|The United States of America was founded on the premise that control of one's own destiny is essential to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," but as a sixth-generation farmer I am concerned this is no longer the case for today's food producers, who face increased government interference and severe economic pressure. Without question, the economic health of American agriculture must be of paramount concern to all of us; and it is essential we start considering from where our foods will come if America's farmers and ranchers are forced to exit the business because it is no longer profitable.
I am not going to tell anyone that the day is coming when we will walk into the grocery store to find empty shelves, but if something doesn't change, the stores completely will be stocked with imported food. I also remind you that food security is not a new concern. In fact, it was Henry Kissinger, who in 1970 said, "Control oil you control nations; control food and you control people."
Today's elected officials have simply lost touch with reality, and I fear are unaware of the risks associated with not being able to provide nutrition for one's own citizens. By mandating regulations that increase costs, not only in animal agriculture but the general cost of doing business, they put even greater pressure on profits at the farm level.
I recently visited a feedlot in Scottsbluff, NE, where the owner showed me the latest government-mandated environmental quality protection that is costing him $50 per head to implement. All the while he was on the phone selling a pen of cattle that he was happy to only lose $100 per head feeding.
In early June, pork producers were losing $30/head for every pig raised. Likewise, I've been on three dairies in the past month where the owners have told me they were losing between $50-60 per cow per day. Let me do a little cowboy arithmetic for you. A father/son 200-cow dairy will lose $300,000 in 2009, and the really sad fact is that if corn prices are $5/bushel come fall, I am not sure the corn farmer is going to be profitable either. Then there is the new 'cow tax,' which some are estimating will add another $10 million annually in costs to the U.S. livestock industry.
The Heritage Foundation has estimated that the current global warming legislation moving through Congress would cause a significant decline in farmers' net income. Farm income is expected to drop $8 billion in 2012, $25 billion in 2024 and over $50 billion in 2035.
Also being overlooked are the significant efficiency gains made by U.S. agriculture over the years. For instance, in the 1930s it took 100 man-hours to produce 100 bushels of wheat and it now only takes one hour. The production of a gallon of milk required 65% more water, 90% more landmass and resulted in 63% more carbon output in 1944 than at present. The caloric requirement for a pound of gain in a chicken has gone from 3,018 calories of feed to only 2,672 calories. Similarly, pork producers have moved from 4 pounds of feed per pound of gain to only 2.8 pounds of feed; a 30% improvement in efficiency.
American agriculture is sustainable and green, unlike any other segment of our society. Our farmers and ranchers know what it takes to provide for our food security while protecting our environment, but to continue with that responsibility they must have, and deserve, the support and trust of our elected officials and American citizens.
Commentary by Trent Loos,
Loup City, NE