Farmers, are you asking the right questions?


All journalists ask questions. But one of the hallmarks of a good journalist is asking the right questions, and that’s easier said than done.

Asking the right questions means doing your homework, being prepared and digging deeper. Asking the right questions means asking something in a way that forces the respondent to give more than “yes” or “no” answers.

Friends and advisers also do their jobs when they ask questions, questions that force us to think about what we’re saying, or what we’re doing. And why we’re saying something or doing something. Skillful questions can bring us point blank to answers we didn’t think we had.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said last week that the recession was “very likely over.” Rather interesting, considering just two weeks before that, the Wall Street Journal declared, “Recession finally hits down on the farm.”

They’re both right. Farming, which is one big constant roller coaster cycle, held on to its peak while the rest of the economy rode the housing market tailspin. But we’re right there in the trough with the rest of the world now — the USDA predicts farm income will be off nearly 40 percent from 2008 figures.

We don’t really like how it looks down here either. Ag economist David M. Kohl points out that of small businesses filing for bankruptcy, including farms, 25 percent do so coming off their most profitable year.

So what do you do? First, breathe. Second, don’t panic. Third, don’t ignore what’s going on. Fourth, start asking good questions.

— What’s your business goal? What are your family or personal goals? Be honest.

— Do you truly know what your family living expenses are?

— What does “risk management” mean to you? And do you have an objective plan to manage risk?

— Are you too land-rich/cash-poor? Kohl and other economists remind you that “land is a wealth accumulator and not cash generator.”

— Do you really accept that “change is the new normal?” And, if so, do you have your eye on the trends — the change — that will affect your farm in the next five years?

— What’s outside the box? Writer and consultant David Hurst says in times like these, “you can do things that were unthinkable before because … conventional wisdom no longer supplies the answers.”

— It’s not a new question, but many of us are still reluctant to answer it: What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

Perhaps the best question of them all comes from futurist Jim Carroll, who asks: “Are you someone who makes things happen — or do you sit back and wonder, ‘what happened?'”

You are not alone. Whether or not you realize it, you have a team — your vet, your lender, your extension educator, your nutritionist, your friends, and even another farmer you respect. Ask them the right questions and challenge them to ask you good ones in return.

There are answers out there.

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