Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Dec 2, 2008

Managed by a minority
Agriculture’s place in society is grossly misunderstood by the general populace. At the turn of the 19th century, 75 percent of the U.S. population was on the farm producing food for the other 25 percent. Today, that number has changed dramatically; 2 percent of the population produces food and fiber for the other 98 percent. In realistic terms, the 2 percent of food producers bear a huge responsibility in order to feed the other 98 percent.

Our society has made some kind of shift to emotional decision making in the past few years and resolutions and constitutional amendments are making it on state ballots all around the country.

Activist groups get enough signatures to place stupid issues on ballots that appear to affect little of the population, but in reality, they end up affecting the entire population. Something just doesn’t seem right with this process.

Proposition 2 in California is one of those issues that made it on the ballot. In a state of 36 million people, 450,000 signatures were needed to place Proposition 2 on the ballot. This is the battery cage, veal crates and farrowing pens initiative. The measure passed the general election and agriculture will soon not be allowed to utilize these management tools, which are mostly to protect the animals contained in them. In this case, a small percentage of the population produced enough signatures to get their cause on the ballot. The industry affected the most was the egg laying industry, because it’s hard to produce and manage egg production without the use of battery cages. The case was made on an emotional level.

Then the Humane Society of United States came in and painted an ugly, emotional picture for voters. This regulation will obviously increase the price of eggs in California. Even though the voters approved the measure, I still wonder if many really knew what they were voting for. Will paying $10 for eggs satisfy their emotional guilt about animals in a cage? Word was out last week that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is coming up with a plan to start taxing animal agriculture. The proposal reportedly would limit greenhouse gas emissions on large operations and place a tax of $87.50 per head on beef cattle, $175 per dairy animal, and $20 for each hog. The story was first reported by the American Farm Bureau Federation in response to a proposal from EPA, although it looks like it might be premature. We can’t verify that there is actual tax legislation pending to initiate the new tax which would more than likely be tucked in something like the Climate Change and Control Act the House of Representatives tested last spring.

Apparently, EPA is finishing up the comment period on the Clean Air Act and the possibility of managing greenhouse gasses. The comment period ended last Friday. Despite some initial concerns, the EPA document appeared to be relatively friendly to agriculture.

The agency describes a 100-ton emissions threshold and said that of the 1.9 million farms in the country, many small ones would produce in excess of 100 tons and be required to pay a penalty. They realize that these farms could not bear the cost of regulatory compliance.

EPA explained that unlike traditional point source emissions, agricultural emissions are generally diffused across a wide area. They also say that these agricultural greenhouse emissions are as old as agriculture itself. Many emissions are the result of the natural biological process.

For instance, technology doesn’t exist that would prevent methane produced from the digestive process of cows or the cultivation of rice crops. The only way to control emissions in agriculture would be to limit production, which would lead to smaller food supplies, EPA acknowledged.

This global warming legislation that has been bandied about could be very destructive, but I would have to say agriculture isn’t EPA’s prime target. Farm Bureau jumped the gun with their comments, which were out of line. In my opinion, the debate over whether or not the destructive power of global warming even exists is not complete. Food is fundamental, and I’m sure the federal government realizes it and will not mess with the 1.7 million small farms in the U.S. However, the large commercial operations may have issues.

I’m more concerned about the activist groups and the fact that a minority of the population will continue to have their selfish agendas forced upon the majority through the election process and the court of emotional public opinion. — PETE CROW