The Papa Syndrome: Farming Just Like Your Dad or Grandfather?

“The Papa Syndrome is more prevalent than most people realize”

I had the pleasure of growing up and learning how to farm on a 6th generation family farm in Renville County. The older I get the more I realize how blessed I was to have been surrounded by so many years of farming wisdom, experience and success. I have learned so much from those who farmed before me.   As I look back, there were times when I thought I had it tough working on the farm; now I realize that I never planted, cultivated and harvested with horses like my forefathers. I didn’t have to pull every weed by hand, and I didn’t have to rely strictly on my grandfather and father to teach me everything I needed to know about farming.

Even though I learned a lot about farming from my parents, I’ve also been fortunate enough to have numer­ous other sources of information on how to raise crops. I joined FFA, 4-H and worked in research fields during the summertime. After high school, I attended college where I had the opportunity to take biology and business classes and gain access to thousands of books, dozens of local experts and of course the internet. There seemed to be no shortage of information on how to farm. And interestingly enough, what I learned off the farm about raising crops was often very different from what I learned on the farm. That meant that what I was learning was new, so to apply it on our farm we needed to change some of the things we had been doing in years prior.

I soon discovered that my biggest advantage in farming education was not just what I learned, but more important­ly how I got the information. In years past, most farming knowledge was passed down from father to son, generation to generation. That system used to constitute the entire learning process on how to farm, but not anymore. Farm­ing has become much more complicated. A young farmer learning from his father is much different from a young farmer learning from an off farm source. The first method denotes a simple transfer of knowledge that will be applied exactly as it was in the past. The second method means that every bit of information taught can only be applied when it replaces parts or all of past methods of doing things. In turn, a whole new way of thinking is suddenly employed.

As I indicated, my grandfather and father were and are very successful farmers. But this new era of agriculture has changed farming so much, so fast, that it has pushed every farmer farther down the information chain. So many new technologies and advancements come onto the scene so quickly that fathers can no longer simply teach their sons and daughters what they have learned over the years and get the results these new comers need. The plant itself has been re-engineered so much that few farmers have the information they need to manage them properly. A whole new way of thinking about how to raise a crop is now required. Unfortunately, many farmers are not willing to let go of the past and stop teaching their sons out-of-date techniques. In addition, many sons are not willing to give up lessons taught by their fathers and grandfathers.

I call it the “Papa Syndrome.” The “Papa Syndrome” is the unwillingness of sons to change from how their father did things. It’s easy to recognize when someone has the syndrome. You hear statements like; “My father would never have used vertical tillage” or, “My father would never have spent the money on that much fungicide” or “ My father would never have planted corn two inches deep.” When you hear those kinds of statements from growers it serves as the Litmus test for the willingness to change. Those who are stuck in the past will use those kinds of statements as excuses not to change. Those who are willing to change will use those kinds of statements as anthems of liberation from their old ways of doing things. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the old ways were wrong; it just means that there might be a new and better way of doing some of those things today.

The “papa syndrome” is more prevalent than most people realize and it results in substantial yield losses, lower working capital, and loss of farm operations every year. I’ve seen the “papa syndrome” in farmers as young as 21 and as old as 81. Today, about the only way you can learn how to raise crops is by carefully combining information learned in the past with new information from outside the farm operation itself.

It’s important to remember that none of us would be here today if it wasn’t for our courageous, hard work­ing, tough as nails fathers and grandfathers who passed on traditions and ingrained in us their farming protocols. However, it is also impor­tant to realize that future generations will learn differently about how to farm than their forefathers did. The new marketplace is just that, new. Today a whole new set of tools and knowledge of how to use those tools is needed to achieve top yields and profits. Unfortunately, many of our fathers and grandfathers are not around to see and hear those ideas because if they were, I know they’d be the first to use them.

by Scott O’Neill, Director of Sales & Agronomy


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