We Will Make It Through 2016
Mar 11, 2016
You have to be careful when someone throws out a glib statement like “low prices are the cure for low prices.”
Well, that’s kind of true, but it’s more like chemotherapy than a cure, right? I’ve talked to any number of my friends who like me are in transition to a younger generation and one common theme that has come out this year while I’m here is “well, you know we’ve got these young guys that have never seen a downturn.” And there’s some hint in there of “This will show ‘em. I’m tired of those whippersnappers thinking they can do everything just because they can program the yield monitor. I’m tired of getting beat up about that. This will show ‘em.”
Yes, there's a little bit of that, but mostly there is the concern of either a father for a son or an older peer for the younger generation that this is going to be tough. But we forget something to our great peril. When I came back to the farm in 1975--yes, I missed ’73, ’74, for those of you who remember that. I heard about it a lot, but didn’t get to participate.
But I kept--and continue to keep a log, which I got used to writing as a naval officer. I have gone back and looked at my log and my journal from those days. I was a young man in my thirties with a young family. I remember the early ‘80s, 1980, the year of the drought. I’d never seen a drought. I wrote and underlined three times, "My God, I’m $70,000 in debt.” In other words, my fuel bill now.
My point is, as I read through those entries, it was like a stranger. These are my own writings. And I realized something. I didn’t know what I was doing back then either. I didn’t realize that I was going through what will be one of the worst downturns in agriculture and yet … we made it through. The fact that young people have not been through a downturn says nothing about whether they have it within them or in their operation or within your family to persevere and survive. That doesn’t matter. We didn’t know what we were doing in the 1980s either. You flail around, you do your best, and if you keep showing up every spring, you make it through. We have to stop fixating on the fact that tells us what the future is so we can prepare.
The things that carried me through the ‘80s were obvious as I read through those entries. Oddly enough, we were happy. We had young kids, we were going to ballgames--we didn’t realize it was the worst period in agricultural history in 80 years. We didn’t know that. I also had a group of four friends. We all sang in the choir, interestingly enough. I was the choir director for 35 years and after choir practice on Wednesday night, we would go out and have a beer.
Now there’s kind of a mixed moral message.
But I noticed in my entries on Thursday mornings that those logs were always different, because these were friends. They were compatriots, three of them were farmers, and the one thing they gave to me and the most precious thing that you can give to someone you’re concerned about is that when we talked it dawned on me--because they were honest and open with me--that it wasn’t me. There wasn’t something wrong with me because I was apprehensive or concerned. A couple of these guys, well, both of these guys were better farmers than me, bigger farmers than me. They were concerned. So at least you go, “All right.”
Once you get over the idea that it’s your fault, that you and you alone are the reason for all your problems and that you are the reason why you can’t work your way out of it, once you stop believing in yourself, you’re in deep trouble. And the safety net that saves you are those people that you have made contact with. If you do not use the Commodity Classic to establish those, even those once-a-year friendships, somebody from another state, another side of the country, in another crop, to build your safety net, you are missing out on the most valuable part of this experience.
We don’t know what 2016 is going to be like, but we’re pretty sure it’s going to test who we are and our entire system, but we did not get here by accident. You have not suddenly shown up simply because you had the right last name. We’ve already dwindled out all those people who are only casually involved.
You are committed to a profession. You are some of the best farmers in the world, and I don’t say that lightly. I say it because I know because I have to compete against you. That’s how you measure. You worry me. No. that’s what really keeps you up at night.
There’s nothing, absolutely nothing, coming toward us that we are incapable of managing. It may not be pretty. The ‘80s weren’t pretty, but as Mark Twain famously said, “History does not repeat itself. At best, it sometimes rhymes,” and maybe we’re going to have a rhyme with the ‘80s, but I do know what the end will look like. It will look like what I’m looking at right now. The same faces, the same type of people, the same courage, the same integrity, the same dignity, that has carried us through up to this point. So go ahead and worry. That’s your job. Worrying comes with the whole profession.
But never doubt that the acres will be turned, that the crops will grow, and that at some point, we'll look back on this and say, “Yeah, yeah, it was tough, but we made it.” 2016 will bring us to realize what we have and what we can do. We will be tested, and I am without doubt that we will be found capable. Bless your hearts, have a great 2016, and we’ll see you next year.
Watch John Phipps' commentary on U.S. Farm Report here: