Do you feel you are in control of the things happening in your life right now? Or do you feel you can only react to what is going on around you?

Jim was about to put a pan down on the stove and didn’t realize his wife had just finished cooking something else. As he placed the pan on a cool burner in the back, his right hand came down on the hot burner in the front. In a fraction of a second he could sense the heat and quickly pulled his hand away, but not before two of his fingers were slightly burned. He went to the sink and ran cold water over them for a minute.

Jim’s painful experience reminded him that life is full of choices and opportunities to act or react.

He considered himself a proactive farmer and an early technology adopter. His mapping and machinery equipment were several years ahead of his neighbors. He was an aggressive marketer, striving to maximize the profit of every acre.

Over the years his operation had increased and during the last 10 years he had begun buying more farmland. He had confidence as he made significant land purchases. Jim had a relationship with not one but two bankers. They did not compete against each other, but Jim wanted to be prepared to make the most of any opportunity that presented itself. He was a believer in using other people’s money, as long as there was a profit left in it for him.

Jim’s careful planning and proactive strategies had worked well for the last 30 years, and he was now in his prime. Not only had he done well in farming, he also had some other investments along with a new house and some fun toys.

The last two years required a tightening of Jim’s finances. His land purchases had become a significant drain on his cash flow. His operating notes were more difficult to pay off, and last year there was a significant rollover into the current year. But his bankers had been supportive and Jim had been proactive in communicating his situation. Some of the operating money had been converted to long-term debt against his farmland.

When the coronavirus appeared on the horizon, Jim was proactive and began putting some long-term marketing strategies in place. Some of his positions extended out for more than a year.

As Jim stood at the kitchen sink running cold water over his fingers, he felt he had things in his life well under control. His fingers would recover because he had reacted well to the situation.

Things changed the next morning. Jim woke up feeling a bit out of sorts and thought perhaps he had a slight fever. The next day he felt worse. Jim had always been healthy and tried to exercise a little and maintain a proper weight for a man his age. He was not too concerned until the third day when he had a persistent cough and his chest felt tight.

A trip to his local doctor prompted a transfer to the regional hospital. On the fourth day he struggled to breathe and was put on a respirator. He was then put into a medically induced coma and did not remember anything until two weeks later.

Jim awoke finding himself disoriented. He was off the respirator but his throat was sore. He spent the next four days slowly strengthening himself before finally returning home. His recovery continued, but it was another two weeks before he felt like his old self again.

While he had been out of commission, corn and bean prices had fallen. His hogs, which he had contracted, were unable to be delivered as the packers were not taking anything. The same thing was true for his cattle which were now more than ready to be sold.

Some of his crops had been planted in a timely manner but some had not made it into the ground until late May. Jim found out that neighbors don’t come in and plant your crops if you are farming thousands of acres. Jim’s wife had not been involved in most of the past crop decisions and was unsure how to proceed with Jim in the hospital. She had considered renting some of the land out but eventually decided to hire someone to help plant and do the spraying.

While Jim did feel like his old self, things had actually changed. His lungs were not what they were before being hospitalized. He tired easily and had trouble staying focused on what previously were simple tasks.

As Jim met with his bankers, they were happy to see him and positive about his recovery. However, it was evident to Jim that things had changed. There was no talk about moving forward and everything seemed to center around playing defense and protecting the bank’s investment. They kept reminding him that his prior farming lifestyle was not possible.

Jim felt helpless as he watched the things he had worked for throughout his life begin to slip through his fingers. He wondered if all those things were now coming to an end. He spent several weeks sitting in his chair being depressed.

Then one morning he woke up and decided he had reacted long enough and was now ready to be proactive again. Jim talked to his doctor and began a combination of physical therapy and aggressively walking the gravel roads around the farm in an effort to strengthen his lungs. Over the course of the next few months his body and his lungs improved.

Jim’s cattle feedlots were empty, which bothered him. His cattle had been sold for a significant loss but there was nothing he could do about it now. He considered it a good thing that they now sat empty.

His hog buildings were still full of pigs and only a few of the contracts had been completed. He was losing money but not as bad as others around him. He could not change livestock prices, so he looked at other areas to improve.

As summer turned into fall it was apparent to Jim that he was not able to do many of the things he had done before the virus. He needed help with physical tasks and could use some assistance in management. Jim spent long hours talking to his wife about what they should do.

One of Jim’s neighbors was a young farmer who needed more to do and a good mentor. Jim approached the young man to see if he was interested in helping out and learning from Jim’s experiences. They decided to work together and started to plan how they would finish out the crop year. Jim no longer felt he was only reacting to his situation, but now had additional choices and opportunities.

In these unsettling times we may only be able to react to some things. Our best plans and aspirations may not be possible. We cannot control many of the painful and negative things happening right now, regardless of how hard we work or how much we want to be successful. However, we can choose to be proactive.

Our current crisis will eventually pass. Just like countless others before us, our future will be different than we previously expected.


Bob Dunaway and Associates offer estate and retirement planning. Gary Johnson can be reached at 563-927-4554 or by emailing him at plans@bob dunaway.com