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Do you have 'The Farmer's Whine'

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Well-known member
Feb 10, 2005
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Southern Manitoba
Do you have the farmer's whine?
this document web posted: Wednesday February 10, 2005 20050210p26

Imagine going to a farm conference where everybody was upbeat and optimistic. Wouldn't you step back and check the sign at the door to make sure you were in the right room? Isn't farming a perpetual story of doom and gloom? Isn't "ain't it awful" the byword of all farm conversations?

Isn't it true that no matter what the actual conditions are - even in good years, which do exist in agriculture - the farm community must stick to its story that farming is tough and everybody is suffering?

Here's a secret: you are not helping yourself or your industry with the "ain't it awful" attitude. I call it the farmer's whine and have harangued farmers about it at many conventions over the past 30 years.

We've all seen it a hundred times: there is trouble in a particular segment of the farm economy - bad grain prices, maybe, or a drought - and the government provides an ad hoc bail out of say, $2 billion.

The media finds a farm leader to interview, and he or she says words to the effect that "it helps, but it's not enough."

The urban dweller is sitting at home after just putting in a 60 hour week working two jobs at just above minimum wage, struggling to pay the rent and the groceries, and saying, "what, $2 billion isn't enough? What do they want?"

What's the problem?

When city residents see a modern farm, they see a family that has way more than they will ever have. The farm has machinery worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, land worth hundreds of thousands more and a desirable lifestyle. These people live in the country, raise their children in a small community where neigh-bours know each other and enjoy a home surrounded by nature with plenty of time off in the winter.

Is this a fantasy? Partly. But much of it is true.

Of course there are stresses in agriculture. Yes, families are losing their farms, for the same reasons that 70 to 80 percent of all small businesses close in the first three to five years after startup.

But what about businesses that have been in operation for a long time? Research at the University of Wisconsin's Family Business Center shows that approximately 70 percent of all family businesses fail to succeed to the second generation and almost 90 percent fail to survive to the third.

Running any business is risky and difficult. Farming is no exception. But there are compensations and there are good years, as well as bad. The mistake is claiming that all years are bad, no matter what.

City dwellers don't need to know anything about agriculture to know that if all years were bad, nobody would be farming.

So they know that farmers are crying wolf at least some of the time. And that does not buy sympathy. It buys disrespect.

And here's the other thing. By continually participating in conversations at the local Whine and Cry CafŽ about how tough agriculture is, you are creating in yourself a powerful negative attitude about your occupation and your life.

Every successful business leader I know, or have even heard of, cautions people who want to be successful not to hang around with negative, pessimistic folks.

Their attitude will rub off and prevent you from seeing possibilities and options that you would see if you had an open, optimistic view.

The next time you have a good year, admit it. It will be the truth. And if you are worried that the government will quit making bail outs if the farm community doesn't whine all the time, think about it.

If you had two kids that needed help from time to time, and one whined continually about how tough his life was and the other said he was doing OK, but came to you for help when he hit a circumstance that was beyond his ability to handle, which would you be most likely to help?