Dear Charles,

In Sunday’s Reading Journal I mentioned that Julie and I could only even attempt to farm because I have an established career off-farm. I am my own financial backing. I know next-to nothing about marketing, herd management, and grass management. Farming is so much harder than it looks in a book. But we are learning. We are living on-campus and paying for our education. My off-campus job requires me to sit at a desk in the air conditioning for hours on end, 5 days each week solving challenging tech puzzles with people I consider friends. I suppose there are things I could have done to accelerate our farm’s earnings but I’m OK with moving slowly…adapting my lifestyle as I learn.

But I almost missed it.

I got tired of tech. Long, late nights and listening to morning radio as I returned home for 2 hours of sleep then back to it again. On-call rotations working with remote technicians in remote places. No sunlight. Cubicle hell. Low pay.

But I enjoyed woodworking. I made bookshelves, a hutch for our kitchen, beds for my kids, crown molding…I wanted to work in a wood shop. Surely that would be better than working in a data center for another minute.

I met a man who owned a cabinetry shop nearby. He spent quite a bit of time with me on a Tuesday evening and was probably late for dinner. He said he could tell by the sound his equipment made whether or not the employee was running the machine at capacity. He explained to me that he would be happy to hire me but he hoped I would reconsider. I would be better off, he said, to stick it out and apply myself in my career. In time it would bear fruit.

That was 2003. I would like to thank Charles for his advice.

Dear Charles,

You were right. I will never know what could have been and I don’t care. I have no regrets (about that decision anyway). I continue to do a little woodworking as a hobby but stayed the course in my career. And, surprisingly, I’m not unhappy.

Some of this is because I have simply decided to be happy where I am. …to grow where I am planted. But some of it is maturity. I live in a dream world…on my family farm with my wife and children, next to my parents. I don’t think this could have happened if I had given up on my career.

At what I feel was a critical point in my life, you gave me the push I needed. I stuck it out. I studied. I worked. I did what you said I should.

And, at least to this point, I am winning.

Thanks for the help.

Chris Jordan

My job can’t make me happy. Neither can my farm. I have to make me happy. Most of that is a simple decision.

Will I ever farm full-time? I think so. But I can’t make that leap immediately. I have a lot of learning and growing to do. Biological processes take time.

But wait! There’s more.

It is true that Julie and I are only here because I have a job. But Julie and I are also only here because Julie doesn’t have an off-farm job. If you ever want to make me angry ask, “Chris, does your wife work or does she stay home?”

Julie does more before 9 am than most Army folks do all day. Julie makes everything work. Chris is just a worker. Just like his job, Chris has to wake up every morning and make a decision to continue in his relationship with Julie. Chris has to make decisions to keep strengthening bonds and support, encourage and enable her in her work. I choose how I feel about Julie. And I choose to love her. Every day.

I could continue listing factors that make living here possible but that has nothing to do with Charles. Today I was thinking about Charles.

Advertisements

Meet Them Where They Are

Kari has been asking for a post about marketing. I have to do this two ways and both are more conceptual than concrete. (I may offer more concrete examples another time but I think that subject is already saturated.) First we’ll discuss Marketing for Business then Marketing for Sustainability. You’ll see how those two ideas differ as we go but there is one thing in common: You have to meet your customers where they are.

Marketing for Business

Customers won’t come find you. They won’t magically appear at your farm gate and they won’t make immediate and radical changes to their buying habits. It seems easier to convince someone to change religions than to convince them to change diets. You have to find them where they are. Offer them something that looks like their concept of food but is superior in every way.

But sometimes…just sometimes…someone will go through some sort of crisis. They may join a gym or read a book about Paleo or something and suddenly they have stopped buying donuts. With all that disposable income and the encouragement of their newfound literature and peer support groups they will begin to ask, “Where can I buy a whole chicken and what do I do with it? What is a deep freezer? How do I cook with an oven?” They will ask friends at they gym, friends at work, friends at church. Somebody knows somebody. That somebody may know you. And that’s the best way…word of mouth. But you have to start somewhere. I have gotten years of business from customers and, later, their friends by initially giving away a single dozen eggs. There are times when we are swamped with eggs and we don’t know what to do with them all. So we give eggs away. At this point we throw a free dozen into a customer’s order if they will promise to pass a second free dozen to a friend. That normally results in a new customer…if you have dotted your i’s.

I don't know who took this picture. No idea. I just know the orange eggs are mine.

I don’t know who took this picture. No idea. I just know the orange eggs are mine.

How do you dot the i in an egg? People don’t talk about ordinary products. Ordinary products are just too ordinary. You have to bring the WOW! to get word of mouth. Soon you’ll see pictures of your food on FB or Instagram. Customers will text you pictures of your eggs frying next to “Free-Range, Organic Brown eggs from the store” and will express wonder at how pale the competitor’s egg is. But the truth is that store egg is not your competition. In fact you don’t have competition. If those are eggs then you produce something else. Same with chicken. Same with pork. Same with beef. That product you have is so superior to what people are used to…it’s like you are producing something else. Not a commodity, real food. Real quality. And people will talk about it.

Three years ago our van was stolen (and 5 dozen eggs in a nice small cooler!). I searched for its replacement on CraigsList. We took the whole family on the test drive with the owner. As I merged on to Lindbergh he said, “So…what do you do?”

“I am a computer guy. But we have a farm and raise chickens, turkeys, goats and pigs on pasture.”

Fast forward a few minutes.

“Chris, that was the most interesting test drive I have ever been on. I’m sold. How can I buy your product?”

Turns out he is a foodie.

Three years later he is still buying from us. He has given eggs to friends, neighbors and co-workers. He buys and smokes chickens and turkeys. He makes soup with our spent layers. He buys pigs and splits them with neighbors. He builds my customer base every time he changes jobs. We can count on him to spread the word. In a way, he is a partner in our growing business and has become a friend. And he’s not the only enthusiastic customer we have.

Several times he has pulled me aside and said, “Chris, I bought a chicken from X or from Y but they aren’t the same.” Heck, he continues to buy our eggs even though he belongs to a CSA that includes eggs. He says ours are better.

So, it’s all about the quality.

But if it’s all about quality it is also all about the price. Keep in mind there are alternatives on the market and remember cost has nothing to do with price. Cost is important to you, the producer. Prices are set by the market. Customers have price expectations. They expect to pay more for quality but you can’t be too far out of line. Consumers are price sensitive and allowing for that puts you in position to meet them where they are…to at least get within waving distance.

That said, there is a theory that if you’re having trouble moving product you should raise your prices. If nothing else the higher price gives your product a psychological advantage. Also, I can tell you from experience, customers are thankful when you lower prices and hateful when you raise them. Try to start at the high end of what the market will bear. We started too low (cause we didn’t add up our costs and allow a margin).

We make quality products and charge what customers indicate are reasonable prices. We rely on word of mouth and give out free samples in times of surplus. If you can do that while operating efficiently your business will grow. That’s all there is to it. Give away a few eggs to get the door open. Then sell a chicken to get your foot in the door. Then, before you know it, you are in the kitchen and, later, selling beef, pork, lamb and chicken to the whole neighborhood.

As long as you can keep up with the workload.

Marketing for Sustainability

What will happen to the farm when I’m gone? My labor? My dreams? My herds and flocks, the trees I planted…who will care for them? Who will continue the work here? I fear the vision is becoming hazy. Where I used to feel invincible I am often intimidated by the staggering amount of work ahead of me. Our dream (a dream I have in common with my ancestors) needs an injection of fresh blood. Youth. Energy! I am a steward, not an owner. I await the next steward.

Stacking

We will never be sustainable unless new generations stand up and take the reins at regular intervals. That takes serious marketing success or they will all move away. The farm will be sold and, worse, spent. I need my children to buy into the dream, to share our vision and to move things forward. So let’s share some vision.

You know what I want? I want to spread manure on the pastures to build up future fertility so we have more nutritious, more drought-resistant forages, healthier cows that breed back every year and a beautiful place to spend our lives together. I want birds and ponds and fish and frogs and snakes and ducks. I want blueberries and gooseberries and raspberries and dewberries and strawberries. I want hazelnuts and walnuts and hickory nuts. I want cows and pigs and chickens and foxes and raccoons…well, maybe not raccoons. I want painted buildings in good repair full of feed and bedding. I want a beautiful, welcoming farm that family and friends can visit to feel refreshed. I want an efficient, smaller home with an open floor plan that is easy to heat, easy to cool, easy to clean and comfortable to entertain in and I want the house filled with our children and their children and laughter and games and food and lots and lots and lots of books.

How do I get there?

I go where my customers are now. I meet their needs where they are. Right now.

My kids are playing Minecraft right now. Even if they aren’t actually playing the game I promise at least two of them are sitting with graph paper and designing the castles they will build next time they can play. The others are reading library books either on the couch near the fire or on the couch in the front room near the electric heater. What books? I don’t know. They read so fast it’s almost impossible for me to even keep track…but I still try. My two older kids usually read at least a book each day (the library limits us to 70 books at a time…per card, BTW).

So that’s where my sustainability customers are.

Now, I could leave my kids there. They would be entertained, I could get some work done…or do some reading…or take a nap. But did Julie and I have kids so we could keep the computer busy all day? They aren’t an accidental by-product of recreational activity! No. We had kids because WE WANTED KIDS!

We wanted to be asked “Why?” questions and we wanted to clean up messes and we wanted to spend decades growing with and learning about them. What are they like? Who are they on the inside? What do they like to eat? What are they interested in doing?

You know what they are interested in doing? Right now they are interested in a specific game. So I am also interested in that game.

Why?

Because that’s how marketing works. If your customers want to play golf you play golf. If they want dinner, you go to dinner. If they want to build floating castles in the sky out of emeralds you go to your crafting table and make a pickaxe.

I need to build real connections with my customer base. This is more than just appreciation for the quality food at a reasonable price. This is me inspiring my children to achieve more than I can.

I’m taking the first step. I’m giving. Reaching out. I can’t wait for them to come to me…they might out of a sense of obligation but obligation doesn’t inspire vision.

But let’s say none of my children want anything to do with the farm as adults. OK. Let’s say that. It hurts me but we can pretend. Then what? Then I go to plan B: Grandchildren, nieces and nephews. It worked for my grandma. But what if I had no siblings and no children of my own? Then what? Then it’s incumbent on me to go out and find a protege. To mentor someone. To pass on our vision and continue the dream.

BaleWalking

I have to go to them. I have to give away the best eggs in the world. I have to be generous with my time. I have to go short on sleep to go long on parenting. I have to read what they are reading and play what they are playing and continuously build connections over the decades. I have to make time to serve the people who matter the most and wash their feet. (I don’t know that I’ve every heard Jesus used as a sales example but it applies. The idea is that He came to us.)

I have to meet them where they are.

Try to Take Over the World!

Gee, Julie! What do you want to do in 2015?

Bruce King beat me to the punch on this post and good for him. I don’t always make time for Bruce but I suspect I should. Bruce is a pragmatic farmer. He’s not afraid of the numbers. And he’s not afraid of work.

But I feel like his 2015 post is missing something. Can I say that without criticizing Bruce? Because I don’t mean to criticize Bruce in any way. I just like a little more heart sprinkled into my writing. I need more than just “What”. I need to know why. Why does Bruce want to go from 20 cows to 30? Is it really just a numbers issue? A cashflow problem? Does it satisfy some yearning within him…some intangible desire to own 30 cows…the innate need to farm? Does it answer some insecurity he is wrestling with? Does it solve a portion of his farm’s fertility issues or utilize a resource that is otherwise wasted? Has he increased his farm’s cow capacity by 50%? I don’t know. He just wants to go from 20 to 30. Well, good, but how can I personally apply this? What does it mean to me that Bruce wants more cows? I ask because I’m reading to learn.

I have a small herd of cows and maintain a maximum of 200 layers. We run batches of up to 6 feeder pigs through at any given time. Those numbers are dictated by a number of factors including our ability, our marketing reach, our farm fertility and our time. It would be AWESOME to have a flock of 3,000 layers (our legal limit) but what would I do with all the eggs? How could I handle the feed? Where would I put them? The money would be great but…I just can’t. I can’t. Not yet anyway.

I think it’s cool that Bruce can outline his goals in such a clear and concise manner. I’m afraid I fail at that task. Julie and I take our annual goals seriously…if we don’t know where we are going we won’t know when we get there. I’m not willing to share our personal goals on the blog but we do have farm and business goals. Now how to articulate them?

Let’s start with what I want. I’ll write this with more Bones and less Spock…more feeling and less math.

Click image for source

I want to make a bunch of money while also making as many people as possible happy and healthy. I want to live in a beautiful place, surrounded by abundance. I want to share that with others. If that means cows, then cows it is. Pigs? Chickens? Go get ’em. In fact, I feel my days are better when I have a variety of livestock around…less so right now without pigs. But on another scale entirely are my kids. I’m so happy to have children. I hope they are happy to have me. I hope I can provide them with a safe place surrounded by health and learning…the kind of place they will want to share with their own children.

So that’s what I want.

What can I do in 2015 to help me get there? I’ll try to keep this focused on farm-related goals.

Let’s skip the farm for a second. I know. I said I wouldn’t but just play along. I need to be a better farmer. That’s more than just muck and muscle. It’s a lot of muck and muscle but it’s more than just muck and muscle. I need to spend some time expanding my education. This will help me be a better husband and father, not just a better farmer. So in 2015 I intend to read a book each week. I suspect I currently read more than a book per week but I don’t journal it anywhere. So I’m going to read at least a book each week. Maybe I’ll add that as a blog feature. Dunno. If you want to play along, the youngest two got me Bob Kleberg and the King Ranch: A Worldwide Sea of Grass for Christmas. I’ll try to finish that up before the new year. After that? Could be anything. I’ll try to come up with some sort of plan and I’m open to suggestions.

Beyond that I could list a large number of specific things Julie and I want to accomplish this year but I find that by doing so I’m not setting goals for 2015. I’m writing a year-long chore list and that’s not what we want. Today I want the big picture. Once I see that clearly I’ll know what to do next.

From a big-picture level…what is it I want in 2015? Health. Family. Friends. Money. Liberty.

What am I going to do to accomplish that on the farm in 2015?

  • I am going to increase my farm’s stocking rate. Until my farm is stocked my business suffers at every level. So does my family, my wallet and, in some way, my health. How many cows? What about sheep? Should we start to farrow? Dunno. We’ll do our best. Stay tuned.
  • I am going to read like it’s going out of style because I’m afraid it is going out of style. There is just too much I don’t know. Too much I haven’t seen. Too many ideas I haven’t weighed. What one non-surgical thing can a person do to make themselves more attractive? Read. Not only books, I want to find 5 more farm blogs to patronize starting with Bruce.
  • The farm has a number of infrastructure needs. However much I don’t want to write a chore list, I have to include chores in my list. Without being specific here, I need to list the work that needs my attention, prioritize it and start knocking it out.
  • I plan to pursue better stewardship of our farm and family finances. I played terrific offense this year but our defense was a little weak. We need to step it up. You can read about budget and finance elsewhere. I just need to do better. Really, this includes manure and compost management, not just money.
  • To be more personal for a moment, Julie and I hit some rough spots in 2014. Nothing that endangered our marriage but certainly caused us real stress. She can’t move a chicken tractor. She can’t carry feed sacks. Milking is not her favorite activity. We need to focus this year on what she enjoys about the farm and find ways leverage those interests. Similarly, the kids. A previous bullet point discussed farm infrastructure needs. My kids are the farm’s infrastructure. I need to keep them in good repair. I need to make sure they are a part of the farm, not merely involved in the farm. I need to make sure my family has been inspired to pursue a common vision.

ReachingOut

And that vision starts here.

We work together as a team to steward God’s resources, create a welcoming home, share with others, encourage one another, learn and explore new ideas and pursue our God given purpose.

In 2015 I will be a better husband, father, scholar and steward. I don’t have numbers for most of those metrics but that’s the direction to go.

Please comment below to offer suggestions on worthwhile reading, both books and blogs.

The Farm That Was..That May Be Again

I have often wondered what was really happening economically on our farm before 1950. Oh, I know they had beef and sheep and dairy and chickens and bees and an array of field crops. But how many? And in what numbers? This is important to me because it at that time my son is almost the same age my grandfather was when grandpa took over management of the farm. What would that look like today?

I don’t have those answers but I have a better idea of sales figures since dad found a Report of the account of C. Thomas Chism & Marian H. Chism, Executors of the estate of Charles A. Chism. I’m afraid I know very little of the people involved here but it appears the trust was set up to care for Granna Tim (my great grandma) and her handicapped son Billy. I have only seen a picture or two of my great uncle Billy.

Click image for source

He looked a lot like grandpa Tom but my uncle Jack sent me this picture of Uncle Billy in words:

He was a big man, about the size of my dad, but had dark hair and less pattern baldness. He liked walking around outdoors, and they always assigned him chores. (Gathering eggs; chopping wood.) He sang most of the time when he was outdoors–various songs he remembered from the radio; but his favorite seemed to be “Happy Birthday.”

He was the firstborn to a couple who had to wait until ages 42 and 35 to get married. After he came, they went ahead and had two more kids.  It was the job of the whole family to care for [Billy]. He occasionally had epileptic seizures, and it was younger brother Tom’s job to restrain him to keep him from hurting himself.

At 16 grandpa took over the farm when his father had a stroke. In 1948 grandpa would have been 27. Here he is at 29 or 30 just to lend a little context.

Click image for source

What you are about to see is an accounting of stewardship. Let’s skip to the end, looks like everything earned is being reinvested into the farm leaving $12.14 “held in trust by said Executors as Trustees under descendant’s Will for the benefit of the beneficiaries and purposes therein set forth.” But what they are earning is almost 5 times the average annual income…and they still had other work they did for themselves. Aunt Marian kept a job in town!

Pretty cool. SO what did they sell off of the old farm in 1948? Let me show you.

Trust

I found a few resources online to try to give this listing some meaning but, really, I was only able to guess what the numbers meant. Profit on Livestock Purchased & Resold could be anything. I see expenses on the other side of the page detailing how many dollars they spent in several categories of livestock but nothing to indicate what earned this specific sum. I just have to imagine it follows the formula that less than 1% of overall farm income came from sheep and 27% of farm income came from pigs as suggested by the brochure  Twenty Years of Prices and Incomes Received by Illinois Farmers. From what I understand they sold fluid milk and milked 14 cows by hand. If my guess at their milk check is correct they were selling around 12 gallons each day, leaving some milk on the farm for the household and for pigs. Based on a guess of wholesale egg prices and my understanding of layer reliability of the era they kept a flock of 60-80 chickens. But those are just guesses and, as such, are mostly useless.

So how can I make that spreadsheet useful? What can we really see in it? That my grandpa, who passed away 16 years ago, and his sister just took me to school. Look at that list! And that list doesn’t include other things grandpa did on his own including custom plowing. They even had to fix the barn (the barn their father built). I had to fix the barn too!

