A recent article appearing on Bloomberg’s website used the them-versus-us theme to attempt to make its point.
For the story, the “them” in this instance was farmers and, more specifically, Iowa farmers whose recent wealth in escalating land values has made them members of a millionaires club.
The boom in farmland values has certainly brought about many changes, both good and bad.
The author used the growing net worth of farmers to contrast with what happens in small towns when businesses close and jobs are eliminated, putting the former employees in a serious financial situation.
The writer failed to make a connection with factories that were closing and high-priced farmland, only to make the point that some people are suffering while others are thriving.
What the author failed to see was that the sale of farmland is usually a result of a family who has decided to leave the business of farming. The decision to sell the land does not come easily, even with an accompanying increase in monetary wealth, as there is usually a strong sentimental attachment to the land.
A director of a federally funded education for disadvantaged youth in northwest Iowa was losing her job and was quoted as saying, “I’m looking for help, and Johnny Farmer down the road is making $18,000 an acre when I was making more than they did three years ago.”
The writer failed to correct the exaggeration of $18,000 an acre which would have been important as it is unlikely the typical Bloomberg reader would recognize the exaggeration.
Besides, it helped reinforce his premise of a few people who have too much money, while many have too little.
Neither did he explain that for most of the members of the millionaires club, their wealth is not in cash but in the assets of their farmland, assets that are realized only when the land is sold. But that would be just another messy fact that gets in the way of the writer’s us versus them attitude.
The worst part was a comparison of farmers to The Beverly Hillbillies by an economist at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Va., who said, “They just shot in the ground and up came bubbling crude oil, and they became millionaires.”
Apparently, this economist does not have even a basic concept of farming. We farmers are a just a bunch of uneducated gol-darned lucky hicks.
The changes that the increased productivity of agriculture has come with a price and not just in the price of land.
Machinery has replaced labor so one man covers more acres. Less labor per acre results in fewer people farming the acres as smaller farms are absorbed to create larger ones.
This is nothing new and has been occurring for the last century. Businesses and schools in small towns close or consolidate as there are fewer people in need of their services.
For anyone who reads to the end, the writer does cover the subjects of the inability of young farmers to enter farming due to the high cost of land and the problem of escalating land rent.
The author tells of established farmers wondering how high things can go until there is a correction and if there could be a repeat of the farm crisis of the 1980s.
For many years, farmers liked to tell each other, usually with a smile, that farming was an occupation where you lived poor and died rich. Which, until recently, was not that far from the truth.
Fortunately, we will have the astute employees of Bloomberg to put us farmers in our place, sneeringly pointing out that we drive our leather seated, GPS-equipped, more-than-comfortable pickup trucks while sitting on our piles of money.
While the Bloomberg writers are busy revealing the truth about farmers, they might check with the local implement dealers, the elevators, the seed, fertilizer and herbicide dealers to see what kind of a year they are having. Farmers are more than capable of spreading around their wealth, even when it is borrowed.
Then check the exports of the United States to see what is being exported to countries around the world and how these exports help our balance of trade. One-fourth of U.S. soybeans end up in China.
Bloomberg may learn that it comes back to those Beverly Hillbillies who saddle themselves with around 20 years of debt in the hundred of thousands of dollars, possibly a million or more, with no guarantee of a bailout to pay for high-priced farmland and all the expenses that come with it every year.
Then along comes a year when it just won’t rain. What a bunch of gol-darned lucky hicks.
Rye is a Farm News staff writer and farmer from Hanlontown. Reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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