By Duane Dailey & Jerilyn Johnson
Find good advisers. That was one of several helpful tips Master Farmers shared at the Missouri Young Farmers/Young Farm Wives Association Convention, Feb. 6-7, at Lake Ozark.
Advisers can include a good spouse, educators, a reliable banker and trusted investor in the futures market. Farmers must be lifelong learners and willing to adapt to changing markets and new technology.
These points and more were offered by the four new Missouri Master Farmers during an educational roundtable on Feb. 7. The 90-minute session was a wide-ranging conversation between the Master Farmers, a panel of young farmers and the audience. Serving as roundtable moderator was Ron Plain, University of Missouri agricultural economist.
The panelists included 2009-2010 Master Farmers Richard Oswald, Langdon, who raises specialty crops such as white corn and seed soybeans; Brent Sandidge, Marshall, who raises hogs; Denis Turner, Hartville, who raises dairy replacement heifers on grass; and Bill Cook, Garden City, who exports identity-preserved soybeans. They were selected for the honor by Missouri Ruralist magazine and University of Missouri Extension. FCS Financial is a gold sponsor of the program.
The roundtable was kicked off by questions provided by young farmer panelists Jacob Bachman, Perryville; Adam Dorham, Sweet Springs; and Seth Wilbanks, LaMonte. All three are pursing careers in production agriculture and are active members of the Missouri Young Farmers Association.
Master Farmer Richard Oswald has a photograph of his father as a young man in a straw hat driving mules. “Before he died, he drove tractors with air-conditioned cabs. Now I sit in a tractor guided by GPS while I surf the Web on my Blackberry.”
Other panelists shared similar stories, as all began farming with help from parents.
In response to the question, “How do you survive in times of volatile commodity prices?” Sandidge said his father built the farm with hard work. Now farmers have to use their brains more and be financial experts. “We sold hogs on an open market; now we hedge hog prices to reduce risks.”
Master Farmer Bill Cook said farmers must learn the futures market. “Get a trusted adviser. The futures can eat you up, calling for margin checks every day on a crop you haven’t even planted yet.” Cook advised farmers to avoid futures contracts with buy and sell options to protect prices from ups and downs.
Turner said he raises dairy heifers for other farmers on contracts that specify the price. The challenge becomes controlling production costs. He substitutes quality forages for expensive feed grains.
How does a young farmer get started? To this important question, Master Farmer panelists advised looking first to parents and extended family, but don't stop there. Cook pointed out that older farmers need young partners. “If you have farming skills, you are a valuable commodity,” he said.
Sandidge added that young people must learn financial management. “At today’s costs, you’ll spend more money than you ever imagined. You must learn budgets. If you can’t manage your personal finances, you can’t manage a business,” he said.
Still, it’s not all economics, Cook pointed out. Good farmers must know the values, character and attitude needed to be a farmer. “Attitude is your choice,” he added. “You must understand that your greatest value is yourself and your family. You must make good choices.”
All panelists gave examples of how educators help them in their business. “I bug the specialists down at the university all of the time,” Sandidge said.
Seeking new class
Know a candidate for the next class of Missouri Master Farmers? Nominations are encouraged. More information on the Master Farmer Award program and an application form are available on this Web site under the Missouri Ruralist Tools, “Master Farmer” tab. Applications are also available at MU Extension offices across the state.
Application deadline is Aug. 1, 2010.