ReachOut: The Long View

ReachOut: The Long View from United Farmers Cooperative on Vimeo.

Mike Zwingman

Mike Zwingman

If I decided whether or not to ever golf again based on the results of a single swing of my club, odds are strong that I would in fact never see a green again.  I am not a great golfer.  So fortunately, I don’t base my decision on whether or not to golf again on a single swing, but rather on the entirety of a round.  At least once a round, I make a PGA-style shot: a drive that flies long and straight, a chip that takes a perfect bounce and roll toward the hole.

I golf again for that shot, and for the others I make that I might not include in a personal highlight reel but that make me puff out my chest a little and think that maybe this golf thing isn’t such a bad way to spend an afternoon after all.

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It’s probably true that for most things in life, we take a similar kind of long view.  If you have a car insurance policy but don’t get into an accident one year, it doesn’t mean that you cancel the policy the next year.  If you take a jacket into the field one morning and discover that you don’t need it, it doesn’t mean that you’ll never take a jacket into the field again.  It just means that you didn’t need it that day.

Where we often fail to take the long view though is in our field inputs, particularly with products.  Perhaps you’ve tried a certain product before—a seed treatment or nitrification inhibitor or fungicide—and found that at the end of the season, it didn’t pay off in the way that you expected.  So you’ve never used that product again.  You decided that the product in question proved little value to you.

But determining the true value of a product to your operation requires the same long view that you use in other arenas of life.  Imagine that you never take a jacket into the field again based on the warmth of one day.  Perhaps you won’t need it the next or the next day either, but then there’s that nippy morning and you find yourself wanting that jacket very much indeed.

For most products, we run about a 50/50 chance each season that we will encounter the kinds of conditions that maximize their value.  Take, for example, soil borne diseases in a soybean field.  Any one of them can have an extremely detrimental effect on your yield, so with evidence of one, you would probably choose to apply a seed treatment to protect against it.  That seed treatment is an insurance policy against the 50% chance that conditions favor the proliferation of the disease in question.

If such conditions don’t develop, the short-sighted grower might decide that his seed treatment investment wasn’t valuable.  The long-sighted grower however would recognize that although the seed treatment ultimately wasn’t necessary that year, it might be necessary the next or the next.  Because one year, the conditions will be right for the disease, and the short-sighted grower will be smacked.  Hard.

The value of a product must be measured over time.  If Product X costs you $12 an acre and for three years, conditions don’t develop to maximize the value of Product X, but in the fourth year your continued use of Product X saves you 26 bushels per acre, then Product X surely has value.  It took some time to realize it, but averaged over the years, the product actually saved you money.

The odds of environmental conditions repeating themselves another year are somewhat astronomical.  Conditions change.  So in an industry where profit or loss depends on conditions, we need to look at more than one year to determine the value of a given thing.  Conditions are also mostly unpredictable, so we need to be prepared for the what ifs and the probable cases.  If these don’t come to pass in a certain year, they very well will come to pass in another.  We need to bet on that probability and take short term losses into perspective along with long term wins.

Header1Are you feeling like I’m making you a sales pitch?  That I’m asking you to give agronomically sound products a second chance?  Yes?  Then I’d say to you that we’re living in a country born on second chances.  The long view is quintessentially American, like Ford or Chevy (which are both around today thanks to second chances).  I’m not making you a sales pitch.  I’m making a common sense appeal that most things in life, including products, deserve a second look, a reevaluation.

Don’t bet the future of your golf game on a single swing.  Bet it on the probability that within a round, you’ll hit at least one shot so immensely pleasing that it makes the price of the round worth every single red penny.