Cattle produceers fight one mean 'Trich'

Written by James D. Ritchie on .

About 35 years ago, the buzz in cow country was the bull-of-the-year, as calf producers rounded up European and other “exotic” bloodlines to add to their herds. More recently, a chief concern has been the disease-of-the-year, as first one then another malady plagued the industry.

“Five years ago, trichomoniasis was virtually unknown to Missouri cattlemen,” said Dr. Craig Payne, veterinarian with the University of Missouri Extension’s Commercial Agriculture program. “Today, the disease is a likely culprit in cattle herds with low pregnancy rates.”

Trichomoniasis foetus (trich for short) is a venereal disease caused by a single-celled protozoan parasite and transmission of this organism during breeding can cut the calf crop by as much as 50 percent due to early embryonic death or abortion. The trich organism colonizes a cow’s reproductive tract (the inside of the penal sheath in bulls) and attacks the embryo that begins to develop after a cow is successfully bred. The cow typically aborts the damaged embryo and returns to heat.

“Other things can cause cows to fail to settle or to lose their calves early, but trich may be the culprit that often gets blamed on something else,” said Eldon Cole, University of Missouri extension livestock specialist. “If you have a high percentage of cows coming back into heat 50 to 60 days after breeding, suspect trich.
“This disease can be expensive because of strung-out calf crops, poor breeding rates and the cost of getting rid of trich once your herd has it,” Cole added.

The initial trich infection in cows usually does not interfere with conception but rather results in death of the embryo or abortion at 50 to 70 days of gestation, explained Dr. Payne. “As a result, cows and heifers typically return to estrus one to three months after breeding, but a period of infertility may last two to six months as a result of the infection.”

Cows and young bulls tend to “shed” the organism and clear themselves of the infection eventually. But bulls three years of age and older may become permanent carriers. “A small percentage of cows, though themselves still able to deliver normal calves, may become permanent carriers and spread the infection to other bulls in the following breeding season,” Dr. Payne said.
There’s currently no treatment to cure trich, nor a vaccine to prevent it. Individual animals—both bulls and females—show few or no obvious signs of infection. “The main symptoms of an infected herd appear as an excessive number of open cows—40 percent to 50 percent on average—and a calving interval prolonged over several months,” the veterinarian continued.

Fortunately, there is a new quick and accurate way to diagnose trich—usually made by testing the bulls. Modern tests using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) are more sensitive than traditional methods of culturing samples and looking for the trich organism under a microscope—which typically required three tests for a firm verdict.

“One PCR test can either clear or incriminate a bull,” said Eldon Cole. “I’d suggest always testing new bulls coming into the herd.”
How widespread is trich in Missouri herds? No one seems to have a good handle on that just yet.
“Between March and August, 2010, at least 18 Missouri counties were known to have herds infected with trich,” said Dr. Payne. “Most of those counties were in southwest Missouri—that’s where the largest concentration of beef cattle is—but no part of the state appears to be immune.”

“If we were testing bulls more extensively, we might be surprised at how widespread trich is,” guessed Cole.
“Testing for trich is not widespread yet,” said Dr. Mike Bloss, Countryside Animal Clinic at Aurora, Mo., who with several colleagues, conducts two bull breeding soundness clinics each year in spring and fall. “We offer to test for trich at these clinics, if owners request it, and several do. So far, the percentage of positive tests is pretty low. But we are seeing cows that don’t settle or those that return to heat after they’ve apparently been bred. Trich is one of the more likely suspects in these cases.”
Where trich is concerned, an ounce of “keep clean” is worth a ton of “clean up.” Prevention is the goal of animal health divisions in Missouri and several other states: they require a negative trich test on all non-virgin bulls being brought into the state. Oklahoma and Texas go a step further by requiring tests on bulls transferred within the state.

