The Part Of Farming I Hate And How It Affects Sustainability

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I am feeling really bummed today. With the “siberian-like” temperatures we have this weekend in Minnesota, I thought I would spend some time in my office and work on our year-end farm analysis. I wish I had done something else. It’s days like today how this is the part of farming I hate and also how it affects sustainability.

In case you are not aware, prices for everything we raise (pigs, corn and soybeans) are very low. We just sold a group of hogs and I can honestly say it has been a very long time since we sold pigs for such a low price. And it stinks. 

What did our pig check cover?

As I looked at our records, the check we received didn’t cover the cost of the pig (when it arrived on our farm at 3 weeks of age) and the feed. What else did it not cover? Well for starters — hired labor, veterinary, supplies, repairs, heat, electricity, insurance, interest, building costs, etc. Yes, this means we worked for nothing. Nada. Zilch. But this check was less than nothing because we still have to pay for all the other expenses it did not cover. 

Sigh . . . 

It’s Risky Business

On our home farm, we only sell twice a year, which means we won’t sell again until June. Yes, that is a lot of risk but it’s just how our farm is setup. 

And the price of corn and soybeans are not any better. The one bright spot is we had good corn yields this past fall. While it’s hard right now to find a bright spot, we have been in this same situation before. It’s just been a while. My head knows that. 

But that doesn’t help my emotions. You just feel discouraged. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t devastating – I just don’t like it. I try to find bright spots so I can at least crack a smile. But it’s hard and that’s why this is the part of farming I hate. 

Farmer Sustainability

As farmers, we need to make a profit. We need to pay our bills and make repairs and upgrades. We also need to put food on our table. If we don’t make a profit, farming is not sustainable. Period. 

So why are pork prices so low? Much of it has to do with the stronger U.S. dollar, we have a lot of pork on the market and we are also short on meat packer space. As far as the stronger U.S. dollar, it makes the pork more expensive for other countries to buy our meat. And traditionally, the pork industry exports about 25% of the pork produced in this country. 

So now what?

Going forward we will continue to monitor our costs and “tighten our belt” where we can. Often people will ask where we take shortcuts if prices don’t cover costs. Would we take a shortcut on animal care? Absolutely not. The bottom line is we can only sell healthy pigs so we will not take a shortcut in their care – even if that means working for nothing. Plus, it’s the right thing to do. 

We know this will not last. We also have farmed long enough that our costs are quite a bit less than younger and mid-level farmers. That will be our advantage going forward through this bump in the road. 

meat counter

So as consumers, please take advantage of the low meat prices at your grocery store. Recently, HyVee was selling Hormel pork roasts for $.99 per pound. I even bought a couple because I couldn’t pass up the bargain. 

Eat Meat!

People say they want farmers to be more transparent. Well, this is transparency folks.

As I remind myself . . .

We are in this for the long haul.

We will become more resilient.

We will be more appreciative of better times ahead.

We will be better farmers.

And tomorrow will be a better day. 

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22 Comments on The Part Of Farming I Hate And How It Affects Sustainability

  1. avatar
    Rae Wagoner says:
    January 17, 2016

    Well said, and obviously from the heart, Wanda. I hope that things get better for you and all of our farmers soon.

  2. avatar
    Eric Bjerregaard says:
    January 17, 2016

    Bummer and my sympathy.

  3. avatar
    huskerruth says:
    January 17, 2016

    Been there done that. Gives you great skills at finding silver linings when they are hardest to see. Sometimes wish my skills weren’t so good.

  4. avatar
    Paula says:
    January 17, 2016

    Thank you for sharing the tough part of farming–not making a profit. And thank you for showing your resiliency.

  5. avatar
    January 17, 2016

    We also worked on farm records today. I feel what your going through! Due to crop prices, we didn’t make as much as normal. I’m no economist, but I’m afraid we are in for some more not so good years.

    • avatar
      January 17, 2016

      We are hearing the same thing. Don’t think we will be seeing any short turnaround. It’s frustrating because our major expenses like seed and herbicides are not coming down. They are charging the same price.

  6. avatar
    Audrey says:
    January 17, 2016

    So sorry. As a family dairy farmer I feel your pain. Sometimes our milkchecks don’t cover our expenses either. Sometimes I just cry. I try to be supportive. And think positive like you. Our farm has been in my husbands family for generations. We want to hang on. And we keep trying. God bless you. Drink milk.

  7. avatar
    Janet says:
    January 17, 2016

    I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. It’s important for all of us to hear “the other side” of farming, and not just the “we love what we do” side. Hugs!

  8. avatar
    Ginger says:
    January 18, 2016

    I have felt this sick feeling for a couple months. We raise cattle and we buy and sell quite often. I know my break even every week. I’ve only been involved with the production side of our farm for the past 3 years and it’s frustrating. I’ve asked many people why our food system is a publicly traded commodity. Why do we gamble with the price of our food? Who set that up? No one can answer the question. We lost a lot of money on our crop this year due to high cash rent and now the cattle market is bad. As younger farmers, I hope we can survive.

  9. avatar
    Rachel says:
    January 18, 2016

    Dairy prices are not good right now either. We also know the feeling of working for nothing. Just like you we make it work, and will continue on. Hope things get better soon.

  10. avatar
    Debra Johnson says:
    January 18, 2016

    We also farm and hope that low prices will bring at least break even prices! One market gal said us farmers live on “hopeium” ?, I guess I’m one of them.

  11. avatar
    Jim says:
    January 19, 2016

    Farm prices way down, grocery prices way up. Fuel prices way down, transportations cost remain high. Figure that out for me

  12. avatar
    January 28, 2016

    Big hugs to you, Wanda! It’s pretty bleak over here on the dairy side, too. Though I just read an article this morning that Jim Rogers, a big time investor, says that ag is always a good place to invest –– I don’t think he was talking about investing in a farm though. Thanks for being so transparent. This “market prices” is an area that needs to be corrected. Farmers have the second highest suicide rate according to the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. And the main cause cited was money –– or lack of. (Getting hate mail from animal rights people doesn’t help either, sigh.)

    • avatar
      January 28, 2016

      Thanks Laura. It’s tough right now to be a farmer. But farmers are always hopeful that better times will be around the corner. And the animal rights agenda is another story. Sigh . . .

  13. avatar
    Megan says:
    April 20, 2016

    You should all give up, make different careers for yourselves. Send the animals the sanctuaries.

    • avatar
      April 20, 2016

      Hmmm, not going to happen. Farming is cyclical and we know it. Farming will improve over time.

  14. avatar
    Greg says:
    October 20, 2016

    40,000 more pig per day slaughter capacity on line in a year?

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