BarnDamage

But it’s what I don’t see that interests me most. Why is there so little income from grain? Probably for the same reason they spent $7,000 on livestock feed. Grain was grown to fatten livestock (not people). But the items listed above aren’t the things it takes to run a household and they aren’t the only things the farm produced, just what got sold. There was an orchard east of the yellow house. Somehow they had time to maintain that orchard and can up the produce. And keep a garden. And butcher for their own table. And care for an older brother.

Grandpa Charlie was at least four years older than I am now when he started having children. He was at least 20 years older than me when he had a stroke. Looking at this document I can only reflect on the success he had training his children to take over. They brought in a farm income of $15,000 at a time when the average household income was $3,600. I have a son who is 14. Could I step out of his way in two years, allowing him to run the farm? Should I? He is already larger than me…like grandpa was. I have a 12 year old daughter who is in many ways similar to my Aunt Marian. She works hard, volunteers frequently, gives selflessly, seems to enjoy working with her hands and she has a sharp wit. What will she do with the farm? Could the two of them generate $250,000 in farm sales each year (5x 2014 median income)? What about the other two children? One wants to be a preacher and open a taco restaurant, one wants to stay here and help us.

What will they do with the farm? Will they raise sheep and horses and mules and cattle and chickens and ducks? Will they maintain an orchard? Will they build fences and put up hay? Will they be able to tell me what a disc hayloader is? Will they convert it into a park they visit on weekends while busying themselves with work in town? Maybe the answer depends on me. I’ll come back to that.

I am also struck by what is listed and what I have never seen here.Why weren’t there sheep and ducks and chickens when I was a kid? Where were the dairy cows? I asked uncle Jack what he thought:

Sheep: My dad despised them for some reason. Goats: He got three nannies and kept them for awhile; then came out one morning and he had twelve: three sets of triplets. For some reason he decided he was tired of goats.

Can’t tell you anything about the cattle, except that when I was small around 1950, I do remember we still had a milk truck stopping each morning to pick up big milk cans in front of the house. The milking barn was over at the other place; but the current road south of the pond didn’t exist then—not until they built the pond. So the road by our house which went over past the windmill was the private lane of the home place. So my dad brought the milk cans out to the mouth of the road, next to your house. And this means that 2-3 years after the document you’re looking at, we still had a number of dairy cows. And I always assumed in those early years that there were beef cattle around—usually black ones at that time. Around 58-60 we got Herefords from Montana and raised those for awhile.

“The home place” is the yellow house…the barn Julie and I milk in. Grandpa and Aunt Marian were born at the yellow house. My folks lived there when I was born. But for most of my life it was the place grandpa housed his hired help. It is just storage now. Things change.

But some things don’t change. Just like my elders, I need to make the most of what I’ve got. To do that I need more livestock. I need more cows. I need to add sheep. I need more chickens. But I also need to prepare the next generation to take over. Great grandpa Charlie was, apparently, better at this than grandpa Tom but maybe only out of necessity. Great grandpa Charlie had a stroke but was still around to advise grandpa Tom. But grandpa Tom farmed into his 70’s. One son bought a farm of his own, the other children moved away. Mom and dad moved to another farm nearby when I was 16 but by that time most of my generation of cousins had grown up away from farming. Only one cousin was (is) still here. Maybe that’s why the sheep, chickens, ducks and dairy departed. It is a lot of work without youth to help. Involving the kids now is a big part of making the most of what I’ve got. I don’t need more land. I need additional responsible decision makers.

Henderson includes this quote near the end of The Farming Ladder:

…the pupils are the farmers of the future, and therefore the most valuable and important stock on the farm; for it is their youth and energy which have contributed so largely to [the success of the farm].

Every morning my body reminds me that I am no spring chicken. I need the youth and energy of my own children. We will need the youth and energy of their children. And their children. None of this can continue without a regular infusion of youth and energy. Fences have to be maintained. Barns have to be repaired. Livestock have to be managed. Trees have to be planted, pruned and picked. Firewood has to be cut. New ideas have to be tried out. Failures have to be recovered from. Grandpa and Aunt Marian brought youth and energy and innovation (tractors) to the farm. My parents and aunts and uncles brought covered dishes to the farm at Christmas. My grandma cried when I said I would like to buy the farm. She thought nobody wanted it. Will my children bring life and energy to the farm or will they bring covered dishes? Will an elderly, widowed Grandma Julie cry wondering if any of her children will want to continue here?

How can I encourage my children to take ownership…to protect it, to multiply it, to give it their very best? I have to make it theirs. I have to stop being so critical and step back into a supportive role. Mom and dad and Julie and I have to show them what is possible.

How Are We Going to Pay For This?

Oh, the joy! The fulfillment of a lifelong dream!

how are we going to pay for this 3

I liked my grandma’s house so much I bought it.

But now that I have it, how do I pay for it? Land isn’t exactly cheap right now…nor was it when I bought the farm a few years ago.

Let’s leave the dollars out of this. Let’s talk in terms of production. What do I have to produce each year just to service the debt I hold on my 60 acres? Ready? I have to produce all of the following:

  • 2,000 dozen eggs
  • 5-7 calves
  • 20 pigs
  • 1,200 broilers

All that just to make the farm payment. Now, maybe that’s not such a high hurdle…especially since the math involved has already accounted for income tax. But it is a hurdle. 1,200 broilers at our scale chews up the whole spring and fall. 3 batches of 6-8 pigs are no big deal but forces us to keep pigs all year. Eggs are a year-round deal too but 100 layers really aren’t hard to manage. That said, the income from that small flock only accounts for about 12% of the farm revenue as presented above. Layers are more about fertility and bug control than revenue but maybe we should increase the flock to account for a full 25% of revenue. Yikes! Mr. Henderson would say yes but…Yikes!

How are we going to pay for this?

So that’s what it takes. Sure I could pay the payment with 20 calves but I don’t have 20 calves. And I’m not sure I want to ONLY have cattle anyway. I have exposure to a number of markets this way. Many customers buy eggs. Fewer buy chicken. Fewer still buy pork. The marketing pyramid works very well. So we produce a variety of classes of livestock. The good news is we already have everything we need to produce these numbers. The bad news is all of that production ONLY SERVICES THE DEBT.

What about the fencing we need to build? What about the trees we want to plant? What about the buildings that need to be repaired? How can I afford to buy a tractor?

I don’t know. I guess I need a couple more pigs. And another 300 broilers. And another calf or three. And another 100 layers.

