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I Don't Get It, But I Understand It

The headline is almost worthy of something the legendary Yogi Berra might say, but that brilliant piece of wisdom was shared with me a couple of days ago by a young Wyoming rancher. And, boy, was he right!

We were talking about the fact that it was strange just how little the farm bill has to do with agriculture any more. We were discussing the many different outside groups weighing in on the current farm-policy discussions. This includes the labor unions, and even radical groups such as the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

I had recently read a statement from the head of HSUS commenting on his group's efforts to ally with environmental, public health and union movements to challenge corporate ag. One needs to parse the term "corporate" ag as it is used by these groups, however, because they really mean ag in general.

It's like trade. Nobody will ever admit to being against trade; they say, "We support 'fair' trade." It sounds good and it insulates them from having to defend an anti-trade agenda. But, in reality, they've never seen a trade agreement they support.

So it is with the groups opposed to corporate livestock production. They haven't found a livestock operation they like, either.

The discussion with my young rancher friend led us to try to figure out why some of these non-ag groups would care about the farm bill? Sure, HSUS, Public Citizen and the like want to eliminate animal ag, but why would unionists care about packer ownership of cattle, for example?

The simple answer is they don't, but they do care about other issues that these groups can help them with, which brings about the old quid pro quo type of arrangement. Politics can certainly create some strange bedfellows.

We might not understand why these consumer groups, animal right groups, environmental groups, labor groups, and public health groups are all uniting against us, but just knowing that they are is probably enough.

With less than 25% of the farm bill even related to ag these days, perhaps the "farm" bill should be renamed. The situation is emblematic of the retreat of ag's political clout, but it isn't just the farm bill where agriculturalists are losing their muscle.

The effect of political redistricting, and the ongoing shift toward a more urban population, has been downgrading ag's political capital and power for quite some time. But nothing speaks to our decline as a political entity more than the political caucus process currently underway in Iowa. In a large ag state, ag has largely been ignored as an issue in selecting the political parties' 2008 nominees for president.

Ag income will hit record levels in 2007, but even that was driven by a misguided energy policy based on hope rather than facts.

One farmer recently told me, "I used to laugh at the radical environmentalists and there unwillingness to accept the science. But Al Gore will likely do more to drive my profits than any politician of modern times, what with carbon credits and increased ethanol mandates."

Yes, we understand it, but we just don't get it.
-- Troy Marshall