After a casual conversation, I quickly realized I was in the company of men and women who were progressive thinkers, managers and business owners. And I was definitely not the smartest person in the room.
I had the opportunity to meet with a group of farmers and ranchers from across the country representing commodities such as field peas, oranges, cattle, hogs and everything in between. Despite their differences, there were a lot of similarities among the group.
They all face challenges and find unique ways to overcome them. Here are a few tidbits I gleaned from conversations:
1. Labor. Finding skilled labor is difficult. They search local, but often find help internationally. Farmers using the H2A visa program are sourcing skilled labor from countries such as South African and the Ukraine. There is a vetting process. It is extensive, but worth it.
My take: If you use this government program, talk to others who do as well. They may save you time weeding out the candidates and find the right person, from the right country, to do the job on your farm.
2. Risk. Spreading risk means diversification. It is not what you may think. These farmers are doing more than deciding to grow edible beans in the mix — they are truly expanding their operations. You have crop farmers investing in livestock facilities; farmers who grow corn and soybeans while renting ground for solar panels; and famers who custom harvest and own trucking companies.
My take: Diversification is about spreading the risk across a number of sectors, some in agriculture but others not. Look for opportunities, and don’t be afraid to give it a try.
3. New crops. Industrial hemp: It was in the 2018 Farm Bill and is a hot topic among farmers. Farmers posed question after question on the crop’s viability. Growers from the west shared problems regarding planting, harvesting and financing. They said it is not as simple as it is made out to be, yet they admit there is money to be made, especially producing hemp seed.
My take: Use caution. Educate yourself on federal, state and county regulation before planting any acres. Honestly, your first conversation should be with your banker.
4. Expansion. Every person in the room said they would add more acres tomorrow if it became available. These farmers are watching the shift in the ag economy to see where and when other farmers may exit the industry. Then they are setting themselves up to buy.
My take: Make plans for expansion in a down ag economy. That way, when the time comes you are ready to bid on that ground to rent or own. Then diversify.
Farmers and ranchers never cease to amaze me. Their minds are focused on concepts of science, engineering, technology and marketing. They make thousands of decisions daily on how to move their operation forward while making it sustainable for the next generation.
I now realize it is okay to not be the smartest person in the room. I want farmers and ranchers producing the food, clothing, shelter and fuel I rely on because they are the most intelligent in their field.