In Praise of the Rural Life

Dodge ran a commercial during Sunday’s Super Bowl that sparked memories for me and my friends. Featuring a series of evocative images of U.S. agricultural life and landowners, the two-minute spot is narrated by the late, great broadcaster Paul Harvey, drawing from a speech Harvey gave at a Future Farmers of America convention.

Since Sunday, I’ve gotten emails and phone calls from folks who know I spend most of my time in the country where I also work on conservation issues related to agriculture and the Farm Bill. I must admit I got a goose bump or two when I heard Harvey’s old, familiar voice.

The memory lots of people have of their grandparents’ farm or their uncle’s ranch is encapsulated in Mr. Harvey’s comforting tone and wholesome subject matter. I’m pleased that a nation full of an increasing number of urbanites found the opportunity to reflect on the rural life that created and sustains this country.

Farms are where our food comes from, where our fish and game live and where our future resides. While I’ll avoid the cliché reference to the rest of the story out of respect, I can’t help but hope that there is a continued story to tell of the American farmer and his or her love for the land, hopefully as expressed through the stewardship of our collective natural resources.

We should take heed of the image developed of the farmer in this brief attempt to sell trucks.  Our soil and water are under increasing demand as the world creates more mouths to feed and more alternative uses for grain products. The fish and wildlife that so many of us respectfully pursue depend on the quality and quantity of clean air and clean water as much as we do, and as such, fish and wildlife depend in no small measure on the American farmer.

I hope this commercial and this trip down memory lane with an American icon remind us all that farmers and ranchers are vital to this country: We all depend on what they do and ultimately, how they do it.

Federal Farm Policy Writing Script for New Dust Bowl

Public Domain Photo.

Ken Burns new documentary, “The Dust Bowl,” depicts a full-blown ecological disaster, the likes of which never had been seen in America.

The dust storms that swept across Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and other Great Plains states in the late 1920s and early 1930s were largely caused by the combination of drought and high winds on a landscape that had seen the near total conversion of native grasslands and wetlands to row crop production.

As I write this, similar conversions of native grasslands and wetlands are occurring alarmingly quickly. I have to wonder: Is federal farm policy helping write the script for a new Dust Bowl?

In the last several years, crop prices have steadily increased. As many of you know, corn and soybean prices hit a record high this summer. These high crop prices create immense pressure to convert marginally productive grasslands, wetlands and forestlands to row crops.

Federal crop insurance policy removes much of the risk associated with converting these marginal acres. Unlike every other federal farm program, crop insurance does not require farmers to be “conservation compliant.” This means that crop insurance benefits can be maintained even when farmers convert ecologically valuable wetlands, grasslands and till highly erodible lands.

How do we stop history from repeating itself? By passing a strong federal Farm Bill that includes measures addressing conservation compliance.

I can only hope that the black-and-white images of families living inside dusty houses with potato sacks over their heads will capture the attention of our elected officials tasked as they work toward passing the next farm bill. Or maybe the testimony of beautiful, old, wise faces telling of their parents’ mental breakdowns from the devastation catch the eye of members of the House Committee on Agriculture.

We can’t afford to let history repeat itself this time. Contact your member of Congress and ask him or her to take action on the Farm Bill and make sure that the conservation programs that have helped to prevent environmental calamities like the Dust Bowl are strengthened.

President of Sundog, Inc., a business development firm based in Fayetteville, Ark., that focuses on agriculture, alternative energy and green products, Tim Kizer is also the private lands field representative for the TRCP.