Friday, June 29, 2012

It's Still Cool to be Grown In The USA: Buying Local Food

Much ado is made these days about buying "local" food.  I was confused at first, wondering why I wasn't buying local food. What was I missing?  Here I am a Texan and I buy my oranges from Florida farmers and my strawberries from California farmers!  After several back porch conversations on this subject with the Farmer I Kissed, I discovered that I do buy local.  It's just that my "local" runs from sea to shining sea.  I buy food from American Farmers.  I consider that about as local as you can get. 
We grow cotton...doesn't make for a really great bar-b-q menu!
What I wonder is when did we all stop being neighbors...when did it stop being cool to buy "Grown in the USA?"  I have traveled a lot and met American Farmers from many different states.  They are all just like the Farmer I Kiss: hard working family farmers.  So when I buy cranberries, blueberries and potatoes,  I buy "local"  from someone like the farmers I have met from Maine or Georgia or Idaho.  It doesn't matter to me if my cranberries, blueberries and potatoes come from their farms, from their friend's farms, or from their brother's farms.  I trust that my cranberries, blueberries and potatoes were raised by American Farmers who love the land, care about my food and adhere to strict, regulated  guidelines while raising that food.  Besides, we are cotton farmers living on the edge of the Chihuahuan Desert!  We can't raise cranberries, blueberries or potatoes.  Someone tell me how the heck you have a 4th of July picnic without cranberry Jell-O surprise, blueberries decorating the cake and Mom's potato salad? 

Can't have a proper 4th of July picnic without this!!
There are lots of folks who want to personally know the farmer who grows their food so they can know how he raises that food.  I think that's cool.  I could get up at 6:00 AM on Saturday and stand in line to buy tomatoes from one of my friends who sells his garden produce at the Concho Valley Farmers Market.  Frankly, I would rather sleep.  I know farmers, I kiss one of them and I trust the kind of people who are out there raising my food and fiber all across this incredible nation.  I also trust that agriculture will continue to adapt and change to answer American's needs and concerns so that once again everyone can feel as good as I do about buying "Grown in the USA" anywhere and everywhere across America. As for right now,  I'm going shopping, to a grocery store, to buy "local" pineapples from the farmer I actually met while I was in Hawaii (or who knows, maybe it will be from one of his friend's pineapple farms.)  I'm going to use it in my frozen drink this afternoon as I help the Farmer I Kissed get our back porch cleaned up for that 4th of July Picnic.

Happy Birthday America!

Friday, June 15, 2012

It will be a circus without the safety net: Crop Insurance under attack

Family Farmer: The Next Generation
The Farmer I Kissed is one of my clients.  You see, I am not only a farmer kisser, I am a crop insurance agent.  I have been in this business for 20 years.  In all those years, 2011 was the most hectic time I have ever experienced.  100% of my clients had losses, and most of those were total losses.  The majority of my clients are dryland cotton farmers, just like Daniel and I.  The seed that they planted in June finally sprouted in September. Until then, they were lying in dry, dry dirt, in the same condition as when they came out of the bag.  With that said, let's visit the Fortune Teller at the circus and imagine yourself in this situation:  Through no fault of your own, you will receive no income for 12 months.  None. 

That's what it was like to be a farmer in Texas last year.  The tight rope broke, and there was no cotton to harvest, no cotton to take to the gin, no cotton to sell to the merchant.  Enter, the safety net:  Crop Insurance.  Crop insurance is not like you homeowners insurance, where you have a small deductible, say $2500, and if your house burns down, insurance pays for the rest to build you a new house.  The deductibles on a crop insurance policy can be up to 50% of your crop.  That means, in 2011, you would collect 50% of an average crop through an insurance indemnity.  So the tight rope broke, you landed in the safety net, instead of zero you have 50% of your income and at least you are not selling the farm. But you have half your income to meet 100% of your obligations AND somewhere in there you have to prepare for next year's crop.  Land leases don't stop just because there was no crop produced.  Equipment payments don't stop.  The land still has to be cared for, to keep it from eroding, blowing or growing up in weeds.  Thank goodness for that safety net!  It's the only reason the majority of Texas farmers are getting to plant cotton this year!

Family Farmer: The Next Generation
What would happen, if that safety net were taken away?  The land will still be there, food and fiber must still be produced (or we will be hungry and naked pretty fast!) Who could start producing our food and fiber on that land without a safety net?  It wouldn't other family farmers, like the one I kiss.  They would be out of business too.  It would be huge management firms, overseas investors, financial institutions.  We don't want to be in the stands watching that three ring circus.  We MUST keep our family farmers on the land.  Everyone needs to understand, there are many different kinds and sizes of family farmers.  But the key is that they ARE "family farmers" and care deeply about the land and about what they produce for the kitchen tables across this country.

Family Farmer: The Next Generation
Crop insurance is a public-private cooperation.  Private companies deliver a product overseen and regulated by the USDA's Risk Management Agency.  It is a highly successful program that has been duplicated in other countries around the world.  Keeping our food and fiber supply stable and affordable is a matter of national security, so the government aspect is essential.  But right now, an assault is being carried out against the safety net by some of those in Congress that don't realize what would happen if family farmers gave way to the circus.  An assault on the farm safety net is a direct assault on the family farmer.  If amendments being presented are passed, the cuts and limits to crop insurance would cut the wires, leaving the family farmer walking the tight rope without a safety net.  When that happens and we see another 2011 disaster, send in the clowns folks, the circus just hit town.