Thursday, March 16, 2006

Why I would not be a farmerBy Alan Caruba

March 15, 2006

Time was, when most Americans were farmers. Today, about two percent of the population does an astonishing job of raising, and harvesting, all the crops that turn into an astonishing variety of foods that we take for granted. Our supermarkets are stuffed to overflowing and, given the abundance, so are a lot of us.

You know something is terribly wrong, when the price of wheat at harvest time nets less than $3.00 per bushel, a price that is well below the cost of production. Many of us are paying about as much for a gallon of gasoline, and therein, lies the problem facing farmers today. Historically, it hasn't been this bad since the Great Depression.

I was raised in the suburbs. My mom had a rose garden, but that, plus mowing the lawn and trimming the hedge, was about as close as I ever got to growing anything. In the 1980s, though, I had the opportunity to travel widely throughout the nation, visiting farmers, and getting to know what it was like to work long hours and still end up in debt, because the price of wheat, soybeans, corn, and other products were tied to international competition, and other factors beyond their control.

One of those factors today, affecting all of us and, in particular, our nation's farmers, is the price of energy. Recently, the Agriculture Energy Alliance, a coalition of 75 organizations, has been lobbying Congress to implement policy changes that will protect, expand, and improve our energy supplies. Most of us don't give much thought to the way energy is vital to the provision of a safe and abundant food supply.

I doubt that most of us think of food in terms of our national security, but stop a moment, and think what you would do if there wasn't a constant supply of food in your local supermarket, restaurant, or hamburger chain. Most of the nation's population lives within fifty miles of either the East or West coast. Few of us have a clue about raising produce or livestock.

There's another aspect of energy and food that most of us never connect. It is the role that natural gas and other chemicals play in the production of fertilizers used to increase the output of every acre of farmland. Add that to the gasoline or diesel used to run the huge tractors and combines modern farming requires, and you may understand why the "Farm Bill" is actually called the National Food Security Act.

These days, farmers are increasingly frustrated, and they have good reason to be. Agriculture is perhaps the most heavily-regulated industry in America. Moreover, it comes with no guarantees that Mother Nature will cooperate. While those of us in the suburbs and cities of America, hear reports of drought conditions in various parts of the nation, we rarely give it much thought.

Too much rain, or too little rain wreaks havoc for farmers. Too much sunshine means irrigation, and farmers must pay for the water they use. When the federal government turns off the spigot, as it did with the Klamath Valley farmers of Oregon, the hard work of generations is destroyed, in the name of saving an "endangered" suckerfish.

This is how we thank farmers, who, over the years, have tripled yields, reduced erosion by eighty percent, and wind-blown dust by six hundred percent. These are huge achievements in productivity and stewardship, since crops were first planted 11,000 years ago.

What we have in America, today, is a genuine farm crisis and, if you are dependent on the mainstream press, you are probably totally unaware of it.

How bad is it? The first Northwest wheat crop was planted in 1815 in Fort Vancouver, Washington. When the railroad lines arrived in 1883, the area boomed. Today, it is the principal white wheat producing area in the nation; a major supplier to both national and international markets. In 1992, there were 5,000 wheat farmers in Washington. Today, there are about 3,000. And, if the price of gasoline increases, along with all the other costs of farming, these and other farmers around the nation will stop farming.

When that happens, the rest of us are going to find out about it the hard way.

That's why we have to begin now to find, and extract the energy that exists in abundance here in the United States. It's offshore in areas where drilling for oil is prohibited. It's trapped in shale deposits in Utah and Colorado. It's in Alaska in the ANWR. Congress and the states are not permitting the energy industry to get at it, for the rest of us.

When it comes to sustaining our current farming population, we have a genuine crisis, and we are running the risk of losing the next generation of farmers.

Federal energy, agriculture, and foreign policies have created this crisis. A look at Congress, today, suggests it is oblivious to it.

Editor's note: Alan's book, Warning Signs, is available. If you have enjoyed Alan's columns, you'll love his book. Check it out.


Alan Caruba is the author of "A Pocket Guide to Militant Islam," and a pocket guide, The United Nations Versus The United States, both are available exclusively from, the Internet site of The National Anxiety Center. He also writes "Warning Signs," a weekly commentary posted on the Internet site.