One of the most interesting parts of this job is helping develop and report on the AgPoll feature for Agriculture.com. The surveys this year show, I think, that farmers are as diversely opinionated as ever, and mostly have a deep-rooted optimism about their lives on the land.
Here’s a selection of some of the year’s highlights. The poll's are all still "live," so please feel free to chime in.
1. What do you most like about farming?
More than half of farmers said “independence.” Next highest response was “growing things.” Farmer comment on this poll showed the deep feelings people have for their profession. “To farm the same land that my father and grandfather have since 1890 is a privilege and honor,” said a Minnesota farmer. Another had these words: “My favorite time of year is the planting season. A few days after I plant I like to get on my hands and knees and look for the seeds. It is the satisfaction in watching that little seed grow.”
2. What word best describes your fiscal policy?
It’s not “liberal.” And, no, it’s not “cheap” or “frugal”, but rather “responsible," the choice of more than half of respondents to this poll. Some folks are quite emphatic about fiscal responsibility: “When it comes to maintenance, I spend whatever it takes to make things run without breakdowns,” said one farmer. “Sometimes I go overkill. When it comes to purchases, if it doesn't contribute to the balance sheet, I don't buy it.”
3. What most impresses you when you drive by a farm?
One farmer insisted this is a silly question, but the poll had a good response. It’s not the shiny, new stuff that gets the nod here. Two thirds of farmers opted for “neat, well-maintained buildings and fences.” One farmer says he tries to keep up a “park-like” appearance on his place. Another compares a farmstead to a “storefront,” saying we should take as much pride in appearances as any other business.
4. If your marketing was a corn field, what would it look like this year?
This whimsical poll was taken in September, just as the long and winding road of ’09 harvest was beginning. “A bit weedy and average yield” was the option with the most votes: 39%. “Clean of weeds and a bumper crop,” was next at 21%. Taking the metaphor to extremes, a farmer from New York State commented: “My corn field would look like a hurricane had hit, followed by floods, a fire, two tornadoes, and a herd of buffalo had simultaneously parked themselves on the field. But it wouldn't have made any difference, because no one remembered to put seed in the planter.”
5. What is the wettest corn you’ve combined this year?
This popular poll may have unearthed some numbers for the record books. Forty-two percent of farmers said they combined corn with more than 30% moisture this fall. Harvesting with 32% moisture looks like you’re “slinging water out the back of the combine,” commented one farmer.
6. Where are you in your farming career?
Nearly two thirds of farmers say they are starting farming (25%) or still building their operations(39%), compared with those who say they are slowing down a little (19%) or winding down (13%). Optimism is reflected in one farmer’s comment, a fellow beginning in agriculture after a Navy career: “Everyone says prices are too high and one should not be buying right now. I have a different perspective. I think you should buy when you can afford it and when it is in the right place. Family says I am crazy for buying, but I say in 10 years they will think it was a good deal!
7. Which new machinery feature is of most value to you?
Autosteer was the big winner of the items on this survey list, which included variable rate application, data recording and mapping, and sprayer boom controls. “GPS was good but IMHO autosteer is the best.....what a neck saver," said a North Dakota farmer. "It sure saves cash with no overlaps or skips on any operation whether its cultivating, spraying, seeding, or anything!”
8. In what part of your farm business do you think you can save the most money in the next year?
Nearly half (46%) said fertilizer. Machinery was a distant second. Of course, most of fertilizer cost savings fell from the sky this year. “For my farm the biggest expense is fertilizer so when the price drops in half that’s a lot of savings,” said one respondent.
9. Do you have an ag-related business besides your farm?
According to this poll, only one in five farmers does not have another business. These sidelines are all across the board. Seed sales/production (14%) leads the way, followed by custom farming (13%). But 27% said “other.” What are these other businesses? The discussion gives a few examples: direct marketing meat, crop adjusting, parting out combines, and my favorite, operating a mini-donut trailer.
10. What farm shop improvement will make next?
Most folks say they will be organizing and cleaning their shops, but one in five farmers taking this survey said they will erect a new farm shop next. It’s a top priority for some. “I have decided that a shop built right and built big enough for the future has to be a priority,” said one farmer. “I don't want to be 50 and building a shop for my kids to enjoy!”