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A bone to pick with USDA

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USDA’s “Know Your Farmer” program has gone too far. While buying food locally is a great concept practiced for decades, the fact is most farmers need to grow for the world market to remain economically viable.

I have a bone to pick about USDA’s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative.

Farm groups and farmers across the nation are growing tired of this program, which is draining funds from limited USDA coffers to help consumers know a local farmer, learn that food comes from the farm instead of the grocery store, and buy more locally-grown food.

I am far from the first person to speak their mind that the USDA has its agricultural priorities on this and many other issues out of whack.

At the annual Commodity Classic event in Anaheim, Calif., this past spring, I heard many farmers say the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative has gone too far. The USDA must have heard from peeved farmers because Secretary Tom Vilsack strongly defended the “Know Your Farmer" program in a speech there.

Let me be totally clear, Ag in the Classroom and other types of programs designed to help teach children and their parents about the real source of food are a valuable necessity and an admirable effort. I support them.

I served in agricultural public relations for 28 years and know firsthand the value of informing consumers about agriculture. During a television interview I conducted with a fourth grade teacher 10 years ago, I asked her what percent of her students really believed food comes from the grocery story. The teacher’s response, a whopping 90 percent, dumbfounded me.

The "Know Your Farmer" program, which encourages residents to get to know local farmers and buy their food from them, is a good cause. These local farmers usually are small acreage producers which is fine. But if every farmer, small and large, only sold locally, starvation could dramatically increase due to overall decreased food production worldwide. 

While selling agriculture’s story is an excellent cause, USDA’s “Know Your Farmer” program has gone too far. While buying locally is a great concept practiced for decades, the fact is most farmers need to grow for the world market.

As U.S. agriculture, we must look at the larger picture. The world population is currently 6.8 billion people. China and India have 40 percent of the world’s population. These countries have a rapidly growing middle class, which demands a higher protein diet.

Estimates suggest the world’s population will surpass 8 billion people by 2040 (just 30 years from now) and will topple the 10.5 billion mark by 2050. The bottom line is the world needs farmers to grow more food; fence row to fence row and to double, triple, or even quadruple yields. Farmers need to step up to the plate to feed the world. “Know Your Farmer” programs in the long term could reduce overall food production.

Increasing yields will help feed the growing world. Seed companies have invested billions of dollars in biotechnology and other scientific endeavors to get more bushels per acre. And while the agricultural chemical industry is often considered bad boys for producing pesticides, they are performing yeoman’s work in developing safe and environmental friendly products to protect crops from quality and yield-robbing pests and diseases.

This is agriculture’s challenge today and tomorrow — to feed and clothe the world with a safe, nutritious, and sustainable agriculture. To me, this is more pro consumer and pro agriculture than spending millions of dollars to encourage consumers to buy mostly from local farmers.

USDA is steering this issue in the wrong direction. The ship should be righted back on course. 

