Robinson: As a general rule, farmers are not cute

Keep fighting, or get cute. That’s what survival comes down to for American agricultural producers. They are fighting rising fuel and energy costs, labor shortages, taxes, drought, floods, hurricanes and insects.

In the trade arena, they’re competing with producers in developing countries who have nothing equivalent to our Environmental Protection Agency breathing down their necks, who use products on their crops that are outlawed here, who turn around and steal our technologies, then complain that we are driving prices into the gutter through over-production.

American producers have to compete against developed countries with much higher subsidies than our own, who talk tough about lowering their subsidies, but balk when the cutting time comes.

American producers have to defend their livelihoods against the Environmental Working Group’s Kenneth Cook, who creates envy of our domestic subsidies, but doesn’t explain how much subsidy actually ends up in a farmer’s hand.

American producers have to contend with countries that file complaints about our subsidies, yet still practice a form of slavery on some of their farms. Brazil, if you recall, won its WTO case against the United States cotton program, and this resulted in the loss of our Step 2 program.

So imagine our surprise at a small news item about a senior member of the Brazilian Congress being ordered by a court in February to pay more than $100,000 to 53 farmhands he kept in virtual slavery on his ranch.

There are estimates that at present throughout Brazil, some 20,000 to 50,000 farm workers are being kept by their employers under very poor living conditions. Pardon my insensitivity for a moment here, but hey, who needs a subsidy when you keep your labor under lock and key?

Humor is one weapon growers have in the fight. How do I know this? A young third-grader once confided in me, “Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry, and you have to blow your nose.”

With this in mind, think how much easier it would be if farmers — and I’m sorry, I have no other way to say this — were more cute. If they were, they could simply apply for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

In case you didn’t know, an endangered species is, officially, any cute, warm, fuzzy and photogenic animal whose ability to survive and reproduce has been jeopardized by human activities. My emphasis in italics.

In 1999 the U.S. government classified 935 native species in this category, including the hapless Key deer, the adorable San Joaquin kit fox, the wise and solemn northern spotted owl, the brave Chinook salmon, the endearing Karner blue butterfly, the very cosmopolitan snail darter, and the cute, but grumpy cave crayfish.

Starting to get the idea here? Think about it. Nobody raises a ruckus if something unsightly goes extinct.

U.S. agricultural producers already meet at least one qualification for an endangered species. Their numbers are shrinking each year due to human activities, i.e., WTO, its own Congress, etc.

Regrettably, as a general rule, farmers are not cute, however. Strong, honest, hard-working, yes, but cute, naw. You don’t see articles about farmers that start with, “Cute Arkansas cotton producer Joe Smith …”

But maybe it’s something we could work on.

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