Even America’s heartland isn’t immune from a little good old-fashioned rivalry.
I learned at a very young age that there were only two kinds of farmers — a distinction based solely on the color of their equipment. You were either “red” or “green.” Trust me when I say this is bigger than Yankees vs. Red Sox, Michigan vs. Ohio State or even Ford vs. Chevy. I’ve witnessed third-generation farmers nearly excommunicated for undermining family allegiance to either their beloved Case International red or John Deere green.
I’ll never forget the day my grandpa made a surprise visit to the family farm only to learn a traitor, conveniently disguised as his son, had taken it upon himself to trade in the red International combine for a brand-new John Deere. I still can’t shake the look of betrayal in Grandpa’s eyes. My grandpa believed a deer was something you hunted and hung over the mantle. Red, on the other hand, wasn’t as much a color as it was a way of life for more than 100 years on that farm. Now, three years removed, we’re still getting used to its green replacement, which most family members still view as an unwelcome visitor.
I’ve since learned that stories like ours aren’t necessarily unique. Just last spring, I spoke to a farmer from southern Minnesota — on the condition of anonymity — who for years had repressed his strong feelings to “go green” out of fear of disrupting the well-established family tradition of using only red equipment. The possible dissolution of a father/son farming operation resulting from irreconcilable differences over color was not a line he was willing to cross.
Others might see this as a potential problem that could eventually disrupt the harmonic balance of day-to-day life on the family farm or, even more importantly, Thanksgiving dinner. But I see it as an indispensable personality trait that continues to distinguish Midwestern farming communities from the rest of American society. What can easily be overlooked when analyzing the color dilemma is this: Behind a farmer’s unwavering support for either red or green machinery is an immeasurable loyalty that extends far beyond the equipment he or she uses or the seeds he or she plants.
This loyalty to brand is merely an extension of the same support farmers have been providing for years to rural communities across America’s heartland — even if it means paying a little more to support the local gas station, grocery store or equipment dealer.
So hang in there, you third- and fourth-generation farmers. I’m willing to bet blood is thicker than color.
Marcus Ludtke graduated from the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minn., in 2001 and started working for POET Risk Management in May of that year. His primary responsibilities include managing POET’s corn position and market research.