I heard an interesting story a few weeks ago with a message that impressed me.

On a campus in the Midwest, one day many students were seated on the lawn at the bottom of a large tree. Their attention was focused on a chattering squirrel who ran around and around the base of the tree.

Stretched out on the lawn by the students was an Irish setter who pretended to be uninterested in squirrel.

Each time the squirrel ran around the back of the tree, it would momentarily lose sight of the dog. During that brief moment, the dog would creep forward one foot at a time. All of the students watching the scene understood what the dog was trying to accomplish and were happy to watch it all unfold.

Finally, the setter was close enough to the squirrel to catch it. In the blink of an eye, the squirrel was in the dog’s mouth.

The crowd of students were shocked with horror, and many ran to save the squirrel. But it was too late, and the squirrel was dead.

Any of the students could have warned the squirrel by waving their hands or running up to the dog. But they all chose to watch, even when the outcome seemed inevitable. Why would the students choose to act this way? Why did they not do something?

Sometimes we become so focused on a situation that we overlook the need for action or help. This need can be illustrated through the story of a farmer named Brad.

Brad had been farming for 20 years and had a nice operation of 800 acres and a 400-cow dairy. He had done things right when he had built 10 years ago, but low dairy prices for the last number of years were taking their toll on his cash flow and on his net worth.

Brad’s banker had been supportive in the original building project and went a step further and provided the necessary credit to buy farmland six years ago when everything was going well. Things had changed since then, and now Brad’s land ownership costs were so high that $300 or $400 an acre cash rent looked cheap.

Even with all of these challenges, Brad was able to move forward until two years ago, when a windstorm came through at precisely the wrong time and snapped off most of his corn crop.

Since his yields had been so good during the prior years, he had dropped his crop insurance coverage in an effort to save some money on cash flow. The storm came early enough in the season that there was mold on the stalks, and Brad could not even salvage part of the crop by chopping it.

Things went downhill quickly after that. Brad’s wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and between surgeries and chemotherapy, his attention to the farm was gone for about six months.

During that time, Brad had a stray voltage problem and production from his cows dropped. Brad then ceased to cash flow, and his operating note skyrocketed. After the first year, his banker was extremely concerned and told him there would have to be significant changes for the bank to continue to loan money.

The world was closing in quickly around Brad. His situation was not unknown in his neighborhood. There was an outpouring of concern and compassion for his wife during her battle with cancer. Some of the neighbors helped put in crops, and his dairymen neighbors all knew about his struggles with stray voltage.

While Brad did not walk around telling people that he was in trouble with the bank, those around him understood the stress he was under.

Would people be shocked to hear that Brad and his wife were getting a divorce?

What would happen if Brad felt his problems were too much and chose to end his life?

Would Brad’s neighbors and friends be so focused on the events happening that they ignore potential outcomes?

Everyone knows it has been tough for farmers the last few years. Farming has been very unprofitable for most dairymen.

After going through many hard experiences, it would be sad to see everything fall apart for any farmer.

Do we look at Brad’s situation and say, “If only he had asked for help?” What would it take for us to offer assistance?

Just like the squirrel and the dog, we can watch situations unfold from a distance. If we are wise enough to know what is going to happen, then we have some obligation to reach out to those in need before the inevitable occurs.


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