Looking back to look forward

A few weeks ago, the 1979 graduating class from Blair Oaks High gathered for a reunion. Yes, I was a proud member of that class. It was great to connect with friends I have not seen for many years.

Looking through the memory book, I came across our class motto:

  • • The past is a remembrance.
  • • The present is a decision.
  • • The future is a dream to live for.

Those words have stronger mean­ing to me now than they did 40 years ago. Could it be I didn’t really know it all back then?

Experience is a great teacher, and I now understand that our attitudes toward the past, present and future significantly impact our success. When it comes to an industry as cyclical as agriculture, we must use the past to shape our present deci­sions to position us for the future. In those terms, let’s look at the ag landscape.

The Past

The Golden Years of Agriculture (2010 to 2014) and the record earnings for most everyone involved are a distant scene in our rearview mirror. All of us recognized these years as a high point in the ag cycle.

What we didn’t realize, nor could we predict, is how severely outside influences would reshape the agri­cultural outlook. This past year, the weather smacked producers with drought, too much rain, extremely cold weather, and too much rain again. The rain led to catastrophic flooding in river bottoms as well as a record increase in prevented-plant­ing acres for the 2019 crop year.

The weather was another blow to an ag economy already suffering from trade uncertainties.

The Present

Cooperatives in general, and MFA specifically, take pride in the fact that we are all in this together. Cooperatives operate for the mu­tual benefit of their members. This mutual benefit includes being a voice in the decisions that impact members.

In late June, I joined seven members of MFA Incorporated’s Board of Directors on our annual legislative trip to Washington, D.C. This trip provides an opportunity to meet face-to-face with members of congress who shape policies that impact agriculture. Our team seeks to visit with U.S. representatives and senators who serve MFA’s geogra­phy. Our team also visited influ­ential leaders in non-ag states this year. Key issues discussed included:

  1. Missouri River flood control: Sen. Hawley and Rep. Graves both sponsored legislation to increase the voice of farmers and communities in the management of the Missouri River. From our perspective, flood control must be a higher priority.
  2. Fair and free trade: Commerce with our major trading partners continues to be impacted by the lack of formal agreements. New trade agreements would provide tremendous opportuni­ties and boost agriculture. The USMCA (United States-Mexi­co-Canada Agreement) should be beneficial to all three coun­tries. However, the U.S. House of Representatives is blocking approval. The ongoing tariff battle with China has greatly reduced agriculture exports. This, too, is progressing slowly. Absent our participation in the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), bilateral agreements with other trading partners would provide needed exports—particularly with Japan.
  3. Crop insurance programs: The importance of crop insurance and disaster aid in times like this is vitally important to producers.
  4. Transportation and infrastruc­ture: These issues continue to hinder our ability to move production. Upgrades need to be made now to roads, bridges, locks and dams.
  5. Implementation of the revised Waters of the U.S. ruling: At MFA, we understand the chal­lenges you face. We are working to push resolution to policies that will reduce uncertainty in your operations.

The Future

George Washington once said, “Ag­riculture is the most healthful, most useful and most noble employment of man.” In my opinion, that will never change. What will change is our approach to farming and how innovation, technology, data management and stewardship will impact operations. It’s an exciting time. We all have the opportunity to do what we love—produce food, fiber and fuel.

In high school, I drove a 1971 Chevy Caprice. Not an exciting car but one worthy of a closing thought. It had a big windshield and a tiny rearview mirror. The windshield should be larger than the rearview mirror because what has happened in your past is not nearly as important as what is in your future. It’s a reminder of the importance of our present task.

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