Scenes from the field reveal the nature of farmers

A large, powerful jackrabbit is bounding through the pea crop in front of the combine. His hiding place has been disturbed by the harvest operation, but he’s afraid to leave the cover provided by the thick peas.

Outside of the crop, he’d be nimble and fast. Within the peas he struggles, the vines slowing his progress. Each leap is an effort. He’ll probably escape, but the normally fast rabbit is at some risk from the slow-moving combine.

Every now and then he slips out of the crop to safety, but then can’t resist the urge to dodge back into the crop ahead of the machine. He hides for short time until the combine draws close and then continues his struggle through the vines.

Bemused, I wonder what farmer behaviour is most analogous to this rabbit and I decide he is like a farmer trapped by high costs. In the good times, it’s easy to buy too much iron and become over-equipped. And it’s tempting to outbid the neighbours to rent and buy more land.

However, when economic adversity approaches, it’s difficult to be nimble. Just keeping ahead of expenses can be a struggle. Cutting costs could put the farmer in the clear, but that doesn’t feel as comfortable as being in the thick of things.

My attention switches from the rabbit to the group of hawks off to the side of the combine watching for mice that are newly exposed. These are opportunists recognizing the opportunity for easy hunting.

A noisy combine spewing straw and chaff must be a scary sight for a hawk, but they recognize it as a meal ticket. They are like farmers who feast on new opportunities taking advantage of whatever the marketplace might offer. Sure, it may seem scary to start, but it’s a calculated risk.

If the hawks don’t avail themselves of the mice when the combine is rolling, tomorrow will be too late for that field. The mice will have found other hiding places. When opportunity knocks, you have to answer.

There is some squabbling among the hawks. Some territoriality is at play. Just like some farmers.

Later on, driving back to the bins with a truckload of peas, three antelope emerge from the side of the trail and start running in front of the truck. They aren’t sure what to do, but the easiest path for running is on the trail rather than the crop on either side.

The antelope dodge from one side of the trail to the other. Eventually two break right and one breaks left. They’re safe, except that the lone antelope on the left side feels safer with his buddies, so he darts back across the road perilously close to the front of the grain truck.

What farmer behaviour does this conjure up?

While it’s natural to feel most comfortable trundling along the well-beaten path, great success has come for western Canadian farmers when they have deviated from the normal path adopting new crops and new agronomic practices. Heightened competition from various regions of the world and an uncertain trade environment means staying on the same patch could be disastrous.

Second, it’s natural to want to stay with the pack and not end up going a different direction. Sometimes though, you’re safer going your own way.

At the bins, I’m greeted by a wise old owl who winks at me.

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