Monday, August 22, 2005

Welcome to the Roller Coaster

Warning: There is somewhat of a lecture here. Please read it anyway.

My life is anything but boring. It goes from terrifying lows to equally terrifying highs. All the medication in the world doesn't help.

In the world of farming, things are a little shaky right now. Thank GOD we are blessed with what appears to be a good crop. In Illinois and Missouri, the crops aren't looking very good - they pretty much burned up this summer. We got some timely rains and that helped immensely. However, as you out there are preparing to put gasoline in your vehicles to go to work and are in sticker shock about the prices, I would mention that we not only have to put gas in our pickups and small go-to-work cars, but in our farm equipment. Diesel fuel right now (off-road) is over twice what it was last fall at this time - almost three times as much. Tractors that easily burn 200 gallons a day while working. The cooperatives want us to fill our on-farm barrels before the price goes up further. We're talking $8,000, people. We purchase LP gas to use in our grain dryers. It, too, has gone up.... as have the fertilizers and anhydrous we use to produce a crop... they are made with natural gas and therefore the price has increased for those too.

However, the price for our grain right now is at an almost all-time low. We spend more for a gallon of gas than we are paid for a bushel of corn. Think about that. Everyone wants cheap food. People, more often than not, blame the farmer for any increases in food costs. Believe me... we are not the ones seeing the increase! The people on both ends of us are the ones that see the increases. Our production costs keep skyrocketing and the middle-men tack on the increases that you see. We get squeezed in the middle.

Another thing I'd just like you to think about a minute. Do you know right now how much money you're going to make this month? This year? Is your insurance subsidized by your employer? Do you worry when it hails that you will lose your whole years' income?

We pay our own insurance. All of it. It isn't cheap, but is critical as we also work in one of the most dangerous jobs there are. We don't have the luxery of knowing what we'll make from year to year. Oh, we can make guesses, but they are based on how much grain is raised per acre, and how much that grain is worth - minus the costs of production. When we started out this year, we didn't even know if we would have a crop. Would there be a drought, like hit Illinois? Will we have pests that eat the crop? We do what we can to prevent such things, but some like the weather are totally out of our control, and if we do have to spray for pests that is another cost added to the production. Mid-year our fuel prices leapt into the air (as did yours), but diesel is still more expensive than gasoline and our tractors, combines, semi-trucks, all run on diesel. If we do have a crop, then we have to rely on someone in Chicago (the Board of Trade) to determine what our grain is going to be worth. Will China be importing? Will Russia be exporting? Will there be rain in Chicago? How much is on hand? It gets nuts trying to figure out what prices will be and why. There used to be some kind of a rhyme or reason to that, but even common sense has gone out the window where marketing is concerned.

It's a good life, don't get me wrong. I love living in the country and some of the freedoms it provides. You have to be a very self-motivated person, however, which my husband is. He's done this his whole life, except for the four years he served his country in the Navy. You have to be disciplined and get yourself out there every day to do what needs to be done - and in the fall and spring when there is planting and harvesting to be done, you won't be home for dinner. Ever. They are long days. But it is good. It would just be nice to have a fighting chance at making an income that is reasonable. To get a good price for our grain that would pay all the input costs and possibly give us some extra, instead of feeling like we're living from hand to mouth some days.

End of lecture.

Yesterday we talked about selling our new house. We've only lived there a little over a year and we love it. It's our dream house. It isn't huge, but compared to what we came from, it is. It is ours (well, the banks', of course)... instead of living in a house that came with the farmstead and is a rental where you are constantly at the whim of the landlord as to when the house can be painted or repairs can be made, unless you want to pay for them all yourself. My husband lived in the old house practically his whole life and now our son lives there. We raised our children there and though it feels like our (old) home, it was never ours. This is ours, but hasn't felt like it because we both feel we don't deserve something this nice.... and we're always afraid that something will come along and take it away.

Yesterday we thought we were to that point. We looked at the bills we still had to pay to get through the rest of the year. We looked at the increase in fuel costs, fertilizer costs, seed costs... and what our grain is worth today. We cried. A lot. We hugged. A lot. We told ourselves not to love anything that can't love you back. We called our son and told him we might have to move back to the old house. We all sat in shock and stared at the beautiful house we may not have much longer. Hubby said he would sell the whole field, as he wouldn't be able to go by it and know someone else was living there. He wept for what he feels is his failure. He says he wishes we'd never built it - it would have been better to never have had it then to have had it and lose it. My heart broke with his pain, more than for my own.

This morning we went to the banker and laid it all out. We told him we thought we'd have to sell the house. He stared at both of us and said, He looked at our financials and said we still had plenty of equity in equipment and land and even some room to play with the cash flow and he could give us more money to see us through the rest of the year until crops start coming in. He reminded us he is conservative and he wouldn't extend it to us unless he knew it would work. He gave us some suggestions to free up some grain for delivery that had been stored and sealed to pay off our old operating note. He saw the tears well up in my husbands' eyes talking about me offering to sell the house, and he looked at me and said, "You will die in that house". (I know that sounds ominous, but believe me, it was a good thing.)

We left the bank back on top of the rollercoaster. We called our son and rejoiced. We talked and hugged and cried and thanked the powers that be for the intervention that just had happened. We were exhausted. We went home and sat on our deck and looked at our house and my husband was finally able to say, "I finally feel it is ours and we are going to be here forever".

Me too.