Humans tend to be short-sighted creatures. Have you ever imagined what the world would look like if we had centuries to life, like the mythical beings in a novel? What would you change if a year because a month in the span of your life?
Humans are incredibly short-sighted beings. There’s plenty of evidence of actions we’ve all taken that have long-term consequences but it’s going to take a while to see them. In fact, it might take so long, that we might forget what actions led us to that crossroad. January tends to be a month of goals, resolutions and restarts, usually for one year. But what if we started looking at our goals with a 10-year view? What would that change?
Right now in various sectors of agriculture, life is pretty good. Crop prices are high, lamb prices are up, and anything direct-to-consumer is doing well. But like a child’s toy, what goes up must come down (eventually). It’s critical to look at the long-range. If you are basing your 2021 budget on spring 2021 pricing, please stop. If you belong to the camp of those who wish there was forecasting so we would know how long this will last, please stop. Nobody knows.
Right now if I talk to farmers, everyone has taken note that lamb prices are high, noticeably higher than the running average. There’s plenty of people considering buying into sheep. Please stop, think and do your homework. Do you realize that a ewe is bred for 147 days at least and for the most part, it’s going to be at least 70 days after lambing before you ship that lamb? So say you bought sheep in January. You brought them home, you throw the ram in. You’ll have lambs starting in June headed into July. Those lambs will hit the market in September when historically we have the lowest prices. Now you overpaid for that ewe and you’ll be losing money on those lambs. Not to mention that September volumes tend to be high, which means you’re getting your first lambs on the market when the pasture-based farms are bringing theirs. And if you want to talk about cost-effectiveness, the pasture-based farms will have you beat hands down.
Think long term. Before you jump into any business, think about where that’s going to take you in 5-10 years. Granted it is incredibly hard to think that far in the future. However, part of the reason many businesses (and not just farms) fail is due to a lack of long-term planning. And finances. I definitely do not have this all figured out. Far from it. I do love to research and try to think critically about my findings.
Part of being a farmer is the continuous learning opportunities. In a typical year, there are dozens of conventions, trade shows and seminars. One of the cool things to come out of the pandemic is how much of this learning has moved online and (bad rural internet notwithstanding) become arguably more accessible. There is a lot of information out there which makes answering some of the long-term questions easier. Ask yourself:
- What kind of impact will this action have on my land?
- Can I sustain the amount of inputs needed for this choice?
- How will I cope with low market prices?
- Has this been done before and I did research the impacts this has had on others who took this path?
- Pop over to this blog
“We’ve always done it this way.”
Part of thinking long-term is also looking outside the norms. The most dangerous statement one can make is “we’ve always done it this way.” Ask the tough questions, ask lots of questions about why things are done a certain way. Sometimes you will be surprised at the answer. Part of what I love about working with start-up farms is that many of them have different and creative ideas. They do not consider the “traditional” options especially if they are first-generation farmers.
Following the masses or jumping in on high prices could put your dream in jeopardy. Abandoning your crop rotations in favour of high-priced crops right now without careful consideration could have interesting side effects in three to five years. The same applies to loans. Just because interest rates are entertainingly low does not mean you should go out and borrow the maximum without doing your homework. Planning to farm debt-free should be a long-term goal of your operation.
The last part of long-term thinking brings back the vision surrounding your dream. Why do you want to farm? What will your life look like in 10 years? Life is after all a journey, so where do you want to go? It’s okay to get lost, especially after the last year. It is okay to reevaluate and take it day by day as long as you take the time to consider what happens next.
I do not spend a lot of time focused solely on the future as it is important to be present in the moment. It is equally important to consider the long-term ramifications of the decisions made in the present. You can really only spend your money once when it comes to big purchases. And some choices are awfully hard to undo. I’ll leave this post with one of my favourite quotes:
Live as though you’ll die tomorrow, but farm as though you’ll live forever.John Marsden – Darkness Be My Friend (ed. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1999)