I've interviewed 12 people over the last few days, and visited with several more on the route that lead to those interviews. I've heard the personal accounts of how people across the western states are planning, working and striving to make it through this tough year, how they're recovering from the devastating fires that swept so much of the country in recent months and what their strategies are to survive what are sure to be more challenging months, and possibly years, ahead.
On a year that is setting record high temperatures combined with record low moisture, when the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) publishes its support of meatless Mondays, when other government agencies including the Forest Service are telling producers in some areas that they won't be able to graze their permits next year either as a result of a fire that burned their permits this year, when corn is shooting through the roof and politicians are continuing to support its use in ethanol production (which costs more to produce than it makes in return...wonder why we're in a budget deficit), when the USDA is reducing meat in school lunch programs, when certain species of wildlife are placed at a higher value than livestock by the public, and when over a million acres have been burned in western states alone, killing thousands of head of livestock, wiping out homes and entire operations in some cases, I saw yet again what makes our agriculture industry so unique, wonderful and powerful in my opinion: God and the farmers and ranchers themselves.
There was resilience, hope, humor and grit surrounded by a solid belief in the Lord amongst the people I spoke to. It's humbling to visit with such people, who in a matter of minutes made my family's situation this year look plumb rosy in multiple instances. There were the stories of help provided by friends, family, acquaintances and in several cases those people who use private lands for recreational and hunting vacations. There were the stories of the sheer workload being taken on by landowners to recover from the effects of 2012, and the fact that I never heard any hesitation, complaints (except for how the government fights fire, which I agree with wholeheartedly) or excuses. Instead, I heard about action, plans, ideas, innovations and answered prayers. I also heard about continued prayers for those who did have to sell out and regroup. People spoke of how good we have it today compared to the 1980's or 1930's. Miraculous moments that occurred during some of the fires were explained, as was how the western cowherd is going to be fed this winter, not if. There was a resigned willingness to dig in and survive, come what may, combined with the ever-present hope you'll always find in agriculture that the weather will become perfect starting tomorrow and the government will back off, and that prices will reach a level we all have in the back of our mind. We are, and always will be the most optimistic pessimists, or most pessimistic optimists, you'll ever meet.
I am proud to not only be a part of this industry, but to be a part of its core; which are the people who raise the food and fiber that feed and clothe the world. The fact that I get to do a part in sharing the stories, ideas and news relevant to agriculture is just a bonus, and this has been a great week on the job for me!