Siouxland Crop Harvest, Rural South Dakota

26 Nov

It seems every few days I hear on the local TV news that the corn crop harvest in the Siouxland region is nearly completed. A few fields here and there in Iowa and South Dakota. It appears that in these two breadbasket areas of the Midwest, the current harvests have done well. So many times farmers are maligned because of the way the federal government works and the “help” farmers receive. Growing up on a small farm, it appears some people who are upset with this help have no idea the risks and tasks involved in growing food, either crops or animals. And the narrow margin that exists for farmers. The famers I generally refer to are those who are small farmers. In my parent’s day, that meant a farm of maybe 200-800 acres. As well as dairy cows, hogs and some beef cattle, plus a few chickens. A normal family farm that was sustainable by one person, the farmer, maybe with help of his children and neighbors during harvest.

But for farmer’s, there is so much outside of his/her control when producing this product. Basically, all the risks and only some rewards. The farmers front the money to buy the land, equipment, seed, fertilizer, etc., put in the average 10 hour days tending to the fields, the animals, maintenance of equipment as well as a family. The weather is a worrisome variable. Will it be a good year, enough rain to produce a healthy crop, which earns enough money to pay the seed and fertilizer companies, to pay for health care, the mortgage on the land that is owned, plus the taxes? The price for the corn or soybeans is set by others. The speculators, who buy the futures and bet against a good crop, or for a good crop. The corporations that use the corn and soybean to produce goods, which they then determine what the selling price is.

Those farmers who might have been content farming just a few hundred acres of land needed to buy more and produce more to compete in the agricultural world. Like other types of industries, the few it seems with money invest in these operations and start consolidating various holdings and buying up smaller companies. The mantra is that big is better. As is cheaper. But after all of these other company’s owners sent the jobs overseas for cheaper production costs, the cost of of living in the U.S. kept rising, with fewer people having the where with all to keep up.

People say farmers get too much help. For the large, corporate farms owned by agri-businesses, that may be true. Like a corporation, they keep buying up land and monopolizing the production land. For the “small” farmer that owns a few hundred or thousand acres and actually work the land themselves, rather than rent it out or have a general manager oversee the production a make or break year could ruin them. But curiously, the hew and cry of these same people, mostly, seems to fall quiet about the subsidies and financial advantages that billion dollar oil and gas companies receive. These companies and their spokes people, salaried or politicians, say the expense of oil exploration and drilling and endeavors are so expensive. Even though the last few years these companies have reaped billions of dollars in profit. Which most family farmers have not.

I am not well versed in the area with all of its intricacies, but small farmers appear to be the last of an American tradition of entrepreneurship that began when the Europeans settled this land. But soon, I suppose, those pockets of small farmers could disappear like so many other businesses, consolidated and held by a few individuals and corporations.

I am just glad that there is some help for the small farmers and happy when they receive some reward from a good harvest for all of their hard work.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

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