Change Takes Time

I’m typing this column on a plane, winging my way back from the InfoAg Mid-South regional conference. The meeting was a great learning experience from a couple of standpoints, particularly how precision technology is being utilized in the Cotton Belt. But another theme kept emerging as well — the slow, gradual process of learning and adapting to change.

It sounds incredibly obvious, but I spent a lot of time talking to and hearing from people about how much time and effort it takes when a company or individual embarks on a new direction or takes on a new challenge. For instance, Cotton Consultant Joe Townsend told a crowd of people at one session that “after 30 years of working some of these fields, I was pretty sure we knew everything we needed to know.” But with the additional tool of remote imagery, he’s more often challenging his preconceived notions about his growers’ fields.

Over lunch with a 9,000-plus acre cotton grower, we discussed the future prospects for U.S.-grown cotton in the world market. He told me about his plans to focus on growing high quality cotton. He asked: Would it pay off? The way it seems to be looking now, I told him, any differentiation from growers around the world bodes well for growers committed to growing cotton here. But it’s going to take time to create the demand, set up the infrastructure and relationships, and get a critical mass of growers moving in the same direction.

Back in the Midwest, we’re all learning to deal with the government’s seismic policy shift on energy and what it will do to the crops we grow and the land we use. So many factors will influence the decisions we will be making in the years to come — should we jump deep into the ethanol production game, or just stay with what we know and help the growers maximize their crop production? Perhaps we need to do both? What surprises are coming in the next Farm Bill? If you’re looking for easy answers, good luck. If you get them, give me a call.

Heck, my own daughter was dealing with some serious decision-making — at least as serious as decisions can get for eighth graders. She had to choose between two high schools, one to which virtually all of her friends are going, and another which seemed to appeal to her personally and academically. Mom and dad stayed out of it — we figured that she might likely succumb to the fear of isolation, but we were determined not to steer either way. To our astonishment, she opted for the higher risk option after probably 18 months of weighing it all out. I sure am proud of her — I’m not sure I would have been capable of taking such a leap at that age.

Risk and reward, challenge and opportunity … I’ve spent eight years writing about and observing this industry, and nearly two decades total covering business as a freelance writer and editor, and it seems that right now in agriculture we’re experiencing truly historic change touching almost every segment of the industry. If you feel alone trying to negotiate these difficult waters, you’re not. Just about everyone is trying to figure out the best long-term direction forward. Give yourself plenty of time to plan, and latitude to make mistakes, and have at it — realizing there’s no simple answers out there.

Well, the pilot says close it down. Best of luck as you launch into another busy spring!   

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