatives. When another friend asks about the planes, I am going to explain that those farmers are fighting back -- that there's still a good measure of faith involved in the science of farming.

I have no idea whether "Hail Mary" moves of planting corn and soybeans this late in the season will pan out. It would be easy to pass judgment -- instead, I'm giving those farmers an atta-boy for hope.

And at least for this weekend, I'm concentrating on giving an old-fashioned thanks for all the things we should hold dear such as family, friends and resilience. As Marjorie told me: "Farming makes you tough." Amen, sister. Amen.



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Pamela Smith
9/7/2015 | 8:04 PM CDT
It was in great sadness that I read Marjorie's obituary in the local paper this morning. Often people will ask me if what we write about is true. The answer is yes. Rest in peace Marjorie.
Jerome Fitzgerald
7/29/2015 | 9:05 PM CDT
agriculture requires scientific basis look at you tube ;geoengineering whistleblower