Farmers make hay while the sun shines

A soy bean farmer in West Bend, Wisconsin harvests his crop. As a whole, farmers had a great year in 2011.

The pulse is up today on news that American farmers will see record profits this year.

When we think of get-rich-quick schemes, driving a combine through a corn field doesn’t typically come to mind. But thanks to strong demand for U.S. crops, livestock and farmland, plus a booming market for corn-based ethanol, the Department of Agriculture says farmers will rake in $100.9 billion in profits this year, and that U.S. crop sales will pass the $200 billion mark for the first time in U.S. history.

Farming has changed radically since the Second World War, when countless family-owned operations checkerboarded America’s bread baskets. Today, growing America’s food is big business, and a much smaller group of corporate entities (often with the help of government farming subsidies) have taken the lead in feeding the people.

But in a world economic climate in which the excesses of derivative traders and speculators nearly led the world to the brink of global bankruptcy, it’s a positive sign that good old-fashioned hard work is being rewarded. Sure, they aren’t sipping Cristal on luxury yachts with supermodels, but 12-digit profits ain’t small potatoes.

So what are America’s farmers doing with their windfall? Many flush growers are using the extra cash to pay ahead for equipment and acreage while the sun’s still shining. In a world where exploding populations will see the value of food increase proportionally, and where global warming will cause weather patterns to become increasingly less predictable, farmers are doing what they have since time immemorial: Saving for a rainy day.

About the author

Joel Patterson is the Associate Producer of Marketplace Money.

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