Guiding your life’s biggest financial moments

Personal Finance

Develop the family business

How big is your farm? We have about 12 employees who help cultivate the owned and leased land. I am the seventh generation in my family to manage an ongoing operation. We grow cotton, corn, soybeans and wheat, although the size and crop mix has changed several times over the years.

Who are your buyers? The corn that we grow tends to have a very local market, for the people who supply the poultry industry. Most of our wheat is barged to New Orleans for . And much of the cotton is ed in raw form to yarn manufacturers around the world. Asia, especially China, is the largest textile manufacturing region. We mainly sell soybeans to a large industrial facility near here.

Has the pandemic affected you? Farm work was considered essential, so we had to change very little in our operating procedures. And the nature of the work is socially distant, even though a member of my family contracted the virus and I had to isolate myself from the employees. Fortunately, no employee has contracted the virus so far. But the pandemic has disrupted already strained trade and supply chain models. Before COVID, we experienced a drop in the prices of most of the commodities that we raise. And in some cases, this slowdown has been exacerbated by the impacts of COVID on commerce.

Have the tariffs imposed by the Trump administration affected your production in recent years? Tariffs have disrupted the structure of trade, significantly with China. And China’s purchases of US commodities have declined dramatically in response to them. So there was a drop in prices. But recently, Chinese purchases have increased significantly in volume, and the impact on prices has been positive.

Have farm law programs supported your operations? They helped offset the negative implications of the price cuts. While we appreciate the help from taxpayers, we expect this may not continue. I would much prefer to have prices that provide a return on our operation, and most farmers would probably agree.

Has severe weather like the one we’ve seen in Iowa and elsewhere impacted your cultures? Variable weather always has an impact. This year has been very wet. We’re far enough inland that we haven’t had too much impact from the wind, which can be devastating closer to shore, but we have had hurricane rain. And in Iowa, because so many crops were lost in this weather event, corn prices went up.

You argued for more technology for family farmers. What’s holding that back? The ability to use technology widely is hampered by the lack of internet connectivity and broadband access in rural areas. And that’s a very fractured and fragmented customer base for someone who is developing agricultural technology; it can be very difficult to reach. Most of the data comes from various machines, sensors or service providers and comes in multiple file formats. Combining it in a way that helps you assess costs and profitability is like putting together a difficult puzzle.

What are your hopes for the coming year? That Washington will work to improve disruption from COVID and tariffs and rebuild a predictable multilateral trading system. It is very difficult to build confidence in supply chains when the political system randomly disrupts them.

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