So they start over. They replant, sometimes to a crop of lesser value but one that will still make in the abbreviated time left in the season. Sometimes they replant again, hoping for better weather.
They are vexed by the vagaries of the marketplace where they have little leverage and few options. The larger operations, with adequate capital, use the futures markets, forward contracts, and options. Some build granaries of their own to hold their crops until prices improve. It’s always a gamble, the dice are loaded and Murphy is in charge.
Today’s farmer is no hayseed bumpkin fresh off the turnip truck. Most are well educated; many have college educations and all have earned advanced degrees from that school of hard knocks.
They understand soil and what it needs to turn a seed into an ear of corn or a boll of cotton.
They know animals—how to feed them, breed them and how to doctor them when they fall ill.
They know mechanics. Most can tear down an engine that rivals an airplane motor and are artists with a blow torch or welding rod. They adjust equipment to their farms and their style of farming.
They know chemistry. They understand that applying the wrong material to the wrong plant or at the wrong time not only wastes time and money but can also destroy the crop or fail to control the bug or the weed or the fungus that always waits to show itself until the farmer makes a mistake, and then it destroys the crop.
They know electronics. They have learned over the past decade how to retrieve data from satellites and plug it into their computers, then relay it to units on their tractors, sprayers and combines to guide equipment down the same narrow row every time without overlapping where they traveled the last time across the field. They know how well a field is producing as they pluck the bolls from the cotton plants, the ears from the corn stalks. On-board monitors display yields on the go.
They know high finance. Those tractors, those electronic marvels, set them back as much as a quarter of a million dollars. That’s for one. A good sized-farm needs several. I saw a combine last week at a new product roll out. Manufacturers’ Suggested Retail is about $600,000. Cotton pickers range from a low of about 200 grand to almost a million.
A bag of cottonseed, enough to plant about an acre, maybe a little more, runs about $350. Corn seed is about as high. And that’s for one acre. Multiply that by 1,000, not a big farm in the Southwest, and then tack on the diesel fuel required to plow, plant, spray and harvest and the math begins to boggle the mind.
Speaking of math—consider the numbers 9 billion and 40 years.
Nine billion is the estimated population of planet earth in 40 years. Nine billion people who will need to eat and wear clothes—preferably made out of natural fibers. To feed and clothe that many people, farmers will have to increase productivity. They will have to grow twice as much as they do today and they will have to do it on fewer acres because 9 billion people will need places to live, Walmarts to shop in, race tracks and baseball fields to entertain them, and a green spot of grass occasionally to remind their bare feet in late spring what nature used to feel like.
So, who will feed and clothe all those people?
The American farmer. Who else can? Who else will?
China likely will not be interested in providing for more than its own needs. Russia? I don’t think so unless we see a monumental mind shift. Australia and Canada will help some, maybe Brazil and Argentina will chip in. But there is no other nation on earth with both the ability and the willingness to feed the world.
But here’s the scary part.