Newspaper Page Text
84-Lancaster Farming, Saturday, Hecember 30, 2000
On Being a
Time to salute a new year.
Time to turn a chapter, start
anew, resolve to clean up our act.
Time to clean up this messy
desk, scattered with clippings.
Clippings which keep tangling
themselves in my mind, like they
do among the stuff on the desk.
“Gas mileage at 20-year low,”
intones one reporting on our na
tional obsession with driving ve
hicles the size of houses. Another
laments the skyrocketing cost of
home heating fuel, clipped to one
printed just last week of a funds
scarce family chopping down
trees in the yard to use for heat.
Mingled in are blurbs on farm
land preservation efforts, along
with a recent one relating to pre
serve farmers, if we’re going to
preserve farmland. And a couple
more report ordinance strategies
aimed at preventing “corporate”
(read, large) farming in numer
ous municipalities of the region.
Unrelated stuff? Not in my
opinion. They’re indicative of
two lynchpin national policies
which have helped grease our
booming economy of the past
three-plus decades. Cheap fuel.
And cheap food.
So we’ve happily bopped along
these years, driving increasing
bigger, fuel-hogging vehicles to
ever-larger homes located farther
and farther from the urban cen
ters where we work, shop, and do
business. And we’ve paved over
more farm fields with concrete
and blacktop so we can get there
and back faster.
Meanwhile, remaining farms
See pages 816-819
battle increasing economic pres
sure to continue producing cheap
food with evermore constraints
of size and regulation and taxes
to help fund the growth and to
battle issues raised by a popula
tion on the move into their back
40, spurred by this economy
nourished by cheap fuel and
To stay in business, remaining
farmers are urged by economists
to get bigger, to be more efficient,
to maximize their resources, to
specialize and grow, to diversify
and grow. But efforts to grow
their farm businesses me increas
ingly thwarted by the sprawl
feeding from cheap fuel and
cheap food, tossing roadblocks
out to halt growth and size.
Farmers, frustrated with low
returns from cheap food and in
creasing population pressures,
wear out, sell out, and move out.
Remaining ones responding to
encouragement to get bigger for
efficiency may then find them
selves battling legal, regulatory
and municipal strangleholds for
being “corporate,” or “too big.”
Food production shifts farther
away, where there are fewer peo
ple, fewer rules, fewer regula
tions. Also fewer markets, fewer
processing. Which means that
cheap food has to be trucked to
where people are to eat it.
Requiring more and better
highways. More fuel to get it to
markets. More labor in a shrink
ing labor pool to move it.
Does this make sense?
someone in a position to make
such decisions decided this will
be the year to get serious about
weaning us from cheap, im
ported oil. Serious enough to
implement an energy policy pri
oritizing use of fuels from the re
newable resource of farm-pro
such a grain-based fuel shift had
a major impact on raising farm
commodity prices from their
present 20-year lows. Suppose
that if grain commodities became
truly profitable, farmland loss
would drastically slow. We might
be able to get serious about pre
serving both farmland and the
farmers who till it.
senior citizens might not have to
face the prospect of choosing be
tween buying fuel or buying food
and medicine. A single father
struggling to make ends meet to
provide for his kids might not
have to chop down the trees on
his lawn for heat. A nervous,
shaky economy would calm
down. Sales for cottage-sized,
4WD, SUV’s might even pick up
Suppose such a policy could
ultimately make us independent
of the squabbling sultans and
sheiks of the desert oil cartel,
while boosting our farm econo
my. Now, wouldn’t that be a
New Year’s resolution worth
OK, these clippings have
messed with my mind long
enough. Into the trash with ’em.
We can at least start next year
with a clean desk.
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