Katie Sawyer tells us, like an optimistic farmer, to stop, put down our phones and find the good news hidden in the everyday.
To be a Kansas farmer is to be determined, eternally optimistic and always looking forward – to the next rain, the next harvest or simply the next day of work.
Despite fire, blizzards, storms and drought that have plagued the state over the past few months, farmers and ranchers across the state have picked up right where Mother Nature left off and are busy planting corn, cutting hay or moving cattle to green pasture. It’s not a simple life – far from it – and the work is neither quick nor easy, but it’s a necessity to not only keep their families and communities thriving but to keep the world fed and nations at peace.
In his recent book Unscripted: The Unpredictable Moments That Make Life Extraordinary, Ernie Johnson Jr., the son of a MLB pitcher and award-winning TNT sports commentator, writes about finding blackberries and beauty in the everyday hustle and pitfalls of life (you’ll have to read the book to learn the reason behind the term, but I guarantee it’s worth your time.) Johnson was born in the city but his optimism and propensity to find the good in all things would have suited him well for life on the Kansas plains. Farmers have a keen sense of beauty, riches and simple pleasures. They can marvel at a sunset, smile at a new baby calf and laugh at a story told a hundred times around the same family dinner table.
We, in agriculture, understand the need for blackberries in everyday life to overcome the numerous obstacles that stand in our way and impact our ability to raise a crop or feed our cattle. My husband is great about finding the blackberries, I’m still learning. Some days it’s more difficult than others but they are always there and as the state and federal headlines scream bad news, hard times and end-of-the-world proclamations, I find myself wanting to write about the positive – the blackberries - that make our time, efforts and hard work all worth it. So here is my attempt at optimism and certainty that in the end, all will be as it should.
Sons Following Fathers
While tucking in my son into bed the other night, he told me that he wanted to be a farmer when he grew up. I don’t doubt his desire. Like most farm boys, he talks about tractors, begs to attend cattle auctions and jumps at the opportunity to take a ride in the Gator, combine or really, any farm implement. Kansas State University and land grant universities across this great country recently graduated thousands of young professionals wanting and dreaming of a career in agriculture and the opportunities to be involved as the industry continues to grow and diversify. The average age of a farmer is still well above 50, but seeing the excitement my son and other farm boys and girls have over tractor rides and baby calves reminds me that this way of life is worth preserving for the next generation.
Companies Want What We Are Growing
Kansas farmers are some of the most productive and innovate in the world, and companies that use Kansas-grown goods haven taken notice. Global food brands are setting up shop in Kansas to gain access to the state’s growing dairy herd, hard red winter wheat and high-end beef. The state’s agriculture industry is responsible for nearly $6 billion in exports annually, made possible by the companies and commodity associations that work daily to sell our products abroad and expand Kansas’ market share in existing markets. These companies are the second layer of the nation’s food system and bring value and opportunity to the state’s agriculture industry. Many have seen enough success to warrant expansion and additions to increase capacity and productivity. That’s good news for Kansas farmers and the state’s farm economy.
Trade Getting Talk Time
I was asked a few weeks ago to quantify the impact of trade on our farm. Does the word “invaluable” do the trick? It’s all but impossible to come to an exact dollar figure to represent the bearing of foreign market sales on our grains and beef, but anyone in the industry understands how international markets boost demand and commodity prices for our goods.
Trade has gained several major allies and the attention of our new Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer was confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Perdue created an undersecretary for trade at the USDA and negotiations with China seem to be moving in a positive direction, bolstered by the confirmation of former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad as U.S. Ambassador to the nation of nearly 1.4 billion people.
The world’s population continues to grow but the U.S. is no longer the only country with an agriculture industry willing and able to feed those outside their boundaries. Trade is a vital and necessary component of keeping this country’s farming industry competitive, productive and profitable. Countries want our goods and international companies understand the quality American agriculture brings to their end product. Keeping trade and marketing opportunities on the forefront is essential to everyone’s success.
As we head into the summer, hope abounds for a productive fall harvest after steady spring rains filled ponds and replenished groundwater reserves. The downturn in the state’s agriculture economy is not projected to end any time soon, but that won’t discourage the thousands that call the fields their office and find hope with each harvest and calving season. Johnson was right, there are blackberries all around us, we just have to stop, put down our phones and find the good news hidden in the everyday.
Katie Sawyer and her husband, Derek, a fourth-generation farmer, raise crops and cattle in McPherson County. Katie serves as district director for Rep. Roger Marshall. She and Derek are raising two sons, Evan, age 3, and Owen, age 1, hundreds of cows, four horses, three dogs and one feisty cat. Follow along with the family’s farming adventures at newtothefarm.com.