I'm getting on an airplane this Friday and heading to Fort Smith, Ark. for the weekend to attend the 2010 National Beef Ambassador Contest.  I will be giving a keynote speech, as well as conducting a workshop on social media, and I'm so excited to catch up with old friends and colleagues and to meet the new ambassadors! As I prepare for my weekend adventure in anticipation of working with the next generation of agriculturalists, I thought I would share an excerpt from an email I received last week from a wise man in the older generation of producers. His carefully written advice and frank honesty of the reality of farming today really hit home for me, and I think today's blog post should be all about advice given from one generation to another. We have so much to learn from one another, and I think this is the perfect forum to get that accomplished. So, if you could offer one piece of advice to the older or younger generation of food producers, what would it be? Please, leave your suggestions in the comments section. Read on for the email excerpt...
I am happy to see a young person as yourself taking interest in the cattle business. I hope you will not have to see the disappointment I have experienced over the last fifty years in the cattle business.
When I was eight years old I told my granddad, "I wanted to be a farmer just like him." He said "Son go to school and get an education. Well, I returned home from the army in 1970 and started farming my grandfather's farm while I went to the local University. My grandfather's health was going down, and he died in 1976. In 1972, I sold calves for $.98 to a $1.00 per pound. In 1972 my uncle bought a new Ford 3/4 ton pickup truck top of the line for $2,800.00. My dad bought a new IH tractor in 1976 for $7,600.00. Feed cost, as well as I remember, were around $3.60 per hundred weight. I managed to make a good profit for my grandmother back in the seventies.
Last Monday I checked the market and calves were selling at $.96 to $1.06 per pound, that is if they could not see anything undesirable with the animal. Thirty seven years latter and the price the farmer gets for his product is still about the same. Cost continue to rise, the new pickup is now about $40,000.00, the new tractor about $40,000.00, and feed now cost about $10.00 per 100lbs. When I first got into the cattle business if you sold a 500lb calf and it brought $1.00 per pound and you had 50 calves that would bring in about $20,000.00. The cost to get a calf per cow was about $180.00 a year. You would spend $10,000.00 to make $20,000.00 which would give $10,000.00 to spend. Now it cost per cow is nearing $300.00 or more per cow and a good calf will hardly bring $400.00. I know everybody between the farmer and the consumer has to make a profit. Soon there will not be any farmers to supply the market.
Who would think about getting into business where you are on call 24/7 and invest hundreds of thousands dollars to get no return on the investment. How can a young person in asking the following questions think of entering the cattle business, where will the money come from, what land will be left, where can I find good cows, and who will have the knowledge for me to ask: how did you do that? Working hard to put meat on the table means you love the lifestyle and the enjoyment of your labor; I just hope that your family can help you obtain that goal.
BEEF Daily Quick Fact: 81% of farmers under the age of 45 have off-the-farm jobs to supplement their farming income. (2007 Ag Census )