There's supposed to be an old Chinese curse that goes "May you live in interesting times." Interesting in this context would seem to mean a combination of chaotic, confusing and unpleasant.
Though a quick online search indicates its origin is recent and Western, rather than ancient and Chinese, the saying is nonetheless worth considering this strange summer, especially for those of us involved in Upper Midwest agriculture.
COVID-19, of course, is making life "interesting" for everyone. Our understanding of the pandemic is evolving, as is our knowledge of the best response to it. All I know for sure is to follow expert advice: wear a mask, use hand sanitizer and practice social distancing as appropriate. No, I don't like government telling me what to do. But citizenship brings responsibilities as well as rights, and doing what we can to protect ourselves, our families and our communities is both proper and necessary.
In any case, the pandemic definitely has changed Americans' eating patterns, which obviously affects farmers, ranchers and others involved in ag. So many agriculturalists are scratching their heads and asking, "Should I be running my business differently?" The best answer, as far as I can tell, is to continue making the same prudent, successful decisions you've made in the past, at least until more information is available.
But it's not only the pandemic that's making this summer so "interesting" in area ag. All-over-the-board weather adds to the perception that these aren't normal times.
Some places are too dry. Some places are too wet — and hardly a day goes by before there's yet another report of heavy rains somewhere in the region that swamp fields, damage crops and lead to flooding. The most memorable event of which I've heard involved two separate 5.5-inch deluges hammering the same North Dakota community just a few hours apart. And I sympathize with every ag producer hurt by rough weather.
Uniformly poor prices for crops and livestock can contribute further to the feeling that this is a historically bad summer for agriculturalists.
But variable weather and poor commodity prices are hardly new occurrences; they're regular, even familiar, challenges to experienced area agriculturalists. Even so, they somehow seem more troublesome, at least to me, this growing season. I've found myself thinking (maybe you have, too), "This is the craziest summer for prices and weather I can remember." A few minutes later, however, I recall droughts, floods and depressed prices in years past and I realize this summer, difficult as it has been, really isn't so exceptionally bad after all.
My theory, for what it's worth, is that the pandemic has made many of us extra tense and anxious. It's causing us (or at least me) to view this year's weather and crop challenges as more unusual than they really are. Drop me a line if you agree or disagree.
The COVID-19 pandemic, nasty as it is, isn't completely novel, either. The influenza pandemic of 1918-19 and the polio epidemic of the 1940s and '50s were awful, too. I've read accounts of the fear, pain and death brought on by the polio crisis; it rivals what's happening now.
Yes, these are interesting times. But they're not unique. As a country, as communities, as agriculturalists, we've dealt with health, weather and price challenges in the past. We came through them before, we'll come through them again.