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Guebert: Ifs and buts, candy and nuts
By Alan Guebert
Farm and Food File
‘Twas the week before Christmas and all through the House nothing was stirring but Rep. Tom “T-Bone” Maxilla.

A butcher by trade, T-Bone was using the empty House chamber to put his enemies and the native tongue through the meat grinder. Only Phil Sensi, a rookie representative from Idaho who sat in the Speaker’s chair, and six somnolent Americans, delivered via C-SPAN, looked on as Maxilla droned on.

“And furthermore, Mr. Chairman,” foamed T-Bone in a voice as raw as a pound of fresh brisket, “before this Congress skedaddles outta here to holiday hearth and home, it should take note of an ominous, new report about to be issued by the American Farm Bureau.”

Sensi, signing letters on the dais, suddenly looked up. Did the old bloviator say Storm Nero, the former weather forecaster now senator from Utah, or did he say Farm Bureau?

“According to the Farm Bureau,” continued T-Bone...

Sensi’s mind flashbacked to how Farm Bureau organized the free trade-free markets-expensive insurance vote for him the year before. Man, did they deliver; Sensi bagged 83 percent of the rural vote and won the seat by a slim 1,400 votes.

“According to the Farm Bureau,” repeated T-Bone noticing the Chairman’s loss of focus, “there are only 3,200 American farmers producing one-quarter of our great nation’s food supply ...”

Wait, Sensi interrupted from on high; did the gentleman say 3,200 farmers now produce 25 percent of the nation’s food?

“I did, Mr. Chairman.”

Does the gentleman know (how could the old goat possibly know, thought Sensi mid-sentence) that if he is correct, there are only two full-time, big-time farmers per county across the entire United States?

“Well, Mr. Chairman,” brayed the Old Goat, “since there are 3,066 counties in this great nation, actually there are only 1.04 full-time big farmers per county right now. I reckon, however, that that point-oh-four fella’ ain’t producing much.”

T-Bone, I mean, Mr. Maxilla, Sensi asked, who produces the other three-quarters of the food consumed in this nation then?

“Well, Mr. Chairman, I’m glad you asked ‘cause the A-Eff-Bee-Eff allows that it ain’t many: about 140,000 and that number is shrinking faster than a west Texas waterhole in July. But,” T-Bone went on, “even those numbers are too high.

“When you slice all that AFBF-USDA mumbo jumbo away, in 2002 only 70,650 farms produced 61 percent of America’s food. Just five years before, in 1997, 163,000 farms produced 61 percent of our food.

“That means, Mr. Chairman, our great nation witnessed its active farmer ranks reduced, nay, pummeled, by 57 percent in just a half a decade.

“Mr. Chairman, no one can say just what that number will be in another five years but I’d estimate that tens of thousands more farmers in this mortal middle will, like many in recent years, be forced to subsidize their farming with off-farm income or they will simply disappear.”

Mr. Maxilla, Sensi queried, do you mean to say that current trends in agriculture will create a super class of super producers who, in a little more than one-half of a generation, will produce maybe two-thirds to three-quarters of our food and those super-producers may number less than 10,000 nationwide, or only 3 or 4 per county?

“No sir, Mr. Chairman, I’m not sayin’ that,” corrected T-Bone. “The numbers - and soon the American Farm Bureau Federation - are sayin’ that.

“For my own part, however,” T-Bone added.

“I will say that whatever the number, it is increasingly clear that we are smack in the middle of creating a giant military-industrial complex, er, I mean a giant agri-industrial complex that will change this nation and the 80 percent of it that is rural in ways no one has contemplated.”

But, intoned Sensi, if viewed from another light, don’t your numbers also confirm the economic evolution, the efficiency, of our agricultural producers?

“Absolutely sir,” replied Old T-Bone. “And all those ‘ifs and buts’ reminds me to offer my colleagues my traditional holiday salute: ‘If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, what a fine Christmas we’d have.’”

Published in the December 21, 2005 issue of Farm World.

12/21/2005