How little we understand what Montana farmers and ranchers do for us!
Thanksgiving is coming in a week. I was teaching in my other job at Montana State University listening to students tell me how they were leaving too early because their parents had made them flights to get home early. In my repetitive conversation that that sounded like a personal family issue and that deadlines didn’t change, I started thinking about how much most Americans take for granted the food on their table. That isn’t mud slinging. I use to be one of them. I had no clue when I was a kid the work that went into putting all this food on our families table.
Let me name a few of my favorite dishes that my Mom so incredibly made for our family gathering that we all took for granted. Dilly rolls, Turkey, deviled eggs, stuffing, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, stuffed squash, green beans all of which someone probably worked ridiculous hours in a day to enable us Dallas, Tx city slickers to sit down and stuff ourselves. My Mom who got up at 4:30 in the morning preparing the food so we could overfeed ourselves.
Here are a few things that went on for these farmers and ranchers to put food on the table. Starts with having the land to plant or tend to the animals that would end up on our table. No easy feat. It is an upfront major investment that many have to borrow money from banks to get a start. Then they have to get the land ready. Many times the land needs work and nutrients to be able to even plant, let alone make money. Then in Montana they have to deal with when to plant to not have frost ruin their investment or to tend to animals in a spring snowstorm. The thing I have come to realize is how much of agriculture is a guess. A very educated guess built on decades of experience but still a guess. You don’t want to be late to plant because then you could be caught on the opposite end not being able to harvest before fall freeze. Gambles are being made every year and day for our nations food supply by farmers or ranchers. And that gamble is being made with not knowing what they are going to be paid at the end of the journey.
Then comes the growing season where there is a constant daily struggle to watch and nurture the growing plant or animal. Spraying, watering, watching out for disease, rotating pastures, doctoring is a sun up to sundown + day that is non stop yet Montana farmers and ranchers do it without knowing if they get a paycheck at the end of the season or are paying the bank to work unbelievable hours. It is a get up before sunlight to walking in the door at dark.
They do all of this with their sales prices either being controlled or manipulated by markets or governments that seem to care little about their families or the effort that is put into putting food on American’s tables. Then government agencies hit them with all kinds of regulations, restrictions, fees, licenses, permits and any other words that mean taxes and uncertainties. It is amazing that we end up with any food on our tables and is a testament to Montana farmers and ranchers and our country in general.
If you can imagine fighting these uphill battles while the vast majority of Americans have no appreciation or understanding of the battles of the full year with one paycheck waiting at the end of a long uncertain battle. This uncertainty is for a very few brave and hardworking people that love what they do and take great pride in feeding our countries population while climbing a steep hill.
So, while most of us are eating a certain Thanksgiving meal probably supported by a reasonably certain paycheck, I hope we will consider the uncertain, incredibly capital intensive and physical jobs that some farmers and ranchers are doing to put food on our tables. It is a job of faith, lack of understanding or appreciation by the general public and lots of government intervention all while trying to make a living to support their family.
When you consider that our countries population is 318 million people and the amount of farm and ranch land that has been gobbled up by urban sprawl, it is an amazing feat that we have an ample food source. Montana farmers and ranchers are producing more meat and crops per acre than they have ever in the past. The efficiency gains of the last several decades have been nothing but amazing. Yet most of the general population has no idea the miracle that is happening everyday in rural America. So if you are in Montana on Thanksgiving and see a Montana rancher or farmer give them a hug. They have done a tremendous job of feeding us 318 million Americans.
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Buzz Tatom is a Partner at Venture West Ranches. He moved to Montana 5 years ago and still owns the 5T ranch in Texas. He has a BBA from Texas Tech and an MBA from SMU. His business background includes growing his Printing/Marketing firm 10 fold over 24 years before selling in 2011. He is involved in a number of business ventures. He enjoys teaching part time at MSU in business and mentoring students.