The hog industry is in the news again. Over the last week we have heard of two large companies seeking court protection from their creditors. An industry that had so much potential is facing ongoing challenges. At the outset of 2012 there was significant optimism. The future looked bright. Feed prices were relatively stable. Futures prices for hogs were good. I talked to some producers who had locked in very favorable prices. But then that changed. Drought hit the American mid-west. Feed prices sky rocketed. Potential profits turned to devastating losses. What looked good, no longer was.
It is difficult to imagine how much money has been lost in the industry. Back in the mid 1990’s there were many positive market indicators that showed the industry having nothing but success. The government of the day jumped on the band wagon. The Manitoba industry was promoted around the world. Study after study showed how Manitoba could be and would be the place to produce hogs. But since 1998 the industry has had more downers than uppers.
I remember 1998. It was the beginning of the end for many producers. The price hit all-time lows. It was said at the time that producers lost 15 years of equity. Some knew that it would be a struggle to make that back. Many tried. Many failed. Some sooner than others. I have sometimes said, facetiously, that I was one of the first to lose my farm. My claim to fame. Truth be known, I have looked back and thought of things that I could have done differently that could have kept me in the game. In the last few years I have come to the realization that my demise as a farmer was inevitable. Some people have suggested I was lucky. Maybe I was.
Over the last few years I have dealt with many fellow hog producers. So often the question comes up, what will I do? Is there life after farming? Many have reached the age where they thought they were working towards retirement only to have, what was once worth thousands or millions, become a liability. Not something that promises a healthy retirement. Now they wonder, what next?
Often times we hear that there is more to life than money. Don’t even get me going on the current labor dispute in the NHL. The top Jets player will be losing $64,000 per game that is not played. That is more money than many people make in a year. Much could be said about that. Often it is said that money is simply a means to an end. Far too often these comments come from people who have never experienced the devastation of losing all. The devastation of coming face to face with the reality that life has changed. The reality is that money is important. And yes it is the means to an end. An end to one part of life as we move into the next phase. A comfortable retirement. For years we have committed to the demands of our farms. Sacrificed, because some day all that work and effort will pay off. When you have a passion to farm, when you are connected to the land, when farming has been your life, it is very difficult to see anything beyond that.
The stress of facing these financial challenges is enormous. Our pride is hurt. Our self-esteem takes a beating. We feel like such failures. We feel lost. We feel alone. This stress often hampers our decision making abilities. It hampers us from making good choices. We do things we would not normally do. Far too often these poor choices only make things worse. The good news in all of this is that there is help. There is relief. The key is to reach out for help. There are others that have been there. There are those that can guide you through the process of moving on. And best of all. There is life after farming. I know. I have been there. Make it a good one.