As the days slowly turn much warmer and the trees change from their spring pastels to deep summer greens, farmers across Tennessee prepare for this year's planting and cropping season. They repair hay balers parked over the winter in metal sheds, hoping for just one more year of use and a bumper crop.
However, there is one word in the previous sentence that seems to be used a lot this growing season. It is the word "hoping" that seems to be spoken quite often around farmsteads in the Volunteer State.
Farmers are "hoping" for numerous things. They of course want prices for their crops to be good, more production from what they plant, the drought to stay away this year, some dry weather on hay harvesting days, and hope most of all to just survive another year.
The last couple of growing seasons have been really rough for many of our farmers and if they were prizefighters they would be considered "on the ropes" in some parts of the state.
A major drought last year took a tremendous toll on crop production, along with the loss of hay and feed for livestock, farmers took a hit right on the chin: many livestock herds had to be sold as well as reduced.
This year they have been in a fight for their life and the current production season will determine for a lot of them if they will come back out of the corner after the bell rings.
This year farmers are planting with a lot of hope, which is, what all of them seem to have. It is also important that we all hope right along with them, because we have just as much to lose as well. What do we have to lose if Tennessee's farms continue to go by the wayside? A lot of things that we take for granted everyday.
We can lose the green, open space that we enjoy. That farm that you pass going to work, with its bright red barn and lush pastures, could become just another field of houses if the farmer who owns it has to sell out because of high input costs and inadequate farm prices.
And once the farmers sell out, we will lose a culture and a way of life that has been the cornerstone for many of the values that we all believe in. The farmer will lose his job, the feed store will lose a customer, the tractor dealer will lose parts sales, and so on down the line jobs will be lost on and off the farm.
Consumers are wanting more locally grown farm produce and Tennessee's farmers are hoping to provide it this year. Oh, I forgot to tell you. If our farms go by the wayside, we will have to become dependent on food from outside our region and even our own country. No farms mean no food produced. No food produced here means we have to get it from somewhere else.
Hope is good, but we need more if our Tennessee farmers are going to have future harvests. What is needed on Tennessee farms is for all of us to let our elected officials in Washington, D.C., know that we appreciate their votes for the farm bill and to continue to look out for the farmers of our state. Let them know that we need to reform costly regulations and reduce federal mandates that do nothing but add cost. And, we also need to continue to work to keep our food supply safe.
Farmers will always need new and better risk management programs and a crop insurance program that works.
Tax reform is needed by eliminating estate taxes that can take family farms right out of existence.
The interests of farm families need to be protected regarding mergers and consolidations by major industry processors with renewed competition in the market place. This can be accomplished by legislation, but it needs to be done now.
When you see the bright morning sun coming up in the east this summer, remember that Tennessee's farmers are out there farming with hope. A hope for future harvests on Tennessee's farms that all of us can enjoy.