Re-uniting Ag Industries
by Tito Sasaki, president
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 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: 1) to re-unite and re-ignite the ag industries often fragmented by commodity, organic v. conventional, size, trades, etc., and 2) 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 the Farm PAC and the Ag Unite Legal Fund.
When the Farm Bureau was born a century ago, farmers accounted for over 15% of the US 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 US ag output per farmer rose 12-fold. This came about hand in hand with the growths of such supporting industries.
The census statistics may say that the agricultural population is now only about 1% of the total. But this does not tell the whole story. A 1995 USDA study titled “Measuring the Economy-wide Effect of the Farm Sector” revealed that, for every dollar of farm production, fourteen dollars were generated by the supporting industries, and for every farm employment, ten to eleven people were working outside the farm to complement the farm production. So, 10~15% of the nation’s economy are 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 FB now has about 3,300 members. But, if 10% of the County’s households are ag-related, 15,000 more members should be joining us. We must re-unite and get stronger; else, we will forfeit our future.