Hard Times On The Plains. Our Resident American Bad-Ass, George Thatcher, Opines On The Struggles Of The Heartland Farmer And Rancher. 89 Years Of Living, Learning And Wisdom. . .

The Green Acres Illusion

I faintly remember the times when life was filled with angst, uncertainty, even rank fear.  Usually these periods were over in a matter of minutes or hours, like during a bomb run with lives hanging in the balance, or when sweating out the promotion board during those weeks before “the list” came out.  Hours of boredom, punctuated by moments of stark terror, as we used to say.

But I never realized, until moving to Lubbock, what real fear and insecurity could feel like.  Even though I’m now experiencing these emotions vicariously, I’m relating very closely with the lives of our farmers.  These are the folks who lay it on the line year after year, charging into the jaws of the tiger, not knowing whether the year will bring a bonanza or abject defeat and humiliation.  These gallant people live, and wha’s even worse, require that their families to share, these lives of constant peril.  Their entire way of life can be destroyed by the fickleness, the vagaries of the weather.

Last year was an unmitigated disaster for the farming community hereabouts.  No rain came during an entire growing season, and crop yields were not good enough to send out the reapers.  Even those with irrigated acreage could not put enough moisture on the fields to make up for the the lack of rain.  If the farmer didn’t have money stashed from a previous year’s good harvest, he was at the mercy of the banks.  And who wants to throw good money after bad?  In a particularly vicious display of who was actually in charge, Naure let the rains finally fall, but only after the ghost harvest of 2022.  The way it showed up in the statistics, we actually had an “average” year of rainfall.  It simply didn’t arrive at the right times.  And again, so far in 2023, the late winter and early spring rains  have skirted our area.  Oh, they’ve turned California into a gigantic lake, and the Midwest has received more than its share of nourishing moisture, but our part of the world has again been left out of the bonanza.

They say that our weather has been influenced in recent times by “La Nina,” a water-warming phenomenon that has affect the weather dramatically in states north of ours.  And it’s beginning to shift south to some degree, giving hope for a return of “El Nino,” which will warm the Pacific in more southern regions.  So where’s the beef?  Up until now, we’ve endured the driest, warmest winter in years, and the drought continues unabated.  Farmers have tried cultivating their dry fields in hopeful preparation for planting, only to have their plows break in the thick-crusted earth.  Cooperative groups have been meeting to determine when, if ever, they’ll be able to get started.  They’re an army that’s fully mobilized, with battle-hardened veterans with steely-eyed, prayerful gazes fixed steadily at the horizon.  In what direction?   Hell, they’re prepared for the action to begin from almost any direction.  Their clenched hands grind at the tractor steering wheels with undaunted determination.

And still the rains don’t come.  Church services are dominated by pleadings for Divine assistance.  Four-H and FFA continue functioning with admirable, yet hollow-eyed optimism.  The countdown is now a matter of short weeks until “D-Day, when the moisture will fall and they will fling themselves into those ravaged battlefields called farms.  But what if the rains haven’t come and the finally day of reckoning comes and goes?  Will our farm people just abandon the property and come to town looking for work?  Some of them have already done so, and others will join them.  But then there’s still crop insurance.

If the farmer has bought the right coverage, he can still sally forth and plant his seed, hoping against hope that it will somehow miraculously turn into living green shoots.  But they really know better, and they hope to recover enough from their insurance claims to pay the bills and hang on for another year.  Is it any surprise to know that suicides and mortal illnesses are rampant among the farm population?  In the military we had lots of cases of PTSD, formerly known as shell-shock or battle fatigue.  Are farm-related afflictions any different than these?  It’s obvious that, whatever they’re called, these misfortunes have equivalent results.  And do the farmers hav the equivalent of the VA, where they can have their shakes quieted, their heads re-programmed to deal with the civilian world, their ravaged families treated for the same illnesses?  We rarely mention the tribulations of the ever-faithful wives, who have shared the vagaries of the farm life all those years with her spouse, whlle running the household, raising the kids, and watching her hopes of yesteryear fade into a grim, stark reality of impending bankruptcy.

Have I over-stated or dramatized the plight of today’s tiller of the soil?  You might think so, judging from the numbers of affluent retired farmers you see around town.  But I suggest that these were the lucky ones, who struck oil on their land, or sold the valuable real estate that became their retirement fund.  They have rolled the dice and won, thankfully.  But who knows how many continue to pull the handle on the slot machine year after year, but come up empty?  And I haven’t even approached the subject of the tenant farmer and the hired hand, whose very existences ride with the gamble of the property owner.  

It’s too late for most of us to consider a life on the farm.  Despite the erratic nature of the business, the prices of the land have continue to soar over the years.  Most of us couldn’t afford to buy a farm, even if we wanted to.   And who wants to, anyway?

Editor’s Note. Recent studies show that the American Farmer and Rancher has an over 2.5 times higher rate of suicide than other professions in our country. If your or anyone you know is suffering from depressions and pain, Please reach out! There is help out there and it is a phone call away. Don’t suffer in silence. America needs you and supports you and we’re here to help!

George is an American Bad Ass. He grew up in Jersey, flew B-52s in Vietnam, taught English, Spanish and other languages to children around the world, makes his own salsa, has been known to enjoy a beer or two and has called Lubbock home for a few years, just to entertain the locals. Welcome to Raiderland, Major. We are going to feature some of his writings going forward. Some new, some old. Some rhyme, some don’t. When it comes to George, there’s no box. So… enjoy our friend and enjoy his writings! – Hyatt