But Julie is already tired (as I frequently write). How can I double my livestock numbers without negatively impacting my job or our family life? I don’t know. Maybe I should quit my job.

But if I quit my job we’ll still need some form of income. Remember, to date we are only servicing the debt and producing enough to make small infrastructure investments. Now we’re talking income. You know, money. The kind you need to slap braces on the kids and pay for books and plan for college and…you know…what happens when I’m 70? Will I be able to relax on the farm I have served my entire life, harvesting the abundance of my decades of labor or will I have to sell my beloved land and move to town?

how are we going to pay for this edited 2

Happens all the time.

Well, that’s no hill for a climber. Maybe if we got to 300 layers. That would give us 15 dozen eggs/day to sell. And maybe we could raise 15 pigs at a time. And sell 25 calves every fall. And heck, the kids are growing. Maybe we can handle 2,400 broilers. Maybe even 3,000! Would that be enough?

Enough?

What does enough mean? How much is enough?

How much is too much?

I don’t know. Dirty Harry warned that “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

Do I know my limitations?

Do I believe I am immortal?

Did I pay too much for my farm?

What is this dream costing me?

Don’t read regret into this post. Please don’t think I’m being pessimistic. Quite the opposite. After spending a few years learning how I’m finally making this thing pay.

how are we going to pay for this edited 1

So. Be sure to sit yourself down with a couple of sharp pencils and do the math before you buy land. Try to sell something. Just try. Your boss may enjoy eating pork chops but does he have freezer space for half of a hog? Will your co-workers continue buying from you if you change jobs? Can you sell a dozen eggs at a profit? Start small. Learn as you go. Grow when you have to. Move slowly. Always do the math.

Always do the math.

If I Only Had More Money…

Oh the things I would buy! The farm will absorb all the money and labor I can throw at it and it will never be enough. There is always more work to do. More I could spend money on. More I could throw resources at.

Some things are better than others. Some things are higher priority. Sometimes priority is somewhat ambiguous. It’s hard to know. But there are several things we own that we don’t need but enjoy owning…places we have tucked a little spare cash and feel we have been rewarded for it.

The wood burning cookstove is totally a want.

View this post on Instagram

Cozy fire, happy dog.

A post shared by Julie Ann Jordan (@handfulofacorns) on

Well, mostly anyway. We have an electric range. We have a furnace. They both work well when the power is on. But the wood stove is so nice all winter long. Just park your tookus next to it and you’ll thaw out in no time. Wet, ice-covered gloves will thaw and dry while bacon fries and bread cooks. It’s amazing. The whole skillet heats evenly, not focused at the center! You will also lose weight, gain strength and stay warm cutting wood to feed the thing. 5 months of wood is a lot. No. A lot. No. You are still thinking too small. A Lot lot.

So we sharpen the chain, mix the fuel, put on safety glasses and hearing protection and heavy gloves and spend dry days in winter cutting hedge trees, cleaning fences and managing the woodlot for the future. Multiple shoots come up from a coppiced stool. We pick the one that looks the strongest and cut the rest…year after year. We build fires. We build brush piles for wildlife. Then we remember we forgot to stoke the fire in the stove so somebody goes home to put a big log on. Nothing worse than a cold stove on a winter evening.

It certainly isn’t something we need but it really is nice. This old, drafty house is hard to heat so we don’t. We just set the thermostat at 57 and keep that fire roaring. We recognized a need, had a little extra cash and are now reaping the benefits.

There are any number of places I would spend extra cash on the farm but we don’t seem to be burdened by unspent money these days. It would be nice to have a second car, more and better cows, a round baler, a loader tractor, 1,000 chestnut trees, 3,000 hazelnuts, sheep, a new machine shed, more and larger greenhouses…on and on. Long lists of things I don’t really need but would REALLY like to have. Things that would make our life here a little better. Trenched water lines, pond, a floor in the loft of the cattle barn…heck, a new cattle barn.

But it all costs money.

Well, Mr. Jordan, don’t you have a bona-fide city computer job? Well, yes. So where does the money all go?

A few years ago I could tell you to the penny. To the penny! I kept a little notebook outlining my goals and stating my finances clearly. But that fell to the wayside. Some people only pray when they are cornered and look to God as their last chance. That, I guess, is how I feel about budgeting. And it shows.

But, again, no matter how much money I spend I could always find a need for more. That’s unfortunate but it’s the truth. It doesn’t matter how well I budget. It matters how I prioritize.

I’m glad we bought the wood stove. However, I am careful to distinguish needs from wants. There are wants that are worth having. But maybe not right now. I think the pond falls into that category. It would be nice but there are other priorities. That was a hard thing to say though.

Egg Sale? Are You Crazy?

Our eggs are on sale again. No. I’m not crazy. I can do math.

I have X birds. They eat every day whether they lay eggs or not. They use roost space eggs or not. They need to be protected eggs or not. The costs of the bird, the feed, the housing and the fencing are fixed. What varies is the number of eggs.

egg sale 1

Let’s make the math simple. Let’s say I have 100 birds. I can normally count on 100 birds laying 65-70 eggs. But egg production varies seasonally. We get few eggs when the days are short. We get few eggs when the weather gets hot. We get many eggs when the birds are young, fewer when they get older. They take time off each fall to molt. This is a biological, not mechanical, system and, consequently, it varies.

But, again, what doesn’t vary is the cost. I own the fence and the birds…now I have to pay for it.

So let’s say the flock costs me $15/day to maintain. When the birds lay 66 eggs, 6 are going to be cracked, checked or misshapen and can’t be sold. That leaves 5 dozen for me to sell. I’m not going to work for free so we charge $4/dozen for our eggs and we bring in $20 gross, $5 net.

You down?

Right now the flock is laying more like 90 eggs/day. That’s more eggs for no additional cost, even if I can’t sell 10% of them. I add in two additional cartons ($0.30 each), and have more eggs in my egg case than my regular customers can buy. As nice as it would be to bring in $28/day, I need to sell those eggs, not feed them to the pigs. This is my chance to attract new customers. I run a 25% off sale. Folks who think $4 is too high for eggs are happy to pay $3. If I get $3 for 7 dozen eggs I’m grossing $21/day. The extra cartons knock me down to $5.40 net. That extra $0.40 is probably absorbed by the extra tray space and wash/sort time.

egg sale 3

Now, some suggest that I should use the surplus cash coming in right now to make up for the expected shortfall this winter. I think that is sound theory except for two things. First, we have a new layer flock coming online soon and should not see much of a winter production drop. Second, I don’t know what to do with all the eggs I am collecting these days. Let’s go drum up new business! Eggs are a little more than a labor of love anyway.

