By Paul Olson
Corn is King. – We have all heard that saying over the years. In today’s world does it mean anything. Is it even relevant?
Those of us in National Farmers used to predict that cheap corn meant cheap milk and meat. While that may still be partially true, it certainly does not have the same effect as in the past.
Last winter and into early spring, we enjoyed a nice rally in grain prices. The price of milk and meat has not followed that trend. As soon as the planters started to roll and intended planting reports were released, those prices started to erode.
At that point in time, we once again witnessed grain farmers at the mercy of mother nature, the organized grain trade and USDA reporting – whether accurate or not. Our organization offers various types of risk management, including crop insurance, that can help take some of the sting out of the volatility in today’s markets.
For everyone in production agriculture, their main goal should always be achieving cost of production plus a reasonable profit. I’m not trying to ruin your day, but if you haven’t checked on input costs for this fall and next spring, maybe you should. Everyone had better start figuring out how you are going to cash flow next year’s crop. And by the way, don’t forget the cost of equipment and parts when you are working up your budget.
Maybe it’s time we have a lesson in Econ-101 and go back and check the records for corn prices and input costs for 1948. When you have completed that little project, jump in your pickup and go for a short drive across rural America and pay close attention to the landscape. When you complete this assignment, simply ask yourself, are we any better off as farmers today, as a rural farming community today or as a nation today?
As individuals and as an organization we cannot live in the past—we can only learn from it. Now let’s revisit the last two years, part of two different administrations in our nation’s capital. Again, do your homework and check your records. What percentage of gross farm income on your farm was government subsidies?
As a general rule in recent years, the farm vote tends to lean strongly conservative, and they tend to preach the gospel of anti-socialism. Yet, I have not been able to find a single farmer that turned down any stimulus money from the various pandemic era payments. I am not making this point to be political, but if it was political, there is plenty blame to go around for both parties.
The pandemic caused tremendous financial and mental stress on our nation’s farmers and ranchers and the entire food chain process. When I assess our nation’s food supply chain during the pandemic, it is obvious problems did not begin at the farm level, rather it was a chain reaction from the packing plants and processing plants back down to producers. Transportation, containers and packaging difficulties only added more misery. Are we ready for the next possible pandemic, hurricane, drought, flood or cyber attack?
It is long past time for this country to take the future of our food supply and those who produce it seriously. Food security at every level should be number one. I do not believe the present monopolized food system in America is sustainable. Who ever thought we would have just four major meat packers controlling over 80 percent of today’s livestock harvesting capacity, or that only a handful of dairy co-ops would control the entire dairy industry? And the same is true for the grain trade.
Through the years, I have shared with many of you the story of why my ancestors came to America from Norway more than 150 years ago. The leaders in Norway learned something from their mistakes. When will this country’s leaders learn from theirs? There is a reason for another old saying, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” If only it was that simple in today’s world.
In closing, let me now ask you, is corn still king? I vote a resounding no. I say corn is simply a pawn. It is a farm commodity much like all farm production that has been used, misused and abused-simply to benefit someone else in the never ending fight for power, wealth and greed. Those lead to more and more consolidation. Meanwhile, the farmer is on a never-ending treadmill of survival to feed the so-called king, and that king is not corn, and it certainly is not you or me.
I probably won’t be here to check the records 50 years from now, but this is my prediction. When the king gets enough control of milk, meat and grain, it will go something like this. Production agriculture will be bid out to whoever can produce it the cheapest with little regard for anything else. In other words, the lowest bid wins, and in the long run, we all lose. Is this really what America wants? We have to wake up. America is better than this. National Farmers has the solution and it is farmers working together for the common good of all.
P.S. For all you young folks, I may leave a phone number on my tombstone so you can call me in 50 years to let me know how it’s going. Please don’t tell me corn is $3.00 a bushel.
Until next time, be safe and stay healthy.