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Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017

Saving Farmaid from misplaced priorities

Posted Thursday, April 19, 2012, at 10:20 AM

In the 1980s, Willie Nelson wanted to save our farm. I remember the first "Farm Aid" concert and there was no doubt about that. I knew several people who went to the first one.

It was a tough time and several farmers were struggling. During that time, many retired or found other ways to make a living.

Other farmers persevered.

Our farm hasn't changed that much, although it has gotten bigger in order to bring in two more families. It has also gotten more efficient. We used chemicals then, and we still do now. But the chemicals and pesticides we use now, are more benign than ever. Back in the 1980s we used conventional tillage, working the ground several times. Today, we use minimal or no-till. Subsequently, we are saving soil more than ever before.

The very farm Nelson wanted to save then, is much more worthy of saving now.

But he changed the message. Now Nelson and the Farm Aid group, only want to save organic, local farms. We weren't one in the 1980s and hadn't been since before my husband's great-grandpa was farming.

So why would Nelson promote a method of farming, which relies heavily on tillage and "organic" chemicals, which aren't always as organic as they seem and caused the dust bowls of the 1930s. The massive amounts of soil loss from an over-reliance on tillage is something we are still trying to correct today.

The 1980s were a tough time, no doubt. Not only did commodity prices drop dramatically, but ag companies began huge mergers. In the 1990s, vertical integration took over in the hog industry, changing it forever.

Many young wanna-be farmers, instead took jobs in other industries, forgoing the option of returning to the farm.

Most who did return, did so in a partnership. Today, in our county, many of our farms are bigger, but include three or more multi-generational families farming together.

Then in the late 1990s, as the ag economy turned around, more young people came back to the family farm, and rural areas like ours, than ever before. Many more came back to work in ag business, supported by our family farms.

Those families who made it through the 1980s and early 1990s, are success stories. They survived by becoming more efficient, tightening their belts and doing more with less.

Subsequently, American consumers are enjoying the lowest cost of food of any country in the world. We spend less than 9 percent of take-home income on food. At the same time, farmers here are subsidized at a lower rate as well.

It's too late to "save" the farmers who didn't survive the 1980s, but why would we want to hurt the family farms that managed to weather the storm?

They are the best and the brightest. They dug in, found a way to do more on less and continued on.

I can tell you with few exceptions the family farmers I know are the smartest people I have ever met. I truly believe that is one of the reasons they were able to survive tough times.

Wouldn't we be better off to learn how they made it and try to teach the lesson to other American businesses instead of longing for a day and time very few of us actually remember.

So again, I wonder why Nelson, and a few who can afford any kind of food they want, are promoting a national food policy which would cause food shortages and high prices for the rest of us.

It would also punish the very family farmers that made it through the lean years.

I have nothing against buying local, but I also happen to know the pork, chicken and vegetables I buy at the grocery store were raised by American family farmers. I know they were fed the commodities (corn and soybeans) we raise here in our county.

Many are too busy to "tell their story," instead working behind the scenes in "fly-over" country to raise pork, chicken, beef, milk, along with corn and soybeans to feed those animals.

They are raising the same food they feed their families, in the same way they want their food to be raised.

Because of what they do, we all benefit.

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"Then in the late 1990s, as the ag economy turned around, more young people came back to the family farm, and rural areas like ours, than ever before." And, "Those families who made it through the 1980s and early 1990s, are success stories."

Marsha perhaps Farm Aid sees the same success you do regarding orthodox family farms? Perhaps for that reason they have now focused on organic farming which is still in its infancy, hence vulnerable as start ups always are?

As you say, 'It's too late to "save" the farmers who didn't survive the 1980s,' which was Farm Aid's original mission. They also see that is true. Would it not be pragmatic for them to shift their focus to the currently most vulnerable area of agricultural production? Are they not still honoring their original commitment to help struggling farmers?

Farmers, organic, and otherwise may want to consider the rhetorical question, why can't we all just get along? There is a need, and a demand for the entire spectrum. Just sayin. ;)

-- Posted by Oklahoma Reader on Fri, Apr 20, 2012, at 1:24 PM

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