Posts in Economics
Sustainability Spotlight: Large-Scale Commodity Farm

If there is one word I could use to describe Lee Scheufler, my father and the co-owner/operator of Scheufler Farms, Inc. it would be efficient.

“I wasn’t going to marry a farmer!” declares Margaret, wife of efficient Lee, my mother and co-owner/operator of Scheufler Farms.

“But my charm overwhelmed her,” Lee jokes with a wink.

Scheufler Farms is a large-scale grain farm in the smack-dab center of Kansas. Lee and Margaret have been married over 30 years and together manage this 100% family farm with only one full-time employee. Their farming philosophy is to run a highly efficient enterprise to capture low cost per unit production.

Read More
The Next Generation of American Agriculture

My Dad was featured in the Wall Street Journal last month. That's right, I'm basically the daughter of a celebrity.

He and several other farmers in Central Kansas (like my high school classmate Mason!) were interviewed for the article: The Next American Farm Bust is Upon Us. Unfortunately, the tone of the article was less than positive; apparently I wasn't the only one who noticed the piles of grain across my home state last summer and it's not an illusion that the low price of grain is going to force some farmers out of business.

This begs the question: How will American Agriculture respond to this changing climate?

Read More
But Where Does it All Go?

A few months ago I wrote about the volatility of the farming economy - the Invisible Hand of supply, demand, and incentive programs. Today, that picture is more evident than ever as you drive across the plains of Kansas: mounds of grains are piled high outside of elevators that have been at capacity for months. I mentioned the record-breaking yields that farmers have had this year.

Most industries vary their output based on demand. If toy giraffes are all the rage with the age-one-to-three-year-olds this year, you better believe that more toy giraffes are going to saunter off the production line. When the popularity of giraffes wanes, production decreases.

Unlike other types of producers, farmers are much more at the mercy of the elements (rather than demand) to determine their output, and consumption remains relatively stable. So, when output goes up, prices go down and storage overflows.

This begs the question: where does all that extra grain go??

Read More
Volatility

Unpredictability is the name of the game when it comes to farming. Weather, pests, breakdowns, and (perhaps most frustrating), the marketplace.

Things have been especially good this year: plenty of rain and sunshine at just the right time. Fortunately (or unfortunately?) it's been good everywhere. The Former Soviet Union and Europe had record-breaking wheat harvests this year. Thus, surpluses abound.

For those of you who've had training in basic economics, you know what happens to price when supply outweighs demand. That's right - price goes down.

That's what's happening right now.

Read More
Rained Out: A Story of Mitigating Risk

For all of the technology in modern agriculture - the GPS device in the combine, the weather app on the phone, the wireless electronic truck scale - our food system is still in the hands of Mother Nature.

It's never more apparent how small we humans are in the universe until your game of Pegs and Jokers is interrupted by a tornado warning. There is a false sense of security in having a basement; if a tornado barrels over the house, there's really nowhere to hide.

This is the scary part of being a farmer.

You can plan. You can estimate. You can research and work late nights and get all the planting done on time. But one flood, one hail storm, one extra week without rain can wipe it all away in the blink of an eye. While farming is about knowing how to grow crops in your climate, it's also about business (knowing when to spend money to make money), relationships (you gotta trust people to work with them), and mitigating risk.

Read More
Nitrogen Fertilizer, a Comparison

A few weeks ago I wrote about how nitrogren fertilizer is an essential part of farming because it is an essential part of protein, and thus nutrition for humans.

Across farming philosophies - from conventional to progressive to organic to local - the fact that nitrogen is essential to life is an undisputed fact. Beyond that agreement, however, opinions begin to differ regarding exactly what type of fertilizer is best to use.

While I can in  no way compare to a trained agronomist's opinion, I'd like to offer a (very) brief overview of the options farmers have today about what types of nitrogen fertilizer are available and review a few of the pros and cons of each.

Read More