A mound of hats splay across the top of the coat rack. A few ball caps fold into one another — new freebies from a cattle convention’s trade show. Several more, this time some old favorites, are tossed off their respective heads and added to the pile. One fleece-lined trapper hat with ear flaps and two or three White Star Machinery visors add a touch of variety to the collection.
I know no different as I view the mound, kick off my boots and quickly think of a metaphor for the people who wear these as a trademark of their daily attire.
Some call them a “jack of all trades” or simply (as I suggest) someone who wears many hats.
Not so simple
It could easily be assumed that if a cow goes “moo,” then a cowboy simply ropes and rides or a farmer simply farms. To that I say, “Not so fast.”
A cowboy does rope and ride, but they also doctor and feed. Often the job titles of mechanic, welder, nutritionist, economist and entrepreneur fit well with their weekly (if not daily) to-dos.
A farmer may be a soil scientist, chemist, computer engineer, salesman and master of spreadsheets before noon.
To credit working professionals both outside of agriculture and within, community roles beyond individuals’ livelihoods have not been tacked on to these lists. Communities are lucky to have volunteers who contribute to community vitality and survival, especially in rural settings.
The current crossroads
Economies benefit when specialization occurs. That is the reason society has evolved from subsistence farming to the industries we have today.
Technologies on farms and ranches progresses, pushing opportunities for better management further. As a professor once said about no-till farming, for example, “It takes more management to do good no-till management.”
Consequently, farmers and ranchers need wider skill sets to stay ahead of the curve on economic and environmental sustainability.
Agriculture continues to approach a great crossroads. Job opportunities in agriculture are optimistic, but folks with their boots on the ground, their hands in the soil and a hat shielding their eyes from the sun are not promised an easygoing way.
Instead of increasing the number of specialized workers on an operation, it is more common to find individuals with many specialized skills — some self-taught — and accumulated over a lifetime. Clearly the importance of education and extension in agriculture is critical. Today’s challenges, tomorrow's issues and a brighter future for a global population demands that the people wearing many hats wear a couple more.
Steering the idea back to a simple hat, I pose another simple question. When does a hat get tossed aside for good? The answer might be when a new one comes to fill its place.
In the coming years, when a new, not-yet-broke-in hat comes along, it needs to be strapped a little tighter for the ride ahead. For those who cannot stand to sit on a shelf, agriculture is for you!