One of the great strengths of those individuals involved in agriculture is their resilience. It seems that the farmer, dairyman or rancher in this country has a great ability to adapt and survive. We become more efficient in hard times, even when it seems we have become as efficient as we could possibly be.
Yet, we find ways to become more efficient and adapt to constantly changing conditions. This special quality has allowed us to feed this country, and the world, to a great extent. It is also what allows us to survive, be profitable and go on to survive again.
I believe we can all agree that the past couple of years have been very challenging. We have dealt with COVID issues, rising feed prices, low milk prices, low beef prices, drought, labor shortages, shortage of supplies, trucking challenges, inability to take animals to slaughter, some have lost loved ones, travel has been difficult if not impossible, and here at IFA, ransomware.
This list is only a representation of the challenges we have faced personally and as business operations. Yet we should take solace in the fact that we have survived. Those of us reading this article are still here and working to be successful, and we have reasons for optimism.
We have several conditions to serve as pillars to our optimism.
First, we live in a free country with the opportunity to pursue our interests, use our initiative, work hard and reap the rewards of our efforts. Not all people in the world have this advantage.
Second, we live in a country with rich soil, good weather (generally), and are supported by industries that work hard to supply the tools and ingredients necessary to succeed.
Third, we have a constant flow of information and new technologies and products that help us become better at what we do and more efficient in doing it.
Fourth, for many of us, we have faith in a higher power that gives us hope and assurance.
These pillars hold up and give weight to our confidence, and allow us to accomplish whatever we set our minds to.
Looking to the Future
We (of course) can’t see the future. There are reasons for concern, but there have always been reasons for concern. It is the inability to see the future that makes life so interesting, challenging and rewarding.
We prepare the best we can. We enter into contracts to protect us from possible shortages or changes in pricing in the future. We buy insurance in case an unforeseen disaster may strike. We build up inventories to make sure we don’t run out of critical ingredients.
Some operations have purchased trucks and entered into the trucking business so they can assure themselves of ingredients to feed their animals, or to take their products to market.
Since some equipment is in short supply, many have ordered long in advance to assure they have the trucks, tractors, bailers, or choppers they need.
Some have purchased more land so they can grow their own crops to make sure they have the forage and other crops necessary to feed their animals.
Some have hedged their positions to lock in profits when the opportunity is right.
These actions provide a degree of comfort and assurance for the future.
Taking and Managing Risks
I believe those in agriculture are there because they are hard workers, self-motivated, like being independent and because they are risk-takers. Those who have no stomach for risk, should probably not be in agriculture. Every decision they make is filled with uncertainty and risk.
How well a businessman handles risk will determine whether he survives and prospers or whether he is culled from the herd.
I am personally amazed at how well those I work with handle risk and how good they are at making tough decisions. I don’t mean to say every decision they make is right and profitable; rather, I admire how well they handle the overall decision-making process, and the good judgment they display when weighing their options, especially when there are no good choices.
These farmers, dairymen and ranchers don’t allow the risk they face to generate so much fear they can’t still make good decisions.
The other thing they don’t do is let one wrong decision prevent them from making other good decisions. We will not always make the right decisions, but we must still keep making choices, learning from our mistakes and pushing forward with greater wisdom and hope.
Finding Success in an Evolving Industry
I can only imagine what the next few years will bring, but I don’t worry about the future of our industry because of the integrity and character of the people who work in it.
I am sure there will be new and challenging problems to overcome, but when have those in our industry not been able to overcome their challenges? We have much to be grateful for and great reasons for optimism as we move forward.
Written by David Jensen, PhD, IFA Feed & Nutrition and originally published in the IFA Cooperator magazine (vol. 87, no. 4) Winter 2021.
Dave grew up on a dairy farm and was an active member of several clubs and sports groups during his high school years including FFA. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science from the University of Nevada Reno before going on to earn his Master’s and Doctorate degrees from the University of Missouri. Dave began his career with IFA in 2000 with his primary focus on dairy nutrition and has loved working with dairymen to help their cows produce and generate profit. Steve and his wife own a small farm in Southeastern Idaho where they run 40 head of beef cows and farm 50 acres of dryland pasture and 300 acres of steep hill country. It helps to keep him in good shape and keeps him from loafing around the house on weekends and holidays.