Settling For Broke

At the start of 2012, report after report highlighted the record farm income generated in 2011. An article from Reuters reported that farm income exceeded $100 billion for the first time last year. Other reporting agencies published similar findings, giving the general public the idea that farmers were getting rich while other industries and people were struggling to make ends meet.

The reports of record income only told half the story, they did not point out the record prices for inputs such as fertilizer, gas and electricity. The stories also appeared as budget and farm bill talks got underway in Washington D.C.

Now, with budget and farm bill discussions in full swing, many industry experts are warning that farmers shouldn’t expect too much. The country has maintained a record-setting debt load as farmers have socked away millions. We can’t expect Washington to feel sorry for us, one analyst told me.

During Friday’s U.S. House Agriculture Committee farm bill hearing in Dodge City, one farmer testifying before the three-member panel questioned why we as farmers are so scared to admit success. Why did we have to continue to be content with barely getting by when other industries were applauded for growth and development?

It’s a great question and one that hits at the heart of the farm bill debate.  For years, agriculture has been penalized for success. Large farms are labeled corporate farms and shunned by the media and public. Rich farmers are criticized for making too much money on the backs of hungry Americans. And large feedlot companies have been targeted by new regulations that would break down their cattle purchasing and marketing tools, putting smaller feeders on an even playing field.

Now I am not an advocate of unnecessary government payments or federal support for crops that never hit the ground, but I am an advocate of a healthy and successful agriculture industry – one that has the manpower and capital to continue to find new technologies and means for producing more food using fewer resources. Why do people want to see an industry that is vital to the future of our country, running on a shoestring budget and near-zero income?

As we continue this path through the farm bill process, we, as producers, must remain firm in our request for tools and services that allow us to insure and market our crops. We are not looking for government handouts but we are looking for ways to ensure we can produce a safe, healthy and abundant food supply while still bringing home enough cash to feed our families and provide opportunities for our children.  Farmers shouldn’t have to settle for broke and we need to let Washington know that.

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