My friend’s dad always said “You think times are tough now, you don’t know what it was like to farm with 18% interest”. And he’s right, my friend doesn’t and he never will. It’s more than likely that we will never see 18% interest rates, he’ll be challenged by a whole different set of problems. Every generation is going to have a different set of problems to overcome. The holy trinity of problems for most businesses is: bad economics, the wrong people or you are undercapitalized. Deal with it. For one generation the challenge was the Indians, another a dust bowl and another is high interest rates. Who knows what the challenge will be for our generation! But what is key is realizing the attitude it requires to survive. The attitude is that I am in a bad situation but I am going to win, no matter what it takes.
This summer I’ve seen twitter feeds from a few farmers in Alberta whom are in their 30’s and this is their first big drought. It’s obvious that they are overwhelmed and I feel for them. They can remember the drought back in 92 but they were not the ones writing the checks at the time. Over the past decade there has always been money in the bank when they were making decisions and everything kind of worked out like they had cash flowed it at the beginning of the year. They’ve never really been in a situation where they had limited resources. They have to scramble making some tough decisions in order to keep their heads afloat. The decisions they make today won’t just impact them now but for the decade.
There comes a time in every farmer’s life when he or she feel’s overwhelmed. This is the day you go from thinking you know it all, to realizing you are in over your head. This might happen the day after your Dad’s funeral and you are only 18. It might not happen until you are 55 and you went and did everything your Dad said wouldn’t work, only to realize he was right. That is the moment when a boy becomes a man. The moment when you realize you are up the creek without a paddle. What does it take to be a good farmer? It takes a lot of confidence and yet also being scared **less at the same moment. Just like war, it takes you making good decisions under fire when others are in the foxhole crying “mommy”.
The statistics of farming are harsh. For each generation, less than 50% of farms survive. Each generation has different challenges. What determines success isn’t who is better positioned, but who overcomes the odds stacked against them and makes things work when there is no way it should.
There are times in the history of your farm where you have plenty and there are times when resources are extremely tight. Your limiting factor might be dollars, it might turn out to be something different like manpower or even a lack of water. It might be the moment that your stuck in a business partnership and can’t tolerate an in-law. What makes a good farmer is being able to do without and dealing with the impossible. Even impossible people. It’s easy to farm by the textbook. It’s tough to overcome the moments when you don’t have two nickels to scrape together and still pay the bills. It’s your ability to make things work, no matter what.
Think about the pioneers who settled your farm. They probably came with nothing more than what you could fit into a wheelbarrow. They probably came late in the season and didn’t know what they were doing. But when they got to your farm, there was no turning back. They either had to make it work or die. They probably came to your farm with big dreams, but there was a strange moment when they realized that they were all alone and up the creek. There is no Calvary coming! It’s just you alone that is going to make this work.
It doesn’t matter what the problem is, only you are in control of your solution. And believe me in that moment, you’ll feel that you have your hands tied behind your back and can’t cut your way loose. For instance, on top of an economic problem; you might be a dysfunctional business partnership were you have a partner who is incompetent and you feel it’s impossible to control the outcome. Well suck it up buttercup. That is just life. Farming isn’t being in a country video with cute girls, it’s living the lyrics to a sad country son. You either have to make it work or fail.
Tough times never last, tough farmers do!