At The Farm GateNo time to chill: Winter a season of evaluation
On the six-hour drive home, we jotted down action items to improve the family farm. The list added to the workload that had accumulated while away from the farm office for the better part of three days. But nothing seemed unattainable. We had just left a farm conference packed with a lineup of brilliant speakers and creative thinkers, the type who can re-ignite the motivation that the pandemic and its policies had temporarily siphoned from us.
Farm conferences and annual meetings return this winter at hotels and conference centers across the nation after a two-year hiatus. The face-to-face networking, the sharing of knowledge and the trips south to warmer locations rejuvenate souls in the agriculture industry this winter season, traditionally a time for self-evaluation on the farm. Farmers, perhaps, evaluate more this year than in recent ones. The pandemic has been the annoying rock in our boot and record-high costs a rockslide challenging our path to profitability.
Fertilizer prices have more than doubled in a year. Roundup prices are up 300%. And while anyone who drives can relate to the pain at the pump, imagine filling up a 300-gallon tank in a combine. Supply shortages and soaring input costs challenge farm families like ours everywhere this winter, prompting us to store herbicide like toilet paper in case of a shortage. Our breakeven spreadsheets evolve and include approximate costs on products that retailers can’t even price yet.
Thankfully, crop values are strong, and we take comfort in surrounding ourselves at these conferences with people who understand and possess the faith to persevere. The recent conference offered perspective on the future of food and farming and the anticipated disrupters in the marketplace. Expert panelists discussed biofuels, global protein demand, soil microbials and carbon. They shared dialogue on commodity and financial markets, supply chain issues, cryptocurrency, farmland values and consumer mindset about food. Between sessions we met with vendors of innovative farm products and further quizzed experts on the topics most impacting our family farm.
For decades, farm meetings and conferences have sparked the adoption of innovation on the farm, helping operations of all sizes attain the ideal of continuous improvement. At these places, we discover new solutions to complex problems and make choices to advance methods for growing crops and raising animals. That said, the winter season provides limited time to chill.
About the author: Joanie Stiers farms with her family in West-Central Illinois, where they grow corn, soybeans, wheat, hay and cover crops and raise beef cattle, backyard chickens and a crop of farm kids.