Preventing trich in your herd:
•    Isolate and test all new bulls.
•    When possible, buy only young, tested bulls and virgin heifers.
•    Consider using artificial insemination and manage for a defined breeding season.
•    Be wary of using leased or borrowed bulls, and keep fences in good repair. “A neighbor who lets you use his bull may not be doing you much of a favor if the bull carries in trich,” said Eldon Cole.
•    Keep accurate records.
•    Once your herd gets trich, management of the disease can be costly, involving culling infected bulls and open cows and replacing them with tested bulls and virgin heifers. But not managing trich can be even more costly, with open cows and strung-out calf crops.

Solid footing for the future

Written by Steve Fairchild on .

Anyone managing an agricultural business—from farmers to suppliers and manufacturers—looks at the past few years as a stretch unprecedented in its volatility. MFA Incorporated has endured the peaks and valleys of that volatility and, in the process, shaped its business operations to reflect agriculture’s changing economic landscape. After record profits in fiscal year 2008 and record losses in fiscal year 2009, your cooperative spent the past fiscal year with extreme focus on: implementing risk-management strategies, continuing to control operating costs and intensifying focus on its traditional business strengths. The result was reasonable profit for the year.

Financial performance

MFA’s net profit for the fiscal year was $9.7 million, up from a $62.1 million loss the previous fiscal year. Total sales for the year were comparable to last year and once again exceeded $1 billion. The net profit was a result of good earnings in most of MFA’s divisions. While profits were in line with the budget goals for the year, earnings were dampened by losses in MFA’s hog operations and a wet fall that was followed by a wet spring limiting movement of field crop inputs and services to a narrow window.

Grain sales

Grain sales totaled $431 million compared to the previous fiscal year mark of $365 million. Because the fiscal year ends Aug. 31, these numbers reflect the 2009 harvest season. The region’s great harvest bounty was reflected in an increase in grain handled by MFA with 63 million bushels moving through the system. This was an increase of some 9.7 million bushels compared to the year prior, a 19 percent spike. By commodity, volume increases were 7.1 million bushels for soybeans, 6.2 million bushels for corn and a decrease of 3.7 million bushels for wheat. Volume shifts mirror crop production reported for our trade-territory.

Field crops

Field crop sales (plant food, seed, crop protection products) produced revenues of $396 million, down from $485 million the previous fiscal year, an $89 million decline. Of the $396 million, plant food sales represent $266 million, a 14 percent drop from last year. Tonnage sold at Wholesale and Retail increased compared to the previous year, but lower average unit values reduced total sales dollars. Crop protection volume was $132 million, down $5 million from last year. There was considerable decrease in unit values, especially among glyphosate products, which was largely offset through an increase in units sold.
Seed sales were $74 million, up $1 million from last year. Soybean seed volume was down 6 percent compared to last year and totaled 727,000 units. Seed corn sales increased about 10 percent at 86,000 units. Both of these results reflected the change in planted acres in MFA’s trade territory. To no surprise, MFA wheat seed sales were down substantially as wheat acres in the region plummeted.

Livestock supply

Livestock supply sales (feed, farm supply and animal health) totaled $163 million, an increase of $13 million. In a challenging market and with the beef herd continuing to shrink, Feed Sales tonnage increased 7 percent to 323,000 tons.
Finished hogs marketed in 2010 were comparable to 2009. Sales dollars increased 9 percent, reflecting higher market prices received in 2010.

MFA sold its swine operations to Cargill in July 2010. Ownership of the weaned pigs at closing remained with MFA. MFA will raise these animals to market weight and recognize sales through December 2010.
The increased sales value was due to higher market prices received for fat hogs.
Farm supply product sales remain flat with last year’s measures. Under current feedstuffs and livestock input prices, producers continue to limit discretionary spending on farm supply products.

