30 Years Under the Agridome


It sure seems like a long time now, but 30 years this week I first penned the column “Under the Agridome”.  I was a young man then, 27 and single, actively farming near Dresden Ontario.  At the same time I was enrolled in graduate school doing my Masters degree in Agricultural Economics and Business at the University of Guelph.  Ronald Reagan was President of the United States.  Brian Mulroney was Prime Minister of Canada.  There was a Berlin Wall and an Iron Curtain.  The Challenger explosion was the seminal event of 1986.

It was so different now.   I’ve seen so much both regarding geo political events as well as Canadian and world agriculture.  Back in 1986, China was still seen as a bit of an economic backwater. There were people musing about the potential of China to change our agricultural world, but Deng Xiaoping still hadn’t exacted his own form of capitalism.  Frankly, it was hard to imagine how the world would change over the next 30 years.

In 1986, the US produced approximately 7.58 billion bushels of corn.  In 2016 the US will produce 15.22 billion bushels of corn. Demand alone for corn this year is 14.610 billion bushels.  Food was cheap in 1986 and it still is today.

Of course in 1986 those were the days before biotechnology or ethanol or the Internet.  The Soviet Union was a real nemesis.  We knew who our enemies were.  We also knew that they were very poor at producing anything agriculturally.  In fact, their lack of productivity on their farms helped North America farmers almost everywhere in world markets.  However, they had nuclear weapons, big guns and they were aimed at us.  A new leader had emerged in 1985, just before I started writing by the name of Mikael Gorbachev.  President Reagan got together with him and in 1991 the Soviet Union dissolved.  Knock me over with a spoon.  Nobody expected that.

Of course, things got pretty messy in the former Soviet Union, but today both Russia and Ukraine are producing grain that is competitive on world markets.  In fact, in the wheat and corn market their potential is vast and it is pushing North American grain out of some markets.  Of course it doesn’t stop there.  Brazil produced approximately 54 MMT of soybeans in 1986.  They are projected to produce 102 MMT next year.  Do you see a pattern here?

In 1986 I began working earnestly on computers at the University of Guelph.  However, I wrote my first column in longhand.  Computing technology exploded and of course with the advent of the Internet in the 1990s, everything changed.  Over the last eight years social media has exploded and that has changed the world and agriculture too.  I now “write” this column using voice recognition software.  In fact, I’ve done that for at least five years.  I wonder what’s next?  It’s getting old.

Of course, all through this time I bought farms and expanded my farming operation.  In the early days crushing debt or the specter of that was always the limiting factor.  In 2016, in the middle of the low-interest era it is so different.  Now, when it comes to agriculture, financial institutions are selling money. Negative interest rates may be on the horizon.

I got married in 1992 to my wonderful wife Cindy.  We will celebrate our 25th anniversary in about a month’s time we had three wonderful daughters together.  We fought the toughest battle of my life with Cindy’s cancer in 2014 and came out the other side.   However, that battle always stays with you, as it continues amid the memories of others who were left behind.

It is so different now.  In fact if I could bring back that 27-year-old single guy and drop him in 2016, he wouldn’t be able to comprehend.  However, each week on Thursday for the last 30 years, I incrementally watched, described and analyzed our agricultural world as I saw it.  Sometimes it was from the far corners of this world.

I want to thank my first editor and mentor John Gardiner of Wallaceburg Ontario.  I also want to thank the people at DTN in Omaha.  There are many others.

This is not the end, but it is 30 years closer to the end.  In agriculture, change is our only constant.  Let’s look forward to the next 30.