I am relatively new to the world of agriculture. I grew up and lived in a big city all of my life until last year when I moved to Palmer to marry my husband. It has been a huge adjustment for both of us, but I have enjoyed the adventure of learning more about his lifestyle on the farm. Particularly, I have learned a lot about the process of agriculture compared to how I thought it worked. Here are my top four takeaways based on my learning experiences of adjusting to the rural lifestyle.
I had always heard farmers work long, hard hours. I presumed this was correct and had no reason to think otherwise. I figured farmers work until it’s dark out. I believed they had weekends off like I did. I also thought since farmers oftentimes own their farms, they determine their work schedule and could take time off when needed and make up for it the next day.
Boy, was I mistaken about many of my assumptions. I have lived in Palmer for about a year now, and I have experienced just a small glimpse into the seasons of work a farmer goes through. When I first moved here, I got so mad at my husband for not wanting to spend time with me because it seemed like he spent most of his time working instead. I didn’t understand that his work came in seasons, and if the work didn’t get done, we wouldn’t get paid that year. Also, he can’t tell the cows he’s calling in sick and they won’t get fed today. He can’t go on vacation when our corn needs water daily or the crop won’t grow. I quickly discovered his slow time is during January and February, which means, vacation! Most of the United States is cold during that time, which is not the ideal time to travel, but that’s the only time we are available, so we try to make the best of it, usually traveling as far south as our budget can stretch us that year, which so far has been Arizona.
I imagined all that corn growing in the field was for me to eat. Why else would we grow so much corn? Then, I thought there is no way we eat that much corn, so it must be used for dog food or something like that. I also thought farmers plant the corn in the spring and harvest in the fall, leaving them the summers for relaxation, repairs, and relief.
Again, I experienced a different reality. First of all, the corn we eat in its raw form (from a can, from the bag in the freezer or directly from the cob) is sweet corn. However, most of the corn you see along the Nebraska highways and out in the fields is field corn, which is used to feed our cows in Nebraska and out of state! Field corn is also used to make ethanol, which is a biofuel that can fuel all of our cars on the road today! A byproduct of the ethanol production process is distillers grains. Distillers grains are a high-protein feed source for livestock, which makes our corn industry incredibly efficient. We are able to produce a renewable fuel and provide feed for our livestock!
Corn is an incredibly diverse crop. It can be an ingredient in many of the things we eat every day, including chips, cola, and tortillas! Corn is also used in things like toothpaste and gum. It makes up some of the products us women use every morning: makeup, perfume, and shampoo. Think of how many times you have seen a product that lists on the ingredients: high fructose corn syrup, sorbitol, or starch. Corn is actually in over 4,000 products we use each and every day!
Have you heard of the Running of the Bulls events in Spain? How about the bull riding you see at rodeos? These are the perceptions I had of bulls before ever actually being around bulls on a regular basis. My instincts told me bulls are mean, tough and scary. I always tried to stay away from bulls because they have a tendency to fight and don’t like people all that well.
When I moved to the farm, I always put my guard up when we were around the bulls or working with them. I wouldn’t even wear red around them in fear that would incite a stampede towards me. I quickly learned bulls aren’t much different than our mama cows. They are a little bigger and contain a few extra body parts but other than that, they are very tame animals. The bulls weren’t mean and we can walk right up to them like we do our mama cows. They don’t fight with each other all day. They usually just eat and bask in the sun. It is important to remember, that although a bull weighs around 2,000 pounds, he is quick moving. When they run, just like in the Running of the Bulls in Spain, they are fast, so we always make sure we don’t have our backs facing a bull.
Oftentimes, we see pictures or read stories about farmers doing a lot of work by hand. We grow up with preconceived notions of what farm work looks like. I grew up picturing farmers pitching hay out to all the animals by hand. I also pictured them shucking the corn by hand to get all the kernels off the cob. I figured they must have big muscles and a lot of shovels and hoses to tackle the task of farming those big fields. Basically, as you can see, I pictured it as a bigger version of the garden my mom “farmed” in our backyard. I also pictured farmers without college degrees and not knowing how to use technology since they mostly did physical labor for work.
When I moved out on our farm and saw the big farm equipment, I knew this was no garden operation. The combines, tractors, and planters had more technology and buttons than my computer. Unlike the farmers pitching hay in the coloring books I had growing up, my farmer uses a machine or piece of equipment for just about every job on the farm. Don’t get me wrong, there weren’t always machines to make processes go just as quick, but that’s a conversation for another time with Grandpa Orville. Today’s tractors smoothly ride up and down the fields planting, picking and shredding with a quick stroke of grace. Much of the newer equipment has auto-steer technologies and yield monitoring software that help farmers grow crops more efficiently than ever before. Just like the self-driving cars that are coming out, self-driving tractors are becoming a reality. Where will this advanced technology take the practice of farming? I have no clue, but this city raised farmer’s wife is excited to find out.