ReachOut: Navigating Uncertain Water

ReachOut: Navigating Uncertain Water from United Farmers Cooperative on Vimeo.

Mike Zwingman

Mike Zwingman

There’s fear in the air right now, and no, it has nothing to do with the jack-o-lantern puckering on your porch or the leftover peanut butter kisses no one will eat until some desperate sugarless day in January.

I’ve written here before about fear.  While agriculture is a time-tested, necessary, and noble industry, it isn’t exactly consistent.  It rains too much one month and then not enough for the following six.  Corn is $7 one October and $4 the next.  Your combine breaks.  Insects and weeds pop up from nowhere.  Hail happens.  Harvest starts soggy and cold.

Even the most experienced among us can barely help the anxiety and, yes, fear that creeps in during these moments of insecurity when all is well and then it’s not.  You might be farmers, but you’re still human.

And right now is one of those moments.  I feel it, and I’ve talked enough with you all to know that you feel it, too.

Since we’re all talking about the same thing, let’s name it, yes?  There’s a power in naming it: we can rationalize and attack the thing once we know it.  So.  This fear isn’t a Halloween leftover.  It’s a yet-to-be-passed Farm Bill.  It’s a changing economic landscape bringing lower commodity prices.  And it’s, the biggie for us, looming water restrictions.

None of these things is small beans—in fact, they are all very big beans indeed—and if that list is scarier to you than any Halloween movie or costume, then amen, friend, amen.  But.  The effect of these things on us has little to do with the actual thing itself and everything to do with our reaction to it.

As in, The Exorcist is only the scariest movie ever if you’re scared of it.

This isn’t to trivialize your concern or anxiety or fear as we face waters made uncertain by Mother Nature, the Market, and the Government.  It is to tell you that there is an alternate choice to fear, which is control.

When it doesn’t rain for two months, you can get worried, or you can cuss up your own storm, or you can do a rain dance, or you can make alterations to your practice to help your crops best weather such a drought.  Whether this drought would a) ruin your life, or b) be manageable absolutely depends not on the drought at all but on your response to it.  Responding with the aim of taking control, of being the author of your own future, makes crappy prospects not just bearable, but manageable.

For those people who really take the bull by the horns, initially crappy prospects can become not just manageable, but fruitful.  Imagine that a farmer responds to a drought by improving his soil conditions—he begins using cover crops and increases the amount of organic matter to achieve a soil with superior water holding capacity.  His next yield is higher, no matter if the drought persists or not.  His response to the situation made him not fearful or angry, but prosperous.

Agriculture is the most innovative field in history, and this distinction shouldn’t stop now.  We’re the freaking pioneers for crying out loud.  They couldn’t control the weather or the locusts any better than we can, yet we ourselves are living evidence that they not only forged ahead but flourished.  You, like your industrial ancestors, have all the tools you need to flourish regardless of the challenges we face.

Header1Take heart in your innovative abilities, knowledge of management practices, and use of technology.  How these current issues will resolve—when the drought will end, when the Farm Bill will pass, what exact resource allocations we might face—is yet to be seen, but we cannot stall our operations or delay decisions waiting for the chips to fall.  What the best answers will be in response to these issues is as well yet to be seen, but the solutions, friends, are things that we can work out together through comparison and collaboration.

Good answers are out there—answers that ensure not only our survival through uncertain times, but our prosperity through them.  We need only the right perspective to recognize them.