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If you don’t understand how things work; education is key

55 Years And Counting From The Tractor Seat

By Bill Whitman


Several years ago I was frustrated with myself for not being able to understand how or why the economic structure of the American Agri-Business had evolved. When I was in high-school, the ability to get credit was based on your repayment history and collateral.  As the years have gone by, collateral has become less important and cash flow has become the deciding factor. As I thought about it then and still think about it, the description, “a house of cards”, seems an appropriate description of our economy. That said, it was still critical to understand what currently drives our economy and what our farms and ranches need to do in order to prosper.

I found myself in situations where I simply could not understand how or why decisions were made by lenders who are making demands of farmers and ranchers that simply didn’t make sense to me. Add to this the new breed of banker speaking a language I and other farmers I know simply didn’t understand, I decided to do something about it. Simply put I realized that I needed educated. Since time was in short supply, I looked for some type of online program. 

I found a college that offered a two- and four-year degree online.

I was apprehensive how I would relate to classmates that were 3 and 4 decades my junior, but I soon discovered that the age difference was a non-issue. My classmates were interested in learning to better their individual opportunities. In my mid-fifties I was older than most instructors of the classes I took. Initially I questioned the foolishness of some required courses but I quickly learned how wrong I was. I don’t believe I took a class that I can’t apply in some way to what I do every day.

So how does this relate to agriculture? In the last several decades the world has gotten much smaller. For the bulk of my life, I thought what happened outside of the United States had little to do with our little farm. Frankly, I didn’t understand how things were being done here in the United States. It seemed that I focused most of my attention to a 50–100-mile radius around me. As I began to learn and apply that information to our business, so much began to make some kind of sense. One thing has been proven over and over… knowledge is power. I learned that much of my confusion was simply not understanding the language of modern information.  

As one who learned late in life, young farmers need to take advantage of online business classes. It is vital to understand more about world business practices that affect every day of their lives. There are so many online classes that can be taken that will help make sense of so much that doesn’t make sense. The point is not racking up educational credits, it’s the accumulation of information that can be translated into working wisdom. It is impossible for us, with emerging technology and crop inputs to be experts in all fields needed. But we need to have a fundamental understanding of the concepts.  I’m reminded that a past United States president said that he wasn’t the smartest man in the room… he managed the smartest people in the room. I’m further reminded of what my Vo-Ag teacher, Ray Noecker, preached and preached. Farming and Ranching encompass so many types of work that we can’t be expected to be proficient in every field, but we have to have a working knowledge in order to manage them correctly.