It should come as no surprise to Kansans that farming is a challenging profession.
Our agricultural producers work depending on the whims of the weather, commodity markets and trade agreements with other countries. Recently, they have also contended with an unpredictable White House that has made the near term even less certain.
But a recent Salina Journal story about U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran’s town hall in Gypsum caught our eye. In it, one attendee noted that the price of wheat has been essentially unchanged for a half-century. While that might benefit some people — those who make food, for instance — it places an increasing burden on farmers. Low prices force ever-greater consolidation, which in turn makes the stereotypical Kansas family farm more difficult to sustain.
Other sources of income have stagnated as well. As Moran noted, according to reporter Charles Rankin, “On-the-farm income is down by half since 2013. To cut someone’s income by half in six years, how do you expect it to work?”
We will answer the question: Not well.
The senator called for one move that would add certainty — passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the successor to NAFTA. Given that Canada and Mexico are both giant markets for Kansas farmers, formalizing the agreement would be a boon.
But frankly, passing the USMCA would only prevent future problems, not necessarily solve the ones that farmers face now. And the solutions are far from clear. The country — and the world — need the food produced here. The question is how that food can be grown and sold to support those who spend their lives in agriculture.
Those who follow agriculture no doubt have ideas. But the commodity markets have been brutal for years. Unless markets open further around the globe or prices rise substantially in the United States, it’s difficult to see how farmers prosper.
The payments made by the Trump administration to those smarting from the U.S.-China trade war are appreciated, but they are largely a panacea for a self-inflicted wound. If we truly value Kansas farmers we need to think bigger and longer-term.
Does that mean more of a local focus for agriculture? Does that mean farmers diversifying their business? Does it mean increased state or federal support? Does it mean rethinking, at ac fundamental level, how food is grown and transported?
We might not know the answers right now. But the questions certainly aren’t going away.