Just in Time David Frederick | Waverly Logs
The COVID pandemic has so far killed 6 million people worldwide (one million in the United States alone), disrupted the international movement of goods and people, and sown a bumper crop of isolationist autocracies around the world. . One of the most significant consequences of COVID is the collapse of “just in time” management/delivery of inputs and products for manufacturing and wholesale/retail marketing. What is “just in time”?
The idea is to manage the production and delivery of computer chips, food, steel, solar panels, crude oil and just about everything else, using planes, ships, cargo containers and ports, rail and courier services to deliver exactly what is needed at just the right time for manufacturers, retailers and customers. The goal of “just in time” is to reduce, if not eliminate, the need for product storage and storage. The complicated process reduces costs and increases profits. Of course, the more complicated the process, the more frequent the unintended consequences. Just-in-time thinking has come to dominate agriculture and food production. The production and income of Iowa farmers depends on the decisions of Chinese autocrats and Washington bureaucrats and politicians. Corn must be planted in 1,000-acre complexes, harvested by million-dollar sets of equipment, processed by remote industrial complexes, and transported to distant customers, all just in time. As Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz said to farmers in the 1970s, “Get fat or get out.”
“Just in time” is being touted as a new concept embraced by captains of industry after being washed away by the mutterings of MBA consultants. Maybe not. I think it has been there for a long time. My grandfather and grandmother lived on an 80-acre farm. Grandfather fed two horses with the oats he grew on this farm. Horses pulled the plow and mower and raked hay and oats to collect and process. They pulled a cart into the cornfield where the farm family members picked and dumped the corn. There were no processing plants, apart from grandfather’s three brothers on nearby farms; the four of them shared the chores of planting and harvesting. Grandfather was a blacksmith, with his shop on the farm, with a wood fire; no parts and service supply chain spanning the globe. They had about twenty dairy cows and two steers, about twenty pigs, a herd of chickens and a garden. They sold milk, eggs, beef, steers and pork to neighbors as well as to the butcher and dairy in the nearby town. All of these inventories and production processes were managed “just in time” by farmers, butchers, dairies, stores and households in small rural communities. Who benefited from this “just in time” system in the 20th century? We had progressive, rural communities that were self-sufficient. It was hard work, but the income from the work, in terms of food, clothing, housing, education and income, was almost all locally sourced. Supply chains were short and tailored to local needs.
We have done excellent “just in time” work on Iowa farms and in rural communities for many years. We just have different beneficiaries now. In 1950, Iowa had 200,000 family farms; in 2000, about 97,000; in 2019, 86,000. So, once upon a time, there were many farming families and populated, thriving villages and towns with bakeries, butcher shops, K-12 school systems, appliance stores , restaurants. Are we, as a society, better off today?
David Fredrick is a graduate of Wartburg College, a retired foreign service officer who served 28 years in Thailand, Senegal, Zaire, Yemen and Morocco, and lived 30 years in Waverly. David and Merry now live in Virginia.