first_imgAs a nation, we care about a lot of things. We care that workers aren’t exploited. So we instituted a minimum-wage law that sets a minimum standard for the price of the labor.But in today’s agriculture, with global positioning system technology in our tractors and crop protection chemical rates labeled in half-ounces, the last thing I can afford is a minimum standard worker. I can’t compete with a Chinese farmer on the cost of labor.We also have Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards to keep workers safe and Workers’ Compensation Insurance to provide for them if they’re injured. No farmer begrudges his labor force these benefits. They’re in the public good, but the public isn’t paying for them. Neither are our competitors. We are.Regulations Cost FarmersDo we want to export our agricultural infrastructure as we have the cut-and-sew textile jobs that have put many a Georgia child though college? Georgia lost 5,700 textile jobs in the past 12 months.Every new regulation, like the new diesel sulfur emission standards that will increase the cost of an engine, adds to a U.S. producer’s costs. Better sulfur emission standards are in the public’s best interest, but the public isn’t paying for it. Neither are our competitors. We are.Whether it’s the added cost of registering products because of Environmental Protection Agency requirements or simply a marketing decision by companies to charge whatever the market will bear, farm chemicals cost more in the United States than in other countries.Fighting Strong DollarWe have to contend, too, with a strong U.S. dollar. I’m just a country boy. Am I going to have to learn to trade currency futures, as I have learned to buy puts and calls, to be able to compete with the Australians selling cotton?This all goes back to our trade policies. An excellent example comes from the debate over the Canadian softwood lumber tariff. U.S. retailers don’t care whether lumber comes from a Canadian government that manages their timber for maximum employment or a Georgia producer who uses best management practices to keep Georgia’s water clean and pays property, state and federal taxes on his sales.We should all thank Congress and the administration for the 19.3-percent tariff now levied against Canadian lumber.Farmers: Original EnvironmentialistsNo one cares more about the wildlife habitat and water quality on my farm than I do. We hunt and fish our property. We’re the ones who drink the water there.But the best conservation program for rural America is profitability. If I have the money to spend, there’s nothing I’d rather spend it on than conservation.It’s not going to matter much to me if I have wonderful conservation practices established on my farm if it’s sold at the courthouse and someone else owns it.Conservation practices are in the public’s interest, so broaden the funding for these new programs. Don’t just take them out of the price supports agriculture needs through this period of change.Rapid Change DisruptiveChange is inevitable. What we’re experiencing, however, is a change in the change itself. The rate of change has accelerated. That’s causing painful disruptions.Global markets are different. U.S. producers can’t adapt quickly enough, restricted by regulatory, monetary and trade issues well outside our control.Since the ink started to dry on the North American Free Trade Agreement and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, “World Trade Organization” and “Free Trade Area of the Americas” have made their way into agricultural jargon.We are the greatest nation in the history of the world. There is no reason that we can’t find ways to protect our agricultural infrastructure during this period of rapid change. We just have to make up our minds to do it.(This space is provided as a public service. The opinions expressed here are solely the opinions of the writers and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)last_img

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