Will we be dependent on foreign food, too?

In the last Presidential campaign, our “dependence on foreign oil” formed the basis of many talking-point memos and debates. While I believe such energy dependence is dangerous and unnecessary, according to the most recent USDA Census, America is losing its ability to raise its own food and thereby feed itself. If we believe it bad to be dependent on foreign oil, we needn’t try being dependent on foreign food.

Like the rest of the United States, Alabama is not replenishing its farming base.

The average age of the principal farm operator has increased roughly one year in each census cycle, from 50.3 in 1978 to 57.1 in 2007. The majority of farm operators are between 45 and 64, but the fastest growing group of farm operators is those 65 years and older.

More than one out of every four farmers is over 65 years old, and less than 6% of all American farmers are younger than 35 years old. Farming is not learned in a classroom and typically requires several generations of learning and know-how. Accordingly, we must begin correcting this trend now. If another generation passes without replenishing the farming class, we will be dependent on global markets and foreign governments for our daily bread.

What is Alabama doing to encourage and inspire young aspiring farmers and ranchers?

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3 responses to “Will we be dependent on foreign food, too?

  1. Pingback: A strong local food policy creates real “green” jobs. | Greg Varner for Alabama State Senate

  2. Currently, farming is one of the hardest careers to enter for anyone who is not “born” into it. With the very high capital input and the unpredictability of income–it’s just not a financially sound proposition. In order to make a living by farming, your land needs to be a free input. With land values for good farmland in the $3,000+ per acre range, its anything but, even for those that inherit the property. Those people are giving up huge opportunities just to continue farming on their “free” land.

    The current trends away from subsidies will make us much more dependent on foreign food markets. Subsidies in the current system may not be the best answer, but it is what has kept the USA in the food production business.

    • Robert,

      Since the 1970’s, the agricultural policies of the United States provided competitive advantages to big corporate agribusinesses over and against small family farms. In fact, Nixon’s Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz declared “get big or get out.” Every administration abided by this mantra ever since.

      I agree; the subsidies programs need substantial modification. Currently, they favor gargantuan agribusinesses. The data shows that just a narrow band of farms, 10%, receives over 70% of total farm subsidy payments.

      To echo your sentiments concerning entry costs, farm real estate values more than doubled from 2002-2008. In some areas, values are nearly ten times the national average. Farmland ownership is concentrated; four percent of owners hold nearly half the land. Absentee ownership is increasing. Eighty-eight percent of farm landlords are not farm operators. Of all farm landlords, over 60% are over the age of 60 and 40% are over 70 years old. They own 44 percent of the nation’s farmland.

      Currently, there is a limited market for locally-owned, family farms to market their products. Thus, I will push for the State and local governments to provide preferences for family farms and requirements to purchase in substantial percentages from locally-owned farms.

      This is a national security issue; it cannot be ignored.

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