"This is the winter of our discontent," Shakespeare once wrote.
With a slight revision - "This is the winter of our discouragement" - the sentiment applies to Upper Midwest agriculture. Agriculturalists generally are an optimistic bunch, but current conditions understandably, even inevitably, lead to a loss of confidence and optimism.
Poor crop prices, tiny profit margins, tight feed supplies for livestock, still-murky trade policy, the extraordinarily difficult 2019 harvest and the strong possibility of late 2020 spring planting - they're all weighing on the spirits and finances of area agriculturalists.
We won't minimize or downplay the challenges. These are tough times.
But area agriculturalists are resilient; they find ways to overcome tough times. We believe they can and will do so again.
There's no simple or one-size-fits-all solution to Upper Midwest ag. (Though higher crop and livestock prices sure would help.) Every farmer and rancher is different, every farm and ranch operation is different. What helps one farmer or farm operation might not help another.
But successful agriculturalists are always looking for ways to strengthen their operations, and that's especially important now. If a farmer or rancher hasn't done it already, talking proactively this winter with business partners - lenders, agronomists, equipment dealers, elevator managers and others - could lead to a new, better way of doing something.
And though we've said this before, we'll say it again here: Don't neglect the emotional challenges brought on current ag conditions. If you know someone who's struggling with stress or depression, encourage him or her to get help. If you're struggling yourself, get help.
We also encourage agriculturalists to remember what they already know. Ag is inherently cyclical. There are debilitating lows, there are exhilarating highs. We can't predict when prosperity will return, but we know it will eventually.
The world will add at least 2 billion people by 2050. Economic growth, especially in southeast Asia, is increasing the global middle class. The combination promises more customers - and with greater spending power - for U.S. ag products.
An example: U.S. wheat exports have more than doubled to the Philippines in the past decade. The southeast Asian country's young, fast-growing and increasingly affluent population bodes well for further increases.
Yes, there is discouragement in Upper Midwest agriculture this winter. But spring - both on the calendar and in the form of better economic times - is coming. It always does.