Hold the thin green line by protecting farmers
When the United States rationed food during World War II so citizens and soldiers had enough to eat, the Secretary of Agriculture often repeated the slogan: “Food will win the war and write the peace.”
I think of these words every time I read an article or see a fringe group attacking the modern-day farmer.
The harsh reality is America’s political leaders must take appropriate measures today to ensure that farmers do not become an endangered species tomorrow—a loss we cannot afford.
I am no farm policy expert, but I know about national security, and I know that farmers are as important today as they were in 1942.
Of course, meeting America’s needs is more challenging today because the U.S. population has nearly tripled over the past 70 years and continues an upward march. Meanwhile, the number of farms has plummeted, leaving just 210,000 full-time farms to feed, fuel and clothe more than 300 million Americans.
Think about that sobering fact. More people pass through Wal-Mart’s doors every 21 minutes to buy groceries and clothes than there are farms to grow the goods stocking Wal-Mart’s shelves.
These aren’t mega corporations with reserve capital or bailout packages. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says 98 percent of farms are still family-owned businesses with embarrassingly low profit margins.
Yet we are dependent on their survival for more than just providing three meals a day. There’s also the health of one of the country’s biggest economic engines at stake.
More than 21 million Americans have jobs rooted in agriculture, the industry boasts a rare trade surplus, and it generates hundreds of billions in economic activity each year.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City credits agriculture with being at the forefront of the nation’s economic recovery. Unfortunately, the Fed also warns that farm debt is rising to dangerous levels, leaving the future of agriculture in a precarious position.
Such a warning should alarm us all, because the farming community is also on the frontlines of breaking America’s dependence on foreign oil—perhaps our biggest security threat.
Whether it is ethanol produced from corn, waste-to-energy biomass power derived from crop residue, or wind energy harnessed on farm acres, the Midwest is needed to end our Middle East oil addiction. As an added bonus, ethanol also produces good-paying jobs, and ethanol—with its low-carbon qualities—reduces greenhouse gas emissions by more than 59 percent compared to gasoline.
As a new Congress debates America’s future, and the White House builds on a promising State of the Union speech, they should think of the 210,000 farms that produce 80 percent of the country’s agricultural output as a thin green line standing between prosperity and disaster.
They must realize that we need to open new markets both abroad and at home. We need to abandon questionable regulations based on unsound science—such as “indirect land use change”—that unfairly penalize farmers and renewable, clean-burning biofuels.
Simply put, we must hold the thin green line.
If we cannot feed, fuel and clothe ourselves, then we cannot defend ourselves. If this one bright spot in our economy is choked off, then recession recovery will certainly stall. And, if rural America falters, we open the floodgate to even more fuel produced by nation states that do not share our values and strategic interests—and our country is less secure.
America is at a crossroads, just as we were in the 1970s when our reliance on overseas oil first bit us. That’s why elected leaders must put a premium on holding this thin green line through smart government—ranging from fewer onerous regulations to tax, energy, and trade policies that boost bottom lines.
If anyone needs a reminder of what we’re fighting for, read the slogan used by the current Agriculture Secretary: “If you have trouble with Hugo Chavez providing your oil, how do you feel about him providing your food?”
Wesley Clark served as a general in the United States Army and Supreme Allied Commander of NATO. A former presidential candidate, Rhodes scholar and graduate of West Point Military Academy, General Clark now serves as co-chairman of Growth Energy. Growth Energy is a group committed to the promise of agriculture and growing America’s economy through cleaner, greener energy. Growth Energy members recognize America needs a new ethanol approach. Through smart policy reform and a proactive grassroots campaign, Growth energy promotes reducing greenhouse gas emissions, expanding the use of ethanol in gasoline, decreasing our dependence on foreign oil, and creating American jobs at home. More information can be found at GrowthEnergy.org.