25 Years Out: Change is Our Only Constant

25 YearsWell, how did we get here?  Today marks the 25th year anniversary of the 1st time I wrote this column, Under the Agridome.  25 years ago I was a kid.  Now, I’m on the other side of the hill, in fact have been there for quite a while. Through the years it’s been quite a ride.  Our agricultural landscape has changed so much.

There are no records of that 1st Agridome 25 years ago.  The reason for that is I wrote it by longhand on a pad of paper.  Then I drove it 14 miles to my editor John Gardiner at the old Wallaceburg (Ontario) News.  That is hard to imagine now.  However, it is just as hard to imagine that 25 years after, we are no longer driving all tractors and combines.  In fact many tractors and combines are being steered through the fields by satellites in space.  The rate of change over the last 25 years has been blinding.

A new Macintosh computer soon extinguished my long hand.  In the late 1980s a fax modem arrived which meant I typed out a column, then press a button where it was sent right to my editor’s desk.  Under the Agridome was soon picked up by regional newspapers.  In 1994 it was picked up by DTN, and here we are today.  Now, in 2011 it’s all about voice recognition software.  I don’t use a pen or the keyboard anymore.  I just think and talk and the rest is history.

25 years ago our agricultural space was so much different.  Other than soybeans, we produced a lot less of everything on a unit basis.  For instance I just finished harvesting my crops for 2011.  I average 55 bushels per acre soybeans and 202 bushels per acre for my corn.  These are both handsome numbers for me but the corn number is the one that is telling.  25 years ago I hoped to get 150 bushels per acre of corn.  Now, if I don’t get 200 bushels per acre, it’s been a bad year.  25 years ago, I got 50 plus bushels per acre of soybeans, about the same as what I’m getting now.  Soybeans are an anomaly that way.  Almost everything else in agriculture has increased in yield over time.  In 2011, we continue our best to try and feed a hungry world.  Our grain yields despite the problems with soybeans reflect that.

Over the period of the last 25 years I have made 4 trips to Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries on earth.  It is not lost on me when I am there that I am a food producer who sees people with empty stomachs.  I was shocked on my 1st visit there in 1993 to see extended stomachs, people starving on the streets and poverty everywhere.  On my last visit in 2009, I was completely immune from that.  I had made the mental adjustment to recognize poverty alleviation and feeding the people should be the focus of mankind.  So when I am out producing my crops, I know it is for me but it is also my attempt to alleviate poverty in this world.  I have stared straight into the eyes of people with empty stomachs and it is not easy.  So sometimes I am constricted with the constant demands for higher food prices among some of my farmer colleagues.

The highlight of my 25-year career writing the Agridome was being pushed to the front of the line to lead the Ottawa Farm Solidarity rally in April 2006.  At that time Canadian producers were being pushed against the wall by low prices and governments who had no interest in any semblance of a safety net.  When 10,000 farmers massed on to Parliament Hill on that cool April morning, I felt a chill going up my spine.  It was my responsibility to give them hope and say the words, which the rest of Canada would hear that night on national news.  It was a riveting moment and one that will never be repeated.  I will always appreciate the confidence Canadian farmers showed in me that day.  I’ll surely never see another day like it.

Since that time, we have seen an explosion in the agricultural economy created by increased food demand and ethanol.  As I gripped the microphone that day, it was hard to see that coming.  All of us were grasping at straws for a solution to make Canadian agriculture thrive.

That quest continues and I will be here, who knows, maybe even for another 25 years.  Thank you all. Thank you for being such dedicated readers, listeners and colleagues through the years.  Thank you DTN.  As we look ahead, as Jack Layton said, let’s choose hope over despair; let’s keep our cup half full.  The only constant in agriculture is change.  The challenge is always adapting to that change.  Let’s embrace it with open arms.