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Five questions young farmers ask

Gil Gullickson
Successful Farming magazine Crops Technology Editor

Expansion and volatility

Ryan and Hope Pjesky, the Goltry, Oklahoma, farmers featured
in the mid-March Farmers for the Future profile, face the same challenges as
other young farmers. Here's what they had to say about some questions young
farmers ask these days.

 

1. Should I expand?

It's true that growing your farm by renting or buying more
land can help you increase economies of scale.

Still, watch the price you pay. "If you can't afford it
and it takes profit away from the rest of your operation to pay for it, it
doesnt make any sense," says Ryan Pjesky.

The Pjeskys aren't averse to expanding their stocker cattle
and winter wheat operation by buying more land. "If the right situation
presented itself, we wouldn't turn it down," he says. "I'd like to
see land prices soften a bit, though. Land prices right now are unreasonably
high. It makes no sense to buy land at the peak.

"When I make a decision like buying land, I always ask
myself, 'Is it going to jeopardize something my dad, grandfather and great
grandfather built?'" says Ryan.

 

2. How do I cope with commodity and input volatility?

Ryan and Hope face a different market environment than when
Ryan's father, Roger, began farming 40 years ago.

"If wheat prices changed 30 to 40 cents a bushel in a
year, that was a lot of change," says Ryan. "And it was really big
news if it changed 70 to 80 cents in a year. Price swings like that can now
occur within a day. Prices for inputs like fertilizer also are volatile. Prior
to 2009, it was cheaper most of the time to buy fertilizer in advance of the
next year. Not so this year."

One way the Pjeskys are coping with price volatility is
delaying buying fertilizer. "I don't know how smart it is to buy ahead of
time anymore," says Ryan. "For anhydrous ammonia, we're looking at it
being $500 (per ton) less than it was in 2008."

 

Diversification

3. Should I diversify into another enterprise?

New enterprises can add to a farm's profits. However,
farmers need to be careful that the time and effort spent diversifying into new
areas does not come at the expense of existing moneymaking enterprises. That's
what has kept the Pjeskys raising stocker cattle.

"This has just always worked," says Hope. "We
don't see any reason to change as long as we are making a profit doing what we
have always done."

They've found black is still hot when it comes to cattle.
Angus or black baldies (Hereford-Angus cross) still command good prices.

Still, though, the Pjeskys don't discount other breeds.

"Herefords are really good range cattle," says
Ryan. "Sometimes, you can buy them cheaper. And if you're selling a lot of
50,000 pounds and have three or four Herefords, you can sell them in a big
group and not get docked."

 

More young farmers

4. Why don't more of us get into farming?

Older farmers often lament the lack of young farmers to take
their place. Many times, though, a look in the mirror reveals why.

"Lots of families discourage their children from
farming," says Hope. "They tell them, 'it's too hard to do this and
always too risky. But these are the same people who lament that there are no
young people in agriculture.

"I don't think people should push their children into
it if they don't want to farm," she adds. "But if they show interest,
they shouldn't discourage them.

"There are good kids, involved in 4-H and FFA, high
achieving kids," she adds. "A lot of times, because they are so high
achieving, parents will say, 'go be a professional like a doctor, lawyer, or
politician.' I just think we need to look at farmers as professionals. It would
give more respect to production agriculture."

 

Global factors

5. How can something overseas affect me?

Ever wonder how something that happens in a foreign country
can affect your farm?

In 2008, Hope Pjesky spent seven weeks as an Eisenhower
Fellow in Malaysia, Japan, and Thailand studying how those countries view food
safety, traceability, and international agricultural trade policy.

Eisenhower Fellowships seek to foster international
understanding and leadership through the exchange of information, ideas, and
perspectives among emerging leaders throughout the world.

The trip reinforced her belief regarding the positive impact
agricultural trade has on all farmers.

"Farmers in Malaysia typically have one-sixth of an
acre to grow crops on," she says. "But farmers I met who had been
trained and given the opportunity to produce for an export market are so much
better off than the average farmer in those countries."

She also learned why some countries like Japan are sensitive
to food safety. Japanese reluctance to import U.S. beef during this decade
resulted from its consumer's concerns about BSE.

"There is a need to be more sensitive to attitudes of
people in those countries," she says. "When we try to deal with them
on trade policy related to food safety, there needs to be an incremental
phase-in of policy instead of all at once."

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