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Much the same as 120 years ago

David Pullen Published on 22 March 2010

Not much has changed for the dairy producer in 120 years. The following insights are taken from the Pennsylvania State Board of Agriculture minutes in 1889. In answer to the question, “What are the chief causes which lead to farmers’ failures?” M.R. Doolittle, of Cresco, Iowa answers as follows:

• The markets or consumers are too far from products.

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• Too high railroad freight rates.

• Too high rates of interest on borrowed capital.

• Too many dogs and wolves in the country and not enough sheep.

• Too much fashion, too much whisky and tobacco, and not enough enterprise.

• Too high lawyer and doctor fees and not enough general intelligence.

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• Too much party in politics and not enough principle.

• Too much listening to farmers’ enemies and too little seeking for common sense for a guide.

• Business as now conducted gives the farmer no part in making prices. When he sells, the dealer makes the price of his produce; when he buys, the merchant names the price he must pay, and both are generally against the farmer.

• The farmer’s greatest voluntary act which enters into his failures is the utterly heartless manner in which he unhitches from a machine which has plowed his corn, mown his hay or cut and bound his grain, leaving it to rot and rust in the field for the next 11 months.

Some of these insights make us laugh and perhaps remind us of King Solomon’s wisdom written over 3,000 years ago in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “there is nothing new under the sun” and they should certainly make us think about how we conduct our lives and our businesses.

Technology has improved our ability to deal with the first item. We can ship milk from the Northeast to the Southeast. Refrigeration technology reduces the impact of fresh milk’s “imminent perishment” just as airfoil design combined with thrust allows airplanes to overcome gravity.

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The marketplace controls the second and third causes by competition within and between rail and truck transportation systems, and interest rates are controlled by the money supply and the Federal banking system.

The wolves are inherent in a system that allows free will and ultimately will also be controlled by supply and demand within the market and the natural law that says “you will reap what you sow.” Ultimately a capitalist system weeds out the greed and self- corrects, but perhaps not fast enough for most of us.

It goes without saying for the fifth cause that personal responsibility plays the major role. The temptation to spend more than you have to enhance your image is a perennial weed like nightshade. In excessive quantities it is poisonous. As to whisky and cigarettes, who would have thought that government would someday promote corn whiskey on a large scale and onerously tax cigarettes to pay for health care?

We have not seen anything yet. We think health care is expensive now. Just wait until the government is in charge. As to lawyers’ fees, well they have been high for a long time and lawsuits can bring a business to its knees in no time.

The seventh cause is certainly self-evident and perpetual. The move toward more involvement by agriculture in social networking sites such as Twitter, My Space and Facebook can help to address some of these issues by the dissemination of facts to the hoi polloi. Special-interest groups with money and an agenda have much more influence (formerly referred to as bribery) than principle and no politician thinks he can get rich on principle. Come to think of it, that is why the Founders wrote the Constitution – to protect us the people from the government.

There it is again, that idea of common sense. Where did it go? Talk about the law of unintended consequences, now it’s on steroids. The world’s population is growing rapidly and there are those who want to use more land and scarce resources to produce less food. Milk’s carbon footprint has dropped since 1945, from a size 12 to a size 7.5, because of hard work, innovation and technology with a common-sense foundation.

What other product is priced based on such a highly regulated and complicated federal and state government structure of calculations based on surveys and minimum price controls (make allowances) on the end products rather than on the original product itself? How much taxpayer and producer money is tied up in the maintenance of this behemoth at the federal and state level, not to mention the opportunity for corruption and inequity? Imagine if corn were priced based on the production of corn syrup, corn oil and corn starch and the resulting byproducts of corn gluten feed and meal.

Finally, the tenth cause again comes back to common sense and personal responsibility and proves the greatness of the system that says if you want to be stupid, you can be.

In this the new year of 2010, opportunity still abounds and life is an adventure and God has given us the privilege to work in an industry that requires daily dependence on Him for sunshine and rain, both of which are essential and provided by Him. Give thanks. PD

David Pullen
DMI Consulting Services Inc.

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