Text and Photo by Stacy Bronec

“My grandfather used to say that once in your life you need a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman, and a preacher. But every day, three times a day, you need a farmer,” writes Brenda Schoepp, farmer and author.

The number of farms across the country continues to decrease, but farmers today grow twice as much food, using less land, energy, water, and emissions than the previous generations. In 2012, one U.S. farmer fed 155 people vs. 26 people in 1960. In Montana, agriculture is consistently the industry leader, having a $4.6 billion impact in 2019.

Farmers are proud of their work and want to take care of their land, with hopes of passing it down to their children and grandchildren. Nationwide, 98 percent of farms are family-owned.

Technology is constantly changing, and that’s no different in agriculture. Many farmers use Variable Rate Technology. This allows them to apply fertilizer, seeds, and chemicals at varying rates across a field instead of applying the same amount to the whole field. By doing soil testing, the farmer knows which area of the field needs more or less product, allowing a higher yield while also conserving the amount of product used by being more precise.

Farmers are often at the mercy of the weather, whether that means working long days or through a weekend to beat a storm. One good rain can make a crop, the same way one hailstorm can ruin a year’s worth of work and income.

Most farmers would shake their heads and shrug their shoulders if you said, “Thank you.” They rise before dawn to plant and harvest because it’s their passion—they don’t do it for the praise.

Instead, I suggest asking a farmer, “What do you love about it?” Ask them questions about how a crop is grown, why sheep are sheared, or how beef cattle are raised.

You might be surprised to hear their answers—and maybe you’ll appreciate the food you eat and the clothes you wear a bit more.