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January 2006

MAAPP: Preparing for Agriculture’s Future


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

As we wrap up 2005 and spring into the New Year, I think it is only fitting to talk about the future of agriculture. Farm Bureau has never been an organization to sit on its hands and dwell on the past. Instead, we grab the bull by the horns and take charge of our destination.

Two years ago, the American Farm Bureau Federation board appointed a committee to look at where American agriculture should be in 2019, the 100th anniversary of Farm Bureau, and to develop recommendations to make the sector productive and profitable with options to help farmers transition into the future.

Looking Through the Hourglass

Making American Agriculture Productive and Profitable, or MAAPP, is the name of the committee that spent several years looking into the future of agriculture and recently presented its findings. The MAAPP Committee, which consisted of a broad range of producers from across the country, truly epitomized the depth and breadth of American agriculture.

Through the MAAPP study, the committee came to the realization that they were dealing with several revolutionary changes in the agricultural industry, such as how the structure of agriculture is moving away from the middle. In 2002, 143,000 farming operations produced 75 percent of the value of all agricultural output. It took 1.9 million operations to produce the remaining 25 percent.

Another major change the committee found was that global trade will be the key driver for future agricultural profitability, as 96 percent of the world’s population lives outside of U.S. borders. In addition, environmental issues will shift more toward market-driven actions that are used to achieve environmental benefits. And agricultural marketing goals will shift as farmers and ranchers learn to produce what they can sell and not simply sell what they can produce.

Where We’re Going

The most important and driving conclusion reached by the committee is government support for agriculture will look very different in 2019 because of domestic budget pressures and international trade agreements. The current U.S. farm program has already been successfully challenged in the World Trade Organization and more countries are lining up to bring additional complaints against it.

In this state of flux, the MAAPP committee made several fundamental recommendations to help weather the storm. For example, committee members agreed the U.S. should resist internal and external calls for unilateral disarmament in regard to our government support of agriculture. Reductions in commodity program support should only occur with the addition of market access by other countries.

Another important recommendation is that funds must be kept in rural America instead of siphoning them off to other non-rural areas of government spending. Further, agriculture needs to take control of its own environmental destiny. Farmers need to proactively educate consumers about their environmental contributions and change their adversarial relationships with pragmatic conservation groups to that of allies and eventually clients.

As the committee admits, there are no guarantees. But by studying likely future scenarios, we will be better prepared to deal with them when the time comes. As the great Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.”