About going broke in Alabama...

Count your strengths and weaknesses as potential employee When I lived in Red Bay, Ala., I was a farmer. We went broke, and I went back to college and became an Extension specialist.

When I was a farmer, I worked hard all the time and never had any money or time to do anything but work. Seems like we were always in some kind of crisis situation with drought or low prices or hurricanes or grain embargoes.

Now, I get to work inside when it's too hot to go out and I get a regular paycheck. I have two kids and the time to appreciate them. Turns out that going broke was the best thing that ever happened to me.

I was talking with a farmer near Moulton, Ala., a year or so ago, and we had a lot in common. He had been a big soybean farmer in the 1970s - like me - and had just about lost everything trying to make money by growing beans.

He was describing to me a scene where he was sitting around a campfire with other local farmers, and they were all trying to figure out what to do.

They knew they were not going to be able to go on the way they were and they were thinking about the future. As it turns out, some got jobs in town doing various things. Others radically changed their farm operations, and some got jobs with ag support industries.

This farmer, like many others, built some broiler houses and quit row-crop farming. He told me that going broke was the best thing that ever happened to him.

Recently, I met up with a guy in Florida, and it turns out he was moving to Red Bay, where I once lived. We began talking about people we both knew, and, since I haven't been to Red Bay in a few years, I was interested in what the folks there were up to.

It turns out that one of his best friends was one of my best friends while I was there. He was another farmer who went broke, one of the guys who farmed near me.

The guy I was talking to said that my friend told him that going broke was "the best thing that ever happened to me."

Now don't get me wrong. I wish I were still farming. It's a way of life that not enough people get to enjoy these days. I treasure the memories of my years farming. but I am enough of a realist to accept the fact that I no longer can farm for a living. And, if you take the optimistic outlook, you have to admit that there are very real advantages to not being a farmer.

I hope that if you want to farm you are able to continue. But realistically, there are going to be some farmers in Alabama going broke. It's not their fault. It's either the weather or the market or diseases or pests or over-supply, or whatever.

Not end of the world But going broke is not the end of the world. This is America, after all. If you go broke, all you get is a new start.

So just take a minute to total up your strengths and weaknesses as a potential employee, in case you are not able to farm this next season (or some year).

First let's concentrate on your weaknesses, things that you can't do very well.

First off, it's obvious you can't control the weather. Recent Alabama history is a prime example of your failure to control the weather.

Fortunately, there aren't many jobs outside of farming where the ability to control the weather is an important qualification.

Second, you have a poor record of controlling commodity prices. I mean, really, corn is below $2, soybeans are below $5 and cotton is below 60 cents. You should be able to do better than that.

Nobody can make money at these prices, much less in drought.

On the bright side, you aren't going to need to control prices if you aren't farming.

Your good characteristics Now, on the plus side, you do have some characteristics that will make you a success at whatever you choose to do. The ingenuity you used to repair a broken tractor with a pair of rusty pliers will come in handy in any new job.

The self-reliance you developed while operating a farm with less and less help over the years will make it easy for you to be the kind of self-starter employers only dream of hiring.

The initiative you show in taking care that all the bases are covered and everything is well organized on the farm will make running any other kind of business or office a snap.

The rural work ethic your parents instilled in you is something rare indeed today.

Your intelligence and adaptability to innovation and new technology will make any additional training you need seem simple.

You will find that you are ready to take on any challenge in the business community with much more enthusiasm than other, non-farm workers and with a much more optimistic expectation of completion.

The point is that every farmer who went broke I have ever talked to has said the same thing. It was the best thing that ever happened to them. They all have moved on and had successful lives after farming.

The things that made you successful as a farmer will make you successful at anything else. The things that made you go broke won't matter any more.

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