Commentary: As agriculture becomes specialized, it’s time to reunite

The following editorial was printed in the September 11, 2013 issue of Ag Alert.
By Tito Sasaki, President Sonoma County farm Bureau

More than 600 people gathered in June for an Ag Unite event in Chico, focused on the need for greater agricultural unity and political involvement.

Ag Unite was the banner under which some 600 people rallied in Chico on June 12. It was organized by the county Farm Bureaus of Butte, Colusa, Glenn, Shasta, Tehama and Yuba/Sutter. It aimed to bring together all people whose living depends on agriculture, and to raise funds for Farm PAC and the Ag Unite Legal Fund. They have so far raised over $80,000 for building effective and substantial political and legal war chests.

Two important aspects of Ag Unite are: to reunite and re-ignite the ag industries often fragmented by commodity, organic vs. conventional, size, trades, etc., and to focus on the need to contribute substantial funds for political and legal advocacy.

The Farm Bureau, being the only organization that encompasses the entire agricultural community, must fight for the common interest of all its members in the increasingly challenging political and regulatory environment. We the members need to recognize that it is a necessary cost of doing business in these days to defend our interest by sending contributions regularly to FARM PAC® and the Ag Unite Legal Fund.

When the Farm Bureau was born a century ago, farmers accounted for over 15 percent of the U.S. population. A typical American farm then had draft horses or mules, two cows for uninterrupted supply of milk, pigs and chickens for meat and eggs, and a small garden for the family’s vegetables. Farmers fed, bred and took care of their beasts, maintained their implements, made their own fertilizers and took their produce on their wagons to the market.

Today, most farmers buy their milk, eggs, bacon, vegetables and bread at supermarkets; their “mules, horses, and implements” are made by John Deere, Ram, Case IH and such; fertilizers by Mosaic, Yara or others; and the crop shipped by truckers and by rail.

Not only farming itself but also its supporting businesses became specialized and fragmented. The supporting activities are no longer classified as agriculture, and their variety is increasing. They now include computer and IT industries and marketing, legal, financial and environmental specialists. Since 1950, the U.S. agricultural output per farmer rose 12-fold. This came about hand in hand with the growth of such supporting industries.

The census statistics may say that the agricultural population is now only about 1 percent of the total. But this does not tell the whole story. A 1995 U.S. Department of Agriculture study titled “Measuring the Economy-wide Effect of the Farm Sector” revealed that, for every dollar of farm production, $14 were generated by the supporting industries, and for every farm employment, 10 to 11 people were working outside the farm to complement the farm production. So, 10 percent to 15 percent of the nation’s economy is still dependent on agriculture, but the core farming population is shrinking.

The challenge is how to identify and bring back our growing “brothers and sisters” to the Farm Bureau family. Sonoma County Farm Bureau now has about 3,300 members. But, if 10 percent of the county’s households are ag-related, 15,000 more members should be joining us. We must reunite and get stronger; else, we will forfeit our future.

 (Tito Sasaki, a Sonoma Valley grape grower, is president of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau.)
Reprinted with permission from California Farm Bureau Federation

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