Stop blaming the farmers

Monday, August 13, 2007

Corn is a whipping boy for those who blame farmers for the rising cost of food and federal budget deficits.

In the agricultural community, however, we know farmers are price-takers, not price-makers.

They accept an industry-wide standard, wholesale price for their finished product. Disasters affecting production are commonplace and by August minimizing farm losses can be as important as maximizing returns. Yet, in debates over the 2007 farm bill and the Energy Policy Act, the U.S. Farmer is being attacked by members of both parties.

This debate is not about the challenges our agricultural producers face, great as they are. Rather, it is about those who lament efficient methods of farming and any excess supply of affordable food.

At the same time, these critics decry climbing corn and soybean prices as expensive reflections of nascent renewable fuel technologies.

In other words, U.S. farmers are derided for not producing enough food while, simultaneously, producing too much.

The confusion is understandable. There are hungry people in the United States, but we export more agricultural products than we import.

We are pursuing the development of renewable alternative fuels, but the price of gasoline today remains high and unstable.

We enjoy burgeoning markets for specialty and organic produce, but we rely on family farms to meet our tremendous needs for livestock feed and the raw material for ethanol.

There also is widespread misunderstanding of the fundamentals of the agricultural support system, its importance to productivity, its significance to entire rural communities, and how hard it is to respond to acute needs in the agricultural community.

So-called emergency relief for floods and droughts that occurred in 2005, for example, was not approved in Congress until three months ago and the aid itself will not arrive until later in the year.

Thanks to well-thought-out farm bill support programs, our farmers persevere, and U.S. consumers benefit. In developed nations around the world, most families have not earned enough money to buy food for the year until April or May, but the average U.S. family has done so in just five weeks.

Our nation has chosen a wise strategic and economic course of ethanol and bio-fuel development. This goal increases corn prices, but it has a negligible effect on the price of food in America. It's worth remembering the box part of a box of cornflakes costs consumers more than the corn does.

Likewise, as ethanol production technologies improve in energy and cost efficiency, Americans will get an energy product that boasts the same affordability and price stability as today's markets for food.

Finally, the benefits of strong agriculture are international as well as domestic. Our agricultural donations arrive amid humanitarian crises around the world in 50-pound bags marked, "Gift of the People of the United States of America."

There is no better U.S. ambassador to developing nations, where our image is sorely in need of repair, than that food - all for less than 1 percent of our annual federal budget.

The modern agricultural producer is equal parts grocer, trucker, scientist, energy resource, conservationist, and diplomat. The bills Congress passes must support the U.S. farmer in all of these roles.