Baxter Black: A confusing spring
June 11, 2011
I'm sitting here reading the newspaper about farms in Missouri and Louisiana being deliberately flooded to prevent inundation of towns on the Mississippi River. Alabama and Tennessee have been ripped with tornados, there's snow on the ground in Wyoming, it's too wet to plow some places, Texas is burning up and, at my place in Arizona, we haven't seen rain since October.
I guess it's just another run-of-the-mill spring in the Land Outside the City Limits.
Farmers have a right to be confused. Is it good times or bad?
Looks like the price of dairy products is stabilizing, but alfalfa hay costs more than a salad at Ruth's Chris Steak House. The price of gas is $4 a gallon, but it's 30-percent ethanol, made from $7.50 corn.
Am I making money? Or losing it?
Your pasture is droughted out. Should you sell off a hundred cow-calf pairs for enough to clear your debt, remodel the house, and buy a new pickup? Or … ship them 150 miles away to lease pasture for $16 per month per pair for six months, then ship them back just in time to start feeding them hay this fall?
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Even horse traders are in a quandary. Unwanted horses are now up to $80 a head, from $40 last year, which is great, but down from $500 five years ago. Should he be happy or sad?
It seems like we in agriculture are sitting on a bubble. There is good demand for what we sell, but all around us we see things that make us squirm.
The economy in general continues to lag. The federal government, as well as many state governments, seems to resemble Nero fiddling while Rome burns. They manipulate figures like magicians doing card tricks. The Wizard of Oz rolls and thunders and people yawn.
Government, through the Farm Bill, the Environmental Protection Agency and the media, has always been able to maintain a cheap food policy.
Politicians can get vicious when their constituents complain about the high price of food. They take retribution by threatening cuts to the Ag Extension Service, county fairs, Vo-Ag in rural schools, and Food Animal Medicine studies in vet schools. We are at the top of their lists when belt tightening begins.
At this moment, they are looking greedily at that rare opportunity, a resilient productive agriculture, to pillage. All it would take will be an expression of indignant outrage from Nero, the magicians, the wizard, or their entitlement cronies, accusing farmers of making a … heaven forbid … profit.
But, there has never been any confusion of our status as farmers, in the eyes of the ruling class; the politicians, barons, dictators and pundits … we are peasants. And, as such, we must never be allowed to have the power over a commodity as essential as food.
So, enjoy your success while you can, my friends. They are already sharpening their legislative knives.