‘It’s morphin’ time’ for agriculture

All industries change over time and industry players must change with it. Just ask the Big Three U.S. auto makers what happens when you don’t.

When my son Jon was about 3 or 4, he was fascinated by the television show, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. In it, five normal teens are given the ability to morph, or change, into superheroes to fight evil. The call to arms was the cry, “It’s morphin’ time!”

Well, there are no super powers out there to magically whisk your farming operation safely into the future, so I gotta tell you: It’s morphin’ time!

Some producers choose to leave agriculture rather than adapt to industry changes. (Or perhaps they feel they have no choice.) Some producers farm part-time and work off the farm. Some producers switch gears completely and find a niche market. Some producers diversify, while still others concentrate on one commodity. That’s OK, because there’s no cookie-cutter answer. Your farm’s future has to match your own management ability.

Here’s one reality from University of Minnesota Extension agribusiness expert Gary Hachfeld: Most farms have to make more income to support today’s farm families.

Hachfeld studied the 2007 household and personal records kept by 850 real farm families in southern Minnesota. Their average household expense was $74,804, with an average family size of 3.4 people.

Don’t think your household expense is that high? Tally your own, but be sure to include: food, medical care, charitable donations, supplies, furnishings, clothing, educational costs, recreation, gifts, utilities, child care, house rent/mortgage and upkeep of your house. Oh, and don’t forget nonfarm vehicles, investments, savings, life insurance premiums, income/Social Security taxes and nonfarm capital purchases.

Based on markets/budgets in Minnesota, Hachfeld calculates that a cash grain operation with a 50/50 corn-bean rotation would need to plant a total of 928 acres to earn that $74,804 (after all farm expenses are paid, but excluding a charge for labor and management, to which I would argue that labor/management costs should always be included to give you a better real-world picture).

For other farms, it would take 127 dairy cows; 10,717 head of hogs from weaning to finish; or 948 beef cows in a cow/calf operation.

You want to know what it takes to earn a living on the farm? There’s your answer, albeit a rather simplified one.

Ultimately, the basic building block of agricultural competitiveness and profitability is your own management. Only you can figure out how to make it work.

There is no going back to farming as it was in the 1950s, the 1970s (read these pdfs. from Hachfeld) or even the 1990s. Get over it. You have to make changes to survive.

It’s morphin’ time.

About the Author

Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell has been with the paper since 1985, serving as its editor since 1989. Raised on a farm in Holmes County, she is a graduate of Kent State University. You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/scrowell and follow Farm and Dairy at http://twitter.com/farmanddairy. You can also find her on Google+ and Facebook. More Stories by Susan Crowell

2 Comments

  1. Is there anyway to reinvent commodities so to increase their quality, value, and price? or Is all the morphin’ have to happen at the management end in terms of expenses?

  2. Good point, Daniel. There is a lot of activity in creating new uses/new value for many traditional commodities (witness the new marriage between corn and soybean growers and Ohio’s polymer industry). I think the answer to ag’s viability is a multi-pronged approach: Every producer has to do what he/she can to improve his operation; the industry and the nation needs to invest more in ag R&D; and government should try not to screw it up (for lack of a more sophisticated phrase!)

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