Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Nightmare for Farmers

Today we baled a few square bales and put them up into the loft for this winter. Now I know many of you have thrown many more bales in a day, but it was terribly hot and I am old and fat. In any case, I ended up on the couch after lunch and drifted off into a fitful nap. I had a terrible nightmare that left me in a cold sweat and I thought I would share it with you.
It seems that my dream was set in the future ten years from now. Environmental groups and animal rights activists had prevailed and my nightmare was a vision of what agriculture and the world had become. I saw crop fields full of weeds, erosion was taking its toll and the yields tumbled as a result. GMO crops had been banned and with that there was no way to take advantage of no-till practices.
Because of this, lakes and streams were full of sediment, drinking water supplies were threatened. Soil, normally held in place by modern farming practices was being moved. Yields had fallen dramatically due to the lack of insect resistance and the absence of other traits like drought tolerance. The lack of production had led to shortages of the grains the world had come to rely on. Shortages and higher prices for staple items like bread, rice and other grains had sky rocketed, thus increasing the amount we all pay for food. Many could not afford to adequately feed their families.
Ethanol had become a thing of the past. Credits associated with ethanol production had been viewed as a handout to both farmers and those producing ethanol. Production had ceased and we became more and more reliant on foreign oil (don’t even think we were allowed to tap into our own oil reserves). It really didn’t matter anyway. What little corn we could produce was used as food, but even that was not nearly enough.
What about the farmers and ranchers producing meat? Stringent animal welfare laws made most modern animal husbandry practices illegal. Most farmers and ranchers could not stand to watch their animals needlessly suffer. Modern swine and poultry farms were forced to try to raise their animals in the elements. Burning heat and bone chilling cold took their toll on both the animals and the men and women raising them. Rather than be forced to watch their animals suffer, most decided to end farms that took many generations to build.
Many of the antibiotics utilized by farmers and ranchers to produce healthier, less stressed animals were stripped from their medicine shelves. Animals suffered needlessly from diseases that could have been easily cured. Simple veterinary procedures such as dehorning and castration were required to be done with by a veterinarian. All of this drove up the cost of production; needlessly increased animal suffering and drove many family farms out of business.
What about the Flint Hills? The Flint Hills are no longer the last foothold of the tall grass prairie. They are now covered with trees and shrubs because of the ban on annual spring burns and herbicides. The hills are an unproductive mixture of trees, shrubs and invasive species like sericia lespedeza. Dramatically limiting how many cattle producers can raise. The native tall grasses and forbs are now history.
Just as with grain prices, the price of meat becomes prohibitive to most consumers (which is exactly what the animal welfare groups want to happen). Most consumers cannot afford to put meat in their grocery carts and many go without necessary protein. Of course, it really doesn’t matter since the grocery store shelves are almost bare due to a lack of food to fill them.
Just as I was beginning to be overcome with despair in my tree covered, eroded, hungry new world, the phone rang and awoke me from my nightmare. It took me a moment or two to clear my head, could this really happen? I hope not, but we need to take a good long look at the people who are being allowed to regulate agriculture and tell us how we must go about our business. A business we deeply care for and now how to do better than anyone else.
We are blessed to have the farmers and ranchers that we have in this great nation. Our innovation and adaptation of new technologies allow us to provide a growing population with an increasing supply of healthy, nutritious foods while protecting the environment we hold precious. The agriculture infrastructure of the United States is asked to produce more, with less and we have done just that.
Now I don’t mean to pain a bleak picture or to be an alarmist, I just want everyone to understand what the world would look like if the environmental and animal welfare groups slipped the agendas they are currently pushing past a sleeping or apathetic public. The result would be food shortages and environmental disasters. The good news is that I truly believe that if we do a better job of telling our story and educating the public the vast majority will be on our side and agree with us. Then we will be allowed to produce the food and fiber we all need now and ten years into the future.

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