Below the Surface: Bring It On

Published online: Jan 13, 2020 Between the Rows Tyrell Marchant, Editor
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This article appears in the January 2020 issue of Sugar Producer.

I’ve never been one to believe that a specific point on the calendar should serve as some sort of turning point. The whole premise of New Year’s resolutions has always seemed kind of…empty to me. If I can’t start working out or reading better books or calling my mother more often on Aug. 17, what makes me think I’ll magically have more resolve to do those things on Jan. 1?

Right now, though, I have to believe that hanging a 2020 feed store calendar on the office wall offers a very real glimmer of hope in the hearts and minds of a lot of our growers. I myself am not a grower, so the effects of a rough—nay, brutal—year for the sugarbeet industry were relatively minimal to me personally. But putting 2019 in the rearview, filing it away to tell your grandkids about in 30 years as evidence of your family’s perseverance, seems like a healthy prescription. When your calendar is dictated by things like planting, spraying and harvesting rather than days, weeks and months, your New Year’s resolution is unlikely to change much year to year: Keep the farm in the family, and leave it in better shape for the next generation than it was in when you were a kid.

The word “resolution” denotes a character that could be called, at least to some degree, “resolute.” In the spirit of lazy writing (of which I hereby officially resolve to do less this year), let’s turn to Mr. Webster:

            resolute: 're-z?-lüt

            Marked by firmness or determination; unwavering

Over the last couple months, I have witnessed dozens of examples of people “marked with firmness or determination; unwavering.” They’ve stood in front of local TV cameras, explaining why an enormous portion of their crop will remain in the field to rot, even while tractors and harvesters sit idle, hopefully, vainly waiting in the wings. They’ve choked back tears as a trusted friend at the factory calls, haltingly explaining that “I’m sorry, but we have to shut you down.” They’ve promised lenders that this year was a fluke, that given another year, they’re good for every payment.

You know who they are. If you’re reading this, chances are pretty good that you are one of them. Maybe you’re the kind of guy for whom “resolute” means suffering silently, not letting anyone see the doubts that have crept in, the chinks in the armor. Maybe you’re sporting a cast on your hand, a souvenir from an ill-advised attempt to punch a hole in a tractor tire upon hearing the forecast of three more inches of rain over the next two days. Perhaps your faithful border collie has been your therapist, sitting in the passenger seat of the pickup, patiently and empathetically listening to every worry, fear and frustration.

However 2019 has affected you, if your 2020 resolution has simply been to still be here, making another go of it, my hat’s off to you. Nothing says “resolute” like an American farmer, prepping a field early in the spring after a devastating prior season, exhibiting a forceful faith in the land, himself and the grace of God.

Mother Nature may have hit you with blow after devastating blow, but here you are, still standing. You’re like Rocky in Moscow, refusing to go down, leaving an awestruck, formerly all-powerful opponent to marvel, “He is not human…He’s like a piece of iron.” Resolute indeed.

Look, I’m not trying to give you some saccharine, rah-rah pep talk. Our farmers are too smart, too experienced, too savvy for that. But I’ve gotta tell you, I am impressed by the people I get to meet and work with in this industry. It’s nothing short of a privilege to rub such resolute, faith-in-humanity-inspiring shoulders on such a regular basis.

Bring on 2020.