Personal characteristics often create fellowships

The differences in farming practices distinguish farmers from each other. The similarities in personal characteristics, however, bring them into a fellowship that sometimes doesn't require words. It's like the smell of rain — you know what it smells like and you can feel the relief coming.

During the awards ceremony at the Farm Press Peanut Profitability Award in mid-July, four producers from three separate regions of the country pointed out the differences in production practices, but kept coming back to the common thread that no doubt brought them there in the first place.

Family, hard work, and above all, help from God.

Call Jamie Lee of Courtland, Va., at home and you'll likely hear his children in the background, chomping at the bit to spend time with him. It'll likely be 9 o'clock at night before you reach him at home. His pre-schoolers, however, stay up until their daddy comes home from work. Lee was with his wife, Sherry, in mid-July as she gave birth to their third child, a girl.

Lee had a standing breakfast date with his grandfather for years. He arrived with biscuits in hand that final Saturday to discover that his grandfather had passed away. “That was the way he would have wanted to go,” Lee told me. “After working hard all week on the farm.”

“This is a way of life,” said Chuck Rowland of Gaines County, Texas. “We work hard, often on the weekend, but when we get through, at layby, we can take off and enjoy the down time.”

For the Heards of southwest Georgia, farming has been a family affair for successive generations in southwest Georgia. Both Jerry Heard Jr. and Jeff Heard had their wives and children with them on the trip to the Gulf Coast. Jerry and his wife Tammy have four children. Jeff and his wife Janna have two children.

I'll borrow the words of Ron Smith, the editor of the Southwest Farm Press, who wrote about Chuck Rowland. “Unassuming, quick to give credit to the hired help, spouse, good soil, timely rain and a benevolent Creator.” Sort of sums up the point of view expressed by all the winners of the award, as well as other farmers we know.

For so many years you've likely heard that farming is either separated or awaiting a divorce from the issues of life. “Farming is a business,” some inside and outside the industry will tell you. It has little margin for the personal characteristics, or let alone spirituality. The bottom line is the bottom line. And in the pursuit of the goddess called efficiency, many have dropped by the wayside, orphans to this way of life, now working in factories or elsewhere.

But when it comes right down to it, a statement such as “It may sound silly, but I think the key to our success is we don't work on Sundays,” rings true with many. I quoted Jamie Lee's statement at the breakfast the other day in Florida and it got what I would call an “unspoken nod.” That's the kind of response you're liable to get if you tell your wife, “I love you” after a long, dry spell in your life. You both know it's true, but it's good to hear it anyway. “We never worked on Sunday,” one man told me after the breakfast, in agreement with the practice.

It may be that the things beyond the bottom line ring especially true with farmers because at the end of the day that's what remains. Watching the ground for a hint at a good stand in the spring. Watching a cotton blossom turn from white to pink. Hearing the sound of the sun going down. Smelling newly mown hay. Hearing the laughter of your children. Seeing a smile come across the face of your wife. Smelling a shower coming from a mile away.

The bottom line is always waiting at the end of the line, but it's a much nicer ride to swing on the vines of family life, hard work and everyday issues on your way to the bottom line. Chances are these four farmers would tell you the math really does add up beyond the bottom line.

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