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U.S. farmers take personal view of Japan disaster

John Walter 03/14/2011 @ 3:02pm

As the world watches in horror the ongoing story of destruction in Japan, attention has turned to the global economic aftershock of the tragedy. On Monday morning, for example, U.S. stock market prices sunk to six-week low on worries about the financial impact of the earthquake and tsunami.  U.S. agricultural exports to Japan could be trimmed significantly by the destruction of warehouse and shipping infrastructure, news sources reported.

But, for some U.S. farmers the human dimension of the tragedy is hard to look past right now.

"Should [the markets] matter? Who really cares?" said a Pennsylvania farmer in an Agriculture.com forum. “The whole story is human suffering....”

Another farmer in the forum agreed: “The personal suffering is the most horrific part of the equation-paper is still just paper,” said a Nebraska farmer.

The personal scope of the tragedy is found in words directly from Japan. In an e-mail to Agriculture.com, Osamu Nishiguchi, a Tokyo-based director for the agricultural sector of HitachiSoft, wrote, “We thought that we were somehow ready for earthquake disaster, but this one is much more than we imagined.

" We have nothing to do now," Nishiguchi wrote. "We just watch TV and imagine the people who still suffer at cold evacuation sites or under broken houses who are waiting for rescue teams, food and water.”

A helping hand from the U.S.?

On the U.S. side, at least one farmer imagines ways to offer a helping hand.

“We extend our deepest sympathy to Japan,” Don Elsbernd, an Iowa Corn Promotion Board Director and Postville, Iowa, farmer said in a statement. “Iowa corn farmers are ready to help our largest agricultural export customer, in any way that we can.”

Last year, Elsbernd participated in a 50th anniversary celebration of what was known as the Iowa Hog Lift. That aid effort in 1959, involving a shipment of swine seedstock to Japan, was a response to the destruction caused by typhoons in Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan. “It is widely accepted that the hog lift is responsible for the development of the sister-state relationship between Iowa and Yamanashi and marked the beginning of currently strong agricultural relations between Japan and the United States," according to a story by the Iowa Corn Growers Association.

Elsbend believes another Japanese aid effort by U.S. agriculture would be appropriate now.

“I’ve been watching the news quite intently, trying to figure out what their needs are and whether we could help again,” he told Agriculture.com.

Elsbend has learned of reports of damage to Japan’s ports and feed mills, and believes there’s been a certain amount of cropland impacted.

The extent of damage to Japanese agriculture is still largely unknown, he says, but once a better picture emerges, U.S. farmers should consider pitching in to help their Japanese colleagues, he says. “That would be my hope. And anything we could do to help them would help us in the long run, too,” he said.

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