December 15, 2007 - Let’s Work Together; Not Argue

The period between the end of harvest and the beginning of the Christmas Season is a very busy time for agriculture and agribusiness. It is the ‘meeting’ time of the year, whether it be farm policy groups, farm commodity groups or agribusiness organizations. This is the time of year they come together to debate, discuss and set policy.

I have attended several of these meetings during the past few weeks and I enjoy the discussions and the debates. But, I do not enjoy what is becoming angry division in the agricultural community in a couple of areas. The focus of my concern this week is the “food vs fuel” argument. That argument is growing and it is becoming nasty.

On the one side, you have the producers of corn and soybeans, the crops that go into energy, enjoying record high prices because of the energy demand. On the other side you have livestock producers, cattle, hog, poultry and dairy farmers very unhappy because of the increased cost of their inputs, especially feed. Then there are consumer groups here and in other countries very upset by what they see as a continuing upward trend in food prices; again they say, because of the demand for corn and soybeans in the production of biofuels.

Opponents of ethanol are especially upset by government subsidies to support the industry until it is well established, and they would like to see the subsidies removed from any energy legislation. John Queen, President of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association told me at their meeting in Nashville last February, “Ethanol is a bad word”. He said it again in an interview last month and went on to say “....if ethanol and bio-diesel are so important and do so much for our energy demand and the economy, then they should be able to stand on their own without any government subsidy. That would help level the playing field for us.

On the other side of the argument, I received an e-mail from a corn farmer who said “Wait a minute. Why don’t livestock folks talk about the many years that we subsidized them with corn prices at a $1.50 to $1.85 a bushel, well below our cost of production. Now it is our turn.” He then asked this question, “Why don’t they also criticize the huge subsidies paid the oil industry for the past century and how much they add to everyone’s cost of production?”

Well, argument is good, angry division is not. To my friends in the agricultural community, let’s soften the rhetoric and find ways to work together to increase everyone’s bottom line.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.