Letter to the Editor

Your View 6/10: No farmers, no food

Monday, June 10, 2002

Human nature will on occasion cause us to be critical of the person, place or thing that we depend upon the most. Like it or not, farmer provide us with what we need the most, food. No farmers - no food, that's a fact of life.

Recently farmers have caught a lot of flak over farm subsidy payments. A lot of the groups, such as the Environmental Working Group (EWG) are tax funded. Their money comes from the same place the subsidies come from, yet they are one of the first and loudest to criticize. Their criticism helps to divert attention away from their program. There are many other tax-funded organizations that are very vocal toward farm programs. Then we are blessed with numerous local personalities who enjoy a ride on the bandwagon themselves.

I have farmed all of my life and I know there is no simple answer to that farm problem as such, and I certainly cannot explain the farm subsidy program to anyone else. But I would like for those of you who do not farm, or understand the problems that farmers are confronted with, to read the rest of this letter. This will not be a pity-the-poor-farmer, or a bleeding heart letter. This will contain some facts that you might find interesting.

We have had government loan prices for many years. Because of good markets and adequate prices we have not had to take advantage of them, until recently. The grain embargo was invoked during the Carter Administration. Because of this, we lost some of our major markets. Other countries took advantage of this. They started to sell to our ex-markets and we have not been able to regain these markets completely. These countries are subsidized by their governments and we have to keep our prices low to be competitive.

With today's low commodity prices, limited markets and foreign competition coupled with circumstances beyond our control (expensive equipment: tractors in excess of $100,000; planters, $50,000; seed beans, $25 per 50-pound bag; seed corn, $100-plus per bag; cottonseed, $100-plus per bag; fertilizer, chemicals and diesel are extremely high also). All of these are fixed costs that we can do nothing about, and we cannot operate without them.

Because of these circumstances, and the fact that the government wants to control farmers so we can have a good supply of cheap food, farmers are dependent on the government for help. Also, all school lunch programs, paid and free lunches, commodity programs, food stamp programs, are all funded through the farm subsidy program. If farmers were not subsidized, you and I could not afford food. Farm subsidies are not a luxury; they're a necessity. They keep you and I from going hungry.

Now I would like to propose a hypothetical situation to non-farmers.

Your boss calls you into his office on or about Dec. 31 of this year and tells you that you are going to share in the company profits at the end of the coming year. Sounds great, doesn't it? Now here's the kicker. In order for you to share in the company profits, you will have to work without a salary. In order for you and your family to survive, the boss is going to lend you money to live on (at a reasonable rate of interest) until the year's end. In order to draw this advance, you must sign a note, a mortgage will be placed on your house, car, truck, boat, four-wheeler and your property at the lake. In other words, everything you own or may own some day, via monthly payments.

The amount that you will receive in lieu of monthly salary will depend upon the amount of equity you have in your property. At the end of the year, you will receive your part of the profits, if there is any. If for some unforeseen reason business was bad and there were no profits, you are out of luck for this year. There's always next year - or until your equity is gone. Then it's good-bye to your house, car, truck, boat, four-wheeler and property at the lake, along with your retirement and 401K packet. In other words, somebody is going to have a sale.

You're not finished yet. You've got taxes to pay on property that you no longer have and you may have to pay a capital gains tax along with the other. You will pay this or the IRS will place a lien on your Social Security check when you get old enough to draw one.

Something tells me that you aren't going to go for this proposal - too risky.

This is what farmers do each year, through good times and bad. We chose to be farmers. We knew going in that we did not have company insurance or other company benefits or some of the other positives that you enjoy at your workplace. We cope with the variables that we cannot control.

We don't want to be dependent on government subsidies. None of us like them. But we can't survive anymore on our own. If it wasn't for government subsidies, 90 percent of the farmers in Southeast Missouri would be competing with you for your job.

The next time you decide to be critical of the nation's farmers, remember two things. First, would you want to put everything you work for and own on the line each year, battle the elements and hope and pray for a successful harvest? Secondly, farmers are just like you. They try to do the best job possible. We only spend 10 cents of each earned dollar for food. No other nation in the world can come close to that. Farmers buy their food at the same place you do and we certainly want to buy as cheap as possible.

If you can answer "yes" to the first question, there's farmland to rent. Get out there and get you some of it. Enjoy the fruits of your labor and see how long it takes you to start looking for that government check.

I would like to close with a quote from the late President Dwight D. Eisenhower. "Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from the cornfield."