The agricultural business

By Greg Doering @GregKfb

My grandparents received exactly one salary per year, usually in mid-August when they took the calves to market. I was probably five or six years old the first time I got to go to the auction and sit in the grandstand while the cattle were being auctioned off in batches.

I don’t remember much from the sale except that the cadence of the auctioneer was pleasant even though it didn’t make much sense to me. It was the conversation with my grandparents as we drove out of the parking lot that stayed with me. It was a good year, and my grandmother said she picked up a nice check at the checkout.

Hearing the word verify, the most obvious question came out of my mouth. “How much was it?” I asked. My grandfather watched the road while my grandmother said categorically, “We’re not talking about money. End of the conversation.

Agriculture is a business and those who grow our food are the leaders of it.

I accompanied my grandparents to many sales over the next few years, and the routine was always the same. We went to the auction, we stopped at the restaurant on the way back and, on good years, I came back with a new pair of boots. True to my grandmother’s word, we never talked about money.

Years of careful observation finally allowed me to decipher the general workings of the trading side, even though I had no access to the actual accounting of dollars and cents. By the time I was a teenager, I generally understood that the success of the ranch depended on a delicate balance between controlling expenses in lean years and setting aside in good years.

One of the biggest misconceptions about farming is that corporations are taking over and replacing family farms. There is no doubt that there are large incorporated farms, but the increase in the number of corporations is mainly driven by family farms and ranches. They are always family businesses that choose to incorporate for a number of reasons, from liability protection and improved management to transition and tax planning.

It’s an acknowledgment of what has always been true — agriculture is a business and those who grow our food are its leaders. We tend to gloss over these facts by calling farming and ranching a way of life. While this is undoubtedly true, it also obscures some of the toughest jobs farmers do.

Growing a crop or raising livestock requires a full set of skills, from finance and marketing to logistics and record keeping. Even managing what they can control, farmers and ranchers are still at the mercy of markets and Mother Nature. They are tough partners, but luckily our food is in professional hands.

Greg Doering is a writer and photographer for the Kansas Farm Bureau. This column was originally published as part of the Kansas Farm Bureau’s Insight series.

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