Monday, November 9, 2009

Expand and Prosper

It's the name of the game in America...EXPAND and PROSPER!  We are notorious for it and undoubtedly accomplished at it.  Corporate business models give credence to the philosophy as they grow and succeed, then grow some more.  A recent conversation on twitter has made me think a bit about what I see as an interesting situation brewing in truly rural areas dominated by the agricultural sector.  The optimist would tell you that there is great potential for young adults entering the agricultural realm while the pessimist would argue against this sentiment.

The Optimist:

The slant in the optimist's mind goes something like so: a great majority of America's farmers and ranchers are now over the age of 60 and will be reaching retirement age in the near future (assuming this actually exists in agriculture, I'm not quite a believer) leaving a huge void in our agricultural production system.  Great!  This means more opportunities for agriculture's up and coming generation to EXPAND and PROSPER.  Therefore, vast land holdings may come on the market as a result of disinterest from younger generations or retirement of the older generation.  Either way, when there is void, the people who step up and fill it stand to make a substantial gain.  Could this be a positive light in the future of Rural America?

The Pessimist:

"Well, the only get bigger, the rich only get richer and I'm out of the running anyway."  Have you ever heard something like this?  Even in my limited experience in rural America, I have heard it many times.  Take for instance out home in Eastern Colorado.  Kirk, Colorado (try googling that one if you're up for something rural!) is a true blue farm and ranch community with a good deal of family agriculturalists doing a great job feeding the world on a daily basis.  Even in this real deal family farm community, it would be a safe estimate that roughly 4 families essentially "run" things around town.  Most likely their success has been driven by sound management and an intense will to EXPAND and PROSPER.  In fact, one family farm in the community farms over 56 sections of ground!  Farming operations that big have the connections and capital to create a great advantage and expansion possibility.  In my experience with western farmers and rancher, the will and need to expand is vital. However, land deals from retiring or failing producers often get swept under the rug and are usually arranged before any party might even have an incling that land is for sale.  With this type of system, the big continually grow and prosper while the smaller farms who indeed want to expand find a great difficuluty in procuring the land assets they need to enter the realm of profits.  Mustering the clout and political connection to find any additional land almost becomes an impossibility.

Personally, I find it interesting that a good deal of honest, hard working farm families are unable to find success in their operation because of the inability to expand.  Judging by the American journalistic climate, one might assume that a small beef operation or organic farm has great profit potential.  Unfortunately, discussion among a variety of normal family farmers here in the US would probably warrant a different answer than portrayed in the media.  In the end, I believe that our rural constituents in America need to find perspective in moderation in order to keep agriculture solvent while cultivating tomorrow's wave of optimists.  In no way do I advocate government regulation and limitation to the size of holding that a person has the right to pursue.  However, if you're in the 50+ section club, maybe its time to allow fresh blood into the mix so they too can EXPAND and PROSPER!

Any input and discussion you may have on this subject is welcome and encouraged!

1 comment:

  1. I think it comes down to niche marketing.

    You can't compete with economies of scale by selling the same product cheaper - but you can sell a different product for a greater profit. Lots of growers, especially near urban markets, are doing quite well selling boutique crop and meat varieties and intangible philosophy.

    And, of course, it wouldn't hurt if subsidies were designed as investments in people and infrastructure and not crutches for the half-dozen major ag products.