While it’s hard not to admire the results many celebrities have achieved by following the Paleo Diet, on farms like ours, another version of this diet has been embraced, or more properly “enforced,” with sad results.
I call it the Stone Age diet because there is no iron allowed. (This is tremendously funny, by the way, even if you have to explain it every time.) Anyway, with an abruptness that still leaves us reeling, new machinery has gone from a routine part of our economic nutrition plan to forbidden fruit pies. Shiny painted metal has become the jelly donut of ag financial fitness.
Perhaps the most amusing part of this “Tool Prohibition” is how many university experts and financial advisers think farmers don’t realize they should not be splurging on machinery. Jeez Louise—we all knew we were spending over the top back when corn was $7. We just were amazed our bankers couldn’t say “no” any more than we could.
But like all diets, cutbacks often have hidden pains, in addition to the obvious deprivation. In our case, this manifests as a delayed IRS whiplash. Specifically Section 179 which, until recently, I thought was a desert region near Roswell, N.M. It turns out to be scarier than that.
Thanks to Section 179 depreciation rules, when we have enough income to buy machinery and pay income taxes, taxes are optional. And vice versa—only with more vice than versa.
We’re also learning we have inexplicably embraced a farm program that can amplify such mistimed effects. Consider this: Guys in Minnesota could harvest the crop of their dreams and cash an enormous 2014 ARC-CO check this fall. Meanwhile in Indiana, after harvesting the few parts of the fields with actual crops, farmers will watch the FSA moolah delivery truck pass without stopping. Here’s the punch line: We lobbied loud and long for this system.
Is this a great country or what?
Coping with this new diet, like all self-denial regimes, soon becomes a matter of creative cheating. For example, leasing new machinery doesn’t count, right? It’s like taking your clothes off and holding them out to the side when weighing on your scales.
We also learn new avoidance behaviors. I have changed my route to avoid driving by machinery dealers, similar to ordering off the sad “Light & Lively” selections on the back of the menu instead of going to the buffet table. This is not easy with dealer lots expanding as new and used machinery piles up. These detours sadly take two Taco Bells and a Long John Silver out of reach as well.
The worst temptations, however, are trade shows. Nothing is ever quite as shiny as when under a bazillion watts of illumination in an enormous exhibition hall that serves beer around the perimeter. I once found myself bizarrely looking at a rock picker as though we stop excitedly to capture free-range stones from our fields for landscaping.
Just like when you don’t have cookies in the house—trust me, I have looked—the rice cakes of cosmetic repairs and low-cost upgrades are suddenly more appealing.
Our Stone Age diet seems to have an uncertain ending. When you are down to your target weight, then what? In our case, this diet can only be sustained for a short time—we’re already below survival calories, remember. Eventually, you are going to have to eat a donut, so to speak. Or the half-eaten donut from your neighbor’s plate, to stretch the metaphor.
It will be glorious.
This is the part that troubles me. Suppose—just theorizing here—grain economics improve. Maybe a tragic simultaneous drought in Brazil, Argentina, Ukraine, China and Europe—to pick a random event. I can imagine a rush to the “pastry counter” that will overwhelm vendors and trample a few bystanders. It won’t be pretty. But a sugar rush is nothing compared to new steel stupor.
Is it me or is it hungry in here?