Friday, February 22, 2013

Snow Storm Web Surfing

I was doing some web surfing last night since all after school and evening activities were cancelled due to the snow and I came across this blog entry run by the Huffington Post back in 2011.  It is still relavent today. 

This was written by Noah Hultgren who is a corn farmer in Minnesota.  It appeared on the Huffington Post Business section in The Blog.

Face Of Giant Agribusiness
By Noah Hultgren

According to some, I am a giant agribusiness -- the worst kind of factory farmer.
What qualifies me for this dubious distinction? Nothing except that, based on U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) figures, my farm falls in the biggest six percent of U.S. farms. And these farms account for the bulk of federal farm policy support.

It sounds pretty damning, which is why it is the top talking point used by opponents of farm policy looking to dismantle a system, they say, is too tilted to agribusinesses and oppresses small, family farms.

But there's a lot more to this story than a 10-second sound bite would let on. For example, the USDA considers anyone with sales of more than $1,000 to be a farm, so that six percent figure is a little misleading.

The weekend grower on the side of the road selling tomatoes from her garden would be a farmer in the government's eyes. Ditto for the young retiree trying his hand at wine-making.

Ironically, my business is probably more in line with what most of us consider a farm. It is family-run. It was passed down to me from my father and grandfather. It is a full-time effort to support my wife and kids.

And, in order to make it my livelihood, it has sales exceeding $500,000.

Again, that figure can be spun to sound really bad, since most people don't know the difference between revenue and profit. But remember, the $500,000 represents gross sales, not how much money the farm or farmer is making.

A farmer may produce half-a-million dollars worth of goods but might have to spend just as much to grow the crop, making it a break-even proposition and sometimes a losing one.

Seems odd to call these farms corporate titans, especially when you consider that the Small Business Administration classifies most businesses as "small" if their gross sales are under $7 million a year.

How much profit could a "giant corporate farm" like mine hope to generate? The USDA puts profit margins in agriculture at 10 to 15 percent.

So under favorable circumstances -- Mother Nature cooperates, market prices are fair, oil doesn't spike and you don't run into any problems like equipment breaking down and needing expensive repairs -- that $500,000 in sales could generate between $50,000 and $75,000 in profit a year, according to the USDA's estimates.

No corporate executive in his or her right mind would get into such a risky business with such little profit upside. That's why 97 percent of U.S. farms are still owned by families, not by corporations like Cargill, or ADM, or Kraft.

I recognize that some may construe this article as a complaint about farm profits or an attack on smaller farm operations, but that is not my intent.

Farm prices are way up right now and near an all-time high -- and as a result, federal spending is way down. And I know that if America is going to meet tomorrow's food and fiber needs it will take farms of all shapes and sizes.

Smaller, organic growers are part of this puzzle, as are larger, conventional operations like mine, which supply more than three-quarters of our country's food and fiber.

As Secretary of State Clinton said this weekend, "We must redouble our commitment to sustainable agriculture and food security."

She's right. If this nation is going to keep pace with an exploding global population, and if it's going to do it in a sustainable way, then responsible farmers of all sizes have to come together in supporting and encouraging technology and best management practices.

In addition, America needs to urge the next generation to to get involved in farming, despite the low profit margins and risk, to replace aging growers who are retiring.

Our farmers and ranchers are a thin green line standing between a prosperous nation and a hungry world. It's time to refocus on holding all parts of this thin green line instead of tearing it apart with manipulated numbers and disingenuous spin.


I believe that Mr. Hultgren hit the nail on the head with this article.  Any other thoughts out there?

Until next time,

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Frightful Day

The outside is frightful  -

But, there is plenty to do inside like -

plumbing a corn planter and . . .

getting paperwork mailed off to the accountant.  Well, maybe if I can get Cheesecake to move.
I'm not sure how I ended up with two Cheesecakes but he's a friendly cat to have two of.


Friday, February 8, 2013

CommonGround Ladies

The ladies who volunteer to be part of the CommonGround movement come from all aspects of farming and ranching.  Here is a video of Joan Ruskamp, a Nebraska cattle farmer, explaining her family's cattle operation and a little more information about CommonGround.

What a great job Joan!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Super Bowl Winner!

I'll be the first to admit I am not a sports fan.  I'm pretty sure it was the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens that played in the Super Bowl Sunday evening.  Ya, I'm confident that it was the 49ers because I was fascinated by the players' shoes - they were a shiny gold color that reflected off the stadium lights.  My enthusiasm for professional sports has rubbed off on the majority of my famly.  I think 3.5 of the Shirbrouns were interested in the "big game".  I just showed up the commercials. 

There were a few fun commercials and the usual number of commercials that I wonder if a group of teenage boys made up.  By far the best commercial of the night was the Dodge Ram Paul Harvey "So God Made a Farmer".  I almost missed it as I was busy going through my magazine mountain looking for Valentine ideas for son #3.  Up to that point there had been a lot of white noise and all of a sudden there was silence.  I looked up wondering why there was dead air to see "Paul Harvey"  on the screen.  If you haven't seen the commercial here it is:

Wow.  This was definitely a winner in my eyes.  Joe, a dyed in the wool GM guy, said he was ready to go buy a Dodge.  Kudos to Dodge for this excellent commercial and Dodge's support of FFA.  This commercial got the social media community buzzing.

Paul Harvey first recited "Go God Made a Farmer" in 1978 (If I have my facts correct).  A lot in
agriculture has changed since then like the technology used on the farm but other things aren't so different after all.  I recommend you take a moment and read Ryan Goodman's blog entry on CNN's Eatocracy website.  Ryan maintains a blog at   Here's a link to the Eatocrary blog:

The only thing I would have changed in the commercial would have been more pictures of younger farmers but the average age of the American farmer is now up to 57 years old.  So, I guess Dodge is spot on.

Until next time...