Sometimes I mess up simple things. Take this article for example. I was supposed to write this article on Monday night, which is when my calendar informed me I had my weekly article for the Tribune Chronicle due.
Tuesday, my alarm reminded me again. On Wednesday, not only did my alarm remind me, but so did a phone call from the Tribune. When did I remember to write this article? Wednesday night at 11 p.m., an hour after my bedtime.
Now as a school teacher, I constantly lecture my students about procrastination. Do not procrastinate, I warn in my sternest tone, or terrible things will happen to you, your grade and your writing. Yet… here I am now.
So, you may be thinking to yourself, what in the world does procrastination have to do with farming? Well, just like you and me, some farmers are procrastinators and sometimes it pays off. Other times, that procrastination has disastrous results.
See, it is spring. Officially spring came into being on March 20 this year. That means that the moment the weather turned warm, every farmer from the age of 5 to 85 started getting that farming itch. I swear, it is something that farmers can feel in their bones. I can remember my grandfather looking at the sky, the grass and the trees and pronouncing loudly that either spring was here to stay or that we had one more snow before spring could arrive.
He was very rarely wrong and as a child I was boggled by this magic. To me, it seemed like my grandpa could do it all and that included controlling the weather. As I have aged, I have tried to harness this magic talent of his by being more observant, but more often than not, I am wrong in my predictions. (Trust me, I’m bad at math and by my calculations, my predictions are less than 50% accurate).
So, back to farmers and procrastination. Procrastination is defined by the Webster’s dictionary as the “action of delaying or postponing something.” Well just like in the non-farming world, there are several types of farmers.
The first type of farmer is the one that other farmers drive by and mutter about how crazy they are being. The conversation goes something like this, “Look at Joe, he is out there on this freezing cold day firing up his tractor and pulling out the corn planter. Doesn’t he know we have two more weeks of winter yet?”
One thing should be noted here about farmer Joe. If his gamble pays off and the weather breaks and is beautiful from early spring to fall, then everyone will praise Joe as being the smartest farmer that year because he got his crops in early and has a strong harvest. If his gamble fails and the weather is awful and Joe has to replant or is wiped out, then suddenly everyone pities Joe and starts spouting weird old adages about how seeds should never be sown before the second Sunday in May (this is just something I made up, but ask old, old farmers and everyone has a belief like that).
The second type of farmer is the one who just slides right into the middle. This farmer watches his neighbors, consults the short-term and long-term weather maps, thinks about last year’s weather, looks for those mystical signs in nature, and simply doesn’t rock the boat. This farmer plants at a similar time every year and is firm in this schedule. Neither warm weather nor perfect conditions can drag him from his allotted planting time. He is the rock of the farming community. Other farmers drive past, spying on farmer Ned to see where he is in the planting process.
The third and final type of farmer covered here is the procrastinator farmer. This is the farmer that has four million things on his plate, can’t keep his rows in a line, and generally flies by the seat of his pants. Occasionally, this strategy pays off and the planting late reaps big dividends either due to bad weather, wet weather, drought or bugs. This is often the last farmer in the field planting.
However, here is the beautiful and terrible part of farming. All three of these types of farmers, in any one year, can all be correct in their thought processes. The reality is, as farmers, we have to make our most educated decisions using science, history, trend data and even a little bit of natural magic. This time of year, farmers have to read the weather patterns, examine the forecasts, weigh the previous years, and then observe the subtle signs that nature is sending out to try to accurately predict when is the precise moment to put those precious seeds in the ground. That is a lot of pressure.
I think about the pressures I face on a daily basis between balancing my job, grading, coaching and having a life and how sometimes even I fall under the seductive spell of procrastination; I can understand how easy it is to be lured in as a farmer to the sirens’ call of procrastination.
After all, in northeast Ohio, the one thing that is guaranteed to always change is the weather and with a promise like that, why wouldn’t one wait to see what might happen — just to be safe.
Submitted by Christen Clemson, a member of the Trumbull County Farm Bureau, who completed her doctorate at the Pennsylvania State University. She and her family farm in Mecca Township.
OFBF Mission: Working together for Ohio farmers to advance agriculture and strengthen our communities.