You town people have to keep this quiet. I am writing on the Secret Life of Farmers. Farmers are all busy in the fields now. This Journal will go on a great pile of mail that accumulates in the spring, and their wives will put in recycling before they read it. I'm writing by tractor light at 3 a.m., so as not to be seen by the neighbors.
I just think you need to know about the pain and suffering out in the countryside right now. These are not easy times for farmers. You know us farmers like to complain. Dirty hands, a clean heart, and something to whine about - that's farming. We aren't really happy unless we're miserable. But, honestly, how can we complain when we're making money?
That's the problem. For a couple of years now farmers have been making nice profits. This is true, despite every sort of drought, flood, plague, and pestilence that Mother Nature could throw at us. If a feller can make money with all these afflictions, how can we complain? And if we can't complain, what fun is farming, really?
The markets are the main culprit. For the first 25 years of my farming career, corn was $2 a bushel. You might make a little money one year, but you could always count on losing a little the next.
Then, a couple of ethanol plants went up. These were owned by farmers, and you might make a little money one year and lose a little the next. And when the ethanol market was crappy, it was another thing to gripe about. It was a perfect complement to farming!
Then, one year, due to the wacky world of petroleum, ethanol made lots of money. Farmers said, "Oh, that's nice. I'll buy a new field cultivator and get ready to lose money next year." Alas, investors heard about the profits, and soon everybody and their uncle built an ethanol plant. What the heck did everybody's uncle know about ethanol?
Ethanol went from taking the edge off the corn surplus to being a ravenous gorger of one-third of the American corn crop. Houston, we have a problem. Corn which had been $2 since I owned a pet rock shot up to $6. Profit-loss statements were awash in black ink. Sure, we could still whine about the weather, but how could we really put our heart into it?
The dairy, beef, and pig people held out for a while. Six dollar corn did some ugly things to their balance sheets. The animal farmers did some serious grumbling; crop farmers were jealous. But, after a while, their markets rose to cover the new feed costs. Now they're making money, too. Pretty much all of us farmers are depressed.
Farmers have tried everything they could to lose money. Rents soared as farmers tried to find new levels of un-profit. Rents went up to $300, and farmers made money. Rents went up to $400, and farmers STILL made money. This year, I heard of rents going up to a glabillion dollars an acre. If that doesn't solve the problem, nothing will.
Ag suppliers have tried to ease our burden. Seed corn went up in price through my farming career: $100 a bag to $110 to $120. Then came $6 corn. The seed company executives got together and said, "Hey, did you see what farmers made last year?" "Yeah, we should raise the price on seed corn." "I bet we could charge whatever we want!" "How 'bout $300 a bag, that's a nice round number?" "Ya, sure, sounds good to me!"
Our profits have created other problems. Like, did you know that if you make more money the government wants lots of it? What the heck? The IRS never bothered me before. Now they want my first born son.
I informed them they can't have Ezra. My accountant, Rick Christensen, is negotiating with the IRS right now. Rick works for the accounting firm of Biebl, Ranweiller, Larson, Allen, Clifton, Or Maybe We Have A New Name. He says we should be able to keep Ezra, but I might have to give them an arm and/or a leg. Seems fair if I can keep the knee.
Farmers do everything they can to avoid taxes. For example, I bought a used Honda 4-wheeler to get the mail. Wait I just got a note from Rick he says getting the mail is a personal use. Oh. Well, I bought a used Honda 4-wheeler to do tillage.
Lots of farmers have sought tax relief. Sadly, many were forced by their accountants to buy brand new pickup trucks. Farmers love their old trucks where they can be a little greasy and get dirt on the seats. There is nothing sadder than to be out at Chuck Spaeth Ford when another farmer tearfully trades in Ol' Bessy for a $60,000 2012 Ford F-450 4X4 CREW SRW.
Thankfully, I have not been forced to such desperate measures. I'm still driving the 1977 Chevy that Sylvester bought new the last time farmers made money. That baby has all kinds of character! It had a little too much character when you could look down at your feet and see the road going by, but Tom at Westside Garage patched that.
Noticing how downcast farmers looked in their new trucks, I sensed an opportunity. I have begun renting out my old Chevy for those times when farmers don't want to be seen in their shiny new deduction. Like, going to see their ex-wife. Or their pastor who's thinking they should be upping their tithe. Or the great uncle who's always given them cheap rent and doesn't know they run 5,000 acres now. It does my heart good to see the smiles on their face as they drive off in my dusty old truck.