What’s First On The Fourth

July 2, 2010 at 2:43 pm Leave a comment

Against a backdrop of war stories, oil spills and grim economic news, last week’s congressional hearing that served merely as the undercard of what promises to be another bruising fight over the 2012 farm bill got scant media coverage.

To those whose lives and careers are invested in agriculture, that may be disappointing, but it’s hardly surprising. Even among Members of Congress, who are supposed to be sensitive to our national priorities, only a minority pays attention to the federal programs designed to support our country’s farmers and food producers.

The reasons are twofold. First and foremost, are demographics. Less than 2% of the American population is actively engaged in farming. We’re a couple generations removed from the time when, if kids didn’t grow up on a farm, at least they’d been around them enough to know that we need farmers if we want to eat.

Second, and more importantly, modern farming has become the victim of its own success. Our food production and processing systems are so good, so efficient, that we totally take for granted we’ll always have plenty to eat, whenever we want, at prices we like.

That needs to change.

The naiveté, I mean—not the prices.

If the farm bill is only about helping farmers, then few people are going to care about it—including lawmakers. But if the farm bill is about feeding families, then we all have a stake in the investments that support our agricultural productivity.

Whether you’re raising corn, cattle, cotton, cucumbers or canola, the message coming from agriculture has to connect with the daily ritual of putting food on the table, because that affects all of us. Only farmers can feed—and clothe—our nation, and that vital contribution can’t continue unless agriculture remains robust and able to provide opportunities for future generations of farmers.

That means that we need to maintain large, highly efficient, highly automated operations, which is where federal funding is focused. But we also need to nurture a new generation of farmers running small-scale, low-tech, labor-intensive operations: everything from specialty crops to organic foods to heritage livestock to boutique vineyards, orchards and produce farms.

We can’t pretend that raising corn, beans, wheat or cotton can keep all of our arable acreage in production, or support all sizes and varieties of farms. Nor can farm policy be geared primarily to supporting commodity crop production that naturally ends up favoring economy of scale as the most important measure of profitability. We need to ensure that agricultural funding broadly supports productivity, yes, but also targets scientific research, technological development and innovative marketing initiatives applied across the entire spectrum of farm products and farm operations.

As consumers, we benefit having variety in our food supply. As a nation, we benefit by having more—not fewer—options of meat, produce, dairy and other food products produced domestically.

It’s a ways off yet, but as serious work begins on the 2012 farm bill, it’s critical that those directly impacted by its provisions get active in helping shape the next round of federal investment in agriculture. But it’s equally important for everyone with a connection to farming, food production and food consumption to urge their congressional representatives and local media to understand that our national commitment to agriculture is a priority as current and compelling as anything we do to ensure our national security.

Without a strong, diversified and profitable farm economy, we threaten our security, we endanger our natural resources and we compromise the well-being of every American who plans to sit down over this Independence Day holiday and enjoy the food products that are as much a centerpiece of our national celebration as the flags hanging from the front porches of mine and many other neighborhoods across the country.

And those flags, by the way, are likely made of cotton that a farmer somewhere labored to plant, nurture and harvest.

This Fourth of July, and every one to come, we must make sure we’re prepared to support the continued existence of all that food, all those flags and all of the farmers responsible for them.

Dan Murphy is a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator

Source: Ag Network


Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Our 4th Farm Photo Friday! “Care, Not Cash” by our guest blogger: Brandi Buzzard!

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