Opinion: Farming Ain’t For Sissies

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Frank Giles

I had a great visit with the folks at Grower’s Management Inc. (GMI) down in the Glades area in preparation for writing December’s cover story. I got a laugh when I saw the bumper sticker on the back of Derek Orsenigo’s pickup, which read “Farming Ain’t For Sissies.”
To say the business of agriculture is not for the faint of heart is a huge understatement. Wild market swings, Mother Nature, and heavy handed regulators make producing food and fiber a job only for the strong and determined.

All humor aside from Derek’s bumper sticker, it did make me ponder: What characteristics distinguish a successful farmer?
In my career in agriculture, I have had the benefit of interviewing growers from all over the U.S. After meeting many of the best in the business, here’s a few attributes that seem common among them. I’d say these sum up the business approach at GMI pretty well.

Successful farmers are unflappable. Imagine the fortitude it takes to get up and dust off after some weather calamity takes out a season’s worth of hard work in one event. All the money and time invested gone under heavy wind and rain or a freeze. Most folks would want to hang it up, but growers respond — “It has happened before and it will happen again.” Then they pray for a better season next year and continue on.

Successful farmers go with the flow. Imagine in your business if you constantly had someone looking over your shoulder and sending inspectors out for “friendly” visits. Growers deal with this constantly in regulations surrounding food safety, labor, water, and the list goes on. I assure you they don’t particularly care for the intrusion, but amazingly they have learned to deal with it. With all of these obstacles in the way, they still manage to produce high-yielding and high-quality crops. Paul Orsenigo summed it up well with the observation, “It seems like we spend more time watching what we do rather than doing what we do.”

Successful farmers are not passive. All that I just said about regulations, I probably understated the fact they don’t like it. That’s why many great farmers realize their responsibilities extend past their farm gates. They serve in farm organizations like FFVA or in farm bureaus. They travel to Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., to testify why these regulations are stifling their competitiveness on the world stage. They are not afraid to share how they farm with the larger public.

As regulations get stricter and agriculture gets a bad rap in the mainstream media, this characteristic of getting involved in politics and public relations will be more important than ever. Less than 2% of Americans now feed and clothe this nation. This 2% can ill afford being a silent minority.
Finally, successful farmers appreciate how good life is. When I’ve asked growers why they put up with all the uncertainty and government intrusion, the response usually goes something like this: “Farming is a way of life for me and my family.” Through all the bad years and aggravation, growers appreciate how rare it is to be able to work the land (less than 2%) and nurture a crop to a fruitful harvest. Many tell me they consider it a blessing. That kind of attitude affects how you run a business, and it shows up in the quality of products you produce.

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