Monday, February 01, 2010

John Phipps, Competition, and Cap and Trade

John Phipps operates 2100 acres with his wife and son.  He posts about the competition he sees rising from the whippersnappers who have taken over the world (the President could be my son, for crying out loud):
I suddenly noticed these younger colleagues, and when conversing with them, I reinforced my belief the biggest challenge facing me and our our farm was leaping up with the competition arising all around us.

In fact, I think it is safe to say one of our worst fears has been realized: the best and brightest have returned to the farm.  And they are quietly accruing by sheer ability and economic advantage the bulk of the market share for farmers.
A couple points:
  • one is the obvious one--the conventional wisdom is that farming is dominated by the old. Not so from John's view.
  • the second is more subtle--the balance of cooperation and competition.

There's the old joke about the two guys in the woods who see a bear, who starts chasing them.  One guy says: "we've got to outrun the bear", the other guy says: "all I have to do is outrace you".  I remember that joke when I see the Farm Bureau and other ag associations talking about how "[pick your proposal, starting with "cap and trade] will be bad for farmers." Over the years the farm and crop groups have persuaded their members they share common interests.  And they do--if they can unite and lobby Congress to pass programs benefiting corn farmers, or dairy farmers, then everyone gains.

But while cooperation, viewing oneself as part of a community of corn farmers, or dairy farmers, works sometimes, it doesn't always. That's what John is reminding us of.  In the case of a changing environment for farmers, some farmers will suffer and some will profit.  I'd typically expect the younger, more technologically-oriented farmers to adapt better to change, to outrun their older, more change-averse colleagues. So, if you're a farmer and you know you're above average in smarts and capability, then you should welcome changes in your economic environment, you should want some bears around because you can outrun your fellow farmers.

But then, one night you listen to Garrison Keillor and remember maybe your self-confidence isn't so well grounded.

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