Wake Up, America!

April 2, 2020

By Gabe Brown and Shane New, Soil Health Academy Instructors

With the chaos occurring  in our country at present, we need to slow down, gather our thoughts and “touch bottom.”  This story, shared with me by a former Navy SEAL, illustrates this point.  

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In one training exercise, the SEAL candidates' hands are tied together, as well as their feet, and they’re ordered to jump into a deep pool.  This frightening exercise teaches them how important it is to slow down, think the situation through and find a solution. Fear and panic would likely result in drowning.  But by slowing their thoughts down and thinking things through, the SEAL candidates realize that the solution is to touch bottom, and push themselves to the surface again.

So it is with our current situation. Currently, most of the people, including our politicians, are in panic mode.  They are not slowing down and thinking the situation through to find rational solutions.  

Let’s begin with the core issue: Both our country, and its citizens are woefully unprepared for situations such as this, even though we have dealt with two other economic crises like this in the past 20 years.  One was 9/11 and the other was the market collapse of 2008. 

But we have not taken these lessons to heart.

Take a look at the federal government.  Their answer is to throw more of our hard-earned tax dollars at the symptom through handouts and bailouts. They continue to spend money on programs and policies that cater to a few constituents. These soon become an entitlement, all while increasing the national debt.  It is the bridge to nowhere scenario. They should no longer spend money they do not have.

Here’s an example: 80 percent of students in grades K-12 in the Los Angeles public school system receive free meals.  If we went into the homes of some of their parents, we would likely find cigarettes, pets, cell phones, cable TV, and their refrigerator would be full of beer, soda and hot pockets!

Not to be excluded from this critique is agriculture.  Agriculture is receiving its share of handouts, too. Crop insurance is heavily subsidized by the federal government.  Where has that taken us? Crop prices, for the most part, are lower today than they were 50 years ago! Why is that? Could it be because farmers are going to plant the crops that return them the most through revenue insurance?  This further increases supply and drives down prices. This overproduction leads us to heavy reliance on trade. That leaves us vulnerable to the whims of foreign governments and trade wars.

This leads us to government handouts, such as the recent $28 billion soybean bailout.  Is this where we, as farmers, want to be, waiting for the government to bail us out?  How long are these bailouts going to last when consumers walk into the grocery store and find empty shelves?  What did their tax dollars buy them? It is obvious the system is broken.

We, as producers, need to take matters into our own hands.  We need to look in the mirror and realize that we are both part of the problem and part of the solution.  Farmers and ranchers have been seen as tough, resilient and self-reliant. That is no longer the case. It is time we show leadership.  We need to be the example. We need to show the next generation of farmers and ranchers that there is another way.

How? By slowing down, taking a breath and thinking things through.  What is our current financial situation telling us? Do we need to have  that new planter? Do we really need that self-propelled sprayer? As Dr. Kris Nichols says, “Iron does not build carbon, only plants do.” 

Do we need to be purchasing all of those expensive inputs? (Remember, over 90 percent of the elements plants need are found in the atmosphere.)  It is easy for us to say, yes, I really need those things but do we? Really?

We need to focus on building resiliency not only into our ecosystems but into our financial situations as well. Every year, we put our capital at risk when we buy retail and sell wholesale into a market that others control.  That makes no sense.

Is it wise for us to only grow corn and soybeans or should we have multiple revenue streams? Should we be adding value to what we grow and raise, setting prices above our cost of production, thus ensuring us a reasonable profit? Or, should we rely on the government to bail us out?

Do you want to drown or do you want to slow down, think things through, touch bottom and rise to the top?

The decision is yours.

Kathy Richburg

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