By Jackie Mundt, Pratt County farmer and rancher
“It is a truth universally accepted that a farmer in want of good conversation must remark on the weather.” For anyone who is not a fan of Jane Austen, I should explain that the previous statement is a bit of a play on the opening of her famous novel “Pride & Prejudice.”
The statement is true. Good conversation for farmers must include remarks about precipitation, heat, wind or the lack of any of these things. It will touch on their opinions about the past, present and future weather patterns. They are delighted to talk to someone from outside the county to fill their curiosity about weather in other places. In the case of severe weather, they have a deep need to be informed about the effects of the storm.
Austen’s opening line, like my altered version, also had an air of mockery of others in society.
It is easy to dismiss a farmer’s appreciation for weather as a necessity for not having anything else to say. I am a little chagrined to admit that I used to be a person who thought that way.
In my early adulthood, at a time when it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking you’re superior to older generations, I held a particular distain for talking about the weather. I thought myself so interesting that I could conduct a conversation without ever having to fall back on weather as a topic.
Over the last decade, as I have matured and lived more of life, I have come to realize just how important it is to talk about the weather.
The weather is a universally acceptable topic; a failproof way to start conversation, fill a lull or even a way to break the tension of awkward situations. This universal language is a way to welcome and extend community to anyone you cross paths with. There is little chance of offending, excluding or burning a bridge while talking about the weather. Talking about the weather is a farmer’s way of extending a hand of friendship.
Weather conversation is also entertaining in the same way as someone’s fish story. You’ve heard of raining cats and dog, a bit of a frog strangler or gulley-washer, egg-frying or sweltering hot, colder than a penguin’s bottom or as dry as a dust bowl. I am sure you have had a dozen saying pop into your head just reading this. Good weather anecdotes and the colorful language used to describe weather can be shared and retold all the way across the county, state and country. Sharing the weather is one way farmers tell their story.
Most importantly, the weather is a farmer’s biggest threat. Farmers have spent generations improving techniques, tools and inputs to increase their crop yields. They have found ways to engineer plants to grow with less water and some have irrigation. However, they are almost all still at the mercy of weather. The amount of heat or water brought determines if their crop will grow. Severe weather events have the ability to rob them of an entire year’s work in a matter of minutes. Farmers talk about the weather because it is constantly on their mind.
This week as you start to hear phrases like, “Hot enough for you lately?” or “It is gonna be a scorcher.” I hope you can learn the lesson that my young self was too naive to catch — talking about the weather is so much more than small talk. It is a unique, universal language that has the ability to convey friendship, entertainment and people’s dreams in a brief exchange.
And that is exactly the kind of conversation we need more of in our world.
“Insight” is a weekly column published by Kansas Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization whose mission is to strengthen agriculture and the lives of Kansans through advocacy, education and service.