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Spring planting is a lot like Opening Day in baseball. There's hope that a winter's planning will lead to a better year than the last. (Josh Gackle photo)

Spring brings hope for a new start, in baseball and in farming

"You always get a special kick on opening day, no matter how many you go through. You look forward to it like a birthday party when you're a kid. You think something wonderful is going to happen."

Pop quiz: The above quote came from who? There are several possible answers to that question. It could be a young child looking forward to his or her first day of school. Or a young man or woman and the first day of college. It could be the college graduate about to walk into that first office to start a career. Or even a young couple that just purchased a home or is about to have a child. And of course, it could be every farmer and rancher that is preparing for a new season of growing crops and raising livestock.

If you haven't yet come up with the answer, the introduction to this week's column is a baseball reference, attributed to the New York Yankee great Joe DiMaggio. It seems like just a short time ago that I used another sports reference to compare farming and ranching to baseball. It was late in the fall and the Chicago Cubs were on their way to winning a World Series. At the time, farmers in and around my part of southeast North Dakota were in the midst of the fall harvest, bringing in above-average or even record crops of corn, soybeans, wheat and barley.

And now after a winter filled with cold, snow, wind, rain and ice we are busy preparing for a new year. While many farmers in my part of North Dakota were blessed with good crops and a successful harvest last year, the same can't be said for all of my neighbors, near and far. For many producers, 2016 was a difficult year. In some areas, too little rain. In others, a violent hail storm, or a costly equipment breakdown. And for many a harvest season that remained wet and kept the combines from bringing in the crop. Farmers and ranchers have spent a North Dakota winter caring for cattle and hauling grain that is less than profitable. Yet there is something about the way of life here that during this time of year, we all begin to look past the difficulties of the year before and look forward to the possibilities of the year ahead.

Opening day is just around the corner, and like a baseball fan who believes his or her team will end up winning the World Series, the attitude held by those of us involved in agriculture includes a combination of faith, experience, education, practice, disappointment, patience and perseverance. As I look around the countryside and observe the melting snowbanks and bare fields, I along with other farmers start to think about what this year might have in store. We have spent the past several months planning for this time of year. We've worked on our finances, prepared our equipment, booked our seed and fertilizer, marketed (at least a portion) of our grain, and learned lessons from our friends and neighbors. Spending time on these and many other details help us prepare for the upcoming season.

And like a baseball team in the midst of spring training, we know the planting and growing season about to commence is marathon, not a sprint. We are hopeful and excited — we have an itch to "get in the field" — but we're also anxious and wary. Not everything will go as planned. While the weather has been calm and quiet in our neck of the woods lately, we know from past experience how that could change. One day the fields are ready for work, and the next the planter is stopped and the seed is in the mud. One day the weather is dry and warm, and the next you are out day and night caring for the new born calves.

In the end, we are optimistic: that our seeds find good soil, our livestock dry ground and our favorite teams good luck!

Editor's note: Gackle is a third-generation farmer in Kulm, N.D., and former staffer for Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

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