Cartoon sends wrong signal about farming and misses the point

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 9, 2008

If a picture is worth a thousand words then the cartoonist’s drawing in last Wednesday’s paper depicting Congress dropping money down to a farmer with a crop duster airplane is surely worth a few words from me.

It is unfortunate that the general public has not a full understanding of what is involved with production agriculture in the 21st century. What is not needed is persons such as the editor and most of today’s media depicting a false image of today’s farmer. The lack of respect and continued ridicule of the American farmer shows the extent to which you possess [contempt] for those who produce the food and fiber from which you exist.

I know the cartoon drawing was a direct throw-off on the pending farm bill, which the president has promised to veto. I feel the need to share with you and the public more of what this farm bill consists of — so that your next cartoon drawing may accurately depict who in reality is catching the most dollars out of the farm bill.

In this current farm bill, domestic nutrition programs and the food stamps given to low-income families make up just more than 66 percent, about $200 billion. Conservation programs designed to protect environmentally sensitive farmland make up another 9 percent, about $27 billion. Crop insurance programs to help protect farmers and ranchers against weather-related disasters are about 8 percent, some $23 billion.

One percent is labeled to foreign food aid such as the grains we recently delivered to Myanmar after the devastating cyclone that displaced hundreds of thousands of people. Lastly, the subsidy payments made directly to American farmers for crops like rice, cotton, corn, soybeans, wheat and many more to mention only use 14 percent of the farm bill.

I might add that these subsidies given to American farmers are one-third less than the subsidy payments given to our European competitors.

We American farmers are producing our products under strict guidelines from agencies like the USDA, EPA and a host of others. Many of our foreign competitors do not have to comply with any restrictive agency.

We are also limited and restricted to which countries we can market our products.

I have only touched the surface with the day-to-day challenges with which we are faced.

The constant bombardment from the media and uneducated public only adds to the turmoil and uncertainty of this industry.

The American public spends slightly less than 10 percent of their disposable income on food each year, the lowest average of any country in the world. Even with food prices rising, the farmers’ share of the average food dollar is falling.

In the 1970s, farmers received about one-third of consumer retail food expenditures. That figure has decreased steadily to now at just 19 percent, according to USDA figures.

I could continue, but I won’t.

Why not, Mr. Editor, get your artist to depict the local Food Lion with a large “closed” sign on the windows, and “no more food today.”

Maybe they could draw another picture of you and your family standing on the docks in Norfolk waiting for the ship from China that is delivering your loaf bread.

Congratulations are in order to the editor. Once again just a simple drawing has stirred emotions in our little community.

I suppose that is what selling newspapers is all about.

Gary Cross is president of the Southampton County Farm Bureau. His e-mail address is