Every now and then, after several hours of contemplative time on a tractor or combine, some of the jigsaw pieces of life appear to fall together for me. To be sure, there is no box picture to go by, and some of the pieces are kind of forced in, but a vague sense of understanding emerges.
Stay with me.
There used to be a television show - "Connections" on PBS - which tried to show how cause and effect links between seemingly unrelated events created the history we know. Hosted by a deeply brainy James Burke, it was fascinating to this viewer. And I guess I'm still using that historical technique to explain why things are the way they are.
Take these seemingly disconnected events.
First, farm record keeping services announce mind-boggling profits for grain farmers. [Please note: not EVERY farmer, but the average - OK? So don't fire back and tell me you had a bummer of a 2007. Which if you think about it is even more stunning, since somebody had to be even farther above average to offset your figure]
The average return to the operator's labor and management income in 2007 was $171,507 (Figure 1). This return can be thought of as the farmer's "wage" or "salary". This is what remains from the operator's net farm income after a fair return to the operator's equity in machinery and land has been subtracted. The 2007 returns were $98,689 above the 2006 average of $72,818 and $88,168 above the average for the last five years. Higher average returns occurred in the northern and central parts of the state and lower returns occurred in southern Illinois. The 2007 earnings are the highest for any year during the last five years. The 2005 earnings were the lowest. Labor and management incomes have varied greatly during the last five years, ranging from a low of $38,787 in 2005 to the high of $171,507 in 2007.This news is hard to hide. It is being shouted at land auctions and equipment dealers. Bottom line: grain farmers never had it so good. Heck, most of us never imagined having it this good.
While the 2007 labor and management earnings are at historic high levels, this does not mean that these high incomes will last indefinitely. Farm earnings, like earnings for many other businesses, exhibit wide swings from year to year. Farm earnings are dependent on a number of factors outside the farmer's control, such as weather, markets, and government policy. From that standpoint, it maybe helpful to look at farm earnings over a longer period of time. The 2003 through 2007 five-year average of labor and management earnings was $83,339 while the 1998 through 2007 ten-year average of labor and management earnings was $40,817, $130,690 below the 2007 earnings. The 2007 level of earnings is considerably above the last five and ten-year averages. [More] [More]
OK, now add in the anger and frustration building on these same farms that consumers are blaming them for skyrocketing food costs and undeserved government payments. This was our inaugural post on the new "Sound Off" blog here at AgWeb:
I don’t know what’s going on in your neighborhoods, but I am sick and tired of being lambasted for being a greedy farmer trying to starve out the poor of this world! Where is the National Corn Growers Association I pay into? Why don’t they write letters to the editors, have news conferences, appear on Larry King Live? Why are we so silent? Are we going to let Big Oil run us out of town and still up our diesel and fertilizer prices? Did anyone else see the banners over the highways in Minneapolis?: STARVE THE POOR - USE e85!!![A quick comment to "Outraged": the reason we only get a small [and getting smaller] portion of the farm bill is because farm lobbyists have worked for decades for that to be the vehicle for farm funding. Ask any commodity organization member if they want a stand-alone farm subsidy bill. It wouldn't get enough votes in the House to get out of a sub-sub-committee.]
And I’m sick of hearing how we’re ripping people off in the grocery stores and still expecting a big hand-out in the pending (still, yet) Farm Bill. Can’t anyone get it across to the media that most of that money goes for food stamps? [More]
Note the tone and the similar voices now appearing almost daily. Farmers are angry at fingers being pointed to them. But as I have been trying to point out for a while now, we have built much of our public relations image on the concept of farmers being the reason for cheap food.
So, when you take consumers in a recession (likely), food inflation, windfall farm profits, and a firm belief we instilled that we are the reason for food prices, what other conclusion should consumers come up with for their grocery bill? Even if it is not true, we have aligned these dots too close not to be connected. And face it, where is the money we are hauling in coming from?
But wait - I'm still not to my main point. Instead of calmly and quietly reassuring our customers we will keep the grain coming, we're getting fired up to lash back. With our bank accounts bulging, I had to ask why.
Then I saw this political post with some perceptive words from a guy I almost never agree with, Rush Limbaugh.
I watched some of Reverend Wright this morning at the National Press Club. It seems obvious to me that he's doing everything he can to wipe out Obama's candidacy, and I'll tell you why I think it is. I think that people like Reverend Wright -- and I think there are a lot of other race business hustlers out there, by the way, who think this -- really upset that if a black candidate is elected president, that they're going to be somehow diminished in their task, at keeping everybody in their flocks all revved up and angry about the ages old sin of slavery and the ongoing discrimination.I think Rush is right, and I think that same fear - loss of victimhood - now grips many producers. We have built our lives around being deserving victims of cruel circumstance and now the numbers are showing just the opposite.
So it appears to me, if you look at Reverend Wright, listen to what he says and analyze it from the context or perspective of what's best for him, which is clearly all he's interested in, what's best for him is that if Obama loses, because then it's easy for him to say, "See, the white power structure doesn't want a black man to rise to the pinnacle of power in the United States of America."
It would certainly fuel Reverend Wright's future and continue to help him raise money and keep people whipped up into a frenzy. He's not helpful. Whatever he thinks he's doing, it is not helpful to Barack Obama. [More, via Andrew Sullivan]
If the possibility of black (I think that term is back in the acceptable column now) president undermines the moral authority of demagogues who blame every problem on racial discrimination, the eye-popping profits on grain farms certainly robs us of the right to claim an entitlement by virtue of economic discrimination.
The emergence of BTO's are another slap in our "oppressed" faces. Not only do these guys not look like victims, they are clearly wolves in subsidy-sheep's clothing. More outrage ensues, and the outcry carries a similar ring.
Victimhood is a powerful mindset, allowing us to shrug off personal accountability for our lives. And just like Bill Crosby has been setting African-American teeth on edge with his dismissal of racial victimhood in favor of individual (and especially parental) responsibility, the financial reality farm profits could force producers to admit they are not all that oppressed.
The voices from our farms, I believe, are not so much about unfairness and economics as the fear of having to build a whole new world picture where we are fully functioning citizens with equal advantages and disadvantages.