By Pettus Read
Tenn. Farm Bureau
Recently, I passed a church sign that had some really good words of wisdom lettered upon it. It said, “Don’t be caught leaning on the handle of a shovel while praying for a hole.” If that is not profound then I don’t know what is. It seems lately that every time I pick up a newspaper there is someone leaning on a shovel handle, suggesting for somebody to dig them a hole that they should have already dug a long time ago themselves.
I just returned from a trip to Texas with a group of farmers who know a lot about hole digging, and one thing for certain, they encounter problems every day with folks attempting to push the dirt back into the holes they have already dug. Many times the folks filling in the holes are those who never touched the shovel to begin with but have the idea they should have the final say into where everyone digs.
Of course, I’m not really talking about digging real holes in the ground. I’m comparing the example to what is happening in today’s politics and its involvement in modern-day agriculture. In Washington, D.C., and even in our own state legislature, agriculture is facing some very important challenges that can affect all of us now and in the future to come. With the debate over a new Farm Bill in Congress and a discussion of annexation legislation with cities expanding into rural areas coming up this session in our state legislature, farmers may have to get their shovels out and start digging.
While sitting in the audience, along with 6,000 other farmers recently in San Antonio, Texas, at the American Farm Bureau Convention, I heard our Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack discuss the problems the current Farm Bill is having. He told us we were going to have to work to increase the understanding of agriculture.
“Passage of a farm bill is long overdue,” he said, adding, “Producers understand this.” It was reported from the convention that he characterized passage of a new Farm Bill as the number one issue affecting American agriculture today.
“Every American should be concerned with the lack of congressional action on the Farm Bill,” Vilsack said. “We need this Farm Bill and we need it now,” he added, encouraging Farm Bureau members to contact their members of Congress and let them know passage of the bill is important. In other words, the Secretary was telling us farmers it’s time to start digging.
He went on to say what many of us already know in agriculture – most Americans are far removed from where their food originates. “Educating friends about what farming is and what it does is important,” Vilsack said.
He went on to explain that AFBF reports that agriculture is a major driving force of the overall economy, accounting for five percent of the U.S. gross domestic product and employing 16 million Americans, something many people may not realize.
The American Farm Bureau says the Farm Bill will help with disaster assistance, trade promotion, conservation and crop insurance, along with some new initiatives, such as assistance for beginning farmers and military veterans interested in reconnecting with the land. But none of this can happen without the bill becoming law. That’s where it is important for Congress to do a little digging now and get this legislation passed before spring planting.
In our own state house, discussion is getting underway over annexation by cities of county property and whether or not to give property owners the privilege of voting for that annexation. Many counties are becoming more urban, and rural land is facing more demands. Much of the debate will go back to the urban growth boundary law, private land rights and private rights in general. Protecting agricultural production lands could also become a part of the discussion in this year’s legislature. This, too, may be another opportunity to stop leaning on the handle and start digging.
Across this great land we’ve been losing more than an acre of farm and ranch land to development every minute. We continually hear the numbers of population increases that will occur by 2050, and one major concern is who will feed those large numbers around this globe. I have on my truck back window a sticker from the American Farmland Trust that says, “No Farms No Food.” Each day we go to our grocery stores and find shelves full of fresh food and the only concerns we face are if the freshness dates will last until the next time we get back to the store.
There are other areas in this world where their concerns are being able to find enough food just to stay alive. I hope that is not the problem worldwide someday, but if we do not plan now and protect farmland along with the farmer, who knows what the future may hold.
It’s time to start digging instead of praying for a hole.
Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.