My days on the farm are far in the past, but my farming heritage is one I still hold dear.

I am proud to have been an Iowa farm kid, proud to be a farmer’s son, proud of those roots and the values they instilled.

I am a better person for having been raised on a farm, and have never lost an appreciation for agriculture.....which is why I greatly enjoy working on our annual Salute to Agriculture, which publishes this week in the Index and Press-Standard.

The office gets traded for fields and orchards, for farm supply stores and hay hauling companies, as I make the rounds to visit with those involved in various aspects of agriculture.

California agriculture, with its vast array of commodities, is in many ways a world removed from the beef, hogs, corn and soybean-centric farming of the Midwest, yet there are enough similarities that I feel very much at home when visiting with local farmers.

There’s just a certain feeling that comes with being out on a farm, walking through a field or orchard, watching through the seasons as the cycle of ag continues, leading to the harvest of one commodity after another.

We live in one of the most productive farming regions in the world, where agriculture in all its diversity and resiliency is truly remarkable.

And while I’m a generation or two removed from my Iowa days and agriculture has changed dramatically through those decades, I still see in my California farm friends many of the same traits I learned to admire among Iowa farmers all those years ago.

Farmers are a special breed of people with a passion for their chosen field.

They are business people with a sharp pencil whose success depends on sound management decisions.

They are innovative and resilient, willing to try new approaches and practices as the farming world evolves.

Farmers tend to be humble folks, and often are community leaders…..usually in a quiet sort of way.

They weather adversity, be it a sudden hail storm that in minutes wipes out a promising crop in the Midwest or drought which leaves the soil parched and cracked in California’s Central Valley or falling commodity prices that plunge a healthy operation into the red.....then they regroup, and prepare to start anew.

They are diverse.....some gravitate to livestock, others to popular commodities, still others to niche crops.

Farmers do not fear hard work, even though there is no promise of a return.

Their work week is one that does not necessarily know set hours or weekends.

Their investment is one of faith, made with a knowingness that tough times can’t last forever and a belief that, for all the troubles of this year, next year will be better.

Farmers toil at the whim of Mother Nature, and under increasing regulatory oversight.

They are down-to-earth folks who are straight-shooters....ask a farmer for an opinion, and you are likely to get a pretty direct response.

They know how to do more with less when the situation calls for it, and are never too busy to lend a helping hand.

They are labeled “Big Ag” by critics who often have no real grasp on what agriculture entails.

Yes, farmers like their coffee shops. They’re great story-tellers, and most will find something to complain about (even if they’re making it up), but I don’t know too many farmers who would ever trade what they’re doing for something else.

Farmers, of course, are not the only folks involved in the agricultural industry.

The people who repair machinery, sell the tractors and pickup trucks, run parts out to the field, fill the bulk tanks, tear out the orchards, haul the hay and tomatoes and sweet potatoes and almonds and walnuts (you get the picture), process the commodities and market that bounty around the world are all important cogs in our agricultural machine.

Agriculture continues to be the driving force of our local economies, creating jobs and economic opportunity not only on the farm but through the countless businesses which serve the ag industry.

Those dollars circulate through the community as a whole.

While putting dollars in our pockets agriculture is also putting food on our tables.

More than three decades after arriving on the West Side, I am still amazed at the diversity of agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley.

There seems to be no end to the commodities grown here, spanning the alphabet from almonds to zucchini, and I am always fascinated when I come across some new crop being grown.

Our farmers and ranchers do what they do as well as anybody in the world, and we benefit from their work.

Dean Harris the Managing Editor of the West Side Index and Gustine Press-Standard. He can be reached at dharris@mattosnews.com or by calling (209) 243-8104.