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“Believe it or not . . .”

By Jerry Hergenreder

I would like to introduce you to a farmer – myself – and tell you a little about agriculture. I may not look like a businessman when I am wearing my work uniform and you probably wouldn’t expect me out by the corral talking on my cell phone, saying, “Sell 2 May Corn at the Board.” But we are commodity marketers, producers, mechanics, vets, welders, heavy equipment operators, and electricians – just to name a few.

What is portrayed in the media, is not what we really are – we are not just farmers, but independent businessmen. We need to be multi-talented production specialists to compete in today’s global economy.

Producer’s today are very frustrated by the publicity we receive from the media about production practices. This publicity is almost always negative or anti-agriculture.

I want to bridge the communication gap between producers and consumers.

As producers, we’re appalled when we see a box of corn flakes sell for $4.00. It contains a pound and a half of raw product. What the consumer doesn’t see is that we sell a hundred pounds of corn for the same price – $4.00.

In 1998, prices that farmers sold hogs for were at a 40-year low, but there has been little or no change in grocery prices. Pork chops currently cost $3.00 a pound. Hams cost $18 – $20 each. That is more than a producer receives for a whole hog! Yet producers will be the first ones blamed if food prices increase.

No one takes into account the profit margin the middleman has. This year has been a good example of the extremes we’ve seen between producer and consumer prices. The producer doesn’t receive a fair share for his commodity and the consumer is being over-charged for what they are buying.

The same situation exists with food safety. The closest field to my house is 60 feet from my back door. Does anyone really think that I would misuse pesticides for crop production when I have my children running in and out of the house all day? We live and work with crops and livestock every hour of every day and would put ourselves at great risk if we abused pesticides in production.

Yet the United States has no problem importing commodities, meats, fruits and vegetables from around the world, where in most cases, they have no idea of the kind of production practices, specifically chemicals, pesticides and herbicides that are used in production.

If a problem arises, U.S. Farmers are the first to get fingers pointed at them, whether or not they produced it or not.

Country-of-origin labeling is a very good idea,. It would enable the consumer to make the choice when shopping about buying foreign or domestically produced products. When foreign foods are sold in the same bin as U.S. goods, it makes a mockery of the standards that are used in this country for food production and safety.

Rolling Stone Magazine, November 26, 1998, Issue 800, states that when you purchase a fast food hamburger, it may contain meat from as many as forty to one hundred different cattle, raised in as many as a half dozen different countries.

While some labeling laws are already on the books, they are not being enforced. As consumers, you need to voice your opinion to your representatives and let hem know how you feel about this concern. You have the option when purchasing other items like clothing, TVs, VCRs and automobiles to make the choice of purchasing foreign or domestic, so why not have the same choice when it comes to food and your families health and safety?

As you may have determined, agriculture needs a full-time publicist, but we don’t have a Bill Gates, Lee lococa or even Ralph Nader working for us. Dan Glickman, the Secretary of Agriculture isn’t even widely known by people involved in agriculture, let alone a spokesperson for us.

This is why producers need to be more involved and take the time to speak to groups and write letters to the media. Everyone needs to get more exposure, to realize that food comes from a farm and not a factory, and is produced by someone like myself, not some corporate machine.

The efficiency of American agriculture allows Americans the greatest standard of living in history and all for only 9% of your disposable income.

Believe it or not, this is agriculture.

Jerry Hergenreder, Longmont, Colo., one of three top winning presenters in the National Young Farmer Educational Institute Spokesperson for Agriculture contest held in Hershey, Penn.