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Are we willing to outsource food production?

I am proud to be a fourth generation Arizona farmer. Like other hardworking farm and ranch families, we fortify this country's ability to feed and clothe itself, providing diversity and security, safely and at less than 10 percent of our consumer's disposable income — the greatest bargain in the world.

My pride leads to an understanding that agriculture produces something tangible, sustainable and renewable. You cannot work in agriculture without this direct connection to land and water resources — without an appreciation for the interrelationships provided by agriculture on which we all must depend.

I appreciate, in a rapidly urbanizing society, this connectivity gets stretched and even severed along the way. There are 72,000 agricultural and related jobs in Arizona — a fair number, but about 1 percent of the population, a statistic replicated across our nation. When you are not close to the land, I understand that Americans can take for granted an affordable and abundant food supply.

I claim no great vision or wisdom, but I see what has happened in this country as we outsourced our energy and without a coherent policy for developing our own renewable and sustainable sources. We are slowly doing this with our food security — without even a discussion.

The urban grows to reach the rural. Land values have risen to where a typical agricultural return of 3-5 percent on value is no longer possible, especially when there are competing uses for the land. We have developed some programs to protect farmland, but few resources are available to establish anything comprehensive.

Farmers are told to vertically integrate for value added, but this has limits, when the least cost producers exist in other countries. We are told to switch to higher value crops, but there are supply and demand issues, and eventually with our costs of regulation, production and land values, we struggle to compete. And now, even the president is proposing a budget that breaks our nations contract with farmers by proposing to phase out farm programs, without even a clarion call for discussion of the ramifications.

Of course there will be successful niches in U.S. agriculture, but not enough to feed our country. I am a great believer in the forces of the market, but I assure you the unfettered forces of the market will leave us dependent upon foreign sources of food, just as we have done with energy.

While import tariffs helped build our national economy, I know first-hand what trade barriers can do in today's world. Some of these have victimized my own family farming operations. But I am talking about a different commodity here — sustenance — the ability to feed and clothe our country. I am not talking about a situation where someone else builds our televisions and we sell them financial services. There is a difference, and we must recognize it.

The United States was recently cited as violating trade agreements with certain aspects of the farm program. Yet, most of the world's agricultural subsidies come from other countries, including those whose pangs of hunger were eased by U.S. food aid.

In a few short years, the children of today — yours and mine — will be asking how we let this happen. They will wonder how we put ourselves at such peril without even a discussion of the true costs of cutting programs that are one-tenth of 1 percent of our federal budget. Our current public investment in agriculture is less than $1 out of every $1,000.

I am not asking for protective tariffs or subsidies at this point. I am looking for support for simple discussion of basic questions: Are we willing to outsource our food production? If not, what are the options and the costs?

Kevin Rogers
325 S. Higley Road
Higley AZ 85236

Kevin Rogers is the president of the Arizona Farm Bureau.

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