Grower Spotlight: Tommy Hoskyn (Stuttgart, Arkansas)

November 2, 2007

Any businessperson worth their salt has, at minimum, a 5-year business plan that projects revenue, expenses, and projected profit. In fact, most banks demand such detailed plans before issuing business operating loans.

Tommy Hoskyn, a rice and soybean farmer from Stuttgart, Ark., is no stranger to business planning. But proper planning has become almost impossible this year.

“The farm bill is an essential part of any farm’s business plan,” he said. “Right now, we have no clue what that bill will include. Heck, we don’t even know if there will be a bill.”

Tommy hates operating in the dark, but that’s exactly what he’s been forced to do while lawmakers on Capitol Hill have wrangled for the past year over farm bill details.

With the aid of his wife, Dora Lou, and their two children, Tommy is in the process of planting this year’s rice crop.

“I’ve spent a lot of sleepless nights worrying about this crop because for the first time in as long as I can remember we have no clue whether there will be a safety net in place when that crop is ready to harvest,” Tommy explained.

Unfortunately for farmers like Tommy, forecasting business expenses has been just as difficult.

“I’ve seen fertilizer go up as much as $120 a ton in one day,” he said. “Diesel costs are up. Seed costs are up. And it’s been tough getting a grip on these increases because they’ve been so great and they’ve happened almost overnight.”

This rapid spike in input costs have nearly evaporated the returns from higher commodity prices, according to Tommy.

“When you look at the uncertainties associated with farming right now, the only thing that has saved us in the eye of the banker has been a rebound in commodity prices,” he said. “But those of us farming back in the 70s remember what happened the last time commodity prices soared and farm incomes peaked.”

That period of good fortune was followed by the worst financial crisis rural America has ever seen. In the 1980s, crop prices faltered, farmer debt grew rapidly, banks stopped loaning money, and farm foreclosures were commonplace.

“Adding a little certainty to the equation right now by passing a farm bill sure would go a long way,” Tommy concluded. “It wouldn’t solve all our problems, but it sure would help me sleep a little better.”