My first home was a log cabin. My grandchildren are our family’s sixth generation of agriculturalists to live in Fall River County, S.D. In fact, my uncle and aunt continue to live on the old family place, homesteaded in 1883. A common topic of discussion is, are we farmers or ranchers? Maybe we are franchers. We have an irrigated farm, plant corn and alfalfa, raise cattle, and have horses for ranch work. Agricultural entrepreneurs, ranchers, diversified agricultural producers, farmers, so many descriptions, yet the occupational title depends on who is doing the defining. In highly simplified and abbreviated terms these facts start with an explanation of agriculture.
For federal income tax purposes, when at least two thirds of the gross income is from agriculture, the taxes are filed as agricultural income. And, (unless submitted quarterly) the income taxes are due on March 1, not April 15, like the rest of the country.
Within the United States Department of Agriculture each state has a statistical service which takes a census of agriculture every five years. This federal agency defines a farm as, “All operators of U.S. farms or ranches that sold or normally would have sold $1,000 worth of agricultural products during the census year.” That means if a person sold one cow or a herd of hogs, and the sale was $1,000, then, by definition, that is a farm. I always wonder at this when the statistics come out and say how many farmers have quit in the past five years. How many of those sold only one animal?
To some, the distinction of rancher is important. Several years ago I volunteered with the Farm Bureau to locate Century Farms in Fall River County. These are places of at least 80 acres, which continue to be in possession of the original homestead family lineage. One fellow was quite indignant that his ranch was to be called a Century Farm. Why couldn’t it be called a Century Ranch? That was the first time I had really met the farmer versus rancher head-on. It remains a quandary to me.
Ranchers used to have cows, now they have llamas, ostriches and emus. Are they ranchers or zookeepers? It has been said that in South Dakota the farmers live East River and the ranchers, West River. What, then, are the people who till the land and irrigate in the areas of Newell, Belle Fourche, and Oral in western South Dakota? When I was in college in Iowa, many fellow students were from the East Coast. As we got acquainted and they learned I was from rural South Dakota, they wanted to know if I lived on a farm or a ranch. If I answered, “A farm,” they would just say, “Oh,” and keep on talking. If I replied, “A ranch,” the follow-up question was always, “Do you have horses?”
The discussions will continue. To me the title is not important. What does matter is that the United States food supply is, like the walls of the log cabin, still strong to this day. ❖