It’s no secret that the agricultural economy is struggling. Exports are out of whack, livestock risk is through the roof, new products are emerging to placate an ever-changing younger demographic set on consuming less beef, and the list just goes on.
As someone who has lived in South Dakota for just two and a half years, I can’t remotely relate to the highs of 2014, but I can sure sympathize with the lows.
For those of you who still may be confused why I call you with a New York area code, I moved to Sioux Falls in the summer of 2017 after an internship in Gettysburg, South Dakota. I met a girl, wanted to be closer to her, found the Neighbor and the rest was history.
In 2008, when the entire globe felt an economic shutter so strong that dozens of corporations went bankrupt at the drop of a hat, New York turned into a frenzy. As the so-called economic hub of the United States, train rides out of the city were filled with endless sorrow as thousands of employees were laid off from the largest companies that call Manhattan home.
I’ve always liked to describe where I grew up as “the last stop on Metro-North,” which is the main train service between upstate New York and New York City. I will never forget the “great recession” being explained to us (I was in ninth grade at the time) and hearing the stories of my friends at my school as they told of layoffs, unemployed parents, unpaid mortgages, and other effects I either don’t remember or couldn’t comprehend at the time.
Through all the hardship, one thing always emerges – community. In 2008, I was closer to my classmates than I had ever been in the past. We all felt the human experience that year, and did for many more years to come. That’s something I feel now in South Dakota.
Those I speak to about farming and ranching touch on the idea that agriculture is one giant family. The farmers, the co-ops, the vendors, and yes, even the bankers and lawyers, all want producers to succeed. There have been dozens of panels, meetings, discussions and interventions on the farm economy over the last two years, and all of it starts with a prayer and an understanding that no one is going through this alone.
I recently had the chance to visit Morton Building’s newest facility in Tea and felt this community once again. Morton Buildings recently opened a new construction center in Tea, South Dakota. During the grand opening last month, I had a chance to speak with Roger Bauer, the property and asset manager at Morton and an employee of the company for nearly 40 years. Bauer dropped something on me that I didn’t expect. He said that over the last seven years or so, Morton’s business has gone from over 60% focused on agriculture to just 27%. The doom and gloom of the ag economy hit the builders. It’s to be expected, but what stood out to me was what Roger told me next: “Ag is who we are and that’s what built us. We are never going to forget that.”
Those two sentences summed up the ag experience, at least for my very short time here on the prairie. Morton may have had to diversify out of ag construction as their bread and butter, but they never left it.
The day after the open house, Morton hosted a picnic that featured farmers and producers to thank them. Name me one other industry as a whole that would do that.
A decade ago back in New York, I watched my friends’ parents get laid off from companies they had worked for more than 20 years in some cases. I can promise you they’ve never been invited to a picnic.
Agriculture is a community above all else. There is never a time, even during the highs, when you forget one another. That community is the reason agriculture survives the low times. You share everything you know and get together several times a year at conventions, field days and farm shows, not only to share some of the sorrow but share the joy too.
It amazes me that I can have a 20-minute discussion about why times are tough right now, then end it with an even longer discussion about being thankful for what you have and the family you share it with.
As the great Jim Woster says to end all of his columns – truly, thank you for all that you do. Never forget that we all need you, even if some people in my generation try their best to say we don’t.