It’s been a long time coming. Almost fifty-two years since I picked up the reins from my Dad. When I was a kid, it seemed like he had been a farmer forever, because … well, he knew everything. If it was broken, he fixed it. If he needed something that was unavailable, he made it. If the dust was blowing, he did his best to make it stop. If it didn’t rain and the crops failed he found a way to make ends meet until the next year … or the next. He had many great hardships in his life, but still inspired me to never let anything defeat my dreams. I lived in his shadow back then … but often that shade was welcome.
In reality, he farmed for just twenty-six years. It took me a very long time to understand why, in the fall of 1945, he chose this way of life dependent upon the land. From his vantage point on the bridge of the USS Rutland, one ship removed from the battleship Missouri, he watched the Japanese sign their unconditional surrender. The greatest generation had accomplished their mission. Afterwards home was the only place he wanted to be, no longer on the highway as the independent trucker he had been before his time in the Marines. That part of his life, far from everything dear and away at war in a hostile ocean, ended any interest in spending the remainder of his years driving distant roads and absent from family and friends. His ranching and farming roots were the only tools he needed, and Kiowa County after the end of WWII was the epitome of great opportunity.
I pursued this career for twice as long as he did, and I too have come to realize that like him, Ag was never really my first choice. But it wasn’t a bad one. This landscape is forever home and the bonds that tie me to it are unbreakable in a way unknowable to our distant urban neighbors. Half a century of learning from my own mistakes seems much better than having spent that time working for someone else who wasn’t learning from theirs. The most important lesson, and the hardest one, was understanding how to be patient. Tincture of time holds the key to most of the problems in agriculture. The old, old adage that “this is the best next year country in the world” is never more true anywhere else than it is here on the High Plains. If I can pass anything on to those who follow me, it’s the necessity of unconditional faith, persistent determination and the tenacity to wait out the hardships. Accomplishment and happiness depend primarily on ignoring the nay-sayers and charting your own course. Doing what you love and being with those people and things that make you smile are the only true measures of success. Babe Ruth had it right when he said, “Never let the fear of striking out get in your way.”
There was once a time when I relished the thought of giving up the long months of twelve hour days, all-nighters and troubles in the fields for the simplicity of setting on the porch every evening watching the sun go down. Now I realize how exceptionally fortunate I was to spend those years with a front row window on the natural world and viewing thousands of sunsets from the seat of an ever-changing assortment of farm equipment. The routine of following the cadence of the seasons with every round and savoring the hymn of ordinary days is a song of certainty that I will truly miss.
So... not surprisingly, it’s proving far more difficult to walk away from work and worry than I ever thought it would be. But now is the time. Too many of my contemporaries can’t scale that wall. The next generation is much more than ready and is willing, capable and enthusiastic. The family farm of the future deserves to be entrusted to those who are passionate about agriculture, community and accepting of new ideas while ever mindful of the lessons of the past. Our fifth generation on these plains is stepping up to the plate and the sixth isn’t far behind.
My father’s heritage will be well cared for in the foreseeable future. The past seventy-eight years is just a good start.