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Ruminations on a farm tour bus

Bus tours are about as close as we get to a captive audience. Some potential interviewees, depending on their resourcefulness and the amount of class (or lack thereof) of the journalist trying to pluck a few quotes from them, may try to scramble from one bus to another or even to hitch a ride with one of the vans that invariably accompany such excursions and thus avoid the pain of dealing with one of us.

But wily examplars of Freedom of the Press that we are, we find ways to commandeer those same vehicles and finally wear our targets down to the point where they will talk to us. Some of what they say is often printable.

I took advantage of a just such a situation early this month and had to hogtie only a half-dozen or so cotton breeders in an attempt to learn a bit more about what’s in the pipeline for farmers.

Truth be told, and I hate it when I have to revert to truth in a column, these men and women were extremely cooperative and answered any question I could think of.

When I ran out of questions, folks talk about what was making news that day.

Cancun was on our minds one day when we were traipsing around the Texas High Plains. The highly touted WTO meeting had just been untouted and attendees had packed their valises and headed for home. No agreements were agreed upon.

Several of us talked about what some of the developing nations came to Cancun for, to protect their farmers from U.S. and other “rich nation” subsidies.

We agreed that we held no ill will for any farmer trying his best to eke a bare living out of the soil. Many of these highly respected scientists had come from similar backgrounds, growing up on small cotton farms back in the 1930s and ‘40s. Many remember the hardships of country life, the poor return for hard work and high risk, and the hope that technology would someday make life better.

It has. Just think of the advances in cotton production since 1950.

But because of unfair trading practices, and the need to compete with foreign cotton producers who do not have minimum wage laws, an occupational Safety and Health Agency, an Environmental Protection Agency and a dozen or more other regulatory boards and commissions, U.S. cotton producers still need a safety net.

And it’s in the best interest of this country as well as the global market to keep farmers in business. Small, family run farms in developing nations cannot supply the food and fiber required to feed and clothe us. If the “rich” nations don’t continue to produce abundantly, many of the goods developing nations depend on will not be available.

Many developing nation farmers simply want a better life for their families. We all want that, for us and for them. But forcing U.S. farmers to step back 50 years will not solve their problems; it will only exacerbate those of U.S. agriculture.

It’s not our government and its trade policies that hurt farmers in South Africa, Korea, and other nations that are demanding we do away with a system that works for our producers. It’s not our government and our policies that prevent real help from getting where it’s needed. And it’s not our government and not our farm legislation that prevents these farmers from modernizing. If government is to blame, it’s those repressive regimes that prevent technology and food from reaching its citizens.

Even if subsidies were eliminated tomorrow, the plight of a 30-acre cotton farmer in a small African or South American country would be largely unchanged. The benefits would likely go to a despotic government and at the expense of an American farmer.

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