The Farm Belt is hurtling toward a milestone: Soon there will be fewer than two million farms in America for the first time since pioneers moved westward after the Louisiana Purchase. Across the heartland, a multiyear slump in prices for corn, wheat and other farm commodities brought on by a glut of grain world-wide is pushing many farmers further into debt. Some are shutting down, raising concerns that the next few years could bring the biggest wave of farm closures since the 1980s. The U.S. share of the global grain market is less than half what it was in the 1970s. American farmers’ incomes will drop 9% in 2017, the Agriculture Department estimates, extending the steepest slide since the Great Depression into a fourth year. “You keep pinching and pinching and pretty soon there’s nothing left to pinch,” said Craig Scott, a fifth-generation farmer in this Western Kansas town. Farming has always been a boom-and-bust enterprise. Today, the swings are sharper and less predictable now that the farm economy has become more international, with more countries growing food for export as well as for their own populations. American farmers’ share of the global grain trade has fallen from 65% in the mid-1970s to 30% today, giving them less sway over prices. More producers and more buyers around the world also mean more potential disruptions from bad weather, famine or political crisis.
When the New York Farm Bureau released its 2017 priorities last week, the state's largest agricultural lobbying/trade organization painted a dire picture. New numbers just released by National Agricultural Statistics Service show the value of farm production in New York dropped by $1 billion in 2015 to $5.33 billion, NYFB stated in announcing its annual lobbying agenda. "That is a significant loss in farm income, and anecdotally Farm Bureau members are saying that farm income will likely drop even further when 2016 numbers are released," NYFB stated.
Animal rights groups want to destroy animal agriculture, and the industry needs to be proactive to protect its future. Animal rights activists have changed their tune and their tactics to seem more mainstream and moderate in recent years, but their objective remains the same. Thompson-Weeman said the goal is dismantling animal agriculture by discouraging consumers to buy meat and farmers to raise animals. Those who doubt the credibility and prowess of the activists groups should look no further than the cage-free movement spurring chaos in the US egg industry. Activist groups are also involved in the push for antibiotic-free production and the emerging slower growing broiler movement. Poultry is a favorite target for activist groups, Thompson-Weeman said, because of its prominent position in the global diet. Activist groups use four main tactics to advance their agenda: direct pressure on retailers and restaurants; trespassing and breaking into facilities to shoot images and videos; targeting youth and college students through animal-rights focused education programs and using religious organizations to legitimize animal rights doctrine.
A HumaneWatch.org ad airing moments before Super Bowl kickoff ripped the Humane Society of the United States, mocking the group's emotional ads often featuring sickly animals in shelters. "Every day thousands of lawyers and lobbyists around the country find themselves out of work and unemployed," a woman says to scenes of lawyers in cages. These lawyers don't have a vacation home," the ad continues. "For just $19 a month you can join the Humane Society of the United States in our fight to hire more lawyers. People often think we run pet shelters but that simply isn't true. We don't run a single one."
A bill approved by the Senate would allow state inspectors to carry out warrantless inspections of hundreds of Virginia produce farms to ensure compliance with federal regulations. “It’s one of those bills you don’t like, but someone’s got to carry it,” said the legislation’s sponsor, Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Westmoreland County. He said that if the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services doesn’t conduct the inspections, “then the federal government will come in and do it for us.” But some farming representatives argued that the inspections would violate their constitutional rights. “If the government has free access to your property, that’s in violation of the Fourth Amendment,” Richard Altice of the Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association told legislators. “You are mandated to kill this bill.”
According to a recent study of lenders, financial stress on farmers is expected to continue for some time. “Our research indicates a continued deterioration in agricultural credit conditions,” said Allen Featherstone, head of the Kansas State University Department of Agricultural Economics. The 2016 Fall Agricultural Lender Survey by the Kansas State University Department of Agricultural Economics and the University of Georgia studies the expectations of lenders in regard to interest rates, spread over cost of funds, farm-loan volume, nonperforming loans and land values as indicators of the overall health of the farm finance sector. According to the twice-a-year study, more than 50 percent of land values are decreasing within the areas covered by participating lenders. These values are set to continue to decrease over the short- and long term and are affecting credit limits for landowners and producers. Non-performing loans are also on the rise for all loan types, and expectations show the number of these loans will continue to increase in this stressed financial market.
Use analogies. Most people don’t raise pigs, especially not at a commercial scale, so they have little familiarity with farming activities or concepts. Using analogies can help people understand what goes on at a modern pig farm or pork processing plant. Let people see and touch. As with analogies, explaining complex topics can be easier using models that people can touch and interact with.
Executive Director Perry Assness, of AgriGrowth, an organization that brings farmers together with agri-businesses and others, said the state sometimes is technologically behind. While many agri-businesses use advanced technology, state regulations may not have caught up, he said. Lunemann said it is not just state regulations that keep farmers down. South Dakota, he said, does more to recruit farm-related businesses. The governor will visit backers of prospective dairy operations. “The common theme is don’t tax us or regulate us out of business,” Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said he hears from constituents.As far as taxes go, there appears to be an agreement among most legislative leaders and the governor to pass the tax break that died last year when an overall tax bill failed to become law. The provision would reduce the amount of property taxes assessed on farmland for new school construction. Rural schools complained that they struggled to pass new school plans because the funding burden fell so heavily on farmers. So while districts dominated by cities could pass school votes, that was more difficult in rural areas.
Kauai’s pesticide legislation, Ordinance 960, was repealed through the approval of Bill 2643 upon second reading during a Kauai County Council meeting. “I’m glad it’s over,” said Councilman Mel Rapozo, who introduced Bill 2643. “We needed to move forward and start the healing process and this is the first step.” Kauai Councilman Arthur Brun recused himself from voting because he works for Syngenta. Ordinance 960, formerly Bill 2491, was passed in November 2013 and set out requirements for large-scale agricultural operations to disclose the use of pesticides and genetically-modified crops. It also required buffer zones around sensitive areas like schools and hospitals.
Humans have been tinkering with plant genetics far longer than they have understood the mechanisms that allow their actions. But genetic engineering as understood today involves the delicate in vitro process of inserting, removing, or altering genes to create a favorable trait. It can be used to guard food crops from premature spoilage, confer drought resistance, and, perhaps most controversially, allow for the survival of applications of weed killer. But today, genetically modified produce and glyphosate face uncertainty from every angle. Despite White House recognition of the “broad consensus that foods from genetically engineered crops are safe,” pandering to unscientific misgivings suggests that foods containing GMs are something to be avoided. In truth, glyphosate has been subjected to extensive toxicological review in the decades since its creation. Data from over 300 independent studies consistently fail to implicate glyphosate as a danger to human development, reproduction, hormone regulation, or immunological or neurological functioning.