“Farming is a profession of hope.”
This is a popular quote that often makes the rounds on social media sites about farming and agriculture. It makes sense. Farmers plant a seed and hope that it will grow into a mature, healthy plant bearing fruit. We help that plant along as much as possible, but the idea that the little seed will turn into something profitable is largely based on hope. Therefore, the basis of agriculture is, essentially, hope.
Now that we have reached the end of the year and harvest is over, we see whether that hope has come to fruition. Unfortunately, for so many farmers in the United States right now, that hope is dimming. We see our farming neighbors and friends in real financial trouble, and we are also feeling it in our own homes.
There is no hiding the fact that the farm economy is in the dumpster right now. Farm incomes have declined in 2015, and they are expected to also decline in 2016. Grain prices are severely depressed and have been for several years now. Dairy farmers in particular are hurting from low prices. About 20 percent of long-term farm loans will come due in the beginning of 2017, and many of those farms are not running on a profitable basis. Regardless of what the United States Department of Agriculture continues to tell us, farmers are hurting right now in our country.
In our case, many of our fields are running at the cost of production. That means the cost of what it takes to get that seed to turn into a crop is about the same as the dollars we’re getting out of the crop. To make matters worse, we had drought throughout the summer that severely impacted our yields. Of course, like other farmers we are also facing the third year in a row of stupidly low corn and soybean prices. Unfortunately, all those factors make staying in business a difficult thing.
Aside from the economy, we still face the same personal issues that other families face. Our family farm was hit with several unfortunate incidents. Dad broke his neck in an off-farm accident just as we were about to start planting. That meant my brother had to pick up a lot of extra work that dad usually does, while dad sat frustrated on the sidelines. Mom and dad both had surgery over the summer and incurred high medical bills as a result. We even lost our farm dog.
With all of this going on, it can be hard to figure out how “hope” has anything to do with farming.
But farm families are resilient. Not all of them remain farmers after difficult times, nasty turns in the economy, or a bad year. Yet the reason we have a strong tradition of multi-generational family farms in this country is because we’re pretty tough. We can face hard times with courage, we stick together, and we find ways to adapt. No, not all of us will still be on the farm in a couple years, but we are nonetheless capable of strapping up our boots and doing what we have to do to survive.
Take heart — this economic downturn won’t last forever. It never does. These things are cyclical and there will be a turnaround. One way or another, we will get through it. Instead, spend these last days of 2016 focusing on the things that matter in life, like the ones we love. Remember those aspects of agriculture that make farming a passion and a true calling, not just a job.
Then let’s celebrate the heck out of kicking 2016 to the curb.
Here’s wishing you and your family a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!