Several folks in production agriculture, as well as all across America, are asking the question, "how do I manage for the future?" The events of recent weeks have caused us to ponder this question more than usual. America has changed. She will never be the same again. In reality though, every day our friends, our neighbors and we, as individuals, change. Sometimes change happens slowly like a dense fog creeping in on cat's feet and sometimes it is more sudden. All change is not good. When that happens, trial and error methods ensue in an effort to correct by back-stepping. But back is never exactly back to the way it was. And, if we were honest with ourselves, we do not really want things to be the way they were. The reason is in all change there is some good. Yes, it would be nice to go back and pick the good things from before and put with the good things now and have the best of two worlds, the before and after. In Charles Dickens book "A Tale of Two Cities" his opening comments include the statement, "It was the best of times and it was the worse of times." How true that statement is today.
I was born after World War II and therefore did not live through the tough economic times of the 30's and the days when America was at war in the early 40's. Those were difficult times for America and American agriculture. I can only read and listen to people who lived during those times to grasp an understanding of how America was. When I depend on my own memory for how America was, it only goes back to the mid 1950's. I can remember pulling two "toe sacks" sewn together end-to-end down a cotton row and getting two cents a pound for pulling cotton bolls. Pulling a hundred pounds in one day was a good day for a six-year-old. I remember the old wood stove in the front room, the cold nights when the wind would lift up the linoleum on the floor and push the paper out from the walls as if they were breathing, and the late night trips to the outhouse. I remember busting up 25 pounds of block ice in a tote sack with a chopping axe to make ice cream in an old hand crank White Mountain ice cream freezer. I remember lots of family gatherings, box suppers and Christmas programs at school depicting the birth of Jesus Christ. I remember saying the Pledge of Allegiance every morning at school followed by a local pastor leading the school in prayer. I remember the controversy of the Vietnam conflict in the 60's, the time serving in the United States Army in the west wing of the Pentagon in the 70's, the financial crises in the 80's, and the stock market performance of the 90's. And then I remember so vividly the terrible tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001.
It is the worst of times because never before in the history of the United States have we been attacked by a foreign entity and suffered the loss of so many lives on our own soil. The attack shook the confidence of investors in U.S. companies, causing an already struggling economy to be further weakened. America is at war and wars are expensive to wage, mostly in terms of lives, but also in terms of resources.
It is the best of times because never before do I remember an America so united as we are today. I do not remember an America with a President and a Congress willing to forget their differences to achieve a common goal for the good of the country. I do not remember "Ol' Glory" waving in the wind in so many places as I observe today. I do not remember so many patriotic songs being played on the radio, nor so many signs saying, "God Bless America." I do not remember hearing of the many reports of church attendance being so large. I do not remember the leader of Russia, the former Soviet Union, or other leaders from so many other countries around the world allowing U.S. planes to use their landing strips and air space. Even Japan, the country responsible for the bombs dropped on Pearl Harbor, has voiced support of American initiatives.
Two things come to mind as I respond to the questions many of you have asked me concerning managing for the future: The first thing I think about is the prosperity American agriculture enjoyed after the war during the decade of the 1940's. According to some of the people in production agriculture during the mid-to-late 40's, it was a time that was the most prosperous they can remember. Maybe we have something to look forward to in production agriculture again. The second thing that comes to mind is, the things that have served farmers and ranchers so well over the years will continue to do so. I am referring to prudent management decisions, such as careful analysis of capital assets, attention to marketing and wise adoption of new technology. It is very easy to overspend on items that may be on the "want" list but should not be on the "need" list. Conservative spending must be a virtue of agricultural producers if long-term sustainability is to be achieved.
As we go forward with our daily lives we will encounter more change. Questions of market stability, interest rates, uncertainty of the next farm bill and availability of inputs linger in our minds. No one knows the answers to these questions for sure, nor what exactly lies ahead. But I am confident that America will be victorious and much good will come from this tragedy. I am saddened because of the events that have led us to this day in history, but I am excited because the people of America are united in a way that I have never observed in my life, for a cause that will provide liberty and justice for all. May God Bless America.