Taking the Long Term View – in Farming and in Railroading


by Lochiel Edwards – Ag Rail Business Council

Pink Floyd wrote and performed a lot of really strange music, but a few songs were pretty down-to-earth and gritty. One of these was “Money”, which came out on the 1973 album, “Dark Side of the Moon”. It was a satirical slam against the pursuit of cash, and was a big hit with my generation. I was a young and single farmer at the time and had very superficially bought into the philosophy that you could live on love alone.

My first land payments were to my grandfather, who cut me a pretty good deal: 25 years at 4{b9074abe8f97d35d556dcc91d04f630e2f89dbb1fa8fca20af3e4b7ae12c3e5a} interest. Plus, this was for a third share in Edwards farms and the equipment was already in place. But, in general, whatever the start-up, the cost of getting that start was dependent upon very appreciated subsidization from the previous generation. This long-term view–learned from the wisdom of time–was just the way it was.

A recent article on Agriculture.com estimated that when everything is included, it would require over $5 million to start a farm from scratch that would support a family. This is why farming tends to stay a family business in spite of hand-wringing concerns that big corporations will take over. Generational farmers have a lot longer view with regard to financial returns and even a longer term perspective regarding what is really important.

Of course one could take their winnings from the lottery and/or invest their trust fund into a farm. This is what Mr. Buffet did when he decided that he had to own a railroad. He fell in love with BNSF and its leadership, then decided that not only did the investment fit in his portfolio, but his capital base would provide a better opportunity for BNSF to be able to take the long-view especially with regard to its commitment to agriculture. Although there were hand-wringers on this deal, the marriage has been good for Montana farmers so far. A big recession , the fall from grace for coal, and the need to pour billions into rail infrastructure are all factors to consider in the serendipitous presence of Warren’s legendary long-term vision.

Railroading, just like farming, requires a long-term view with regard to investments and their returns. The good news is that BNSF, like Montana farmers, appears to have a commitment to each other for the long-term. But, to maintain that commitment throughout the volatility that is agriculture, it is important for each to make communication a priority in order to continue to seek opportunities to increase productivity, develop markets, and find solutions that are mutually beneficial for all.


Lochiel Edwards is a third-generation wheat farmer, operating the family farm homesteaded in 1911 by his grandfather near Big Sandy, Montana. He is a past president of Montana Grain Growers Association, and served as chair of Domestic Policy for the National Association of Wheat Growers.  Edward’s current public policy focus is on railroad freight and marketing issues, working with coalitions of agriculture groups to improve rail rates and service. He serves as chairman of the Ag Rail Business Council, a roundtable of national commodity groups and BNSF Railway, and represents Montana Farm Bureau on the Alternative Dispute Resolution committee for rail policy.

Photo Credit: TTMSGroup

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