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Feb 13, 2005
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--By Gregg Carr, Rt. l, Box 139, Hennepin, Illinois

I lost a neighbor today.

A farmer just like me. He and his wife farmed 600 acres of corn, soybeans, hay and a little wheat. He did a pretty good job too, always within spitting distance of the top yields in the area. Sold some grain for a pretty good price too.The rest of his corn he fed to about 1,000 head of hogs and 250 head of feeder cattle. He was fairly diversified and did his best to follow the experts' guidelines to keeping his costs to a minimum. His operation mimicked a lot of farms in this region of the country.

I remember when he got started farming in the late 70's and how gung-ho he was. His dad, whom he farmed with, had to keep telling him to slow down a little, to enjoy life a little more. He worked sun-up to sun-down six days a week, and although he did chores on Sunday, he always made it a point to spend the day with God and his family. His Christian belief about people treating other people as they would like to be treated was a mainstay in his life.

In the early 80's when interest rates hit 18%, I asked him if that bothered him, paying so much to borrow money. He replied, "Times are pretty good. The economy is booming. I'm making great interest on some CD's, and I don't mind paying my community bank big interest, because they keep it in the community." He really loved his hometown community and you seldom heard him complain.

In the early 90's, his mom and dad were killed in a car wreck. He was devastated, but he kept prodding along since he inherited his parents farm of 1,000 acres. His dad had a little life insurance, enough to pay for the funerals, court costs and attorney fees. But the estate taxes were much more than he could afford, so he sold 400 acres to settle with the government. I figured he would be really mad about this, but he just shrugged and said, "Sometimes life isn't fair, and the taxes seem too high, but I'm sure the Congress will put it too good use, so if I have to sacrifice some land to cover my fair share, so be it." What an understanding citizen.

Cattle prices seemed to hit a stagnant level in the mid 90's, where no matter how good your fat cattle were, you just couldn't seem to make any money. They kept talking shortages of good fat cattle, but the packers just didn't seem to be paying enough.

After two years of break-even prices or less, he quit buying feeder calves and concentrated on the hogs. He didn't seem to be mad about it, though, he just wrote it off as bad luck. I tried to tell him that the packers were taking advantage of him by keeping the prices unreasonably low while they made big profits, but he wouldn't hear of it. "The packers treated me well for years. I'm sure they wouldn't try to break me," was his response.

Just a few months ago, hogs went to a 43-year low of $8/hundredweight. He lost over $50 per head and yet it didn't seem to phase him. He just said, "We over-produced." When I tried to tell him that the big corporations were the ones that overproduced with the encouragement of the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), he said that the NPPC knows what it's doing.

When I mentioned that the CEO of that group made over $100,000 per year as did most of the CEO's of the commodity groups he supported with a mandatory check-off, he just said that they need to make a living, too. Besides, they were working for the small family farmer and they would never spend our money foolishly.

When I tried to explain to him that these groups had indeed spent money that would benefit retailers and distributors much more than it would the farmers, he said he would hear no more blasphemy. "The packers, grain companies,
retailers and commodity groups would never hurt the producer, because they know they would go to `hell' for misusing their authority." Our conversation was over.

Just last month, when all the big mergers were announced, like Cargill-Continental, Dupont-Pioneer, and Monsanto and anybody they could get, I asked if he wasn't concerned about the future of family farms. He told me that the big companies were simply eliminating the little dealers that weren't efficient anymore and that these mergers would be good for the family farmer. When I replied that Pioneer sold 42% of the seed corn in America and they weren't a little dealer, he said, "Yeah, that one has me buffaloed too. But I trust these people and I'm sure that what they're doing is for the best."

Last week, I heard my neighbor was not doing well. So I went over to visit and offer my sympathies. We talked at great length about farming, our friendship, and what lay ahead for him and his family. I asked if there was anything he regretted about his life. He hung his head low, cleared his throat, and then looked me in the eye and said, "Yeah. I wish I would have listened to you a lot more. Then my family would not have to suffer so much."

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