MOULTRIE — Being a farmer was always one of those jobs that I thought about as a little boy. It fell in somewhere in the mix of cowboy, policeman, fireman and doctor.
I had a cast aluminum toy tractor, complete with a harrow. I plowed my way through several sandboxes and soft dirt.
There was also a riding toy tractor, although without a plow.
Papa Stone, my maternal grandfather, was a sharecropper farmer. I am amazed that he somehow raised enough cotton and other crops to support a wife and four children in the midst of the Great Depression.
But that was then. Today’s farmer is growing more food and fiber than my grandfather could ever imagine. That is due, in part, to improved production practices. There are also fewer farmers and more hungry people.
Each October, farmers from all over the Southeast descend on Moultrie for the Sunbelt Ag Expo. It is one of the largest farm shows in the nation. It takes place on the site of a former Air Force training base.
The open fields surrounding the runways and tarmac have been converted into fertile fields to grow test plots of cotton, peanuts, soybeans and other row crops.
Farmers can see the latest tractors and machinery at work in the fields, harvesting the newest variety of crops, many of them developed at the University of Georgia at Tifton.
It’s a farm show held in the middle of a giant farm.
As I walked through a few display areas, I looked underneath the caps advertising all sorts of agricultural goods at the faces of the farmers.
A farmer is the eternal optimist. Each spring, he puts plants or seeds into the ground and for the next few months, there is a partnership between that farmer and the Lord for enough rain and the right amount of sun to make this miracle of growing take place.
There are no carnival rides at a farm show, but farmers are always riding on a roller-coaster of ups and downs. There are good years and bad years. It’s not always weather that deals the cards. There are other factors, such as market demand, deciding if this is a good year or one you’d rather forget.
A farmer is also a dreamer.
Farmers can have a great yield and celebrate. What’s more amazing is they can have a bad year and dig deep and find the optimism to try it again the next year.
Watching the farmers at the Sunbelt Expo, you see them look at the newest and best and dream about one day having it at their farm.
It may be years before they can afford the satellite-guided tractor that can go about its task with greatest precision, but they will dream about it nonetheless.
Georgia farmers had a pretty big dry spell late in the growing season, but right now cotton and peanuts are being harvested as fast as possible. It hasn’t been the best of years, but it is a far cry from the drought of a few years back.
Next spring, those eternal optimists will be back out there planting again. We are blessed to have them.