This blog post may come off as more of a rant than anything else. I’ll admit it; I’m irritated.  I am getting older; maybe the increased crabbiness comes with age.  Whatever the reason, it seems that more and more often farmers like myself, at least in my area, are asked to provide folks with a place to perform their recreational activities.  We’ve got lots of snowmobilers, 4 wheel drive and ATV enthusiasts, and remote controlled aircraft buffs out here.

Many who participate in these hobbies feel that they have the right to be on our property, or other private land at any time.  A few of them go through the motions of asking for permission but get angry or sulk and refuse to understand the reasons for our refusal to allow them on the property.  The biggest reason to keep strangers off of private land is of course, the liability issue.  If anyone should be hurt, I’m at risk.  But then, most don’t bother to ask permission.  Don’t get me wrong; outdoor activities are great, we farmers enjoy hobbies, too. I’ve spent my fair share of time on a snowmobile.  But when the activities result in damage to property or crops, sorry, I’m no longer supportive.

A couple of summers ago we had a group of RC airplane guys crash a toy plane into a soybean field.  They lost sight of their toy, entered the field to look for it and destroyed a few acres of beautiful nearly knee-high beans in the process.  The men were each using a large wooden walking stick that they would beat the bean plants aside with to try to find the plane.  A neighbor called me when she saw what was going on. I got there, blew a gasket, and yelled at the guys to get out of the field before they did any more damage.  They refused, saying that their plane was worth over a thousand dollars.  I replied that the value of the crop they’d ruined was undoubtedly more.  I ended up having to call the police, who pulled the guys out of the field before they found what they were looking for.  The sheriff’s deputy chastised them saying that he’d never seen such a lack of respect for personal property.

It got worse; we soon got a letter from the ringleader’s attorney.  Since he hadn’t found his toy and we wouldn’t allow him back into the field to continue searching, we were threatened with having charges pressed against us for “holding his personal property hostage”.  I actually had to meet this guy on a regular schedule so that he could search the field for an hour at a time under my supervision.  He never located his plane, and we were never properly compensated for our crop or time.

Sadly, almost every farmer in our county can tell you tales of trespassing and crop damage.  Operators of hot air balloons are some of the worst offenders (tons of stories there; I’ll save that rant for a different day).  It probably doesn’t help that there are fewer and fewer livestock operations these days.  It used to be that all farms with livestock were properly fenced out of necessity.  As the animals left, fences that were costly and time consuming to maintain were removed. I’m afraid that there is a tremendous lack of respect for what we do.  In our area, 4 wheel drive trucks and ATVs drive through fields routinely.  I was once able to track down one of the offenders, a male in his late teens.  I tried to be agreeable and not get the police involved.  I met with his parents at their home and was given only excuses, no apology or offer of compensation.  I was actually asked, “Where is he supposed to drive his truck?”  My jaw hit the floor.  I wanted to ask if it would be OK for me to drive my tractor through their lawn.  Kind of scary what parents are teaching their kids.

On another occasion I was told by an adult that he “didn’t think that anyone owned the property.”  It should be simple; if YOU don’t own it, stay out of there. Winter wheat crops which are planted in the fall, are at risk during the winter months.  A wheat field can look like a lawn at this time.  It’s easily damaged and often is by snowmobilers, especially those who will ride when there’s little or no base.  We’ve had acres of wheat destroyed and fields turned into mud tracks.  We’ve also had snowmobilers ride through our fence along the road.  They don’t bother to stop and let you know what’s happened, to compensate for or help with repairs, or to advise you that you’re minutes away from having to chase your herd of cattle down the road.  Snowmobile clubs in our area go to a lot of trouble to set up trails, gotta wonder why aren’t they used.  There are lots of farms for sale, go buy your own.

I’m not sure why folks fail to understand that what we’re doing in our fields is not play, it’s not our hobby or pastime. The farm is my workspace, just as the office, shop, factory, etc. is to those who work in town.  Those crops growing in the fields allow us to make a living, pay our bills and support our families.  Farming is our profession.  Agriculture is a strong, viable industry.  But like many industries these days, farmers are facing smaller margins for what they produce.  Those destroyed or damaged acres can make a big difference in the bottom line.  And no, minor vandalism is not covered by crop insurance.

This disrespectful behavior is especially insulting in the county where we live.  The McHenry Conservation District has nearly 25,000 acres of open space. They provide 32 sites for public recreation, and miles and miles of beautifully maintained trails. The District has been well funded by taxpayers for forty years. Go play with your toys there.  Another option would be to find a new hobby.  If you don’t personally have the physical space in which to perform your leisure activity, it’s time to take up something else.  If I lived in the middle of a desert I wouldn’t choose surfing as my pastime.  Bottom line: It’s not my job to provide you a place to play in my workspace.