“Dirt Under My Fingernails”: Questions From the Field

philipadThis week I left my drought plagued fields of southwestern Ontario and am currently ensconced in suburban Minneapolis Minnesota.  On the way, I got to see a lot of corn and soybeans, through Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.  Is the yield there, some of you must be thinking?  I think so. Everything looks good to me.  Maybe the USDA putting corn at 165 bu/acre and soybeans at 44 know what they are talking about.

Of course it is a bit of a crapshoot.  We all know that.  Even with a record corn yield, ending stocks are set to decrease.  At a certain point, the market must take over and boost corn production into 2011.  It surely sets up the market conditions for a little fireworks going into 2011.

That was part of my message I gave Pioneer customers last week at a grower-meeting southeast of London Ontario near Belmont.  I had a lot of grower questions about the market and about Ontario market conditions.  However, increasingly I get more and more questions about one thing.  It goes something like this.  “When I read your stuff on DTN, I get the indication that you actually farm, in fact farm on a big level and you do all this other stuff too.  What exactly do you do?”

That is a paraphrase on the exact question, but it always goes back to me having “dirt under my fingernails” and at the same time being able to write and speak about markets, agricultural economics, finance and a whole host of other things.

So I thought I should make things clear.  I farm.  That’s what I do.  That’s how I define myself.  I do it mostly by myself, which means long hours and myriads of decisions on my 860 acres in Southwestern Ontario.  24 years ago I started writing in long hand this weekly column (Under the Agridome) which has been transformed through the years, picked up by DTN in 1994.  Let’s just say 24 years ago, our world was different, it was before computers, before the Internet and before agricultural biotechnology.  It’s been all about change.

In the intervening time, I’ve been asked to do many other things.  For instance I write all the farm machinery reviews for Country Guide Magazine, which appears each month in that publication.  Several years ago I was asked to take over writing Market Trends for the Ontario Corn Producer, a monthly look at the Ontario Corn Market from Brian Doidge.  I changed that to a monthly web based commentary and podcast which now can be accessed on the Grain Farmers of Ontario website.  I had a radio commentary for 12 years, which ended in 2009.  I write feature articles for several other agricultural publications.  I also write a weekly mainstream (non-farm) column, and a monthly world affairs piece with my colleague Dr. A.K.Enamul Haque.  In addition to that, I write a bi-monthly piece for Heritage Iron Magazine, which is headquartered in Illinois.

In 2009, a continuing education director from a regional Ontario Real Estate Board contacted me.  They needed somebody to teach an “Agriculture for Realtors” course.  So I developed the course and have been presenting that across Ontario since January 2010.  It’s a real challenge delivering that to a non-farm audience.  However, it’s a great challenge.

Increasingly, I’m asked to speak at different events or grower meetings.  In January 2011, I’ll be speaking in Edmonton to the provincial conference of Association of Alberta Agricultural Fieldmen on the topic entitled, “The Future of Canadian Agriculture and Our Changing Political Environment”.  I enjoy the speaking; it’s great connecting with people who follow my work.

Increasingly “my work” outside the farm, is all about marketing.  For instance at one time over the past 24 years my column was all about Canadian agricultural policy.  Over time I’ve changed it to more of a marketing focus, however, that’s not total.  From time to time, like last week when I talked about the economics of fertilizer, I still try to mix it up.

Needless to say, I farm.  It awaits me at every corner.  In fact you could say I’m most comfortable driving a combine.  When combines “roll”, I really know what that feels like.  That uneasy feeling that comes over you when you hear an unexpected boom or clank are like no other.

So will those USDA yield projections of 165 bu/acre for corn and 44 bu/acre for soybeans come true?  Dunno, however, I do know I feel it personally every time the USDA hiccups.  For those of you who don’t know me, I hope this helps.  You don’t have to wonder anymore.  If you have any questions or queries, send me note.  I’m just like you trying to figure everything out.