More than his own farm, Rob Tate is wondering how his clients—and friends—are doing.
As a crop insurance agent for Crop Revenue Consultants since 1997, board member of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, and numerous other boards, Rob wants to make sure farmers are taken care of.
That’s why he agreed to speak with Rep. Angie Craig and other members of the House Agriculture General Farm Commodities & Risk Management Subcommittee on June 23.
Rep. Craig has met with a number of farmers from her district to help voice their opinion and expertise during her time in office.
At the meeting itself, Craig said, “It was such an honor to host Rob at today’s Agriculture Committee hearing and to hear his perspective on how we can protect the farm safety net and ensure stability for our farmers and producers back home in Minnesota.”
Rob, a fifth-generation farmer, spoke about his experience in advising farmers, trying to convey to the committee that when they start having more discussions about the Farm Bill to not fix something that isn’t broken.
“My goal was not to say don’t change anything. I was just simply stating the fact that what we’re doing is working really well. Let’s not try to fix it and break it.”
Do no harm to crop insurance, Rob says. It works well. Keep it that way.
Commodity insurance isn’t one-size-fits-all. When he meets with a potential new client, they always ask what they should have and how much.
When giving advice, Rob needs to know, for example, what marketing plan does the farmer have or what they are feeding their crop.
“I don’t try to make a blanket statement for everybody and say, ‘well, this is what everybody buys, this is what you should buy,’” Rob said.
When hail hits the area or a long dry period, Rob is more concerned with how his clients are doing. After working with his clients for—in some cases multiple decades—he wants to make sure they’re O.K. before he is.
Enduring the pandemic
Rob took over the family farm in 1991. He officially bought the farm from his grandparents in 1995.
Rob didn’t grow up on the farm, but he certainly grew up working on it. Rob grew up in Farmington, but would spend weekends and summers helping in various ways.
Kelly Tate, Rob’s wife, grew up in Burnsville and had no farming experience prior to marrying into the family. Primarily, Rob operates the farm when he’s not doing his full-time job. Kelly works a full-time job off the farm and the pair has to balance raising a family too.
The Tate family, like all farmers around the world, had to brace themselves for the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic presented them going back to March 2020.
For farmers, Rob explained, it was dependent on the specific industry they were in.
For Rob, 2020 started off with low prices for corn and soybeans. Add in that a number of drivers were off the road at home in quarantine, the ripple effects hit hard.
One of the larger demands for corn in the United States is ethanol. When there are less drivers, there is less of a demand for ethanol. Rob said contracts with ethanol producers were delayed, resulting in delivering the grain later.
Having delays or changes can create a cash flow problem for farmers, especially for livestock producers. Unlike grain producers, livestock producers can’t harvest their crops and wait. If a hog needs to be processed, it has to go. If a cow needs to be milked, you can’t wait.
Prices all around have somewhat become either higher or closer to normal this summer, but it’s still a difficult thing for farmers to handle.
Thankfully, the United States Department of Agriculture created the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, helping farmers who were disrupted during the pandemic.
A sixth generation?
What does it take to be a farmer in 2021?
Rob and Kelly view it in simple terms: take it piece-by-piece.
Especially for people interested in starting in the industry, it’s important to have an education and begin to form relationships. Rob can remember a number of key relationships he made growing up that helped him purchase the family farm nearly 30 years ago.
“It doesn’t happen overnight,” Rob said.
Renting some land or buying some equipment will help chip away at the larger goal. Rob also recommends a niche market and working with a manageable amount of space to start will set soon-to-be farmers up for success.
For Rob and Kelly’s two sons, Logan and Jonathan, they still have a little time before they need to take over the farm.
Both Rob and Kelly hope their sons will consider taking over the farm some day, even despite challenges they will likely face like fluctuating prices and poor internet connectivity.
“I want them to be here because I think it’s important for [the farm] to be in the family,” Kelly said. “It’s going to be a challenge.”
“You can still be successful and have an off the farm job,” Rob said. “Technology today is allowing people to work from home more and more. … You can farm a couple hundred acres or whatever a small amount would be, and still enjoy that and have the ability to do that, but not necessarily earn your living that way.”
For more information on Coronavirus relief for agricultural producers, what funding is available for new farmers, and more, visit the USDA website.