Friday, October 5, 2012

Attachment to farming, to the land, to a way of life -- in the midst of a drought

The New York Times ran this story yesterday, "Drought Leaves Cracks in Way of Life," about the consequences of the drought on farmers throughout the mid-section of the country.  After listing some of the things farmers and their families are doing without these days, e.g., vacations, smartphones, the story goes like this:
An then there is the stress--sleepless night, grumpiness and, in one extreme case, seizures.   
Lost amid the withered crops, dehydrated cattle and depleted ponds that have come to symbolize the country's most widespread drought in decades has been the toll on families whose livelihoods depend on farming. 
Journalist John Eligon also writes of farmers selling land that has been in their family for generations, as well as selling off herds of sheep and cattle because feed is too costly.

The story paints a vivid portrait of the consequences of the drought for many farm families in the plains and midwest, but the part that most captivated me were the quotes Eligon featured from interviews "with nearly three dozen farmers in the middle of the country."  Here's a sampling:

Kent Woolfolk, 56, a cattle farmer in southwestern Kansas said:  
My granddad wasn't a worrier, my dad wasn't a worrier, I'm not either. ... You got to be concerned, but if you dwell on it, it's just going to eat you up. ... It will rain.  It always has.  
Eligon tells the story of Carl Bettels, 57, who has cattle and corn on 560 acres in western Missouri.  He had planned to work for a few more years off the farm, at Walmart, which he thought woudl give hii enough savings to permit him to focus on farming the rest of his life.  But the corporation laid him off last October, and because of the drop in farm income, he and his wife are having to draw on their retirement savings to help fund college expenses for their daughter.  Bettels is quoted:
I like this out here.  I've done it for so long, it's a part of me.
His wife, who works at the local school, commented:
If it's doing this [drought] for the next two years, I can't see us being able to keep going.
The Habeck family in South Dakota are dairy farmers who sold 90% of their 350 cows but are still struggling to feed the remaining 30 because feed prices have increased fivefold.  Eligon writes:
They plan to sell two-thirds of the land that has been not only their business but also their pleasure over the years--they have hiked, camped and ridden horses with their four daughters on their land.  
Dawn Habeck said:
We're starting over again.  Even though we worked seven days a week--15-20 hours a day some days--it feels like for nothing.
Eligon also features Jim Selman, an 80 year-old cattle rancher in Texas who sold his entire herd of 300 cattle last year, five years into a drought in that region.
Ranching's not just an income, it is a way of life. ... It's what gives me pleasure, and all of a sudden I don't have that pleasure anymore.  
Taken together, these quotes depict an enormous attachment not only to a way of life, but also to place--an attachment often based on multi-generational engagement in farming in a particular locale.

It is interesting that Eligon does not discuss or attempt to explain these farmers' relationship to agribusiness.  Why are they "on their own" economically--as they appear to be (crop insurance and such aside)--when corporate agriculture remains so profitable?  What could/should the federal government do to re-allcoate risks?

Photos from Durong, South Burnett, Queensland, Australia, August 2012, about two years after a five-year drought broke there.

1 comment:

Maylene Vidler said...

I really admire the way you present your ideas. Great info. thanks for the effort in explaining all of this! Fast Insurance Quote