Farming has been rough this year.
Tender shoots of corn and soybeans came up as expected but the green blades turned brown and lifeless in July's hot shimmering air.
Cows languished. They wouldn't eat because of the heat; milk production dropped.
The August sun vaporized much of the promise of spring but not the hope of those who tend the land.
It has always been that way, said Olin Reed, 62, of Lincoln County. "You can have a bad year -- a big loss -- and people will say 'I don't know what I'll do next year.' But next year comes, and people will say, 'I believe things will be better.'"
Mr. Reed, who has been milking cows since he was 12, has seen a lot of lean years since his father turned from growing cotton to dairy farming 50 years ago. "Once you are at it, you can't just up and quit," he said.
His Holsteins number about 170 head. He will have to buy feed wherever he can find it when his spring hay is gone, he said."You just do what you know to do or know how to do," said Mr. Reed, who operates a 300-acre farm. "When you have done all you can, you have to leave the rest of it up to the Lord."
Mr. Reed understands that the Lord is ultimately in control and can be trusted, said Dan Fernandez, pastor of Pine Grove United Methodist Church in Lincolnton where Mr. Reed attends. "There are times when we are going to face hardships but the Lord will not let us down. The farming community has learned that lesson well."For those who are faithful, the Lord provides, he said.
Mark Rodgers works with his father Bill and brother Andy on the Dearing farm where he grew up. He manages the dairy with about 375 milk cows out of a herd of about 800.
They were fortunate this year. The Rodgers had silage to carry over from the last couple of years and when they absolutely needed rain this year, they got it, he said. "I was thankful every time I saw rain."
There are times when anyone can get down but farm people see things that others don't see. Every time a calf is born, it amazes him all over again, he said. "It is the simple things that get your mind back where it ought to be."
The earth fascinates Wade Key, a second-generation farmer in Beech Island. "Have you ever just taken soil in your hands and smelled it?" he said. "Take that soil and feel it in your hands...Smell that good clean earth...It just helps me get through life."
Every day he is on the land, checking his crop for bugs, repairing equipment or working the fields. "Some days I just like to ride and look. Lord, yeah, I just love to watch it grow," he said.
Every seed has a germ of life in it. When it explodes with growth, it is a miracle to him.
But the last three years have been rough, he said.He planted 250 acres of soybeans this year and lost 100 to dry weather. He replanted some acres but when the sprouts were 6 inches tall, they died. "The heat was so great, they just didn't grow," he said.
He planted about 80 acres along Gum Swamp Road. Deer ate about one-fourth of that. "Because of the dryness, the deer haven't had anything else to eat," he said.
Farmers have to have faith to put everything they have into the ground, said Mr. Key, who is a lay speaker at Wesley United Methodist Church in Beech Island. "I know what God can do. He can give things to you and take them away. We don't control our destiny. God controls our life."
Farming taught him to take the long view when it comes to life. A farmer won't see a return at first, then all of a sudden, there is a return, he said. "You can't see all the fruit (on a mature plant) because of the leaves but as they begin to yellow and die, it will reveal the fruit. You will see your harvest. You will see what the Lord has helped you do."
He likens farming to raising a family. If he can show his crop love by carefully preparing the soil and helping the plants grow, he can show his children love and give them support.
Like the other families interviewed, Mr. Key has children who grew up and stayed on the farm. He feels grateful seeing his now adult children working along side him and going to Wesley Chapel, he said.
They learned to work and respect the Lord by living on the farm, he said. "They've turned out pretty good."