Soybean farmers: Living on a prayer

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As the cold, wet planting season of 2008 slips into mid-May, corn and soybean farmers are grousing about weather delays, the likelihood of reduced yields and a summer of stress before they find out if the former clobbered the latter.

While I empathize with their dilemma — this is easily the most costly crop any farmer has ever planted and the delays only add to the historically high (until 2009, that is) tab — there truly is nothing to do but pray and wait.

Give thanks

While we weren’t big on waiting on the southern Illinois farm of my youth, we did pray. We gave thanks each morning for the new day; prayer began, and ended, every noontime dinner and, after supper, the family always gathered for evening devotions (that concluded with two prayers) regardless of the season or undone chores.

In all that heavenly beseeching though, I don’t recall us ever praying for fair weather, a good crop or high prices. Most times we thanked the Lord for the blessings we had received — caring friends, a crop-making July rain, good health, bountiful food — and respectfully suggested it would be fine with us if those blessings simply continued.

The heavy lifting, the formal, fervent praying, was left to the pastor during worship services. Since, as he sternly reminded us every Sunday, he was “a called and ordained servant of the Lord,” I figured he had the singular ability, and maybe even the temporal responsibility, to make specific requests through prayer.

Getting specific

I mean, he often offered up names, dates and ideas we simply didn’t have the spiritual courage to pursue at the dinner table. That cowardice began to drain from me, however, halfway through St. John’s Lutheran School when my teacher that year, Mr. Hartman, told the story of boy — a boy my age: what a coincidence — saying the Lord’s Prayer with hundreds of other churchgoers one Sunday morning.

As the group prayed, Mr. Hartman related solemnly, “The Lord heard only one voice, the voice of the young boy. Why? Because he was the only one in that church who was actually praying. The rest were just reciting words from memory while thinking about other things like baseball and fishing.”

So that’s how it works, I remember thinking; you have to mean what you say during prayer for prayer to be heard.

Revelation

It was a revelation, and it clearly explained why my parents bowed their heads and closed their eyes during our family devotions.

That reverence carried through my father’s daily farming routine. I never heard him utter even the mildest of oaths despite the ample opportunities presented by the farm’s many dimwitted hired men and its fleet of constantly breaking-down machinery.

Once, when eyeing the latest hired hand-inspired disaster — either an overturned silage wagon or a telephone pole his Uncle Honey had plowed over, I can’t remember which — I heard him mutter, “Well, you do what you can; the rest is up to the Lord.”

In fact, the machinery-killing Uncle Honey was the inspiration of my father’s favorite, quasi-Biblical axiom.

Fools and children

“The Lord protects fools and children,” Dad often would say when he eyed Uncle Honey on a tractor. “That’s a wonderful thing,” he’d add, “because either way, Honey’s covered.”

More borderline blasphemous than sacred, I knew it wasn’t a proper prayer. Still, it worked because in the 20 years Uncle Honey bent, busted and beat up every piece of machinery he touched, not one hair on one person, including himself, was ever harmed by all the mayhem.

So, as you wait among your $250-per-bag seed watching mud dry on your unplanted, $6,000-per-acre land, pray.

It’s free, for heaven’s sake.

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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children. farmandfoodfile.com

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