Friday, July 3, 2015

A Boomer's Advice to Generation X

January 1996

Like many of you (our publishers hope), I enjoyed the article about the young farmers and their attitudes. I am no longer young (46), but I am remarkably immature, so I feel I can relate to many of the ideas expressed. I have no quarrel their basic tenets, but would offer some comments on what may be ahead in the frame-of-mind adjustment category for X Generation agriculturalists.

Oddly enough, you are not the first generation of farmers to express fear of six-digit debt, vote conservative, or haggle for the lowest bid. While it is possible that you will remain true to the beliefs you now hold, you may find time will shift your basic outlook on life. I would offer these suggestions:

  1. New is not synonymous with better. I can't believe I just said that.  The trick is to separate the useful new things from the trivial. I drive new computers and old trucks. Keep in mind that you have been trained from birth to consume and lust for tomorrow’s products. Generally what we are looking for are not new products but new experiences.
  2. Mercifully, you can't begin to imagine what the demands of a growing  family (especially with teenagers) will be on your person and business. The curve for family expenses rises exponentially, normally just when you most want to expand your farming business. This is kind of like trying to build a car while driving it down the road. The demands for your capital are not well-timed or sequenced harmoniously. Trust me; you can survive a wide range of living standards for a good cause.
  3. I think it is safe to say your generation is slightly more self-oriented than your predecessors. Initially, this will seem to be the best possible way for you to pursue success. However, an interesting side effect of life is that sometimes you succeed when your friends succeed. I did not realize how important the web of friendships was professionally until I hit middle age. Suddenly, people I know well, even dated, are landlords, politicians, investors, or others who know things that can help me a lot. If you don't have time or the inclination to participate in a wide and active social life, don't expect to be included in the benefits of association.
  4. Self-gratification can come from surprising sources. The pursuit of happiness need not be choreographed by a travel agent, car salesman, or exercise program. Good times mostly just happen. 
  5. A brief word about loyalty. Actually few farmers are born with a compulsion to be loyal to a coop, dealer, etc. Loyalty is a product of history, one thing that young people are, by definition, lacking. What may seem as an unbusiness-like attachment may be the second or third act of a real-life drama at which you just arrived. After a dealer has gone beyond the call of duty, or surpassed your expectations during a personally crucial farming episode, a few hundred dollars on a machinery deal seems insignificant. Also, and more surprisingly, dealers can be loyal to you in return. Finding the machine you need and letting you know first, or realizing what is crucial to your operation and tailoring his services accordingly are examples. Then there is the situation of the salesman being a high school buddy or the fertilizer dealer marrying your sister. My fuel guy is a close friend who is always at least 5¢ above the market it seems, but I no longer agonize about whether to do business with him. He and I have moaned over being fathers and self-employed and husbands for too long for me to hurt a friend for mere money. During your career you will spend millions on inputs, but only have a handful of good friends.  Pick the right asset to economize on.
  6. Be careful equating debt with some moral deficiency. None of us entered this profession with the dream of borrowing lots of money.  "When I grow up, I want to owe millions!" You may discover, as many before you have, that the American farmer is one of the best in the world at putting money to work. When your competition is leaving you behind by wisely using outside capital, give yourself some moral operating room to be flexible. Believe it or not, there is no golden award for having paid cash.

Finally, I want to apologize for what may seem as a cynical and pessimistic attitude in our profession at times. It is not universal, but many of us have been trained to keep our mouth shut if things are OK so as to not make others feel bad. Unfortunately, this means that you don't hear from the successful often and may believe that farming is neither rewarding nor fun.  It is both. You represent the energy and enthusiasm needed as a constant input in any thriving industry. Welcome to the bigs, ladies and gentlemen.   Have a great career!   

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