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After the early October snowstorm stopped, farmers and ranchers were left with massive drifts to clear like these on Oct. 13, north of Medina, N.D. (Jenny Schlecht/Agweek)

Never surrender when times are tough

I got a call from my husband the other day in which he said some words I'm pretty sure he had never said in that combination before and doesn't want to ever have to say again:

"I'm baling hay over the ice."

It was a late November day, cold enough that the ground — and the excess water spilling onto it — were frozen but dry enough that the hay that had been cut weeks before was finally ready to be baled. The bales of teff grass look surprisingly good, with more green to it than expected. A few days later, Brandon wrapped up another field of sudangrass and millet that had been down for quite awhile. It's nowhere near the quality we imagined it would be when it was planted way back in early summer, but it'll serve some purpose in a ration.

Enough probably has been written about how difficult 2019 has been. That's not to say we're going to stop writing about it; those conditions have a big impact on the economics of our region, on the lives of farmers and on the outlook for the next year. But I do think there is a need to celebrate the perseverance of the farmers and ranchers still struggling to salvage what they can of this year's work.

On our place, yes, there is still hay to be baled as we head toward Christmas. If we can get the right equipment together before the snow gets too crazy, there still is forage to be cut for hay. There still is corn to be chopped for what will be the lowest quality silage we've ever had. We've never really had to worry about getting No. 1 fuel into tractors hooked to balers or hay rakes before this year, but here we are.

We're not giving up, and, from what I've seen as I drive across the countryside, neither is anyone else.

I've seen a tractor with tracks pulling a grain cart with tracks through a wet spot in a field. Water splashed up to the fenders. But the tractor kept going.

I've seen combines buried to the axles. I've seen four-wheel drive tractors idling at the side of fields, waiting for the combines to get stuck. I've seen tractors hauling bales far across fields to trucks that are sitting on the only dry ground available.

It does seem, literally and figuratively, like all we're doing is spinning our wheels. But eventually, we grab onto something solid and we keep going. One more field gets done.

During corn chopping season years back, my dad and one of the guys driving truck for him decided their motto for the task was, "Never surrender." Dad called me with that same advice the day before I gave birth to my first daughter. Now it's the advice I give my daughters when something seems too hard. It's a mantra that reminds me that even when the odds seem insurmountable, there is pride in not giving up and in not wallowing in the difficulty.

I wish I could say things are going to get better, but I don't think that's true. Finishing this harvest won't be easy, and there is no indication that spring will be easy, either. All any of us can do is take one day at a time, do everything we can and ask for help when we need it. And never surrender.

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