Speaking out . . . Food is our first line of defense

Speaking out . . . Food is our first line of defense

by Louis P. Longo
The author is a retired Connecticut dairy farmer and co-op leader who wrote a regular column, The Business Side of Dairying, in this magazine for 12 years. He has been active in SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives).

The United States of America is most noted for its abundance of agricultural food production. No other nation can compare to the American farmer’s ability to produce products in such abundance.

For the most part, this production capability is a market hindrance in reflecting a reasonable price to the producer. Therefore, farmers add production to make ends meet which is self-defeating.

The consumer loves this situation. It results in the lowest percentage of food cost per dollar earned. Because of this great abundance, the American consumer fails to recognize that our farmers are by far the most stabilizing factor in our economy and to our national defense. If any national catastrophe or disaster of major proportion were to harm or destroy our farms, this “one nation under God” could perish from the earth.

Farmers won the war
These opening remarks may sound very alarming. But there is reason to be alarmed because of the “take it for granted” attitude which exists among our people in government and the general public, relative to the importance of a viable farming community.

I am now at the age where I can still remember the devastating effects of World War II. Over the years, proper recognition has been given to our armed forces, their leaders, and the designers and producers of the superior equipment that did the job. These people have always had my fullest admiration.

But the lack of recognition for the part American farmers played in the winning of that war went somewhat unrecognized. President Eisenhower was the only person I know of to give recognition to the importance of the American food supplier by saying, “Our adequate food supply played as important a role in winning the war as did our supply of ammunition. Thanks to the American farmer.”

One can also say the same for the defense factory workers, but where would they be without an adequate supply of food? Navy Admiral Rickover put it well when asked the length of time an atomic fuel submarine could stay under water. His answer was, “Only as long as its supply of food lasts.”

In my opinion, statements like President Eisenhower’s should rate farmers as being important veterans of wars. I, like many farmers my age, was deferred from armed service because of my farm production. I, like many, tried to enlist in the army and was refused because of my occupation.

I was actually ordered back to the fields to fight the battle of growing crops with poor labor, ceiling prices, fuel shortage and a 15-hour-a-day work shift with no days off. It was a real fight. Yet, I am not considered a war veteran, I cannot join the local VFW, I do not qualify for any medical benefits and I have never been asked to be a marshal in our Memorial Day parade.

If I were to tell nonfarmers that farmers are veterans of that great war, I would be regarded as a bit senile. But, in effect, we were veterans who served well.

Preserve the land
Our nation’s food supplies should also be protected by controlling all future domestic or commercial development on arable land. Farmers’ net worth should be assured through a workable land preservation program.

Agricultural land preservation programs have worked well in many states. Connecticut initiated a buyout program over 40 years ago and has kept thousands of acres in farm production. My dairy farm was sold for open space 10 years ago and is still in food production and will be for many years to come.

Preserving the soil from erosion and wind can be a very touchy subject among farmers. Remember when the government soil conservation programs paid us for liming the soil? Payments were also made for building ponds for irrigation.

I now live on one of those ponds that government engineers built for me 60 years ago at no charge. Neighboring farmers still use it to irrigate their row crops.

Recognition is deserved
This may sound like “sour grapes” to some readers, but it is not. All I am trying to say is that agriculture is not being recognized by the general public as the most important economic factor in our society. It is by far the best defense against uncontrolled inflation because of the available abundant food supply at a lower cost.

Therefore, the pending farm bill in Congress is as important to the general public as it is to farmers. The government price support programs and the subsidies enclosed are not giveaway programs; they are an insurance to the general public of future adequate food supplies. It is a small price to pay for the resulting economic stability it brings. It is tax money well spent. Here is an example.

This past year’s unseasonable high heat and the ensuing drought throughout the Midwest created a noticeable rise in food prices. Corn and soybeans hit an all-time high price which, in turn, had an effect on the cost of dairy products, beef, poultry, eggs and breakfast cereals.

I know that many growers are covered by crop insurance, but you can’t bring an insurance policy to the dinner table. During catastrophes such as this, it is government’s responsibility to keep every farmer possible on the farm in the interest of the general public. Therefore, premium costs on crop insurance should be held at an affordable rate through government subsidies.

It is obvious to those of us in food production that, in order to have enough, there has to be a surplus. Who should bear the cost of this assured abundance, the consumer or the producer?

Mr. taxpayer, take a serious look at this question.

It’s a mind boggling one. Surplus production brings low market prices which could drive some farmers out of business, and many do not come back because modern-day farming has become a highly suffocated profession. Government buying programs (subsidies) are frowned upon by the taxpaying public because of a lack of understanding of their real objective.

The consumer is the real beneficiary of government subsidies because they prevent high runaway food prices caused by shortages. There is no longer an effective Farm Bloc in Congress to protect the interests of agriculture and, as voters, farmers are definitely in the minority.

In recent years, politicians in public office have shown concern about the national debt and the need to lower it, and some do look upon doing away with some farm programs as a way to lower it. This, in my opinion, is outright stupid thinking. The total amount spent on all agricultural programs is peanuts compared to the total military budget. Keeping farmers on farms and protecting our food supply is by far our first line of defense.

Oliver Goldsmith put it well in his poem, “The Deserted Village,” when he wrote this passage:

“Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.
Princes and Lords may flourish, or may fade;
A breath can make them, as a breath has made.
But a bold peasantry (farmers), their country’s pride,
When once destroyed, can never be supplied.”

Goldsmith, at that time (1770), could see where the beginning of the industrial revolution was starting to destroy the farming communities in England. Yes, I agree that our farming community is “our country’s pride and once destroyed it can never be supplied.” Let’s give the American farmer the real recognition he deserves.

This article appears on page 423 of the June 2013 issue of Hoard's Dairyman.