I’m collecting more eggs for the same cost. I’m gaining exposure to new customers. I’m making more money at the end of the day…even with cheaper eggs. But the real question is, “Why are we getting more eggs?” Good question. I think it comes down to management. Not only are we collecting more eggs overall, we are collecting more salable eggs. I’ll start with the salable eggs. With our old hoop-style chicken house we had to bend down to go in and collect the eggs…so we didn’t want to do it very often. So most days we would just collect eggs once each day. When there are more than 4 or 5 eggs in a nest box the birds tend to crush an egg or two, smearing the remaining eggs and nesting material with broken egg mess and bits of shell. Now that we can collect the eggs outside of the structure while standing we don’t seem to mind collecting eggs late in the morning and again in the evening. We are also doing a better job of keeping fresh, clean nesting material in the boxes. As a result we are able to sell a higher percentage of the eggs we collect.

egg sale 2

But we are also just getting more eggs. To the point that I plan to add another nest box array. Some of this is seasonal. Longer days and unusually cool weather make it better for the birdies. But I think most of it is due to recent changes to our housing situation. We built a new layer house on wheels. I insulated the roof of the building and provided for excellent ventilation. The high yesterday was in the 90’s but inside of the building was cool and breezy. I was removing soiled bedding from the interior of the house and dust was not a problem. I wasn’t even warm until I stepped out of the building. Beyond the house, we have just turned our birds free. Grandpa’s rock collection spans most of the farm making it difficult to step in fence posts for netting so we are just letting the older birds run. That creates a few real problems like predation, hidden eggs and birds roosting in strange places. However, the birds are able to scratch and gather from a much larger area, lowering their feed consumption. They especially seem to like the horse stalls where they find undigested oats. This would work much better if we had a larger farm. If we had 300 acres (and 150 cows) we could move the chickens further each time, keeping them busy in new places. I’ll have more to say about fully free range birdies another time.

Back to the point, more food, less heat, better housing, more convenient nest boxes…these things all combine to break all records for egg production on our farm. It’s not uncommon for us to collect 100 eggs from 110 birds.

So eggs are on sale right now with the hope that we can establish ties with new customers…customers who were reluctant to give us a chance at $4. With luck, they will try our eggs, notice the difference and offer us additional chances in their kitchens.

 

The $10,000 Question

What can you buy for $10,000?

Julie and I drive a 10 year old Chrysler Town & Country. It is big enough that I can fit 4×8 sheets of plywood in it or a couple of 300 gallon tanks or, more simply, our 4 children with comfort. We paid $10,000 for our minivan a couple of years ago when we bought it used. Our previous van had been stolen (along with 5 dozen eggs, my favorite hat and my favorite knife)! $10,000 is about a third of the price of a similar 2014 van.

Our first house cost $30,000 and we had to put in $10,000 worth of improvements before we could move in including hooking on to city sewer and water, repairing the foundation, updating the wiring and replacing the furnace. $10,000 bought all of that…furnace, concrete, wiring and plumbing.

Now, I don’t know who you think I am. I don’t know what you really know about me. I’m not the kind of guy who keeps $10,000 just laying around. My pockets are only so deep. We had a couple of guys out to estimate a pond dam for us and they said $10,000…with more of a firm quote coming.

Sigh.

Can I afford that? I also need a loader tractor. The clutch needs to be replaced on our tractor. Julie wants to build a house…or at least put a roof on this house. I need to plant about a bazillion trees. I need to buy about a bazillion cows…well, maybe 5 or 10 more (easily $10k). There is no end of things I could spend money on…including replacing our minivan. I would love to buy Julie a new ring (lol). Can I really justify buying a 1-acre pond?

You know, I have found that I can justify just about anything. It’s just a matter of approaching the matter from the right angle. SO. Today I’m going to justify building a pond. I don’t know how I’m going to pay for it but at least I’m going to lay out why I think it’s a good idea for us. First, here’s a rough-out of the pond from the top down thanks to Draft Logic.

NewPondMy friend Steve says I will never regret having additional water on the farm. I suspect he’s right but this isn’t the pond he was rootin’ for. He wants me to make a single, larger pond instead of a series of small ponds over time (this is just the first). I would like to have it higher on the landscape than this but still, it’s pretty high. There is a lot of bottom ground I could irrigate from this pond if needed. Beyond the extra water, we will gain a dam we can drive across to get to the pasture beyond. The hills here are pretty steep…steep beyond what I would be comfortable mowing. The creek beds are washed out to the point that it’s hard to get a tractor across them too. The grazing on the steep south-facing slopes is sparse and the steep north-facing slopes are covered in moss. Not much grows here. A couple of thorny trees, a little scrap iron and some sparse grass that went to seed early. There are dry dams on two of the three valleys that feed into the pond area and a pond dam uphill from the other so the pond shouldn’t silt in any time soon. Here is the proposed pond area as it sits today. The dead tree to the left is around 18′ tall.

Pond1

And here is my concept of what the pond will look like. I spent a whole 5 minutes with mspaint making this picture.

pond vision

What we are talking about is a serious benefit to the water cycle, a benefit to the wildlife, a benefit to the livestock, a beautiful feature that will improve my farm’s value and something of lasting value for generations to come. I joked in a post called The Return of Surplus that we needed to bring resources back to the farm and this is a perfect example. Further, by making this investment now we will be able to increase biodiversity and, thus, compound our return over time. Just think of the fish, frogs and turtles. Think of the bald cypress I could plant. Think of the way it will moderate temperature. Think of fried catfish! But the water is illiquid. I will never get my money back without selling the land it is sitting on. Once that money is spent it is gone. That’s it. It’s either pond or loader tractor. Pond or cows.

But once the pond is built and stocked it’s here to stay. There will be nothing more to do for generations to come. Similar to the ponds grandpa built maybe 60 years ago, I’ll be leaving the farm better than I found it.

Can I justify it? Yes. Can I afford it? Ugh.

Trading Clover for Bacon

Be a net producer. Leave more than you take.

That’s really all I have to say today but I guess I should spell it out a little.

