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It’s Never Easy

By Alex Wright

I can’t recall when the last time was that we had a “normal” Spring in New York. I guess if you averaged all the years together, the really wet ones, the cold ones, the hot ones and dry ones would cancel each other out, creating the idealistic image of a perfect Spring. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works in the real world. It’s now the beginning of June and we don’t even have all of our corn planted due to excessive rainfall and cold early planting temps. The truth of the matter is it’s never easy being a farmer. There are the things we can control, such as input purchases, when and how we plant our crops, and how many cows we want in our herd. But there is so much more that is completely out of our hands.

calves

Basically, farming is like gambling with your livelihood. So much of a farmer’s success is dependent on the weather. When we have a wet Spring like this, farmers can’t get out in their fields and plant despite how bad they want to. You see, if they attempt to plant in the wet soils, they will be creating massive compaction which will inhibit the roots from getting to the nutrients it needs and the effects last  many years. On the other hand, the longer they wait to plant, the lower the likelihood of maximizing yields (which is necessary to have the feed inventory for our dairy cows throughout the winter). In fact, the later it is planted the greater chance it will die prematurely in the Fall from frost before reaching physiological maturity. So which would you be willing to sacrifice (yield or soil quality) and for how long?

Jilek Hay (800x600)

Can you imagine if other industries operated the way farming does? Imagine how much business would be lost if Walmart was shut down every time it poured. Have you ever heard the saying, “Make hay while the sun is shining?” This is easier said than done and rain can decrease the quality of hay if it delays cutting or is down when it rains. Can you imagine if the quality of your dry cleaner’s work declined every time it rained? He wouldn’t be in business long. But this is just another daily struggle and reality for a farmer.

Farmers need to plant their crops every Spring in order to be successful. This means having their inputs subject to market volatility. They have little say in the cost of their input prices going up when they need that product to grow their crops. Take potash (potassium fertilizer), for instance — rock prices have more than tripled since 2006, taking fertilizer prices with it. If a potash mine closes in Morrocco, fertilizer prices go up. But farmers can’t protest the price if they need the product so they just suck it up and take it on the chin. How long would Home Depot be in business if the price of timber were to triple over just eight years? Would consumers still buy lumber from them with such a drastic price increase in such a short time? The answer, of course, is that Home Depot wouldn’t be in business for very long. But these are the gambles farmers take every day.

Farm

Imagine if, like commodity prices, the price of movie tickets varied from day to day, depending on the weather in Brazil? How would the movie theater make an operating budget? How do they know they can make a profit when they can’t control pricing? A farmer has very little control over what price they sell their grain for.  The truth is, there is no other industry quite like farming and it’s never easy. But I have never met a farmer who would choose to change their occupation. It’s a labor of love. So, for those of you who criticize modern agriculture in America, try walking a mile in a farmer’s boots. You just might have some more appreciation for what it takes to fill your plate three times a day. I, for one, salute the American Farmer!

Agriculture is the Answer

Happy 2010, everyone!

2009 is now behind us and many producers, including myself and every other dairyman I know, are glad to see it go. It has been a year of challenge for many of us, and we know that some of those challenges will continue on into the new year.

Unpredictable weather, market volatility, and fluctuating input costs are challenges all farmers face annually. And we know that we have many battles ahead of us in both Washington, DC, and our home states as we fight to protect our nation from policies and legislation that would undermine our ability to produce an abundance of safe, affordable food, fiber, and fuel. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there will be challenges coming at us from every direction this year, so begin preparing yourselves and your farms for the fight!

But with challenges come opportunities. We each have the chance to find ways to produce our products more efficiently, market them more effectively, and educate the public so they have a better understanding of the stewardship and care involved in getting these products from the farm to them.

America’s farmers and ranchers are uniquely positioned to provide exactly what our country needs in 2010 and beyond. As the population continues to grow and the economy improves, so will the demand for safe and affordable food, fiber, and fuel that is produced in an environmentally and socially responsible way. How can these demands be met? Agriculture is the answer!

Heading to Seattle!

With Christmas over and tomorrow being the last day of the decade, it’s nearly time to get packing for the AFBF Annual Meeting in Seattle. Starting with the first one I attended back in 2004, this meeting always amazes me. From the caliber of the presenters to the grassroots policy development that takes place, it’s a fantastic event.

Along with that, the Young Farmer and Rancher contests are always exciting, an this year will be no different. Three contests and three brand new Dodge Ram’s to give away again.

Even with all of that though, my favorite part of the annual meeting is the people. It seems more like a big family reunion when you get there. That’s what makes Farm Bureau and the business of agriculture so great. There will be old friends to visit with again and new friends to be made. When I think back about all of the friends I’ve made by being involved in the Young Farmer and Rancher program, I’m astonished. I’m usually reminded of this fact when I watch the weather on TV and see the national map. Wherever they are featuring some weather event I’m reminded of someone I know who lives in that area.

So, pack your bags and get to Seattle next week!