Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What Will You Spend on Groceries After the Floods?

We are rapidly approaching the end of May, and the corn is STILL not planted on Harrison Farm. Even though I am a livestock farmer -- and the crops are Grandmother's farm enterprise -- I worry about the impact that this will have on feed prices for my goats, on food prices at the grocery store, and on America's food security. We continue to have strong rainstorms and tornado warnings on a frequent basis in central Ohio. The local news recently featured my friend the Hay Farmer in a segment on the weather's impact on agriculture. With each day that passes, the situation looks increasingly dire for farmers. And what impacts the farmer will eventually affect the consumer!

The negative outlook for an Ohio corn crop makes me feel even worse about the flooded farmland and the tornado damage to the west of us. While the tornado in Missouri was an act of God, it was the decision of our government to open the levees along the Mississippi River -- thus imperiling so many farms. This happened during the week that I was in Washington DC for the American Sheep Industry trip. I spent a lot of time talking about it with my fellow farmer, Leslie. It was heartbreaking for us to imagine the fears that would grip a farm family when they suddenly realized that they had only a short time to evacuate their land, that there land was about to be ravaged by a decision of the government. It makes one wonder why the government felt that the homes of urban dwellers were more important to protect than the homes of farm families.

More than 200 square miles of farmland in Missouri was destroyed when the levee was opened to protect the town of Cairo, Illinois. This was farmland that was already planted; these were crops that would have fed Americans. Now these crops have been destroyed by an act of our government, and it will take the land a long time to regain its fertility. The affected farmers will face extreme financial difficulties to rebuild. Flooded farmland, unplanted crops in the East, tornado destruction . . . all of this could led to surging food prices. For America to maintain her independence and security, our country must have a stable food supply! We must continually work to educate our political leadership. We cannot control acts of God, so we must not make foolish decisions that imperil our food supply!

I am just one goatherd, but I do see the impact that market instability has on agriculture. When there is a limited supply of corn, feed prices go up. This takes more of my available dollars. It means I need to work more days at my part-time job, which results in higher fuel consumption for my vehicle. Surging fuel prices also impact my finances. Admittedly, prices for goats and lambs are at an all-time high, but my input costs have likewise risen. And even though those prices are high, they are too high for slaughterhouse operators to be able to make a strong profit without out-pricing the consumer. The result is that businesses that are a part of the farm infrastructure start to shut down.

We saw evidence of this recently when Iowa Lamb closed. My mother & I toured this amazing slaughterhouse in 2007 as part of the Wyman Sheep Leadership School. It was a great adventure for us to see a large-scale operation, as compared to our small business. Unfortunately, the low supply of lambs and resulting higher prices impacted the ability of the business to succeed. It was sold to another packer, that closed the facility. This will have a huge economic impact of the small town where Iowa Lamb was located. Many of the town residents worked at the slaughterhouse, or the pelt company that used its hides, or the dog treat plant that used the internal organs from the lambs. This contraction in the industry creates more market instability for farmers.

So, what can we do to make sure farmers succeed and Americans have a secure food supply? As consumers, we can "vote" with our dollars, spending our money on farm products we support. As citizens, we can contact our elected & appointed officials. When Leslie & I went to Washington, we took time away from our families, our farms, and our work. Despite this, we knew how important it was to step up and speak out for the industry. Despite the economic difficulties our state has faced, agriculture could serve to lead Ohio out of its financial slump. There is a great potential for growth, but we need our leaders to understand the difficulties we face and respond with appropriate measure. After all, if we want to put money into the economy, all we need to do is improve regulations & tax laws for agriculture . . . farmers always immediately spend money on new equipment and better facilities!

Photo Caption: My friends are having a hard time planting their crops due to the massive rainfall in central Ohio.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ohioans & Kiwis: We Love Lamb (and Goat)!

It has been a whirlwind on the farm of late . . . literally, in terms of the tornado! Figuratively as well, in consideration of all the activity! Along with cleaning up from the storms(!), there are baby goats arriving, pigs to fatten up, a baby calf to bottle-fed, and angry chickens to wrangle. It has been incredibly wet on the farm, which has prevented any corn from being planted as of yet on Harrison Farm. While the crops are a venture between The Grandmother & my aunt, it does impact me. If Ohioans cannot get their corn planted, the demand will sky-rocket thanks to a limited harvest, and prices for the locally made feed that I use will go up. Agriculture is very diverse, but all farmers are connected.

Despite all this activity, I managed to sneak away for a few days to Washington. The American Sheep Industry holds its annual lobbying trip the first week of May. This year, I joined them to represent the American Goat Federation. It was a fantastic experience! I travelled with Roger High (Executive Director of the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association) and Leslie (a shepherd & fellow AgriPower graduate). On our first day, we had a briefing on federal issues that impact the sheep industry and then we headed to a wonderful dinner at the New Zealand Embassy.

We were absolutely charmed by the Kiwis! They were wonderful hosts! We enjoyed delicious wines from New Zealand, along with an amazing meal of lamb chops & beef roast. At dinner, our Ohio delegation sat with the Ambassador's Chief of Staff, who was most charming. We enjoyed learning more about the country of New Zealand. The Ambassador himself gave a wonderful presentation to us, and was very hospitable. It definitely made us want to travel to see New Zealand!

I absolutely agreed with the Ambassador's statement that we gain a lot if our countries work together. For so long, American shepherds tried to position their product as being better than imported lamb. While I personally prefer American lamb, it makes more sense if we work with the Kiwis & the Australians. Demand for lamb & goat is VERY high, while supply is low. If we have a proactive attitude, we can capitalize on this opportunity. To do so, we need to recognize that Americans cannot produce enough currently to meet even our country's demand. Thus, we need imports to help meet the existing demand for our products.

Farmers are all connected. I need the Australian lamb producers and New Zealand goat farmers to succeed, so that consumers world-wide continue to have lamb & goat available. I need large ranches out West to continue to raise thousands of animals, so that the supporting businesses (slaughterhouses, woolen mills, feed stores) are there to help my little farm. I need grain farmers to flourish, so I can find quality feeds for my animals. Agriculture is very diverse, but quite connected. This is a challenge, but also a blessing!

Photo Caption: Katherine, Roger, and Leslie with the Ambassador and his Chief of Staff.