Official: Farmers fighting an unfair rap

ST. LOUIS -- Some Americans seem to consider production agriculture "the focus of all evil on the planet," Bob Young said. But people who disparage modern ag -- who sneeringly refer to it as "corporate agriculture" -- might not understand it, sai...

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ST. LOUIS -  Some Americans seem to consider production agriculture “the focus of all evil on the planet,” Bob Young said.

But people who disparage modern ag - who sneeringly refer to it as “corporate agriculture” - might not understand it, said Young, chief economist and deputy executive director of public policy for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Young spoke July 26 in St. Louis during the National Press Foundation fellowship on the Future of Food and Agriculture. The Farm Bureau was among the organizations that provided funding for the event.

Young’s presentation to 20 journalists came after sessions on organic agriculture, which includes comments critical of conventional agriculture.

He said four questions need to be asked when an agricultural production system in evaluated:


  • “How are you going to take care of the bugs?”

  • “How are you going to take care of the weeds?”

  • “How are they going to feed the plant?”

  • “Probably, most important of all, how to pay for it?”

“If they can’t tell you how they’re going to do all four of those at the same time, then that’s not a system that can last very long,” he said. “It’s just the way things are.”
Young said he’s not opposed to organic food and wants consumers to have the option of buying it, but is concerned about its affordability.

He’s also concerned the time might come when conventionally raised food is no longer offered and consumers’ only choice will be organic.

“I think it’s not that far down the road, and not that far out of the question, that choice will be taken completely away from us,” he said.

Many Americans don’t understand that farming is expensive, in part because farmland rental rates have soared, he said.

“If you rent, you’re probably not making any money. If you own it all, you’re probably making some money. You may not be making much much, but you’re making a little,” he said.

Because farming is expensive, producers concentrate on crops, primarily corn and soybeans, that provide the highest per-acre gross returns and offer the best chance of turning a profit, he said.

Misperceptions and more

There’s a misperception that family farms play a minor role in production ag. The reality is, family farms account for 97 percent of U.S. farming operations. “Farming is probably the most family oriented business sector in the world,” Young said.


Nor does conventional agriculture get enough recognition for its longstanding and successful effort to reduce soil erosion, in part through the use of genetically modified crop varieties that require less cultivation, he said.

And production agriculture is not appreciated as a “miracle” that helps to feed the world’s growing population, he said.

“Will we allow ourselves to feed another 2 billion people? Will we continue to accept modern agriculture?” Young asked. “Or will we decide we want to go back to the way we farmed 30, 40, 50, 60 years ago?”

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