Three States, Two Panels, One Flu

My Generation

Farmers in separate states, on separate panels, agree: successful farm transitions will better position young farmers for the next era of low prices.

Published on: January 26, 2014

I had every intention of blogging last week. I had a plethora of information from AFBF to share, and mentioned as much when I last blogged…um, almost two weeks ago.

Then, sickness. Which really messes with your plans. Also, snow days.

To recap, I made it home from AFBF in Texas with something resembling respiratory flu. I got some drugs (yay, drugs!) and I left again the next weekend to speak at the South Dakota Young Farmers & Ranchers conference (sidenote: they are the nicest people). Then I came home and we had the MLK holiday plus two snow/cold days out of school. Seriously. And as I type this, the wind is blowing 40 mph outside and school has been called off for Monday due to the subzero temperatures. Again. Seriously. At this rate, the kids are going to be in school until July.

It could be one of those call-and-response kinds of cheers: "Whos tired of frozen waterers?" "WE ARE! WE ARE!"
It could be one of those call-and-response kinds of cheers: "Who's tired of frozen waterers?" "WE ARE! WE ARE!"

And speaking of weather, who is tired of this? Show of hands? Anyone else tired of fighting frozen waterers? The whole polar vortex thing was a bit of a novelty the first time around, but last week's frigid temps, and now this week's frigid temps, are really making us all a little grouchy. The fun has most certainly worn off, and that is a broad use of the word fun. Emily Webel reports her husband walked in the door last week and said/yelled something along the lines of, "I am a pretty laid back guy but this is ridiculous!" I think that pretty well sums it up. (And in other news, we were at Emily's to record another podcast! Coming soon.)

In the meantime, I shared this story from Iowa farmer Craig Hill, as he told it during a panel discussion at AFBF. The panel featured four state Farm Bureau presidents, all accomplished and experienced farmers, who recounted their experiences during the 1980s farm crisis. Then I got to sit on a panel during the South Dakota Young Farmers & Ranchers conference that featured two ranchers who have transitioned their operations to their sons, plus an accountant, a lawyer, a banker and me. I'm still not sure where I fit in, but I had some great company.

The topic in South Dakota was more about transitions than farm crisis, but a similarity stood out: during the AFBF panel, Georgia farmer Zippy Duvall spoke eloquently about how his dad creatively transitioned the farm to him; he didn't "give" him anything. He set it up so his son had to buy it all, but he also let him pay just interest in those months when Zippy didn't have the money, period, and when interest rates alone were through the roof. Because of the way his dad set it up, he was still paying off the farm and was forced to be conservative. That tactic – and some leniency from his dad when the financial situation become extreme – carried him through the '80s. Plus a lot of hard work; Zippy told how he added 50 cows or another chicken building every time his wife had another baby. Eventually he said, "I can't do any more! We've gotta stop having babies!"

In South Dakota, the emphasis was also on successful transition, but as a means for helping the younger generation through this next period of low prices. Larry Klumb, Ethan, South Dakota, transitioned his operation to his sons over the past several years. Where they once worked for him, now he works for them. He retains a salary each year, but it will flex with the crop/cattle year. And his sons and their families are better positioned for success because they are in control of the operation, while Larry is still on hand for advice and labor. And Larry loves it; he still gets to run a tractor and play with cows but he doesn't carry the heavy management responsibility any longer. Each year, they also analyze the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) of their operation, often dividing up: the men do their assessment and the wives do theirs. That's a fascinating idea.

At the end of the South Dakota panel, the moderator asked us each to share a couple practical pieces of advice for young farmers in their business. The panelists offered up some good stuff: keep better records than you ever have, let your banker be your best friend, dial back family living expenses. Larry pointed to his wife in the crowd and said, "You'd better let her be your best friend, and make sure she knows everything so you can make decisions together."

Are you noticing a theme here, too?