Agriculture is losing the public relations battle, says David Waide, and in trying to get support for farm legislation, “every effort needs to be made to turn that around.
“We've got to have a majority vote in both the House and Senate,” the president of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation said at the organization's summer rice policy meeting at Cleveland, Miss. “But, it's becoming harder to get the attention of a Congress whose farm constituency represents only about 1.5 percent of the nation's population.
“Even if we motivate everyone actively engaged in producing food and fiber to make a positive response to their elected representatives, our numbers are so low we simply can't prevail alone.”
It's preaching to the choir, Waide acknowledges, but agriculture has to step up its PR effort.
“Our best strategy is to convince the voting public, consumers, that it's important for them to engage their elected representatives on agriculture's behalf — that it's important that they understand a farm bill isn't just for farmers, but for the well-being of everyone.”
American farmers have been so efficient, Waide says, that this country has never experienced hunger the way Europe did after World War II, or the way it's now occurring in African nations and elsewhere.
“Our farmers produce this agricultural abundance more efficiently and more cheaply than any other nation. If you look at the farm bill, the average cost to an individual taxpayer with an average $5,000 income tax bill is $15 — that's their contribution toward producing the most abundant, safest food supply on the planet. That should be convincing enough for the public to support, and the Congress to vote favorably on, the farm bill.”
The average highly productive farmer receives about 2 cents per pound or bushel from farm program benefits, Waide notes, while less productive farmers can receive up to 65 cents.
“The consumer may say, ‘Well, I don't mind the small farmer getting a 65-cent payment,’ when in reality, it's the larger farmers who produce 80 percent of the nation's food and fiber. In terms of this nation's food security, we can't afford to give up this safety net.”
Looking at the federal budget for next year, Waide says, “They're projecting a shortfall of around $500 billion. Economists say it'll be 2013 before we take in more revenue than we spend. But the flaw in their numbers is, they don't include the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. When you add those in, there won't be a balanced budget in 2013; rather, we'll be $600 billion to $650 billion short.”
It's more and more a challenge to get a farm bill written and passed because so few understand what agriculture really represents in this nation, Waide says. “In my judgment, the only hope we have for maintaining our efficient, abundant, safe food supply, and for agriculture to keep making a major contribution to our trade balance, is in continuing to support this marvelous agricultural machine.
“One of our young farmer/ranchers summed it up well: ‘If consumers think they've got problems from being dependent on imported oil, they haven't seen anything until they're depending on mostly imported food.’