Safety net for farmers still taxpayer bargain

I make it a point not to complain about the cost of food.

I'll admit to expressing an occasional snide comment about the price of bread, when I know that the wheat that went into it accounts for less than a dime of the sometimes near $2 we pay for a neatly packaged loaf of whole wheat bread.

I get a bit perturbed at the inequity of the system that rewards more to the packagers and handlers than it does to the man who grew the raw product.

But mostly, I don't pay that much attention to grocery prices anymore. What's the use? It's not like I have other alternatives. Food is not optional.

And I've never known the neighborhood grocer to participate in a barter program or to stand around and bargain with customers if they feel obliged to negotiate a price.

On top of that, my small yard is hardly large enough to turn into a garden and I suspect my neighbors would complain if I started raising chickens and pigs. Self-sufficiency, alas, is not practical in suburbia.

I rely on the supermarket.

I know, every week, that my wife and I will buy a certain amount of beef, pork and chicken, a loaf of bread, some vegetables, fresh or frozen, a half-gallon of milk and a dozen eggs every other week.

I also have to have my orange juice and a few pieces of fruit to munch on while I write.

I couldn't tell you what an apple or a banana costs and I can't remember what I paid for the last container of milk I bought. The last cantaloupe we purchased set us back more than $2.50, but it was in March and was worth the price.

What ought to amaze folks, but probably doesn't, is the incredible amount of food available, at all hours of the day, seven days a week, just a few miles from their homes. I've been in countries where choices were less varied, where folks took whatever the local grocer had at the time and were happy to get it.

I've seen folks lined up to buy a loaf of bread. Some spent a good portion of their weeks' wages just to eat.

We don't do that here. In fact, an item from the Plains Cotton Growers Association news service recently pointed out just how well served American consumers are by the country's farmers and ranchers.

The report cited figures from the Alexandria Minn., Farm Business Management Group.

For instance, U.S. consumers spend about 10 percent of their annual income for food. Compare that to 25 percent to 30 percent in many other countries. And consider that people in some third world countries spend most of their day trying to hunt, scavenge or grow enough food to feed them for that day.

A debate is about to begin in Congress about how much money the government can justify to maintain this nation's abundant food supply. Despite, or because of, the incredible bounty of food and fiber available to U.S. consumers, the battle could be a tough one. Some Washington observers say maintaining a significant safety net to keep farmers in business may be a hard sell to mostly non-rural legislators.

But the PCGA figures indicate that it's a bargain. The $22 billion paid to U.S. farmers last year seems like a huge expense. But that amounts to only 22 cents per day for every taxpayer in the country. That's only $77 per year. And that is a bargain, considering the vast quantities of meat, produce and grain products available on grocery shelves.

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