It goes by many names: act of faith and leap of faith, among them. Whatever you call it, it's the decision that farmers make every spring to plant another crop in hopes of harvesting enough grain - and selling it at a sufficiently high price - to pay their bills and turn a profit.
Now, with 2018 planting virtually wrapped up, the annual leap of faith has been completed once again.
Farmers aren't only ones who made it, of course. The businesspeople who sold them seed, fuel, chemicals, fertilizer and more, the bankers who lent them money, the agronomists and other ag-sector employees who provide expertise and labor all have a stake of some sort in the 2018 crop season. Everyone involved in agriculture has made an investment, be it physical, mental, emotional or financial, or some combination of the four.
The financial commitment is bigger than people outside of agriculture may realize. An example using the North Dakota State University Extension 2018 Project Crop Budgets for extreme southeast North Dakota, a corn-and-soybean-heavy area that's representative of much of the Upper Midwest:
An acre of corn in southeast North Dakota cost an estimated $515.07 to plant: $320.06 per acre for direct costs such as seed and chemicals, $195.01 per acre for fixed costs, primarily machinery and land. The tab to plant a 100-acre field comes to more than $50,000 and more than $25,000 for a 50-acre field.
It's not uncommon for area farmers to borrow six-figures or seven-figures, depending on a farm's size, to plant their crop - a costly leap of faith, to say the least. Yes, federal farm programs reduce the risk, but risk remains.
So every spring, farmers, who accepted risk when they entered their profession, swallow hard and plant their crops with a deep passion and faith.
Ranchers also require faith at this time of year. If the weather doesn't cooperate, they won't have enough hay and pasture to feed their livestock. The drought of 2017 provided an awful reminder of that.
This spring was especially challenging in parts of the Upper Midwest. Uncooperative weather caused many fields to be planted later than farmers wanted. That's unfortunate; early-planted fields usually yield better than late-planted ones. But early planting doesn't guarantee a good crop, and late planting doesn't guarantee a poor one.
What's needed now
A good overall crop is still possible, and the weather going forward will determine if we get it. Timely rains - adequate precipitation that comes at key times in plant development - are critical. So are favorable temperatures at important stages of plant growth.
Farmers and ranchers all know so much could go wrong in the next few months: too dry, too wet, too hot, too cold; onslaughts of weeds, insects and crop disease. Everyone with a stake in agriculture does their considerable best to anticipate and prepare for the things that can go wrong. But so much, especially rainfall, is simply beyond their control.
Even so, producers took the leap of faith once again. Now, it's the middle of June. Crops are in the ground and growing. All of us, whatever our role in agriculture, hope they turn out well.
Farming always is a leap of faith, requiring an inordinate amount of cooperation from forces beyond our control. Remember as you watch the sky this growing season to be easy on yourself. Nothing is more important than the safety of you and your family.