Many years ago, a farmer named John in Roxbury needed a new manure spreader. John was an old man. I was a young man, and thinking back, I had a lot to learn. I would learn a lot that day.
Parking near the barn, I noticed John sitting on the steps of the house. As I approached, something seemed very wrong. John was shaking, rocking to and fro, and mumbling to himself.
I asked, “John, are you OK?” I got no response. Touching him on the shoulder, I said, “What’s wrong, John?” He appeared a bit startled, but sat up straight, and through his tears said, “I’m sorry. I’m having a rough time today. My wife has died.”
“Oh John, I’m very sorry. Let me get on down the road and leave you in peace.” I said. He responded rather loudly, “No. Sit down.” So I did.
John said, “I knew she was dying, but ya know, that doesn’t make it any easier. We’ve been married for almost 50 years, and now, she’s gone. Running the farm, raising the kids, and trying to pay the bills, we worked hard. Maybe, we worked too hard.
“She’s gone and I feel so alone. We never went on a vacation. I never took her anywhere. All we did was work. I should have taken her places and not let her work so hard.”
Stammering and stuttering a bit, I said, “It’s not my place to say, but I knew your missus. She seemed like a happy lady. She was always talking about you and the kids, and she knew the cows better than you did. Besides, John, she married a farmer. She was a farmer’s wife, and knew what that meant.
“Look at how beautiful your farm is with the fields and mountains. I suspect there was no other place she’d rather have been.” As we both looked at a morning fog bank rising up the slope of the mountain across the valley, John smiled a bit and said, “Do you really think so?” I replied, “I do, John. Yes, I do.”
John stood up and said, “I’ve got some help coming for chores, but the old spreader is beyond repair, and I can’t think business right now. Could you send one down and we’ll talk price later?” “No problem, John. It’ll be here in an hour or so.” I answered.
John was a good farmer, and in my life, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to know hundreds of such men and women. People often claim that they love farmers. They appreciate the mowed fields, the open spaces that farms provide, and the tranquility of cows grazing peacefully on the hillside. But, do they really know them, and understand the hardships that such a life demands?
Things are good, until the cows get out and run across a lawn, or until some manure is spilled on the road. The lip service ends when the tractors toil into the night or begin harvest at the crack of dawn. There can be a real problem when the wind blows across a freshly spread field. Folks forget, or don’t seem to care, that the farmer has been there a generation or two longer than they have.
In addition to the above “public politics,” a farmer must face high real estate taxes, labor shortages, high feed prices, tremendous machinery expense, and the “roller coaster” pricing of his product. For those who don’t know, a dairy farmer sells his milk by the hundred weight. He receives so many dollars per hundred pounds of milk.
Out of this price comes hauling from the farm to the creamery, and advertising. What other “factory” pays the freight? Does GM pay to have its cars delivered? No, they don’t. Farmers don’t package and sell milk. They produce the raw product, yet they pay to advertise the finish goods. For them to pay advertising makes as much sense as a steel company advertising cars because they’re made of steel.
Last year, milk was bringing approximately $26 per hundred, but this year, it is down to $17 per hundred. That’s a drop of more than 34 percent, but machinery, taxes, etc. ... have not gone down accordingly. In fact, they have risen. Can you imagine the chaos, rioting and mayhem if teachers, union workers, government employees, or even burger-flippers at McDonald’s had to take a pay cut of 34 percent?
You won’t see President Obama holding a news conference and parading out victims of this injustice. Politicians of either party won’t wring their hands and promise action. Farmers will just adjust and bear it as their fathers have done before them. There will be no crying. They will work even harder and smarter.
CHUCK PINKEY is a retired area businessman. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of The Daily Star and its editorial board, but the author thinks they ought to.