Tag Archives: Allan Nation

What Is the Greatest Challenge to Being A Grass Farmer?

This article is printed in the most recent issue of The Stockman Grassfarmer and written by our good friend, Jim Gerrish.  For more great articles like this, subscribe to The Stockman Grassfarmer.  If you are interested in an upcoming speaking engagement or prefer private consultation, contact Jim.

What Is the Greatest Challenge to Being A Grass Farmer? By Jim Gerrish

MAY, Idaho,

Allan Nation used the term “grass farmer” to describe a new type of agricultural producer who was something beyond the conventional mold of a farmer or a rancher.

The true grass farmer is someone who understands the foundation of our business is harvesting solar energy and converting it into a salable product.

A grass farmer strives to create a healthy landscape where water infiltrates and does not escape the boundaries of the farm as runoff; someone who understands that life in the soil is as critical to farm production as the life above the soil.

A grass farmer understands the fewer steps you put between your livestock and the direct harvest of solar energy, the more likely it is that you will be profitable.

The true grass farmer is someone who becomes one with their landscape and the life within it.  Grass farming has been described as farming in harmony with nature.  This is contrary to many of the basic tenets of conventional or industrial farming where nature is viewed more as an enemy to be vanquished.  Droughts and floods.  Weeds and bugs, Scorching summer and bitter winter.  All of these are aspects of nature conventional farmers and ranchers do daily battle to overcome.

It is very hard for most conventional farmers to understand grass farmers.  For this lack of understanding grass farmers are often ridiculed, ostracized, and sometimes, sadly, beaten into submission to the gods of iron and oil.  Sometimes that conflict is fought in the local coffee shop, sometimes across the neighbor’s fence line, and sometimes across the kitchen table.

That brings me to the consideration of what is the grass farmer’s greatest challenge.

Four years ago, I received an anonymous letter from a frustrated grass farmer.  It was five pages long and it outlines a 30-year long struggle to convert the family farming operation to an entirely pasture-based grass farming business.  The letter writer asked me to somehow tell this story and try to help other farm families struggling with the same issues find some resolution.

I thought about that letter quite a bit at the time and tried to find something to pull out of it for a monthly column.  I came up empty.

Earlier this year, I spent a day with a farm family and when I left, one of the family members put an envelope in my hand and suggested I read the contents some time later,. I did and, lo and behold, it was the same letter I had received anonymously four years earlier.

Now I had a face and a person to attach the story to.  The victim-less crime now had a victim.  How many times do we experience that in life?  Some issue that never mattered an iota to us becomes a cause when it becomes personal.

I think the greatest challenge to becoming a true grass farmer are those family members who cannot see the farm with the same vision.

If your brother is a crop farmer who sees only gross income, how is he going to switch from growing corn bringing in $1000/acre to a cow-calf operation with a revenue of only $300/acre?  That is a very hard sell.  But, why does he have a job in town?  He says he can’t make it just farming.  When the breakeven cost of growing a bushel of corn is $3.85/bushel and the price is $3.46/bushel, a gross income of $1000 doesn’t pay the bills.

If you have a gross margin of $240/calf and it takes you three acres to run a pair year around, the gross margin per acre is $80.  Which enterprise is actually better for the farm?

As long as your brother looks at gross income rather than gross margin per acre, he will never understand grass farming as a viable business.

When you have been taught all your life to till ground, kill weeds, spray bugs, and take whatever price the elevator offers you, it is hard to understand there is another way to use the farm.

If your culture says land must be divided with a 5-strand barbwire fence on the quarter section line, how can you accept weird shaped pastures created with single polywire?  The whole cultural construct must first change.

As long as the mentality is that is it OK to spend $100,000 for a new tractor but you must buy the cheapest electric fence energizer at the farm and home store, grass farming will not move ahead.  As long as the thought process i that the land rental rate is too high to run cattle on that field so we better plow it up, grass farming will never advance.

When farmers can wrap their heads around the idea that Mother Nature is our friend, then grass farming will move forward.  When we truly believe our mission as stewards of the land is to create a living landscape on every acre of ground we manage, then we will become true grass farmers.

Sadly, that is why we still say we advance only one funeral at a time.

Hate to start the New Year with such a downer thought.  Let’s see what February brings.

 

Jim Gerrish is an independent grazing lands consultant provide service to farmers and ranchers on both private and public lands across the USA and internationally.  He can be contacted through www.americangrazinglands.com.  His books are available from the SGF Bookshelf page 26.  He will present a Stockman Grass Farmer Grassroots of Grazing Schooland a Stockman Grass Farmer Management-Intensive Grazing School in February.  

 

 

No One Owes You A Living!

 

The world, including the US, does not owe you a living. Or as Dave Ramsey would say, “You Are NOT Entitled To Anything“. If you dream to make a widget and insist that everyone must support you in your dream and insure that you make a full time living making that widget, then i fear you may be sorely disappointed.  Especially, if your widget making imposes on others’ freedom and property rights.

There are very few, if any, financially successful people with no debt and have, or are building wealth, working only one job.  Often the most successful have at least 2 or 3 other gigs on the side going.  (Even Warren Buffet has several unrelated income streams going!)  When you are in your teens, twenties, and even into thirties, you have energy, vision,  and motivation that enable you to put in 10-16 hours a day, 6 days a week.  This allows you to save, build equity, and work towards your dream job if you aren’t already doing that.  When you are older and that energy level drops, hopefully those side gigs are the money invested which are then working for you rather than you working for it.