Margins and Expenses

Margins (gross margin on products sold and service revenue income) totaled $145 million, an increase of $84 million. 2009 margins were reduced by the losses incurred on the devaluation of plant foods and losses on market hogs sold. Increased volumes in most of the operating divisions added to this increase.
Operating expenses were up $2 million to a total of $136 million. Increases are attributable to increased sales and service volumes.
The net operating losses incurred in 2009 that could not be carried to previous tax years were carried forward and used to offset all of 2010 member earnings. Even with the loss carryforward, alternative minimum tax regulations resulted in a small tax expense.

The balance sheet

After a very difficult year in 2009, MFA made managing the balance sheet a priority with the goal of limiting risk, bank debt and the associated interest expense. Current assets reflect a decrease of $23 million due mainly to a reduction in receivables. During 2010 MFA entered into a financing arrangement with ProPartners whereby they assumed a portion of the producer input loans. An early grain harvest resulted in increased inventory, this increase was offset by a lower cash balance.

Investments (our ownership in interregional cooperatives and joint ventures) increased to $38 million. Recapitalization of AGRIServices of Brunswick and positive earnings in our three joint ventures supported this increase.

Fixed assets (land, buildings, equipment and rolling stock) decreased to $81 million in 2010. Capital expenditures were reduced approximately 50% to $7 million. Reducing fixed assets was the sale of some redundant, inefficient and non-operational assets with a book value of $2 million and depreciation expense of $14 million.

Total assets are $358 million, down from $381 million for fiscal 2009. Most of the reduction is attributable to reduced accounts receivable, particularly the credit arrangement with ProPartners.
Net worth improved by $9 million, to $94 million as a result of earnings. Member equities account for $62 million and retained savings make up the remaining $32 million.

When Christmas is a new beginning

Written by Mitch Jayne on .


A holiday and a puppy to mend two hearts



It wasn’t that Ben McInnes “wore a hard name,” which, in the Ozarks, is said about people either mean or dishonest. Ben was neither one. But what the McInnes name called up, when Chester Kiley mentioned it around the winter stove in the country store, was about as disturbing.

It was the last week before Christmas, when every neighbor stopped by the store before dark to talk about the snow, the price of gasoline, and to relive the deer season just past. Ben’s name came up because he had quit hunting after his wife and son left him. He had missed the deer season camaraderie and worse, never came to join the gathering at the store anymore.

“Now, I just don’t know what to tell you. I’ve known miserable folks in my time,” Chester said. “But Ben McInnes is the only one who works at it. He thinks if he gets pleasure doin’ a thing, like deer huntin,’ it must mean it ain’t work. I blame that for the downfall of his marriage.”

The strangeness of that idea sank in as the men thought of walking all week through the brown hollows and biting wind to earn a chance at winter meat. Even now they listened to the north wind playing the stove pipe and remembered what work it was.

Several of Chester’s listeners nodded, but Joe Case, the oldest of them, shook his head. “It ain’t so much misery as stubbornness,” he said. “Ben cain’t see but one side of a thing, just like his Pa. So he don’t understand why she left and it makes him miserable. Somebody should do something about Ben.”

“I don’t believe Ben McInnes can see two sides to a flapjack,” was Walter Cope’s comment, and that got a laugh. Joe Case grinned too, but his mind was still on what Chester had said about his old friend.

“Stubborn!” he repeated. “And look what it’s got him. His wife Julie’s left and took their kid with her.”

“Small wonder about that,” said Walter wryly, “Ben wants a family operation like his Pa’s—just him, her and when he gets his size, Cody—doin’ it all, tradin’ big work with neighbors, maybe some day save up enough for two farms.”

“Somebody should do something about Ben,” said Joe again, but the late deer hunters weren’t listening. Enjoying the stove’s heat, it was easier to just think about how stubborn Ben McInnes was—alone in an empty house.

Russell Phelps, who hadn’t said a thing, pulled a bent cigarette from his pocket and rose to light it from a box of wooden matches by the stove. A tall wiry man whose wife taught school in town, Russell always thought before he spoke.