I have several options available. I could just sell everything on the farm. In some circumstances it could make sense to do that. I could sell all of the iron both from the iron piles and from the buildings themselves. I could sell the equipment I own. I could sell the livestock, the cattle mineral feeder, the fencing, the fence chargers, the hog waterer, the hog feeder, the pasture feeder for the chickens. I could tear down both houses and claim the salvage value of certain components of each. I could sell the trees either as lumber or as firewood. I could sell hay until my soil is depleted then scrape up the remaining topsoil and sell that to a housing developer. Then sell the remains of the farm to the next guy. What would be left over? Hopefully I would have covered my debt on the farm and put a little in my pockets. But then what? I have just sold my productive resources bit by bit. What would I do with my money? Go buy another productive resource to liquidate? Like a hunter stalking and consuming prey, one at a time?

How about this instead? What if I increased my cattle herd in an effort to increase forage mass and diversity? What if I planted more trees but harvested trees that are mature, sick, showing poor conformity or are just in the wrong place? What if I built brush piles to house wildlife? What if I focused, over time, on building new topsoil?

Brush

Money is nice. It really, really helps. Really. But money is just a tool. Products are purchased with production. The money is the common exchangable item between producers. For example, I don’t eat money, I eat apples…which cost money. But I am not the US Treasury so I can’t just go create my own money. Unlike the Fed, I have to do something to get money. I have to sell something I have in surplus. In my case, time. I use a portion of my time to produce healthy databases for a company. The company produces software to record information from heart monitors. Those heart monitors work to save people’s lives. So hospitals or patients give the company money in exchange for the service. And I get money from the company in exchange for my service (because I really don’t need a heart monitor). And I use the money to buy apples…and other things. I wanted apples so I helped make a heart monitor. The world is a better place because it has heart monitors it didn’t have before, along with other innumerable but often unseen benefits (I encourage you to read Bastiat to explore this idea further).

Click image for source

But heck with my city job example. I have acres and acres of grass. Grass is worthless. It grows anywhere there is rain and sunshine. Nobody wants it…or if they do, they want it to be 2″ tall with tees and greens spaced throughout. My grass grows several feet tall and it is the “wrong” kind of grass. It is essentially worthless so we have cows. We use the cows to add value to the grass. I am taking something of little to no value, adding my time to it (also of little value) and making beef. This is not a zero sum equation. It’s net production. I’m using my management ability to capture free sunlight and rain, growing grass, converting that captured solar energy into beef and using the beef by-products (footprints, saliva, manure and urine) to make the grass stand even more healthy. All while making the cows happy. It’s a win all the way around…capturing sunlight, holding and absorbing rainfall, sequestering carbon, keeping the cows fat and happy, feeding people and bringing home the bacon.

MayPasture15

I am hauling some portion of nutrients off of the farm with each egg, pig or calf that we sell. No doubt. But I more than compensate for that by the addition of organic material happening with each grazing and rest cycle and through the nutrients mined, captured, transported and released by trees and deep-rooted forages. Our farm will continue getting better as my management skills increase. As our herd numbers increase. As time passes. The end product of my labor will be left to the next generation. They will have the option of continuing to producing organic material from captured sunlight and rain. They could continue improving our farm through their productive efforts.

Or they could sell it all and go to Vegas. It’s up to them.

Boom and Bust Final Thoughts

This is the last in a series of thoughts I had concerning our farm’s history and future as I read a paper released by the Kansas City Fed. You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.

Our friends at the K.C. Fed wind up their paper saying we’re in good shape as long as interest rates stay low, China keeps importing grain and we keep producing ethanol. Well, that’s reassuring. The Fed paper admits that, as before, interest rates are low so land prices are on the rise and cash rents are not keeping pace. So borrowing costs are low and returns are diminishing. Rising interest rates could be a real issue. From their paper:

Higher interest rates could have two distinct impacts on U.S. agriculture (Henderson and Briggeman). Rising interest rates may place upward pressure on the dollar, which could indirectly trim U.S. agricultural exports, farm profits, and farmland prices. In addition, higher interest rates also boost the capitalization rate, which weighs further on farmland prices. The impacts are compounded in highly leveraged environments when higher interest rates raise debt service burdens, as the 1920s and 1980s demonstrated.

However, they believe farmers are borrowing more responsibly now than they did in the ’70’s.

Unlike the 1970s, farmers today have been more restrained in their capital investments. To be sure, capital expenditures have risen sharply, but they have increased at roughly the same rate as farm profits.

But that level of profitability may have something to do with the fact that land rents aren’t keeping pace, not to mention all-time high prices for crops. When rents catch up or prices fall…who knows.

A little later in the fed paper (emphasis mine):

For more than a century, farm prosperity has shifted with U.S. agricultural exports. Surging exports spurred rising farm incomes, while plummeting export activity weighed heavily on farm incomes. In addition, leverage shaped fluctuations in agricultural land values. Low interest rates contributed to booming farmland prices and the accumulation of debt as farmers expanded investments in land, machinery, and equipment. Rising leverage, however, contributed to the farm busts of the 1920s and 1980s as farmers were unable to service their mounting debt. In short, if exports remain strong and leverage remains low, this cycle could be different.

Oh. It could be. This could be the cycle that never ends. Glory be! But what if this cycle is different…in that it is worse? From Corn and Bean Digest:

The current great super cycle is a triple whammy, impacting oil, metals and agriculture. It has now lasted for a decade, which is 2.5 times longer than any previous super cycle. Technology, innovation, large farms and agricultural audiences are the matters of the day. Land values have skyrocketed, particularly since 2007 and 2008, and while 260 million Americans in suburban and urban households have seen a decline of their income from $54,000 to $47,000, 60 million people in rural America have experienced profits and wealth accumulation.

And to counter the Fed’s notion that farmers have learned from the lessons of the 1970’s I offer this counterpoint from Deltafarmpress.com. Though the author thinks farmers will be bailed out by the government, hard times are going to come…sooner or later and he dares to include a timeline (emphasis mine).

Farming, whether we want to accept it or not, moves in cycles. Big periods of high income are almost always followed by some big periods of low incomes or losses. I think that’s where we’re headed. Incomewise, I think we should all buckle our seatbelts for some rough times financially over the next three to five years. Grain prices are deflating – not inflating. High prices choke off world demand and it takes years to build it back.

My prediction is that more than half of the farms in the U.S. will have negative income in 2014 and 2015. Farmland prices will soften – but not drop sharply. A 10 percent to 15 percent correction could easily occur as farmers quit buying and outside investor money steps in to help support the market. The majority of farmers have upgraded all of their equipment lines in the last five years. Many have enough equipment to farm two to three times what they are already farming.

Click Image for source.

