MANHATTAN, Kan. — You can tell a lot about people by the types of philosophical questions they like to debate. Many people ponder sports greats, classic cars, blockbuster movies or which superpowers are the best.
In my house, these debates usually center on farming practices. We discuss which bull will be the best investment for our herd or the most effective timing to apply micronutrients to increases crop yields.
Farmers are perfectly happy to skip many of the rest of the world’s interesting topics to endlessly ponder how to be better at their life’s work. Farmers are constantly curious, driven to learn new things and have a knack for using all that knowledge to make improvements to the world around them. It is one of the hallmarks of farmers; they never stop learning and growing.
Sadly, Hollywood stereotypes often get farmers completely wrong. They are made out to be simple, uneducated and witless when reality could not be further from the truth. Farmers are well versed in more subjects than most professionals are because they have to be. They are hardwired to grow not just crops or animals but also themselves.
I was reminded recently of just how committed farmers are to continuous improvement. On a beautiful spring night a few days before rain when most farmers had long lists of projects to accomplish, a group of farmers from across our county quit early (or at least took a long break) to attend our county’s wheat test plot tour.
Test plots, for those not familiar with them, are hundreds of trials with a selection of varieties of the same crop. These plots allow them to observe how varieties perform against each other in real-world conditions. Plot organizers typically host a tour during the growing season as an educational opportunity for local farmers.
During the 90-minute tour, I found myself thinking about how people outside of agriculture would probably be surprised to hear the highly technical presentations and lively discussions in the plot. Farmers switching from discussions of soil pH to disease tolerance to length of maturity all with the goal of understanding which varieties will be the right fit on their farm.
Farmers know the pH, soil type and amount of organic matter in every field they farm. Farmers use their understanding of chemistry to select nutrients to neutralize soil pH for healthier plants. They utilize knowledge of soil types to adjust tillage practices, which can increase organic matter and prevent erosion. They use their understanding of genetics and plant physiology to match varieties to their needs.
All of that technical knowledge is just for the decision of what, when and how to plant. Farmers still have to grow, harvest and sell their crops using their extensive knowledge of mechanics, marketing, technology, accounting and various other disciplines. In addition, some of them have livestock too, which adds a completely different category of biology to the mix.
Most farmers don’t talk much about what they do. Some may be too busy, and others don’t think they are doing anything special, but I disagree. Our local farmers are growing crops and livestock to feed you, me, and people all over the world.
The next time you sit down for a meal, I hope you will stop and take a minute to appreciate all the growth that went into your meal.
“Insight” is a weekly column published by Kansas Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization whose mission is to strengthen agriculture and the lives of Kansans through advocacy, education and service.
— Jackie Mundt, Pratt County farmer and rancher, Kansas Farm Bureau
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