col Price plus a profit should be No. 1 priority
Meanwhile, farmers are told to work on image
Image is everything.
That's the message many farmers are receiving these days from various commodity groups. Dairying, the working approach holds, needs to work on its image with the general public to garner for itself more public support in its battle to ensure that a turtle-like permitting process and government regulations don't combine to choke the industry.
No one can argue against building a positive image, the problem is the commodity organizations don't move beyond that.
Environmental rules, a slow permitting process and consumer ignorance are problems, but combined they pale compared to the problem of price. Commodity groups are reluctant to talk price. To do so would draw attention to the fact that these well-entrenched bureaucracies have a remarkable record of failure in this area.
The free-trade bravado used by commodity group leadership hasn't produced the price-lifting predictions made in the heady days when fence-row to fence-row became law in 1996.
At the least, surpluses created by all-out production have killed price gains.
Yet, the commodity groups still wave the trade carrot in front of producers. Run fast enough and be efficient enough and farmers will eat the carrot eventually.
Instead of the carrot, producers are now more dependent on government subsidies than ever. Yet those federal dollars have done precious little to restore rural communities or to ensure the future viability of family farmers.
The government continues to preach that the subsidies are only temporary, until the magical properties of free trade finally come to fruition. The subsidies provide for modest survival, not prosperity.
Prosperity from the greatest renewable industry ever must come from the land, not from Washington's gold-leaf desks. Farmers' image has certainly suffered from the general media portrayal of large operators harvesting millions in subsidies.
For its part, the dairy industry is struggling not because of a bad image or government regulation. It's struggling because price isn't producing enough profit to justify the risk and demanding workload.
The commodity leaders who have failed to deliver a price plus a profit shouldn't be given the freedom to make excuses for their considerable failures.
Nor should the politicians who proclaim themselves farmers' friends while taking the path of least-resistance to pass more of the same-old-same-old failed policies.
Agriculture policy doesn't need to be tinkered with -- it needs a massive overhaul. That won't occur under existing conditions because commodity groups and farm group leaders lack the courage to admit past mistakes. It also won't occur as long as the money keeps flowing in from Washington.
Image is important, but it's not everything. Price plus a profit should be the No. 1 priority. It is the only means of achieving economic justice. Justice would restore rural prosperity, repopulate rural America and stem the on-going corporate takeover of America's food production system.
Mychal Wilmes is Managing Editor of Agri News.