June 19, 1978, started early, a hectic drive from Williamston, S.C., to the Atlanta airport. By noon I was in Lexington, Ky., covering my first-ever weed tour. It was Monday, my first day on the job with Southeast Farm Press.
I never expected on that June morning that 40 years, dozens of hectic drives to airports, countless bad roads, hard beds and thousands upon thousands of words written in a not always successful attempt to convey bits and pieces of information to a farm audience later, I would still be pounding out stories for Farm Press and readers I have grown to admire.
That first day proved that two years as an Extension and Experiment Station editor at Clemson University provided nowhere near enough knowledge about agriculture to feel confident in my abilities. I’ve jokingly told friends and colleagues over the years that I owe what success I have achieved to smoke and mirrors. Maybe not such a joke. I still don’t know nearly as much about the intricacies of crop production as I need to.
One of the most important things I’ve learned in 40 years, however, is that I can’t learn it all and that I might as well fess up and admit that I don’t understand whatever the expert I’m interviewing is talking about. It has been my experience that they are willing to take it down a notch so I can at least grasp the concept if not the nuts and bolts of the topic. And they have always done that in a way that did not make me feel stupid.
That first day in Lexington, a University of Kentucky weed specialist chatted about dinitroanilines. He might as well have been conversing in Klingon. But later, after the crowd had dispersed, he was more than willing to take aside a farm writer who was as green as the weeds he was discussing how to control and explain the process.
It’s been that way for four decades, and not just from agricultural scientists. Farmers, ranchers, consultants and industry representatives have schooled me on equipment, tillage, irrigation, seed, pesticides — the list is endless. And they expressed their appreciation that I was willing to write about what they were doing.
Farmers I’ve interviewed for an hour or two became friends, folks I look forward to seeing when I’m in the area. I met their children, and lately, their grandchildren. I’ve laughed with a lot of them, grieved with a few. My respect for them is profound.
And I could not have chosen a better collection of colleagues than those at Farm Press — talented professionals who took my best efforts and made them better. I’ve seen the best of America, the farms that feed and clothe the rest of us. Thank you.
Forty years, where did they go?