Why Credentials in the Agricultural Industry Matter

As I was reading the Sunday paper – without bothering first to find my reading glasses – I was a little startled by what I read. Then I found my glasses, read the article once again and realized that my eyes weren’t deceiving me. The article was startling!

This experienced reminded me about some people’s perceptions about farming. I’m often startled when a non-farmer looks at me and starts a conversation by saying, “I hear…”

Some non-farmers believe they can solve every “perceived” problem we have in agriculture without any experience in the day-to-day operations of farms. They hear we don’t need to use any chemicals, and most of them don’t give any thought as to why chemicals are used. They hear GMOs are bad, so they tell us we shouldn’t plant them. These same folks often don’t know there aren’t any nutritional differences between conventionally and organically raised foods. They also don’t know the huge benefits genetically modified insulin has for diabetics.

It seems these days many people are just interested in fighting for a cause: calling for reduced use of farm chemicals to preserve water quality; advocating for a plant-based diet; or supporting organic production to save humanity. (NOTE: No human deaths have been caused by GMOs, but millions of people die unnecessarily each year because Golden Rice has been stalled by GMO opponents.)

Another cause-related issue that’s making recent headlines is a partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Defense (DOD) to provide “transitioning service members with agricultural training.” The USDA always seems to find money for feel-good programs like its Food for Progress Program that helps foreign farmers expand their operations. Meanwhile, the DOD can’t seem to ever find funding. Sounds like a beautiful match, right?

This joint effort is aimed at service people returning to civilian life. With most government programs, it’s so tough to jump through all the hoops to meet the requirements. An article published yesterday by Agri-Pulse states:

“According to the USDA, this initiative will ensure the estimated 200,000 service members who complete the Transition Assistance Program annually have access to USDA programs ranging from farm loans to conservation programs to nutrition assistance to rural rental housing and homeownership opportunities.”

I feel better just reading that! (Insert sarcasm here.) Don’t you? But wait… do any of these servicemen or women know anything about farming? I’m not saying that a person who didn’t grow up on a farm can’t farm, but I am saying it will be tougher for him or her. The article states, “members leave the military with a variety of essential skills – including leadership and discipline – that could be directly applied to a career in agriculture.” If only that’s all it took!

Further down the article, it reads that the USDA gave 6,500 veterans $438 million in farm loans. That sounds like a huge amount of money until you take into consideration that money was over a 6-year period. According to my math, about one half of one percent of the 200,000 veterans are eligible each year for this program! Each farmer in this program, on average, received $67,384. That’s not much money to buy a farm of any size or even make improvements to existing buildings. That amount could buy one nice, used tractor.

The farm program was cut by The Sequester program, yet the USDA is creating new programs. Billions and billions of dollars’ worth of programs! They don’t have a clue where it all goes, but I’m sure it makes them feel good giving it away. The question is, “How much good are these programs really doing?”

Maybe I’m not reading this right. Maybe I’m just grouchy. Or maybe, just maybe, that $438 million would be better spent on the more serious health and mental problems many of returning military members face.