Hoping Against A Blizzard At Halloween

As the days slowly turn much warmer and the trees change to deep summer greens, farmers across Tennessee prepare for this year’s cropping season. They repair hay balers parked over the winter in metal sheds, hoping for just one more year of use and a bumper crop.

However, there is one word in the previous sentence that seems to be used a lot this growing season. It is the word “hoping” that seems to be spoken quite often around farmsteads in the Volunteer State. Farmers are “hoping” for numerous things. They, of course, want prices for their crops to be good, more production from what they plant, drought to stay away this year, some dry weather on hay harvesting days, and hope most of all to just survive another year.

The last couple of growing seasons have not been all that bad for our farmers if you overlook the floods of 2010 and 2011, along with dry weather in parts of East Tennessee in 2011. This year no one can predict what is going to happen in the form of weather after a winter that resembled spring in January and a spring that was more like an early summer. I’m just hoping we don’t have snow at the end of July and a blizzard for Halloween.

This year farmers are planting with a lot of hope, which is what all of them seem to have. We are at 98 percent of the corn crop planted across the state with 92 percent of it emerged. At this time last year only 27 percent had emerged and the five-year average is around 48 percent. It is looking like things are ahead of schedule with even 23 percent of the soybean crop being planted. We usually have only about 6 percent of the soybeans planted on the average at this time of the year, so it looks like the weather is not the only thing ahead of itself these days. With crop development being reported ahead of the normal pace, no wonder our farmers are having some hope for this year. It is also important that we all hope right along with them, because we have just as much to lose as well.

It is true farmer numbers have decreased over the years, and a continued downward trend is not a good thing for any of us. What do we have to lose if Tennessee’s farms continue to go by the wayside? A lot of things that we take for granted everyday. We can lose the green, open space that we enjoy. That farm that you pass going to work, with its bright red barn and lush pastures, could become just another field of houses if the farmer who owns it has to sell out because of high input costs and inadequate farm prices.

And once the farmers sell out, we will lose a culture and a way of life that has been the cornerstone for many of the values that we all believe in. The farmer will lose his job, the feed store will lose a customer, the tractor dealer will lose parts sales, and so on down the line jobs will be lost on and off the farm.

Consumers are wanting more locally grown farm produce and Tennessee’s farmers are hoping to provide it this year. Oh, I forgot to tell you. If our farms go by the wayside, we will have to become dependent on food from outside our region and even our own country. No farms mean no food produced. No food produced here means we have to get it from somewhere else.

Hope is good, but we need more if our Tennessee farmers are going to have future harvests. What is needed on Tennessee farms is for all of us to let our elected officials in Washington D.C. know that we appreciate their votes for the farm bill and to continue to look out for the farmers of our state.

Let them know that we need to reform costly regulations and reduce federal mandates that do nothing but add cost. And we also need to continue to work to keep our food supply safe.

Farmers will always need new and better risk management programs and a crop insurance program that works. Tax reform happened this year in our own state legislature thanks from the help of our senators and representatives who saw the need for eliminating estate taxes that can take family farms right out of existence. Now let’s do the same in Washington.

When you see the bright morning sun coming up in the east this summer, remember that Tennessee’s farmers are out there farming with hope. A hope for future harvests on Tennessee’s farms that all of us can enjoy.

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– Pettus L. Read is editor of the Tennessee Farm Bureau News and Director of Communications for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at pread@tfbf.com