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Go 'Round, Up and Down

February 11, 2012
By: John Buckner, Farm Journal Executive Editor

Cycle opportunities are to be found in the troughs

Go West, young man! That was the 19th-century power phrase that inspired many an enterprising young man to go forth and reap riches. While you might not be inclined to go West, Farm Journal columnist Moe Russell transfers that same kind of energy and can-do spirit when he says, "There’s tremendous opportunities in the years that lie ahead for farmers!"

He speaks of global demand, the growth of middle-class consumers seeking new high-protein diets and the incredible ingenuity and innovation being displayed in cultures around the world. Opportunities presenting themselves are one thing; making the right decisions in hard times to take advantage of them is another.

Mapping the DNA of successful farmers, Russell weaves into his matrix real farm numbers and comparative accounting. Like the sun burning off an early morning fog, the results help him start to see and appreciate the entrepreneurial skills of his clients’ decision making and hard work.

"One thing I try to communicate is that their greatest asset is not their equipment, land or livestock—it’s their entrepreneurial skills," Russell says.

"Every year, I track farmers’ returns on assets and equity and I compare that to the top 20% of the Fortune 500. These farmers are more profitable than the top 20% of those listed in Fortune magazine. A lot of farmers don’t believe that. They think they’re price takers instead of price setters. Well, you can forget all that," he says.

In Russell’s world, it’s the numbers and the decisions based on their interpretation that separate the very successful from the plodders. This is the reason he focuses on the management of agriculture’s cycles. His takeaways are eye-opening.

"There were only three times in the last 100 years when it got really good: 1917 to 1918, a seven-year period in the 1940s, and 1973," Russell says. "This tells me that good times don’t last and to watch the cycle trends starting in 2014 or 2015.

"As long as we have the two human emotions of fear and greed, we’ll always have cycles," he adds. His premise is that you have to plan for the downturns by "bulletproofing" your balance sheet. This is ensured by having working capital equal at least 50% of your gross revenue.

p36 Go round, up and go Chart 1

Russell says farmers need this level of working capital when they enter the trough of a cycle, so they can operate until the cycle starts trending upward for better profit margins.

"I urge farmers to remember that they are in the commodity business," he adds. "One thing unique about commodity production is that over the long run, price will level out at the

cost of production."

p38 Go round, up and go Chart 2

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FEATURED IN: Farm Journal - Mid-February 2012



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