Website owner:  James Miller

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On Farming

   I grew up on a small eighty acre dairy farm.  We had around 35 
   head of cattle and milked 24 cows.  That was in the late 40's 
   and 50's.  I liked the farm and feel very fortunate to have 
   grown up on one.  I believe it is the very best place for 
   children to grow up.  To me the heart and soul of any farm is 
   livestock and I think being around livestock and caring for 
   them is good for children.  And I think hard work is good for 
   children.  And responsibilities.  It builds character.  Having 
   said all this I must now say that I don't think there is any 
   money in a small dairy farm and I don't think it is any way to 
   try to make a living.  Why?  You have to feed your cattle which 
   means raising hay and other food for them and that means you 
   need a lot of expensive equipment --- tractors, drills, 
   combines, etc.  That requires a lot of capital and it is hard 
   to make enough money to pay the cost of this high investment.

   The danger with farming is that even if you keep good records 
   you may be making a lot less money than you think.  And if you 
   don't keep very good records you may even be working for 
   nothing and losing money and not even know it.  Your outgo may 
   be more than your income and you may be supporting your 
   operation with money from your outside job without even 
   realizing it.  You may unknowingly be supporting the livestock 
   instead of them supporting you.  And one of the reasons this is 
   true is because you may not be allowing enough in depreciation 
   expense for all the high priced equipment that you have.  That 
   equipment may really be costing you far more than you realize.  
   Farmers borrow the money they need, as does everyone else, but 
   there is a lot of capital involved and you have to figure in 
   the cost of all that equipment properly to know if you are 
   making any money or not.  You have to figure the cost right and 
   that can be hard.  You really need to know how long a 
   particular piece of equipment is going to last to figure the 
   cost right, but you don't know that.  You depreciate it 
   according to some assumption on useful life and that assumption 
   can be far off (you might later decide to replace it because it 
   has become outdated because something much better has come 
   along --- an example of the sort of thing that can throw an 
   estimate way off).  If you buy your equipment new you run into 
   high value drops in the first several years just as you do when 
   you buy new cars.

   The farm can be a sort of treadmill.  The work is hard, you 
   work long hours and you have to be there every day to take care 
   of your livestock.  The livestock must be fed and you have to 
   make sure they have enough to eat even if you have to go out 
   and buy the feed.  If you wish to take a vacation you must find 
   someone to come in and take care of the farm chores and that 
   someone may be very difficult to find.  Livestock requires 
   daily care.  You can be a slave to your farm.

   The farmer must not only be a farm hand, working hard, long 
   hours doing menial, dirty, tedious work in the blazing sun and 
   in the snowy winter; he needs also to be a good accountant.  He 
   needs to be intelligent, smart, good with a pencil, able to 
   think, figure and analyze.  And he needs to read and be 
   informed.  If he is only good with a fork and shovel and not 
   much for figuring and reading he is likely to be making far 
   less from his farm than he thinks. 

   My father purchased our farm when I was six.  I heard him say 
   many times as I was growing up that there was no money in 
   farming.  He had a regular job that he worked at and my mother 
   also worked.  When I was in high school he purchased an 
   apartment building and his apartments provided him a much 
   better income than farming.  When I was around eighteen he sold 
   the cattle and quit selling milk.  He continued to raise some 
   cash crops.  He still lives there on the farm. 

   July 2002

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