February 22, 2021 By Jerry Carlson Living and working on your farm or ranch is a haven from pandemic paranoia, cultural clashes and financial fears tormenting families in locked-down cities. Our small farm in northeast Iowa is home for three family generations.
Here are 12 reasons why your on-farm base is especially valuable now.
1. Prices of corn, soybeans, wheat and other ag products are finally rising on strong global demand. Profit margins are real for growers who can manage resilient production. By resilient I mean:
- Employing the new array of biological products to reduce the soaring costs of conventional fertilizer.
- Transitioning to non-GMO seed for lower costs and avoiding hassles of dicamba liability as well as glyphosate and glufosinate resistant weeds.
- Phasing in more cover crops and rotations — even livestock — to accelerate gains in soil health.
- Learning and using all the data technology you can absorb, from GPS mapping to on-farm field trials.
2. Out here in the country, we breathe free. Steers don’t look at you accusingly if you aren’t wearing a mask. Nobody cares if you don’t mask up when alone in your tractor cab. (Multiple studies show masks are no significant help against Covid infection.)
3. No state governor has ordered a farm to lock down. Hog, cattle and dairy producers did run into processing plant delays from Covid, but only temporarily. Farms haven’t suffered from the year-long forced closures which have driven almost half of America’s restaurants and other service-based retailers to close — permanently. Manufacturing workers, too, lost over 561,000 jobs in 2020. Covid lockdowns threw 20 million non-farm workers out of jobs. Only about half have rejoined the workforce.
4. You’re surrounded by fresh air, not by thousands of paranoid people swarming “socially distanced” streets. With masked mandates and fear of contagion, a shopping trip is like moving among zombies. No smiles. Little eye contact.
5. Amid the hassle of on-line education, many farm parents switched to home schooling. Farms offer abundant learning experiences with Dad and Mom. My wife Jill and I teach writing, science, and world history to our 12-year-old grandson. Home-based classes also relieve country kids from hours of school bus commutes and forced masking. Rural parents are organizing neighborhood home-school teams to share teaching talents.
6. The new administration and Congressional majority are channeling massive tax funding toward “climate change” credits. Farm organizations are urging growers to cash in carbon indulgence payments. Personally I’ve long observed that “mitigating” climate change by attempting to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide is one of history’s most futile income-transfer scams. Global climates have always changed, driven by mega-forces beyond human meddling. Thus I’d have a twitch of guilt by cashing in on the carbon market on the pretext of saving the planet. However, what if you accept payment for what you’d do anyway: build your soil health and productivity? I could probably justify cashing a check for $290,000 by selling carbon credits to a trading platform such as Shopify. Meanwhile, lawmakers are preserving ethanol mandates, which absorb about a third of U.S. corn production. USDA expects steady growth of ethanol use through 2030. USDA will soon be rolling out more carbon-selling protocols.
7. A “back to the countryside” demographic surge has ignited. Through 2020, almost half of America’s office, restaurant, teaching and service employees fortunate to keep their jobs switched to online work from home. About 5% of these virtual workers, unleashed from dreary commutes, physically relocated to the countryside and smaller cities. The net exodus from San Francisco in 2020 shot up almost 650% over the previous year. Maybe Bill Gates is looking for a sustainable-ag plan: He’s now America’s largest farm and ranch land owner, accumulating more than 240,000 acres.
I know what a relief it is to escape a metropolitan crush! Fifty years ago, I commuted on the Reading Railroad two hours a day into downtown Philadelphia as a Farm Journal editor. Taking a huge risk, our family of five moved to northeast Iowa, where I helped start Professional Farmers of America. Soon we built a home on 20 acres, raising our family. My Pro Farmer office was five minutes from home. Now, amid this pandemic, I’m seeing urban dwellers’ yearning for country living soar exponentially. Massive metro centers are fragile! Last month our daughter’s family in San Antonio, TX, gave us daily updates on how record freezes disrupted Texans’ urban power and water — and froze homes’ pipes. Long lines formed for food, water and warmth. Years ago I joked with our San Antonio son-in-law about “where’s the best “bug-out” haven in a catastrophe?” His choice: Seek refuge on a farm near Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Update March 19: Tonight, adventurer and geopolitical observer Jack Wheeler wrote about coming American economic chaos in his weekly To The Point editorial:
“So what do you do? First, adhere to the ancient adage: forewarned is forearmed. Do not let the suddenness of what will befall America catch you. Start now to get out of any big city if you live in one. Sell your home while you can, move to a small town in Red State Normal America. Make sure you have a stop order on any stock you may have or cryptobecause they are hyperinflated also.
“You’ve got to be far away from the coming chaos. Form or participate in a local self-defense force if any chaos comes your way, befriending your new Normal neighbors. Then from such a safe distance, you can watch the NotNormals devour themselves.”
Update April 11: Nebraska, Iowa and Florida rated among the best states to retire in a recent BankRate study reported by the Wall Street Journal. The BankRate criteria selected states where traditional farming cultures still outweigh wokeness.
Update July 13: An article titled “The Housing Crunch Points to Massive Market Meltdown” by James Howard Kunstler in The American Spectator includes this observation:
“The most favorable places in America will soon be the ones that are the most disfavored today: the small towns and small cities, especially those close to productive agriculture and situated along North America’s inland waterway system — because the economy of this continent will be much more internally focused. The high-tech industrial orgy of the past two-hundred-plus years may come to be seen as a kind of great pulsation that swelled and then subsided, leaving us to find less complex modes of subsistence. After all, there have been many such pulsations in history.”
