Last night I had dinner with a farming association which was sponsored by a local banking co-op. As members, we receive a portion of the bank’s earnings, called patronage refunds. Part of it is put into a surplus account and we continue to receive these funds for several years after the loans are paid in full. It’s a nice little bonus for hard working, honest people who are often the first victims of economic trials.

If you think the price of gas hurts your wallet, try talking to these folks. With diesel well over four dollars a gallon, imagine their thin profits disappearing into nothingness. Even if the price of beef cattle is up, so is the cost of procuring the fertilizer for their fields and operating their tractors. Dairy farmers are in a down market. Poultry is steady, but the price of propane, diesel, and grain is slicing into their income in measurable chunks.

The price of grain is up, so that should reap nice rewards for the grain farmers, right? Not so fast. The cost again of the diesel for the tractors, the seed, and the fertilizer are all going to offset any larger profits with even higher costs – meaning, they will see less income as well.

The Christmas tree industry had been off for a couple of years, but has experienced a nice nostalgic return in real tree popularity. We even returned to a live tree this past Christmas after years of erecting a twelve foot artificial structure that was beautiful but lacked a little something. There’s nothing like the smell of a live tree and I missed the little spaces we call ‘elf shelves’ where a space develops between branches that you would never have on the uniform silk alternatives. These decorating bonuses are great for little gifts to sit among the needles or for a bird’s nest. Have we forgotten the pleasure of going to a tree farm to select the perfect specimen, have a glass of steaming chocolate or cider, and maybe even have a little hay ride on the way back from the field? I think the sales of trees are going to remain up, as these are priceless memories that just can’t be replicated by going to the local box store and returning with something you have to connect in sections.

Crop farming is a gamble. Drought, severe weather, late frosts, too much rain, hail storms, wind damage, insect damage, disease, wildlife damage, a market glut; the list goes on and on with the possibilities of failure, yet all of the initial investment is taken from the farmer’s pocket. Crop insurance is a viable option, but also very expensive.
Our region doesn’t have a lot of pig, turkey, or fish farms. The majority of them are located a little further south and east of us. But something we do have is a dying tobacco farm industry. Many of you will think that is a good thing. Nobody smokes at my house either, but I see these farms passed down from generations of family farmers and think about the difficulty in making a concept change about the land being farmed. Some very successful transitioners are now grape growers.

Yes, we have become a ‘little Sonoma’ valley. Our region, the Yadkin Valley, and an even more exclusive appellation within it – The Swan Creek – has turned a lot of old tobacco farms into gorgeous vineyards and wineries. Now that is something we do enjoy at my house, but nothing more than knowing it was produced locally. I toy with the idea of doing this as well. But my husband is reluctant to invest the funds needed for a start-up, especially as we inch closer to retirement.

But does a farmer ever retire?

I don’t know of any who do. This is one area where residual income can keep rolling in while farm fields are leased or cattle are tended and someone is hired to take them to market. Farmers farm. It’s what they know and what keeps them going. There were a lot more people over fifty at the dinner last night than there were under. Guess the gamble doesn’t seem as attractive when you are twenty-five. Plus the rising cost of insurance for the self-employed dims the spotlight for the stage that is outdoors.

Last night, over plates of salad, roast beef and gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans, and assorted desserts, we were given a little presentation about what this association and its banking services can do for us. They are offering insurance, home mortgages, vehicle loans. They are branching out too, and if we are going to receive a portion of their profits, doesn’t it make sense to support them in these new endeavors. Then they gave away door prizes. We won a nice travel cooler. But actually what we got from this was information, commiseration, and a few phone numbers. This one knows a better source for guaranteed disease resistant trees, that one needs some litter from our farm. Farmers help each other. I wish success for every one I spoke to and those who didn’t make it to our meal. I hope you will as well. After all that is said about dependence on foreign products, do you really want to be dependent on foreign food?

Please support your local farmer!

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