By: U.S. Senator Max Baucus
Standing Up For American Agriculture
Over the last few years, major newspapers and special interest groups have been busy demeaning our nation’s farmers and ranchers.
The articles come with some pejorative titles, such as “Farmers at the Trough,” “Hungry Kids, Greedy Farmers,” “Farm Subsidies: Necessary Evil?” and “Agriwelfare: The expiring Farm Bill gives Congress a chance to do better.”
These attacks are disappointing to many of us who have worked hard over the years to enact successful, supportive agriculture policy. The themes emphasized in the articles strike us as disingenuous, frankly, because there is such a wide gulf between the claims being made and the reality of what is going on in farm and ranch country.
The articles waver between portraying farmers and ranchers in completely opposite ways: either the corporate businessman leaching off the government dole, or the hayseed farmer unable to compete in the market economy without a handout. These portrayals are disappointing to me and disheartening to rural America. I know that in this age of high tech and sophistication that it is tempting to downplay the importance of those who put food on our table and clothes on our back but the better part of history would teach us to avoid the temptation. The portrayals also inaccurately depict the agriculture economy while missing entirely the underlying problems that plague farmers and ranchers.
One common attack on U.S. farm policy is that it is no longer for the family farm and ranch, but rather has become corporate welfare. But even the most basic of research quickly uncovers that nearly all producers in America today remain family farms and ranches, not corporations and conglomerates.
Keeping The Family Farm In The Family
Negative articles frequently refer to “protectionist” policies intended to shield farmers and ranchers from competition and to raise consumer prices. One group recently stated that we should simply ignore all the subsidies and trade barriers of other countries, unilaterally disarm our own farmers and ranchers, and then sit back and enjoy the benefits of cheaper imported food. I won’t go through the litany of reasons why that makes zero sense, but I will mention that American consumers today spend a lower percentage of their disposable income on food than consumers anywhere else around the world. In fact, American families are the only families in the world who spend less than ten percent of their disposable income on food.
Agriculture is also important to our economy as became apparent earlier this decade when farmers and ranchers helped get the country through a manufacturing crisis. Our farmers and ranchers managed this even as the average foreign tariff rate on agriculture products was and remains about 62 percent, while the United States average tariff is only around 12 percent.
Raising Producers Bottom Line
President John F. Kennedy once said “the Farmer is the Only Man in Our Economy Who Buys Everything He Buys at Retail, Sells Everything He Sells at Wholesale, and Pays the Freight Both Ways.”
Farmers and ranchers are – and in my memory always have been – in the middle of a never-ending cost squeeze. For too many years we have asked our farmers and ranchers to do more and more, and always with less. So while all the negative news articles focus on the symptoms, they never seem to get around to identifying and discussing the real problems that plague our farmers and ranchers: skyrocketing costs and stagnant returns.
The next generation of farmers and ranchers, growing up all across rural America, has a more accurate view of what farming and ranching life is really about than do urban newspapers and think tanks. They see long days in the fields, unpredictability caused by droughts, hail storms, hurricanes and floods, and a low payoff at the end of the day. Too frequently, they decide it is not worth the effort to come back to the family farm.
Working For America’s Producers
As we debate the next Farm Bill, I am proud to say that my goal is to increase net income for American farmers and ranchers. I want a strong agricultural economy in this country. I want a strong, home-grown source of safe, affordable, and abundant food and fiber. Frankly, I don’t know many people in this country that don’t place a high premium on strong supplies of domestic food and fiber and I would expect most would be mighty upset if this were ever lost. While the urban media creates visions of agriculture producers lining up for government payments, I am more worried about our next generation of producers lining up to leave those family farms and ranches.
Thanks For A Job Well-Done
The great irony in the debate that swirls around U.S. farm policy today is that it is getting so much criticism from so many different quarters and yet it remains one of the truly great success stories in the world. As with anything else, there is always room for improvement. And we will improve. But, every now and again, especially in an age of such cynicism, I know my Montana farmers and ranchers, and those all across the country, would like to open their papers, turn on their televisions or radios, and just hear a simple thank you. We really appreciate what you do to keep us clothed and fed like nobody else in the world has ever been before.
About the Author: Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.) serves as Chairman of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee and is a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.