13 December 2015 - Samuelson Sez - What is a Farmer to Do?

History was my favorite subject in high school, followed closely by geography and during my adult life, both subjects have served me well. History has been extremely helpful because I am convinced we can learn from it. I talked a great deal of history the first two weeks of December when I spoke at seven farm management meetings in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

During my 62-year career as a farm broadcaster, I have covered and worked with every Secretary of Agriculture going back to Ezra Taft Benson in the Eisenhower administration and I have even had the opportunity to interview Secretaries who served before I got into this business...Charles Brannan and Henry Wallace who served during the Truman and Roosevelt administrations. In my quick history lesson I focus on agriculture, decade by decade, to point out the one constant in all of our lives is change and to share the one marketing rule that has never failed...prices don’t go the same way forever, there is always a price correction.

My discussion also brought to mind that it is very challenging to be an agricultural producer. Let me share just two examples.

In the 70's and 80's I was bombarded with letters and phone calls from my city listeners very upset with the fact that we were putting poison on our fields to kill weeds and bugs and in our livestock to restore sick animals to good health. They said I should stop reading commercials for those products because I was killing people. Agriculture listened and went to work to cut chemical use. The result was genetically modified organisms, GMO’s that dramatically cut the use of “poison”. We answered consumer complaints, but now consumers want all their food GMO-free, most of them don’t even know what a GMO is, but they know it’s bad for them. What’s a farmer to do?

The other example is happening right now...crop insurance. There are groups, members of Congress and newspapers like the Chicago Tribune who want to end this “federal boondoggle” subsidized by the Federal government. But why was crop insurance established in the last farm bill? To replace disaster payments that Congress would authorize whenever producers were hit by floods, droughts or other weather disasters that decimated their crops and income. It was all taxpayer money. So now with crop insurance, farmers do pay part of the premium, they do have “skin in the game”. Despite the critics, I think crop insurance does work. But again I ask... What is a farmer to do?

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.