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April 2005

Meeting Tomorrow’s Challenges with a Long-Term Vision


Bob Stallman
President
American Farm Bureau
By Bob Stallman
President, American Farm Bureau

Is American agriculture focused on a long-term vision for the future or are we spending too much of our time and energy just getting through the short-term?

To better answer that question and be prepared to meet the challenges of tomorrow, the American Farm Bureau has assembled a task force assigned with assessing what American agriculture will look like in 2019, and then answering the question of what should American agriculture look like to be productive and profitable at that time.

What this task force is discovering is that we as producers need to ask ourselves some tough questions for the future…questions that may challenge our traditional views and encourage us to envision a new frontier.

Keeping up with the trends

When formulating a long-term vision, we must look at current trends. For example, because of globalization, the whole world is more connected than ever before and the trends associated with the democratization of information, finance and government will only gain more strength. Information and money flow at the speed of light. Democracy is wider spread than at any previous time in history, making it easier for the collective will to be expressed in governments and in the marketplace.

The aging of the U.S. population is another major trend, which means more money will be needed for Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. Because of these higher costs, it appears we will have significant deficits far into the future, which means we will also spend more taxpayer dollars in interest costs. Spending on the rest of government, such as transportation, housing, education, defense and yes, agriculture, is expected to be flat.

Another budget trend, related to agricultural trade, is less funding…less funding for our efforts to negotiate and enforce trade agreements…less funding for personnel to monitor trade compliance and gather foreign market and production information…less funding to compete in international markets, just when we need it the most.

Public funding for agricultural research has been flat and even declined in real terms. At the same time, commodity check off programs for promotion and research are under constitutional attack, limiting the ability of producers to join together to help themselves. That trend does not bode well for remaining competitive in the face of globalization.

In addition, with each successive generation, citizens are further removed from having direct knowledge of modern production agriculture. Not understanding the costs and scale of production agriculture, much less the structure and rationale for farm programs, also makes it difficult for citizens to understand the role of support payments – and their real importance to many of those full-time farming families in the middle, between part-timers and the largest operators.

Facing Our Challenges

I believe the central theme of the challenges facing us as agriculture producers is that of competition. We are competing for increasingly scarce taxpayer dollars. We are competing against foreign producers…and sometimes each other…for markets. We are competing for favorable judicial rulings, in both domestic and international bodies. And we are competing for the sympathies and understanding of our society.

There are a lot of good farmers in this nation. But, to create a long-term vision for success will require being more than a good farmer. One will need to be an internationalist, a financial risk management specialist, a consumer marketing expert, an information analyst, and who knows what else to be successful for the future.

By anticipating the trends for the future, we do have the opportunity as an industry to create our own vision. And afterward, we must communicate that vision in a manner that transcends our societal boundaries and builds a base of understanding and support with all Americans. It won’t be easy, but I have confidence America’s producers are up to the task.