Farmers are Different… In a Great Way!

by Michael Frugé & Pat Bonin
August 2012

Last week on my way back from a business trip in California, I accidentally left my iPad at the airport gate (but I did remember to put the charger in my bag!).

For those of you who know me, I’m sure this is all very understandable.

I noticed my mistake immediately upon boarding the plane, but I wasn’t allowed off to retrieve my iPad. So I immediately clicked on my handy “Find My iPad” app on my phone to locate it and lock it down. A perfect plan and quick thinking on my part, right?

Wrong! The app never found my iPad, which is frustrating because Apple uses serial numbers to create iTunes accounts. So Apple knows where my iPad is, and the airport knows where my iPad is… but that’s a story for another time.

So what does my long lost iPad have to do with the spirit of American farmers?

When I got back to the office, I heard the dreaded “H” word:  a tropical storm was brewing in the Caribbean and was headed to the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricanes are a fact of life here, but no matter how many times you go through the drill of getting prepared, it’s always time-consuming, frustrating, and worrisome.

In case you didn’t know, my brother and I are also rice and crawfish farmers here in south Louisiana, and the last thing we needed was another storm, especially as our rice harvest was concluding.

Actually, my brother Mark is the real farmer, and I’m the salesman… at least, that’s what people tell me!

I wasn’t particularly worried yet because all the forecast models shifted the storm towards Florida.  Last Friday when I finally came to my senses, quit forgetting things, and heard that tropical storm Isaac had actually formed, I called Mark and asked him how the rice harvest stood.

He wasn’t really concerned because Isaac was heading east and told me it didn’t matter anyway.  Even if we had ten combines (we only have one), we had no place to put the crop because all of our storage bins were full. We couldn’t move the rice we had already harvested because it wasn’t dry enough!

Well, just because he wasn’t particularly worried, it didn’t mean that I wasn’t concerned. It’s what I do – I worry and compute the figures, and then worry some more, and rework the numbers again. And again… and again… just in case!

With the acreage we had remaining, even if we could move it, there was no way we’d be able to harvest it all in time to beat the storm, which had now begun to move further west towards us. The numbers didn’t look good to me at all.

Hurricane-wise, we’ve been pounded pretty good here on the farm though the years. We lost our very first rice crop to Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and we lost about 200 acres (and our office building) to Gustav in 2008. We dodged a bullet with Katrina, but Rita put us through hell in 2005.  Lily literally blew up every building on the farm in 2002. So I didn’t think I was overreacting as I worried some more and ran some additional numbers…

At this point, you might be wondering how my brother could be so calm. Trust me – we argued and fought about that for years, and then it hit me – it’s because he’s a great farmer!

He keeps everything in perspective, stays on an even keel, and goes out every day and produces.  If a farmer actually stopped and calculated the risk he was taking year in and out, we would all starve because nothing would ever get planted. But that’s not what they do – they get up every day and make it happen. They have a short-term memory, and keep moving forward.

I know this because Mark seemed really puzzled over why I was getting so upset. I told him I was tired of these storms, tired of the losses, and tired of rebuilding.

His answer was telling, “Well hell, Mike. Katrina was seven years ago!”

I’m like, “…Are you serious???”  Katrina didn’t even hit us, but Rita and Gustav sure did, and that was only about three years ago (by the time we rebuilt).  He honestly didn’t remember! I guess he just doesn’t have time to worry about the past (come to think of it, I wish I could do that more often myself).

The next time I talk to Mark my calculator was practically smoking, and I had racked my brain trying to come up with a solution. His response, delivered the way only a little brother can, was, “What’s the problem? Why are you so nerved up?”

clearing a rice binI’m launching into “educating” him on what is about to happen when he stops me mid-sentence.

“Hey…Hey…Hey…Michael… We got it… We’re done!”

WHAT!!!! How could it have happened? You see, I had studied this pretty thoroughly, and not only did we not have time to complete our harvest, we didn’t even have a place to put it! On paper, this just didn’t make any sense.

But it turns out, the answer was literally all around us. So simple, yet so profound…

Our neighbors came to our rescue.

Somehow, some way, our grain bin manager Paul “Ed” Guidry pulled off a minor miracle and cleared the bottleneck of drying rice from our storage bins. All we needed then were those ten combines Mark had talked about. (Turns out we didn’t need ten, but six got the job done!)

Five of our neighbors dropped what they were doing and came with all of their equipment and labor and helped us finish. And they didn’t just pitch in – they harvested fields totally independent of our equipment.

farmersAnd they wouldn’t even accept any payment.

Of course we owe them big time and we’ll repay the favor someday. Hopefully not the exact same way, because that would mean we would all be facing another hurricane!

pix of farmersMark and I would like to thank Dwayne Gossen, “Herby” Gossen, Jerry Leonards, Al Cramer, and Troy West once again for their generosity, not just for their equipment, but for their valuable time. I’m sure they had many other things to do at their own farms to prepare for the storm.

Their selfless act of generosity is certainly very much appreciated!

We had a barbeque today for all the guys who helped, and we sat around and talked for a few hours. I thanked all of them again, and even had them laughing at the stories of my smoking calculator that had computed our projected losses.

farmersOne of them had some good advice for me – next time, just put the calculator away until after all the work is finished!
We don’t hear much anymore about good people doing good things and expecting nothing in return. But that’s what happened here.  A group of people made it happen, and got the job done when everything was on the line.

Thanks again to everybody who played a part in our emergency rice harvest of 2012.

I can’t help but think if I’d have been lucky enough to forget my iPad in one of my neighbor’s pickups, he would have returned it long before I even knew it was missing.

Maybe Apple should come up with a “Find a Farmer” app. I think we’d all be a lot better off!