Owning Land

Got Pluck?

This amazing photograph was taken by my wife Debra one afternoon while she was sitting on a deck on Pamlico Sound in North Carolina with her favorite book in one hand and her cell phone in the other. For some time, she had been watching this immature osprey try in vain to catch baitfish in the shallow water. The skies were too cloudy and the winds were too gusty so the young osprey couldn’t see any minnows near the surface to “snatch up” with his (or her) talons. In spite of significant effort, the osprey kept at it for some time. Exhausted and frustrated, the young bird decided to rest for a moment and perched about three feet from where Deb was reading. She snapped this picture which is now one of our favorites. I love the wild and crazy look on this face; it makes me smile every time I see it. Though this bird had nothing to eat and no immediate proof that he was becoming a great hunter – he demonstrated something even more valuable to his survival in the long run. This bird had PLUCK.

The term “pluck” has many meanings depending on where, how and when it is used – and by whom. In human terms, pluck refers to the amount of “push” a person can muster towards a given task or mission combined with an undefined and unplanned measure of luck. For me, pluck is the synergy that is generated when hard work, brains, common sense and “favorable winds” all come together at the same time. Yes, there is sometimes an element of good luck, or perhaps even serendipity in a good outcome, but I have found that most human success is rooted in a man or woman’s ability to generate enough “push” until good things happen. Said another way, some folks “make their own luck”.

To raise grain, vegetables and livestock on the Delmarva, farm families today need to have a good measure of “pluck” to help them achieve their goals for their farm and their families. Years ago, pluck was measured in more physical terms because battling the elements in nature was an everyday challenge. Anyone old enough to remember plowing a field in a cabless tractor in the winter time knows this all too well; back then farmers would be honored with an accolade like “he is tough as nails” or “he plowed that field all night” till it was done. Pluck was an important part of farming back then, and hard work and long days (the push part of pluck) was expected of anyone who planned to farm for a living.

Today, farm families still depend on pluck to achieve year after year results “on the farm” but the type of pluck required has changed. Yes, there are still many physical dangers associated with raising crops and livestock; anytime humans work in and with nature there are physical risks. Most farmers I know love working with, in, under or on their equipment; so in spite of the dangers – this is an important part of what they (still) love about farming. In today’s world of farming, farmers and ranchers often need that same quality of pluck when they are making “off farm” decisions like finance, agronomy, credit, marketing, succession planning, insurance, land values, interest rates, management, capitalization, etc.

For many farmers, raising a corn crop or 4 houses of chickens comes easier to them than squaring off with some of the huge, uncertain decisions that must be made every year. Should I expand? Should I run my combine one more year and take a chance on that transmission or trade up and create a new, bigger debt? Should I hire another employee or burn the candle on both ends another year? Should I plant cucumbers for the first time with the hope of increasing my income potential – knowing full well that a heavy rain right before harvest could break me? No business is 100% free of risks, but farming is a biological business directly tied to forces of nature. So pluck still plays a huge part in the farming equation, in my view, but the real nerve required for farming is more about management than physical strength.

As I think about this young osprey resting on its perch, I am reminded how much pluck emerging young farmers or first time farmers need in their first couple of years. The amount of risk a young farmer must endure, particularly relative to cash flow and long term debt, is often immense. An unexpected “run of bad luck” when a farming operation is just getting started or in transition from one generation to the next can severely challenge even hardworking, bright young farmers in their first years. So, in my daily work I try to remember that there are men and women out there who are working triple overtime to make their new farm and livestock venture profitable in the early years. I try to remember how much strength and raw courage these farmers must muster every day to keep their dream alive while they travel on their chosen road. On some days, I’m sure, all they really have to lean on is their own pluck.

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About the author

Ben Alder

Ben joined Sperry Van Ness – Miller Commercial Real Estate in December 2011 after working with Coldwell Banker while specializing in land and farm sales since 2004. Ben attended The George Washington University where he obtained degrees in Biology and Environmental Science and is currently working to complete a Master’s degree in resource management. Ben’s services focus primarily on assisting clients to make sound decisions about their land holdings and whether to buy, sell, conserve, hold or develop their land assets. Ben’s real property transactional experience has been focused on farmland and entitled land for any array of land uses. To date, he has closed transactions on over 4000 acres of land in Maryland totaling over $25M in sales since 2004.

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