A sharp pencil
"Roller coaster" has been a common word in the agricultural community recently. I can't help but entertain a mental image of cowboys at a carnival, cotton candy in the hands of tough, weathered men wearing hats and blue jeans, all waiting to ride the Super Dragon.
Kidding aside, this term is not in reference to theme parks, but to markets. Cattle prices have posted week-after-week all-time highs recently as the price of corn is coming down from record-breaking highs in 2012. Increasing market volatility over the last decade has left the agricultural community looking for signs of a coming "new normal," if such a thing exists. "This does not mean business won't be good," said Dan Childs, agricultural economist, "but it does mean the stakes are higher, [and] the costs of mistakes can be greater." With only 10 months until my own college graduation, I won't forget Dan's words.
This summer at the Noble Research Institute has expanded my understanding of the requirements of sound decision making. Food production is a biological system and is therefore immensely complex and continually evolving. The Noble Research Institute houses experts in animal nutrition, forage production, grazing management, economics and wildlife conservation, whose diverse perspectives help landowners respond to diversity and change. I have been so fortunate to be a part of this work and watch relationships strengthen as success happens.
Farm visits have been another source of knowledge and new perspectives. Recently, Ira, Austin and I visited the home and cattle operation of Kent Donica, a longtime cooperator with the Noble Research Institute and a successful cattleman in his own right. Kent gave us a tour and entertained the many questions we had about animal health, grazing management and land improvement. I took a lot of notes, and when we reached the topic of markets, I couldn't help but ask, "How do you handle risk?"
He smiled and replied with four words: "With a sharp pencil."
Seth Pratt is a 2014 Lloyd Noble Scholar in Agriculture from Blackfoot, Idaho. He attends the University of Idaho, majoring in agricultural economics and agricultural leadership. Seth is the fifth generation of his family on the Pratt Ranch, where he hopes to return to raise cows and kids.