Cyndi's Two Cents
Let consumer choose
Last week’s USDA annual outlook conference in Washington, D.C. was a bit of an eye-opener for some in attendance. Tim Burrack who chairs the Iowa Corn Promotion Board expressed concern about what he heard at the conference, but told Ken Anderson from Brownfield Ag News that he is not really surprised.
Burrack’s concern? USDA’s shift in emphasis toward locally grown and organic foods.
Now hold on, he didn’t say that he is opposed to farmers choosing to grow organic or consumers buying locally grown foods. The Arlington, Iowa farmer says modern agriculture came under attack from many conference speakers and attendees. He explained that the direction from USDA is different than what has taken place in the first 36 years of his farming career.
Tim Burrack is a man of action, so he shared his concerns. “I just got up and told them, this is not the USDA that the people in the Midwest are familiar with.” Specifically, he told Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, who is leading the USDA’s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” program, what he thought.
Merrigan assured Burrack that USDA is big; there’s room for everybody. Burrack said he understands that that is the new reality that everyone needs to work under. His concern is that under this new reality, traditional production agriculture which has provided a safe and low-cost food supply will suffer.
At this time, the move toward locally produced food continues to grow. According to new research from food and grocery analysts IGD, almost a third of shoppers say they have specifically purchased locally produced food over the last month, double the number in 2006.
So then what becomes of that safe and low-cost food supply? I believe Burrack is on target when he says moving away from traditional agriculture will likely mean higher prices for food.
Tim Burrack was amazed at number of people – some who work for USDA and others who were just attending the USDA conference like he was – who said, “Thank you for saying what a lot of us are thinking.” At the same, Burrack says it’s apparent that those opposed to modern agriculture are feeling very emboldened by the Obama administration’s policies.
When researching cost-share opportunities through a USDA program, you’ll find that if you grow 100% organic or agree to be 100% organic in the next 3 years, your share for the cost of a high tunnel is much less than if you are a non-organic (traditional) grower.
What I find to be very interesting and somewhat disturbing is the use of key words or phrases that make people feel good about their “locally produced” food purchases and guilty about “traditional” purchases. IGD uses phrases like “ethically produced foods” and “thinking morally and buying locally.”
Does that mean a consumer who does not choose to buy locally produced foods is unethical and immoral? You can bet that there are some who believe this to be true.
When asked about food they have specifically purchased over the last month, IGD reports that shoppers responded:
• 30% said locally produced food (up from 15% in 2006)
• 27% Fair-trade products (up from 9%)
• 18% products with high animal welfare standards (up from 11%)
According to IGD research, many consumers purchase locally produced food not only to obtain the freshest produce, but because they have a strong desire to support local jobs, farms and stores. Perhaps “traditional agriculture” should do a better job of educating consumers about the positive impact farms of all shapes and sizes have in their local communities.
Tell your story and let the consumer choose.