October 15, 2009
1025 16th Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37209
On behalf of America’s farm and ranch families, I want to publicly thank you for bringing greater attention, through your music, to the challenges face. Those involved in agriculture here in the United States work hard every day to feed, clothe, and fuel our nation in a way that is unrivaled in history.
I live on my farm outside the small West Texas town of Kress, about 60 miles from Amarillo. My family and I wake up each morning to grow cotton under the “Amarillo Sky” for which one of your greatest works is named. That song is especially meaningful to every farmer and rancher who, like me, has a young son or daughter that wants to carry on the family tradition. The stories of the three young men featured in your video are shared by farm kids all over this great country of ours.
Judging by the powerful lyrics in your song, I am certain that you know all too well the big risks associated with farming and ranching. Unfortunately, many in the public have forgotten the importance of agriculture in the U.S.
For that very reason, farm families like mine have joined with others from across the country to launch two websites, www.farmpolicyfacts.org and www.thehandthatfeedsus.org in order to reach out to lawmakers in Washington and reporters in cities across the country and to set the record straight.
Jason, my request is two-fold. First, that you would permit our websites to link to your song, “Amarillo Sky” which I believe can help educate people with no other connection to where their food, clothing, and a large portion of their energy comes from. And, second, that through your music, you will continue to help Americans better understand what we do on the farm and ranch every day to make our nation stronger and more secure.
Farmers and ranchers borrow more money every year than most people will borrow in a life time to plant and harvest a crop… but Mother Nature can and often does have other plans.
Adding to our risk are both price volatility and production costs.
So much of the food and fiber that we produce in America today is sold abroad, but unfortunately the world market that it’s sold into is not free, nor fair. A recent study said that we in America are not competing against farmers and ranchers in places like Europe, Brazil, China, or India. Instead, we are competing against their governments, which offer rich subsidies and high tariffs to protect their agriculture.
This distorted world market contributes to an already volatile market where farmers and ranchers are mere price-takers.
All of that said, Jason, when people decide to farm or ranch, they voluntarily take on these risks. It’s just part of the deal and you got to accept it. As 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.” That’s the truth.
But, what is already a tough business to be in has gotten a whole lot tougher and, frankly, a lot scarier in recent years. Our nation’s farm and ranch families are under attack by extreme groups seeking to tear down what it has taken us more than 200 years to build.
Many of us have spent many sleepless nights not only worrying about our crops or our cattle or the weather, but also about what Washington or Geneva or Sacramento or Saint Paul will do to us.
And, as a result of the pressure from extreme groups, farm support has shrunk to just 16% of the Farm Bill budget, offering only the barest level of support. In fact, if crop prices collapsed to the levels we saw earlier this decade, there would be widespread economic panic in farm country.
Even with farm income predicted to drop 38% this year, there were proposals to cut farm support even closer to the bone. These extreme groups want to cut off any support for farm and ranch families that are “too big” to fit the image of a Norman Rockwell picture, completely ignoring the costs of farming these days and the price tag on that Big Green Tractor.
It’s as though people have become so far removed from the farm and ranch that food security and rural America no longer matter.
Now, it seems Geneva is as focused as Washington in eliminating any support to American farmers and ranchers. Last December, a deal was offered in the World Trade Organization where U.S. farm support would be cut by 70% while other countries would either get a free walk on their subsidies and tariffs, or be allowed to increase them. That deal, we are told, will be the starting point for any new trade agreement. Free trade is no longer about leveling the playing field, but about creating even greater advantages for some.
Just as alarming are the extreme environmental groups that are pushing organic agriculture as the sole future of our food supply. It’s alarming because the Nobel Laureate who engineered the “Green Revolution” and who is credited with saving millions of lives, Dr. Norman Borlaug, said this approach would lead to both human and environmental catastrophe. Borlaug estimated organic agriculture could feed just 4 billion people and would require millions of virgin lands to do so.
In addition to what I’ve described, some in Washington are cooking up new and costly regulations that will make it even harder for American farm and ranch families to make ends meet, much less compete on an already lopsided global playing field.
One plan is the cap and trade proposal to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Studies say this proposal will increase our production costs, cut our net income, and eat away at any equity that we have worked hard to build up. Yet, we are expected to bear these added costs even though key competitors, such as China and India, show no serious signs of following the same rules.
The net result of all of this is probably little impact on climate change while running off American agriculture production the way we ran off millions of manufacturing jobs only a few years ago.
Jason, I wish I could say that’s the bottom line but, unfortunately, it’s only the tip of the iceberg.
There is a lot of big money out there pushing an agenda that is hostile to the American farmer and rancher. The big international food companies have even gotten into the act, biting the hand that feeds them even as they rake in record corporate profits, of which farmers and ranchers see little or none.
Also, nearly all of the big media has gone where the big money is, siding with critics of American agriculture and, more often than not, without even offering an opposing view.
Although we don’t have unlimited amounts of money and newspaper ink like our opponents, we are fighting back.
God bless you.
Kress, Texas Cotton Farmer