Agriculture interests need to respond

BY GUEST COLUMN | JULY 02, 2012 6:30 AM

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"They" killed the ethanol blender's credit and the biodiesel tax credit, and now, they are going after preventing the U.S. military from using biofuel, blocking commercialization of E-15, and the deconstruction of the renewable fuel standard. "They" are ending direct payments in the farm bill, and now they are going after federal crop-insurance subsidies. "They" are well down the road to eliminating caged chickens and crated sows, and when they end those, they will go after something else. "They" will narrow the definition of "sustainably produced" only to organic production and only non-genetically modified organism crops will qualify.

"They" can be the petroleum industry, large food-processing companies, environmental groups, the Humane Society of the United States, or Walmart. "They" are all playing a role in going after traditional agriculture, driven by self-interest, misguided objectives or peer pressure after long having cheap corn as the result of subsidies.

Agriculture is not even all on the same side. While "they" are coming after pork producers telling them what production practices that they must adopt in order to participate in the pork supply chain of major retailers, the pork producers, along with the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, came after ethanol and corn growers, angry over having to pay the cost of production plus a profit to corn growers for corn.

The bottom line here is that agriculture is under assault. There are elements coming at agriculture from the left and the right, all directed at squeezing the middle. The Environmental Working Group appears socialist, while the petroleum industry is somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun.

There is a lot of cash being invested in the assault on agriculture by "them." They have few ethics other than any means are acceptable to achieve their end. They are sophisticated with managing public relations, employing deceitful super-pac-like media campaigns, not unlike those seen in the political arena. "They" are achieving unprecedented success moving public opinion in the direction they want it to go. Agriculture is in retreat, unprepared for the level of opposition coming from so many directions at once being mounted against it.

It will take an entirely new level of organization, financial commitment, and sophistication to counter the public-relations threat being undertaken to undermine the entire credibility of agriculture. Commodity organizations were created to promote products or find exports, not to defend against an onslaught such as this.

Agriculture has never seen this degree of organization and number of resources committed to subjugate it before. Few have even put together what is occurring, so that awareness of so many enemies to traditional agriculture all converging on traditional producers is only now registering with industry leaders.

A decade ago, it looked as though corporate integrators were going to subjugate independent producers to control agriculture. What we are finding out is that there are bigger fish in the pond than corporate sharks and even the corporates can be eaten.

Wendy's, McDonald's, Burger King, Denny's, Safeway, Kroger, and others have demanded the end of use of gestation crates in pork production because the Humane Society told them to or as a form of extortion they would be taken to task with public ridicule as being animal unfriendly. Smithfield Foods and Hormel quickly jumped to the other side leaving the rest of the industry to fend for itself. This was just the first such demand of producers, setting the precedent of many more to follow.

The Humane Society has seen how to use public pressure to intimidate the retail segment of the food industry, and it will exploit it much, much further. Smithfield Foods is now like the gingerbread man getting on the fox's back thinking it will not get eaten. The gingerbread man always gets eaten. It is just a matter of when. "We" need to quickly coordinate a response.

David Kruse
president, CommStock investments

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