We Can Do This: John's Advice for 2015

12:14PM Mar 12, 2015
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There have been many analysis projections and predictions about 2015 that are less than enthusiastic, and of course this is natural. We are coming off of for sure, I am now convinced the data will show,  that we are coming off the greatest period in prosperity in agriculture history in the United States. That’s what this last five years have been. One thing that I want to leave you with: even as we look at 2015 and we have questions about how are we going to do this? How is this going to work? With input prices, Export, supply over supply in one Commodity or another.

We are prepared. Somewhere along the line we have forgotten for the last five or six years I have never been more proud of my industry in the way they have managed prosperity. I have been a frequent critic of everything from Farm Bills to or are attitudes with how we deal with GMO’s and how we talk to our customers.

But on this case, I want to offer Congratulations to every one of you. Agriculture has done something that no other sector has done. We have managed astonishing prosperity with maturity and wisdom. We invested that profit, we invested that windfall, and folks, $8 corn was a windfall. Nobody had it on their spreadsheet 10 years ago.  But instead of squandering it, we poured it into where our hearts are. We bought the land, and the percentage of farmers owning farm land clawed back from investors and went back to farmers. I don’t care what you paid for it, you bought your future. Besides, as I always point out, after 20 years, all land cash flows. Just that first 20 years, that’s a tricky part.

But more importantly than that, we did something that I never thought we would see. And maybe I am overly excited, because I am participating in the is wonderful experience, but we used these profits to finally bid for the best and brightest of our children. Our children no longer have to settle for being doctors, lawyers, or scientists. We brought them home, but because we handled prosperity wisely, because we invested in our future, both in the right assets and in the right people. I don’t think we should be very fearful about whatever 2015 has for us.

Now, I realize to say “I want the best and bright in agriculture” sounds pretty good in the abstract. It’s another thing when they show up farming just up the road from you. Suddenly you fall in love with the average and adequate. Old Bob was comfortable to farm next to you, it made you look good. This new kid knows what he’s doing and he is does it a lot more energetically.  We raised our game. So, don’t forget and I think we have been overlooking, and many of us are certain age are harping back in the 80’s and saying oh jeez it’s going to be tough.

Let me remind you of something that I have an advantage and you don’t.  I have been writing professionally for 20 years but also personally, and I went back to my logs and diaries from the 80’s, and I was astonished to find out, it looked a lot like this. We didn’t know what was coming at us. We didn’t know how we were going to handle it, but we did.

Oddly enough, at the peak of farm crisis 1987 the failure rate the default rate on farm mortgages was a whopping 7%. In other words 93% of us found some way to scrap enough nickels together to satisfy the banker. We haven’t changed our character hasn’t changed, our determination hasn’t changed. Our link and log of the land haven’t changed.

We will find that way again, and to all of you that do share my cohort in the demographics the baby boomers let me help you about one last thought on how you can translate  the assurance we had through the 80’s to an oncoming generation. Do not tell them “my god it was awful… just terrible. You had to be real man to make it through, these kids don’t know anything. You had it so soft. “ That may or may be true, generally it’s not, but it’s singularly unhelpful.

In a rare moment, Aaron and I were driving together, and recently he turned to me and said “Dad, you know, 2015, I’ve been sitting with a spreadsheet for hours and hours still struggling to get the numbers right at the bottom. What was that like going through the 80’s?” I said Aaron I know two things: I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it.  Here is the odd thing: if you think back you were a boy in high school and you were happy. We didn’t know any better. We didn’t realize this is one of most crisis in American History of Agriculture. If we did we just thought ok it got to get better any minute.

The fact 2015 will represent challenges to our industry should not terrify us. It should make us to prepare and we have prepared and we should go into it with some confidence that the same courage and commitment, the same skills, the same vision, added to the new and best and brightest means we can look at it with great confidence.

Folks, 2015 may be filled with a lot of gloom and doom, but the ratio is about 99% gloom an 1% doom. We can do something about the gloom. This is our job. All we have to do in 2015 is our job. So when some of your neighbors says “oh my gosh, what are we going to do this year?” Answer them this way: whatever it takes.