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There have been several times over the years when someone would ask “Why do you want to be involved in agriculture?”; “Why do you want to work in the agriculture/cattle/livestock industry?”; or “Why would you want to raise cattle/crops/hay?” The questions may vary slightly, but essentially they were asking “Why agriculture?” Seems like a simple question doesn’t it? And many of us can (and usually do) give a fairly simple answer, but the truth is so much more complicated.
It’s easy to say because I love cattle or livestock, or because I enjoy being able to help provide food for people, or because it’s what I grew up in…and all of those answers are true. But what about the times when we lose calves, or there is a drought and crops don’t grow the way they are supposed to, or beef/corn/soy prices drop, drastically effecting our bottom line? What about all those times when we as an industry struggle to keep our heads above water, making sure that our farms, land, and livestock are taken care of, while still trying to provide for our families?
Or, what about times when weather conditions cause massive fires across several hundred thousand acres of farm land, destroying homes, barns, fences and livestock and leaving devastation in their wake? Because that is exactly what happened in Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and the panhandle of Texas in the last week. The rains last fall that brought much needed moisture to an area which had previously experienced almost 2 years of severe drought allowed for pastures to grow. This meant there was plenty of grass that could be used as fuel. Because of dry weather and high winds, when a spark ignited, these fires spread more quickly than anyone could imagine...destroying everything in their path. Current estimates are more than 1 million acres, and nearly as many cattle have burned. Homes, barns, entire farms have been devastated – all fencing burned. The loss of livestock and farms is bad enough, but does not even begin to touch the loss of human lives; people who did everything they could to save their livestock, and lost their lives because of it. And if that were all, it would still be bad, but these farmers and ranchers will be suffering the effects of these fires for years. From searching for surviving cattle and having to make the horrible decision of if they are too badly burned to save and therefore need to be humanely put down, to the loss of their homes and livelihoods, to the seemingly overwhelming task of determining where to begin with the rebuilding process, the impact of these fires is far from over. These fires are a reminder that the agriculture industry is at the mercy of many factors we have no control over. So “why agriculture”?
Photo courtesy of Graham & Sons Cattle Company Facebook page, captioned: "And from the ashes comes life. Ain't this a beautiful sight? Mama is a little burnt, but doing fine, as is baby. Picture taken on The Gardiner Angus Ranch where my niece is doing an internship. Photo taken by a Gardiner family member."
Because agriculture is so much more than an industry. Because while people in this industry compete to sell their products, they are also so willing to reach out and lend a hand. Because as soon as farmers and ranchers in other parts of the country heard about these wildfires and the devastation they caused, trucks were immediately loaded with hay, feed, water, clothes and supplies and sent to the areas that needed them the most. Because there have been countless stories of the outpouring of support that affected farmers and ranchers have received from people across the country, and even across the world – customers, competitors, and friends who are willing to give whatever they can to help those affected start the rebuilding process. Because while farming and ranching is their livelihood, for many farmers and ranchers it is also their heart and their passion, and that heart and passion is reflected in everything they do. Is it an easy industry? No. Is it an easy way to make a living? No. But the drive, passion and heart of the people in this industry set it apart and make it more than just a job, more than just a livelihood, they make it a family, a community, and one of the best and most important industries in the world.
Monday, March 13, 2017