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America's farmers are efficient - Now can we get paid?

by Larry Mitchell
American Corn Growers Association CEO

(Saturday, March 13, 2004 -- CropChoice guest commentary) As we enter National Agriculture Week, celebrated this year from March 14 to March 20, we need to pause to say thank you to the men, women and families of American agriculture by drawing attention to the important role they play in our society. We should also take time to reflect upon the productivity of America's farm families. I think you will agree with me that it is worth much more than $100 a month.

According to USDA's definition, there are about 2 million farmers left in the U.S. But that definition - and I would never suggest changing it - includes all producers that can sell $1,000 of agriculture production or more. Now if we were to raise the threshold to $10,000 we would eliminate over half of those 2 million farmers. In the land of Jefferson, we are now approaching the sad fact that farmers may not qualify as a demographic large enough to be counted by the U.S. Census.

But the assumption I usually use - and I am told by many I am too liberal in the assumption - is that there are about 750,000 farmers left in the U.S. Did you know that there are 150,000 grocery stores in the nation? Simple math then reveals that only five farmers are responsible for all of the food that crosses the scanner at your local grocery store, each and every day, 365 days a year.

But we also export about 20 percent of our production, so now we are down to only four farmers supplying the needs of your local grocery store. We also know that USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS) has now determined that Americans eat just over half of their meals away from home, and that production would not be sold in your local grocery store, but would find other channels for distribution. That leaves only two farmers supplying everything that crosses the scanner of your local grocery store, each and every day, 365 days of every year.

The most amazing fact is that USDA has reported that the earnings for the entire year in 2004 for farm operator households from their farming activities are only $1,226, or about $100 per month. My question is this - how much more efficient must farmers become before they can get paid a decent return for the fruits of their labor?

To see USDA's 2004 farm income forecast go to http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/FarmIncome/Data/Hh_t5.htm

You can find more information about the ACGA at http://www.acga.org