Agricultural issues aired at breakfast

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 14, 2004

KITTS HILL - Painful experiences, hard knocks and joyous rewards.

That's the way Pedro farmer George Fuller described his occupation to a group of elected officials and local agency leaders Tuesday morning.

Fuller and fellow farmer Bill Pratt, of South Point, were guest speakers at the first-ever Lawrence County Agriculture Awareness Breakfast, sponsored by the Lawrence County Farm Bureau, the Lawrence Soil and Water Conservation District and the OSU Extension Office.

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"We want them to understand what farmers go through every day with day- to-day tasks, trying to get products to market and on our table," said Carrie Yaniko, of the soil and water district.

"We decided to do this to make elected officials more aware of the importance of agriculture. Even though it's not a large part of our county, it is still a part of our county," Margaret Reid, farm bureau education and promotion coordinator, agreed. "We want people to understand that agriculture provides so much value to our nation whether it's food, fiber or fuel, but so little of the money goes back to the farmer."

To emphasize their point, breakfast organizers charged each visitor 40 cents, even though the total cost of all the products for the breakfast amounted to $2.11 per person. Why a 40-cent ticket, then? That is the amount of money a farmer gets for the food he or she raises and sells. Roughly 19 percent of every dollar spent on food goes to the farmer who raised the food in the first place. The rest goes to processing, marketing, wholesalers, retailers and distributors.

Fuller, a fourth generation farmer, said his profession is one of highs and lows:

while farming has become more high-tech and more efficient over the years, the profit margin is still small. Sometimes his family's 12- and 14-hour days bring little money to show for their efforts.

"My grandpa on one side farmed all his life, but now I sell more in one year than he did in his lifetime. I produce more hay, more tobacco, I've added to the farm, but I don't generate any more income than he did," Fuller said. "They say only 19 percent of every dollar goes back to the farmer. In some cases I think it's only about five percent."

Pratt said while his family has adapted to numerous changes throughout the years, and has employed modern technology to make their efforts more efficient, their profits are affected by things beyond their control: weather, international events, fuel prices and outbreaks of animal disease.

"The biggest problem is pricing," Pratt said. "The government sets the price. There is no control by the farmer." Pratt said he is thankful for federal legislation in 2001 that helped manage milk prices and provided subsidies to dairy farmers. Without the legislation, he estimated that a third of Ohio's dairy farms would have ceased operation. This and other federal action over the last five years, Pratt said, has helped dairy farmers.

Pratt also lamented the statistics that show that the number of Ohio farms is decreasing: in 2000 there were 5,500 buckeye farms. In 2003 that number dwindled to 3,960. Today, only two dairy farms are left in Lawrence County.

Both Fuller and Pratt said one of their greatest concerns is that young people need to be taught about agriculture, and what is entailed in operating a farm.

"I'm a fourth generation and I feel like we're only one generation removed from no one knowing anything about agriculture," Pratt said.

"If we lose just one generation, who can pick it back up?" Fuller said. "One of the greatest products is our children."

Fuller said that while the economic rewards of farming may not be substantial, the satisfaction of doing what he loves is enormous, and the experiences he has had in tending the land are beyond estimate.

"The rewards from farming are not material things," Fuller said. "They are rewards of the heart, for farming gives my blessings in life."

State Representative Clyde Evans was one of several who attended the agriculture breakfast. He said he was struck by the similarities between experiences encountered by manufacturing entities and those encountered by farmers: rapid changes in technology, increased productivity, and the loss of farms much like the loss of manufacturing jobs.

"We've got to take some measures to help the farmers. We've got to give them some kind of floor to give them some kind of protection," Evans said.