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Corn+Soybean Digest

Is American Agriculture A Dying Commodity?

The Road Warrior of Agriculture

This week I am in San Antonio, TX, Ames, IA, and Syracuse, NY. I am doing something different this week to energize my column. Recently my Agricultural Management and Problem Solving class took a field trip to visit agribusinesses and farms. They had to write an article based upon their experiences.

I chose Matt Findley’s article for this week’s column. Matt played football for Virginia Tech with Michael Vick. A knee injury shortened his football career, but not his enthusiasm for agriculture and life. Matt will give you something to think about based upon his observations.

Is American Agriculture A Dying Commodity?

By Matt Findley

In this time of economic recession, it seems as though the little man is always the first to pay. The economy seems that it is only getting worse every time you look at the stock market. Citizens from Wall Street to little towns are feeling the squeeze. These days you hear about farmers all over the country, big and small, having to sell the farm because they cannot make payments or just not compete with the "big boys". A major problem facing American farmers is not necessarily the economy or the "big boys" but the threat of urban sprawl.

On a weekend in February, the Virginia Tech Agricultural Management and Problem Solving class went on a field trip to see how the farms in America have adapted to the ever-changing agricultural industry. The ones we visited seemed to have been able to adapt. Here are a few examples. The very first farm we visited was a great example of diversification. Deep in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley was a 600-acre farm that had been in the family since the 1770s. This farm had a dairy on one side, a trout farm down the road, and a timber operation on a nearby ridge. A few years ago they decided to take advantage of their natural spring and build a trout raceway. Though they found it hard to get into the business of trout farming and have been in some tight spots, they have been able to prevail because of their diversification into other products. The trout farm now brings in a sustainable amount of money but the owners were smart by leaning on the other two industries to offset the cost of the loss during hard times. While building the trout raceways they went ahead and ran irrigation to their other fields for their cows.

The John Deere dealership was another place the class visited. The dealership talked to us about how John Deere is making it difficult for them to have inventory on the lot for larger farm equipment. So they naturally had to diversify and they did this by opening their doors on Saturdays, not to farmers, but to home gardeners. They opened their line up to lawn mowers and other home equipment. They also hired new staff that is more knowledgeable in the service department. With this expansion, they opened up their customer base and also had to start providing new services like a mobile mechanic that can drive to customer’s homes and provide them services on their John Deere product.

A perfect example of a farm that is truly adapting to the urbanization of rural areas was one operated by a 1985 Virginia Tech graduate. The husband and wife are simply providing a service to several farming industries. They built a barn that is rented and exclusively used for training cutting horses. This service is rented out to very distinguished businessmen. They send their horses here so they can learn to "cut" cattle. They also provide many other services such as renting out a dairy farm, all of their fields for crops, and have even developed a hunting preserve. The only thing they actually own are the buildings and the cattle.

Farmers need to realize that the times of the past are exactly that, the past. The future is here and it is coming to Darwin’s saying of "survival of the fittest". Farmers have to adapt to the new world. Some have; some haven’t; but in the ever-changing face of agriculture, all will have to adapt.

My e-mail address is:

[email protected]

Editors' note: Dave Kohl, Soybean Digest Trends Editor, is an ag economist at Virginia Tech. He recently completed a sabbatical working with the Royal Bank of Canada. He is now back at Virginia Tech with his academic appointment, which is teaching, extension, and applied research.

To see Dave Kohl's previous road warrior adventures type Dave Kohl in the Search blank at the top of the page.

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