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A farmer's thoughts on rural issues

by Richard Oswald
Missouri farmer

(Monday, July 26, 2004 -- CropChoice guest commentary) -- On the road where I live were once 13 houses. All 13 houses held people who were farmers or who worked for farmers. All the farms were diversified with both crops and livestock, Of the 13 houses, 9 are still alongside my road today. Of those nine houses, 2 are home to someone who works for a farmer. Only one holds a full time self-employed farmer; my house. There are no hogs raised along my road anymore, only one of my neighbors has beef cattle.

I started out in agriculture by tending my parents beef cow herd. I was 12. Dad worked in town because he had given up on the idea that farming would ever afford his family the type of living they deserved. By the time I was 15, I was planting the corn on our farm and when I turned 18 I rented the farm from Dad and Mother. By my own choice I never participated in many school extracurricular activities because I would have had to spend too much time in town. It is embarrassing to admit, but I talked my wife into ending our honeymoon early so that I could bring our Jersey milk cow home from the dairy where I'd bought her the week before.

I operate land that was settled by my great-great grandfather in the 19th century. My son is the 6th generation of our family to work that land. I have raised cattle and hogs and I know what it is to milk a cow, I have home-butchered my families meat, gathered eggs, cured hams, and ground sausage in the farm kitchen, Today I drive a semi-truck to haul our grain to market, use GPS to measure fields and record yields direct from the combine, use precision ag methods for fertilizer application, access the internet to manage sales to the buyers of my grain and purchases from my suppliers, to stay informed, and to communicate with my landlords, business contacts, friends, and family. I no longer home butcher or raise livestock. Two years ago I ceded control of our livestock to my son. The level of income from our beef cattle operation divided by two was always half enough. I will always be a stockman at heart; I still keep a quarterhorse on the farm. My wife suggested this spring that I plow the paddock, where the horse is, and plant it to corn. My answer to her was that we have enough corn, but only one horse.

Cattle were my first love. A girl from Dennison IA was the second. I fully understand and endorse what OCM and its companion organizations are attempting to do regarding packer concentration and corporate influence of USDA, though in good conscience I have to say that you cannot succeed in your goals if you ignore the geographic heart of America . Diversified Midwestern farms are nearly history. Thanks in part to the failed policies of producer groups like ASA and NCGA, the consolidation has just about done us in. Working hand in hand with insurance companies like Farm Bureau and corporations such as Monsanto, those who should have stood for the good of all who pay checkoff tax have shown loyalty to only a few.

Today, not many will have the opportunity to begin a farming career as I did. Fewer still will have the opportunity to do the things I have done. That's because of USDA policies and laws that have been constructed by our own Congress. Farm programs supposedly enacted to "save the family farm" guarantee beginners poverty level income while seeing to it that large farms will prosper and grow. I have had conversations with those who defend large payment limits. They say large payments are needed in the south where crops and cropping are different. I actually think that in the only way that counts they are no different than Midwestern crops. It's just that the southern blight on farmers is more advanced than the one thriving in the Midwest, Meanwhile, some Midwestern farmers decry that with smaller limits, more will suffer.

The farm belt situation threatens to defeat any good you can do unless you address the problem. Prices of large new corn and soybean crops are retreating toward unlimited LDP status. Large farms will reap a bonanza this fall whether prices are high or low. They will use the windfall to gain control of more acres. Average sized farms will use it to replace an aging piece of equipment or to pay off old debt.

My message to you is this. You can choose your battles and fight them to your dying breath. You can even win, but your victory will be meaningless if ultimately there is no one left in the Heartland who will celebrate it.

Richard R. Oswald
Langdon, MO