I attended an agricultural meeting yesterday. It featured a speaker who focussed on beef cattle nutrition – methods of winter feeding, mineral supplements and water. The speaker ended one part of his presentation by showing how careful attention to rearing practices could save a beef producer with 100 animals as much as $24,000 in one year. My wife Betsey and I don’t do the type of farming that involves huge machines that make hay, silage or baleage to distribute to animals using mixer wagons and bale shredders.
The second speaker was also fascinating; she spoke on genomics, which – as I understand it – is a more holistic way of using genetic testing, animal history and phenotypes to guide animal breeding in line with the farmer’s own goals and values. The complicated scientific work and computer analysis is, emphasized our speaker, only a tool, and the tool works to help you achieve your goals and the things you value in your livestock. The end goal is to make more money.
Afterwards, thinking this over and discussing it with Betsey, I remain perplexed. Why didn’t I stand up and ask, “What do you have to offer people for whom everything isn’t about the money?” I know many farmers who are “in the business” because they value a farm as a place to raise children. Others because they are superb machinery operators who can tinker, adapt and use their gifts to work wonders with a set of wrenches, a welder, a hammer and 9/16” wrench. For another person, farming is all about caring for her animals – providing a good life and a humane death. And then there are people, not enough of them, but many, whose motivation is to be stewards of the earth. Listen to these very successful farmers:
Gabe Brown: “We believe that faith, family and working with the natural resources that God has provided allows us a meaningful life. We enjoy using these resources to regenerate landscapes for a sustainable future” (brownsranch.us).
Steve Kenyon: “Production practices that destroy biodiversity offend nature. If we want to brag about being the ‘Stewards of the Land,’ then I think we need to actually be stewards of the land and not just stewards of our own short-term cash flow. By taking care of nature first and by farming in a sustainable manner, the unexpected surprise is that an operation might become more profitable in the long term” (“Stewards of the land,” canadiancattlemen.ca).
As for Betsey and me, we are not considered real farmers by some in the agricultural community because we don’t “make an income” on farming, which means we have another visible means of support. Or because we have too few cows, or pretty small machinery (a Massey 35, sickle bar mower, etc.). We also have no debt, but that’s another story.
We value owning land that we can lease to our neighbour for growing high-quality forage. We value owning land that we can take out of production to make a wildlife corridor, or to combine a drainage project with creating a series of tiny wetlands, or to bring some good soil into production that was covered with scrub. We value doing experiments with crops and with grazing which we can share with people who are much busier on their large herds to have the time to fiddle around with new ideas. We value being able to grow vegetables to give away and grass-fed Dexter beef to sell to those who appreciate it. We even value beef kidneys and liver, because our English friends love eating steak-and-kidney pie and liver-and-onions. We value owning a farm because it puts us in contact with so many fine people. It certainly is “not all about the money.”
I am reminded of one of Judah’s kings (II Chron. 26: 10) who was successful in war and national defence, a king who sponsored all sorts of military reforms and what we would call infrastructure projects. But the characteristic of King Uzziah that stuck out in my mind from the time I was a child was this: “He had people working his fields and vineyards in the hills and in the fertile lands, for he loved the soil.”
I give the amen to that.