When the Last Farmer is Gone
Tuesday, January 28, 2003
by Joyce Morrison (email@example.com)
farmer's field in Klamath after the irrigation water was shut off
by the federal government in 2001
Two Tables show the shift in Darby Creek from agricultural use
OPINION by Joyce Morrison -- "When the last salmon is gone, there
will be no more salmon, but when the last farmer is gone, there will
be no more food," was a phrase coined by Klamath, Oregon, farmers.
Farmers and ranchers had to deal with dead cattle, horses, all kinds
of wildlife, and thousands of acres of burned up crops near Klamath
Falls, Oregon, when irrigation water was shut off without warning
by the federal government to 1,400 farms on April 6, 2001. Many will
never recover from this emotional and financial loss.
The environmentalists, without proven scientific evidence, listed
the coho salmon (the salmon we eat out of a can) and a nuisance fish
called Sucker Fish as endangered. They said it would be harmful to
the fish in Klamath Lake if the water was used to irrigate the farm
Farmers in the Darby Creek area of Ohio stood up and fought when U.S.
Fish and Wildlife, in conjunction with Nature's Conservancy, tried
to take their historic farmland to make a wildlife refuge and turn
it into a wetland. Ironically, this land had been given to Revolutionary
War soldiers, and they had drained the wetland to make farmland. Draining
the wetland kept mosquito borne malaria from taking more of their
lives. Their historical cemeteries bear the results of the wetland
It is not a big surprise that toxic effects have been found in the
dissolved organic compound or "muck" found in wetlands.
"Wetlands release vast amounts of natural organic compounds,
that while good for the ecosystem, are bad for cities that suck their
drinking water out of the Delta," said Stuart Leavenworth in
an article in the Sacramento Bee.
My friend Sharon Votaw, a farmer who lives in the San Joaquin Delta
of California, says thousands of acres of prime agricultural land
are being converted into swamps.
The Sawgrass Rebellion is now going on in the Florida Everglades.
About 300 farms and 25,000 homeowners are being flooded due to the
The American family farm is under attack in one way or another in
every state in the nation.
When you read about environmental attacks on agriculture, remember
the farmer is thinking about feeding you. When the last farmer is
gone, there will be no more food. We have never suffered famine in
the United States.
The history of farming goes back to Adam and Eve. Jesus used farming
in many of His parables. Sowing and reaping are basic to life.
Farmers can change from raggedy jeans into a suit and be off to a
meeting at the drop of a hat. They were practicing "lifelong
learning" long before it became politically correct. Todayís
farmer has to be intelligent enough to figure out the most difficult
formulas yet have the stamina to work 16 hour days in the worst of
Contrary to the "hayseed" image farmers and ranchers have
been given, most are multi-talented and informed in almost every vocation.
Todayís farmer has to be a heavy equipment operator, mechanic, purchaser,
bookkeeper, marketer, chemist, veterinarian, engineer, electrician,
and the list goes on. He is tough enough to handle the worst of situations
but tender enough to cry like a baby when he loses his dog.
In areas where there is no industry to supplement property taxes,
farms and homeowners take the hit. The education system by far consumes
the largest hunk of the tax dollar. The next time you hear the government
needs more parks and open space, you can bet your property taxes will
go up when that farmland goes off the tax roles.
When property is sold to a developer, there will be taxes generated
but not when the government takes the land. In property rights, selling
property as a wise businessman or being coerced into letting the land
go are separate issues.
There is a difference between agri-business and farming. The farmer
is the bottom layer of marketers, huge fertilizer companies, implement
manufacturers, and the billions of people who work in the industry.
As Derry Brownfield of the Common Sense Coalition says, "Farmers
are not pork producers, and farmers are not beef producers."
They raise hogs and they raise cattle for a middle man to "produce
them into a product for the consumer." The profit is not made
by the farmer.
All of this is to say, the farmer is becoming truly an endangered
species. He is getting the same prices for his grain and livestock
today as he got 50 plus years ago. He has no choice but to take the
price he is given.
The farm program barely keeps the farmer in business in a controlled
market environment. Yet production costs keep soaring. Even some fertilizers
are a petroleum by-product. So when the price of oil rises, so does
the farmerís costs, not only for fuel but for fertilizer.
Last week the repair bill on our old 1979 tractor was $6,000. We went
through this with another old tractor a couple of years ago. These
unexpected expenses hurt. We are just small farmers with an extremely
small profit margin. By the time we make a farm payment, pay cash
rent on rented ground, drainage taxes, property taxes, fuel, fertilizer,
seed, repairs, and on and on, it is a blessing to break even. We are
getting old, and our equipment is getting old. We cannot afford to
help the next generation get started farming. Nor would we be doing
them a favor if we did.
Worry is a constant factor. Will it be too dry or too wet, or will
our health hold? Last year we suffered a drought, and our corn and
soybeans were the worst crop we have had in years. We canít afford
to retire nor can we afford to hire labor. Health insurance is not
part of the job perks. For a farmer to afford insurance, the deductible
has to be tremendously high. Social security is not paid by an employer.
Our situation is not unique. There are thousands more out there just
like us. When Al Gore told the Future Farmers of America several years
ago at a meeting in Colorado that they should not plan to become farmers
as we would be getting our food from third world countries, he was
right on track. But is that what we really want in America?
We get more and more food from foreign countries. Factory after factory
has moved to third world countries to escape the emission standards
and regulations. They have access to cheap labor outside our borders.
The U.S. is becoming primarily a service oriented nation.
"As we enter 2003, Department of Commerce data show that cumulative
foreign assets in the U.S. are soaring past $8 trillion," says
ProFarmer CONNECTION's Financial Editor, Jerry Carlson. "Thatís
enough to buy all U.S. farmland eight times, and give a few billion
in change. Foreigners are blocked from buying farmland in many midwest
states, but they are steadily acquiring nonfarm real estate and control
of U.S. corporations."
Germany and France now own many of the municipal water systems in
the U.S. We depend on foreign oil. Do we really want to depend on
foreign nations for our food and water?
[The beautiful wheatfield to the right is located not in the heartland
of America, but in Communist China.]
When someone tells me they understand farming because they visited
their grandparentís farm and loved the simple life, I have to smile
to myself. Living 24/7 is a bit different from an overnight visit.
But treasure those memories, because unless we see changes in the
farm industry soon, memories may be all we have left of the family
Joyce Morrison lives in Jersey County, Illinois. She is a chapter
leader for Concerned Women for America and she and her husband, Gary,
represent the local Citizens for Private Property Rights. Joyce is
Secretary to the Board of Directors of Rural Restoration/ADOPT Mission,
a national farm ministry located in Sikeston, MO. The group's SOWER
Magazine features Joyce's writing. Joyce is an activist and serves
as a member of the agricultural advisory board of U.S. Congressman
John Shimkus (R-IL).
Suggested Additional reading:
(Klamath Falls, Oregon)
(Klamath Falls, Oregon)
(Darby, national and global property
(The Homestead Land and Water Alliance -
Property Rights Action Committee - Florida)