“My wife and Ben’s are friends,” he began slowly. “Julie told her before she left, she didn’t mind Ben’s stubborn ways when it was just the two of them against the odds.”

He sat back down to reach the ash pan and flick his ashes. “But when Cody was born, she began to see how Ben being mule-headed could affect a kid; how could he grow up curious and open minded if his daddy had all the answers? How could he try a thing his way, if his daddy knew the only right way? How could his opinion count in that house?”

“Or,” said Walter, dryly from his corn sack perch, “how could he have a cute, no account puppy for a pet when his daddy wouldn’t have nothing but working dogs?

“So you knew about that, too?” said Russell. “My wife says it was kind of the straw that busted the camel down. Julie, she grew up on a farm and loved it, but never had an animal of her own. It had to be useful or productive or sold to pay its way. She didn’t want Cody to grow up thinking everything in life has a market value. She’s got a point there.”
“Seems to me she’s thinkin’ kind of a long way off,” said Chester, to nobody in particular.

“That’s what I said about Christmas a month ago,” said Joe. “And now here it comes and I believe somebody should do something about Ben.” Joe Case, in his own way, was as stubborn as anybody.

The next day, Joe Case showed up at the town animal pound.

“I want a friendly pup, don’t matter what make,” he told the girl attendant, “long as it likes people and kids.”

“Well, most of our puppies have found homes,” she said. “It’s so near Christmas. But we have a young dog, you might want to adopt, I think it’s part Keeshond, one of those little Dutch dogs that likes everybody. They call them, ‘The smiling Dutchman.’”

“Nobody stubborn as the Dutch,” growled Joe. “Let’s look at him.”

They went back in the building past pens of barking, jumping dogs to a pen that held a small scruffy looking dog who got up politely to greet them. “His name is Bear,” offered the girl.
Bear had tiny feet, a great mane of sand colored hair and a bushy tail that curled up over his back. His black ears perked up and his black mouth opened in a grin of interest. He looked at Joe with soulful brown eyes, sizing him up.

“That is the sorriest looking dog I ever saw,” said Joe, and at the sound of his voice, the dog’s tail made a slow, tentative wag. “What’s one of these ‘Case-honds’ good for?”
“Just good company I guess,” said the girl. “Sort of a common ‘for better or worse, richer-poorer’ dog. Bear’s old owner died last week and he’s about lonesomed to death.”
“I believe he’ll do,” said Joe.

It was late afternoon, Christmas Eve, and definitely looking like snow when Joe Case pulled his pickup into Ben McInnes’s driveway. He let out Bear, who was wearing a new collar and leash. The collar, red, with showy rhinestones, was startling peering out of that ragged mane, but Joe didn’t care. It was almost Christmas, his mind was set and it was starting to snow again. The little dog looked around at this new place in the world and sniffed with interest.

Ben McInnes came to the door showing signs of the wear and tear of new bachelorhood. He had dark circles under his eyes and his grip trembled some as he shook hands with his old friend. There were no lights on, no tree up and the house looked as dark and forlorn as the man.

“You look like a hammered cow pie,” said Joe to open the conversation. “I brought a Christmas present for you to take to town and give Julie and Cody,” said Joe. “This here is Bear dog. His only job is that he loves people. So do you, so you should get along.”

Ben McInnes took the offered leash in a daze and looked down to see Bear sniffing his shoe. The dog raised his head to observe this new friend and they looked each other over. Bear wagged his curled banner of a tail and smiled, and Ben, despite himself, smiled back.

“Well, thanks Joe,” he began, and the dog ran out his tongue at the sound of his voice, smiling even more around it. “But, Julie and me, we got some big... we don’t agree…well she needed to be by herself to… Anyway, thanks, but I don’t think a dog can solve our…” His voice drifted away as he bent to brush a giant snowflake from the dog’s nose.
“Course he can’t,” snorted Joe who was on his way back to his truck to beat the snow home. “But even a muleheaded fool like you can see he’ll make a good reason to start someplace!”
Longtime Today’s Farmer contributor Mitch Jayne passed away earlier this year. We run this reprint from 2004 in his honor.

