When the Last Farmer is Gone (Opinion)

January 28, 2003

By Joyce Morrison


The Illinois Leader

Illinois Conservative Politics

155 North Halsted St.

Chicago, IL 60661



To submit a Letter to the Editor: fran@illinoisleader.com

"When the last salmon is gone, there will be no more salmon, but when the last farmer is gone, there will be no more food," was a phrase coined by Klamath, Oregon, farmers.

Farmers and ranchers had to deal with dead cattle, horses, all kinds of wildlife, and thousands of acres of burned up crops near Klamath Falls, Oregon, when irrigation water was shut off without warning by the federal government to 1,400 farms on April 6, 2001. Many will never recover from this emotional and financial loss.

The environmentalists, without proven scientific evidence, listed the coho salmon (the salmon we eat out of a can) and a nuisance fish called Sucker Fish as endangered. They said it would be harmful to the fish in Klamath Lake if the water was used to irrigate the farm land.

Farmers in the Darby Creek area of Ohio stood up and fought when U.S. Fish and Wildlife, in conjunction with Nature's Conservancy, tried to take their historic farmland to make a wildlife refuge and turn it into a wetland. Ironically, this land had been given to Revolutionary War soldiers, and they had drained the wetland to make farmland. Draining the wetland kept mosquito borne malaria from taking more of their lives. Their historical cemeteries bear the results of the wetland mosquito.

It is not a big surprise that toxic effects have been found in the dissolved organic compound or "muck" found in wetlands. "Wetlands release vast amounts of natural organic compounds, that while good for the ecosystem, are bad for cities that suck their drinking water out of the Delta," said Stuart Leavenworth in an article in the Sacramento Bee.

My friend Sharon Votaw, a farmer who lives in the San Joaquin Delta of California, says thousands of acres of prime agricultural land are being converted into swamps.

The Sawgrass Rebellion is now going on in the Florida Everglades. About 300 farms and 25,000 homeowners are being flooded due to the Everglades reclamation.

The American family farm is under attack in one way or another in every state in the nation.

When you read about environmental attacks on agriculture, remember the farmer is thinking about feeding you. When the last farmer is gone, there will be no more food. We have never suffered famine in the United States.

The history of farming goes back to Adam and Eve. Jesus used farming in many of His parables. Sowing and reaping are basic to life.

Farmers can change from raggedy jeans into a suit and be off to a meeting at the drop of a hat. They were practicing "lifelong learning" long before it became politically correct. Today's farmer has to be intelligent enough to figure out the most difficult formulas yet have the stamina to work 16 hour days in the worst of weather conditions.

Contrary to the "hayseed" image farmers and ranchers have been given, most are multitalented and informed in almost every vocation. Today's farmer has to be a heavy equipment operator, mechanic, purchaser, bookkeeper, marketer, chemist, veterinarian, engineer, electrician, and the list goes on. He is tough enough to handle the worst of situations but tender enough to cry like a baby when he loses his dog.

In areas where there is no industry to supplement property taxes, farms and homeowners take the hit. The education system by far consumes the largest hunk of the tax dollar. The next time you hear the government needs more parks and open space, you can bet your property taxes will go up when that farmland goes off the tax roles.

When property is sold to a developer, there will be taxes generated but not when the government takes the land. In property rights, selling property as a wise businessman or being coerced into letting the land go are separate issues.

There is a difference between agribusiness and farming. The farmer is the bottom layer of marketers, huge fertilizer companies, implement manufacturers, and the billions of people who work in the industry.

As Derry Brownfield of the Common Sense Coalition says, "Farmers are not pork producers, and farmers are not beef producers." They raise hogs and they raise cattle for a middle man to "produce them into a product for the consumer." The profit is not made by the farmer.

All of this is to say, the farmer is becoming truly an endangered species. He is getting the same prices for his grain and livestock today as he got 50 plus years ago. He has no choice but to take the price he is given.

The farm program barely keeps the farmer in business in a controlled market environment. Yet production costs keep soaring. Even some fertilizers are a petroleum byproduct. So when the price of oil rises, so does the farmer's costs, not only for fuel but for fertilizer.

Last week the repair bill on our old 1979 tractor was $6,000. We went through this with another old tractor a couple of years ago. These unexpected expenses hurt. We are just small farmers with an extremely small profit margin. By the time we make a farm payment, pay cash rent on rented ground, drainage taxes, property taxes, fuel, fertilizer, seed, repairs, and on and on, it is a blessing to break even. We are getting old, and our equipment is getting old. We cannot afford to help the next generation get started farming. Nor would we be doing them a favor if we did.

Worry is a constant factor. Will it be too dry or too wet, or will our health hold? Last year we suffered a drought, and our corn and soybeans were the worst crop we have had in years. We can't afford to retire nor can we afford to hire labor. Health insurance is not part of the job perks. For a farmer to afford insurance, the deductible has to be tremendously high. Social security is not paid by an employer.

Our situation is not unique. There are thousands more out there just like us. When Al Gore told the Future Farmers of America several years ago at a meeting in Colorado that they should not plan to become farmers as we would be getting our food from third world countries, he was right on track. But is that what we really want in America?

We get more and more food from foreign countries. Factory after factory has moved to third world countries to escape the emission standards and regulations. They have access to cheap labor outside our borders. The U.S. is becoming primarily a service oriented nation.

"As we enter 2003, Department of Commerce data show that cumulative foreign assets in the U.S. are soaring past $8 trillion," says ProFarmer Connection's Financial Editor, Jerry Carlson. "That's enough to buy all U.S. farmland eight times, and give a few billion in change. Foreigners are blocked from buying farmland in many Midwest states, but they are steadily acquiring nonfarm real estate and control of U.S. corporations."

Germany and France now own many of the municipal water systems in the U.S. We depend on foreign oil. Do we really want to depend on foreign nations for our food and water?

[The beautiful wheatfield to the right is located not in the heartland of America, but in Communist China.]

When someone tells me they understand farming because they visited their grandparent's farm and loved the simple life, I have to smile to myself. Living 24/7 is a bit different from an overnight visit. But treasure those memories, because unless we see changes in the farm industry soon, memories may be all we have left of the family farm.

Joyce Morrison lives in Jersey County, Illinois. She is a chapter leader for Concerned Women for America and she and her husband, Gary, represent the local Citizens for Private Property Rights. Joyce is Secretary to the Board of Directors of Rural Restoration/ADOPT Mission, a national farm ministry located in Sikeston, MO. The group's SOWER Magazine features Joyce's writing. Joyce is an activist and serves as a member of the agricultural advisory board of U.S. Congressman John Shimkus (R-IL).


Suggested Additional reading:

http://www.klamathbasincrisis.org  (Klamath Falls, Oregon)

http://www.klamathrelief.org  (Klamath Falls, Oregon)

http://www.PropertyRightsResearch.org  (Darby, national and global property rights information)

http://homesteadlwa.com/index.html  (The Homestead Land and Water Alliance - California)

http://www.pracfl.org / (The Property Rights Action Committee - Florida)