Field Guide to Farmers and Ranchers

Listen to their lingo and look in their trucks to be sure.

| July/August 2008

You live in a rural area, surrounded by farmers or ranchers who earn their living from the land. You see them drive into town in their pickup trucks, or having lunch at the local coffee shop. But how can you tell ’em apart?

Let’s start with definitions. Not everyone who raises crops is a farmer, and not everyone who raises livestock is a rancher. If you raise row crops, vegetables, dairy cows, pigs, chickens, catfish or Christmas trees, you’re a farmer. But if you produce tree fruit, you’re an orchardist, and if you grow ornamental plants, you’re a nurseryman. If you raise wine grapes, you’re a grape grower or a viticulturist, but if you also produce wine, you might call yourself a winemaker, a vintner or an oenologist.

You’re a rancher if you mostly raise cattle, bison, elk or sheep. You may be a rancher if you raise horses, but if your horses sell for more than the cost of a new pickup truck, you’re a horse breeder. I don’t know what you’re called if you raise goats. A rancher might also raise alfalfa or wheat, but he won’t take it kindly if you call him a farmer. Conversely, many farmers also raise cattle, but still call themselves farmers. If you charge city folks an outrageous fee to spend a week riding horses, looking at cows and eating steaks around a campfire, you’re a dude rancher, Dude.

OK, let’s say you’re dining at the local café, and see a fella at the next table dressed in cowboy boots, a Western shirt and a Stetson. A rancher, right? Not necessarily. He might also be a trucker or the local banker trying to make a good impression with his rural customers. A farmer, on the other hand, often dresses like … well, like a mud hen, in plain coveralls, work shoes and a John Deere cap. Unless, of course, he’s a trucker. Same wardrobe, different hours.

Farmers and ranchers use the same words to describe different things. When a rancher talks about hybrid vigor, she’s talking about her crossbred cows. When a farmer mentions hybrid vigor, he’s referring to corn varieties. Ask a farmer about genetics, and she’ll tell you about the herbicide-tolerant soybeans or insect-resistant cotton in her field. Genetics means just one thing to a rancher: bull semen.

Ranchers gripe about vet bills and sand in their stock wells, trespassers leaving gates open and poor market prices. They complain about the high price they have to pay for winter feed, but they will spend any amount of money for a good horse. Farmers gripe about the high price of chemicals, seed and fertilizer, and poor market prices, but they will spend any amount of money for a new tractor.

Laura Hunter
7/9/2008 6:13:25 AM

Thanks to all the farmers and ranchers in this great country, I appreciate all your hard work.

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