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Focus on Agriculture

For the week of July 30, 2012

Agriculture’s Fate Does Not Lie with Mother Nature Alone

By Blake Hurst

History has a way of finding us, even if we would like to decline the honor. And this summer will go down in history. We’ve passed the drought of 1956 and are closing in on 1936. My grandfather, who has passed on, would never accept a summer worse than 1936, the formative event of his long life. He’d never again be able to start a sentence with “Back in ’36,” because we’d answer that 2012 was just as bad. In fact, I’m planning on using this summer as the main evidence for the proposition that the younger generation hasn’t got what it takes. I’ll say things like: “Well, yes, it’s been a tough year, but you’re too young to remember the summer of 2012.”

We can do everything right, make the best of plans, have a perfect stand with high fertility and excellent weed control, but Mother Nature has plans of her own. Here in Missouri, I’ve visited with hog farmers who are facing losses as far as the eye can see and cattle farmers who will have a short calf crop next spring because it’s too hot for cows to breed. I’ve heard from ranchers forced to liquidate a cow herd that is the sum total their life’s work. Farmers in the Missouri Bootheel are reaching the end of their financial and physical endurance, as they work around the clock to irrigate their crops.

Crop farmers across Missouri are faced with no crop at all. Many of them are worried about meeting forward contracts when they have no crop to deliver. Feed prices are skyrocketing, and we all are suffering from the stress, both physical and mental, that the summer of 2012 has brought.

This summer’s disaster will influence food prices not just over the next few months but for years. We take reasonably priced and plentiful food supplies for granted, and although this summer’s drought absolutely will not threaten that blessing, it is a reminder that agriculture is important.

This is why we should worry about the future. We can’t control the weather, but policy mistakes are self-inflicted. As consumers deal with high prices caused by this year’s drought, voters and consumers need to ensure we don’t legislate, litigate or regulate ourselves in a permanent short crop.

Think I’m overstating the case?

  • A court case recently filed would, if the plaintiffs are successful, limit fertilizer application in the Mississippi Basin. It might mean some land in the Midwest would lie idle each year.

  • If the Humane Society of the United States meets its goals, modern livestock production practices will no longer be used. That would mean, among other things, that it would take more grain to produce the same amount of meat.

  • The recent clean water guidance written by the Environmental Protection Agency would triple the amount of farmland regulated by the agency. Farmers would need permits to follow normal farming practices. It isn’t difficult to envision a future when permits would be denied and land would leave production.

  • Anti-genetically modified organism (GMO) groups are fighting the use of modern seed technology. Some counties in Oregon are moving to outlaw the technology, and California has a ballot initiative that would demand labeling for any food item produced using genetically modified crops.

The goal of these groups is to turn back the clock on science. If they are successful, crop yields will shrink.

Any of these measures will allow man to accomplish every year what nature only does once every 50 years. While Mother Nature has her plans, we can avoid bad ideas that will increase hunger and food prices. We’ll survive this drought, as my grandparents did the summer of 1936. I’m not sure we can survive those who would create a man-made drought every summer.


Blake Hurst, of Westboro, Mo., is the president of Missouri Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization.