Magnitude, risk define modern farm

Russ Mauch, Mooreton, N.D., past president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association, says it is no great mystery why the urban public has a complete lack of understanding of the life and challenges of a farmer.

“It can be summed up in two words,” he says. “Magnitude and risk.

When the urban public hears about soaring grain prices, or the amount of money an acre of farmland might be worth, or news reports about the gross revenue that a given farmer expects after a successful harvest, “they automatically think that, given the numbers they’re hearing, we’re all filthy rich,” he says. “But that’s very often far from the truth.”

That’s the issue of “magnitude.”

“Most people are not accustomed to hearing about expenses in the size that farmers see on a daily basis,” he says.

Mauch, who farms 8,000 acres of corn, soybeans and sugarbeets, says his fertilizer bill for this year was $800,000; his crop insurance was close to $200,000 and his diesel fuel will be over $400,000.

“Those are numbers that, frankly, are incomprehensible to many people,” he says. “Who ever has to deal with utility bills like that?”

The other issue is risk.

“What the public does not understand is all of the risks we take that are out of our hands,” he says.

Risks include wind, torrential rains and heavy flooding, tornadoes, insects, wildlife, interest rates, volatile crop prices, corn getting moldy and sugarbeet piles that rot in the fields from a sudden warm-up. All of these, he explains, are out of a farmer’s control, but at least they’re local. Other risks are out of control and global, like trade, prices and interest rates.

“Most people face maybe one or two of these risks at their current jobs,” he says. “Farmers face all of them.”

The years 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2011 were Mauch’s worst financially, he says. He has farmed since 1981. But 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010 were his best years. “Try planning for something like that!” he says.

Mauch manages risk with crop insurance. He contends that the government needs to stay involved in crop insurance because while it protects farmers and increases marketing options, it also protects the security, availability and affordability of a healthy, wholesome food supply.

“The government’s main role is to provide a floor for farmers should a disaster occur, which it does each and every year, someplace in the U.S.,” he says.

Ray writes for North Bridge Communications. This article was excerpted with permission from Crop Insurance TODAY. To see the complete article, visit www.cropinsuranceinamerica.com.

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INSIGHT: Russell Mauch, former American Sugarbeet Growers Association president, explains why he thinks urban neighbors don’t understand farming.

This article published in the October, 2012 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.