Community Agriculture Alliance: Hoping 2020 is a better year for farmers, ranchers, rural communities
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We are blessed that America is home to thousands of families that make their living farming and ranching and being the essential economic and social cornerstones of rural communities. Indeed, America’s biggest cities are possible only because American farmers and ranchers produce food in abundance.
Yet, we do have people who go hungry in America for a variety of reasons, most of them pure economics. We also have food deserts in rural and urban and suburban communities, as local grocery stores struggle to stay in business.
Most alarming to me is that we know farmers and ranchers themselves who are facing difficult times when it comes to making a living by feeding others. The uncertainty of the ongoing trade war has taken a toll on crop farmers and livestock producers. Markets that were a sure thing are suddenly shifting about like a carnival shell game.
The cost of planting and harvesting, calving and marketing, milking and making cheese all remain high. Through our marketing orders, farmers and ranchers are paid to develop these overseas markets. It took decades of work to build them. In a short time, we have seen these markets upended. Time is equally short to restore them and return profitability to agriculture. We can hope that 2020 brings stability and opportunity back to the business of trade.
Farmers can’t raise prices on their crops. Ranchers can’t hold out hoping to earn a higher price on their livestock. When these families don’t have cash to spend, it shows up quickly on Main Street. Rural communities are facing similar problems with relatively high fixed costs yet too little revenue to keep even, let alone invest in future needs.
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We know it is tough out there. Some days, it is hard to count our blessings. We need to.
Farmers and ranchers know what it is like to endure lean times. In the 1920s, rural America had to deal with low prices and bank failures. In the 1930s, it was drought and the Great Depression. In the 1940s, we saw many farm boys trade familiar surroundings for fighting on foreign soil. The 1950s and 1960s introduced widespread applications of technology (we still had “party line” phone service, though). The 1970s and 1980s introduced new changes and challenges — inflation, high interest rates, the rise of the first serious export markets, tractorcades and the Farm Crisis.
Farm and ranch families have always survived. They haven’t always thrived. This is a time of figurative belt tightening. We are optimists. We are realists. We have invested our lives in the land. And, in the future.
We must continue working together and to be supportive of each other, continue to be there for each other and continue to be there for our own families. We can find answers to the challenges facing our operations and hometown communities using a team effort. We don’t need to go it alone.
Agriculture itself is a community regardless of whether you have a large cow-calf operation or are making a living from a vegetable or fruit venture serving local markets. Take time to check on your neighbors. Take time to take care of yourself, too.
Let’s trust that 2020 yields more income and less stress, more opportunity and less doubt. We are looking forward to a spring of hope.
Dale McCall is president of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union.
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