I recently wrote a blog which told of the near impossibility of a person to get into farming or ranching these days.  This is largely due to the out of balance cost of land vs its productive value.  However, it is not yet impossible to farm and build wealth – even without incurring massive debt!  It may take longer, however.  And, i know of absolutely no one – young or old, in the present or in the past- who can farm or ranch (or any other business for that matter) full time without some sort of side gig.  Read stories of old timers – they were blacksmiths, carpenters, mechanics, traders, transportation specialists, suppliers; any skill they could put to use for pay was engaged.  Wives farmed alongside their husbands, raised the children, and often had a couple side gigs as well.  (Yes, i know that many women are farmers and ranchers, i am one, but also raised my own children, managed the household, and help with the farm.)  It is the same today – if you want to farm (or start any business for that matter) you’d better put a sharp pencil to how you’ll put food on the table and a roof over your head.  Don’t incur debt and make sure you have some savings.  (a borrower is always slave to the lender).  Operational farm debt is as bad as school loans.  Debt for building  a depreciating asset may be the worst of all!  What if something happens to you?  make sure you have plenty of life insurance!  Liability, maintenance, disease, accident associated with buildings and machinery are expensive and ongoing.  Once debt is incurred for a single purpose gadget, you have to keep it going or you may default or leave your family with a ball and chain which seldom adds value (it may actually devalue) to your property. Better yet, don’t go into debt.

Keep your paying job and save your money before you buy a single acre or cow or gadget. Many ranchers today are leasing both land and cattle which can be a great way to get started with very little investment or risk.  Best book i’ve read on this is Greg Judy’s book, No Risk Ranching.  Maybe you won’t have the exact same opportunities that Greg has, but use your imagination – maybe you’ll have to move – as Allan Nation, founder and former editor of Stockman Grass Farmer, used to say, “Everyone has an unfair advantage.”  Figure out yours and put your best foot forward.

Many farmers today still abide by the ways of Earl Butz to ‘get big or get out’ and we now have such an abundance and overproduction of all products that prices continue to slide.  Yet, the mantra continues to be ‘produce more’  and use the economy of scale to maximise profits.  That may good to a point, but the cost to the environment has been substantial by farming ‘fence row to fence row’  and with government subsidies now firmly entrenched there is less risk of a ‘failed crop’ resulting in going broke regardless of debt load or lack of wise financial planning.

I’m not espousing a return to farmers falling out due to the vagaries of weather, political machinations, or burdensome regulations.  Without subsidies, food, fiber, energy prices could soar to the level of parity and the consumer would certainly cry ‘foul’.  But, we all must remember that the economic  rule of supply and demand may cause us to consider better management practices.

There is the concept of focusing on profit rather than production.  If it is possible to make more money producing 120 bushel corn to the acre rather than 200 bushels to the acre, would that be something to consider?  what is the cost to the land and quality of life to produce 200 and even 300 bushels to the acre?  Can i do a better job of regenerating and improving the soil i have to increase pounds, bushels per acre and lower cost as well?  There are a lot of opportunities and new/old practices to learn – the hard part is keeping it simple and CHANGE!  This is a head issue – don’t be a stiff necked people.

Speaking of quality of life – how have you organised your dream?  does it enhance and edify others?  or detract from the lives of others?  is it sustainable?  is it regenerative?  can you keep doing this for the next 60 years?   If not, it’s not sustainable and you had better have a plan in place for the future, less strong, less energetic you.  Will your model rely on unpaid labor of yourself or your family?

Happy Planning!

 

Proverbs 6:

1My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor, have given your pledge for a stranger, 2if you are snared in the words of your mouth, caught in the words of your mouth, 3then do this, my son, and save yourself, for you have come into the hand of your neighbor:  go, hasten,a and plead urgently with your neighbor.

4Give your eyes no sleep and your eyelids no slumber; 5save yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter,blike a bird from the hand of the fowler.

6Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. 7Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, 8she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.

9How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? 10A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, 11and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.

12A worthless person, a wicked man, goes about with crooked speech, 13winks with his eyes, signalsc with his feet, points with his finger, 14with perverted heart devises evil,
continually sowing discord; 15therefore calamity will come upon him suddenly; in a moment he will be broken beyond healing.

16There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him:
17haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, 19a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.

 

Allan Nation tips for Young People

We just received the new issue of Stockman Grass Farmer magazine and inside is a small feature entitled, “Allan Nation‘s Journal Jottings.”  This is a little section to share some of the many notes Mr Nation jotted down while reading.  Allan Nation died last November and thankfully, his wife, Carolyn, and friends are bravely moving forward with his vision of helping farmers become better graziers.  Check out Stockman Grass Farmer.  News, events, books, DVDs, CDs, and all sorts of archived information.

Guidelines for Young People

  1. Find out what you really want to do before you go to college.
  2. Go to work for a small, fast-growing business at any level.
  3. Show up for work on time, look, and dress sharp
  4. Keep fixed living costs low.  Rent, don’t buy.
  5. Where does the money come into your employer’s business?  Get to that spot as close as possible.
  6. Don’t be overhead.
  7. Don’t go into business for yourself until you are 30.
  8. Work in your career field at any level while you are going to college.
  9. Consider getting a general business degree.
  10. Make sure you understand the core business model you are working in.

Good thoughts!

Shalom!

tauna