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U.S. Farm Report Mailbag

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Comments, questions, opinions...this is your chance to speak out regarding anything and everything reported on U.S. Farm Report. Viewer feedback updated regularly.

John Responds to Feedback

Feb 25, 2009
Editor's Note:  The February 21-22, 2009 edition of U.S. Farm Report generated quite a bit of reaction - here is a sampling of the viewer feedback on a variety of issues..and a couple of responses from John:

   Great show.  The U.S. Farm Report is part of my Sunday ritual here in N. Idaho.  I have a great respect for farmers and farming and have always described farmers as the real economists of our society - that their "abundance of common sense" is a trait not found in too many folks these days.  
    I have a somewhat eclectic mix of financial, investing, real estate appraisal and mining background.  So whether I wanted it or not, I was exposed to a large cross section of our society.  For years I became more and more uncomfortable with how everyone suddenly "became rich".  The societal shift from hard work and thrift (or living within our means), to one of borrowing and consumption that became mainstream starting in the late 1990's, was unsettling.  
   Anyway, I agree there are issues and difficult decisions that come from the "paradox of thrift".  The right (although not perfect) answer might be that we need to go through the painful process of removing the propensity to spend and consume, actually instill a propensity to work and save, and then learn to live and adjust for the kind of healthy consumption and spending that follows - after a certain leval of savings has been achieved. 
   For some reason we are aftraid consumption won't come back.  It will, it will just be the kind of consumption that is supported by a truly healthy economy in the United States and the natural growth coming from other countries as they advance their standards of living.  
   Americans are very resourceful.  I think we are spending too much time trying to figure out how to avoid the pain of ripping off the bandaid.  There are going to be some losers in this one.  We just need to get it over with and focus on rebuilding a more viable, albeit less dynamic, economy based in reality.  In my opinion, we cannot allow the creation of bigger and bigger problems because we don't want to experience the hangover.
   I am concerned that if we don't get in front of this soon, it is going to happen anyway - and well outside of our control.
My two cents.  Keep up the good work.
John Swallow
***John's Response:
   Thank you for watching and for your thoughtful remarks. Like you every time I think I have a handle on the situation, things seem to get worse.  Obviously we are going to continue to wring a lot of ephemeral, even imaginary, wealth out of our system. 
   Oddly enough, one thing I think will help end this trend is our brain chemistry.  We are designed to adapt to even horrifying fears after 6-18 months.  As our cortisol and other stress chemical levels abate due to the body's natural emotional immune system (since allowing it to continue would literally kill us), we will face the future will lower expectations and better chances of fulfillment regardless of the money situation.  Already we see families cutting back and finding they can cope better than they imagined.
   I'm not trying to be a cheerleader here, but we often underestimate our ability to persevere under pretty harsh circumstances.  we can even find happy moments in the process. The main thing I think is to alleviate as much absolute threats (hunger, homelessness, etc.) while our extremely flexibile system does its job.
   We are also going to make some faulty plans and execute some bad choices, but then the whole history of humankind is one of triumph over less than perfect plans. 
   Stay in touch.  Let me know what you are seeing in your corner of our world.  John

Thanks to Mr. Phipps for addressing the need for universal healthcare in this country.  As one of the 47 million individuals without health insurance, I appreciate the use of this forum to speak for those who do not have the volume to get this urgent message across to our leaders in charge of policy.
Does feedback show that farmers are willing to forgo farm subsidies if universal healthcare becomes a reality?  If so, the exchange in entitlements would be one way to help pay for universal healthcare.  I would like to see the farming community rally behind this idea.  I hope you continue addressing this topic on your show.
I really enjoy watching your show.  Keep up the good work!
Kari Marsh
***John's Response:
   Kari - Thanks for watching and for your support.  I'd trade my DCP payment in a heartbeat for access to a group insurance policy for farmers.  As health insurance gets more problematic, these ideas may get more serious consideration.

Dear John: 
   Your U.S. Farm Report program comment on February 22, 2009 has led me to write you.  I strongly feel the opposite on whether a farm HAS to become larger in the future to remain in business. My wife, who has a profession of her own and works on the farm; my son age 30, who has just decided to return to the farm after basiclly losing his job as a building contractor; and myself age 58, 3rd generation farmer who returned to the farm after serving in the military and a short profession in the early computer age. My question is one that comes to mind everytime I tune into your program or listen to farm organizations discussing the future of farming.
    Why can't the ag community learn from the large cartels of the oil countries. "ORGANIZE". By controling ag outputs (Food), the producers could position themselves to be able to grow their products for a profit instead of a hit and miss, year to year balancing act to meet expenses. Wouldn't it be better for every producer, who IS, and HAS been a good manager, to be able to make a living. This could bring back rural development or at least keep it from becoming extinct. Growth and expansion is great if it doesn't just led to only a few having everything.
    Our operation here is roughly 3600 acres which is considered to be on the smaller scale of farm size because of idle ground being needed due to low rain fall. The farm is at present about 95% debt free and is located in an area of the country that is limited in the crops that it can raise, therefo limiting the potential farm income that the farm itself can generate. Why would a producer want to  jeopardize its operation just to become bigger because the mentality of ag is "in order to survive, you have to expand" or you have to "produce MORE to survive"
    I believe that my grandfather and father were able to pass the farm on by remaining relatively debt free and not wanting to be the biggest or the richest operations.  Maybe the attitude of biggest and richest (GREED) is why this countries economy is in the shape its in presently. 
    More faith and less greed.    
    I look forward to your thoughts on my comments.

