Kenny Rogers knew it back in the day. Farmers everywhere still know it.
“You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, and know when to fold ‘em.”
The spring of 2019 is stacking up to be another wet one; one that forces farmers to play one of the biggest, most costly games of “Chicken” that only Mother Nature could invent.
After all, She’s the only one who knows the rules.
Mother Nature’s spring version of Chicken is a mentally exhausting race against time as farmers have their seed ready, machinery tuned up and waiting, and help lined up. All they need now is a little bit of wind, heat and soil that doesn’t double as quicksand.
This spring, as the raindrops and the numbers on the calendar both got larger every day, farmers weren’t so reluctant to pull their planters out if they only had “this much time” to plant when nature would allow. Getting a little corn in might not have accomplished much in terms of financials, but it gave farmers something to do while waiting — instead of applying rubber to the walls of the rooms of their homes.
Waiting past important deadlines is difficult and worrisome at best.
This planting season, the May 10 deadline passed with precious little corn in the ground here in northwest Iowa. May 15 (a Wednesday) arrived with the hope that maybe some corn could be planted that day and the next, since conditions finally cooperated.
With the forecast calling for rain on Friday, that Wednesday brought sprayers, field cultivators and planters out in full force. They ran until the wee hours of the morning, and farmers did it all over again the following day, with Mother Nature nipping at their heels the entire time.
The lightning on Thursday night began as small, dim flashes in the southern sky — reminding farmers once again that they are not in charge. Planters can only go so fast if a decent job will be the outcome. So as much as they could, farmers remained vigilant on their second 20-hour day in a race against time that would determine their livelihoods.
As Thursday evening went on, the lightning became more prominent and moved into the western night sky. Patience and temperance in the tractor cab are important in times like that because just as nature demands, great things cannot be rushed. The urgency of the day was contrasted by planters and field cultivators slowly strolling their way across fields.
Before long, quiet thunder began to announce itself, and became more prominent.
By 1 a.m. Friday, the rains finally arrived as predicted, planters were being folded up and farmers were reluctantly, if not disgustedly, scurrying out of fields and headed for the shed.
Mother Nature wasn’t kidding. She brought a forecast of rain on Friday, and she didn’t let Friday’s beard get very scraggly before she began watering land that couldn’t soak it in any more than parents on college move-in day can absorb the fact that their child is growing up.
“You could just feel the tension in the air,” a woman said to me the following morning, after she had watched a farmer work earnestly into the wee hours of the morning.
Tractor lights in the early morning hours reflect a farmer’s dedication to the land, hope for a good financial year, and their uncanny ability to get a mountain of work done without even a bit of sleep.
Even the most experienced farmers can get frustrated with Mother Nature, though She also gets the credit for providing our bounty each year — a double-edged sword at best.
All of this begs the question of why farmers sign up for this gut-wrenching race against time every spring and fall. The only answer: because it’s what they know, and what they love to do — even if there is no other plausible explanation. Explanations don’t matter.
It’s the tenacious, persevering, unrelenting spirit of a farmer, handed down from their ancestors, who gave them an insatiable love of land and livestock. It’s just who they are.
Knowing when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em was especially true for field cultivators and planters this spring — wielded by some of the gutsiest gamblers Las Vegas will never know.
They just wish they got Kenny Rogers’ salary for knowing these things.
Karen Schwaller brings “Table Talk” to The Land from her home near Milford, Iowa. She can be reached at email@example.com.