I took in our local FFA banquet last night and listened in on a conversation at our table between two farmers. In essence, they were talking about all the political battles taking place, and how agriculture seems to find itself smack dab in the middle of so many of them.
These fellows echoed a sentiment I’ve heard many times, which is to wonder how or why we manage to get ourselves into the crosshairs of so many political debates when all we really want is to just focus on doing what we do best. That is taking care of the animals and the land entrusted to us, and providing food and fiber for the world’s growing population. Of course, these two men concluded that such days are long gone. Rather, dealing with the government, as well as all of the issues and special interest groups, is now a component of our business that is no less important than working the fields or taking care of the livestock.
This morning, I was reading an article written by an activist. While it’s impossible for me to fully understand half of what these folks say because our viewpoints on the world are so different, there was a line in there that I found pretty significant. To paraphrase, it simply said that most of the coming global battles and skirmishes would be fought over food, energy, land and water.
Perhaps there’s nothing revolutionary in that statement because that’s been the genesis of a lot of world turmoil through the ages. But today’s agriculture is intimately linked with all four of those categories – we rely on them, we help maintain them, and we utilize them.
To me, it’s almost refreshing to listen to a debate over gun control, even abortion, because those are issues that don’t involve our industry directly. But there are relatively few such issues. With a growing world population competing for food, energy, land and water, the reality is that production agriculture is a relatively small industry in the scheme of things, and we’re seriously outgunned on a per-capita basis.
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The fact is that there are very few agendas out there that don’t see agriculture as a key player in either the solution or the problem. That means that our industry must address these political realities with the same dedication that we approach the production side of our business.
As an industry, we spend a lot of time trying to improve efficiency and lower costs in our operations, but we should all be adding another budget item to our balance sheets. Classify it as issue management, political influence, or legal costs, but we have to do a better job of defending our industry from the daily attacks, or it will be diminished.
The difficulty is that from a long-term industry perspective, playing a role in shaping public policy and building beef demand are the two primary drivers for our future success. However, from a short-term perspective, those are the two budget items that are easiest to neglect or ignore. We all have the tendency to think that someone else will take care of it. The result is that nobody takes care of it.
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