Young ag producers struggle with lower prices, high costs
By TOM LUTEY Of The Gazette Staff Posted: Sunday, October 25, 2009 12:10 am
JOLIET - The first young heifer ambled across the frozen mud, with icy snot clinging to her nose, and eyed the stock trailer's dark entrance with dread.
"Go on," hollered Wallace Blain. With the business end of his rubber-tipped stick, he assured the black Angus that whatever lurked in the trailer was better than five more minutes with a weathered cowhand in a rusty-gated pen.
Blain was helping his grandson, Scott, make it in a world that's become increasingly unforgiving to farmers and ranchers, particularly those just starting out. Behind his grandfather, Scott Blain stood with a cold cell phone pressed to his ear, trapped in a seemingly endless stream of conversations, from his embryo cow buyers, from the school where he teaches farm economics, from the Future Farmers of America that he bused to town at daybreak before returning to load livestock.
A special section in today's Billings Gazette features reports on the key economic sectors of Montana's economy. Real estate, retail, banking and construction are just some of the areas reviewed.
But the stories start here, with a young farmer, one of the few relative newcomers to the state's largest industry. His cattle are down in price for the second consecutive year. His wheat is again at $4 a bushel after cracking $8 a year ago. The seemingly simple life of his farming grandparents, which as a child Blain re-created on the carpet on his bedroom floor, has turned out to be incredibly complex.
Farming in the foothills and coulees above Farewell Creek is a global business. Here, the economy doesn't get better because in-town retail sales are up or first-time homebuyers are cashing in on federal tax credits. Here, it gets better because South Korea stops fearing mad-cow disease and starts buying American beef. It gets better when drought has clobbered the Australian wheat crop. It gets better when Third World countries are flush with newfound wealth and hungry for American protein. Read More
There is no doubt that agriculture is a tough business. It’s especially tough for our youngest members of the profession because of the volatility. But the love of this life and business doesn’t allow us to quit. I truly believe that food production is a higher calling. Why else, other than the fact that we are providing food, fiber and pharmaceuticals for our fellow human beings, would someone work so hard for such little pay. We aren’t money hungry, animal abusers. We are people trying to care for our neighbors.