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More Unites Than Divides Agriculture
With farmers making up less than 2% of the U.S. population, you would think we would be united. Yet, too often we seem to be divided.
Last week, I sat in a room with more than 400 farmers from across the state at the North Carolina Farm Bureau Policy Review Day. As I looked around the room, I realized that for all the marketing buzzwords, social media exchanges, and consumer disconnect that can pull us apart, there is more uniting agriculture than dividing us.
No matter how we farm – and every farmer does it differently depending on their situation – we all have things in common.
We are all at the mercy of Mother Nature. In North Carolina, we have had crops destroyed by hurricanes, tornadoes, hail, and heat. Weather doesn’t discriminate.
Finding land to farm with affordable land rents is becoming more of a challenge. Urban sprawl, solar farms, and other developments are taking good farmland out of production.
Water availability can be a struggle. Summer temperatures can reach 100˚F., and thirsty crops need water. With increased food safety regulations, the source of that water will also be important.
Speaking of food safety, that will continue to change and increase the costs of farming. I don’t mean just the financial costs. During the meeting, I listened to a farmer’s story about paperwork associated with food safety requirements his buyer placed on the farm. The stress of meeting those requirements led to a heart attack. With more than 45 years of farming under his belt, he has walked away from that buyer for his own health.
Finding health care in rural areas is a challenge. Hospitals are consolidating and closing, doctors aren’t opening offices in rural areas, and those who do are booked weeks out. This is not to mention the difficulty of finding time to visit a doctor when working 16-hour days.
Finding good, reliable labor to work in the fields continues to be a challenge. If it weren’t for the federal worker programs farmers use to bring in seasonal labor, the U.S. wouldn’t have much of a local food supply. Our dairy farmers, fish houses, apple orchards, and other farms are struggling to find local labor that will show up and work day-in, day-out.
Traveling down roads in farm equipment is becoming a huge safety risk. It seems like every week there is an article about an accident involving a tractor or some other equipment that was hit by a car.
Drivers have no tolerance for the slower speeds our equipment must travel and are not shy about voicing or signaling their displeasure.
All famers abide by rules. We have federal, state, local, and, if the farm sells to other countries, international rules that affect what we do and how we do it on the farm. Not every farmer can make a living selling at the local farmers market and not every consumer buys all food at one. We need all markets for farmers to survive.
We won’t survive as farmers if we can’t make a profit. I have seen farmers sell crops for less than it cost to grow them. That is not sustainable. These last two years have been tough, and many farms have gone out of business. Farming is a business – a family business – and it needs to make enough to support the families working the land to grow food and fiber.
Our farms may look different, but there are things we all have in common. Those should unite us, bringing us together to work for solutions that benefit agriculture.