Dale Jones wandered aimlessly around his shop on a Tuesday morning. It was cold outside, and even though the shop had some heat, it was hard for him to become motivated and attack a project.
The auto steer on one of the tractors stopped working correctly at the end of the season. He had actually finished by manually driving the tractor. Of course, Dale knew he was woefully unqualified to start a project of this nature. He didn’t know if the problem was electronic, hydraulic or, even worse, a GPS issue.
Dale also considered working on his corn planter. Again, he lacked the proper equipment and knowledge to do the job.
A few hours later he ended up back in the house sitting in his office looking at crop records. Unlike many people, Dale actually had a written marketing plan. However, he felt he was doing a mediocre job selling his crop.
In his earlier years he had a passion for following the markets. The last few years the markets moved contrary to his predictions and his plan far underperformed his expectations. Perhaps he needed a professional to give him advice.
After lunch, Dale was at the doctor’s office for a check up on his heart. Lately he felt as if it wasn’t beating properly. While the doctors and new tests seemed very thorough and no problem was found, he struggled to understand what was really going on.
That evening Dale watched a show on public television about the extinction of dinosaurs. Scientists suggested an asteroid hit the earth many years ago, changing the climate significantly. They believed dinosaurs were not able to adjust to these changes and died off.
As Dale went to bed, he began to believe he had turned into a dinosaur. The farming world had already changed and would continue to change so quickly that he did not believe he could adjust.
Perhaps the asteroid for farming was $8 corn a few years ago, or it might have been the explosion of technology. Regardless of the cause, Dale felt as if he had been left behind.
As Dale lay in bed considering his situation, the only good thing that came to his mind was the fact that he was 57 years old. Perhaps as an old dinosaur he could simply continue to do what he had been doing and survive the next 10 to 15 years. Dale also wondered if his heart would fail him, and that possibility was not very comforting.
As a farmer, perhaps you have considered the same questions as Dale. Has the world really changed? Has the technology asteroid hit and now regular people cannot raise or market crops?
Dale drifted off to sleep and soon his troubled mind was dreaming. He found himself planting corn in the middle of a large field. Without any warning, his tractor turned to the right and drove through a waterway. Dale tried to disengage the auto steering, but instead the tractor turned to the left and headed toward a 10 feet deep creek.
Dale frantically pushed the clutch all the way to the floor and stepped on both brakes, but the tractor continued on. Over the bank he went, plunging into the creek.
Dale woke up in bed with his heart pounding. He had kicked the blankets off the bed as his feet thrashed around in his dream. His wife was now wide awake, and she stared at Dale who was babbling on about driving into a creek and planting corn. After order was restored and his wife was asleep, fear kept Dale awake. It was another hour before he fell asleep again.
Dale found himself in a new dream standing in the co-op office. Because he had not locked-in his anhydrous, he was now paying $800 a ton. Somehow, he had also entered into a grain contract without a floor. He stood at the counter and sold all of next year’s corn crop for $1.97. As he turned to walk away, his banker walked through the door and told Dale his financing was over. There would be no future credit for him.
Dale woke up, but this time there was no thrashing around. There was just a sense of despair and hopelessness.
It was now morning and Dale got up. Rather than go outside to work, he sat at his desk and looked out the window for a long time.
As it had done for the past 57 years of his life, the sun came up in the east and Dale watched it shine on the farm. This peaceful view helped Dale calm down. He was thankful he had not died during the night, nor had he driven into a creek or given away his corn crop. While the world had changed from when he started farming 37 years ago, Dale had changed also.
Yes, some of the equipment he owned required help for repairs and maintenance. Dale was fine asking for it. Just as he would never consider running an EKG on himself or doing his own bloodwork, having a competent person help him was the right thing to do.
New technology and techniques have made farming far more efficient. The same acres Dale now operates once required the labor of six farmers.
Sitting in his office, Dale began to put things in the proper perspective. The $8 corn was just a large swing in the corn market. It was not an asteroid crashing into the earth disrupting everything indefinitely.
Those few years with great marketing opportunities were now being followed by a very predictable swing in the markets. Low-profit or break-even years complete the market cycle.
We may need to adjust to the world around us, but this adjustment is not a new thing. Each generation has its own changes and challenges to face. Our history is full of economic, political, climactic and technological changes. If we are willing to make changes as necessary, we can prevent feeling like or even becoming a farm dinosaur.
Bob Dunaway and Associates offer estate and retirement planning. Gary Johnson can be reached at 563-927-4554 or by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.