Future of Farming

Alan Merrill, President of Montana Farmers Union, looks at the future of agriculture after talking to bank presidents, who asked to not be acknowledge admitted the future of agriculture doesn’t look promising. Alan remembered the 1970s and the 1980s and comparing them to the current farm economics. “I will try not to be negative, although it is difficult not to be. Comparing then and now makes it difficult to stay positive.”

“I started full time farming in 1975 after I graduated. I decided to take a break from school and delayed getting my master’s degree in psychology. In 1975, we had a bumper crop and harvested 60 bushels an acre that year. All the bins were full and there were piles of grain on the ground as well. My dad told me to take 10,000 bushels and sell it when I thought it was the best price. I sold it for $5.85 per bushel. I bought a new Chevrolet car for $4,100 which worked well for my new family. I also bought a new mobile home made in Bozeman Montana for $29,000. I had a place to live with my family, a new car, and money in the bank. Why should I go back and get my masters and eventually a doctorate in Psychology? Life was good on the farm. I grew up on the farm and I wanted my family to grow up there.”

He continued saying, “In the 1980s the banking industry gave a lot of misguided information and a lot of farmers and ranchers couldn’t make the cut.” Following those years, farms have just maintained a steady “next year” mentality. If you could pay the bank, you could farm for another year.

“Remember I received $5.85 per bushel for winter wheat in 1975, the current price is $4.35.

I don’t need to tell you that fuel in 1975 was $1.05 for a gallon for diesel versus $3.00 a gallon for diesel now. Fertilizer was ¼ the price it is now. And then we can talk machinery, but you can’t even make sense of the difference. A combine now with a header is roughly $700,000. My dad and I bought a brand new one with a header for $74,000 in 1977. It was the biggest John Deere they made at the time.”

“Fast forward to current economic times. Many baby boomer farmers would like to see the farm rural lifestyle of the past continue, however, currently we are in a different farm cycle. More and more input costs along with other increased expenses in farming and ranching which leaves the new generation wondering why they should tackle the stress and the idea of becoming a farmer. Most 4th/5th generation farmers who are taking over the farms have college degrees in some form or another and it makes them wonder if they want to put their families through the farming stress. The current way of life is not rewarding in any sense of the word.”

“I’m not trying to put a negative outlook on family farming but along with the banking industry, the input costs, oversupply, and lower demands, the lack of market confidence, and what the next generation of family farmers can financially receive it makes me wonder why they would want to become farmers.”

At this point in time, the farmer is told we must raise more grain. The farmer can and is raising more grain in order to pay the bills and survive for one more year. A vicious cycle.

Alan said, “The farmers I know want a fair return for their long hard-working days. Those days which supply the safest food known to man! We are asking for a fair return, not a government handout which just ends up being a bandage that really doesn’t do anything for the current generation of farmers or for future family generations.”

What do we do? “We must address the market loss. We must address the new banking and FSA regulations. Finally, if agriculture can find consumer partners we can in time overcome these extreme difficulties.”