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Dumping on farmers with full stomach & money to burn

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POSTED February 1, 2014 1:01 a.m.

Farmers get a bad rap.

A few years back, a friend of mine who is a Stanford University grad was ranting about how all farmers got federal crop subsidies as well as subsidized federal water.

That’s not even close to the truth, especially in the Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon area.

There are no subsidized crops here. And unlike most other irrigation districts not a penny of state or federal money financed any of the South San Joaquin Irrigation District’s reservoirs or canals.

Others slam farmers for being bad environmentalists.

Get real.

If they overuse chemicals or pesticides they run the risk of ruining the soil that provides their livelihood. Besides, if you use more than you need it costs money.

The same is true of water. It is a major expense whether they take delivery of it from the SSJID or pump it from the ground. In addition to the $100,000 to $400,000 cost to drill a well,  they then have to pay through the nose to PG&E to run pumps. It isn’t rare for farmers to have monthly PG&E in the high four figures during peak irrigation months.

Some dismiss farming as a vocation of the uneducated. Guess again.

Almond growers, as an example, are often well versed in currency exchange rates and financial markets out of necessity. Dairy farmers are as thorough as research scientists tracking the health, diet, and yield of each cow.

It’s laughable when farmers are painted by some as animal abusers, such as when they see dairy cattle standing on a pile of dirt in a light rain. A cow is valuable property. If they are healthy, well fed, and not under stress they produce more milk. And milk is money.

And when it comes to marketing, they could have taught Steve Jobs a thing or two.

Take grape and almond growers as an example. They literally created a worldwide demand for their products. Wine was a niche market 50 years ago. Almond consumption has expanded because of aggressive marketing of everything from flavored almonds and almond snack bags on planes to almond milk.

Farmers aren’t flush with money. They tend to pay cash for things because they know all too well the risks of borrowing money. Unlike the rest of us, most famers only have one or two pay days a year. If they have one bad crop or the market weakens on them they can face financial ruin.

Most farmers accumulate “wealth” through land holdings. But do not confuse that with real estate speculation. Dairy farmers work seven days a week, 365 days a year. They typically make enough for retirement when they hold onto a dairy for 20 to 30 years and then sell it to someone else.

Other farmers aren’t much different. Except when they finally decide to sell their land, and if it happens to be in or around a city and is purchased by a developer, people get upset. That’s because they are against the idea of a farmer being able to sell their land so others like themselves can buy homes. They believe farmers somehow have a moral obligation to preserve the idyllic countryside in perpetuity. The truth is for many famers the only way they can have a comfortable retirement after farming 24/7 for most of their life is to sell their land so new homes can be built. And even when farmland sells next to a city, the farmer often doesn’t stop farming. They just buy even more land farther away to continue farming.

And just like American manufacturers, they have to worry about low-priced offshore competition that is sometimes subsidized by foreign governments trying to give their growers a boost in the world markets.

Farmers also have to deal with people using their property as dumps to discard everything from inoperable cars and boats to furniture and tires.

Making matters worse, many think it is OK to steal from farmers.

You see people all the time snatching fruit from trees in orchards. When you confront them, they say it isn’t stealing because it is growing on a tree. But it is no different than if you shoplifted items in a store or walked into someone’s yard and helped yourself to fresh cuttings of roses or other flowers without even bothering to pay for them, let alone ask permission to do so.

Farmers own the trees They invested the money as well as blood and sweat to get the trees to the point that they will bear fruit. Taking that fruit by rationalizing it was created by nature masks the fact it is stealing, pure and simple.

Farmers are sophisticated, hardworking, well-educated long-term investors.

And when it comes to efficiency they make code writers look like amateurs.

Back in 1862, 90 percent of Americans were farmers. By 1870, that number had dwindled down to 47.7 percent. It was at 30 percent in 1920.

Today, just 2 percent of Americans live on honest-to-goodness farms.

But the real impressive figure is production. The American Farm Bureau Federation notes that farmers today are producing 262 percent more food today with 2 percent less inputs in the form of labor, seeds, feed, fertilizer and such than they did in 1950.

Their efficiency and technology strides also mean typical Americans are paying just 9.5 percent of their gross income on all food they consume today as compared to 24.2 percent back in 1930 based on Department of Agriculture figures.

So the next time you dis farmers remember you are doing so on a full stomach with more money in your pocket to burn because of them.



This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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