When oil was $140 a barrel, I asked some of my advisors what would happen when oil goes back to $50. Laughter, laughter and hysterical laughter were the result.
In all my years involved in the farming industry, the 2009 crop will go down in history as the one fraught with the most uncertainty.
One short year ago we were checking the daily prices of crops as they shot to levels not seen in years. Land prices were jumping about as fast. About that time I wrote a “ Lest We Forget” article reminding the new generation that we old codgers have seen this all before.
Now financial markets are in a mess while our politicians thrash around the ring swinging at one another when they should be looking at the problems outside the ring.
So far I have heard a few say that the fundamental problem is this: The developed world — particularly North America — has been living beyond our individual and collective means for decades. Purchasing decisions are made on the basis of “can we get it,” not “can we afford it.” Low interest rates fueled the fire and all and sundry spent like there was no tomorrow.
When oil was $140 a barrel, I asked some of my advisors what would happen when oil goes back to $50. Laughter, laughter and hysterical laughter were the result. “That will never happen,” they said. Well, when oil was $30 a barrel in the ’80s few predicted it would go back to $10 — but it did. The advisors are not laughing now.
In my investment decisions, I was most influenced by our very own Andy Sirski who had a bold print bottom line in a Grainews article pointing out the billions of dollars of derivatives (paper tigers that few understand) that had to shake through the system. His advice was something like “ keep your powder dry.”
The result for farmers is that, in our planning for 2009, we are all in “wait and see mode.” What will happen to grain prices, fertilizer prices, and interest rates?
The 7 senses
So as we ponder the uncertainty let us pause and take heart in our seven senses of farming.
Sight: To admire the beauty of the rolling hills and broad plains resplendent with a 50-bushel crop blowing in the wind. To experience the rush of the first big canola swath rushing over the pickup.
Smell: To soak up the aroma of a
barley field at sundown. To detect a burning belt when the monitor fails — a little more difficult in modern combines with these grand cabs.
Touch: To pat a favourite dog. To get the nut on a concealed bolt. To sense a subtle change in the vibration under your seat that suggests a problem with the combine. In 2007, I was running my son-in-law’s MF9690 straight cutting wheat. Something just did not feel right, but I did not stop to check or call for help. Bad decision. Fortunately it was not long till the field was done and header change and service came next. At that time a major bearing failure
was found. Despite all the fancy monitors on combines, we sit on one of the best monitors — the nerve endings in our butt — as we roar around the field.
Hearing: To revel in the throaty roar of a well-tuned motor under load. To pick out instructions over the squelch of two-way radios.
Taste: To experience a new crop of flax.
Horse sense and common sense: You need generous quantities of each of these to survive. Have a good year in 2009.
J. L. (Les) Henry is a former professor and extension specialist at the University of Saskatchewan. He farms near Dundurn, Sask.