What Would Clint Eastwood Say?
On the wall in my home office hangs a Somerset Tribune news article from 1940 stating the terms and dates of an agricultural sale to occur in the West Princess Anne area. I don’t know the outcome of the sale other than I know the family did trade the land and equipment that day and did not stay in the agricultural business. It is interesting to consider the reasons and circumstance behind the family’s decision to sell the farms and equipment and even more interesting to consider the opportunities that continuing to farm the land might have created for that family. There are a myriad of economic forces that drive agriculture today and much like the decisions that family faced in 1940, families today face similar challenges as agriculture continues to become more and more competitive. Recently, someone called what I do the “land wars” which seems accurate because at times being a Land Broker feels like a contact sport.
It is my understanding there may even be a movie coming out soon about farming and the struggle to keep the farm in the family. I somehow picture Clint Eastwood standing on the edge of a field stating a strong well phrased one liner that stops the banker cold in his tracks as he attempts to serve the farmer with a foreclosure document. Clearly, that could be entertaining!
While Hollywood may sensationalize today’s farming industry into a box office hit, the challenges for farming today are not without real drama and the stakes are high for farmers to keep or purchase every acre they can manage. It is an oversimplified statement to say farming is about scalability but it is an economic force driving the fundamentals of the profits and long term sustainability of producers in the business. To increase scalability you must either improve the land you farm, the equipment you own, or the efficiency of your farm operation. While improvements of production and efficiency have been a cornerstone for producers to meet the food demands of recent decades, new challenges lie ahead as demand for food increases dramatically in many parts of world. To meet this demand production agriculture is ramping up and farm families are working to grow their farms. The financial principals of modern farming for big agribusiness producers are equal for small farm families to compete as consolidation of farmland and agricultural input costs continue to drive the profitability of farming. This is a function of scalability and daily I speak with farmers seeking to increase the scale of their operation. One of the best translations of the process of increasing scalability is what I see as generational farming. I have been fortunate to work with many farmers working to support their sons, daughters, grandsons and granddaughters. This is perhaps one of the most rewarding parts of my work in understanding this important motivational factor of a farmer buying additional ground to ensure his families future in farming. It sometimes can be quite emotional as we hunt and peck for land around the existing operation or move into another county away from their home operation. Farmers understand the importance of scalability and they recognize that it is going to take more than what they grew up farming to compete, remain profitable and thrive in the competitive agricultural sector in coming years.
I consider this fact each time I sit down with a farmer and I work to understand what their needs are and how I can best help them accomplish their goals. The family that placed that ad in the Somerset Tribute in 1940 was my own family, and it would have been an amazing opportunity to have been a part of their discussion; perhaps I would have been a helpful voice in keeping the farm and staying in agriculture. Clearly, that was not meant to be and perhaps this history in my family has helped me understand the difficulties in the farm business and hold great respect for the families that work each day to feed other people.