Farmers are America's original entrepreneurs. Being a farmer is a full-time profession that requires a wide range of skills and expertise--from electrical wiring to plant pathology--and a high level of risk-tolerance. It is not for the timid, or for people who like to sleep late. You have to give it your all, come hail or high water... and do it all again next year.
Ed Marshall is a fourth-generation farmer from Mississippi County, Missouri. He was one of seven children—the only son until he was in high school. “You couldn’t pull me off this farm” he says. He has three children out of college and one in second grade.
The US Army Corps of engineers blew the Mississippi river levee on May 1, 2012, making his farmland look like the moon. “It’s taken me 5,079 truckloads of dirt to fix what the water broke. The cost came out of my pocket. I lost 3,500 acres of 75 bushel per acre wheat that was to be cut in 6 weeks,” he said. At $8 a bushel, that was over $2 million.
When asked “why did you agree to be on the show”? Ed said, “People need to know:
How do you handle the stress with so much on the line year after year? “I smoke cigarettes,” he laughs. “This is my life. If it was easy, anyone would do it. Farmers CAN DO IT. I’m dirty. I have cracked hands and callouses. I’m sunburned. I LOVE IT. It makes me what I am.”
Farmer, and Mayor of East Prairie, Missouri. East Prairie (pop 3,176) is in southeast Missouri, where the Mississippi and Ohio rivers meet.
Tom Raffety farms corn, beans and rice in southeast Missouri and southern Illinois with his father. He’s married with four children--a son in college and three daughters at home.
Last year, Tom got a 1-2 punch when the Mississippi river flooded in Illinois and the U.S Army Corps of Engineers blew up the Mississippi river levee, flooding his farm in Missouri. Tom was able to get a crop in after the water receded, but his cousin’s land was almost destroyed and will never be the same again. Their expensive irrigation system was a total loss and there were 12 foot gullies left in the soil. These farmers are not being repaid for this huge financial blow.
“I’d like the public to understand that we love what we do,” he said. “It’s difficult at times, but it’s who we are. We need to find our voice to tell the public that we are growing the safest, cheapest, most abundant food supply in history. And that we’ll need to double that amount to keep the world fed in the next 40 years.”
How do you handle the anxiety of having so much at risk each year? “My wife would say I carry too much stress,” he laughs. “Part of it is risk management and the other is hand-wringing. Last year we had the highest river levels in history. This year is nearly the driest in history. We live with it. I liken it to this: Imagine you’re an attorney with only one big case every year. You do all you can to win it, but the control is really out of your hands.”
The Hughes family of Nevada, Missouri: Lincoln and Trinnade are full-time farmers. They raise corn, soybeans, wheat... plus a few chickens and pigs for the boys for 4-H. The three Hughes boys love to hunt and they are all hoping to be farmers.
Kevin Mainord farms 10,000 acres in southeast Missouri with his friend from high school. They were not raised on family farms. They started with 400 acres of rented ground in 1983. Kevin is also the sales and marketing director for MRM Ag Service, Inc.
As mayor of East Prairie, he was very involved in the discussions that led up to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers blowing up the Mississippi River levee on May 1, 2011, an event that nearly destroyed the farm land it flooded.
Kevin's wife, Mary Anne, is also a public official. They have two sons and two daughters, as well as two grandchildren. One son also works for MRM Ag Servince, Inc. where he manages the seed business. The other, a senior in high school, works on the farm after school and during summer vacation. The Mainords's older daughter is a manager at a local bank. The younger daughter is also a senior in high school and plans to take up nursing.
We asked Kevin what he hopes viewers will take away from the show: “Many urban folks have no idea what it takes to grow a crop,” he said, “or how growers risk their own capital to do it. All the while, we’re at the mercy of Mother Nature and the price the market gives us. Growers are pretty self-reliant, though. They’re eternal optimists even in times of adversity. As it costs more per acre to produce a crop, there is more stress, but that doesn’t deter us.”
Tom Raffety farms in Illinois and Missouri, on both sides of the Mississippi river.