Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Food Day part 3: Sustainable Farms & Subsidies...the Truth about Farming


For the past few days I have been covering Food Day and its principle. If you missed the previous post...check them out here & here. Today's principle is one that took some time and research on my part.



Continuing at tradition...
Food Day Principle #2: Support Sustainable farms & limit subsidies to big agribusiness.


Generation to Generation...farming is a major part of who we are!


Our Farm Family




This principle really breaks down into 2 separate parts pretty easy. For those of you in the livestock industry this is kinda like sorting a judging class into an easy top and bottom pair. Part of the principle deals with sustainable farms which considering our family has been farming for 10 generation, I think we are pretty sustainable, but we will talk about that in more detail a little later. The other part is farm subsidies.



Food Day organizers begin by tossing around large numbers and $$$ making farmers who accept subsidies out to be the bad guys. Farm subsidies have been around since the late 30's/early 40's. The program is designed to help farmers financially when crop prices are low or when things go bad (i.e. drought, floods, & other natural disasters). (Bruce Babcock -- http://www.bestfoodfacts.org/main/qa_result/19 ) Farming unlike many other professions depends largely on Mother Nature, which as we all know has a mind of her own. For example the last week has been perfect cotton picking weather however if you didn't/couldn't defoliate due to rain earlier then you couldn't pick...and if for some reason you did defoliate but could cover all the ground prior to last night...your cotton is now in the field soaking wet.



Farm subsidies also help create and maintain jobs. According to Agday.org 22 million people work in an agricultural related field. Many of which are given some support directly or indirectly by farm subsidies. Farm subsidies total about $16 billion per year- let's put that number into better perspective U.S farm policy cost Americans $0.069/day or $25.19/year (www.farmpolicyfacts.org )

to help 22 million people continue or become employed- that’s 6 times the number of people as the U.S. automotive industry (FPF) and if I remember correctly and according to a New York Times article just one of the big 3 received a bailout of $50 million. Again I believe cost of farm subsidies is minimal for the benefits it offers.



I took some time to dig through Environmental Working Groups farm subsidy database so that I could give you an idea of one county's farm subsidies over the past 15 years. I selected the county I live in because I know the facts here. We are the 7th largest counties in the state and the 2nd largest in the metro area (Wiki) based on population, living in an area with 331.3 people per square mile (Census Data) just south of Charlotte, NC. Now sounds like we are kinda crowded however the majority of the people in our county live on the Eastern half of our county and the western side is still rural with a good bit of farm land. The EWG states that our county farmers collected S13.8 million in subsidies in the last 15 years. The 10% top of farms collecting received an average of $8,537 per year; the bottom 80 % received an average of $157.



Let me explain the differences.

The more land you farm the larger subsidies you qualify for...now is that wrong...no! The men and women who have these large farms in our county worked hard for what they have...they are the type of people who pull themselves up by their bootstraps and with or without farm subsidies will continue to farm. Many of them have inherited the family farm and have been blessed to be able to acquire more land prior to developers purchasing it and building more houses that are sitting empty in this economy. These farmers were able to purchase land and make it productive. The gap is wide because the bottom 80% are farming less...most not full time farmers which mean they receive less payments.



In the last 15 years, 451 people in our county have received farm subsidy payments. Of the top 60 there were 3 that I could not identify...1 I know is not a family farm but owned and operated by a local church, the other 2 could be family farmers and I just don't know them. The other 57 no matter if they cover 139 acres (avg sized farm in York County) or 13,000 acres they are NOT factory farms...they are owned and operated by families just like mine, how do I know...I live here, I work and attend church with these people. Many of us cheer together at the same high school football games and our kids play sports and show livestock together. A few of them listed were even part of my wedding party. These are not big agribusiness receiving more money than necessary these are family farmers working hard to feed an ever expanding nation and world.



In the interest of full disclosure...yes my family farm is on that list...actually we are in the top 20...so we are that top 10% of farms. Are we large? Yes. In the last 15 years our farm has supported 10 people full-time plus a few part time people. But let me give you some insight into what it cost to run our family farm.



Approximately yearly cost:

Feed: $150,000

Bank Payments: $96,000

Full-time Employee Cost: $50,000

Veterinarian services: $2,500

Utility Bills: $6,000

Fuel for farm trucks & equipment: $10,000

Milk Barn Chemicals (used to keep our equipment up to food safety standards): $5,000



Total approximate cost (trust me this doesn't include everything) $320,000/ year



So in the last 15 years it has cost us $4.8 million to run the farm and even though we are in the top 10% we received less than $275,000 in farm subsidies. Now I am not complaining that we should get more money, I am saying what we receive is a drop in the bucket to what we pay out. This is the same case with the majority of farmers and ranchers in the U.S. So I don't believe that farm subsidies are as big of an issue as many people believe. Do the programs need to be changed...yes but unless you are a farmer in the field you shouldn't be the ones deciding on the changes. These programs do not affect your food supply or the cost of your food. "Research by Julian M. Alston, University of California-Davis, shows consumers do not really change food purchase patterns based on cost. Advances in farm technology and efficiencies have more to do with the relatively low cost of food than government policies and programs. (http://www.bestfoodfacts.org/main/qa_result/26  )".



Now let's talk about funny for a moment....



Yesterday the principle dealt with changing our diets to reduce diet related diseases by promoting healthy food...including sugar which FD stats make up 1/6 of the average American's calorie intake. The piece went on to say food should be limited in sugar...today's principle complains that America at time limits imports of cheap foreign sugar, which keeps domestic sugar prices high and costs consumers several billion dollars a year...so they don't want sugar in their diet but they want it to be cheap! Something isn't adding up here?



So now let's talk sustainability...we will focus on beef and dairy



Farmers & Ranchers raising beef are significantly more environmentally sustainable then they were 30 years ago. A study by Washington State University in 2007 found that today’s farmers and ranchers raise 13% more beef from 13% fewer cattle. When compared with beef production in 1977, each pound of beef produced today:



•Produces 18% less carbon emissions



•Takes 30% less land



•Requires 14% less water


Seems to me like we are moving in the right direction.



What about Air Quality...yes we have reduced the carbon emissions but what else has been done? The United States cattle industry continues to be a model for the rest of the world in terms of greenhouse gas mitigation. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, beef production accounts for only 2.8% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, compared to 26% for transportation (http://www.explorebeef.org/environment.aspx ).





Here is a video of how important environmental stewardship is to beef cattle farmers and ranchers.








The same holds true with dairies as well. "Modern dairy practices can dramatically reduce the carbon footprint of farms according to a study featured in the latest edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (http://www.ansci.cornell.edu/bauman/envir_impact/) "



Here is the link to another video worth watching!






To end I want to say that today's farmers are more sustainable than ever...modern farming practices have allowed us to feed more people on few acres using fewer natural resources than ever before. So if you have a question about your food or farming...ask me or visit CommonGround and ask a farmer in your state.



Tomorrow we discuss principle #3!



Until then--



Caci