Something to Write Home AboutBy Joan Waldoch
It's the time of year when many people sit down and summarize the year in their holiday letters – the kind sometimes referred to as "brag letters." If American farmers and ranchers sat down to collectively write a letter like that, they'd have quite a lot to brag about.
The letter might note that the current state of agriculture isn't perfect. The year is ending with a downturn in farm prices for some commodities. Some nagging trade problems persist. Many parts of the nation suffered severe drought; others survived hurricanes and other weather disasters.
But all in all, it was a pretty good year. Some important laws were enacted, including the 1996 farm bill with its major change in policy. Pesticide legislation was finally updated, replaced with new, more reasonable language. On the budget front, there's reason for optimism. A balanced budget used to be a distant dream. It is now a goal of Congress and the administration.
A scan through the stories that made Farm Bureau News this past year reveals that the real success took place far from the nation's capitol. U.S. farmers and ranchers turned in another remarkable performance doing what they do best – growing food and fiber.
Against unpredictable and uncontrollable forces, such as weather and fluctuating prices, they continued to become more efficient crop and livestock producers and they did so using fewer commercial chemicals. They continued to adopt practices like conservation tillage, integrated pest management, crop rotation and computer-aided precision farming techniques. They built wildlife habitats and sod waterways. They learned about herbicide-resistant seed varieties that reduce chemical use. They formed water quality coalitions and implemented best management practices to better protect the land and water.
They expanded their use of technology with global positioning systems and they opened their worlds a bit wider by "logging on" to the Internet.
In addition, farmers and ranchers took time out for "public relations." They visited schools and showed their farms to students; they talked with reporters, scientists and their urban neighbors. They shared their expertise with farmers in the former Soviet republics and other parts of the world. They donated hay to drought-stricken farmers in other states and gave food to the hungry. They promoted farm safety, and got their children involved.
What farmers and ranchers do may not seem remarkable to many and may not get as much publicity as a White House bill-signing ceremony in the Rose Garden. But every day, all the little things they do add up to something extraordinary. And that's worth talking about.
Joan Waldoch is editor of Farm Bureau News for the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington, D.C.