Dairy-Crisis Forces Change of Perspective

Colter, co-founder Moochdocker
With a hint of entitlement, “this is what we’ve always done” has been a comment made by farmers and ranchers alike who are faced with harsh changes as the banker sends the third notice of non-payment….

In a Darwinian society where farming is survival of the fittest, it is hard to be empathetic for the bankrupt family-Dairy who could not respond to changes. We live in a time where so much of a family-operation can be improved by taking small, incremental steps to improving revenues. While those revenues will not be improved by the Dairy operation due to an operation’s reliance on commodity markets and dependence on government support, today’s gig-economy gives producers the ability to monetize their land and labor overheads in ways that were not available only 4 years ago. Also worth noting is that today’s shared-economy allows producers to earn more income without making huge capital and overhead investments; the infrastructure is already there in place.

From boarding dogs to hosting RVers and selling hunting access, family producers who are unwilling to go bankrupt and lose their farm now have creative solutions in online-marketplaces that can address several of our downfalls as generational family operations. Today’s producers have the ability to take on new enterprises that present no risk-exposure to the commodity markets and need no dependency on government subsidies. A complete diversification away from everything they have ever known being a farmer; a change of perspective.

Today’s owner/operator can no longer see themselves as just a commodity producer or family farmer that is really good with crops and livestock. They must be capitalistic men and women who analyze every aspect of the business as its own enterprise with profit-and-loss, cash-flow analysis in hand, ready to respond to these changes and make the appropriate and difficult decisions to stay afloat.

As I think about all the money being left on the table by landowners and dairy operations, I am reminded of the quote by the famous Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight; “Do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, the best way it can be done.”

For landowners especially who have potentially millions of dollars in debt against the land, at what point do they ask themselves, how can I make more money off this asset? What needs to change to keep this land in the family? How can I continue when the cows and the crops are not paying the mortgage?

Producing milk in a free-market, and being profitable at it is not an entitlement. I hear from so many farmers and ranchers that simply because they are in the business of food-production, they are entitled to being profitable and have a middle-class way of life.

From many of the older owner/operators (let’s call them Boomers for lack of a better term) I also hear immense frustration and sadness because their operation is not big enough to support another family; their Millennial children with grandchildren, and that those Millennial children want nothing to do with the family enterprise and refuse to come back.

I think it is important to remember that nothing will make a child move back to the farm quicker than huge profits and a comfortable lifestyle. What keeps them there is quality of life, sense of accomplishment, and simply “fun.”

Fact of today is that Millenials prefer the social interactions they can get from their urban jobs, and many more prefer the quality of life they can get from their suburban homes. To compete with that, today’s family farms have to create an environment of security, profitability, and simple enjoyment.

I come from a 1906 Montana homestead, every Maternal and Paternal lineage in my family has been farming or ranching. My background is Agricultural Finance and Ag Real Estate, so my contacts/network and the groups I serve are essentially all farmers and ranchers; all day, everyday I work with owners and operators.

Because I am a Millennial who couldn’t make it work on the family operation, I have zero sympathy for Boomers who cannot recruit children back to take over the farm, and I have little to no empathy for those who cannot make a profitable go of it. I too could not make a profitable go of it with family but like so many others, I chose to leave and do something more fulfilling and financially rewarding.

The love of the land, the love of crops, cattle, and community did stick with me though; it became something that was simply just a part of me, who I am.

Because of this, I saw a huge opportunity to help those who are willing to help themselves. Using the gig economy to better cash-flow a farming operation as previously mentioned, I signed my family ranch up for LandTrust.com; a hunting platform that helps landowners and ag-producers monetize their wildlife and hunting opportunities. Basically the Airbnb for hunting access.

I then started Moochdocker, the gig/shared-economy for RV parking and camping experiences. Moochdocker allows farmers and ranchers to make the much-needed money from their “idle” asset, land. With the average farmer and rancher having hundreds to thousands of acres not being used to its full potential, basically just sitting vacant, empty, and idle most of the year, Moochdocker allows you to remotely, passively, and transparently manage travellers, campers, and RVers.

There was a time that if you were a farmer, that’s all you did. You farmed, and you were rewarded for that effort and work. Low commodity prices are not going anywhere, this is the new norm. Today’s landowners need to see themselves as more than producers. While technology has created a glut in commodities, forcing everyone to be the most efficient, operate at economies of scale, and race to the bottom as the low cost leader, technology has also given producers the opportunity to do more with their land.

The easiest and best way to get started is by signing up for the gig economy. Ask around, find out on facebook groups what has worked for others, what you may want to try. You can board people’s dogs with Rover, let them hunt through LandTrust, or host their RV camp via Moochdocker.

The opportunities are limitless. I am a person who does not believe in sulking and complaining about problems and struggles because I see opportunity in chaos and difficulty. I also accept that which is out of my control; no doubt today’s commodity markets are creating difficulties and struggles, but this is something that is out of my control.

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