Across the Editor's Desk: May/June 2008
Your hardest test as an owner and manager of a family farm business should be when times are tough, not when your bins are bursting from good crops and prices are limit up to record levels.
Ups and downs and pendulum swings are part of life and business. One of America's great preachers, the late Adrian Rogers, describes it this way:
"There are three kinds of people. Those who are in the middle of a storm, those who are emerging from a storm, and those who will soon be in one."
Corn, soybean, and wheat farmers have emerged this past year to the bright sunshine of record prices. Livestock and poultry farmers feel the economic storm clouds gathering all around them. Forecasts call for severe profit challenges over the next year or two.
A nonfarm business analyst who looked at grain farming vs. livestock farming right now would easily say that grain farming is in the most favorable business position. Still, grain farmers seem burdened with anxiety and unease that steal the joy of record prices.
Perhaps that's a good thing. Poet A.E. Housman might have had 2008 grain farmers in mind when in 1896 he wrote the following lines in I to my perils of cheat and charmer.
The thoughts of others
Were light and fleeting,
Of lovers' meeting
Or luck or fame.
Mine were of trouble,
And mine were steady;
So I was ready
When trouble came.
Business books pretty much agree with Housman. They are full of admonitions to managers to prepare for the tough times during the cycle of good times. Creating a reserve and maintaining comfortable liquidity make sense.
Certainly those livestock operations now in that sound financial position can face the coming storm with more options and confidence than those that are in a weaker position.
Of course, it is easier to acknowledge the wisdom of maintaining a strong position to get you through the next down cycle than it is to execute. Often an outside adviser is very helpful in working through those decisions.
There have been hundreds of books written about people who have turned a tough situation into a positive outcome. As a member of a multigeneration farm, you know the stories of your own family's struggles through droughts and floods and economic down cycles.
Business struggles are bad but nothing compared to personal loss and tragedy. Families deal with their grief in their own way, do their best to turn the page, and move on. Rarely does a family or person turn a tragic loss into an outcome of such significance and impact that the world must simply applaud.
Such is the case, however, with one of our own in agriculture, Marilyn Adams. Nearly 22 years ago her 11-year-old son, Keith, suffocated in a gravity flow wagon. In her grief, she was determined to help other families avoid such a loss.
Adams founded Farm Safety 4 Just Kids. She recently was named grand prize winner in the Volvo for Life Awards, a program that honors hometown heroes. She received $100,000 for FS4JK and a new Volvo every three years for life.