History shows that farmers will survive

Published 10:01 am Wednesday, June 15, 2011

by Dell Cotton

This year marks the 33rd year or so that I have been involved in agriculture as far as employment goes. This does not count the years of growing up in an agricultural-oriented community.

During this time I have learned a lot about the way of life of farming. I have certainly grown to respect the occupation and lifestyle of farming. More importantly, I understand the significance of a farmer and a farm family in all of our everyday lives.

Let’s look for a moment at some of the obstacles a farmer faces to plant a crop, much less to produce one. He or she has to wait for the soil temperature to be just right before planting, and there can’t be cold weather following putting the seeds in the ground.

It can’t rain a lot before planting, or you can’t get into the field to plant. If too dry, the seeds won’t germinate.

You get the idea — the weather is probably the major determinant in the success of any particular grown field commodity, and as we know, we have no control over that.

The price and costs are major determinants of which crops get planted. This year we are seeing the prices of all commodities, including many of the row crop commodities, at record levels. You would think this would lead to better prices for the farmer, and it should.

However, whenever prices rise, so do costs. No one feels the oil price rises any more than the farmer does. It hits us when we fill our gas tank or heating oil tank, but it hits the farmer with his fuel or diesel for trucks, tractors, etc. And it also hits him through his chemicals, fertilizers and other items that rise when oil does.

I can see where it would be difficult to fight the elements and price swings only to open up the daily paper and see complaints about the high cost of food. Who typically gets the blame for that?

Yep, the farmer complaints he can live with. However, when those complaints get loud enough for legislators to hear them that is when the real trouble starts.

As you know, Congress is trying to deal with serious budget issues. So far, early discussions have included a few items to be cut for deficit savings and on every list is curbing farm subsidies.

You must understand that many of our farm programs are tied to a price, and if the farmers’ price is above this price, then no actual program money is spent. That doesn’t seem to matter, as the general feeling that you keep seeing is that farm programs aren’t needed in times of good prices. Cut them, and save that money.

We all know that the high farmer prices won’t last, and the consumer in us actually hopes it doesn’t, right? So what happens when prices fall, and the farm safety net is gone because it went to help cut the budget deficit?

Let’s just say we are in dangerous times. We demand cheap food. The world is demanding more food as the population increases and standards of living rise. Budget forces have agricultural programs on their cross hairs.

This doesn’t paint a real pretty picture, but from what I know about the character, work ethic and fortitude of farmers, they will survive. They will find a way, and maybe, even though they have so many obstacles, they can do so and even bear another generation to do the same for our children and our children’s children. Not too much to ask, is it?

DELL COTTON is director of the Virginia/North Carolina Peanut Growers Association. He can be reached at dcotton25@vcpeanutdma.com.