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While You Plant, The World Watches

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As I write, it is a warm spring day in April. And, across hundreds of thousands of acres in the Midwest, farmers are busy planting their spring crops. Thanks to modern machinery, the planting process is fast and extremely sophisticated. Planters place seeds in the ground at an amazing pace and with incredible accuracy. Millions of acres of corn and soybeans can be planted in a matter of a few weeks, weather permitting. Field mapping and GPS systems allow for a level of sophistication never before seen. Variable seeding rates and fertilizer placement allows farmers to match just the right seed and chemicals to just the right location and soil type within a field. But, like our fathers before us who plowed with horses and planted seeds by hand, planting remains a singularly lonely experience.

This time of year many farm wives come home from their off farm jobs to an empty house. I have heard of one grower who returned to the house about midnight and told his wife he was planning on starting the next day at about 6AM. “I will sleep when it rains,” he said. Putting in the crop become top priority in a farm family and almost everything else takes a back seat.
The web services manager for Hoosier Ag Today came to me this week concerned that our web site traffic was down 25%. I had to explain that, at this time of year, farmers did not take the time to sit in the office and surf the internet. I did notice that the number of people who had downloaded our Smartphone app had increased in April — a sign guys were keeping up on the news and markets on their phones while in the tractor. While you have been working your fields and preoccupied with getting your crops off to a good start, some interesting things have been happening in the rest of the world.

First, there is a group of people who are trying to figure out what you are doing. No, it is not the city folks who blast their car horns at you as they speed by your tractor as it pulls a planter down a county road, it is the speculators at the futures market who are trying to guess how much you are planting and how quickly you are planting it. They have learned that the USDA is pretty much clueless when they issue their updates. So they call farmers, follow the farm media, and try to guess what you are doing.

Now it may seem a bit lonely out there in a your field, miles from the nearest Starbucks; but, believe it or not, you are the center of attention around the world. In Beijing, Tokyo, Brussels, Moscow, and other exotic places, government officials and import tycoons are watching your every move. What you plant and when you plant will have a big impact on the economies, policies, and food supplies of some of the world’s most powerful nations. Did you realize you are that important?

Ironically, the people who know the least and care the least about what you are doing are the consumers in the US. Most folks will whiz by on the interstate and have no idea that freshly planted field has any connection to them. If they see a farmer planting a crop, they have no idea what you are doing and, more significantly, why you are doing it. They have no idea how their lives and the economy of this nation would be impacted if something went terribly wrong at planting time. Millions of Americans throw away billions of hard-earned dollars for the vicarious thrill at a casino. Yet, they cannot comprehend the risk farmers take each spring when they go to the field to put seed in the ground and bet that nature will grow it into a high yielding crop.

So, I salute you for taking the risk, putting in the long hours, and stoking this incredible machine known as production agriculture. Although I know it will be several weeks before you get around to reading this because, after all, it’s planting season.

by Gary truitt