Thursday, October 13, 2011

My Message to the White House

Today I have the honor of meeting with USDA Deputy Secretary Merrigan. This is part of the White House Round-table Agribusiness discussion. I am sure some of the discussion will focus on rural job creation. However, I suspect some of the discussion will focus on the locally grown food movement.

I must say I fully embrace and participate in marketing locally grown foods. My family markets a portion of our beef and lamb each year locally. I truly believe I am providing my customers with a high quality product and I enjoy developing a relationship with the consumers I help feed.

To my fellow producers participating in selling produce and meat locally I applaud your efforts. We are cultivating relationships with consumers and providing them the freshest, highest quality food possible. For those of you buying locally produced food, I applaud you for choosing to buy from local producers and going the extra mile to do so. It requires more effort than going to the local grocery store.

However, I also recognize the need for large scale, modern production farming and ranching. Let me share the facts with you. World population will be 9.6 billion people by 2050. Our agricultural production must increase by 70 to 100% in that same time period to produce enough food and fiber to meet the demand. Currently, we are expected to increase ag production by 40% during this time period.

For those of you challenged by mathematics that means an increase of 30 to 60% beyond our current expectations. So we either need to find more farm and ranch lands or become much more productive on the land we currently have in production. Since the current trend is for us to lose farm and ranch land annually, we must rely on increased efficiency and production. That means biotechnology is of utmost importance.

The Utopian view of each community relying on locally produced foods is not a realistic world view. Relying on locally produced foods would result in higher food costs and reduced food supplies. The meat I produce is both higher in quality and higher priced than that sold in grocery stores. It has to be higher priced because it costs me more to produce beef on a small scale than it does for our modern feedlots. Out of necessity (i.e. I need to make a living), my beef is priced out of the range of some potential customers.

Often locally produced foods also mean organic and without the benefit of biotechnology (not always, but that is the underlying current). Without modern fertilizer and chemicals our most efficient, environmentally sound farming and ranching practices cannot be utilized. If you chose to buy organically produced food, I do not have a problem with that, it is your choice. However, you also need to realize that we cannot meet our growing need for food and the need for environmentally sound practices without modern agricultural practices.

Modern practices such as no-till farming have allowed us to produce more grain, with fewer inputs (i.e. petroleum) while doing a better job of saving soil and protecting our water. The bottom line is that if we are to attain our production goals and maintain our environment we need these practices and we need to continue to refine them and develop new technologies.

Rural job creation (and for that matter job creation period) must first be rooted in a secure foundation of adequate nutrition. As farmers and ranchers we must be able to utilize the technology available to us without excessive government regulation (the subject for another day) to reach our full professional potential and feed our growing world population.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Weekend, My Way

Last Saturday we were in the middle of soybean harvest and I was behind the wheel of our grain trucks hauling this year's crop to the elevator. It was the first Saturday in October and that also meant it was Oztoberfest in my hometown. It was also a K-State home football game. So, I had to deal with lots of traffic, detours and crowds.

The day dawned with a beautiful, clear blue sky, temperatures were perfect and it seemed like nearly everyone was going somewhere. The day presented many challenges and headaches for those of us trying to get the grain to town. The day also gave me an interesting perspective on myself and my fellow farmers.

Through out the day, I thought about the crowd I saw milling around at the Oztoberfest. I thought about the people enjoying a day off. I thought about the freedom of taking a day off and not having any worries on the weekend. Part of me was a little jealous.

Later in the day, I dealt with the increase in traffic due to the football game. I listened to the pre-game show (in the one truck that had a radio). I imagined the tailgating that was going on in the parking lot. I thought about the smells, the sounds and the buzz. I really enjoy football games and I must admit I was even more jealous.

But then as the afternoon went on, I realized I was exactly where I wanted to be. It was a beautiful day, the harvest was going smoothly and yields were better than expected. It came to me that I had reached the point in my life were I enjoyed driving that grain truck and harvesting with Dad more than footabll.

If I had slept in that morning and went to Oztoberfest I would have felt like I was missing out on something. If I had gone to the game, I might have enjoyed myself but there would have been this nagging, feeling that I had somewhere more important to be. I would guess that my fellow brothers and sisters in agriculture would second those feelings.

I think these feelings are in our very being, probably part of our DNA and something we can't do anything about. Being out in the field is where we feel we need to be, and the reality is we are drawn there irregardless of what else is going on.

That level of dedication is shared by everyone who puts the food on your table. What we do is more than an occupation, it is our way of life. So next weekend when you see a farmer or rancher going about their business, don't feel sorry for them. Just know that they are exactly where they want to be.