Saving money doesn't help the economy with increased sales.
Seems like companies in the U.S. are dumping employees by the ton since the government's stimulus program is saying they will provide more and longer unemployment benefits.
But, back to saving money. I have managed to accumulate quite a large amount of CD's, because, I never felt the stock market was a safe place to put money.
Now, I'm wondering if I wouldn't be smart to bury the money, after cashing the CD's, in the backyard. FDIC, to me, is just a part of the U.S. Government, and the shape the govt. is in doesn't make me think FDIC is as good as the economists are making it sound.
Just my thoughts.  Gary Maize
***John's Response:  
   Thanks for watching and for your feedback. I disagree about the FDIC even though your backyard is paying practically the same return.  Those CD's are the safest place you could have money, in my opinion.  They just aren't going to grow very fast.
This nation is not going to collapse, nor will the US default.  We could see significant inflation later, but all that occurs after the recovery starts.  And I think we may be closer to that beginning than we fear.
   I was very surprised to say the  least when I saw your drought map showing SW Kansas at the low end of drought.  According to the old=timers that live in Rolla, KS, we are approaching the Dust Bowl days.  I have seen the wind blow acres of dirt and roads covered so bad that they had to be dug out by bulldozers. 
  No wonder I never hear about our drought situation.  I don't know where you are getting your information but in our area, you should be showing us extreme level.
  Not to mention the tumbleweed catastrophe due to the ranchers not being allowed to graze cattle on the Cimarron Grasslands because of drought supposedly.  Now the farmers will be spending more money for weedkillers and to replace crops that are wiped out because of the tumbleweeds, not to mention the fences that have been pushed over. 
Welcome to the real world.
Susan Kallenbach 
Flying K Horse & Cattle Co.LLC
Rolla, KS

     In your comments last week on the ever increasing size of farms and how the decision will be made on who stays on the farm. While I am a staunch believer in a great God who created all things and not evolution I do think that when farmers use their God-given abilities, talents, knowledge, etc. that a certain " evolutionary" process or "natural selection" will take place in which , simply put, those who make money will stay and everyone else will go. When those who find it necessary to sell their land, if possible, it might be good to keep some. You can raise enough to feed a large family on 80 acres.
                                       Sincerely, Dennis Tucker from S.W.Missouri

Good morning John!
   Thanks for the update on switchgrass!  You missed one important piece of information:  how many million BTU's / acre.  That will be the bottom line for all biomass  and other renewable energy operations.  When the Saudi oil field goes dry there will be a terrible crisis at hand and we need to learn now which direction we will need to go.  Do you want to eat or keep warm?  Maximum utilization of land will be imperative.  I think global population control efforts will be too little too late.  The light at the end of the tunnel that most people seem to see is just a freight train.  Glowing reports that we hear of our energy future are purely delusional!
Mike Hradel
Cold Stream Farm
***John's Response: 
   I'm less pessimistic than you about our energy future.  If nothing else, we have just postponed the inevitable by a couple of decades with this severe recession.  I'm not  a big believer in switchgrass frankly, due to the low energy density - you have to handle too much stuff to get much out.  It could be a last ditch source, but we're a long way from that kind of desperation, in my opinion.

Hi!  Ex-California farmer here.  I noticed on your farm report today you were talking about water for almonds.  When I was there in 1978 we had a similar problem.  The problem was the irrigation district had sold our Madera irrigation water to Bakersfield.  Maybe some investigation on this is in order?  Could this be happening again?
Thanks!  Sherry Halvorson
***John's Response: 
   Thanks for watching.  You bet cities are buying water rights, as well as simply commandeering them during the drought.  It's hard to see how it could be otherwise politically.  This is one reason CA dairies are moving to ID, NM, etc. It also is an easy decision to make when desperate municipalities throw millions at farmers for the water.
While losing our almond production is unfortunate, I think thirsty humans are a higher priority. If we can allow the market to arbitrate these decisions, better outcomes will arise.

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