Business Diversification Pays off at Harvest Time

[Editor’s note: This letter is in response to John R. Hall’s editorial “New Ideas Needed During Tough Times,” Sept. 17.]

Unfortunately for many contractors, you reap what you sow, and their harvest has died out. They planted fast-growing residential new construction (RNC) weeds that didn’t require much skill or work to keep alive. They also didn’t store much in the barn or pay off the tractor when they could. Now the rain has stopped and the crop is dead.

We’ve been farming for 46 years and have planted apple trees (service) and corn (replacement). Around that we planted a field of RNC weeds. It takes a long time to grow an apple tree, but once it’s mature, it produces a lot of crop without a lot of effort. Corn you have to replant every year, it takes skill to grow, and you need a pipeline of water to feed it when there isn’t a lot of rain. Last year our weeds started to die out, and this year they’re pretty much dead, but we’re still farming.

We didn’t realize how many apples can come from a tree when you really focus on picking them. And something is crazy about our corn this year. We’ve got some hybrid (heat pumps) that everyone wants, and it’s selling quick and for a lot. It’s actually shaping up to be our best year profitwise ever because so many of the other farmers are out of business.

Hall asked what the answer is [to dealing with tough economic times]. I say that nothing’s broke. We had a huge market downturn in 1980, which almost cost my father his farm. He was a weed planter at the time but had paid off the tractor. He started planting the corn and apple trees then, and we haven’t looked back.

There are up and down years, but if you keep your employees and customers happy and pay cash for what you buy, a downturn like we are going through isn’t that tough. In fact, I’m looking forward to ’08 and ’09 because there should be a lot of extra land we can start farming.

David Lambright
Bel-Aire Heating and Air Conditioning
Portage, Mich.

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Publication date:10/15/2007