Economy presents challenges, opportunities
Good economic news is sparse these days. While farm bankruptcies jumped and the Farm Credit System charged off about $500 million in bad debt last year, Jamie Stewart, president and CEO of the Federal Farm Credit Banks Funding Corp. said, "We're not seeing an accelerating problem."
These days, that passes for good news. As the world's economic problems have played out during the past year and a half, a single conclusion has emerged: The recovery won't be quick. During the coming months and years, economic activity will build and pump oxygen into the banking system and the private sector, including agriculture.
The result will be a vital economy and, hopefully, wiser leadership on Wall Street and in Washington, D.C.
But if one looks, glimmers of silver linings can indeed be found among the black clouds.
Already, some manufacturers are rehiring workers. Layoffs have slowed, indicating the downward spiral is flattening. Interest rates remain at near-record lows, priming the weakened housing and business sectors.
The brightest glimmer lies in the resourcefulness of farmers and ranchers, many of whom have seen hard times before. They know the road to prosperity can be rocky. As importantly, they know the key to survival is changing with the times.
Anyone who sits back and waits for the "good times" to return will certainly be disappointed and possibly victimized by his or her lack of vision.
Whether you raise beef cattle or lily bulbs, whether you milk goats or grow greens, the economy continues to move under our feet. Not only does it change year by year, in some cases it changes minute by minute.
Take, for example, the wheat industry. Not too long ago, drought in major wheat-producing regions such as Australia combined with speculators and rising demand to send wheat prices skyward. Day by day, they jumped, first by a few cents and then by dollars.
Some farmers who would have welcomed $4 a bushel wheat found themselves reaping $14 a bushel.
Then the balloon didn't pop, but it certainly has deflated. Most prices have returned to slightly higher than the cost of production.
Wheat farmers, like so many others in agriculture, continue to look for ways to innovate: carving out a niche, exploring new overseas markets, testing different blends for pasta, bread and even bagels. Those efforts, and others that will follow, ultimately will open more doors and find more markets for U.S. wheat.
Part of innovation is asking a pair of questions: What am I doing, and why am I doing it?
There's no wrong answer to the first question, though diversification in producing crops and marketing should always be a component of the answer.
The only wrong answer to the latter question is, "Because I've always done it that way."
All sectors of agriculture know that innovation, along with a sharp pencil and a sharp eye for emerging trends, will win the day.
When the economy is booming, nearly anyone can make money. It's when the going gets tough that the innovators find new ways to succeed.