Being so efficient not always best thing for U.S. farmers: Part II

When’s the last time you went to the grocery store and found the shelves empty? Never? Being such efficient and reliable producers may sometimes work against U.S. farmers, says Arkansas Congressman Rick Crawford.

“It’s just always there,” he says, adding that U.S. agriculture needs to find a way to bridge the gap between consumers’ knowledge of how and where their food is grown and why it’s important that farmers continue to farm, he notes.

Sustainability is a “buzzword” that is hard to define, but everyone uses, says Crawford, who held his first in a series of Arkansas Ag-Tech Symposiums at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Oct. 14.

As it applies to crop diversity, could you see a traditional rice, cotton, soybean farmer in east Arkansas growing some cole crops in the winter months, short season crops that could address a need in a metropolitan area like Memphis, he asks?

“The answer is, yes, you could, but are we willing to kind of culturally get around what we’ve done traditionally and say, ‘yes, we can adopt these new crop practices and address a market need,’” Crawford said in an interview following the Symposium. “Why that’s important is because grocers – whether it be Walmart or the big retailers or smaller ones – want to be able to access produce that is grown locally for many reasons.”

For openers, he says, such producer is fresher, and it helps those companies reduce their carbon footprint since they have to truck it in from a shorter distance than Florida or the West Coast. “As the supply chain shrinks, it becomes more cost-effective for them. I think anybody in any geography can play a role in that – you just have to broaden your scope.”

Urban dwellers in areas such as Washington, D.C., where Crawford now spends much of his time, don’t have an understanding of how their food is grown or even what kinds of food are grown in the U.S.

“I’ll bring it down to rice,” said Crawford. “Most people in Washington don’t even know we grow rice in the United States, let alone that we grow it in my district in Arkansas, which accounts for half of the rice grown in this country.”

For more on U.S. rice production, visit http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/crops/rice.aspx.

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