Today's Farmer stats

Written by Steve Fairchild on .


A tale of higher yield: 2010 land price

When manager of MFA’s precision agronomy services Rick Greene was studying yield trends from corn country in the heart of Missouri, he noticed a significant climb in the past decade or so. To get a handle on just how much yields had increased, Greene tapped into USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service county average numbers for Howard, Saline and Lafayette counties. Tracking corn yield, the numbers plot out to show a 40 percent increase over the past 15 years.

Of course, with crops so dependent on weather, the year-to-year data is more variable, but the composite data shows a clear trendline toward higher yield.

Greene explained the trends. “It’s an impressive increase,” he said. “And I think we’re all familiar with the storyline. We’re investing more in every bag of seed we plant. The genetic packages are better each year, and the yield trend shows it. If we’re doing our job at MFA’s Precision Systems, a good number of farmers are also making better decisions about how they fertilize. We’re getting the right nutrients in the right places at the right time.”

Still, once he’d seen the severity of the trend, Greene drafted the nearby chart to show that the target is moving. The climbing yield shows how helpful accurate yield data and soil sampling can be to keep fertility at the soil’s most productive levels.

“Fertility plans from 15 years ago probably no longer fit the reality of today’s production levels or the technology available to put nutrients where they do the most good,” said Greene.
“If you take the average corn yield from 1995 at 112 bushels per acre, your crop used 40 pounds of P205. In 2009, at 156 bushels of corn per acre, your crop removed 55 pounds of P205. So, you’re looking at a 15-pound increase of nutrient removal compared to 15 years ago just based on yield increases.”

Ag Outlook

Written by Nancy Jorgensen on .


Three experts outline what ag producers should expect for 2011



What do you project for crop profitability?

Westhoff: Unfavorable weather reduced production this year in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Uncertainty about the size of the U.S. corn crop also supported prices. Meanwhile, global grain and oilseed demand is strengthening, with rising use of livestock feed in China and other countries and growing biofuel production in this country. Crop prices and profitability grew higher than was expected earlier this year. How long this lasts depends on a wide range of factors, not the least of which is weather. Bumper crops around the world in 2011 could lead to sharply lower prices, while another crop shortfall could send prices even higher.
Duffy: Crop prices are up due to demand for wheat and prospects for a bit lower corn crop. 2011 profitability should be good, as production costs should remain essentially unchanged from a year ago.

Oldvader: The demand/supply curve is at work again. Limited stock carryover plus reduced domestic production multiplied by robust domestic and foreign demand equals bull markets for major crops. At this writing, USDA reduced corn yield projections by 2.5 bushels an acre. Multiply that by 81 million acres and you have a lot of corn. Soybeans should fare better on the production side with anticipated record yields. Export demand from China remains bullish. Crop margins will undoubtedly narrow—while prices may firm on a higher-than-normal plateau, input costs will erode profits. Most notably, energy costs will drive fertilizer prices up with seed costs following suit. Patent expirations, however, may spread the wealth in the chemical arena, keeping costs relatively stable.


What’s in store for livestock?

Westhoff: Livestock product prices generally increased in 2010, and profitability in the first seven months of the year improved over 2009 for most producers. Factors leading to higher livestock prices in 2010 included reduced meat production in response to 2009’s low returns, and more favorable demand here and around the world. However, the sharp recent increase in feed prices will negatively affect livestock producers in the months ahead.
Oldvader: The livestock industry responded admirably to high feed costs and reduced demand in 2008/2009. With the return of above-average feed costs, producers will again limit expansions and capital investments. Much depends on how much producers restored liquidity and equity over the past year. Livestock profitability will remain soft, yet better than in 2009. Enhanced domestic demand will not immediately solve the price issue. Stronger emerging world markets and a competitively valued dollar may minimize further challenges to our livestock industry. Approximately 40 percent of our crop production enters the livestock gates, making a healthy livestock industry vital to agricultural profitability.


