Commentary: The forgotten farmer

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After all the endless speeches, the overwrought rhetoric and the partisan sniping—funded by more than a billion dollars in campaign contributions that could have been more profitably deployed just about anywhere else—Decision 2012 is finally over.

The American electorate has spoken, and truthfully, no matter which way your politics are positioned, we can close this presidential campaign on a note of pride. Both President Obama and Gov. Romney delivered high-minded, heal-the-wounds speeches Tuesday night. Admittedly, that’s a lot easier to do when you’re up in the victory stand, but despite all the bitterness and mean-spirited mud-slinging of the past 18 months, both victor and vanquished acquitted themselves well in the end.

You only wish that those gracious, conciliatory, statesman-like personalities could have been on display during the campaign, not after it was all over.

That said, there was one element of this year’s presidential election that is truly troubling, and that is the virtual absence of any discussion—much less support—for the interests of animal agriculture and the food processing industry.

Not one word in all the debates about food security. Not one second in all the campaigning about the farm bill. Not a single ad mentioning agricultural exports.

With an army of campaign staffers ready to pounce on any whiff of an opinion from either candidate about every divisive social issue out there, the urgency of how we best promote, support and advance the American food production system didn’t apparently register on either party’s radar.

That is cause for concern.

The challenges ahead

Despite the devastating drought that savaged the Midwest, any discussion about the federal response was nonexistent. Granted, Superstorm Sandy was a heckuva lot more dramatic—and devastating—but shouldn’t the worst drought in a century have merited some attention?

The farm bill debate ground to a halt in the last days of this year’s do-nothing Congress, and neither Obama nor Romney bothered to let us know whether they even cared one way or the other.

Ag exports are critical to sustaining the farm economy and to righting our national trade imbalance, but amidst all the talk of jobs, jobs, jobs, neither candidate so much as mentioned what we need to do to ensure a robust agricultural sector going forward.

And although we got a few minutes of happy talk about investing in education, in nearly five hours of nationally televised debating not even one sentence could be spared to even mention agricultural research.

Truth is, politicians are just as disconnected from agriculture, just as oblivious to the challenges facing the nation’s food producers as the public at large. We’re all so spoiled by a half century of success in ramping up farm efficiency and producing an affordable, incredibly bountiful food supply that our so-called leaders can’t even rouse themselves to pass an (allegedly) bipartisan farm bill to promote and protect one of the most critical pillars of our national security: The ability to feed ourselves.

We heard endless hours of virulent debate over the negative impact of raising taxes, no matter how minimal or how necessary. But did any of the hundreds of politicians so eagerly grubbing for votes ever bring up the issue of rising food prices? Does anyone think that a spike in the cost of the commodities upon which our food supply depends wouldn’t be ten times worse than forking over a few bucks more to Uncle Sam on April 15?

When one of the most crucial components of our national economy can’t even command a 10-second sound bite, it is shameful, short-sighted and deeply troubling for both animal agriculture and the larger food industry.

As a nation we cannot neglect our investment in agricultural research. We cannot play politics with the need for farm programs. We cannot dismiss the ongoing disappearance of our country’s best farmland to urban sprawl and industrial development. And we certainly can’t pretend that it won’t take a monumental investment of time and taxes to sustain our current agricultural productivity, much less recruit, educate and provide entry opportunities for the next generation of producers and growers.

All of that takes strategic positioning, it requires significant funding and it demands a commitment by everyone involved in food production to move agriculture higher up on the national agenda. Maybe in the end, it will take a crisis like none we’ve ever seen to finally make the politicians finally pay attention.

Let’s hope not.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.

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WDBethea Farms    
NCarolina  |  November, 09, 2012 at 07:44 AM

Well said, Mr. Murphy. The crisis is coming; it's only a matter of time.

Bob Milligan    
Minnesota  |  November, 09, 2012 at 09:17 AM

Dan, Having spent my whole career in agriculture, I too would have preferred additional discussion of agricultural issues; however, let me add two additional perspectives. First, as agriculture becomes more interconnected with the rest of the economy (especially energy) and more global, the issues that were discussed - jobs, taxes, health care logistics, foreign policy - increasingly are the issues of importance to agriculture. Second, the real tragedy of this election is that there was almost no discussion of the real challenges facing this country -- a health care system we cannot afford, an educational system barely tolerated by baby boomers much less gen Xers, millennials and whatever we will call the next generation, our aging population, leadership, climate change, and government at almost all levels borrowing to continue to operate.

Lillian Yontz    
Ohio  |  November, 09, 2012 at 09:20 AM

To read this article brougt tears to my eyes. How true ! Is it going to take a real famine for people to realize that alimentary security of our country should be a priority ? Or are we going to depend on China for our food as well?

Central Montana  |  November, 09, 2012 at 09:43 AM

Dan: Right on. Additional issues, average age of farmer 65, largest group of farmers, those over 65. Smallest, those under 30. It would take the next 150 acre corn farmer $2.5 million to participate, who would lend them the money (especially if it does not rain). Bob in Minnesota is right. Every dollar the fed gov took in last year went to pay for the entitlement programs and the growing interest on our debt (remember compounding interest) and we borrowed money to run the rest of the government and half of that came from foreign countries. Including public debt, foreign debt and unfunded obligations of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public employee and military retirement and some other contingencies and it total $71 trillion dollars and is growing at a rate of $10 million per minuet. Our leaders have painted us into a corner ( Check IOUSA on Youube and lets meet the challenges, remember "We The People".

kansas  |  November, 09, 2012 at 10:25 AM

Great job of describing the failure that is now past. However, both this column and the comments are indicative of the reasons for our failures in politics and consumer relations. We spend far too much time and effort commiserating - Among Ourselves - about the sad state of affairs and our industry being vicitmized by the injustices of life... i.e. Whining. When we do publicly promote our business, it is Dry, Droning, Unappealing and Uninspiring speeches by university "experts" in science or economics who use equally dry and uninspiring statistics and studies that the average consumer finds nothing more than boring. Alternately, when our political representatives - few as they are - appear as our "public face", they make us appear to be whining welfare queens demanding more subsidies and benefits. We have no "social issue" or "vital to the nation" status, and it's our own fault. LGBT community, almost as tiny a demographic, can get front page/evening news/poltical punditry every night of the week - and the noble individualist and independent business person farmer??? Stop sitting in the corner crying to each other and hire some profession PR people & Lobbyists. We are On Our Own in this fight and We Are Losing.... whether we get a "Crisis" or not.

Joe Itle    
Martinsburg, Pa.  |  November, 09, 2012 at 11:42 PM

How can one discuss an issue with no knowledge of the subject? Only those living agriculture are in the know! With fewer people involved in agriculture where do you go for advisers? We are in the minority thus campaigning for our support in an election would have very little impact on the results.

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