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

on Sep 28, 2010
I have some problems with this article. It starts off as a persuasive piece that attempts to make a case as its thesis statement., "Farm groups and farmers across the nation are growing tired of this program, which is draining funds from limited USDA coffers." But the supposed supporting facts dotted throughout the article, which are mixed in with stronger facts in support of the program really raise some big red flags. The facts in support of this writer's argument aren't facts so much as conjecture. I was also at the Commodity Classic where I also heard Secretary Vilsacks speech. I had a long conversation with CDFA Secretary A.G. Kawamura and other major farm producers and grower organisations that day. I didn't hear the supposed opposition to this program that was portrayed by this article at all. Secretary Vilsack's strong position in support of the program can equally be argued to be just that. Strong belief and support in what many farmers and growers throughout the country see as a very positive program and a success in helping American Farmers. The next statement is actually two separate points: A: " These local farmers usually are small acreage producers which is fine. B: But if every farmer, small and large, only sold locally, starvation could dramatically increase due to overall decreased food production worldwide." I work in agriculture 6 and 7 days a week and the "local" farms I encounter range in size from 25 acres to 75K acres and above. I also work with growers, agronomists, ag product distributors, PCA's and PH.D's that all collaborate and monitor crops and product sales in a global distribution network and I have not heard one critical comment in the last year about the "Know your Farmer, Know your Food program as being seen as a threat to anyone. These "local" farms grow both organic and conventional, in specialty crops, fruits and nuts, commodity crops and livestock. These "local" farms market locally in some cases as well as nationally and abroad depending on their distribution and marketing strategy and a multitude of economic, climatic, and resource availability factors. Where is there any factual evidence the "Know your farmer program" only helps "small acreage producers and what is the qualification for "small"? The second point in opposition to the program is an outrageous claim! Somehow the "Know your farmer" program will lead to world starvation by making the leap that it somehow "inhibits farmers from growing food to feed the world"? This in writing is what we call a Red Herring. Where does this claim come from if not from the author alone? There is no evidence in this article that supports the idea the "Know your Farmer" program directs consumers to "only" buy local and farmers to "only" be able to sell local. Then the next statement jumps back in support of how the program is a good cause, but says it's gone too far by somehow preventing farmers to grow food to feed the growing global population. I get lost in the following opposition points about the world's growing population and the need for more "protein" because they look to be cut and pasted from other reports. There is no direct correlation or cause and effect between teaching an American child or food buyer to value and be supportive of their local and regional farmers, and preventing the growing middle class of India to achieve enough food to eat and specifically "protein". For example, "China and India have 40 percent of the world’s population. These countries have a rapidly growing middle class, which demands a higher protein diet". Huh? Secretary Vilsack is teaching Americans to respect and support our farmers but secretly depriving the Chinese and Indian middle class of protein? Wow! So while these statements provide no support of the main argument at all, they do provide a loose and homemade footbridge to the real hero's of the world's hunger and starvation threat which according to this author are the "Seed Companies and the Agricultural Chemical Industry". “Know Your Farmer” programs in the long term could reduce overall food production. Where is the supporting evidence of this? "Increasing yields will help feed the growing world." This is a given provided storage, transport and distribution could accompany increasing yields which again has nothing to do with the claim the "Know your farmer" program is preventing farmers from growing and selling food abroad". "Seed companies have invested billions of dollars in biotechnology and other scientific endeavors to get more bushels per acre. And while the agricultural chemical industry is often considered bad boys for producing pesticides, they are performing yeoman’s work in developing safe and environmental friendly products to protect crops from quality and yield-robbing pests and diseases". O.K. But how and where is the real connection with the agricultural giants and the "Know your farmer, know your Food" program? The fascinating real point that is buried in this confusing article is that somehow we are asked to believe that seed companies, the bio technology industry and the agricultural chemical industry has spent "Billions" in developing and establishing the dominant paradigm of world agriculture. But a small seedling government program called "Know your farmer, know your Food, that is only spending a few million and run by a relatively tiny group of individuals in comparison is draining the entire USDA coffers and threatening to starve global populations and undo 100 years of progress in globalized food production. Now that's a powerful program!!! To parse out the conflicting statements and properly organize the arguments in this article actually shows this author provides much more valid and supporting evidence for the program than against it. In fact, the argument statements against the program ramble off and fail to make sense in some instances and become a whole other topic with no facts really linking it to the true mission and scope of the "Know your Farmer, Know your Food Program. “Argument A; For the program ~ To help consumers know a local farmer, learn that food comes from the farm instead of the grocery store, and buy more locally-grown food. Let me be totally clear, Ag in the Classroom and other types of programs designed to help teach children and their parents about the real source of food are a valuable necessity and an admirable effort. I support them. I served in agricultural public relations for 28 years and know firsthand the value of informing consumers about agriculture. During a television interview I conducted with a fourth grade teacher 10 years ago, I asked her what percent of her students really believed food comes from the grocery story. The teacher’s response, a whopping 90 percent, dumbfounded me. The "Know Your Farmer" program, which encourages residents to get to know local farmers and buy their food from them, is a good cause. These local farmers usually are small acreage producers which is fine. While selling agriculture’s story is an excellent cause. While buying locally is a great concept practiced for decades, spending millions of dollars to encourage consumers to buy mostly from local farmers. Argument B~ Against I have a bone to pick about USDA’s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative. Farm groups and farmers across the nation are growing tired of this program, which is draining funds from limited USDA coffers to help consumers know a local farmer, learn that food comes from the farm instead of the grocery store, and buy more locally-grown food. I am far from the first person to speak their mind that the USDA has its agricultural priorities on this and many other issues out of whack. At the annual Commodity Classic event in Anaheim, Calif., this past spring, I heard many farmers say the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative has gone too far. The USDA must have heard from peeved farmers because Secretary Tom Vilsack strongly defended the “Know Your Farmer" program in a speech there. USDA’s “Know Your Farmer” program has gone too far. The fact is most farmers need to grow for the world market. As U.S. agriculture, we must look at the larger picture. The world population is currently 6.8 billion people. China and India have 40 percent of the world’s population. These countries have a rapidly growing middle class, which demands a higher protein diet. Estimates suggest the world’s population will surpass 8 billion people by 2040 (just 30 years from now) and will topple the 10.5 billion mark by 2050. The bottom line is the world needs farmers to grow more food; fence row to fence row and to double, triple, or even quadruple yields. Farmers need to step up to the plate to feed the world. “Know Your Farmer” programs in the long term could reduce overall food production. Increasing yields will help feed the growing world. Seed companies have invested billions of dollars in biotechnology and other scientific endeavors to get more bushels per acre. And while the agricultural chemical industry is often considered bad boys for producing pesticides, they are performing yeoman’s work in developing safe and environmental friendly products to protect crops from quality and yield-robbing pests and diseases. This is agriculture’s challenge today and tomorrow — to feed and clothe the world with a safe, nutritious, and sustainable agriculture. To me, this is more pro consumer and pro agriculture.USDA is steering this issue in the wrong direction. The ship should be righted back on course. In first year college English this paper would have received a C- with an offer to rewrite it properly for a better grade.
on Sep 28, 2010
The spirit of Earl Butz lives on in this article as well...... Earl M. Butz: "What we want out of agriculture is plenty of food. ... You've got to plant more land, plant fencerow to fencerow boys, ... The policies set in motion 40 years ago need to adapt to the present reality in all it's complexity and challenges for American farmers. In my view, a program that teaches American children and families to once again become interested in their local and regional farms and not only purchase from them, but perhaps learn to truly respect and appreciate the people that produce our food. Maybe they'll demonstrate this new knowledge by finding new and constructive ways to help them survive and thrive in today's challenging times. Maybe it will help encourage more young people to seek agriculture and farming as a career when college enrollment in true general agriculture has been declining for years and the average farmer age is reaching 50 and up. If farmers rely on the USDA coffers as the main security for survival in the years ahead we are all in deep trouble. This program to "Know your farmer, know your FOOD" is the least the USDA could do.
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