What’s happening with farmland values?

Westhoff: USDA recently reported national average farmland values were about 1 percent higher on Jan. 1, 2010, than on Jan. 1, 2009. Recent reports suggest that average farmland prices continue to rise, but regions and counties vary. If strong crop prices and profitability continue and interest rates continue to be low, farmland values will likely increase. But the market remains sensitive to both good and bad news.

Oldvader: For more than 40 years, FCS Financial has tracked land values on 18 benchmark farms spanning our 102-county lending territory. In 2010, demand for high-quality cropland remains solid with an average increase of 3.65 percent compared to the previous year. On the other hand, we see soft demand for marginal cropland and pasture with an aggregate decrease of slightly more than 3 percent. Clearly, the market is beginning to discriminate based on projected returns, but no land is deflation-proof. Farmers are purchasing most high-end land, and a large number of sales are in cash. With low interest rates, minimal options for safe alternative investments and continued positive crop margins, productive land should support greater price and rental stability while marginal land prices remain volatile.

Duffy: Land values have stabilized after some drops in the past year. The weak economy is creating good demand for land, with higher-quality land showing the most strength. We aren’t seeing as many sales because people want to hold onto land.


How much are we in debt?

Oldvader: U.S. farm debt is estimated to decline approximately 4 percent in 2010 from $245 billion to $235 billion. Most of the decrease is in the non-real estate sector, reflecting reduced demand for operating credit as well as restraint on capital purchases. FCS Financial’s traditional producer portfolio remains relatively constant, while agribusiness volume has declined. We expect our overall loan volume to decline approximately 3 percent for 2010. USDA forecasts that net farm income will rise by approximately 25 percent for 2010, driven primarily by renewed livestock earnings. Farm foreclosures remain subdued locally and nationally. Agriculture remains strong, even during a period of severe economic challenge. Perhaps lessons from the past paid dividends for farmers and lenders. I anticipate increased lending activities for 2011, with no increase in foreclosures.

Duffy: I think the worst of the livestock problems are behind us. But some people are still in trouble. Farmers in areas with poor harvests will be especially vulnerable.


Can producers access credit?

Oldvader: Due to agriculture’s strength, most lenders have not retreated from financing producers, with some exceptions in major livestock expansions or start-up operations. Credit appears to be readily available for creditworthy borrowers. Less than stellar credits may require additional collateral or shorter loan maturities. The cost of money remains a bright spot. In September, the Federal Reserve noted that the anemic economic recovery would result in an extended period of low interest rates. Little will be done to adjust rates until the country experiences sustained increases in manufacturing, notable reductions in unemployment, and stability in the housing industry. These moons may not align for 12 to 18 months.

Duffy: Lender surveys show that credit is available. There may be some higher down payments but, for the most part, people with good credit ratings shouldn’t have trouble getting money.


Does the dollar still move exports?

Westhoff: The dollar remains an important factor, but it’s far from the only one. Agricultural export demand also depends on the weather and the strength of the global economic recovery. This year, the drop in grain production in Russia and neighboring countries creates an opportunity for increased U.S. exports of wheat and other crops. Likewise, continued growth in Chinese livestock production and feed demand creates a growing market for U.S. soybeans.

Oldvader: The supply/demand needs of our trading partners remain the biggest motivator. Most leading U.S. ag customers are doing well. That, plus a weakened dollar, continues demand that began in 2009 to supply major economies with grains and animal protein. At this writing, the dollar continues to weaken against currencies of major U.S. ag importers like China, Japan, and Canada. This erosion is based on speculation that the Federal Reserve may implement additional programs to stimulate the economy. Look for exports to continue to support farm prices, but be mindful that the dollar is not the sole premise driving exports. Trade barriers, vital sanitary standards, and market shocks such as H1N1 all create volatility.

