Posts tagged risk
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.

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Sustainability Spotlight: Industry Perspective

Last December, Marvin showed up on my parents’ doorstep.

Marvin works for ADM (Archer Daniels Midland Company – although nobody ever calls them by their full name) as a marketing agent who procures grain from local farmers.

He and his company want to sustainably source wheat in Central Kansas, but “sustainable” first needs to be defined. Thus ADM is looking for producers willing to share information about their farming practices.  The goal of this  Field to Market program is to determine the most profitable - yet environmentally friendly - way to raise wheat. ADM, in turn, wants to partner with these farms to purchase this sustainably grown grain.

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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?

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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??

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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.

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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.

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Crop Rotation

In case you hadn't noticed, winter is upon us. Snow has blanketed the fields, temperatures have dropped, and the days are short.

So what happens on a farm when the ground is frozen? More than you'd think.

Like all the other seasons, winter is a thread in the tapestry of the life of a farm. While the planting is finished and there are no combines in the field, the soil is not dead.

Although you may think that nothing grows in the winter, this is not necessarily true. My dad follows a precise crop rotation strategy that dictate whether a field lies fallow over the winter or has winter wheat at the beginning of its growth.

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The Quest for Sustainability

Sustainability. It's a buzzword. It's a fad. It's a culture shift.

But really, what is sustainability in terms of how we grow our food in the world? As a dietitian, I have had the pleasure of meeting many people who care deeply about this topic. People who buy local or organic or avoid certain products because of sustainability.

I myself have pondered how I can lead a more sustainable lifestyle. My husband, whose scholarly focus is related to public health and the environment, also challenges me to think more deeply about this topic.

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