Something had to change. Our farm’s financial performance was not getting the job done. It was not illogical to point a finger at bad weather, bad luck, and bad timing. It just didn’t change any of the numbers or ease my own unhappiness.
In desperation I was forced to look at the one area of performance that is the most merciless for my self-esteem: marketing. I have long railed against the marketing obsession of magazines and advisors as just another way to induce feelings of inadequacy throughout the farm belt. After all, marketing is something you always could have done better. Regardless, I had no choice if I was to keep doing what I wanted to do for a living.
With this positive mental attitude, I decided I would grudgingly subscribe to (yes-pay actual money!) a market advisor who seemed to have some meager grasp on logic and then FOLLOW THE ADVICE! I swore this out loud to my wife and friends to insure plenty of irritating support when I began the inevitable backsliding and second-guessing.
I chose an advisor I had heard speak at a seminar and who agreed with my fundamental outlook. Although advisors can be nice people, good marketers get under my skin in a hurry. They seem to insinuate comparison.
Fast-forward to now. The Result: I am satisfied with my marketing this year. This does not mean I have hit the highs and called the lows, but my farm is doing OK. The credit belongs mostly with the advisor, perhaps, but for once, I actually did some of the things I was supposed to do, instead of just thinking, “That sounds like good advice.”
I’m not all that thrilled about this success. Sure, I’m glad to have sold and hedged at the right times (mostly). In addition, I recognize and appreciate the financial stress I’m not having, for once. I even realize I am not anxiously watching for Congress to solve my problems. Nevertheless, this modest victory exacted a price - a steep and unexpected price.
Time To accomplish my marketing plan took much more time than I had expected. And not just idle hours on rainy Saturdays, either. I had to stop the planter to read the day’s fax, get into the house to see the price quotes, struggle to make marketing orders while dust was flying in every field around me - I even got up at 3:30 am. to check the Project A quotes on Monday mornings after the weather forecast was issued. In short, more loathsome deskwork that took top priority. I now believe that to be a successful farmer means my work will be more and more management, less and less operating.
Discipline This is not my strong point, as you may have guessed. I run on emotions and frankly, I like it. It makes life fun and exciting. It rarely makes money. With Jan’s help, I would decipher the recommendations, call the broker or elevator and take a position. And when the market went the wrong way, I strove to remember that losing on a hedge meant winning on my inventory. In short, I made one small painful step in the direction of risk management.
Adaptability I have not farmed for 25 years without acquiring ingrained marketing habits. In fact, I was in a rut - using the same seat-of-the-pants scheme year after year. I liked this rut. It was familiar and required little or no heavy thinking. My new method requires me to constantly analyze and revise my position, and worst of all, keep learning. While I have always considered myself well informed, until now I had not realized the difference between hearing news and responding to it. Moving from knowledge to action is astonishingly hard.
Most years using the “same ol’ same ol’” got me by OK. But the stakes keep rising and the competition doesn’t care whether I want to change or not. I am not alone in wanting farming to be simpler and less mentally and emotionally exhausting. In this, we are no different from every other occupation. All over the world, people bemoan a new level of performance demanded by global competition. Maybe we have been luckier than many professions to have escaped this long.
I have also realized that this could - and likely will - go on forever. Like every other business selling anything, to survive I have to be marketing every day of my career. I am doomed to work I detest. (In fairness, after two years, I now hate it a teensy bit less.)
Maybe this is change isn’t so undeserved. Throughout my career, many of the tasks I truly hated in farming have been eliminated - cleaning out the barn, for example. The physical aspect of farming is now perilously close to enjoyable exercises: operating machinery, building and repairing stuff, driving around in a pickup a lot. There have always been unpleasant tasks. Most of them just used to be outside. Maybe I’ve gotten spoiled. It could even be that I might come to find some small satisfaction in these new chores as well.
So that’s where I am now. My attitude is being adjusted. I no longer think of it as marketing. I picture it as cleaning out a managerial barn - something you just gotta do.