I was challenged the other day on why agriculture needs involvement from government. In many ways, American farming practices lead the world in efficiency, safety and productivity.
I was told we should be able to stand alone. Simple answer — we didn’t get where we are today by standing! The American farmer will best utilize every resource we can to RUN into the future to meet the needs of a hungry world.
To be fair, I can understand others’ point of view. Anyone can search and find bits and pieces of information that when thrown together paints a mixed picture of agriculture. One example is the Environmental Working Group’s website, which lists government payments received by farmers. When I looked what was listed for my farm it sure looks like a big number to most.
The rest of the story needs to be told by correlating that number to my farm financials. The number listed on that website is about the same as my debt. So no, the government payments are not money in my bank account but dollars leveraged to keep my business going and growing.
One of my neighbors who keeps better financial records than I, tracked his government payments long before EWG and he said the first 20 years he farmed the government payments equaled his net worth. So are we getting rich out here? The majority of schedule F tax filings say no. Granted, a small number of producers do well and that is what it should be in any healthy business segment.
Another misconstrued area is crop insurance. Everyone says it is subsidized. I prefer to look at it from another angle. Where would we have been without a safety net of crop insurance after the drought in the heartland a few years ago?
The cost of business disruptions and bankruptcies would have been huge. The small investment to make it a viable program far outweigh emergency cost avoided later. I call the crop insurance portion of the farm program “a food security enhancement.”
Government has always been involved in food production. Without that involvement, consumers wouldn’t have the assurance of an abundant, safe food supply.
Some of what our government does is not free to farmers. Trade sanctions and aid to developing countries do cost farmers market access. Aid to developing countries is a short-term dip in marketing options but it is the right thing to do. The American Soybean Association (ASA) has taken a strong position in helping developing countries with the World Initiative for Soy in Human Health (WISHH) program. We believe in showing the world the many uses for soy and how human nutrition can be vastly improved.
As the market place becomes more global, farmers rely on policy makers to assure trade agreements are equable, technology advances are accepted worldwide and property/intellectual rights are protected. These are the topics that often come up when we make visits to the Capitol.
Whenever a discussion on free enterprise is brought up agriculture is the example of where it works. One must get past the title and realize it isn’t always free and sometimes guidance is needed for the best outcomes. So like it or not this makes government a partner in this farmer’s plight to a productive future.
Paul Freeman is a soybean farmer from Starbuck. He is Vice President of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association and is the chair of the Advocacy action team, which is made up of 12 MSGA directors. Paul can be reached at email@example.com.