Sometimes, you just get the feeling you're snakebit, the farmer at my conference dinner table was saying. “It's not bad enough there's no money in farming these days, but the duck hunting this winter has been terrible.”
The relatively warm winter up north is, he thinks, the chief culprit. With much less than the usual snow and ice there, ducks just haven't migrated to the Mississippi Delta in their “normal” numbers.
His concern, though, wasn't altogether a lament for personal hunting opportunities thwarted. He's also lost income from hunters who'd otherwise have been heading to his farm to pay him for the opportunity to shoot ducks.
“We've been doing this for several years, now,” he says, “and each year the business has increased. They've come from all over — Florida, the Carolinas, Minnesota.”
So how, I asked, with all the places to hunt in the United States, did you go about attracting people to come to the Delta and give you money to shoot at ducks?
“The Internet,” he replied. “I originally spent money on a bunch of flyers for direct mail — most of which I still have — but when I put up a Website, the business started coming in. And a lot of that turned into repeat business and word-of-mouth to other hunters.”
A testimonial to technology… until the warm northern winter threw him a curve ball. Soybeans and cotton aren't the only things at the mercy of the weather gods.
More and more farmers have, in recent years, discovered that they can generate extra bucks by commercializing something they like to do themselves: hunting and fishing.
As with farming, it takes planning and management, as well as promotion, to give the paying hunters what they want and keep them coming back, whether for deer, quail, ducks, or whatever.
(There was also some reparteé at our table about ducks being attracted to fields where sweet potatoes had been planted, details of which were somewhat unclear, though there was speculation that it might involve fermentation of the rotting potatoes, resulting in a gigantic avian happy hour. Sounds like an interesting research project.)
The dearth of ducks aside, many of the farmers attending the National Conservation Tillage Cotton and Rice Conference at Robinsonville, Miss., were voicing the same concern I've heard at other meetings this year about the shaky ground that U.S. agriculture seems to be on nowadays.
With oversupply, stagnant demand, and a less-than-level playing field in the new era of world markets, they are painfully aware that had it not been for government bailouts for agriculture, a lot of 'em would see their operations on the auction block.
They also know all too well that what the government giveth, the government can take away, and that the ultimate success of any business depends on selling one's goods at a profit.
There is a growing fear in Agriculture USA that more and more crop production will be foreign and that this country is in danger of losing a major component of its security and economic well-being.