Calculating what lies in store for agriculture and farming in 2020 is a difficult call. It’s easy to wonder if farmers won’t be left twisting in the wind like the last stubborn leaf on the woodlot’s sinewy ironwood tree, whose gently rippled exterior mimics a body builder’s forearms. I’m keeping that metaphorical friends lest I veer down that tricky road called politics. Because if you think politics isn’t involved in what lies ahead, well, think again.
As long as I’m not going down the politics road, I would like to publicly thank my principal at Oak Grove Elementary School in Green Oaks, Illinois, for annually teaching the 8th-grade class – mine was in 1972 – the basics of propaganda. I’ve recognized examples throughout my life; I credit Mr. Kroll with that valuable lesson.
Politics aside, I have a few safe predictions for what’s ahead in the upcoming year.
It’ll be cold in the winter and hot in the summer. It’ll be cool in the springtime and also in the fall. Winter snow will yield to spring rain. The angle of the sun will backlight an emerald pasture where a single horse nips at emerging grass. Off Eau Claire River Road near Aniwa, Wisconsin, a young family will milk their cows and care for young stock. They’ll work on despite a headline in a major newspaper announcing the end of another family farm.
The milk check will arrive; rationing of dollars and cents will take place at the dinner table. Spring will yield to warm summer breezes drying rows of hay draped across the land in a weaving tapestry. The baler will roll out of the shed ready for its first meal of the season. Clothes will be hung out to dry, dancing in the wind like ancient spirits. Corn will emerge and start its upward task of reaching for the sun. At night we’ll hear it growing in moonlit rows.
The garden will yield crisp lettuce and radishes. Nightshades will blossom and set fruit; zucchini will multiply exponentially. Dandelions will be but a memory. Tiger lilies will grow rampant along the side of an abandoned shack that once housed a hired hand. As summer progresses monarchs will feast on road-ditch milkweed. Town residents will let out a collective cry when the town mower wipes out the milkweed with long-armed whirling blades. Wild plums that line the fields will ripen, falling to the ground to ferment like fine wine. Sweet corn will ripen to be pilfered by wily raccoons. The bachelor farmer’s maid will come out of the kitchen with a loaded 410 double-barreled shotgun. She’ll have her way with a woodchuck that’s wreaking havoc in the potato patch.
Down from the East Branch of the Big Sandy Creek on what was once called Hilldale Road more old dairy barns will crumble to the soil that supported them for decades. Doctors and schoolteachers will put daily mail in mailboxes, flipping flags to signify outgoing mail. They’ll head to work on gravel roads that once supported a community of farmers. When they return they’ll reach in from their open car windows to collect the day’s mail. There will be two free shoppers, a shiny postcard from the furniture store in town, the cell-phone bill, and a political advertisement from the “vote for me and I’ll set you free” department.
Summer will yield to fall with a 2 a.m. thunderstorm in late September. The big pine will finally blow down on the line fence. Field corn will ripen and dent. Ears will drop and stalks will streak brown as they senesce. Grass farmers will hope for an extended autumn conducive to pasture growth. Combines will roll across the land, leaving stalk litter behind. Yellow corn will fill bins, hopeful for a fair market. The World Series will end; the fields of November will be upon us. The last summer bird will migrate south. Winter crows will take the stage, circling the woodlot before lighting in an elm that stands 20 years after dying.
Fat cattle will go to slaughter but veggie burgers will compete for the consumer plate. The season of thanks will arrive. The annual reminder of the true story of Thanksgiving and its horrific nature will come and go. Bell ringers will greet us at stores. Bulk bins with mixed nuts and nutcrackers will be the norm. There’s a special on Irish Crème – and beware that romaine lettuce.
Those are a few things we can count on this coming year. Because it ends with food let’s just call it food for thought.
Here comes 2020 – which also stands for perfect vision, something I no longer have. I hate to leave everyone twisting in the wind like that last stubborn ironwood leaf, but it’s best I don’t mislead with empty predictions. Some folks get paid to do that…
See you in the next decade.