Grab attention: Show me the numbers


The trick in getting farmers to read farm magazines, a long-time editor of mine repeatedly admonished, is to put numbers in the headline, the lead and every paragraph thereafter.
If you’re writing about fertilizer, he told me, “I want to see a headline that says ’14 ways to save fertilizer dollars.’ If you’re doing a marketing story, I want a headline that says ’14 ways to reduce price risk.’ Got it?”
You bet.
I got it so well that when I resigned my staff position to go freelance in 1984, I sent him a memo titled “14 reasons to work for myself.”
Twenty minutes later he booted me out of the building.
Learning lessons. Despite the deserved bouncing, his lessons took; numbers remain my stock in trade.
If you want my attention, show me the numbers. Which is what a Capitol Hill friend did recently when he sent a spreadsheet he put together comparing President Bush’s proposed ag spending cuts to what the actual cuts would be if 2006 commodity prices fell to 1999-2001 levels.
Recall the two key ingredients to the president’s cost savings: deducting 5 percent from all program checks and limiting marketing loan benefits, or LDPs, to 85 percent of historical yield.
Wild card. The latter idea is the wild card; the spreadsheet shows it could quintuple the president’s projected USDA payment cuts.
For example, if 2006 commodity prices fall back to 1999-2001 levels – and if you think they can’t, look at 2005 projected carryovers for key program crops like corn, soybeans and cotton – the proposed restrictions on LDPs that year will reduce LDPs by $2.9 billion over what farmers pocketed in 2004.
That one-year slash is 5.7 times greater than the $432 million hit the Bush budget says farmers will take in 2006 and nearly three times the entire $1.05 billion cut the White House says farmers will feel over the next 10 years.
Spending cuts. By the way, the numbers don’t include the additional 5 percent across-the-board farm program spending cuts asked for by the White House.
If you don’t get it, you will – first in the chops, then in the wallet – if you do the math on what the 85 percent change means for your farm.
‘Got-it’ item. Late last month another number-laden “got-it” item hit my desk.
A news story from Brasilia noted the Brazilian government lent $12.7 billion to its farmers in the first seven months of the current marketing year.
It also related that 2005 lending is 29 percent above a year ago and just two-thirds of what Brazil will lend its farmers in the current year.
The piece, however, did not link this presumably World Trade Organization-legal government support to Brazil’s rise as a global soy power.
Since 1996-1997, Brazil’s soybean acreage has grown by 110 percent, its per-acre yield by 23 percent, its overall production by 159 percent and its exports by 925 percent.
Nor did it mention why the world’s two soy superpowers are taking opposite paths in farm policy – Brazil expanding government support for its farmers while America looks to cut support.
Canada story. Another soon-to-be “got-it” story is brewing up north.
It shows Canada about to become America’s hog farrowing barn.
According to Statistics Canada, 2004 U.S. live hog imports from Canada were a record 8.6 million head, up 15 percent from 2003 and an even more staggering 49 percent from 2002.
Our northernmost neighbors are sending us more than little sausages-to-be; they’re also pumping slaughter beef into the United States by the ton.
March 7. Despite all the yammering over beef bans and BSE, 2004 U.S. beef and veal imports from Canada hit 1.06 billion pounds, a tick under 2002’s pre-ban level of 1.09 billion pounds.
But come March 7, when the U.S. border reopens to Canadian live cattle imports, that billion will nearly double, guesses USDA, as more than a 1 million head of Canadian “tallwalkers” begin to mosey south in 2005.
More. More numbers?
Based on February’s wholesale price index, inflation could hit 9 percent in 2005.
Here’s another: “14 ways your high school can deal with White House’s $1.3 billion wipeout of vocational education funds.”
(Alan Guebert’s Farm and Food File is published weekly in more than 75 newspapers in North America. He can be contacted at


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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children.