Agriculture Facing its Own Katrina
Date: Monday, October 24 2005
Although this story is about American farmers, basically the same is happening in many areas here in Canada. Then, when farmers go broke their lands are picked up by multinational agribiz corporations on their way to control the world's food supply, with the cooperation of governments. Ed.
Agriculture facing its own Katrina
By Jimmy Westerfeld
McLennan County Farm Bureau President
October 21, 2005
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Agriculture today is facing a major catastrophe not experienced since the Dust Bowl days of the Great Depression. Based on expert economic projections, for the first time in decades, many U.S. farmers cannot possibly "cash flow" a crop or crops for the year 2006. Bankers are saying "No." Many of us will not be able to farm this year or the next. The doubling and tripling of fuel and petrochemical prices are the last link in a chain of bad economic events.
Since Aug. 29, the entire world has been focused on the aftermath of the terrible destruction of Hurricane Katrina. Then, to make a terrible tragedy even worse, Hurricane Rita slammed into Southeast Texas and Western Louisiana on Sept. 24.
These two storms had an impact on the nation's fuel refining capacity, increasing prices beyond an already dismal situation. In agriculture, we cannot pass these prices along as other industries do. Ultimately, it means the numbers don't add up. If we can't show positive cash flow, we won't get our operating loans.
For farmers, a Katrina-like disaster is building. It will soon swamp many family farming operations. Astronomical fuel prices, fertilizer and chemical costs have reached the point that even a modest profit is impossible.
Farmers are receiving the lowest price for commodities that myself or most farmers can remember. Farmers are a proud group, usually not willing to protest. This time, I hope someone is listening. We are literally at the end of the turn row. That's a metaphor for desperation. Agriculture is in serious trouble.
A friend of mine and long-time Central Texas farmer sums up the current crisis in a unique way: "It's a lot easier to do nothin' for nothin' than somethin' for nothin'." Why invest huge amounts, work from daylight to dark and struggle for a profit when you know you have no chance?
What if, one by one, many farmers are forced into the painful decision that they can't afford to plant this year and the next? How many such decisions will it take to produce, nation-wide, the bare grocery shelves brought about by Katrina and Rita?
Granted, food can and will be imported. If we allow American agriculture to wither and die, that will be our only choice. If this sounds familiar, it's exactly what we did with energy. Does anyone like what they are paying at the pump now? Do we really want our food supply at the mercy of producers outside our own borders?
With this dismal prospect in mind, we can begin to view the federal farm program as an investment in keeping farmers on the land and preserving the ability to feed our own people at a reasonable cost. Congress and the Bush administration have proposed drastic spending cuts in the federal farm program, while preserving lavish pork barrel spending. Are our priorities really that far out of whack?
U.S. agriculture can feed the world if the profit is there. The federal farm program is a safety net that equally protects U.S. farmers and consumers. Under the current protectionist trade policies in the world, there is no way to farm without it. Drastic cuts would take us down a policy path that is dangerous for our food security. I don't believe we really want to go there.