Duffy: Trouble around the Caspian Sea area has limited the amount of wheat available in world markets, helping to move U.S. exports. Exports will be okay in 2011, but nothing spectacular. We are still trying to get out of this economic situation.


How can we manage risk?

Westhoff: Producers have a wide range of tools at their disposal. As we saw in 2008 and 2009, when there is a widespread economic downturn, it’s more difficult to manage downside risk. Diversification, for example, doesn’t do much good if everything moves lower. Farmers should prepare for continued market volatility. Federal budgetary pressures related to the next Farm Bill might affect the government’s farm safety net.

Oldvader: In this environment, a well-defined business plan becomes critical for success. The plan must include risk mitigation tools such as breakeven analysis to establish price and cost targets for marketing and purchasing. Crop insurance is essential.  It’s a good time to lock in interest rates for long-term assets such as land.

Duffy: Farmers should be aware of all available insurance tools and how best to use them. You should also understand futures and options alternatives available and take advantage of profit opportunities.

Will environmental legislation affect us?

Westhoff: It appears unlikely that cap and trade legislation will revive anytime soon. Whether and how EPA might regulate greenhouse gas emissions remains unclear, but this could have important implications for agriculture. Controversy will continue over how best to regulate everything from agricultural chemicals to egg production.

Oldvader: Cap and trade may lie dormant for some time. Congressional turnover, plus more pressing issues, might keep this one in hibernation. That does not mean all is quiet on the environmental front. Look for continued challenges related to EPA’s broader interpretations of the Clean Water Act. Additionally, attempted governmental oversight to control everything from atrazine to milk storage and spray drift to farm dust will challenge even the most patient farmers. To say nothing of animal welfare storm clouds looming on the horizon. Stay tuned.

Duffy: Farmers need to work with groups on different ways to manage runoff and leaching. The oil spill removed the hypoxia zone in the Gulf of Mexico from discussion, but this issue will resurface as things settle down.
Will the public support biofuel?
Westhoff: Important decisions will be made soon about whether higher-level ethanol blends will be available in the market and whether to extend biofuel tax credits and tariffs. As long as the renewable fuel standard continues to put a floor under biofuel use, the downside potential in biofuel markets is limited. The upside depends on policy and petroleum market developments.


What’s your top trend for 2011?

Westhoff: Over the last couple of years, the general economy’s impact on the farm economy has proven critical. If the worst of the recession is past, as many forecasters predict, we can get back to worrying about things like the weather.

Oldvader: Over my 39-year career, I have watched an expanding disconnect between the ag producer and consumer. Those of us in agriculture preach the value of our industry, but candidly, we usually preach to the choir. Equally concerning, few of the folks who promulgate laws and regulations governing our industry have a clue about agriculture’s impact on the economy. This issue will come to greater light as we incubate the 2012 Farm Bill. We’re doing a better job of communicating as an industry, but we have a herculean task of staying in tune with our audience.

Duffy: Food safety continues to be an important issue. If you are a new producer, or if you are struggling to find enough resources for a strictly commodity farm, you may find opportunities to capture extra income in the local food movement.


Give us your best piece of advice.

Westhoff: Continue to expect surprises. No one could have predicted everything that’s happened over the last five years. Be ready to take advantage of opportunities, but also be prepared for unpleasant news.

Oldvader: Develop a business plan as if you were preparing an initial public offering to attract investors. Ask your lender or Extension agent if they would buy stock in your business. This might help you see opportunities and challenges from a different perspective. In this volatile environment, the risks are great, but so are the rewards.

Duffy: If you are an older farmer, get plans in place for your future and the future of your farm. If you are a younger producer, look for options that won’t strap you with a lot of debt. If you are mid-career, be as efficient as possible. There are a lot of technologies out there, but make sure you can afford them. You should farm based on your resources, not on what you see other people doing.


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