Nebraska Farm Sector On Top, For Now

The first of an occasional series called "The Money Map," which looks at how global economic forces are shaping the economies of America's hometowns.

Cecil Roth has been farming on the outskirts of Lincoln, Neb., since 1974 and has seen prices rise and fall over the years. This time around his income has doubled, thanks to the rising global demand for food and the booming ethanol industry.

Roth put some of those earnings back into his farm: He spent $500,000 on a tractor and an herbicide sprayer, two big investments for him.

"You struggle to get through and then you hit a year like this when corn more than doubled, so your income doubled," Roth says, explaining why he was able to make the investments.

But Roth understands that the good times can't last forever. He compares farming to a night in Vegas, and skyrocketing fuel and fertilizer prices are plenty of reason to hedge his bets.

Still he's not the only one enjoying good fortune, reporter Sarah McCammon tells Steve Inskeep. The farm machinery industry is doing well, too: In May, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers reported a 25 percent increase in high-horsepower farm tractor sales for the year.

At a John Deere outlet in Seward, Neb., Russ Stigge — who manages six dealerships — says farmers now have to put their orders in 12 to 15 months ahead of time for equipment they used to get in just six months. But, like Cecil, he takes a pragmatic approach to the changes in the market.

"This commodity bubble will burst just like the housing bubble burst and the tech bubble burst," Stigge says. "We're very pleased with the marketplace right now, but we're not so naïve to think this is going to last forever."

Sarah McCammon reports for NET Radio.

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