We were mighty happy with the way things turned out at last week's Business Management Summit, held in St. Louis. In the six years we've been holding this meeting, this was perhaps the most optimistic crowd we've ever had. At one point, as we were listening to Dr. Dave Kohl speak about the global economy, one farmer leaned over and whispered, "It's an exciting time to be farming, isn't it?"
We also held another Bear Pit this year. Oh, boy!
For those of you who haven't yet experienced it, the "Bear Pit" is when we bring all the speakers together after dinner for a free-for-all debate. Farmers can ask pretty much anything, and they did, from how can we do a better job with rural education, to what are the chances of a possible double dip recession.
Rock stars of Ag This year was special: it was the first time in history Dave Kohl, Barry Flinchbaugh and Mike Boehlje had ever been on a panel together. These are the Great Lions of agriculture today, so watching them verbally joust with each other was pure entertainment. As Southern Illinois student and summit participant Randy Scollan (pictured with Flinchbaugh, Kohl and Boehlje) says, these are the rock stars of agriculture – even if they do look like middle aged professors.
Kelly Robertson, a farmer, crop consultant and one of our guest speakers, put together a laundry list of highlights from this year's summit, which you can read here.
Here are a few gleanings from my notebook:
From Dr. Dave Nanda, agronomist and crop consultant with Seed Consultants, Inc.: Not all the new biotech traits always get in to the best hybrids. Make sure new traits are tested…even if it means taking the time to put in your own test plots. His advice: first, select the right hybrid genetics for your farm, then ask for select GM traits in the same, or similar genetics. "Be cutting edge, not bleeding edge," says Nanda.
From Willie Vogt, Farm Progress corporate editorial director, offering a roundup on the latest farm and communications technology: Develop a buying plan to engage new technology on the farm, just as you would for machinery or input purchases. A recent Farm Futures survey showed that 90% of farmers do not have a tech buying strategy!
From Todd Branson, Director of national accounts at Machinerylink: Equipment costs are one of the greatest expenses for farm operations. Look more closely at the financial risks of traditional machinery investment in farming operations and the financial alternatives that can move those costs from fixed to variable. Leasing allows acquisition of equipment now and preserves bank credit lines for other opportunities.
From Mike Boehlje, Purdue Ag economist: One key to building the championship farm is to focus attention on the upside and opportunity associated with increasing volatility in agriculture. Having a little 'slack' in your management capacity can pay dividends when opportunities arise. You need more managerial and strategic capacity in these times to capture those opportunities….Interest rates for agriculture will be generally higher over the next decade than they have been in the previous decade. "We'll continue to see strong land values, but you can't assume $400 per acre profits and 4% interest rates forever."
From Darrell Dunteman, Ag accountant: Organize your recordkeeping, organize your office, bid all your inputs, and if needed, hire a CFO. "Create a business plan and a plan to manage risk," which includes everything from general farm insurance to crop insurance to a sound marketing plan.
From Barry Flinchbaugh, Kansas State Ag Economist: We will have a safety net in the next farm bill, but it will be smaller. Don't let your congressman use the federal budget as an excuse for cutting the farm bill, farm spending is barely a blip on the federal budget's radar. "The number one concern in the general economy that could impact the farm economy is political uncertainty," he says. "Farmers need to join farm organizations and try to shape policy or someone else will do it for them." And, the only comment that drew roaring applause during the Bear Pit: "From preschool to PhD, we've got to develop a system that rewards and pays good teaching."
From Arlan Suderman, Farm Futures Market Analyst: Russia has made a tremendous investment in trying to become the world's breadbasket. It's working. Egypt, our former top wheat customer, imported 180 million bushels of wheat from the former Soviet Union countries last year.
We hope to see you at next year's summit!