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  • Last modified 187 days ago (May 10, 2018)

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Ag invisibility

You can’t drive through the county without seeing the work of farmers and ranchers all around you, from fields of wheat refreshed by recent rains to cattle scratching their necks on barbed wire fences. Everywhere you look, agriculture is up close and personal.

That makes it all the more puzzling that when four of seven Democratic candidates for governor participated in a forum Saturday at the county lake, agriculture appeared to be an afterthought. So much so that if not for a certain news editor interjecting “What about agriculture?” as they added a final question about criminal justice right at the end, nary a question would have been asked about it.

To accommodate his impudence, agriculture was lumped in with criminal justice, which was probably appropriate, since in my view omitting agriculture as a topic was a crime.

Since the question was an add-on to an add-on, the candidates didn’t have much to say about ag. Better education and access to broadband Internet service were common themes of how to help, and one candidate said he would make his objections heard if trade tariffs were imposed that were detrimental to agriculture.

This isn’t meant to pick on the Democrats. It was nearly the same story earlier this year at Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce’s legislative forum with Congressman Roger Marshall, state representative Schroeder, and state senator Rick Wilborn. When pressed, Marshall agreed rural areas were being bypassed by economic gains in urban areas, and that he was working to influence trade deals to try to open up new markets. That last part was the most specific thing that was said that directly affects agriculture.

We don’t hear that word “agriculture” much anymore, at least from the mouths of politicians. It’s been replaced by something that’s not altogether bad: The Rural Economy.

Given our challenges here in Marion County, it’s good folks are saying anything at all about rural America, whether it’s lamenting the decay of historic, picturesque small towns or the shrinking number of family farms. Small towns and businesses and agriculture are symbiotic, they’re inextricably linked. The rural economy deserves attention, but the discussion often seems skewed toward providing those small town country bumpkins the things citified people have, probably because it’s mostly citified people doing the talking. You know them — they’re the ones that think food just magically appears from a supermarket.

But “solutions” such as better education and broadband Internet largely miss the mark because they don’t address the real needs of today in agriculture, not by a long shot. A recent review of farm income reveals a downward trend that’s stretched to 12 years, and at least half of farms now depend on a second source of income to stay out of the red. Commodity prices are low, land values are sinking, the cost of doing business keeps going up — and yet farmers and ranchers persevere in spite of it all. Well, until they can’t, anyway.

I’m beginning to think it’s time to resurrect the American Agriculture Movement of the late 1970s, when more than 6,000 farmers and hundreds of tractors showed up in the nation’s capital to protest the state of agriculture at the time. Nearly 40 years later, signs such as “We’ve raised too much corn and not enough hell,” and “Save U.S. Farms – Eat an Economist!” are ones Washington elites probably ought to see rolling through Dupont Circle and circling the National Mall again.

It’s no secret that politics has become driven by politicians from more densely-populated urban areas, in Kansas and the country. The collective voice of farmers and ranchers has a harder time rising above the din, as folks who take them for granted busy themselves with other concerns.

Sometimes I just feel like farmers and ranchers are becoming invisible to the rest of America. It is at the country’s peril that the challenges of agriculture don’t occupy more of the discussion at a time when it’s most needed. Farm and ranch organizations are doing their part, but they could use any assistance they can get. If agriculture becomes completely invisible, the only folks who will fare well are the farmers that grow cucumbers, because we’ll certainly be in a pickle too big for any of us to eat.

— david colburn

Last modified May 10, 2018

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