Margin is the opposite of overload. If we are overloaded we have no margin. Most people are not quite sure when they pass from margin to overload. Threshold points are not easily measurable and are also different for different people in different circumstances."At least that is how Richard Swenson, M.D. describes margin in his book Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives (a book that I have not read, but does seem interesting). Of course I could talk a lot about the importance of building margin into your life, but I may not be the best one to speak on that subject because I do have two off-farm jobs currently and margin is my biggest struggle! What I want to talk about specifically today is the importance of building margin into the life of your farm so that it is sustainable physically, financially, ecologically, and on and on and on.
This is a topic that came to the front of my mind this past week when I was talking with someone about the low grain prices. They were lamenting the fact that the prices were low and how hard it was on farmers and even the agricultural equipment manufacturers. Of course I knew that when they were talking about farmers they were specifically referencing farmers that only raise grain (corn and soybeans). We talked about how John Deere had cut jobs and all sorts of other implications, but then I mentioned the fact that as a purchaser of grains the lower prices were a pretty good thing for me and hopefully will allow me to catch up a little after two years of higher prices.
All of this got me thinking. Of course I could spend hours talking about the problem of the lack of diversified farms in the United States these days, but we don't have that much time (or patience)! What I can talk about though is the importance of building margin on your farm so that when prices go up (or down), when the rains come (or don't), and when the sales are great (or they're not) you are prepared to survive. Building margin in the end may slow your growth or have other implications, but if you are properly building margin I think you will have a farm that can stick around because there will be money, resources, and a farmer that isn't burnt out!
What do you think? How do you build margin on your farm? Let me know in the comments below or join us on The Beginning Farmer Facebook page ... actually you should probably do that anyways :)
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