There are times when farming can be extremely stressful. How do you deal with unexpected problems? How do you handle financial difficulties? Do you have a breaking point?

When we are in the middle of stressful situations it is hard to maintain a positive long-term perspective. Perhaps Jeff’s story will sound familiar to you.

It had been a long year for Jeff. Like everyone around him, spring never seemed to end. He had a few acres planted in late April and May, but most were not planted until mid-June. He also found himself replanting beans on July 1.

Summer had been less eventful. There were many days of warm temperatures with great sunlight, and the crops had mostly recovered. Jeff’s corn looked really good and his beans, while not as tall as he usually liked them, had lots of pods.

By the first of September Jeff was becoming optimistic. That night a storm came through with strong winds. The next day Jeff found several hundred acres with downed corn. Most of it was to the east but occasionally to the south and sometimes to the north.

Over the next month, Jeff’s preparations for harvest went well and he was ready to start combining when the rains began again. He thought the beans would be the last thing to be harvested, but weeks of rain caused the leaves to drop and he harvested a few acres on the first dry day.

Then there was more rain. He decided to switch to corn, and harvest was going well until he discovered an engine oil leak on his combine. After diagnosing it to the best of his ability, he called the dealership. There were iron filings in the oil and the engine was shot. Fix or trade became the question of the day for Jeff. He decided to quickly trade his combine and keep harvesting.

That same week the corn dryer broke a shaft deep inside the grain bin. A day and half later and Jeff was ready to begin again.

Then more rain arrived and he sat idle for three days.

Jeff thought the last straw to his problems came the following night when he slipped on the steps of the new combine and fell to the ground. Even though the fall was only a few feet, the pain was instant as his backed wrenched, and he grimaced in discomfort. Slowly making his way back up into the combine, he settled into the seat. Now Jeff was thoroughly discouraged.

It took him several minutes to compose himself, but Jeff decided to keep going. He was tired of all the setbacks and just wanted to finish. As he backed up to start the next pass, there was a sickening crunch and Jeff realized he had just backed into his own pickup.

Without getting out, he called his wife on the radio and told her to come and pick him up. He was done for the day. He painfully climbed out of the cab and surveyed the damage. The combine was only dented in the back. His truck, on the other hand, had a broken windshield and driver’s window. The corner panel on the driver’s side was pushed into the wheel.

His wife arrived and home they went. There was little sleep that night. Jeff’s sore back kept him from being comfortable, and all night he relived the frustrations of the season. By the time it was light again he was still tired, sore and very discouraged.

As Jeff sat in the doctor’s office waiting for his appointment, he considered himself the unluckiest person he knew. The doctor examined his back and told him to take it easy for a few days. As a parting shot, the doctor suggested Jeff lose some weight and lay off the doughnuts and cinnamon rolls.

Jeff was a resilient man, but he had reached his limit. The ride home was quiet and correctly framed with dark rain clouds passing over his fields. He carefully drove the combine into his shop and hired a tow truck to take his pickup into town for repairs.

The next morning Jeff stood in his shop trying to guess how much pain he could endure pounding the dents out of the back of the combine. His radio was on in the background, and as he listened to the news he heard about a fundraiser going on. A young family he barely knew had a sick child. A soup supper being held the next night hoped to raise money for the family.

Jeff and his wife attended the supper, and as they drove home Jeff was grateful his own children did not have any health problems.

The next morning a neighbor stopped by to tell Jeff another neighbor had been injured working cattle. He would be in the hospital for several weeks. His neighbors were getting together to harvest the man’s crops. Jeff said he would be there, and quickly completed his combine repairs. He spent all the next day combining corn along with 40 other people. Jeff came home feeling good.

The next morning on the news there was another sad report of a farmer who only lived 10 miles away. The farmer died of a heart attack while he was out combining. His son was driving a grain cart and saw the combine stop in the middle of the field. The father was slumped over the steering wheel and was dead by the time his son arrived. The death of Jeff’s neighbor made him think about his own life.

By the weekend, Jeff’s fields were dry enough and he was ready to harvest again. The sun shone brightly as he carefully climbed the combine steps. After he settled into the seat, he reviewed the events of the last two weeks and the entire season. As challenging as things had been, he could easily look around and see others whose challenges were much harder than his own.

The things which had been most frustrating at the time now seemed less important and earth-shaking to Jeff.

It is the same with each of us. The financial, health or relationship challenges we face daily may seem huge and perhaps overwhelming. At the same time, we can look around and see others who carry burdens much larger and more significant than the things we worry about. Helping others as Jeff did reminds us of the most important things in our lives and the long-term perspective we should maintain.

In 10 years or 20 years or 50 years from now, no one will really care how Jeff’s harvest went in 2019. It will simply fade into a small part of Jeff’s life. How Jeff perceives his challenges and deals with them will become a legacy which lives on through his children and grandchildren.


Bob Dunaway and Associates offer estate and retirement planning. Gary Johnson can be reached at 563-927-4554 or by emailing him at plans@bobdunaway.com.

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