I work in the world of software development. One philosophical issue developers face (yes, philosophical) is not just how to solve the problem but determining if the problem should be solved at all. We often simply write applications that make it easy for people to do things they shouldn’t be doing in the first place. Imagine a developer or project manager stepping into the SDLC to laugh and say, “Sure, boss. We could do that. Buy it’s a stupid thing to do.” (The developer would be asked to leave. The company would continue spinning its wheels.)

Clink image for source

The problem, for example, is not the lack of software to schedule meetings. The problem is the meeting itself! It wastes an hour or two of everyone’s time when no decisions are made and a memo would have done the job. Farmers do the same thing. We buy bigger and bigger equipment so we can more efficiently do whatever we are doing without stopping to ask why we are doing it! The time will come when the man behind the curtain has a heart attack and the illusion fades. Cows can just eat grass. Corn is not an efficient source of ethanol. Chicken is the most expensive meat source. What happens to John Deere when farmers realize their equipment needs are more than covered and realized profits are better than write-offs?

Farm Credit Services of America weighs into this issue by saying farmers should know their land costs per acre. And that’s an important point. A farmer who bought land in 1988 for $500/acre is sitting on a lot of equity right now compared to a farmer who bought in 2005 for $4,000/acre. The deck is stacked against new farmers carrying a lot of debt and a high per-acre land cost. I am particularly amused by the Farm Credit Services of America article because it seems so optomistic.

Here is a northern Iowa example to illustrate how the caps are derived:

  • Assume a 200-bushel-per-acre corn yield and a $4.50 per-bushel price. That’s $900 per acre in gross revenue.
  • Estimate operating costs based on the benchmark Iowa State University variable and fixed-cost budgets.
  • Assume a 3.5% capitalization rate, or return on investment in land.

With these assumptions, we see a return to real estate of $320-$350 per acre. Applying the 3.5% capitalization rate, the sustainable market value of the land would be $9,000 per acre. We would lend up to 65% of that, or $5,900 per acre.

Go ahead and question that $4.50 per-bushel price and see what happens to the numbers above. BTW, the annual average price for corn has only gone above $3.83 four times…all in the last 6 years. Also as you read the above remember what Hughes said earlier about land in trusts not being well cared for. No user owns it. Nobody cares. That government agency (Farm Credit Services) is not loaning out its own money. It is loaning out your money. What do they stand to lose if farmers go broke? Farmers have gone broke over at least two cycles since they were created and it hasn’t mattered a bit to the agency. There are no consequences for advising financial ruin. They are in business to loan money without worrying about the human costs. Here’s a quote on the creation of that agency:

The Federal Farm Loan Act enacted on July 17, 1916, answered agricultural producers’ demand for credit to finance land and farm machinery purchases which had increased in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as America’s agriculture became more commercialized to meet growing domestic and foreign food demand. Private lenders at the turn of the century proved increasingly inadequate to meet these needs for financing. Slowly, a consensus emerged in Congress that the Federal Government should develop facilities for providing farm mortgage credit to assist farmers and ranchers in purchasing land on affordable terms.

Private lenders were afraid to risk their money so farmers asked the government to do something about it. Again, this was still at the peak of agricultural prosperity in our nation – the lauded Golden Age of Agriculture – and somehow farmers still needed more credit! So they asked the government to give them affordable terms and they got affordable terms…and got them good and hard (apologies to Mencken). You know, the kind of terms that displaced farmers in the depression. And again in the 1980’s. But it’s not that simple, it also led to copious amounts of additional legislation and the ridiculous notion of price parity!

But I digress.

I don’t think we have reached a point of permanent agricultural prosperity. Interest rates are low. They have been low before. China is buying a lot of beans…but Russia used to buy a lot of wheat. Farmland prices are at an all-time high. Grain profits are near an all-time high. But we have seen highs before. We export a lot of soybeans but Brazil, in a normal year, exports more soy than we do. And what happens if John Deere equipment sales fall by 70%? Are farms at the 1999 price point of NASDAQ? I don’t know. I am looking to minimize my own farm’s debt load and am working to minimize the debt required by the next generation. Whatever price the government sets on money, I have to repay it. However attractive I think the land across the fence looks, I am liable. It’s on me.

Not only do I need to keep my day job, I need to focus on lowering production costs and maximizing the utility of my farm as we work off our loans. At the very least I want to hold on to the farm for the next generation. Better yet, I should store up a war chest should I have the opportunity to accumulate resources at a discount. As should my neighbors. As should you! Sometimes things happen. Isn’t it better to survive the hard times (or even expand) than to be crushed? And hard times always come.

A longtime reader, SailorsSmallFarm, has often suggested that I read “The Farming Ladder” and I am finally getting around to it today. I am sorry it took me so long. Early in the book Henderson was discussing the deplorable condition of the farm he was preparing to purchase,

…in view of the unparalleled prosperity agriculture had enjoyed during the Great War and two years after it, which left the farms and farmers poor in everything except money. It was very certain that on this farm far more had been taken out than had been put in.

Chew on that for a minute before I finish up. We are at a point where prices for everything involved are higher than they have ever been. Farmers face a strong incentive to capitalize on the current opportunity by exporting everything from nutrients to livestock to scrap iron. I think it’s a good idea to build up a war chest of cash for later deployment. Also a war chest of soil organic matter. And a war chest of soil fertility. And a war chest of high-quality genetics. Plow those profits back into farm assets, not cool, new tractors! Cash for cash’s sake is not worth having. If you don’t have a plan for your resources you won’t hold on to them. And believe me, if you become comfortable with a high income ($4 corn) you will find a lower income to be incredibly uncomfortable ($2 corn).

I think the Fed paper is far too optimistic. The government will certainly provide assistance to farmers but if profits have been at record highs for the last decade why should they need my money? Will they squander that prosperity buying new trucks, 4WD tractors or land at ridiculous prices? I don’t know. But maybe we should anticipate their coming failure. Maybe we should start planning auctions and to put those assets in the hands of capable entrepreneurs at reasonable prices. Pick up the broken pieces and move on. That sounds better than taking taxpayer money to pay for the mistakes of the once high-income few who didn’t plan for a rainy day.

Maybe this advice is more for me than it is for you. But maybe you will appreciate it too. Don’t worry about land prices and don’t worry what the other guy is or isn’t doing. Get your own house in order. Be productive. Focus on keeping costs low and improving fertility. Minimize debt. Realize profits and take that money off the table cause hard times are coming. You’ll regret it if you don’t have a plan. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But soon and for the rest of your life.