Flexibility. If there is one thing I’ve learned living the agricultural life, it is that flexibility is a must. The best laid plans can, and will, go out the window in a heartbeat, whether it’s the cows getting out, a freak ice storm, weeks without rain after weeks of downpours, or even political tensions half a world away affecting our commodity markets here at home. Flexibility and agriculture go hand in hand.
A recent example would be the propane crisis a few weeks ago. Prices in our area more than doubled almost overnight, brought on by a perfect storm of industry hits. For many, the timing couldn’t have been worse. As we were hit with the coldest spell of weather year-to-date, many poultry and swine producers had no choice if they were to keep their livestock alive, putting a huge financial strain on their operations.
Another example this past year is the outbreak of PEDv in the swine industry. The results have been devastating not only financially but physically and emotionally as the virus as an almost 100 percent mortality in young pigs once it hits a farm. The loss of production for even a cycle or two can burden an operation with expenses running even higher and no income coming in to compensate.
The last example is ongoing – weather. For several years now one portion or another of our country has been hit by severe drought while other by devastating floods. Even in “normal” years, our production is affected by weather changes – summer showers during hay season, wet fields at harvest time, high winds (or tornados) flattening fields in springtime. Not only does weather affect the production, it affects the price, driving prices of commodities up or down as supply and demand take their toll.
So how do we cope when it’s out of our hands, without throwing in the towel or losing our shirts? Flexibility. For those affected by the propane crisis, perhaps it meant refusing a flock until prices went down, dipping into emergency funds or even approaching their integrator for assistance. Swine producers have become extra vigilant in biosecurity measures, some making changes to their buildings and day-to-day operations, and some allowing PEDv to run its course through their herd in order to build antibodies and protect future piglets from the disease. And when it comes to weather, we put in place risk management measures to protect our livelihoods – crop and livestock insurance, price protection measures, emergency operating lines. And in all of these, we have to maintain a good working relationship with our bankers. If we keep them in the loop, our bankers will know how to react when a crisis comes our way and help us put a plan in place so that we can keep on keeping on. We in agriculture pray for the good, endure the bad and continue through it all. It is a lifestyle and we wouldn’t have it any other way.