Most of the problems that confront Utah agriculture will be discussed during the next four weeks as farmers and ranchers meet for talks at the Salt Lake Marriott Hotel.
But there are so many problems, farmers say, that they will not have a chance to discuss them in detail in the few days they are together.Farmers and ranchers from throughout Utah will meet at the Marriott Nov. 14-16, for the annual Utah Farm Bureau Convention.
Three weeks later, from Dec. 4 to 7, cattle producers and sheep and wool growers will get together for joint sessions at the annual Utah Cattlemen's Association and Utah Woolgrowers Association conventions at the Marriott.
With all the difficulties confronting Americans in agriculture today, people might wonder why anyone would want to be a farmer or a rancher.
Just some of the problems that the agricultural community faces include:
- Threatened increases in public lands grazing fees (by nearly 500 percent) and removal of cattle and sheep from public lands altogether.
- Elimination or curtailment of the use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, hormones; laws against animal and plant genetic manipulation and animal experimentation; and a host of one-issue activists and environmentalists who are against everything from tree harvesting and land clearing to raising animals for fur, wool or food.
- Increasing competition from food and fiber producers in every part of the world, much from countries that highly subsidize their farmers and ranchers so they can undercut American farm prices in the world market.
- Thickening urbanization and climbing urban land values that are forcing dairymen, vegetable, hay and cattle growers and thousands of others to either sell out and quit business or move on to a new area or even out of their state.
- Competition for water from cities and factories that threatens the future of Western agriculture.
- The skyrocketing cost of energy that is eroding already shrunken farm profits.
- Misinformation about agriculture, food, health and science being distributed by anti-farming groups.
- Ignorance on the part of lawmakers, especially in Congress that produces laws and policies hurting America's food future.
Farmers and ranchers have an obligation and a need to present the truth to the public so misinformation and ignorance can be overturned. American agriculture has a responsibility to tell its story, loudly and eloquently, to people everywhere so the rhetoric of activists and environmental extremists can be countered.
But the 98 percent of Americans who are not farmers and ranchers, who are not in the front lines of food and fiber production, also have an obligation and a responsibility to themselves and to future generations of Americans to find out the truth about agriculture and to discover the facts about pesticides, chemical fertilizers, water purity, food health, animal science, animal rights and other farm issues.
Only 2 percent of Americans are still on the farm and with all the problems they face, that percentage is bound to keep diminishing, as it has for 100 years.
Today, Americans have the best, healthiest, cheapest food in the world. We spend a smaller percentage of our earnings for food than anyone on earth. We should ask ourselves: Why is our food so good and its price so low? Why do we live longer today than ever before? The reasons cannot be that farmers are doing a bad job.
The question is: Will they keep doing a good job in the face of so many problems? Are the 98 percent of Americans who are not farmers and ranchers helping those who are front-line food producers to continue the grand tradition that has made our nation the breadbasket and food storehouse of the world?
Will we continue to have an abundance of wholesome food and at such a low cost if more and more farmers are forced to quit business?
I don't think Americans will like living under the thumb of corporation farms or big business food production. The key to America's food success story has been competition - from small family farms and dairies.
What's going to happen to this country if a handful of giant corporations control America's farms and, possibly, the whole food chain from earth to grocery store?