Farming in 2015: Change Continues to Be Our Only Constant

A few years ago I traded my Massey Ferguson 850 combine off on a much bigger one.  To put it in perspective my Massey combine had a 16-foot head, while my newer combine a John Deere 9510 has a 25-foot head.  At the time 25 foot heads were pretty big in Ontario, but of course now a few of my neighbors actually have 45 foot heads.  It is crazy how things change through the years.

It may be crazy, but it is our constant.  I think about this quite a bit.  When I give a talk on marketing crops, I always talk about as a farmer how change is my only constant.  I’m 56 years old now and I’ve been writing this column for almost 30 years.  So that made me a pretty young man back in 1980s when I was trying to forge a career as a farmer.  Of course, I think you’ve heard more than once that I had my first demand loan at 23.25%.

I once had a chance shortly after I bought that newer combine to sit in my old one.  I remember walking over and walking up the ladder and then sitting in the cab.  It seemed so small that I could hardly believe that I drove that thing for 20 years.  The land base that I have now is just slightly bigger than it used to be.  However, for those 20 years that Massey combine was the devil I knew.  The change from going to more harvest capacity with my newer one has been so good.

Does that mean that someday I’ll be trading that combine off for one with a 60-foot head?  Well, we shall see.  It is interesting that I have a hard time getting the capacity out of my present combine.  It seems that my equipment might have huge capacity but my capacity to drive it is not as good as it was for that much smaller Massey.  I guess age will do that to you.  Needless to say, I might be a lot older but I don’t work as hard now as I used to and I get a lot more done.  That’s an example of how change is my only constant and how technology changes everything.

I got a call today from the CBC wanting to do an interview about something I mentioned on Twitter a few days ago.  As some of you may or may not know I don’t steer anything anymore on my farm.  I bought a newer tractor a couple years ago that came with RTK guidance and I bought a third-party guidance unit to put on my 37-year-old big tractor and my combine.  So when I go to the field once I have my guidance set the steering is up to the satellites.  At the end of the day I’m so much fresher and the work is better too.  It is opened up a world of new possibilities for me.

I mentioned to the CBC that this type of technology wasn’t really knew and in fact, was mainstream.  The answer that I got back was that they didn’t know and maybe they would like to pursue a feature about that.  We’ll see what happens next, I didn’t volunteer.

Of course change in itself isn’t necessarily good all the time.  It’s simply a constant.  For instance I learned this past week that Monsanto is going to lay off 2600 people because sales aren’t necessarily going the way they had hoped.  Where once I predicted that agricultural biotechnology might mean palm trees for Southwestern Ontario, it hasn’t quite turned out that way.  In many ways big agricultural corporations wanting to sell more of their wares have hijacked it.  Needless to say, there’s always some good with the bad and I will take the good.  I wish I’d have taken a lot more pictures of my crops and my farms before the advent of some of this new technology.  It would sure be interesting to look back and see how things looked then versus now.

For instance, I can remember weeds that I never see now.  On the other hand, I have new super weeds that we never used to have.  Some of it is related to agricultural practices and some is related to chemistry changes through the years.  Needless to say, it keeps me on my toes attacking the weed spectrum, which is constantly getting more aggressive.

Of course, I haven’t even mentioned our grain markets.  Now, they are just a collection of grain marketing algorithms, which get electronically excited on the news flow post USDA reports.  Yes, that is change too and it will continue to evolve.  Of course, now I have the advantage of age and can look back and see how it all worked out.  Sometimes, I think when you’re younger; it’s hard to comprehend it.  It might have something to do with how much debt you are in as a young farmer.

Of course resisting change can mean you are falling behind.  Sometimes that’s the hard part.  Do I get bigger in order to confront the change I can pay for?  Or is it enough to just keep an open mind about change?  Let’s just say, nothing is ever so good, it can’t be improved.  That’s goes for our farm, our grain marketing and just about anything else.