8. Farm families have traditionally experienced more self-reliance and neighborly support, compared with big-city dwellers. What if a major social upheaval occurs in America’s intensifying cultural conflicts? A rural region is more buffered from “peaceful protests” than urban centers like Portland, Seattle or Chicago. For the past year, governors of states less dominated by major metropolitan areas — like South Dakota’s Kristy Noem — have generally exercised more common-sense Covid controls, compared with, say, California, Minnesota and Michigan.
9. Family health, not just survival. You probably have plenty of good soil near your farm or ranch home for a health-giving garden. I say “health-giving” because much chain-store produce is tainted with chemical residues and lacks mineral nutrients. Alert: The rush for garden seed is up again from last year. In spring 2020, garden seed shortages restricted what many people wanted. This year we’re seeing a surge in “Regenerative Agriculture” and “biological agriculture” enthusiasm promoted by mainstream agribusiness. This season’s Commodity Classic featured speakers saying that biological products can add 10 bu. onto yields. We seen corn growers add 50 bu. or more to corn yields by using the full range of biological benefits, extending corn’s growing and filling life all the way to the first hard frost. Also, see the March 9 article on Dr. Mercola’s describing Regenerative Agriculture as the hottest subject in food production. (Commercial: As you’d expect, our family sees WakeUP as an essential booster of the biological revolution in agriculture. WakeUP makes most biologicals more systemic and thus more effective.)
10. America’s historic foundations relied heavily on independent farmers and landowners like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Such leaders had a firm personal financial base. Opposing politicians might threaten them — but not destroy them. Today’s political clashes emerge distinctly on a U.S. map showing 2020 presidential majority votes by county. Rural counties typically vote conservative (red), metro centers are majority liberal (blue). What the map doesn’t reveal: Major blue metro areas are the base for banks, billionaires, medical and pharmaceutical giants, dominant newspapers, “mainstream” network newscasters, and social-media’s gatekeepers. These financial and technological elites operate in near-total coordination with federal governance.
Independent American farmers have traditionally provided a buffer against concentrated power among Washington political alliances. Today’s trends are a test of whether that can still occur.
11. Connection with future generations. Today’s urban professionals typically see their children graduate and disperse widely into the workforce. But a farmland base can offer at least one or two of your family an opportunity to build their future nearby. We’re blessed this way, with our son, daughter and grandsons close by and running their own farm-related firms. This would not have happened — if we’d stayed in Philadelphia. (Update: One of our friends who farms in Indiana read this article and e-mailed us that “our farm has been in our family 156 years.”)
12. Your financially resilient farming business, based on most land owned (and some rented), is one of the safest economic sectors if today’s huge debt bombs implode in global defaults, or explode into dollar inflation. Never in American history, even in WWII, has U.S. dollar debt bloated to current and prospective heights. Economic prophets offer diametrically opposed outcomes. Whichever is right, inflationary boom or debt implosion, your business is based on land, not pieces of paper with dollar signs printed on them. Wall Street Journal markets editor Andy Kessler, warning of another stock market bust, says: “For those lulled by today’s bull market, remember that you own a piece of paper. Low-yielding U.S. Treasury bills and bonds are safe because they are backed by the U.S. government, by cash flow of tax dollars and by the country’s assets (think land, not Fort Knox).”
Cascading debt defaults and global depression? The 2008 housing bubble triggered a U.S. economic contraction, but farmers weathered it fairly well. I give serious deflation low odds.
More likely in the next few years: Inflation, unleashed. Governments which can borrow trillions of their own currency from a central “bank” don’t go broke. They just borrow more, to wield more power or stave off collapse. But eventually, the currency loses its buying power. See many precedents: Zimbabwe. Germany’s Weimar Republic. Venezuela. A retired Venezuela citizen’s government pension is 1.2 million bolivars per month, worth about U.S. $0.63. A kilogram of rice costs 1.9 million bolivars ($1.05).
See also the Continental Currency issued in the crisis of America’s 1775-83 Revolutionary War. These notes earned the scorn, “not worth a Continental” by 1783. Historians attribute a comment by Ben Franklin to the effect that Congress acted wisely by flooding America with $240 million in currency — which depreciated to virtual zero: “It was cheap to print, was thrown away after the war, and served as a tax on the people for which they didn’t have to vote.” If Franklin didn’t actually say it, he should have.
Fast-forward to the current unconstrained U.S. Congress. Democratic congresspeople conjured up a $1.9 Trillion “Covid Relief” stimulus, only 9% of which is directly related to Covid. To quote a House member: It’s an “example of what Congress can do” — an appetizer to exercise much more unconstrained debt expansion for progressive causes. The Fed will oblige, issuing whatever Treasury bonds Congress requests. Unlike Continental Currency, it’s all digital so there’s not even a printing bill.
What’s the eventual outcome? I’m sure only of an old economist’s adage: If a perverse trend cannot go on forever, it will stop.
Productive, debt-free farmland is the classic inflation hedge against either an inflation or deflation scenario. This is the premiere reason I see a resilient farm or ranch as both a family haven and a financial fortress now.