In mid-October I attended my second Rural Economic Outlook Conference on the beautiful Oklahoma State University campus at Stillwater. I listened to many people, from the feds to economists to the USDA, talk about the agricultural economy.
Words like downturn, depressed, flat, soft, weak — and even suicide — peppered the discussions, along with phrases such as low commodity prices, over-production, rising input costs, retaliatory trade tariffs, and increasing interest rates. Terminology that basically said what we all know: the ag economy is struggling. It’s all hard to hear, even harder if you are living it.
But just like the coach who delivers a powerful halftime-speech when his team is down, Dr. Kim Anderson, OSU agricultural economics professor emeritus and frequent Farm Press columnist, stood up and gave a room full of economists, producers, lenders, professors, graduate students (and this writer and farmer’s wife) a pep talk.
He began by reminding us that this isn’t our first rodeo, that we don’t know when we’ll get out of this — but we will. “We always do,” he said. “We don’t have a choice.” He told us that as he was walking across campus that morning to the conference he ran into one of his students, and was reminded of a conversation he’d previously had with him.
The student is Preston Weigel, a 197-pound, two-time Big 12 champion wrestler from Russell, Kansas. Weigel started nine duals for the Cowboys, according to the OSU wrestling roster, going 8-1 and scoring 28 points. Six of his 11 wins came over ranked opponents. He defeated eventual national champion Mike Macchiavello of NC State, 5-4. And if it hadn’t been for injuries, Anderson believes he would have gone on to win the national championship.
See Photo Gallery, State of economy described as mixed bag, ag sector struggling
Chatting about his wrestling accomplishments, Anderson once asked Weigel, “What are you good at?” And Weigel told him, “I’m best on top. If I can get on top, I can ride my opponent forever.”
Anderson then asked, “Where are you the worst?” To which Weigel replied: “On the bottom.” Anderson pressed in: “Well, how do you handle that?” And the 2014 high school USA Wrestling Nationals winner replied, “When I'm on the bottom, I just have to tell myself: ‘Don’t panic. Just get on top. Don't panic. Find a way to get on top.’” And that’s what he does.
Looking out over the conference crowd, Anderson said: “If you’re a lender working with producers, or if you're a producer and you're feeling the pain, just don't panic. We’ve faced this before and stayed on top. We’ll do it again.”
No one knows what the future holds. And there’s no simple answer. But what we do know is that America’s farmers and ranchers are fighters; they’re people of great endurance, incredible intelligence, resourcefulness — and faith.
So, as we in agriculture wrestle with today’s many problems, let’s not panic. Let’s work to get on top, so we can ride our opponent forever.