Farming is a lifestyle as much as it is a job. For those who farm cattle, it’s an around-the-clock job. If you have a milking operation, you’re milking around 4 a.m. and out at the barn milking again well after office dwellers have unplugged for the night. You live and breathe your work.
Today, the essential role that farmers and ranchers play to supply families with safe and healthy food is clearer than ever. Though there’s a heightened awareness around the key role farmers play, many city dwellers don’t think about the huge effort it requires to create the milk we like to drink or cheese we eat. A typical spring or fall can see farmers working 16-plus-hour days to keep the farm moving.
As a city girl who fell into farm research, I now have a better understanding of farming, though there’s still a lot that I don’t know. As many of us look to better understand how the food we eat gets from field to fork, let’s explore a few of the big choices a farmer must make.
One major decision farmers must make is what to grow. Does a farmer grow cows, sheep, goats, corn, wheat or soy? For farms that have been in the family for generations, this could be less of a decision and more a tradition. For new farmers, this decision could be decided by the land available, the markets or even consumer trends. For example, a farm may decide to become organic because the fad of the day is to produce organic and it will be profitable.
Then farmers must decide how they grow. What seed do they use? Do they use inputs like fertilizer or pest control products to curb crop damage and loss? Soil conditions on the farm and environment will also impact how farmers choose to grow. Deciding how farmers grow what they grow helps determine who they’re able to sell to, such as organic, conventional or even fair trade.
A farmer must decide how to make a profit. For example, if a dairy farmer is seeing that milk isn’t as profitable as it once was, then that farmer might decide to down scale the number of cows and increase the cropping or gain other animals. Soil conditions on the farm and commodity prices will also impact what the farmer chooses to plant for the best shot at profitability. If we see a drop in prices like what has happened to Canadian canola with an import ban from China, then a farmer might not plant canola as it requires a lot of management and the payout might not be worth it anymore.
The many decisions that impact how farmers choose to run their farm is hard to summarize in a single blog post, but know this: Farming is not for the faint of heart. It requires a lot of sweat, sometimes tears and a lot of dedication. You become the farm. We must always thank farmers for their efforts to keep the population fed for they are some of the hardest-working people I have ever met.
Next time you are in the supermarket, take a step back and think about how that food got there. Then, when you are able, remember to thank a farmer.