Last week I climbed the stairs in our suburban Des Moines home to the sound of an idling tractor. I found out my husband had purchased a farming simulation game and was deciding which seeds to plant on his farm. He chose sugar beets, barley and potatoes.
As an Iowa farmer’s daughter and someone who regularly visits farms and talks to farmers about their crops and livestock, I had a lot of questions about my husband’s farm.
I wondered why he chose those crops for a field in Iowa.
“Well, your options are wheat, potatoes, sugar beets, potatoes, barley, and corn,” he said.
“Is this in Iowa?” I wondered.
“No, it’s not a certain location,” he said.
“Oh,” I said, rolling my eyes.
I began to explain to him that location matters when determining which crops farmers decide to grow.
“Well I just decide based on the prices offered at the market,” he said.
While farmers to an extent base their decisions on which crops to grow based on market prices, farmers are limited in their choices of which crops will grow well in Iowa’s climate. And they have to think about their farming practices, crop rotation and protecting the environment.
“Rain doesn’t affect the crops in the game, I just can’t combine during the rain,” he explained.
Well, that’s half true, I thought. Farmers stay out of the fields during the rain so they don’t get stuck and cut deep tracks in their fields. But rain has a big impact on crops in Iowa. Ask the farmers with crops in fields near river bottoms and they’ll tell you how much of their fields have to be replanted due to high waters.
But my husband was way past the point in making his decision, he had already purchased cattle to raise on the farm and he was already applying fertilizer to his crops.
“How do you know how much fertilizer to apply, did you do a soil test?” I asked.
“No, the game just tells me when to stop and start adding it,” he said.
“Oh,” I replied, rolling my eyes again.
I explained to him that a soil test helps farmers understand the makeup of their soil so they can determine how much fertilizer is actually needed. Too little or too much fertilizer affects crops, I told him. And farmers are always working to reduce the loss of nutrients, or fertilizer, into streams and rivers by using just the right amount of fertilizer at just the right time only in the areas needed.
But again, it was too late for my advice or my “real world” examples. It was a different season in the game—no fences to mend, rocks to pick up, no conservation practices to implement or maintain—and he was already harvesting.
“Farming is easy,” he said, choosing which grain wagon would catch the grain as he harvested his fields.
“Talk to my dad and brother (both farmers) about farming—I’ll let you tell them it’s easy,” I said.
He just smiled and shrugged. At least he knows farming isn’t quite so easy in real life.
By Bethany Baratta. Bethany is commodities writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.
Farming is really easy, at least in a video game