It’s a question I asked in one of my first columns after Country Guide shifted to its business focus. Can we see where we’re heading? I was worried. We were all worried. What would happen if the good times ended?
It’s a question to come back to after reading “10th Generation,” associate editor Lorraine Stevenson’s story in this issue about the Newcombe family farm in central Nova Scotia.
But first for that editorial.
It was in 2008, when we realized its bull market was something we had never seen before.
Volatile weather, volatile politics, escalating ethanol sales, booming food demand… it all added up to an unstoppable future for agriculture.
Yet, we also knew that agriculture is never that easy. There are always cycles, there are always stellar production years.
So, as I say, we couldn’t escape the worry. What will happen when we go back to the 1990s?
“We know a lot more about what tough times do to agriculture than good times,” I wrote. “We know a lot more about which decisions turn out to be good ones in bad times. We know much less — or so we think — about the kinds of decisions that will prove to be inspired when times seem good.”
There’s just one more other hopeful sentence I’d like to quote.
“Somewhere in the land and in the barns that are being bought and sold, and in the equipment purchases, and in the new partnerships that are being formed and the old ones that are falling apart, there are the beginning of trends that we’ll point to in 10 years with knowing nods, saying, yes, it was there for us to see even then.”
Were we right? What have we seen in the intervening years? What can we look back on and say, yes, that’s where it started?
We have to say, of course, that it hasn’t been an easy decade, and that 2019 was as hard a weather year as most of our parents ever saw, and it will have a long tail.
But something has changed. What? Well, part of the picture is clearly financial, as I predicted. Agriculture isn’t so different in this way. It uses money to make money, and we knew even 12 years ago that the coming decade would have opportunities for those who excel at financial management, as well as risks for those who don’t.
We didn’t predict, however, how quickly farmers would become so much more professional at management. We didn’t really see it. I don’t think anybody did.
And not just in financial management, but across the board.
Back in 2008, we thought that the big decisions would all be about the externals. Instead, it’s been about the people in charge, including farmers like the Newcombes who see their future in their ability to merge the lessons they have learned across generations with the skills they can access today.
Are we getting it right? Let me know at [email protected].