Giving Thanks is Good for Us


This was a tough year on the farm. A wet spring delayed our planting. A wet fall suspended our harvest. We didn’t finish bringing in our crops until last week, even though in a normal year we would have wrapped up last month.

So I could have a lot to grumble about.

But it’s so much better to give thanks. That’s what Americans will do this Thursday, when we celebrate Thanksgiving.

Instead of saving our expressions of gratitude for a single day, however, we should make it a year-round habit. Not only is it the right thing to do, but also it’s positively good for us.

I’m grateful for the fact that although 2019 has presented plenty of challenges, it also has offered lots of rewards, thanks in large part to the amazing technologies that have improved agriculture.

Our corn yield this year will top 200 bushels per acre. We’ll still be a little short of where we’d expect to be in an ordinary year – but we’re much better off than we would have been just a decade ago. Back then, under similar weather patterns, we would have been lucky to get 150 bushels per acre.

I’m harvesting more bushels today because science has given us better genetics. New hybrids and varieties grant us more choices in seeds. Our crops are hardier and more adaptable to difficult conditions. At a time when many farmers are facing economic struggles, this is a boon: Rather than suffering a year of devastating losses, technology is keeping many of us afloat.

We also have access to better equipment, such as the enormous harvesters that allow us to do our work more efficiently than ever before.

I remember one of the worst years on our farm, about half a century ago, when we harvested into January. Our fields were so wet in the fall that we had to wait for the ground to freeze before we could bring out our machinery. Ice presented a special problem because tractors and trucks that broke through could get stuck in the mud beneath. Today we still have to exercise caution, but the interruptions and hazards are nothing like what they once were.

Some American farmers may endure similar experiences this year. I know several to my north, in Iowa and the Dakotas, whose harvests remain in the field. They’re still dealing with everything from lousy weather to shortages in propane gas.

I’ll say a prayer for them as well as give thanks for the benefits that help us all.

Advanced transportation allows us to sell what we grow around the world, even in this frustrating era of trade wars and protectionism. Modern warehousing lets us dry and store our crops, which means that little goes to waste. And although commodity prices are disappointing, they could be worse – and earlier this year, I had feared that they’d be much lower than they are right now.

Giving thanks is good for us, too. Research shows that it makes us happier and fends off depression and anxiety – a worthwhile endeavor at any time, but perhaps urgent when suicide rates are climbing.

These universal advantages may explain why Thanksgiving isn?t just for Americans. Around the world, people celebrate their own versions of it. The Canadian holiday, which comes on the second Monday of October, is most like our own, with its roots in the food-sharing encounters between European settlers and native populations. Our northern neighbors even eat turkey and play football.

Germans have Erntedankfest, which in English means ‘harvest festival.’ The Japanese have Kinro Kansha no Hi, which means ‘Labor Thanksgiving Day,’ honoring the rice harvest. Grenada connects its own day of thanks with the U.S. invasion of 1983, when American troops liberated the Caribbean nation from an oppressive government. Australia, Liberia, South Korea, and Vietnam have their own traditions.

As I gather with family here in Illinois to celebrate Thanksgiving, I’ll think about the blessings we enjoy – and will focus on remembering them all year long.

Daniel Kelley

Daniel Kelley

Dan grows corn and soybeans in partnership with his brothers and son. Long history with agriculture cooperative systems, providing leadership to GROWMARK and CoBank. Dan volunteers as a board member and treasurer for the Global Farmer Network.

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