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HEMBREE BRANDON: $77 not too much for plentiful food

Over the years, I’ve witnessed many farmers – passionate about their profession, their way of life, and their contributions to this country’s (and the world’s) food/fiber plenty – get up and deliver heartfelt orations on agriculture’s behalf, whether at the local Rotary club or testifying before Congress.

At a Farm Press-sponsored crops conference last week at Lubbock, Texas, farmer Ronnie Hopper of Petersburg, Texas, was participating in a panel on the profitability potential for cotton. In response to an audience question about the depressed state of agriculture, he had this to say:

“For the last 30 years, we’ve been told by one expert or another that we were on the cusp of the Golden Age of Agriculture, that exports were going to be our goose that laid the golden egg. Now, we’re in the age of globalization, and we’ve seen cotton below 30 cents.

“The average tariff that we sell into overseas is 62 percent. The average tariff on cotton products coming into the U.S. is 11 percent. Throw into that one-sided equation the strength of the dollar, and it makes for an almost impossible situation for our commodity. But, the government tells us to stop our bellyaching, that ‘Something you’re doing is causing you not to be profitable.’

“We’ve done a better job of management and improving production than we have in influencing what is going on in Washington. If the farmer has a hailstorm or drought and his crop is a disaster, he says, ‘My tractor cost $150,000 and I don’t know how I’m going to make it.’ The guy in town, he and his wife both working and barely managing to pay the bills, can’t relate to the farmer’s $150,000 tractor when they can go to the grocery store and find every kind of food imaginable, in plentiful supply.

“The public sees the ‘welfare payments to rich corporate farmers’ stories from the Environmental Working Group and other anti–farm organizations and they don’t understand that government payments to farmers are not welfare policy – they’re cheap food policy.

“If the cost of farm programs is averaged across the population, it comes to $77 a year. To me, $77 a year isn’t too much to pay for having the cheapest, safest, most abundant supply of food in the entire world.

“But the farmer is no longer seen as an honest, hard–working keeper of the land: Now, we’re portrayed as the people who poison the land, who pollute the water, and fleece the taxpayers with government handouts. The environmentalists are now seen as the keepers of the land.

“We’ve got the best agricultural system on earth – in all of history – and we’re in danger of giving it up, simply because most people have no comprehension of what makes it all work.”

Farmer Neil Reimer, another panelist, observed wryly: “To stay in farming today, you need a Prozac the size of a golf ball.”

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