Monday, August 04, 2008

More About Titan Farmers...

My posts this week are going to be relatively short because I have a VERY busy week coming up with work and such. But, since I enjoy posting so much and I absolutely love learning from others I at least wanted to put something up each day. That being said ... I will probably not have much time to comment back or respond to e-mails this week. I check in when I have a break though!

I am always surprised when people stumble across the blog and begin commenting or e-mailing me. It seems like there have been a few more of those lately and I enjoy the interaction, learning, and the opportunity to share some of my experiences. One such e-mail came last week from someone who stumbled across the blog while searching for "beginning farmer" on Google (thank you Google). I thought he had some very valid points that deserved a lot of discussion and thought ... so far I haven't been able to respond to all of those points, but I wanted to hit a couple this week.

The e-mailer wrote: "Here's the thing, I found your site because I'm giving very very serious consideration to taking my degree next May and putting up in closet. So "Beginning Farmer" typed into Google brought me to you. After reading through your site for awhile I wondered if you've ever thought about the challenges that face the very few that are in line to become what you and "A[llan] Nation" describe as the Titan Farmers."

Well, my knee-jerk reaction would be, "Challenges ... they don't face challenges! They inherit huge amounts of land and equipment and employees and whatever else. If you want to see a challenge try to figure out how to build a house, buy land, spend time with your family, work a job, and be a beginning farmer!"

But, I don't really think that is a true response ... let alone a proper response! My thought out response would go something like this...

First of all I'm all about putting the degree up on the shelf (I'm a college dropout) ... but, do make sure you get the degree (I regret being a college dropout). Secondly, I have to admit that I haven't thought about the challenges that those that are inheriting/taking over face. I guess that just isn't what this blog is about, but I'm sure they face some major challenges dealing with management/equipment/land acquesition and more. Also, there is probably some pressure that goes along with keeping the thing going.

But, the biggest thing I would say in response is that the term "Titan Farmer" isn't my term or even Allan Nation's. The term comes from "Top Producer Magazine" (a mag for the big farms). And the writer that Mr. Nation quoted in his column said that he was worried about the direction of the titan farms. I would think that if someone on the inside is worried I should be worried.

Those are some of my thoughts. Now, what are some of yours?


Rich said...

Wow, there is alot to comment about in this one posting!

To start, I think there is some confusion about the definition of "Titan Farmer", from my reading, your e-mailer has confused "Titan Farmer" with "Conventional Farmer" or "Commodity Farmer". There is a world of difference between a farmer growing hundreds of acres of a crop and a Titan growing tens of thousands of acres of a crop.

On another point when you say,
"... they don't face challenges! They inherit huge amounts of land and equipment...", you appear to have joined your e-mailer in confusing conventional farmers and Titan farmers.

Most Titans are probably leasing their farmland and equipment, they are relying on venture capitalists to finance their operations, so that when grain prices fall (which they will) they can simply void any contracts with landholders and equipment leasing companies, and therefore protect their own capital (the landowners can find someone else to farm their land, if there is anybody left).

Somebody farming hundreds of acres of cropland is more likely to have inherited it (or they will lease it from someone else that inherited it), but so what? There is still a cost to farming inherited land; the "lost opportunity cost" of not selling the property or renting to another farmer should be considered when determining profitability.

"...I have to admit that I haven't thought about the challenges that those that are inheriting/taking over face..."

There is no need or point in thinking about whether or not someone else has an “unfair advantage” because they inherited their land. There are a multitude of “unfair advantages” other people might have; more fertile soils, more rainfall, better markets, cheaper labor, lower fuel costs, better loan opportunities, longer growing seasons, milder winters, milder summers, less regulations, etc., if you become overly concerned about one “unfair advantage”, you should be as equally concerned about every other advantage. But in the end you will find that the advantages that others might have are irrelevant to the possibility of your own individual success.

A Farmer's Wife said...

There is a saying I have often heard while growing up in agriculture. It is: "The first generation makes it, the second preserves it and the third loses it." I think one should be very careful when sterotyping Titan Farmers. If they are the third, fourth, fifth or even beyond that generation...they deserve some applause because often when you inherit something, you also inherit a boatload of relatives who share ownership and that opens the largest can of worms imaginable.

I think that your struggles to build your farm will be a credit to you as time goes on. I am a third generation farmer and my husband is a fifth generation. My wise father made sure I struggled and struggled and struggled some more. Many in my husband's family have not struggled and I can easily see them heading down the road that leads to the last part of the above saying...sooner rather than later they will lose it and that is one of the biggest tragedies in American agriculture today.

Anonymous said...

I think that in his original post when he said they didn't face challanges, he said that was his first reaction but not his real answer, but in his real answer he said he doesn't know about what challanges they face but believe there are some and then listed some possibliities. Just gotta keep reading after your defense button is pushed.

Maybe those of you who are involved in the bigger farms could give some of us who aren't some of the thoughts about challanges you face - which will also help answer the question for the man who wrote in.

(By the way, he called himself a titan farmer by this blogs adnd Allen Nations definition, so that is what we have to base our answer and responses on.)

Rich said...

anonymous (if that is indeed your real name) when you said,

"...he called himself a titan farmer by this blogs adnd Allen Nations definition, so that is what we have to base our answer and responses on..."

Do you actually think that the e-mailer identified as someone still in college is actually agonizing about the difficulties they are facing in starting up a multi-million dollar 20,000 acre Titan farm employing dozens of employees? I tend to lean towards assuming that the e-mailer was contemplating a more realistic goal of starting a "conventional farm" of under a thousand acres, was actually referring to the difficulties of starting that type of farm, and had his definitions confused. Until the actual definitions are understood, I think it will be difficult to get or give any relevant or useful advice.

If the e-mailer actually thought that he could start at the endpoint of operating a Titan farm he is doomed to fail (and probably delusional), and it is pointless to give him any advice.

But, if the e-mailer was trying to find information about starting a "smaller" farm, he might actually be able to find some good information.

Regardless of your opinion about Titan farms, operating a Titan sized farm of tens of thousands of acres is NOT a beginning point but should be a finishing point after decades of hard work.

In addition, I'm afraid that I will base my responses on whatever I choose to, despite your protestations.

Anonymous said...

Rich - LOL, no, my name is not anonymous. :) I assumed that if the e-mailer had read Allen Nations description, they wouldn't have their definitions confused.

I do have to admit, however, that I have not read that post nor the description (there isn't a link to the post and I haven't spent the time to dig it up.) - so maybe it isn't a clear description and someone could confuse it with a regular farmer. So I guess I shouldn't assume the definition would be that clear. But if it is a clear description, I guess I would have assumed also in my answer that he was truly wanting to become a Titan farmer since that is what he quoted in his e-mail.

If you think that it is hopeless to step into the role of a Titan farmer, then it is probably wise for him to know. If he is just wanting to become a regular farmer though, it is important for him to know the challenges they face in starting up.

I would hope that the e-mailer is following this thread and might clarify for us exactally what he meant since it could make a difference in his success or failure depending on if he is truely meaning Titan farmer.

Anonymous said...

Okay - so I found the Titan Farmer post. To me the definition looks pretty clear, but I guess if you are reading quickly or throwing out a question without much thought, you "might" get the definition wrong:

So, what is a "Titan Farmer"? Well a "Titan Farmer" is a farmer who farms between 20,000 and 40,000 acres of land, and are even planning on getting bigger. Mr. Nation writes, "...thanks to super-sized machinery and resulting low labor costs per acre these farmers can afford to bid cash-lease land away from farmers in the thousand acre category..." And to tell you how serious these guys are there is even mention of a cash-lease on 2,700 acres right here in my home state of Iowa that went for $400 an acre

- - - - - -

So the question is, did he really mean what he said when he was saying that he wanted to become a Titan farmer by this definition.

Ethan, does the rest of his e-mail give any more details, or have you had any more contact with him?

I am getting pretty curious.

Rich said...

Quoting anonymous (apparently not his or her real name),

"...If you think that it is hopeless to step into the role of a Titan farmer, then it is probably wise for him to know. If he is just wanting to become a regular farmer though, it is important for him to know the challenges they face in starting up..."

That is sort of the point I was trying to make, if the e-mailer (or anybody else) fails to make the distinction between a 40,000 acre Titan mega farm and an "ordinary" 1000 acre conventional farm, then when they read about the inconceivable amounts of land, capital, and equipment required to operate a Titan farm, they are likely to become completely discouraged about starting any type of farm. But if they get the definitions straight and realize that Titan farms are relatively rare animals, and other more realistic options are available, they might be more confident in taking the first steps towards starting a farm (and might actually be successful).

If someone aspires to being a Titan farmer and farm twenty to forty thousand acres, (for whatever reason), then they have no choice but to start small and steadily build their skills and experience.

I understand his frustration though, finding any information about starting a grain farm in the hundreds of acres range is difficult.

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