By Kate Proctor
We live in an increasingly complex world, and it seems humans have never-ending expectations. While technology has vastly improved our lives in many ways, it has also led to some down sides – everyone is an expert in everything now thanks to Google, and since we are all experts in everything, we find it so easy to criticize and condemn what everyone else is doing.
As a farmer, I sometimes feel overwhelmed with the sheer amount of stuff we need to know and keep on top of as things evolve and change. Never mind the evolving and changing… I can get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff we need to remember. Even if you just take one aspect of farming – cropping – there is a lot to know.
We need to be experts in highly technical equipment like sprayers, planters, and combines – understanding the mechanics, maintenance, and technical pieces that all need to work together properly. Usually I just get feeling good about all of that when it is time to put that machine away for another year and haul out the next piece of equipment. God help you if you forget one little setting on the monitor when switching between crops. I try to take good notes from year to year and pictures of the tricky things I can’t remember, but it is still a challenge and every year seems to bring new problems. Wait – let me reframe that – new things to learn! There is never any shortage of learning. Or new mistakes to make.
We also have to be knowledgeable about varieties of seed, weeds, insects, plant diseases, soil, fertility, international politics and weather, marketing… you get the idea. Of course, farms raising animals have the list multiplied many times. Add in the human factor – few of us farm completely alone – we also have to be experts in human behavior to keep the whole thing running smoothly in order to get things done in our increasingly small weather windows of opportunity. Speaking of weather, we can do all the planning and implementation of those plans perfectly, but the biggest impact on our outcome is something completely out of our control.
Yet to the average consumer, who makes up more than 99 per cent of the population, we are still chewing on a piece of grass in our denim overalls watching the clouds roll by. I know a few brave farmers who are dedicated to engaging with our consumers, presenting a more positive side of the farming story that often gets lost in the negative headlines and basic disconnect between farmers and consumers.
In spite of the ambassadors and outreach to help consumers and farmers connect in a positive way, the critics are still out there and they have loud voices. As farmers, we are impacted by this as people demand more and more food safety, environmental protection, and a voice in how we do our business.
This is not all bad. When we only talk to like-minded people, it is easy to get working away and too focused on the details without seeing the bigger picture. It is good to have other viewpoints and observations – as long as everyone is able to engage in a productive way. The conflict between the higher costs associated with things like minimum wage, higher standards for production and testing of new products compared with the prices people are willing to pay in the grocery store is not new – we’ve been talking about that for at least my entire farming career. That conversation is not new.
I raise all of these points as a reminder, to myself included, that things are always much simpler from the outside looking in. People who know nothing about most jobs find it easy to point and criticize. I always find it easier to edit than to write.
However, this is something that I hear more of us doing about everyone. I get cranky when the logistics branch of the company picking up our grain can’t seem to tell me within half a day, or worse, when the trucks will be arriving to be loaded. My kids seem to be able to track me to the minute using basic apps that come with their phones – is this really so hard? What I can’t see from my little farm in Huron County is all the downstream pieces of the puzzle that have to work to move one load of corn.
I hear people harp on and on about all professions — police, teachers and even nurses! Having nurses in the family, and having personally watched nurses work — I have a tiny bit of understanding of the complexity of their jobs. I know that they don’t get breaks, and often have to stay overtime to make sure the nurses coming in on the next shift know what went on the shift before. They work double time as social workers, and even need protection from the violence directed towards them by the very people they are caring for. Then we wonder why our emergency rooms are closing due to lack of staff.
If there is one thing we should have learned from the past few years, it is that there is a lot more beyond our control than within it. Working together with more understanding and having a little more compassion for each other will go a long way toward moving forward in our new normal. ◊