View from the hill

I once read a story about Yogi Berra, who was traveling with teammates in a large city. One teammate exclaimed “Hey Yogi, I think we are lost.” Yogi responded, “Yeah, but we’re making good time.”

American agriculture seems to have lost its sense of direction as the current crisis deepens and many American farmers echo Yogi’s sentiment. Most farmers respond to a crisis by saying, “Leave me alone! Past crises never bothered me before and this one will disappear in time, too.”

But it is important to note that the current crisis has never happened before. The current challenge is global. Can we farmers be certain that we can survive this challenge with a business-as-usual attitude?

Other concerns should be addressed, too. We want our children and their children to have the opportunity to grow up in the best environment in the world. So balancing financial needs with community needs is a big challenge.

Assuming we care as much about our community as we do about our own financial survival, here are a few options that should be explored:

(1) We must become better informed on the issues and challenges facing our community. Read what others say about agriculture. Be sure to read opinions that are different from yours, for they often reflect good concepts that could be adapted within the final solution.

A good source of information is the Organization for Competitive Markets. Their web address is www.competitive The members are not known for extreme viewpoints and are well respected within government and the industry.

(2) A meeting of interested persons who are committed to work toward possible solutions would be a good place to begin dialog. Private businesses and government agencies generally conduct studies for long-range planning, so engaging in constructive discussions on what we want for our community is a practical idea. A few questions to address might be:

— Are cultural, religious and family values important to us? How can we foster these values in the community so they will continue?

— How can we assist family based farms and small businesses so they can survive in a rural climate?

— How can we improve local tax policy so it encourages farm and small business formation?

— How can we take even more advantage of our strengths in the agricultural and non-farm sectors and help form new ventures?

(3) Check out the new bargaining cooperatives. This type of business is not a bricks-and-mortar organization with high fixed overhead costs. They are tightly focused to provide identity-preserved, bulk commodities that meet consumer’s specifications. All profits, minus a small fee for handling the negotiations, is funneled back to the producer.

One such model is the National Farmers Organization. Their recent successes at the bargaining table has gained them the respect of a growing number of producers in the corn belt.

(4) Adding value to basic food commodities is another viable option for community development. These new cooperatives are vertically integrated, from the farm gate to the consumer’s dinner plate, and are producer owned and controlled.

Their mission statement is tightly focused: to return profits back to the shareholder while meeting consumer demands for high quality, high value products.

In an article written for the March 26 edition of the High Plains Journal, staff writer Galen Hubbs wrote: “Dennis Sexhus, chief executive officer of the North American Bison Cooperative, believes the new producer-owned cooperatives will help bring about sustainable agriculture, economic development in rural communities, a reasonable standard of living, and help maintain and protect a rural lifestyle.”

Another example is the Dakota Growers Pasta Cooperative, which has built a great reputation for supplying the national retail market with name brand pasta and cake mix products.

Another model is the American White Wheat Producers Association. It is in its second year as a cooperative venture, providing the consumer with food products made from white wheat.

Two questions I believe residents of our local communities should be prepared to answer are, “Do any of these ideas make sense? If not, what is a good alternative solution?”

If we do nothing, it means someone else will determine our future.

For the time being, farming and rural life will be “business as usual.” But the times are changing and I believe our corner of rural America is going to lose out if we do nothing.

If we choose to find a solution, there is hope. I wish that by engaging in constructive dialogue through the media or in a formal meetings, we will find promising solutions to the current crisis in rural America.

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